A Strange World in which East and West, Past and Present Intermingle

[Excerpt of a letter to Margaret Reid Sloan, Hugh’s grandmother. This letter was written from the Military Intelligence training center at Camp Ritchie, Maryland when Hugh was preparing to go overseas. It’s also interesting that this letter was written before Hugh began his study of Egyptian.]

June, 1943

The past few days I spent in New York among the wonderful Egyptian collections there. The Egyptians are so different from every other ancient people that one hardly knows what to make of them. They are the only people we know of who deliberately planned to convey information to other ages than their own. They had one abiding passion — to conquer time and nullify its power. The devices they try are sometimes pathetic, sometimes ingenious and, strangely enough, sometimes successful. I shall tell you more about that when I have located a couple of manuscripts which I have been seeking thruout the libraries of the east.

From these oddly preoccupied ramblings you will see that I am living in a strange world in which East and West, past and present, are wildly intermingled. This is part of a process of tying things together — an ambitious project for which I am by no means well suited or situated, but which I feel must be undertaken. I have been talking to the best scholars everywhere and everywhere it is the same story — they are interested only in their careers and think of everything in terms of reputation and promotion. They are all looking for projects that will “pay off” without too much work and seek not knowledge but only to exploit what they know. “Every man walketh after the image of his own heart, which is the image of the world.”

I must confess with some shame that the rough, restless and unscrupulous ways of Combat Intelligence are rather well suited if not actually agreeable to my temperament. This is a way of life that does not pretend to be a finer thing than it is. Our peace-time life, of which we have suddenly grown so sentimental, was too often a drab and embittered domesticity or a meanly acquisitive manipulation of others, a la Dale Carnegie, for what we could get out of them.

One arrives at these hard judgments of our times by comparing them with the image of what should be. For me, as I have often said, you are that image. With what justice could you complain against fate, with what unanswerable arguments condemn the world! But of course you do nothing of the sort. A nature so totally devoid of anything negative or dark gives the same joy to the beholder as a perfect work or art. If you were only feeble-minded or simply not aware of things, such an aloofness from evil would still be wonderful–for dullness can be perfectly intimate with folly. But to be wholly alive and at the same time wholly generous is an angelic achievement.

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About Hugh Nibley

Hugh Nibley, 1910-2005, was simultaneously the LDS Church's greatest intellectual defender from attack from the outside and Mormon culture's strongest critic from the inside. This blog is composed mainly from Nibley's unpublished writings, letters, interviews and conversations, with occasional posts from associates who had personal interactions with him.
This entry was posted in Ancient Egypt, Ancient writings, Education & Academia, Letters, Philosophy. Bookmark the permalink.

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