Tag Archives: politics

… 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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… political poker games …

reflections-moving-copy

Ideas spook the night

Hardly the will of people

Who were told lies & fed

Bizarre facts or fake events

By those who contrived

This fear that rocks the cradle

And will have it swing

In brittle boughs of nothing

Rock-a-by baby

They sing while fanning the wind

Of your discontent

 

I’m flabbergasted by the sheer absurdity of the present political poker games. No use imagining I’m a stranger that landed on this planet by mistake. I’m here – feeling overwhelmed when watching clips that show the hardship refugees endure with slim hopes for building a life, and the helpless helpers who offer support without solutions in sight?

I dream of patches of land or purpose-build islands/ships, where migrants are allowed to build fresh communities and gain self-respect. Where are the pragmatic deals to alleviate this suffering, and the help for countries unable to cope with the influx of people?

Commentaries on events in the wake of the Brexit referendum vote leave me distraught, angry, compassionate, ironic and detached, all at the same time. How to evade the bug of collective despair?  Not good, not good at all. I want to shout from the rooftops: read the history of excessive nationalism. Do not – I implore – succumb to fear-mongering.

Today I played my small reed-harmonium in a meditative way, following one note to the next, and the next, forming melancholic rhymes, prolonging and softening notes, the charm a reed-harmonium offers. From a strong upward scale a melody formed. My heart calmed and my mind cleared enough to allow these words to tumble onto the screen.

If I were in full time employment, I’d skim through news, ridicule stuff with colleagues and do what the job at hand required. But since I work from home, in charge of my days, I make space to write – and think – though it goes nowhere, this thinking, other than to ponder the theme of  globalisation –  a phenomenon long before the term was coined. If time allows click the link to this worthwhile long read.

Insights could be applied to address the hyper race of progress that rewards only short term goals. The main cause for all this mess, in my view. Do away with all benefits and provide everyone with basic income, so people can relax, start innovative & creative community projects, or study, or build a career, whatever. Why not work for the common interests of our shared humanity and celebrate this gift of life? I’m dreaming, I know.

The robins in my garden have more sense. Animals, guests from a wholesome planet.

Other relevant posts:

Here is everywhere …

Brexasperation …

Perception of difference …

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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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… memory – fear – global imagination …

Mirrored clouds, without birds, smallerMemories are like images that flow reflected on the surface of water, at times fast, skipping, turning in on themselves among curling eddies, at times distracted by currents, breaking up into choppy waves … or coming together as facets meeting in quiet waters, as in a calm heart, where past, present and future images arise clearly.

Then again, if waters were always still, never flowing, the reflections in our heart would remain static and never change.

But how to stay aware of images that bring up irrational fears from the deep waters of our collective mind?  Imprinted in dust, earth, mud, rock, sand, water and blood, such fears, be it for survival or identity, based on traumatic histories, rob us of our capacity for rational thought. How do we stay aware of the phonmenon that fear begets fear?

P1090890 - Copy (2)We live in a time when listening, by those who have the capacity for it, seems of crucial importance. A time when individuals must make an effort to understand diverse traditions and opinions, a time to aim for compromises, a time to utilise all the knowledge and wisdom aquired by the eduated, and those with wise hearts, a time that requires us to act in unison towards the maintenance of our beautiful planet and all its inhabitans. It’s a time for politicians to look ahead, beyond the span of their appointment. It’s time to wake up – to see the amazing potential of people migrating across the globe, whatever the causes, it’s happening, a time when sharing each other’s traditions and talents can be enriching to everyone.

Our imagination is our hell and our paradise.

Imagination is all: the creator, the maintainer and the destroyer of life, replicating the natural seasons of our earth.

The same capacity for imagination that makes us ill can also heal us.

Humans have a choice.

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