Manifesto of the Day

Chartres cathedral - tympanum

Orson Welles’ monologue from his final feature film, F. for Fake:

This has been standing here for centuries – the premiere work of man, perhaps, in the whole Western world, and it’s without a signature: Chartres. A celebration to God’s glory and to the dignity of man. All that’s left, most artists seem to feel these days, is man, naked – poor forked radish. There aren’t any celebrations. Ours, the scientists keep telling us, is a universe which is disposable.

You know, it might be just this one anonymous glory, of all things – this rich stone forest, this epic chant, this gaiety, this grand choiring shout of affirmation – which we choose, when all our cities are dust, to stand intact, to mark where we’ve been, to testify to what we had it in us to accomplish.

Our works in stone, in paint, in print, are spared, some of them for a few decades, or a millennium or two. But everything must finally fall in war, or wear away into the ultimate and universal ash. The triumphs and the frauds, the treasures and the fakes. It’s a fact of life: we’re going to die.

“Be of good heart,” cry the dead artists out of the living past. “Our songs will all be silenced. But what of it? Go on singing.”

Maybe a man’s name doesn’t matter all that much.


  1. Jonathan Webb says

    Moved it the #1 in my queue. Thanks.

    • Matthew Lickona says

      It’s a strange little film, more of a provocation than a story. But that monologue is pretty impressive, especially with his delivery.

  2. Jonathan Webb says

    Moved it to #1 in my queue. Thanks.

  3. Imelda/Sophia, O.P. says

    Your posts belie your doubt, sir.

  4. Angelico Nguyen, Esq., OP says

    “Be of good heart,” cry the dead artists out of the living past. “Our songs will all be silenced. But what of it?* Go on singing.”

    • Angelico Nguyen, Esq., OP says

      * Thought Experiment: Imagine you know a machine exists that, if activated, would cause the sudden and entirely painless extinction of all sentient life in the Cosmos. Imagine further that you know this machine, if activated, would so alter the Cosmos as to make the re-emergence of sentient life eternally impossible. Imagine further that this machine could be activated at the flip of a switch.

      The decision whether or not to flip the switch rests with you.

      Flip the switch, and you eliminate all suffering in the Cosmos, dispensing instant relief to every wretched creature, human or nonhuman, whose pain was an affront to Ivan Karamazov. True, you will rob these creatures — and all future generations — of a choice that probably does belong to them, maybe even by some objective right. You will cut short the sum-total of enjoyment — intellectual, emotional, sensuous, aesthetic — that present and future sentient beings would otherwise have had between now and the inevitable Big Crunch or entropic dissipation of the Cosmos. Yet if their sudden death is also their sudden oblivion, perhaps they will not have been really wronged, since their death will leave nothing to have been wronged: no harm, no foul. And since you’d extinguish yourself by flipping the switch, you wouldn’t have to grapple with guilt feelings, second-guess the ethics of your choice, etc., after the fact.

      Do you flip the switch? Explain your choice.

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