Sunday, October 29, 2006

Duty, duty: what hast thou dunst?

1. From Kant's Critique of Practical Reason:
Duty!--you sublime, grand name which encompasses nothing that is favored yet involves ingratiation, but which demands submission, yet also does not seek to move the will by threatening anything that would arouse natural aversion in the mind and terrify, but merely puts forth a law that on its own finds entry into the mind and yet gains grudging veneration (even if not always compliance), a law before which all inclinations fall silent even if they secretly work against it: what origin is worthy of you, and where does one find the root of your noble descent that proudly rejects all kinship with inclinations, the root from which to be descended is the irremissible condition of that worth which human beings alone can give themselves? (Ak. 5:86)
2. William Wordsworth's "Ode to Duty":
Stern Daughter of the Voice of God!
O Duty! if that name thou love,
Who art a light to guide, a rod
To check the erring and reprove;
Thou, who art victory and law
When empty terrors overawe;
From vain temptations dost set free;
And calm'st the weary strife of frail humanity!...
Ew, ugh, ick, OK, stop.

3. Ogden Nash's "Kind Of An Ode To Duty":
O Duty,
Why hast thou not the visage of a sweetie or a cutie?
Why glitter thy spectacles so ominously?
Why art thou clad so abominously?
Why are thou so different from Venus
And why do thou and I have so few interests mutually
in common between us?
Why art thou fifty per cent martyr
And fifty-one per cent Tartar?

Why is it thy unfortunate wont
To try to attract people by calling on them either to
leave undone the deeds they like, or to do the deeds
they don't?
Why art thou so like an April post-mortem
Of something that died in the ortumn?

Above all, why dost thou continue to hound me?
Why art thou always albatrossly hanging around me?
Thou so ubiquitous,
And I so iniquitous,
I seem to be the one person in the world thou art
perpetually preaching at who or to who;
Whatever looks like fun, there art thou standing
between me and it, calling "you-hoo".

O Duty, Duty!
How noble a man should I be hadst thou the visage of
a sweetie or a cutie!
But as it is thou art so much forbiddinger than a
Wodehouse hero's forbiddingest aunt
That in the words of the poet, When Duty whispers low
"Thou must," this erstwhile youth replies, "I just can't".
I think that "albatrossly" line must be something like what Kant meant by the "sublime".

(If you don't get the joke in the title, you have yet to be exposed to "Look Around You". In which case you have a duty to get over to YouTube right now.)

2 comments:

Micah said...

Ogden Nash rules.

And I'd never heard of that "Look Around You" show--hilarious! And such attention to detail: it looks so authentically retro.

Another series of 10-minute BBC comedy shorts is "Creature Comforts," which are brilliant. And also on YouTube.

Anonymous said...

I hope you are not so dim that you don't get the allusion to "albatrossly"????????? Ah but then you must be the product of a North American school system. Wait a minute! So am I and I am much smarter than you.