Re: [xmca] Gardeners and Tram Drivers

From: Mike Cole <lchcmike who-is-at>
Date: Tue Apr 03 2007 - 20:14:46 PDT

The section marked in yellow (did it come through, David?) was a commentary
by Eugene Subbotsky. I personally found the piece interesting, but that
is simply my taste. I have long had a copy of Dream of the Red Chamber.
Guess its time to look at it!


On 4/2/07, David Kellogg <> wrote:
> I was being conciliatory by changing the subject, Mike. Frankly, I think
> the Gopnik piece is a study in projection and consequently anachronism. I
> don't think that Voltaire's love of gardening makes him a conservative
> bourgeois in his social outlook. In those days, being bourgeois was not
> particularly conservative, and had little to do with gardening.
> I think that gardening had more to do with being an artist. Monet had a
> fabulous garden at Giverny along the same lines as Ferney (a groaning board
> well surrounded by garrulous convives) and so did that other
> pessimist-meliorist Thomas Hardy. Even Van Gogh gardened in his miserable
> last days in hospital.
> "Candide" is not simply an attack on Leibniz; "il faut cultiver notre
> jardin" was probably a jab at Rousseau. Rousseau had written to Voltaire
> that the great Lisbon earthquake was a human disaster, not a natural one,
> and "Candide" was Voltaire's rather unkind riposte. You may remember that
> the actual originator of the line is not Candide-Rousseau himself but an
> ignorant Turkish peasant. So I think "We must work our fields" is a fair
> translation, contrary to what Gopnik says.
> Rousseau believed that falsehood, not ignorance, was the real source of
> human error. Voltaire believed that mankind was irredeemably stupid, though
> some parts of it (e.g. the English) were noticeably more intelligent than
> others. In this respect, Rousseau represents the young, genuinely
> rationalist (and genuinely bourgeois) enlightenment intellectual.
> Voltaire in his dotage was a defeated and rather cynical skeptic (as
> well as a blithering anti-semite), casting doubt on the ability of knowledge
> to ameliorate and prevent disasters without being able to cast much light on
> the future. It's fairly easy to see why Voltaire would capture people's
> imagination in our own epoch and why Rousseau would attract mostly ridicule.
> Interestingly, while Voltaire was writing Candide, on the other side of
> the world the Chinese recluse Cao Xueqin was writing the world's first
> social realist novel "Hongloumeng" (translated, rather badly, as "Dream of
> the Red Chamber"). The central chronotope of the novel is a garden, first
> built by the noble Jia family in honor of their daughter, who after having
> been made an imperial concubine some years before, is allowed a single day
> of home leave.
> The building of the garden bankrupts the family, but it gives the
> children a kind of wonderland free of adults to discover sex and live out
> their childhoods consuming crabmeat and writing poetry about it ("Blame not
> the crab for walking askance; it is the ways of the world that are
> crooked"). Early in the novel the hero Jia Baoyu rmarks on how curious it is
> that a wealthy family like his own should invest its entire fortune
> destroying nature, then building a wall around the rubble, then trying
> desperately to reconstruct within that wall a simulacrum of what they had
> destroyed. Mightn't they have simply left things as they were? Rousseau
> would have understood his bewilderment. Voltaire would have been bewildered
> by it.
> David Kellogg
> Seoul National University of Education
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Received on Tue Apr 3 21:19 PDT 2007

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