I’ve lost count of the number of memoirs by old comrades or ex-comrades that have titles like “Against the Stream,” “Against the Current,” “Minority of One,” “Breaking Ranks” and so forth—all of them lending point to Harold Rosenberg’s withering remark about “the herd of independent minds.”And, a few lines of Hitchens on Orwell concerning the patriotism of the young:
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William Morris wrote in The Dream of John Ball that men fight for things and then lose the battle, only to win it again in a shape and form that they had not expected, and then be compelled again to defend it under another name.
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The fragility of love is what is most at stake here—humanity’s most crucial three-word avowal is often uttered only to find itself suddenly embarrassing or orphaned or isolated or ill-timed—but strangely enough it can work better as a literal or reassuring statement than a transcendent or numinous or ecstatic one. Ian McEwan wrote a morally faultless essay just after the atrocities of 11 September 2001, noting that almost all voicemail messages from those on the doomed aircraft had ended with this very common trinity of words, and adding (in an almost but not quite supererogatory fashion) that by this means the murder victims had outdone and outlived their butchers.
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Yet almost every time I go to a TV studio, I feel faintly guilty. This is pre-eminently the “soft” world of dream and illusion and “perception”: it has only a surrogate relationship to the “hard” world of printed words and written-down...
He cursed his own cynicism and disillusionment when he wrote:For the fly-blown words that make me spew
Still in his ears were holy,
And he was born knowing what I had learned
Out of books and slowly.