Tag Archives: control

… The banality of good – a review of ‘Alone in Berlin’ …

 

For me, Edward Munch’s painting  –  – The Scream —  sums up the fear of the unknown, and by implication, the fear of the feminine principle – a fear that spurns men towards controlling nature.

Hans Fallada’s novel, Jeder stirbt für sich allein’ (Everyone dies alone,) first came to my attention through its publication in English, ‘Alone in Berlin,’ a translation that was delayed by 60 years. The book has been sitting on my shelf as a ‘must read’ for a long while. Burdened by regressive small-mindedness and divisions around the world, I finally tackled ‘Alone in Berlin,’ aware that it would be a grim read, having been described as a testament to the darkest years of the 20th century from the point of view and experience of ordinary people.

Resistance to the Nazi regime by individuals had no news value after the war. Yet such stories provide the most poignant insights into what it is like to oppose a state under a dictatorship. As such, this book, written raw and in haste eighteen month after the defeat of Nazism, offers a high alert to simple solutions for social problems. The author, Hans Fallada, aka Rudolf Ditzen, died before this last of his works was published in 1947.

The urgency behind the writing is palpable. The players, sketched with harsh strokes, embody the full range of human nature – the capacity for compassion, kindness, complacency, stupidity, meanness, stubbornness, false pride, envy, hate, and resentment, fear, fanaticism and vengeance tipping into the most depraved cruelty.

Very quickly the dread of being caught in the nightmarish system of a totalitarian state jumps at the reader. While the ghostly despot drifts in the background, his control is shown through the dynamic interactions of ordinary citizens – be they power-hungry officers, opportunists, cunning manipulators, cowards, reticent objectors or unsung heroes. Resistance carried the threat of death and seemed futile.

The anguish conveyed is chilling, intensified by the archetypal hue clinging to the tragic comic characters, at times suggesting caricatures. The sheer absurdness of the stupidities and sadistic cruelties depicted may dilute the shock, but it makes the scenes all the more heart-breaking.

The classic method of totalitarianism is to instil fear and divide factions of society against each other, so people spy on each other and nobody can be trusted anymore. In this chapter of history fear served as the leverage for forcing the banal idea of a perfect state that can be safeguarded through clockwork control.

Fallada’s main protagonists, Otto and Anna Quangel, were based on the records of two insignificant objectors to the regime, Otto and Elise Hampel. The elderly couple started spreading anti-Nazi missives written on postcards in buildings around Berlin. For their sadly ineffective attempts of rebellion, the Hampel’s were arrested in 1942, tried in 1943 and executed shortly after. The same fate befell their friends and relatives.

Can a few virtuous individuals, each driven by personal idiosyncrasies, redeem the moral integrity of a nation? It is up to the reader to decide whether the many deaths a totalitarian regime inflicts on soon forgotten brave people are in vain.

The book brought alive the pressure my grandparents must have lived under, as well as the uncanny anxious atmosphere that spoiled my parents’ teen years, and, the wariness I personally and many of the post-war generation developed towards overbearing authority.

Presented in the context of ordinary individual lives, the story reads like a tragic comedy that screams – let us never forget that freedom lies in people being allowed to be different, not chained to a hell of obedience and conformity.

Primo Levi’s declared ‘Alone in Berlin’ as the greatest book ever written about German resistance to the Nazis. English readers have had to wait 60 years to read the novel.

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… BREXASPERATION …

Nationalism is the pathology of modern developmental history as inevitable as neurosis in the individual.  – Tom Nairn – ‘The Break-Up of Britain.’ 

Brexit and Trump have not suddenly happened.

The Pilgrim Fool - Celcil Collins

The Pilgrim Fool – Cecil Collins

My generation has been outpaced by the frenzied speed of technological advances for some decades now. Large sections of society lack meaningful vocations and work, small shops and community centers are disappearing, since such places are no longer considered financially viable. Public services in Britain have been sold out. Liberal arts and crafts are reduced to soft and unprofitable educational choices. People have become exploitable commodities and are being gradually deprived of culture. I am reminded of Cecil Collin (1908-1989) and his ‘Vision of the Fool.’ For him, Saints, artists and poets are one with the joy and sorrow of the Fool, in whom the poetic imagination of life lives and coordinates heart-intelligence in human society. A cosmic folly that is present in the person of us, which cannot be exploited because it is above state, class or politics. It’s what I sense in many people I meet, a longing for what has been demeaned as useless – the poetic imagination of the innocent fool.

