Wednesday, 20 August 2014

Beneath the social construction

Beneath the social construction, that complicated marvel of a structure, there are excavations of all sorts. There is the religious mine, the philosophical mine, the economic mine, the revolutionary mine. 

Such and such a pick-axe with the idea, such a pick with ciphers. Such another with wrath. People hail and answer each other from one catacomb to another. Utopias travel about underground, in the pipes. There they branch out in every direction. They sometimes meet, and fraternize there. 

Jean-Jacques lends his pick to Diogenes, who lends him his lantern. Sometimes they enter into combat there. Calvin seizes Socinius by the hair. But nothing arrests nor interrupts the tension of all these energies toward the goal, and the vast, simultaneous activity, which goes and comes, mounts, descends, and mounts again in these obscurities, and which immense unknown swarming slowly transforms the top and the bottom and the inside and the outside. 

Society hardly even suspects this digging which leaves its surface intact and changes its bowels. There are as many different subterranean stages as there are varying works, as there are extractions. What emerges from these deep excavations? The future.

Victor Hugo - Les Misérables (1862)

I like this quote. Social change is the result of a kind of disjointed undermining. Even the miners have little idea of consequences, however fanatically they dig away down there.


Sam Vega said...

Yes, it's a good idea. It also explains the laws of unintended consequences: many well-intentioned miners have blundered into unknown workings and caused landslides and subsidence.

I had forgotten this passage, in fact I have forgotten most of Les Miserables. I found it an astounding book, but the details now elude me while the tone remains.

A K Haart said...

Sam - for quite a few years I've noted down memorable passages as I come across them in my reading.

Strange how we forget even powerful writing - as if we absorb its essentials instead remembering them.

James Higham said...

That digging sounds like too much hard work.

A K Haart said...

James - it's digging for victory though.

Demetrius said...

Those of us who have lived in mining districts will be all too familiar with subsidence. If Victor Hugo thinks the surface remains intact then all too often it does not. The effects can almost seem random, one house little affect its neighbour needed to be rebuilt. Nice quote though, in that miners do not work in daylight and are often almost totally in the dark as to what they are doing.

A K Haart said...

Demetrius - we've lived in mining districts for decades and I know what you mean.

A few years ago we were house hunting and one of the houses we visited was obviously not vertical.