Help me add 18th-century philosophy and fiction to my video game!
January 10, 2011 9:10 AM   Subscribe

I'm making a mod for Amnesia: The Dark Descent, set in Prussia around the turn of the nineteenth century (late 1700s or early 1800s), and I'm looking to add short written excerpts on the theme of abstract justice versus the collateral human cost of achieving it as notes for the player to pick up.

For an example of what I'm looking to do, think Deus Ex, where excerpts of The Man Who Was Thursday and other works are scattered around the levels.

I want something that will echo the theme of the story, which I've outlined above (the protagonist of the story has betrayed their home to an enemy force because the lord was creating eldritch horrors, and the invading soldiers have slaughtered everyone within as a result.)

I've found a few relevant passages in Machiavelli, possibly Kant, etc., but my knowledge of early European philosophy and fiction is very sketchy, and I'm looking for some other books, stories, or essays to draw from. My only requests are that it be relatively historically accurate (i.e. no Nietzsche), and that English translations be in the public domain. I'm not trying to push a particular perspective on the question, so any opinions or examples that touch on the subject are fine.
posted by Tubalcain to Media & Arts (4 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
On the banks of the Hafel, about the middle of the sixteenth century, lived a horse-dealer named Michael Kohlhaas. He was the son of a schoolmaster, and was one of the most honest while at the same time he was one of the most terrible persons of his period. Till his thirtieth year this extraordinary man might have passed as a pattern of a good citizen. In a village, which still bears his name, he held a farm on which, by means of his business, he was enabled to live quietly. The children whom his wife bore him he brought up in the fear of God to honesty and industry; and there was not one among his neighbours who had not felt the benefit of his kindness or his sense of justice. In short, the world might have blessed his memory had he not carried one virtue to too great an extreme. The feeling of justice made him a robber and a murderer...
"Michael Kohlhaas," (1810) by Heinrich von Kleist
posted by Iridic at 9:41 AM on January 10, 2011 [1 favorite]

Kohlhaas is such a great story. It's perfect. I think Kafka said he could hardly think of the story without getting emotional, and that's saying something.

Kleist's 'On The Marionette Theater' also evokes a particular pessimism about human agency and our very ability to reason, which could add to the atmosphere you're going for.

His stuff is just great in general.

I'm also thinking of Meister Eckhart. He's German, fairly obscure, and appropriately mystical. Some of his writings/saying might be relevant to the topic of justice:

"Truth is something so noble that if God could turn aside from it, I could keep the truth and let God go."
posted by edguardo at 10:39 AM on January 10, 2011 [1 favorite]

From the Marionette Theater:

"Misconceptions like this are unavoidable," he said, " now that we've eaten of the tree of knowledge. But Paradise is locked and bolted, and the cherubim stands behind us. We have to go on and make the journey round the world to see if it is perhaps open somewhere at the back."


The World as Will and Representation by Arthur Schopenhauer was first published in 1818. Some excerpts:

'Life is short and truth works far and lives long: let us speak the truth. '

'We see in tragedy the noblest men, after a long conflict and suffering, finally renounce forever all the pleasure of life and the aims till then pursued so keenly, or cheerfully and willingly give up life itself. '

'There is only one inborn erroneous notion ... that we exist in order to be happy ... So long as we persist in this inborn error ... the world seems to us full of contradictions. For at every step, in great things and small, we are bound to experience that the world and life are certainly not arranged for the purpose of maintaining a happy existence ... hence the countenances of almost all elderly persons wear the expression of ... disappointment. '

'Life is a business that does not cover the costs. '

That might be some of what you're looking for, if truth is a relevant topic to justice, and certainly regarding the human costs of.. well, any achievement.
posted by edguardo at 10:46 AM on January 10, 2011 [1 favorite]

You might lift some of Franz's dialogue from Schiller's The Robbers. The character's a sociopath who plays at seeking justice while desiring nothing but power.

"It is now the mode to wear buckles on your smallclothes, that you may loosen or tighten them at pleasure. I will be measured for a conscience after the newest fashion, one that will stretch handsomely as occasion may require."

"My brows shall lower upon you like thunderclouds; my lordly name shall hover over you like a threatening comet over the mountains; my forehead shall be your weather-glass! ... Fondling and caressing is not my mode. I will drive the rowels of the spur into their flesh, and give the scourge a trial."

"I am delegated by the high justices, on whose sentence hangs life or death—ye thieves—ye incendiaries—ye villains—ye venomous generation of vipers, crawling about in the dark, and stinging in secret—ye refuse of humanity—brood of hell—food for ravens and worms—colonists for the gallows and the wheel—"
posted by Iridic at 11:40 AM on January 10, 2011

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