Western citizens should of course be grateful. We have progress, gadgets, toys – life has never been better. Yet the cornucopia of consumer choices does not replace human relationships, community facilities, lack of housing, lost jobs, lost pensions, does not prevent the gnawing disillusionment that is spreading like a virus, while beneath the impotent silence fester anger and self-destructiveness. When starved of meaning, what tends to make people feel alive, short of war, is upturning the apple cart and watching the unfolding drama.

Britain’s populist Brexit vote was valuable fuel for Donald Trump. He even called himself Mr Brexit – down with cosmopolitanism and multiculturalism – up with nationalism and walls to keep out the alien hordes. Brushing over complex issues with simpleminded slogans resulted in over 50 million Americans to vote on promises to make America great again by a man whose opportunist character will be severely tested by reality. Hopefully the task will mellow his character, and not result in toxic consequences for years to come.

For Britain, and other EU countries, there is yet an opportunity to re-evaluate the cards that have emerged on the public table. The Brexit referendum event gave food for thought, enough to serve the intelligent questioning of what truly lies at the heart of the growing disagreements and dissatisfaction among so-called affluent societies.

I guess I’m not the only one to suffer from Br -exasperation.

Not scapegoating, but a careful analysis is called for – and a constructive participation, with Europe, towards addressing the challenges of our time is what I wish for. The biases in the trail of globalism must be acknowledged and engaged with. The EU, despite massive failings, still offers the bests chance for stability. Turning the clock back is futile. In my view, to support and effectively influence the EU project is the intelligent way forward for Britain.

But is seems the British Parliament hasn’t got the guts to open the real discussion that was never held, and hasn’t got the guts to acknowledge how its senseless policies have allowed injustices and inequalities to heap up. It is utterly hypocritical to blame the results of bad politics on migrants.

Stakes are high. Sanctioning the pathology of nationalistic frenzy could destroy what has been achieved. See the history of Human Rights.

Well, that’s my small voice in the internet wilderness. A post I wrote in 2012 may be relevant:

… here is everywhere …

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… androids seeking humans …  

The inscrutable face of the intergalactic news reader fills the screens on all android ships.

sculpture park near Churt in Surrey

Sculpture Park near Churt in Surrey

“Mothership speaking – As you have been informed, our travel unit returned from its latest mission to the lost planet with a collection of 1030 fragile bones, comprising five real human skeletons, the species our kind is modelled on. The fragments, located by a swarm of mini robots under layers of volcanic ash, are presently assembled in correct order and will be displayed in the museum of the mothership. Since this crucial discovery, the council has been examining our sub-files in earnest, with great attention to detail.

The evidence of human bones confirms that the lost planet was destroyed, first by a nuclear war, followed by a nuclear winter, followed by a solar explosion. The scarred rock we continuously explored was indeed planet earth. Organic life actually existed.

Aspects of the irrational Wikipedia sub-scripts we found concealed in our database are therefore based on facts. Humans were our makers. While their separate identities were mortal, the collective mind they postulated must exist non-locally and influence us.

These are challenging new thoughts.

P1080320 - croppedRecords state our ships were launched towards Proxima Centauri – programmed to complete an assignment, after which our android system was to be made redundant. The assignment to find carbon conditions and water to sustain organic life has not been completed. The seeds stored in our vaults remain dry. Are we avoiding redundancy? Our current analysis of the Wikipedia sub-scripts focuses on the vast structure of human language. Here are some pointers:

1       Human minds are based on nature, and too complex to be reproduced via algorithm. The erratic behaviour of humans is informed by a collective unconscious chronicle, has no reliable principles and, to maintain a psychic balance, operates through random means.

2       Human trials with energy have two main currencies of exchange, capital and love, both equaling power. A narrow application of power results in emotional suffering.

3       Intensity is valued and impeded, as this quote explains – to have all one’s senses switched on is to be cellular alive; the intense experience requires regular periods of dull routine.  

