Modern language and the campaign against active entities

Regarding the systematic use of the passive voice in the news story about a racial knife attack in Nottinghamshire, England, Tim W. writes:

Below is Nicolaus of Damascus’ account of the assassination of Julius Caesar. It seems Nicolaus could have used a course in journalistic sensitivity:

That was the moment for the men to set to work. All quickly unsheathed their daggers and rushed at him. First Servilius Casca struck him with the point of the blade on the left shoulder a little above the collar-bone. He had been aiming for that, but in the excitement he missed. Caesar rose to defend himself, and in the uproar Casca shouted out in Greek to his brother. The latter heard him and drove his sword into the ribs. After a moment, Cassius made a slash at his face, and Decimus Brutus pierced him in the side. While Cassius Longinus was trying to give him another blow he missed and struck Marcus Brutus on the hand Minucius also hit out at Caesar and hit Rubrius in the thigh. They were just like men doing battle against him.

Under the mass of wounds, he fell at the foot of Pompey’s statue. Everyone wanted to seem to have had some part in the murder, and there was not one of them who failed to strike his body as it lay there, until, wounded thirty-five times, he breathed his last.

This account makes it sound as if the daggers were merely implements in the hands of men determined to do harm, rather than animate objects. To help overcome this, I’d like to suggest a new PC version of Caesar’s last words: “And Brutus’ dagger, too?”

LA replies:

It is true that there is an absence of sensitivity in Nicolaus of Damascus’ account. Discomfort is felt with the incisive, phallocentric quality of all these white men stabbing, slashing, and piercing. A reworking is desirable. While it may not be possible to rid the passage entirely of the violence and, perhaps equally disturbing, the notion of distinct agents performing distinct actions, here is a version that is nevertheless more suitable for modern readers:

That was the moment for the job to begin. Steel instruments were taken out of their holders and Caesar was approached. Caesar saw Servilius Casca, and a moment later an uncomfortable sensation was felt in Caesar’s left shoulder a little above the collar-bone. There was a rustling of robes as Caesar’s posture changed from sitting to standing. A shout was heard from Casca’s direction, it entered the ears of Casca’s brother, and Caesar was injured in the ribs. Then Cassius was seen approaching, and a wound was made in Caesar’s face. Then Caesar’s side was hurt by Decimus Brutus. The blade of Cassius Longinus missed its target and the hand of Marcus Brutus was impacted by accident. Another badly aimed blow came from Minucius and Rubrius was hit in the thigh. There was much confusion, as in the midst of a battle.

At the foot of Pompey’s statue, the falling down of Caesar happened. The desire was generally felt to be seen as having participated equally in the contingency operation, and injurious contact was made with Caesar’s prone body over and over so that there was no one from whom a blow had not come, until, with thirty-five wounds, his last breath was breathed.

Posted by Lawrence Auster at June 21, 2009 11:30 PM | Send

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