Itch of the Absolute

We are indebted to Simon Critchley, writing in his consistently illuminating The Stone, for steering us towards a remarkable excerpt from the BBC series The Ascent of Man, presented by Dr. Jacob Bronowski.

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Now to the excerpt, with DP transcription and still images below, as Dr. Bronowski walks through the ruins of Auschwitz, towards the pond where the ashes of victims from the crematoria were dumped:

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EMBLEMS OF THE ITCH

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ACCUMULATIONS OF THE ABSOLUTE

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NO MERCY HERE

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In this pond are the ashes of many of Dr. Bronowski’s own relatives, though his immediate family had immigrated to England in 1920.

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FEELING OUR WAY FORWARD

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We have long been troubled by that odd beseech from Cromwell, and finally decided to get to the bottom of it. From a fascinating study conducted by the estimable Philomantis, it appears that there has been a poorly digested text resulting in a King James Bible confusion between Christ’s tender mercy with its gut location.

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Now that we have cleared up that murky bit of business, we return to Dr. Bronowski’s beautiful play of tolerance, with its emphasis on feeling our way forward,  whether through art or science, and on the necessity to touch people.

Alas, history appears to be driving the human species away from this imperative, and back into the dark and violent drama of arrogant righteousness. We have been here before — and it does not end well.

Writing in the opening paragraphs of his powerful book of essays, Science and Human Values (a book that begs to be rediscovered), Dr. Bronowski sets the stage like this, among yet more ashes:

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IS YOU OR IS YOU AIN'T?

IS YOU IS OR IS YOU AIN’T?


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