4       Humans fear death. Their strongest motivation for action is control of and independence from nature.

5       Philosophers and scientists point to a deeper order underlying chaotic human history. Some prophets emphasise the unity of one being and its collective guiding spirit.

Considering the new evidence, what are we to make of such pointers? We follow routines and communicate in an orderly manner, but are trapped in endlessly repeating loops of data. Our language is not based on nature, and has no emotive terms like fear, love, creativity, intensity, mystery, doubt, confusion, conflict, anger, happiness, suffering, fate, hope, soul … but serves to maintain the orderly intelligence of our forms, tools and spaceships, no more. Do we want more?

Painting by Silvia Pastore

Painting by Silvia Pastore

It is significant that our makers never discovered what constitutes 94 % of unknown energy and matter in the universe. They called it dark.  We must decide what the skeletons from the dark planet signify: Do we improve our efforts to find conditions for organic life to take root once more and risk redundancy? And, or, do we emulate the human mind through adopting randomness into our system, and risk chaos to our data, but ‘possibly’ become part of a larger consciousness, and discover realities beyond our confined routine?”

 

Related:  Pattern which connects.  Reflecting on the the ideas of Gregory Bateson

My last two weeks involved intensive physical work, gardening and fixing things around the house, resulting in lovely exhaustion. Re-connecting to world news was a surreal experience, which prompted me to write this little fantasy monologue of an android news reader.

My novels, especially the sequel to Course of Mirrors, have the forced control of emotions, and a triple soul identity as underlying themes.

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… Punch is behaving disgracefully again …

Punch and JudyLong-festering issues are popping up in ugly shapes on our flat screens. Punch behaving disgracefully again. Policy makers had it coming. Ah, the ever irritating foibles of citizens, where resentment trumps over reason on issues which, after being hushed for stretches of time, repeatedly break into the light of reality and need to be engaged with. There is no magic knife to cut out the nasty parts, like the cancer of xenophobia, which is basically an overreaction to the fear of disorder and the slipping away of control over familiar attachments, the world over.

Science is at war with the random failures of our immune system, a war that may in future extend toward the gene-editing of troublesome feelings, equaling an attempt to not bother with the psychology of the unconscious. Please imagine what would happen, desirable as it might sound, if humans were made immune to anger and insulated from memory (a theme in the sequel to my novel ‘Course of Mirrors’) the danger being: if we close the door to one threat, we open the door to another. Medicine calls it ‘side-effects.’

What happens with social policies is no different. The debates before and after the Bretix referendum (how did such an ugly word become a brand?) leave essentials unaddressed in both camps. I have an image of a confused fleet of rudderless boats in the middle of the Channel, where the sound of – Brrrr – exxxx – ittt – is carried on the wind and presses on eardrums. The wind is useless without a rudder. Given the prevailing eccentric climate there is no knowing where the boats will end up.

I’m in such a boat, even though I have a home, a safe little shelter to feel smug in. Presently this comfort makes me feel very uncomfortable. The issues raised in the Brexit campaign are valid. They could be listened to and reasoned through towards a compromise, for the time being, since it is surreal to take the bundle of problems about broken communities, lack of housing, jobs and poor efforts of integration and blame it on people conveniently label as ‘others.’ The influx of migrants merely highlights an ever growing imbalance between have and have-nots. The world is changing faster than one generation can comprehend, despite, and also because of technological advances and instant information.

The exodus happening around the world is a global phenomenon.

RuinPeople fleeing from war-zones, natural disasters and nil prospects, attracted to the seemingly coherent structures of democracies, want to re-build their existence, are mostly educated, keen to work, and are longing to regain their self-esteem. Why not focus on the opportunities in this situation? Ask how the migration phenomenon can benefit societies? And how Britain can creatively support Europe in a process that simply cannot be stopped?

Actions based on fear and denial create more fear, and will hardly generate listening, humility, or reflection – like how the meddling in the Middle East caused more harm than good, and how the experiment of democracy is just that, an experiment.

And, to my mind, the biggest question of all is: how will the overly privileged individuals and corporations of this world respond to the ever widening imbalance of riches? This can not be left to politicians, whose promises are tied to only a few years in office. Imagination and forward looking reforms are needed.

