All These Young Animals

“I am reading my students’ papers and suddenly I understand better than I ever have, perhaps, what culture and civilization mean. There are some original temperaments among them, magnificent young barbarians, and I think of the triumph of Apollo, whose chariot is drawn by all the beasts of creation, finally tamed. There are, naturally, young eagles in this class. But there are also young lions, young tigers, as well as a few less dangerous animals. Not for anything in the world would I want to destroy these temperaments. I know all the harm I could do. I am afraid to put out the eagles’ eyes and pull out the lions’ teeth. And yet I do have to discipline all these young animals… Yes, I feel more strongly than ever that a cultivated man is a temperament tamed, but also a temperament that endures and resists. In Europe today I can see a few wild temperaments, and a mass of slaves. So we live in barbarity. Nothing is finer than a temperament that has been tamed, regulated. And I enjoy taming these sincere young animals. I respect their sincerity, I am careful not to kill it, but I gently get them to recognize the world, the others around them, and to match their inside with the outside, their violent sincerity with the truth.” (Jean Guehenno, Diary of Dark Years, 1940–1944)