‘Quote of The’ is an attempt to bring you intriguing, thoughtful snapshots of the world, with each possessing a certain amount of obscurity. As more articles are written in the future, you may also find interesting links.
‘People very commonly confuse the technical superiority of a nation with the moral and intellectual superiority of the population who make it up.’
This quote, from Lucy Mair’s ‘Primitive Government’ (Penguin, 1962) is part of Mair’s anthropological study of government in its early stages. In this paragraph, she speaks in particular of the way that a people are often conflated with their achievements – i.e. a Western farmer would not know how to split the atom, or build a steam engine, simply because his people developed it. This double standard is used to promote Western ideals at the expense of others, especially by saying that the lack of advanced technology makes one society completely second to another, when so few people were responsible for the technology in the first place. These pages are notable for their compassion, do not smack of intellectual arrogance, and read quite astonishingly modern. As an anthropologist working in the early and middle 20th century, any work that she hitherto presented would be at very great risk of racism and assumption, but the book is quite prescient in its treatment of murky colonial issues. The book was cited widely in academic work, and is a reminder that voices of the past are not always moulded in the way we would expect.
‘History is like therapy for the present. It makes it talk about its parents.’
This quote, from Maya Jasanoff’s ‘The Dawn Watch‘ (William Collins, 2017) is referring to the nature of history, and the way in which the study of it shapes and informs the current moment. ‘The Dawn Watch‘ is her biography of Joseph Conrad, and also serves as a partial history of globalization. Conrad was one of the great authors writing of the colonial project, who was disdainful and bitter about what he saw ‘Beyond the telegraph lines’. By the standards of his day he was empathetic, but post-colonial criticism of his work has swayed between withering and generous. No one denies the genius of his writing, or the astonishing circumstances of his career – twenty years of his life were spent at sea – and that the language which he wrote all his novels in, English, was his third behind Polish and French.
‘Any organization is partly ‘fictive’ in that it depends on the conviction amongst those who engage with it that it really exists.’
Peter H Wilson
This quote, from Peter H Wilson’s gargantuan history of The Holy Roman Empire (Allen Lane, 2016), encompasses a sort of existential burden that all organisations bear – that they only really exist because people believe that they do. We see it most clearly when large companies are liquidated over night, and all of a sudden they are little more than a memory of those who worked there. The buildings are repurposed, the materials discarded, and all that really remains is the effort of their labour. In the case of those who do not produce material or intellectual goods, it is very easy to be forgotten. The Empire was one such commodity, which, despite existing for a thousand years, often fails to factor into history.