January 13, 2013

"We need more harlequins, fewer ticktockmen."

Said Icepick in last night's thread about Boston banning drinking games in bars. He began:
I recently read "The Scouring of the Shire" chapter from Return of the King. It was disturbing how much the Shire under (ultimately) Saruman's direction sounded like modern America. The country is being run by over-officious jerks, and the American people are putting up with it. Land of the free no more....
And then:
We need more harlequins, fewer ticktockmen.
A link goes to the Harlan Ellison story "Repent Harlequin!' Said The Ticktockman." 

Icepick advises:
Professor, I believe you need some more tags. One for over-officiousness, and perhaps tags for harlequins (see Swartz, for example) and for ticktockmen (anything with Bloomberg).
Ellison begins his story with a quote from Thoreau's "Civil Disobedience":
The mass of men serve the state thus, not as men mainly, but as machines, with their bodies. They are the standing army, and the militia, jailors, constables, posse comitatus, etc. In most cases there is no free exercise whatever of the judgment or of the moral sense; but they put themselves on a level with wood and earth and stones; and wooden men can perhaps be manufactured that will serve the purposes as well. Such command no more respect than men of straw or a lump of dirt. They have the same sort of worth only as horses and dogs. Yet such as these even are commonly esteemed good citizens. Others as most legislators, politicians, lawyers, ministers, and office-holders serve the state chiefly with their heads; and, as they rarely make any moral distinctions, they are as likely to serve the Devil, without intending it, as God. A very few, as heroes, patriots, martyrs, reformers in the great sense, and men, serve the state with their consciences also, and so necessarily resist it for the most part; and they are commonly treated as enemies by it.
Ellison introduces that quote with: "There are always those who ask, what is it all about? For those who need to ask, for those who need points sharply made, who need to know 'where it's at,' this...."

That story was published in 1965, when the phrase "where it's at" was quite the thing

ADDED: I just bought "Masterpieces: The Best Science Fiction of the 20th Century," which contains "Repent Harlequin!"

27 comments:

ricpic said...

What Thoreau wrote is patently obvious to anyone with half a brain by the time he reaches middle age, so why is it that Americans keep voting, knowingly, for an ever enlarging state?

Chip S. said...

That story was published in 1965, when the phrase "where it's at" was quite the thing.

Topic of your next post?

Shouting Thomas said...

Saw The Hobbitt at an iMax on Friday night. Hadn't realized that it comes in three installments, so I'm down for two more long sitdowns.

Here's another reason why I was so influenced by Henry Miller. He was a true outlaw. Didn't care much about politics. In fact, he absented himself from politics in favor of focusing on eating well, living at leisure, getting laid and seeing the world. He managed, somehow, to sit out WWII in the Greek islands.

Whether the U.S. is engulfed in a battle with evil similar to that in The Lord of the Rings, I cannot say. If so, I tend to agree with the worldview of Hobbits, which is to avoid the conflict for as long as possible and to engage it only when it must be engaged.

ricpic said...

Miller had a lot of the preacher in him and though not overtly political his books are strewn with long harangues about what's wrong with the world and how to put it right.

Shouting Thomas said...

One of Henry Miller's constantly repeated maxims was "It's better on the bottom!"

The sexual double entendre was intended.

But, he also meant that there's less conformity and fear of loss of position at the bottom of the social order.

One of the things I like best about being a musician is that it keeps me in constant contact with people who have ordinary, low level jobs. Like CNA, truck driver, waitress, janitor, lawn mower, etc. Many of the musicians I work with hold these kinds of humble jobs.

I always found these people to be far more independent, and much harder to intimidate, than people at the other end of the social order. They don't have as much to lose. Often, they are surprisingly literate and smart.

Shouting Thomas said...

Miller had a lot of the preacher in him and though not overtly political his books are strewn with long harangues about what's wrong with the world and how to put it right.

True, but Miller's viewpoint on what was wrong with the world was kinda unique, more akin to those of Fred Reed.

What was Miller's advice? Chuck that job that's killing you and live on the bum!

chickelit said...

An artist friend of mine who has long featured harlequins in his work: link

@meadehouse: You met Bill last summer at the Union terrace.

Inga said...

