The Only Thing We Learn by C. M. Kornbluth

The Only Thing We Learn C M Kornbluth

The Only Thing We Learn C M Kornbluth

THE PROFESSOR, though he did not know the actor’s phrase for it, was counting the house-peering through a spyhole in the door through which he would in a moment appear before the class. He was pleased with what he saw. Tier after tier of young people, ready with notebooks and styli, chattering tentatively, glancing at the door against which his nose was flattened, waiting for the pleasant interlude known as “Archaeo-Literature 203” to begin. The professor stepped back, smoothed his tunic, crooked four books on his left elbow, and made his entrance. Four swift strides brought him to the lectern and, for the thousandth-odd time, he impassively swept the lecture hall with his gaze. Then he gave a wry little smile. Inside, for the thousandth-odd time, he was nagged by the

irritable little thought that the lectern really ought to be a foot or so higher. The irritation did not show. He was out to win the audience, and he did. A dead silence, the supreme tribute, gratified him. Imperceptibly, the lights of the lecture hall began to dim and the light on the lectern to brighten. He spoke. “Young gentlemen of the Empire, I ought to warn you that this and the succeeding lectures will be most subversive.” There was a little rustle of incomprehension from the audience- but by then the lectern light was strong enough to show the twinkling smile about his eyes that belied his stern mouth, and agreeable chuckles sounded in the gathering darkness of the tiered seats. Glow lights grew bright gradually at the students’ tables, and they adjusted their notebooks in the narrow ribbons of illumination. He waited for the small commotion to subside. – “Subversive-” He gave them a link to cling to. “Subversive because I shall make every effort to tell both sides of our ancient beginnings with every resource of archaeology and with every clue my diligence has discovered in our epic literature. “There were two sides, you know-difficult though it may be to believe that if we judge by the Old Epic alone-such epics as the noble and tempestuous Chant oj Remd, the remaining fragments of Kratt’s Voyage, or the gory and rather out-of-date Battle For the Ten Suns.” He paused while styli scribbled across the notebook pages. “The Middle Epic is marked, however, by what I might call the rediscovered ethos.” From his voice, every student knew that that phrase, surer than death and taxes, would appear on an examination paper. The styli scribbled. “By this I mean an awakening of fellow-feeling with the Home Suns People, which had once been filial loyalty to them when our ancestors were few and pioneers, but which turned into contempt when their numbers grew. “The Middle Epic writers did not despise the Home Suns People, as did the bards of the Old Epic. Perhaps this was because they did not have to-since their long war against the Home Suns was drawing to a victorious close. “Of the New Epic I shall have little to say. It was a literary fad, a pose, and a silly one. Written within historic times, the some two score pseudo-epics now moulder in thek cylinders, where they be-

long. Our ripening civilization could not with integrity work in the epic form, and the artistic failures produced so indicate. Our genius turned to the lyric and to the unabashedly romantic novel. “So much, for the moment, of literature. What contribution, you must wonder, have archaeological studies to make in an investigation of the wars from which our ancestry emerged? “Archaeology offers-one-a check in historical matters in the epics-confirming or denying. Two-it provides evidence glossed over hi the epics-for artistic or patriotic reasons. Three-it provides evidence which has been lost, owing to the fragmentary nature of some of the early epics.” All this he fired at them crisply, enjoying himself. Let them not think him a dreamy litterateur, or, worse, a flat precisionist, but let them be always a little off-balance before him, never knowing what came next, and often wondering, hi class and out. The styli paused after heading Three. “We shall examine first, by our archaeo-literary technique, the second book of the Chant oj Remd. As the selected youth of the Empire, you know much about it, of course-much that is false, some that is true, and a great deal that is irrelevant. You know that Book One hurls us into the middle of things, aboard ship with Algan and his great captain, Remd, on their way from the triumph over a Home Suns stronghold, the planet Telse. We watch Remd on his diversionary action that splits the Ten Suns Fleet into two halves. But before we see the destruction of those halves by the Horde of Algan, we are told in Book Two of the battle for Telse.” He opened one of his books on the lectern, swept the amphitheater again, and read sonorously. “Then battle broke And high the blinding blast Sight-searing leaped While folk in fear below Cowered hi caverns * From the wrath of Remd- “Or, in less sumptuous language, one fission bomb-or a stick of time-on-target bombs-was dropped. An unprepared and disorganized populace did not take the standard measure of dispersing,

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