Monday, 14 July 2008

Fear of Flying

Ulm 1592.

Said the Tailor to the Bishop:
Believe me, I can fly.
Watch me while I try.
And he stood with things
That looked like wings
On the great church roof-
That is quite absurd
A wicked, foolish lie,
For man will never fly,
A man is not a bird,
Said the Bishop to the Tailor.

Said the People to the Bishop:
The Tailor is quite dead,
He was a stupid head.
His wings are rumpled
And he lies all crumpled
On the hard church square.

The bells ring out in praise
That man is not a bird
It was a wicked, foolish lie,
Mankind will never fly,
Said the Bishop to the People.
Berthold Brecht, The New Reasoner 3 1957-58

Lucio Magri's article 'The Tailor of Ulm' in the latest New Left Review presents a depressing conspectus on the present fate of Marxism. While in Brecht's parable the Bishop was proved wrong and the tailor right the allegorical reading in relation to communism produces some disturbing questions:
"Can we be sure that if the tailor of Ulm had been crippled rather than killed by his disastrous fall,he would immediately have got to his feet to try again; or that his friends would not have tried to prevent him doing so? And secondly, what actual contribution did he make to the subsequent history of aeronautics? In relation to Communism, such questions are especially pointed and difficult—above all because, at its theoretical formation, it had claimed to be not an inspiring ideal, but part of a historical process already under way, and of a real movement that was changing the existing state of things. Communism therefore always entailed a factual test, a scientific analysis of the present and a realistic prognosis of the future, to prevent it dissolving into myth." (48)


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