Chickie, The Tower of Sarah is truly amazing!

Ann Althouse said...

"The sexual double entendre was intended."

Thanks for the tip.

Shouting Thomas said...

Sorry to belabor the point, but Miller's basic idea was to live the life of Christ.

His major work was titled The Rosy Crucifixion. That tile was not an accident.

Remember, Christ also lived among and loved the whores.

rhhardin said...

but they put themselves on a level with wood and earth and stones

That's Wordsworth's Lucy quatrain.

virgil xenophon said...

There is a single German word for "bureaucratic over-officiousness" that is perfectly, deliciously, all-encompassing but I forget it. Can anyone help?

Freeman Hunt said...

That collection includes Sandkings, one of my favorite stories out of any genre.

Nomennovum said...

"There is a single German word for "bureaucratic over-officiousness" that is perfectly, deliciously, all-encompassing but I forget it. Can anyone help?"

Yes. It's "Departmentvonmotorwehikelenisch."

Pianoman said...

Harlan Ellison is a vastly underrated writer. He won't gain the appreciation he deserves until he's dead.

Ann Althouse said...

"That's Wordsworth's Lucy quatrain."

Great observation.

rocks, and stones, and trees

vs.

wood and earth and stones

Rocks and stones seems to be doubling up, and Thoreau seems to be covering the territory more completely, but rocks and stones and trees feels stronger.

So I'll vote for Wordsworth. I prefer the no commas look of the Thoreau, but I assume W had reason for the commas. They give us pause...

rhhardin said...

Wordsworth was up to something.

There's a word suggested but missing, a rhyme for fears, years, hears, an anagram of trees: tears.

via Stanley Cavell.

ricpic said...

What was Miller's advice? Chuck that job that's killing you and live on the bum!

Not quite. True, Miller chucked his job at the Cosmococcic Telegraph Company (Western Union) but not to live on the bum. He was that rarity, a driven (as opposed to artist manque) writer. And he actually lived a rather disciplined work driven life, post 9 - 5 life. Only doing what he was born to do or convinced himself he was born to do (same difference). For most, living on the bum is a recipe for disaster, as there's no there there. Miller had if anything too much of a there there and became something of a graphomaniac.

chickelit said...

@Virgil: effin' ├╝bereifig?

Starfish said...

Not to be officious myself, but I would vote to remove the "over" from the tag. The word itself is so descriptive.

Icepick said...

True enough. But we have officious jerks to oversee the officious jerks that make officiousness their sole purpose, with the idea of meddling in every damned thing imaginable. There are redundancies upon redundancies to the regulations and oversight.

So I believe the "over-" is descriptive of the over-kill which is often encountered.

Mitch H. said...

I only vaguely remember the short story, mostly that it was notable for its somewhat dated beatnik piety. Personally, I don't feel the need for a hell of a lot of harlequins. Stormy petrels are still socially overrated if you ask me. Borderline-sociopaths like Ellison never seem to grasp how socially important order is, or how essentially private the necessary organs which regulate social order are, at their roots. They're all busy looking for officious devils to throw stones at, city halls to fight romantically, and restraints to burst.

In short, the Ellisons of this world seem determined to give society a hernia.

SGT Ted said...

Harlan Ellison is a great writer, but an awfully big asshole, quick to unthinkingly latch onto liberal shibboleths, despite his reputation for being a "great thinker". He is yet another cookie cutter leftist when it comes to many issues.

He makes up in ego what he lacks in physical stature.

SGT Ted said...

"I think on the day after the Aurora, Colorado, massacre, anything said about young people today is moot. No one will face the fact that the NRA runs America and is killing us." -Harlan Ellison.

Yea, such a 'great mind" is nothing more than a garden variety progessive that see US Constitutional Rights as a barrier to the creation of the New Society.

TANSTAAFL said...

Read Heinlein's "All You Zombies" first..Just saying.

TANSTAAFL said...

Then Larry Niven's "Inconstant Moon"....

deborah said...

I've read 'inconstant moon,' I think. It occurs the night of an extremely bright full moon?

Ellison once wrote an open(?) letter to Gene Roddenberry, berating him for stealing the idea for the Star Trek pilot...shoot, can't remember the title.