16 December 2007

Watching the Fistfights in Leshp - from Terry Pratchett to e.e.cummings

In Terry Pratchett's frighteningly prophetic comic novel Jingo, two of the great powers on Discworld face off over a small, seemingly insignificant patch of territory, called Leshp.

Fortunately, it is a Pratchett novel, and therefore enough wise and sensible people keep their bearings that the situation ends quite differently than real-world parallels would. And because it is a Pratchett novel, Leshp itself ultimately has a thing or two to say about who should own it and where it belongs. Beyond this point be spoilers, if I type another word; so go, read, and prepare to be astounded as well as amused.

While the face-off is proceeding, the wizards of one Discworld power, safe in their academic cloister, gather each evening in the Common Room to watch the fistfights that break out half a world away, via HDFPCB [high def flat panel crystal ball]. For the past week I've felt like one of these wizards, watching the fistfights in Leshp - I've been watching from a safe, sad distance, as people skirmish in real life over a prize that doesn't exist.

They're fighting over a mirage, an illusion. But the damage they inflict on each other [and on themselves as well] is real. And since this is not a novel, the people who keep their bearings and speak for sanity are being run down and squashed, like the poor brave souls in Tiananmen Square, or the Buddhist monks in Burma.

One on-the-spot commenter pointed out that the skirmishing was arising from a more or less insoluble problem both within and among the skirmishers, and that ultimately, in that situation, the only way through is out.

This brought another literary reference to mind - an old poem by e.e. cummings, which is so pertinent that Pratchett might have used it as the frontispiece for his novel.
pity this busy monster, manunkind,

not.  Progress is a comfortable disease:
your victim(death and life safely beyond)

plays with the bigness of his littleness
--electrons deify one razorblade
into a mountainrange;lenses extend

unwish through curving wherewhen till unwish
returns on its unself.
................................A world of made
is not a world of born--pity poor flesh

and trees,poor stars and stones,but never this
fine specimen of hypermagical

ultraomnipotence. We doctors know

a hopeless case if--listen:there's a hell
of a good universe next door;let's go


The only way out is through... and the only way to win is not to play.


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