Saturday, May 05, 2012
candles sewage silliness
First candles on the horse chestnut.
When I have finished reading Victor Hugo's massive novel Les Miserables which will be fairly soon, I shall read War and Peace for the the third time. Hugo like Tolstoy interrupts his narrative with dissertations on various topics which touch on the story but cannot be said to be essential to it. In Tolstoy's case he confines his observations to a number or chapters reflecting on the nature of historical events, specifically relating to Napoleon's invasion of Russia and ultimate defeat. Hugo ranges far wider. There is a detailed account of the Battle of Waterloo, an account of closed orders of nuns and monks, and while a barricade in Paris is being overwhelmed by the French army during one the many uprisings which the city saw in the 19th century, a lengthy meditation on the sewage system beneath Paris, and by extension beneath other cities and, coincidentally, on what Hugo considers the immense and unnecessary wastage of human manure disposed of via rivers into the sea. How much better he says quoting primitive civilisations to use it as fertiliser. He reflects also on the levelling and unifying nature of human waste. "The sewer," he writes, "is the conscience of the town. All come together there and confront one another."
Though not intentionally I confess to doing and saying silly things much of the time. It therefore gives me pleasure to read Wittgenstein's observation that "If people did not sometimes do silly things nothing intelligent would ever get done."