Dangerous Excuses
Logos of a Bygone Age


When I think of memorable openings to books, one in particular springs to mind. Celia Green’s The Human Evasion is difficult to summarise or adequately explain, which is, I think, part of its charm. Actually, the word ‘charm’ may have misleading connotations, as The Human Evasion is the antithesis of whimsical reassurance as generally conceived. First published in 1969 and subsequently translated into Dutch, German and Italian, The Human Evasion is the most widely read of Green’s books and is perhaps the most ambiguous. Insofar as it’s possible to summarise the book, it’s a rumination on the human predicament in the face of uncertainty and, specifically, on how contemporary thinking entails a number of profound dishonesties and quite mad ideas. Written with striking clarity and the darkest possible humour, The Human Evasion is both funny and disturbing in more or less equal measure. It begins like this:

“On the face of it, there is something rather strange about human psychology. Human beings live in a state of mind called ‘sanity’ on a small planet in space. They are not quite sure whether the space around them is infinite or not (either way it is unthinkable). If they think about time, they find it is inconceivable that it had a beginning. It is also inconceivable that it did not have a beginning. Thoughts of this kind are not disturbing to ‘sanity’, which is obviously a remarkable phenomenon and deserves more recognition.”

More here and here. Update: Thanks to Fabian in the comments, the entire book can be read online here.