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May eternal justice grant me that I tell the truth as audibly and strongly as I feel it in my soul. Once I made the most enormous sacrifice that a human being is capable of making for that which he deems just. Only I can judge it, and I would have a God at my side who is capable of the same judgment: for human beings know nothing of one another. I didn’t succeed; the fates would not have it, they would not accept it; and so it was hurled back to the position to which I was still capable of summoning the power to bring it. . . It can only please the gods once that one destroys oneself out of respect for the holy; on the second occasion it can never be the call of a god! So there will be no second time.
–Rahel Varnhagen von Ense (née Levin), letter to Karl Finck von Finckenstein, Sept. 4, 1799 in: Gesammelte Werke, vol. 8, p. 102 (S.H. transl.)
More from Scott Horton:
Six Questions — October 18, 2014, 8:00 pm
Nathaniel Raymond on CIA interrogation techniques.
I recently spent a semester teaching writing at an elite liberal-arts college. At strategic points around the campus, in shades of yellow and green, banners displayed the following pair of texts. The first was attributed to the college’s founder, which dates it to the 1920s. The second was extracted from the latest version of the institution’s mission statement:
The paramount obligation of a college is to develop in its students the ability to think clearly and independently, and the ability to live confidently, courageously, and hopefully.
Let us take a moment to compare these texts. The first thing to observe about the older one is that it is a sentence. It expresses an idea by placing concepts in relation to one another within the kind of structure that we call a syntax. It is, moreover, highly wrought: a parallel structure underscored by repetition, five adverbs balanced two against three.
Percentage of Britons who cannot name the city that provides the setting for the musical Chicago:
An Australian entrepreneur was selling oysters raised in tanks laced with Viagra.
A naked man believed to be under the influence of LSD rammed his pickup truck into two police cars.
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“Shelby is waiting for something. He himself does not know what it is. When it comes he will either go back into the world from which he came, or sink out of sight in the morass of alcoholism or despair that has engulfed other vagrants.”