Sentence first


20th September 2014

Quote with 5 notes

The problem lies not in the nature of man but in the nature of power.
— Mark Kurlansky, Nonviolence: The History of a Dangerous Idea

Tagged: bookspoliticspowerphilosophyethicshistorynonviolenceactivism

10th September 2014

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John Montague, A Grafted Tongue

'A Grafted Tongue'

bloodied, the severed
head now chokes to
speak another tongue —

As in
a long suppressed dream,
some stuttering garb-
led ordeal of my own)

An Irish
child weeps at school
repeating its English.
After each mistake

The master
gouges another mark
on the tally stick
hung about its neck

Like a bell
on a cow, a hobble
on a straying goat.
To slur and stumble

In shame
the altered syllables
of your own name:
to stray sadly home

And find
the turf-cured width
of your parents’ hearth
growing slowly alien:

In cabin
and field, they still
speak the old tongue.
You may greet no one.

To grow
a second tongue, as
harsh a humiliation
as twice to be born.

Decades later
that child’s grandchild’s
speech stumbles over lost
syllables of an old order.

—John Montague

Tagged: poetryIrelandIrishGaeliclanguagehistoryIrish poetryJohn Montague

19th August 2014


Too beautiful to be examined

I remain a student of history, more of one than ever, now that our century has torn its way out of its chrysalis and become too beautiful to be examined, too alive to be debated and exploited by played-out intellectuals. The important thing is no longer to predict in what way its grand convulsions might next shake us. Now the important thing is to ride it into the sky.

Denis Johnson, The Name of the World (2000)

Tagged: bookswritinghistoryliteratureDenis Johnson

30th May 2014

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Discordianism was a joke, at least to start with. Discordianism is often described as being either an elaborate satire disguised as a religion or an elaborate religion disguised as a satire, descriptions which wrongly assume that it cannot be both at the same time. The whole concept was a satire or, at most, a way to deal with nihilism by wrapping it up with a goddess and a sense of humour. As events unfurled, those at the heart of Discordianism stopped making this distinction. As Discordianism started to take on a life of its own, it became harder and harder to claim that what was going on was ‘just’ a joke.

John Higgs, The KLF: Chaos, Magic, and the Band Who Burned a Million Pounds

Tagged: historybooksDiscordianismcounterculturesatireJohn HiggsKLF

10th May 2014

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"A chorus of contagious mewing"

"One nun in a large French convent started mewing like a cat, triggering a chorus of contagious mewing that swept through the sisters."

New on Sentence first: Outbreaks of contagious laughter and mewing

Tagged: laughtercatsmewingbiologybehaviourhistoryodditiesnunsmania

6th May 2014

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Hatred as a kind of creed

There has always been in our national experience a type of mind which elevates hatred to a kind of creed; for this mind, group hatreds take a place in politics similar to the class struggle in some other modern societies. Filled with obscure and ill-directed grievances and frustrations, with elaborate hallucinations about secrets and conspiracies, groups of malcontents have found scapegoats at various times in Masons or abolitionists, Catholics, Mormons, or Jews, Negroes or immigrants, the liquor interests or the international bankers. In the succession of scapegoats chosen by the followers of this tradition of Know-Nothingism, the intelligentsia have at last in our time found a place.

Richard Hofstadter, Anti-Intellectualism in American Life (1963)

Tagged: bookshistorypoliticshatredparanoiaAmericaAmerican historyRichard Hofstadter

10th April 2014


What is that fire?

There are no bunks but bare planks, all the way to the ceiling. Here nothing has been prettied up. With me was a woman friend of mine, Giuliana Tedeschi, a survivor of Birkenau. She pointed out to me that on every plank, 1.8 by 2 meters, up to nine women slept.  She showed me that from the tiny window you could see the ruins of the cremation furnace. In her day, you could see the flames issuing from the chimney. She had asked the older women: “What is that fire?” And they had replied: “It is we who are burning.”

Primo Levi, The Reawakening

Tagged: bookshistoryBirkenauHolocaustPrimo LeviEurope

3rd April 2014


There exist many things considerably worse than death, and the S.S. saw to it that none of them was ever very far from their victims’ minds and imagination.
— Hannah Arendt, Eichmann in Jerusalem

Tagged: bookshistorydeathEuropewarHolocaust

24th March 2014

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Mudlarks, Scufflehunters, Bludgeon Men

If we are to credit one of the most industrious investigators, Patrick Colquhoun, there were, at the turn of the [19th] century, 50,000 harlots, more than 5,000 publicans, and 10,000 thieves in the metropolis alone: his more extended estimates of criminal classes, taking in receivers of stolen property, coiners, gamblers, lottery agents, cheating shopkeepers, riverside scroungers, and colourful characters like Mudlarks, Scufflehunters, Bludgeon Men, Morocco Men, Flash Coachmen, Grubbers, Bear Baiters and Strolling Minstrels totals (with the former groups) 115,000 out of a metropolitan population of less than one million.

E. P. Thompson, The Making of the English Working Class (1963)

Tagged: historysociologycrimejargonsocial historyBritish history

24th March 2014

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The working class made itself

The making of the working class is a fact of political and cultural, as much as of economic, history. It was not the spontaneous generation of the factory-system. Nor should we think of an external force — the “industrial revolution” — working upon some nondescript undifferentiated raw material of humanity, and turning it out at the other end as a “fresh race of beings”. The changing productive relations and working conditions of the Industrial Revolution were imposed, not upon raw material, but upon the free-born Englishman — and the freeborn Englishman as Paine had left him or as the Methodists had moulded him. The factory hand or stockinger was also the inheritor of Bunyan, of remembered village rights, of notions of equality before the law, of craft traditions. He was the object of massive religious indoctrination and the creator of new political traditions. The working class made itself as much as it was made.

E. P. Thompson, The Making of the English Working Class (1963)

Tagged: historyeconomicssociologybookssocial historyindustrial revolutionworking classclassEnglandBritish history