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Ryszard Kapuściński

Lapidarium I

(A Selection)

The theory of local times. Time advances at different speed depending on the location on the face of the earth, depending on the point at which we find ourselves, depending on the culture. The fact that there once existed various measures of time proves that people were capable of differentiating between them, of adapting them to the local conditions of life and geography. Anyone who has lived with the nomads in the desert or among the Amazon Indians knows how our watch loses there its sense and reason for being. It’s a useless mechanism, an abstraction detached from life.  [16]

The danger of stagnation lies partly in the fact that it breeds accommodation, that inside an uncomfortable system it generates a comfortable subsystem of which many gladly take advantage. There appears a whole stratum of heroic parasites presenting themselves as pillars of the system, but in reality interested it its preservation because it provides them with relatively comfortable life.  [21]

From Warsaw 1982     

During times of crisis we experience more painfully than ever the discrepancy between subjective time and objective time, between the time of my life, personal, private, and the time of generations, epochs, history. It seems to us that the more ruthlessly history realizes its big, far-reaching objectives, the smaller our chance of realizing our personal, singular goals. The more space history usurps, the less room we find for ourselves. At such moments we feel superfluous, we seem to have found ourselves in a situation where we must account for our existence (at any case, the very fact of our existence, the fact that I am, may be reason enough for accusation and persecution). Your plans, ambitions, dreams? All that seems trivial, it looks like scraps of a stage-set in a theatre just hit by a bomb. Everything has lost meaning, reason for being, sense. Who can you turn to? What can you say? Man's rebellion against the moloch of history, against the endless greed of that moloch, discrepancy between man-the-creator and man-the-victim of history. The synchronism of this antinomy, the tormenting tension in it. [34]

In a society at a lower level of development general poverty is accompanied by general idleness. The means of survival here is not struggle against nature, intensive production, constant exertion of work, but—conversely—a minimal expenditure of energy, a constant quest for being still. The philosophy that accompanies this behavior, this existence, is—fatalism. Man does not see himself as master of nature but her slave who accepts with humility orders and impulses he receives from the outside world. He's a silent servant of ineluctable fate. He sees fate as an omnipotent godhead, a taboo. To disobey it is to commit sacrilege and to condemn oneself to hell.  [38]

The participation of the newest technology (electronics, computers, etc.) in the life of the world, in the creation of history, is already so huge (and ever growing), that all analogies to the past, all so-called lessons of the past will have an ever more limited and doubtful value. Electronics opens a new, fundamentally different stage in the history of humanity. In that sense it will cut us off, tear us off, separate us from the past, turn the past into an ever vanishing point.  [44]

Mass media, even if we don't believe them, if we assume that they lie, still have an enormous effect on us because they establish the list of our topics, thus limiting our field of thinking to information and opinions that decision makers themselves have chosen and defined. After some time, without even being aware of it, we are thinking about the issues that the decision makers want us to think about (usually trivial points exaggerated on purpose, or misrepresented problems). That's why he, who believes he thinks independently, because he is critical of the content served to him by mass media—is mistaken. Independent thinking is the art of one's own thinking, separate, about topics independently inferred from one's observations and experiences, with disregard for what mass media try to impose.  [45-46]

Talent will endure, talent will always protect itself. He, who has talent may be killed, but if he's alive, he will create despite everything. What is talent? There are many ways to define this phenomenon. My definition: it's a desire to reach the depth of things, the ability to penetrate the surface, to discover the inside, the hidden connections. Greatness in art is in that place where we start to approach that which is invisible, that which we sense does exist but which we still have to find, bring to light. This sense of the invisible, this search for it and the shaping of it—is an expression of talent.  [109]

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