Francois Marie Arouet – 18th Century writer, philosopher, and sit-down comedian (satirist) – is better known to all third semester French students as Voltaire. He lived his life in full. Smart, cruel, generous, witty, kind, atheistic, humanistic, misanthropic, absurdist, English-loving Francophobe, Francophilic Parisian; long-suffering, well-rewarded, hunted, despised, and dearly beloved.
He gave to literature some of the strangest confabulations ever seen, even in the modern era – stories of science fiction absurdity – spacemen, giants, deranged civilian populations, plagues, pirates and villains pretending to do public good; and then mystical, perfect (and boring) Edens, soon to be discarded for lustier, more perilous pursuits.
He tried to wrangle out of the human condition some sense, some middle ground, but seemed to enjoy the highs and lows of existence – in his writing, and in reality – more than the simple, quiet life his literary creations claimed to desire.
He gave, in some work or another, or perhaps only in speech, a phrase which echoes in my mind in almost every conversation I have with those defending the various religions of our era – Bird Flu, Aids, Sars, Bombing Iraq for democracy’s sake, etc.
“If you want to converse with me, first define your terms.”
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