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The Joke

· The young can’t help playacting; themselves incomplete, they are thrust by life into a completed world where they are compelled to act fully grown. They therefore adopt forms, patterns, models – those that are in fashion, that suit, that please – and enact them.

Pg. 87

· He laughed in my face. You may sing them, you and your ensemble, but show me one other person who does. Show me one collective farmer who sings your collective farm songs for pleasure. The farmer would make a face. The songs are so unnatural and false. The propaganda text sticks out from the pseudo-folk music like a badly sewn-on collar. A pseudo-Moravian song about Fucik! What nonsense! A Prague Communist journalist! What did he have in common with Moravia?

I objected that Fucik belonged to us all and that we had just as much right to sing about him in our own way.

In our own way? You don’t sing in our own way, you sing the agitprop way! Look at the words. And why a song about Fucik anyway? Was he the only one in the underground? The only one tortured?

But he’s the best known!

Of course he is! The propaganda apparatus wants a hierarchy in its gallery of dead heroes. They want a chief hero among heroes.

Why poke fun at that? Every age has its symbols.

True, but it’s interesting to know who has been chosen to serve as a symbol! There were hundreds of people just as courageous at the time, and now they are forgotten. Well-known people too. Politicians, writers, scientists, artists. And none of them became symbols. You don’t find their pictures hanging in schools and offices. And many left behind important bodies of work. But it’s precisely their work that is the difficulty. It can’t be touched up, cut down, or reshaped. It’s the work that kept them from gaining entrance to the propaganda gallery of heroes.

None of them wrote Notes from the Gallows!

That’s just it! What about the hero who keeps his mouth shut? What about the hero who doesn’t turn his last moments into a spectacle. Into an educational lecture? Fucik, though little known at the time, decided it was of utmost importance to inform the world of what he thought, felt, and experienced in prison, of what he recommended for mankind. He scribbled it out on tiny scraps of paper, risking the lives of those who smuggled them out of prison and kept them safe. Think of the opinion he must have had of his own thoughts and impressions! Think of the opinion he must have had of himself!

This was more than I could take. So Fucik was nothing but a self-satisfied windbag?

Ludvik was not to be stopped. No, he replied, that wasn’t the main thing that compelled him to write. The main thing was his weakness. Because being brave in solitude, without witnesses, without the reward of others’ approbation, face to face with himself, that took great pride and strength. Fucik needed an audience. In the solitude of his cell he created at least a fictitious audience for himself. He needed to be seen! To be nourished by applause! Even if only fictitious applause! To turn his cell into a stage and make his lot bearable not only by living it, but by performing it, exhibiting it!

Pg. 155-156

· It seemed to me an error in reasoning for a man to isolate a woman he loves from all the circumstances in which he met her and in which she lives, to try, with dogged inner concentration, to purify her of everything that is not her self, which is to say also of the story that they lived through together and that gives their love its shape.

After all, what I love in a woman is not what she is in and for herself, but the side of herself she turns towards me, what she is for me. I love her as a character in our common love story.

Pg. 163

· …I can’t rid myself of the need continually to decipher my own life. (Can’t remember if italics are mine or the author’s. I’m almost sure they’re the author’s.)

Pg. 164

· The consciousness of my own baseness has done nothing to reconcile me to the baseness of others.

· The willful insignificance of the conversation became unbearably painful.

· The sorrow that kept me from joining the drunken wedding party had sensitized me to the chloroform seeping into the clear waters of these folk rituals. (I recorded this because I don’t know what it means!)

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