coromandal


people to avoid
October 10, 2008, 10:48 pm
Filed under: brave new world | Tags: , , , , , , , , , ,


Here is a list of the kinds of people you should avoid.  It’s from a travelogue written by Richard of Devizes warning about the dangers of 12th century London, but it reads a bit like a contemporary American political campaign.

Mr. Devizes says the people you should avoid mostly live in the city, no surprise there.  To him, crime in the city is pervasive, a pastime that will let noone merely spectate.  He thinks that the worst crooks are esteemed the highest, an idea that could catch on now – as our worldwide banks tip like dominoes – but probably won’t.  He also says the evil company you keep will corrupt you – where have we heard this recently?

The corruptions of the city dwellers fall into several broad categories:  entertainers, foreigners, the poor, mystics, the sexually deviant. In a sense the city described sounds like a circus – with its itinerant clowns, freaks and sideshows.  Or like a tabloid version of the scandal of Hollywood.

Thankfully, we – you and I and the writer and the written to – are observers of these corruptions.  We sit safely out of the ring and its bright lights and scandal, in our ring side seats.  We can laugh at or judge them, depending on our predilections, and at the end, get up and leave to our normal outside lives.

I actually think the corrupt, in the circus or the city, could be laughing at us.  Or maybe more likely shaking their heads at their judges, briefly, in disbelief, and returning to their lives.

Here is Devizes’ warning:

When you reach England, if you come to London, pass through it quickly, for I do not at all like that city. All sorts of men crowd together there from every country under the heavens. Each race brings its own vices and its own customs to the city. No-one lives in it without falling into some sort of crime. Every quarter of it abounds in grave obscenities. The greater a rascal a man is, the better a man he is accounted. I know whom I am instructing. You have a warmth of character beyond your years, and a coolness of memory; and from these contrary qualities arises a temperateness of reasoning. I fear nothing for you, unless you live with evil companions, for manners are formed by association.

Well, be that as it may! You will arrive in London. Behold, I prophesy to you: whatever evil or malicious thing that can be found in any part of the world, you will find in that one city. Do not associate with the crowds of pimps; do not mingle with the throngs in eating-houses; avoid dice and gambling, the theatre and the tavern. You will meet with more braggarts there than in all France; the number of parasites is infinite. Actors, jesters, smooth-skinned lads, Moors, flatterers, pretty boys, effeminates, pederasts, singing and dancing girls, quacks, belly-dancers, sorceresses, extortioners, night-wanderers, magicians, mimes, beggars, buffoons: all this tribe fill all the houses. Therefore, if you do not want to dwell with evildoers, do not live in London. I do not speak against learned or religious men, or against Jews: however, because of their living amidst evil people, I believe they are less perfect there than elsewhere.”

~Richard of Devizes, A Critique of English Towns in the 12th Century



keeping it regular with the knickered and provincial

M. Fuentes again.  I can’t figure out where the prevailing cultural myth of innovation came from when you consider how prevalent the blanket of stifling regularity seems to be — it’s a malignancy and at an advanced stage.  Fuentes equates popularity with ignorance.  The ancient Greeks did too: to maintain vitality in their senate they ostracized the most popular members; here it is the opposite.

This is DC in the late 1930’s where the school yard is full of fear of outside people and ideas.  How does what must have been a veritable flood of outsiders and their outside ideas into the American capital – the world’s nation of outsiders – not temper and calm this proclivity for fear?  Baffling …

“I believed in the democratic simplicity of my teachers and chums, and above all I believed I was, naturally, in a totally unself-conscious way, a part of that world.  It is important, at all ages and in all occupations, to be ‘popular’ in the United States; I have known no other society where the values of ‘regularity’ are so highly prized. I was popular, I was ‘regular.’  Until the day in march – march 18, 1938.  On that day, a man from another world, the imaginary country of my childhood, the President of Mexico , nationalized the holdings of foreign oil companies.  The headlines in the North American press denounced the ‘communist’ government of Mexico and its ‘red’ president; they demanded the invasion of Mexico in the sacred name of private property, and Mexicans, under international boycott, were invited to drink their oil.

Instantly, surprisingly, I became a pariah in my school.  Cold shoulders, aggressive stares, epithets, and sometimes blows.  Children know how to be cruel, and the cruelty of their elders is the surest residue of the malaise the young feel toward things strange, things other, things that reveal our own ignorance or insufficiency.  This was not reserved for me or for Mexico:  at about the same time, an extremely brilliant boy of eleven arrived from Germany.  He was a Jew and his family had fled from the Nazis.  I shall always remember his face, dark and trembling, his aquiline nose and deepset, bright eyes with their great sadness; the sensitivity of his hands and the strangeness of it all to his American companions.  This young man, Hans Berlikner, had a brilliant mathematical mind, and he walked and saluted like a Central European; he wore short pants and high woven stockings, Tyrolean jackets and an air of displaced courtesy that infuriated the popular, regular, feisty, knickered, provincial, Depression-era little sons of bitches at Henry Cook Public School of the Thirteenth Street N.W.

~Carlos Fuentes from How I Started to Write