Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Fahrenheit 451

It has been a few lives since I read Fahrenheit 451 in high school. After half a lifetime Bradbury's cautions and observations hold up and strike home surprisingly well. Although written over 50 years ago the tail is not dated. What struck me this time is how the population in the story had chosen the easy comfortable path at the expense of their autonomy. Turn on and tune out, happiness as defined by lack of discomfort and maximized distraction. How did Zappa put it?, "Get a job and do it right, hot dog TV tonight." [ed., actually the lyric is " Do your job, and do it right. Life's a ball! (TV tonight!)" from Brown Shoes Don't Make It.] At the end of the book Montag (the fireman) is listening to the wise one when this powerful concept is floated.
"Everyone must leave something behind when he dies. A child or a book or a painting or a house or a wall built or a pair of shoes made. Or a garden planted. Something your hand touched some way so your soul has somewhere to go when you die, and when people look at that tree or that flower you planted, you’re there. It doesn’t matter what you do, he said, so long as you change something from the way it was before you touched it into something that’s like you after you take your hands away. The difference between the man who just cuts lawns and a real gardener is in the touching, he said. The lawn cutter might just as well not have been there at all; the gardener will be there a lifetime." From Ray Bradbury's Fahrenheit 451, 1953.
Remember, be here now. Just stand. Don't do anything. Be yourself, not what you think you should be, not what you think I want to you be, just be yourself, nothing else. Just stand. (Fong Ha paraphrased, 2004) On the book CD read by Mr. Bradbury he pronounced the title as Fahrenheit 4 - 5 - 1 not Fahrenheit Four Fifty One.

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