Sunday, May 17, 2009

#1 - Heraclitus's Policemen

COP: Sir, we saw you step into the same river twice.
MAN: What, you can't do that?

This was one of the first Raczkowski cartoons I ever saw and I still think it's one of his best. I cut it out of the magazine it appeared in (Polityka) and kept it for a long time...might still have it somewhere.

A Polish friend told me that the man's belongings, especially the pattern on his blanket, mark him as a regular guy from 1980s Poland, an "average Joe" unaware of and unconcerned with the ins and outs of politics unless they directly trouble him. The cops are in the uniform of the Polish police or
milicja. So one level of the joke is a satire of the ludicrously irrelevant complexity of Polish bureaucracy, in which laws based on noble ideas translate into absurdity when applied to real life situations.

On another level it is a joke on lofty philosophical thinking and pseudodeep thought. "You cannot step into the same river twice" - Well, actually, yes I can. It's not difficult. And you want to arrest me for it? What's being mocked is the mind that wants to set up abstract ideals and then use the threat of violence to make average people conform to them - Communism in a nutshell.

It also reminds me of something that happened in Łódź back in the 90s. An American sculptor had installed one of his works in a public park in the city. The piece looked like a pile of scrap steel bars. Some local men, unemployed and short of money, saw the pile and, assuming it was abandoned junk, stole it and sold it for its value as scrap metal. The sculptor sued them...I never found out how the case was resolved but I hope the men were exonerated. They are Raczkowskian heroes.

Incidentally, Heraclitus's actual statement is somewhat different from what is usually attributed to him. One version is this:

ποταμοῖσι τοῖσιν αὐτοῖσιν ἐμϐαίνουσιν, ἕτερα καὶ ἕτερα ὕδατα ἐπιρρεῖ.
Potamoisi toisin autoisin embainousin, hetera kai hetera hudata epirrei
On those stepping into rivers the same, other and other waters flow.

Wikipedia for more detail. I'll be down at the beach with my lunch and a thermos of tea.


  1. Great Blog! It's cool to read about Raczkowski in English.

    1. Glad you like it. I keep meaning to update it but am very lazy.