Monday, August 30, 2021

The Two Ozymandiases (and Then Some)

I quoted Percy Shelley's "Ozymandias" when I wrote in July. What I found in my research is that there are actually two Ozymandiases. First is Shelley's version:

Ozymandias (1818)
by Percy Bysshe Shelley (1792-1822)

I met a traveller from an antique land,
Who said--"Two vast and trunkless legs of stone
Stand in the desert. . . . Near them, on the sand,
Half sunk a shattered visage lies, whose frown,
And wrinkled lip, and sneer of cold command,
Tell that its sculptor well those passions read
Which yet survive, stamped on these lifeless things,
The hand that mocked them, and the heart that fed;
And on the pedestal, these words appear:
My name is Ozymandias, King of Kings;
Look on my Works, ye Mighty, and despair!
Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
Of that colossal Wreck, boundless and bare
The lone and level sands stretch far away."

* * *

Shelley wrote his "Ozymandias" in competition with his friend, Horace Smith (1779-1849). Smith's version was published two months after Shelley's:

Ozymandias (1818)
by Horace Smith

In Egypt's sandy silence, all alone,
Stands a gigantic Leg, which far off throws
The only shadow that the Desert knows:--
"I am great OZYMANDIAS," saith the stone,
"The King of Kings; this mighty City shows
"The wonders of my hand."-- The City's gone,--
Nought but the Leg remaining to disclose
The site of this forgotten Babylon.

We wonder,-- and some Hunter may express
Wonder like ours, when thro' the wilderness
Where London stood, holding the Wolf in chace,
He meets some fragment huge, and stops to guess
What powerful but unrecorded race
Once dwelt in that annihilated place.

* * *

Shelley's sonnet is justifiably famous. Horace Smith's is, I suppose, obscure. But it brings into these tales of two Ozymandiases something missing from the first: the poet's vision is cast into the future as well as into the past. And as a vision of the future and a post-apocalypse, Horace Smith's poem approaches science fiction.

* * *

All of that led me to some other lines of verse. These were written by the British poet and author Anna Lætitia Barbauld (1743-1825). They predated Shelley's and Smith's poems by six years. An excerpt from Eighteen Hundred and Eleven: A Poem (1812), by Anna Lætitia Barbauld, lines 39-49:

And think'st thou, Britain, still to sit at ease,
An island Queen amidst thy subject seas,
While the vext billows, in their distant roar,
But soothe thy slumbers, and but kiss thy shore?
To sport in wars, while danger keeps aloof,
Thy grassy turf unbruised by hostile hoof?
So sing thy flatterers; but, Britain, know,
Thou who hast shared the guilt must share the woe.
Nor distant is the hour; low murmurs spread,
And whispered fears, creating what they dread;
Ruin, as with an earthquake shock, is here, [. . . .]

* * *

Mrs. Barbauld wrote of the Napoleonic Wars, but in her vision of the near future, she saw ruin.

The future may hold Utopia, but it may also hold Apocalypse.

* * *

By the way, Anna Lætitia Barbauld is in the Internet Speculative Fiction Database.

"The Questioner of the Sphinx" (1863), by the American artist Elihu Vedder (1836-1923).

Original text copyright 2021, 2023 Terence E. Hanley

Saturday, August 28, 2021

We Are Marching to Utopia

We remember Paradise and we want it back. Once History turned out of its cycle and was loosed into its flight as an arrow, we thought we had found the way: the Millennium will come and we will have it once again. Progress is the vision, the guiding force, most of all the technique. We are marching towards Utopia, the cadence called by History in the voice of its progressive interpreter.

The communist Utopia was supposed to be a Worker's Paradise, a stateless state in which the Proletariat owned the means of production and were no longer bound to their sole respective roles, where a man might be free to hunt in the morning, fish in the afternoon, and criticize after dinner.

Instead we have Cuba.

The African Utopia was supposed to be Wakanda. Instead we have South Africa. Earlier this year, the University of Capetown Library burned and with it the cultural and historical treasures of nations. The South African Post Office arrived, too, on the edge of bankruptcy. I don't know where it is now. And South African Airways, unable to survive as a ward of the State, was sold into the private sector. That might be the thing that saves it after all. Word is that the airline will resume flights in September.

I began writing this little article in July, when protesters were in the streets of Cuba. The New York Times described them in this way, from July 11, 2021: "Shouting 'Freedom' and other anti-government slogans, hundreds of Cubans took to the streets in cities around the country on Sunday . . . ."

"'Freedom' and other anti-government slogans . . . ."

Nice going, Times.

They're right of course. "Freedom" is an anti-government slogan. Where they're wrong is where their sympathies obviously lie, for they obviously lie with the Cuban government and not with the people who suffer under it.

So I made up some fake headlines:

Democrats Alarmed as Lego Group Sends Presidential Palace Building Sets to Cuba

Progressives Want End to Trade Embargo So Antifa Can Burn the American Flags Currently Being Waved by Cuban Protestors

Google Translate Changes Meaning of Spanish Word "Libertad" from "Liberty" to "We Want More Covid Vaccines"

Now here it is August and the Taliban have walked into Kabul. And now here's a real headline, from Business Insider, August 20, 2021:

A baby that was photographed being passed to US soldiers over razor wire in Afghanistan has been safely reunited with their father

Their father.

That headline sums up as well as any why the Taliban won and we lost: They were determined to defeat their enemies. We're worried about pronouns.

I don't think of the Taliban as being utopian in their thinking, although Islamism has its eyes on the future and the setting up of an all-powerful State. But like utopians and other progressives, Islamists are anti-liberal. And their victory shows what happens when men burning with a holy fire encounter the bloodless Liberal. If we are to win in any of this, we have to burn, too. 

Comic books are often described as an "adolescent power fantasy" or a "male adolescent power fantasy"--a phrase that has become a cliché and perhaps deserving of an acronym: APF or MAPF. (The latter reads like a comic book sound effect.) Power fantasy is supposed to be a pejorative, I guess, but who exactly lacks them? (If Business Insider can use a plural pronoun with a singular antecedent, so can I.) Nobody I can think of. You could say that romance novels are the female version of the power fantasy. You can come up with your own examples, I'm sure. Anyway, the reason I bring up the topic is that socialism and Marxism are adolescent power fantasies, too. They are enjoyed most by men and women with adolescent--or childish--or even infantile--minds. These people imagine, I guess, that when the Revolution comes, they will assume their power, what is rightfully theirs and has been denied them. Then you'll pay. That's right. Then you'll pay. Never mind that the merely intellectual revolutionary--the guy with the books and the ideas and the glasses to correct his myopia--always falls before his truly ruthless comrades.

Let's not march towards Utopia anymore. Let's choose a better way and a better world instead--better than Utopia--a world that is more human because it is imperfect.

One more thing: a fitting soundtrack has played as I have written this tonight: Harold Budd's Abandoned Cities. And it's from a fitting year: 1984.

Text copyright 2021, 2023 Terence E. Hanley