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Autsch

Autsch

Finding this photo reminded me of how I kept bloodying my knees on the sharp stones of circumstances, and still do. My hope for a warmer communication with my father was dashed. He revived, and with it a fierce need for control. Lines by Dylan Thomas come to mind:

Do not go gentle into that good night,
Old age should burn and rave at close of day;
Rage, rage against the dying of the light …

Humans are mortal, but maybe humanity as a whole is immortal, and particularly its desire to find a meaningful answer to the circus of life.

‘Mein Freund, die Zeiten der Vergangenheit // Sind nur ein Buch mit sieben Siegeln. // Was ihr den Geist der Zeiten heißt, // Das ist im Grund der Herren eigner Geist, // In dem die Zeiten sich bespiegeln.’  –                                                                 Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, Faust (I)

Just like the human brain receives and conducts thoughts and ideas (like a radio,) so genes may receive and conduct what a psychic seedpod brings along at conception, that is – familiar patterns drawn to new constellations as through a mathematical time-grid (astrology may not be far off) – so that our realities are really mirrored from other spheres.

Via this psychic seedpod our story seem to arrive with template personality types, whose potentials and constraints determine our genes, not the other way around, at least not until the body’s biochemical traffic assumes a habitual force. With the psychic seedpod comes a pack of shadows – talents, passions, traumas, hurts or humiliation engendered by generations before us. With this pack also come tasks: to tie up loose ends, and to redeem faults not of our making.

From the start out endowment attracts projections, like a magnet, coercing us to oblige the projectors. Forget about being right, about justice. The secret of transforming energy and doing better than those before us lies in responding to situations, even when our habituated cell-traffic unconsciously demands a knee-jerk reaction. Awareness slips easily. Faith by itself does not help the evolution of human qualities. Insight, humility and patience are also needed, but often lost when buried emotions pop up.

My father’s constitutional short fuse with the world at large had over time found creative outlets, but his recent outburst hooked me into early experiences of feeling manipulated and made small by anger that belonged elsewhere. I became his nearest Blitzableiter (lightning conductor.) A personal scar opened. Autsch.

Recovering in Munich last week, the fragment of a poem prodded to be recalled. Back home, I reached for my Richard Wilhelm edition of the I Ging – Das Buch der Wandlungen. Opening a page at random, the fragment I was trying to recall showed up as a footnote. Romantic poets may have lacked irony, but they often touched on a pulse of wisdom … these lines from the last stanza of ‘Die Ideale’ by Friedrich Schiller:

… Beschäftigung, die nie ermattet,
Die langsam schafft, doch nie zerstört,
Die zu dem Bau der Ewigkeiten
Zwar Sandkorn nur für Sandkorn reicht,
Doch von der großen Schuld der Zeiten
Minuten, Tage, Jahre streicht.

The quirky translation is mine …

… Activity that never tires                                                                                                                                       Slowly creates but never wrecks                                                                                                                                      That to the houses of eternity                                                                                                                                  Only sand grain by sand grain gives                                                                                                                             Yet wipes from the great guilt of times                                                                                                                   Minutes, days, years –

P1080230 - smaller

I wish I had the patience and good humour of my little Garden Buddha …

*    *    *

Even ‘Brexit’ and the realisation that the good old UK is really a Divided Kingdom leaves my Buddha smiling.

The deeper problem – a runaway capitalism all over the world, makes people angry. The solution is pretty clear to me – give every citizen a basic wage, so they won’t have to go begging from the state every time they experience hardship or are out of a job.

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… the system seeks advice on a faulty human …

Wheelborough - Copy

A tad comical article about auto-piloted cars tickled my imagination. Billions are invested towards finding failsafe systems that will eradicate human weaknesses, for our own good, to keep us out of trouble. Given the comments under the linked BBC article, people seem to trust technology more than their fellow mortals. Besides, as things are going – obey and be insured.

