Highlights from Open City

A grouch through and through, but it was he who first taught me the value of memory, and how to think of it as mental music, a setting to iambs and trochees.

We were all confused about what was happening; we were American, had always thought ourselves so, and not Japanese.

It was I, no less solitary than he but having made the lesser use of the morning, who was to be pitied.

But I was touched not only at the passage of these fixtures in my mental landscape, but also at the swiftness and dispassion with which the market swallowed even the most resilient enterprises.

This was part of my suspicion that there was a mood in the society that pushed people more toward snap judgments and unexamined opinions, an antiscientific mood; to the old problem of mass innumeracy, it seemed to me, was being added a more general inability to assess evidence.

Africa was always waiting, a substrate for the white man’s will, a backdrop for his activities.

It was the art of a country that had an aristocracy but did not have the patronage of courts: a simple, open-faced, and awkward art.

But atrocity is nothing new, not to humans, not to animals.

We had to leave because the future was uncertain. We would have been targeted, that was almost certain, and who knows what else might have happened.

It was only years later, when I became interested in these things for my own sake, that I surmised that my oma, heavily pregnant, had likely been one of the countless women raped by the men of the Red Army that year in Berlin, that so extensive and thorough was that particular atrocity, she could hardly have escaped it.

Not that I liked labor for its own sake—far from it—but I found something true in the work, found something of myself in it.

And the French are lazy, she said, they hate working and are envious of the Flemish. I’ll tell you this in case you don’t hear it from anyone else.

Had Brussels’s rulers not opted to declare it an open city and thereby exempt it from bombardment during the Second World War, it might have been reduced to rubble.

Islam, in its conservative form, was on constant view, though it was not clear to me why this should be so: Belgium had not had a strong colonial relationship with any country in North Africa.

He knew then that difference is never accepted. You are different, okay, but that difference is never seen as containing its own value. Difference as orientalist entertainment is allowed, but difference with its own intrinsic value, no. You can wait forever, and no one will give you that value.

There’s always the expectation that the victimized Other is the one that covers the distance, that has the noble ideas; I disagree with this expectation. It’s an expectation that works sometimes, I said, but only if your enemy is not a psychopath. You need an enemy with a capacity for shame.

It seemed as if the only way this lure of violence could be avoided was by having no causes, by being magnificently isolated from all loyalties. But was that not an ethical lapse graver than rage itself?

It’s a test case of what I believe; people can live together but still keep their own values intact.

But I have been disappointed. Europe only looks free. The dream was an apparition.

If we try to speak to the Palestinian situation, we hear six million.

He had brought me too close to his pain, and I no longer saw him.

That doubt that said, these, too, could have killed and killed and only later learned how to look innocent.

For people to feel that they alone have suffered, it is very dangerous. Having such a degree of resentment is a recipe for trouble. Our society has made itself open for such people, but when they come in, all you hear is complaints.

We’d used up our common ground, and there seemed nothing left to chat about.

It has been much too difficult to pass legislation of this kind. Future generations will perhaps wonder what took us so long.

I am used to it, but it never ceases to surprise me how easy it is to leave the hybridity of the city, and enter into all-white spaces, the homogeneity of which, as far as I can tell, causes no discomfort to the whites in them.

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