Posts filed under Art and Literature

We knew that the world would not be the same.

This is a clip from a 1965 interview with J. Robert Oppenheimer, the brilliant theoretical physicist who became the director of the Manhattan Project’s secret weapons laboratory, one of the men most responsible for the creation of the atomic bomb. Oppenheimer learned Sanskrit in 1933, and studied the Bhagavad Gita in the original. Oppenheimer was asked to recall how he felt when he watched the Trinity test, the world’s first detonation of a nuclear weapon.

We knew the world would not be the same… A few people laughed; a few people cried…. Most people were silent.

I remembered the line from the Hindu scripture, the Bhagavad Gita… Vishnu is trying to persuade the prince that he should do his duty; and to impress him, takes on his multi-armed form, and says Now I am become Death; the destroyer of worlds. I suppose we all felt that, one way or another.

— J. Robert Oppenheimer (1965), The Decision to Drop the Bomb

This is from a story about Hayao Miyazaki’s new film Kaze Tachinu (The Wind Rises), which is an animated bio-pic (the first that Miyazaki has ever done) about Horikoshi Jiro, a brilliant engineer, and one of the most gifted minds in Japan during the 1920s and 1930s. Horikoshi dreamed of flying and threw himself into designing aeroplanes; he designed the plane that would later become infamous as the Mitsubishi A6M Zero. The film has been a huge success in Japan, but its anti-militarist themes have attracted some Patriotically-Correct furor from Japanese nationalists.

In the words of Concordia University Japanese history professor Matthew Penney, Kaze Tachinu is “a film about war but…not a war film.”

“What Miyazaki offers is a layered look at how Horikoshi’s passion for flight was captured by capital and militarism, and the implications of this for thinking about the history of technology [in Japan],” Penney wrote in a recent article for Asia-Pacific Journal.

. . .

My wife and staff would ask me, Why make a story about a man who made weapons of war? Miyazaki said in a 2011 interview with Japan’s Cut magazine. And I thought they were right. But one day, I heard that Horikoshi had once murmured, All I wanted to do was to make something beautiful. And then I knew I’d found my subject. . . .

— Jeremy Blum, Animation Legend Hayao Miyazaki under attack in Japan for anti-war film
South China Morning Post (August 16, 2013)

Over on Facebook, I posted a clip from the Oppenheimer interview earlier this month; in reply, Ryan Calhoun writes:

One of the underlooked tragedies of the Manhattan Project, and the State in general, is how it takes the brilliance of individuals like Einstein, Oppenheimer and Feynman and uses it to absolutely destroy humanity. There’s no doubting the State’s successes. The Manhattan Project is statism at its best.

— Ryan Calhoun, Re: J. Robert Oppenheimer
Facebook (August 9, 2013)

Us, the Unnoticed

This is from Bernardo Soares’s (or Fernando Pessoa’s, as you like)[1] Book of Disquiet, text 24. In the context of the book, the passage is contextually even more striking because it contains only the second time (after dozens of pages) that anything appears in the text that was said by another human voice besides the narrator’s. And the first that what someone else said is actually breaks through, or alters Soares’s train of thought.

Today, feeling almost physically ill because of that age-old anxiety which sometimes wells up, I ate and drank rather less than usual in the first-floor dining room of the restaurant responsible for perpetuating my existence. And as I was leaving, the waiter, having note that the bottle of wine was still half full, turned to me and said: So long, Senhor Soares, and I hope you feel better.

The trumpet blast of this simple phrase relieved my soul like a sudden wind clearing the sky of clouds. And I realized something I had never really thought about: with these café and restaurant waiters, with barbers and with the delivery boys on street corners I enjoy a natural, spontaneous rapport that I can’t say I have with those I supposedly know more intimately.

Camaraderie has its subtleties.

Some govern the world, others are the world. Between an American millionaire, a Caesar or Napoleon, or Lenin, and the Socialist leader of a small town, there’s a difference in quantity but not of quality. Below them there’s us, the unnoticed: the reckless playwright William Shakespeare, John Milton the schoolteacher, Dante Alighieri the tramp, the delivery boy who ran an errand for me yesterday, the barber who tells me jokes, and the waiter who just now demonstrated his camaraderie by wishing me well, after noticing I’d drunk only half the wine.

— Bernardo Soares, The Book of Disquiet text 24 (pp. 27-28)
New York: Penguin. trans. Richard Zenith.

  1. [1] Pessoa wrote almost all of his mature literary work under a number of heteronyms, that is, signatures that represented not only an alternate name, but actually a complex set of interacting characters that Pessoa invented and set into the Portuguese literary scene of his day.

Your Tuesday morning Spontaneous Order

A marine photographer managed to capture hundreds of wide-eyed fish apparently posing for a picture. Californian photographer and conservationist Octavio Aburto had spent years photographing the school in Cabo Pulmo National Park, Mexico, and had been trying to capture this shot for three years.

Fish are pretty awesome. (So’s technological civilization.)

(Thanks to Cap’n Midori.)