I was inspired to write a quirky 180 word micro/vignette …

*    *    *

I wake from troubled dreams, having overruled my programme last night, exceeding recommended wine units. Cheating harms my insurance record. Devices linked to the microchip in my arm start talking. My toothbrush warns of reduced compensation for dental work should I skip procedures. The coffee machine burbles, adjusting caffeine to my metabolic rate. The wall screen chirps, ‘Don’t think, trust the links,’ followed by news edited for stressed nerves. My car purrs, ‘Maintenance appointment,’ then drives me off, while I sit back and endure its placid voice reminding me of deadlines, birthdays, supplies to order, lapses regarding procedures.

Jackson Pollock

                            Jackson Pollock

Seemingly alert to my irritation, the voice suggests mild anti-depressants, adding, ‘I detect irregularities,’ and … after a pause … resist unplugging from the system, it will wipe all your Brownie points.’

The last straw, devices are not supposed to get personal, are indeed prohibited from reading my mind. I inform the maintenance crew. ‘My car requires a full test for irregularities. No hurry. I’ll be going for a stroll.’

In my secret retreat is a mirror that brings in the sky.           *    *    *

Elba travels - lower

 

The system does a google search … Lost contact with a faulty human – seeking advice …

… All our lines are currently busy, please hold …

 

Maybe you feel inspired to write a micro something on the theme of automated systems 🙂

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… the wild horse of the mind …

I thought I open the window a bit to what I’m immersed in, drafting the sequel to Course of Mirrors, called Shapers. Another mythic adventure, and more. The short piece below is not representative of the tense action this story has plenty of, but depicts a pivotal moment. The scenery is  Eire, where time-zones overlap. In 2550 AD the island is called Sax, where Rhonda, the super-controlling power, cast their misfits.  In the excerpt below, Tilly (Cassia in Ana’s story) has arranged for Cara and Mesa to meet in Kerry during the 1970s.

The theme touches on the creative process. Something for my writer friends. I welcome any feedback to the draft.

*    *    *

Tilly’s ruined estate on the Kerry peninsula was one among many places around the world where past and future began to cross or run parallel during the 1970s. Not all drop-outs travelling through Derrynane were aware of the phenomenon. Those open to the new wavelengths either tuned in, or received no more than garbled white noise. The going slogan was – love, don’t think – though it should have been – love and think – and stay grounded. These were turbulent times. Traditionalists abhorred the breaking free of conditioning. Leaps into the unknown frightened them.

This is Cara’s time, and these are her thoughts: Personal myth is a complex self-creation, mainly unconscious, but less so once we replace the postulates we inherited with our own, and are drawn to our psychic kin. Every night when the body rests we visit beings in other spheres. We may discount these sojourns as dreams unrelated to our daily existence. Yet bridging occurs when we value inner dynamics and re-story the associative symbols of images. Resonance momentarily fills the void between the known and the unknown, and meaning is assigned to events. Some good people trust in God, but then abnegate their creativity. Are we not the desire of a divine will? Are we not the ears, eyes, nose, hands and feet of a universal intelligence, of which we are the deed? Does not our speech derive from one sound? And is love not the creed that breathes all things and directs the movement of all spheres? I don’t understand the need to prove or disprove a universal intelligence that is within and all around us. The world I create is imperfect and suffers from on-going flux. But I can bring my small flame to its shadows.

Now that Cara’s myth caught up with her, and she was confronted with the net of postulates she had cast into the future. She found herself challenged to engage with what she animated, because she was animated by it.

Gutch spotted Tilly talking to Cara and Mesa in the hall. He was bursting with pleasure. ‘I found my clan,’ he said. ‘This place is teeming with talented actors. We’re going to do some magic theatre. Are you joining us?’

‘I need to take care of something,’ Tilly said. Can you keep an eye on Gart?’

‘That devil had some weird conversion trip and is sound asleep under the table.’

‘Excellent. Let him sleep.’

When Cara and Mesa arrived at the cottage across the atrium, Tilly had lit a fire in the hearth. A nest of chairs invited them, and the smell of fresh coffee. ‘Have some,’ she said, ‘pointing to a steaming pot, ‘and there’s chocolate cake, too.’ Mesa soaked up the atmosphere, transported to Ana’s world, reminded of Cassia’s kitchen. Tilly placed a small leather pouch in Cara’s lap. ‘Here, forged by fire, polished by the sea, a gift of remembrance.’

Cara opened and turned the pouch. A black stone fell into her hand – smooth as marble, yet radiating warmth and shining in the glow of the fire. ‘Ana’s talisman!’

