Yet Another Graphomaniacs Compendium
Sunday, May 04, 2003

The Dream Of Scipio.



An almost completely bleak book. It's awhile since I've read something so virulently anti-Chirstian. It is an illustration of the dangers inherent in utilitarian thinking and shows how easily it can lead to self-deception.


The three characters: Manilus acts to defend his lands and an abstract ideal of learning and civilization that is nearly lost. He acts ruthlessly and capably and acheives his goal. He probably prevents a great deal of destruction and bloodshed, but at the cost of the life of his heir, his best friend, a synagogue and several Jews.


Olivier is not utilitarian at all, he acts as the Black Death sweeps Europe and actually acheives the saving of life amid the destruction: he acts out of love for a servant girl posing as a Jew and almost as a by - product achieves the saving of thousands of lives via the issuing of a Papal bull exonerating the Jews for the blame of the Black Death and taking them under Papal protection.


Julien de Bareneuve is probably the bleakest figure of all three. An academic, he becomes a censor and propagandist for the Vichy Government. He has to take the job for the most utilitarian of reasons: if he doesn't take the job, someone worse will. It's not just his subjective opinion - everyone tells him this: buerarcrats, editors, journalists, other academics. He tells himself he is preserving civilizaton, and consoles himself with minor victories like saving the works of Sir Walter Scott from the list of degenerate fiction to be pulped. Meanwhile at home he is living with his Jewish lover who is living incognito - unable to get back to the USA she has been living with Julien with a forged identity, but it is not enough to protect her. She is an artist, a prime example of the civilization that Julien is trying to save, but he cannot save her. The Gestapo do not take orders from French government officials.


In a bleak moment of insight he realises civilization itself is responsible for the death he sees around him: to exterminate a people you need civilization - builders, administrators, chemists, engineers...thus brining the story round full circle, ending in condemnation of the very thing Manilus tried to save: civilization. Olivier, a poet, madly in love with a servant girl, succeeded where all the rationalists failed. It is a rebuttal of the Greek idea that to act rightly, you must act with both good intentions and understanding, and to anyone who believes that rational choices can be made about good and evil. Intelligence is not enough: empathy is needed, too, and a willingness to sacrifice yourself - Olivier ends his days with no hands and tounge, a sacrifice needed to convince the Pope of the veracity of his story.


Possibly the most depressing aspect of the story is the willingness throughout the ages of the Christian authorities to scapegoat the Jews in order to unite the mob and to keep order. All justified in the name of utilitarianism, while the Jews still value the kind of learning that Europe lost with the fall of Rome, and how the process continues even today. Not against the Jews, but against another completely helpeless and reviled minority - asylum seekers. A perfect diversion to prevent the mob examining the State more critically.


posted by John Connors at
Sunday, May 04, 2003

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A miscellany of topics that intersest me: deaf culture, game design, politics as soap opera, the cyborg condition and the experience of learning to hear again. Other topics presented are speculative fiction and imaginary cities. There are appearences of snippets of work in progress, public rants, pointless posts and Mish the Mouse.




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