Short with quotes
by Amadio Galante


        View of the Kremlin, late summer night, 1923. The Red Square is deserted. Cut to room in which three men are sitting at table, drinking vodka and eating smoked fish. They are Stalin, Dzerzhinsky and Kamenev. They raise their glasses and drink to each other's health. Kamenev complains that sometimes, though not often, putting certain people to death disturbs him in his sleep. Dzerzhinsky shrugs: "You know the saying about omelettes?" Stalin says: "To choose one's victim, to prepare one's plans minutely, to slake implacable vengeance, and then to go to bed."
    View, from the lawn, of a house in suburban Virginia. Summer night, 1990. The lights inside the house go out, one after the other. Cut to master bedroom. Professor Richard Rorty, the philosopher, is sitting on the bed, taking off his shoes. His wife is already tucked in. She asks: "Richard, do you think Marxism is done for?" Prof. Rorty replies while he lies down: "Dialectical materialism, my dear, was a pretty incoherent and silly philosophical system, and it eventually fell into the hands of mad tyrants. But it got quite a bit of good done while it lasted."
Back to Kremlin, same room, 1936. Stalin is alone, signing papers. Mironov, an NKVD chief, is announced. Mironov approaches Stalin and with trepidation informs him that Kamenev is refusing to confess.
        "You think that Kamenev may not confess?" asks Stalin.
        "I don't know," Mironov answers. "He doesn't yield to persuasion."

        "You don't know?" inquires Stalin with marked surprise, staring at Mironov. "Do you know how much our state weighs, with all the factories, machines, the army, with all the armaments and the navy?"

        Mironov looks at Stalin with surprise.
        "Think it over and tell me," says Stalin.
        Mironov smiles, believing that Stalin is getting ready to crack a joke. But Stalin is not joking. He looks at Mironov in earnest. "I am asking you, how much does all that weigh?" he insists.

        Mironov is confused. He waits, still hoping Stalin will turn everything into a joke, but Stalin keeps staring at him waiting for an answer. Mironov shrugs his shoulders and, like a schoolboy undergoing an examination, says in an irresolute voice, "Nobody can know that, Yosif Vissarionovich. It is in the realm of astronomical figures."

        "Well, and can one man withstand the pressure of an astronomical weight?" asks Stalin sternly.
        "No," answers Mironov.

        "Now then, don't tell me any more that Kamenev, or this or that prisoner, is able to withstand that pressure. Don't come to report to me until you have in your briefcase the confession of Kamenev!"

    1990. Prof. Rorty, in tweed jacket and no tie, is delivering a lecture. He sips from the glass of water, then pronounces his final utterance: "Our culture has not only been carried upward by a bubbling fountain of puns and metaphors; it has been increasingly conscious of itself as resting on nothing more solid than such a geyser."

    After a pause, a student raises her hand. "Professor Rorty, may I ask what is your political position?"

    "Good question," says Prof. Rorty; "if I have to describe it in two words, I should say I am a tragic liberal."

[Quote of Stalin in #1 is from Robert Tucker, The Soviet Political Mind, London, 1972, p. 57; quote of R. Rorty in #2 (except for the "my dear") is from Richard Rorty, Essays on Heidegger and Others, Cambridge U. Press, 1991, p.#137; quote of Stalin in #3 is from Robert Conquest, The Great Terror, a Reassessment, Oxford U. Press, 1990, p.#85; quotes of Rorty in #4 are from Richard Rorty, loc. cit., p.#103 and p.#186]


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