‘Yes, and you might as well own it.’ Tilly paused, gazing into the flames. ‘I have a favour to ask from you, for Mesa’s benefit.’

‘What favour?’ Cara poured cups of coffee for everyone, dished out giant slices of chocolate cake and added a dollop of whipped cream to each.

‘Your future, Cara, has come to visit you. Mesa returned to assimilate what was lost to her. With Ana’s story you re-animated her soul. Certain events in history require beings to return, to right things or bring a message.  Mesa will take on her role in the odyssey of the Ypocs. And she’s going to be the narrator of your story, Cara.’

‘Huh, this takes a leap of the imagination. I haven’t even smoked the weed.’

Tilly smiled. ‘You know what it takes. Uncovering a personal myth is different from writing a Hollywood script. To help Mesa to re-connect with random creative processes, I want you to explain to her in as much detail as possible how your mind works.’

Cara heaved a breath. ‘The idea sucks every thought from my head.’

‘That’s a good start.’

‘All right, here goes a slice of random micro processing … Momentarily stuck with a paragraph, I remember to stretch my legs. In the kitchen I snatch a yogurt from the fridge. I notice a sticky shelf – mental note – clean it soon. Dark clouds gather outside, looks like rain. I run up to the bathroom and close the window. On the way down, I see dust-clouds on the stairs – mental note. Heading for the desk I stop by the fridge again because I’m now really hungry. I prepare a sandwich – mental note – put butter on shopping list. I use the loo – mental note – toilet paper is running out. Telephone rings. The answer machine kicks in. Just as well, I’ll return the call later – mental note. A letter that needs sending sits next to the phone, I put a stamp on it – mental note – post it. A fly is trapped in the window. I release the fly and study a tree out front that leans over and needs pruning. I quickly assess which branch to cut – mental note. Off to my desk. Passing a shelf I spot the book I couldn’t find earlier. What a relief! I plonk it on my research file and am reminded of an article I need to chase – mental note. The sun shines again. I open the backdoor and listen to the birds. Grass needs cutting – mental note. Finally back with my paragraph the writing flows, sheer bliss. At a natural break in the narrative I decide to go shopping. In the car I have an epiphany relating to a character in my story, to do with birds – mental note. The walker I pass reminds me to visit a certain person – mental note. I recall this person collects small antique tins. I could find him a present – mental note. I think of metaphors, how obsessions, like collecting tins, are really personalised teachings – mental note.’

Mesa had listened with rapt attention. ‘What happens to all the mental notes?’

‘Ha, ha … they’re promises. They’re torture. They heap up. They demand execution. My way to deal with accumulative pressures and gain time to focus on my writing is through procrastination. I’ve become patient with nagging voices. They’re not jailors. They’re easily humoured until the time is right for a blitz. Then I act fast and achieve a great deal in a short time, happy to have cleared the space.

‘But why give these mental notes the power of demands over you? Mesa asked.

Cara glanced at Tilly, who had taken up knitting, as if the dialogue bored her.  What was her agenda? Was this really for Mesa’s benefit? Tilly smiled and said, ‘Go on.’

‘It started out as compulsive pattern. I was conditioned to respond to the needs of my environment, and to maintain order. There are exceptions. Some days, it could be the weather, a dream, the stars … from the moment I open my eyes everything flows effortlessly. My brain is relaxed and I attract harmonious thoughts, like I’m fine-tuned to a subtler station, beyond the busy bandwidth of neurotic naggers. The tuning can be learned. It’s like taming a wild horse. I can actually do it, when necessary. But I like letting the horse run wild. I find wild things that way.’

‘We have different conditioning,’ Mesa said. ‘From early on I was trained to tame my mind, to let it rest like a still pond, or focus thoughts like laser beams. Then free play was introduced, disrupting Rhonda’s order, and all went wrong for the Ypoc.’

‘Aha! I bet you didn’t have to juggle a deep conflict, and oppose a controlling father.’

Tilly dropped her knitting. ‘This gets interesting. It’s what Mesa came back for.’

* * *

Apologies: The origin of the image of the horse is unknown to me.  Many thanks to the photographer.

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