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The Unbearable Lightness of Being (part 5 chapter 3)

2006-08-22 20:49

  3

  When Tomas came back to Prague from Zurich, he took up in his hospital where he had left off. Then one day the chief surgeon called him in.

  You know as well as I do, he said, that you're no writer or journalist or savior of the nation. You're a doctor and a scientist. I'd be very sad to lose you, and I'll do everything I can to keep you here. But you've got to retract that article you wrote about Oedipus. Is it terribly important to you?

  To tell you the truth, said Tomas, recalling how they had amputated a good third of the text, it couldn't be any less important.

  You know what's at stake, said the chief surgeon.

  He knew, all right. There were two things in the balance: his honor (which consisted in his refusing to retract what he had said) and what he had come to call the meaning of his life (his work in medicine and research)。

  The chief surgeon went on: The pressure to make public retractions of past statements-there's something medieval about it. What does it mean, anyway, to 'retract' what you've said? How can anyone state categorically that a thought he once had is no longer valid? In modern times an idea can be refuted, yes, but not retracted. And since to retract an idea is impossible, merely verbal, formal sorcery, I see no reason why you shouldn't do as they wish. In a society run by terror, no statements whatsoever can be taken seriously. They are all forced, and it is the duty of every honest man to ignore them. Let me conclude by saying that it is in my interest and in your patients' interest that you stay on here with us.

  You're right, I'm sure, said Tomas, looking very unhappy.

  But? The chief surgeon was trying to guess his train of thought.

  I'm afraid I'd be ashamed.

  Ashamed! You mean to say you hold your colleagues in such high esteem that you care what they think?

  No, I don't hold them in high esteem, said Tomas.

  Oh, by the way, the chief surgeon added, you won't have to make a public statement. I have their assurance. They're bureaucrats. All they need is a note in their files to the effect that you've nothing against the regime. Then if someone comes and attacks them for letting you work at the hospital, they're covered. They've given me their word that anything you say will remain between you and them. They have no intention of publishing a word of it.

  Give me a week to think it over, said Tomas, and there the matter rested.

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