Tag Archives: shadow

… 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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… Cover Reveal – Course of Mirrors …

venema-5th-draftr4r-darker

Every time I look at the image I smile.

It’s sufficiently intriguing to draw readers into my harvest of gathered paradoxical reality and, ideally, fall in love with the gripping odyssey of Ana and the memorable characters she meets. I took the photograph some years ago at the Atlantic coast, while exploring Morocco with a friend.

The official publishing date of Course of Mirrors – 29/04/2017 – and a short description, show up at my Troubador page, which will eventually have links added to amazon and other platforms.

When pre-ordering the book becomes possible I’ll let you know. It’s my hope that there’ll be early paper copies available at the Troubador stall during the London Book Fair in March.

At this stage the text of Course of Mirrors has been typeset and after a few tweaks looks great. Once a last proof between me and my editor is completed, I’ll forward PDFs to the two writers who kindly offered a review, unless they prefer to wait for a printed copy.

Releasing this book demanded years of patience, partly because I allowed my hands to be tied with a contract that did not materialise. This then is the beginning of a beginning that has awaited its beginning as in a dream. During the various delays I wrote Shapers, a sequel, where the myth-maker, Cara, is entangled with the same characters in a future time-zone. A SF, or a science of the heart, depending on how one looks at it .

Initially I’ll depend on friends to support my first offer and, if they enjoy the story, spread the word. At a later point I may have the resources to pay for promotion. Against all advice aimed at writers, I won’t set up a stall in the marketplace, nor will I create an e-mail list, nor will I increase the frequency of postings on this blog, though I’ll add a link to my Amazon Author Central page and my Goodreads page once the book becomes available.

A December 2016 blog post of mine was shared 58 times on Facebook. I’ve no idea who these kind people are. In case you’re one of them, please feel free to befriend me: Ashen Venema on Facebook, or join me on Twitter: @mushilgusha

I enjoy engaging with visitors here on all manner of quirky subjects, and I look forward to also respond to readers of my novel, inviting questions about the story and its characters.

p1080518-smaller-likeThis photo was recently taken by my son on a non-make-up day, after a delicious meal with one two glasses of wine.  I softened the stark reality of my age with a slight photo shop treatment. It’s the best smile I can manage in this time of confusing tragic/comic politics, for which there is no solution but to pray that the majority of people, the psyche of the world, will be able to face and endure the shadow revelations of our age, and the usual opportunists of fear –  without falling into despair …

Soothing hearts is of the essence.

 

 

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… may grace whirl me …

So insults are spat                                                               

from voices of discontentdancing on my shadow

and righteousness trumps 

on every side of the fence                                  

like bubbles of soap

words dissolve on air

all names sound hollow

 

deep down we know

that truth flows among solids

as a soft wave – rolling

back and forth in time

moved by love that can’t be told

though it turns all worlds

I’ll keep on bridging

realms that mirror each other

and may grace whirl me

on my shadows’ crest – that is

this mystery’s heart dance  …

 

Bridging is also a theme of my first novel, ‘Course of Mirrors,’ whose cover image I’ll reveal in the New Year

 *   *   *   I’m wishing you all many moments of grace in 2017   *   *   *

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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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… bewildered hearts …

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We may reach out in vain towards heavy hearts shrouding broken ideals or stagnant truths that are dark-sealed against any doubt.

We may reach out in vain towards wounded hearts that shirk beauty, scorn at tender gestures, treat humour like treason and plot revenge.

 

Yet in the death rasp of each bewildered heart we may catch the echo of our sigh – the time-sculpted murmur of our own pain.                                                                                                                                                                                                                   P1060110 inverse lowres                                           

 

‘The ideal is the means; its breaking is the goal.’    Hazrat Inayat Khan

 

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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 –

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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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… love …

Little My - Tove JanssonLike me less or more, I’ve no qualms sharing that my persona hosts a little devil, an entity suspicious of principles, endless re-branding of what is obvious and free, including pearls of wisdom, and annoyed with much else in the world. This little sprite is my soul’s guard, my bullshit detector, and my Cara (friend.) She mocks hypocrisy, sanctimonious attitudes, power games and manipulation. Every now and then this sprite, like Tove Jansson’s Little My, when enraged, oversteps a mark and creates wanton conflict with my otherwise gentle nature and, at times, too trusting persona.

When a resolve is needed but not forthcoming, I resort to tools of remembrance – head-clearing techniques that calm the mind. Sometimes this works beautifully, but not today, when, of all subjects, I intended to write about ‘love.’

I’ll go ahead anyway, stating that the illuminating intelligence we call love is a core reality inside us. Words are kind of inept, but Rumi got it right.

‘The minute I heard my first love story, I started looking for you, not knowing how blind that was. Lovers don’t finally meet somewhere. They’re in each other all along.’

Rumi (translated by Moyne/Barks)

Irrespective of the despair and suffering experienced around the world, there are plenty of instances when people realise love moves in cracked hearts, and the sun dawns – things are the way they are because we observe them that way. This is our creation, our prison cell and our freedom. Fear may kick in when reliable walls suddenly dissolve, but equally, a realm of exquisite frequency can transcend the exacting laws of dense physicality, and stun us with the simplicity of an underlying truth. People wary about being laughed at keep silent, others start creeds, and there’s the occasional genius – the teacher, artist, writer or outsider, who convinces with plain yet startling expressions of the intelligence living inside us, the one being, pulsing through life’s revolution with wings of beauty.

What, I ask myself, would ensue in the unlikely event of every conscious being on this planet becoming enlightened to this deeper reality simultaneously?

I am interested to know what you think …

My thoughts go like this. In the temporal physical world, at least, friction yields energy we can use and direct. When it comes to the psyche, maybe we need to look at the yearning for love as a means to expand consciousness rather than a goal that promises the laurels of eternal life. Life is eternal without this nonsense of enlightenment as a goal, because, think about it, anything that has achieved wholeness stops becoming. A perfectly ripe apple that drops to the ground does not magic itself back to its branch, a new dream begins.

While appearances overwhelm and dazzle us with joy, pain, suffering and confusion in ongoing fluctuation, we can, at times, become aware of this soft rippling breath flowing through the visible and the invisible universe, sustaining the beauty and intelligence that life is ultimately animated by. When this love spins its hidden silver thread through us we are inspired. Angel - Der Engel - Woodcut for H C Andersen 1888 - smallerEven my little devil is charmed when our angel appears, serene or with a humorous smile – ah, you remembered, hello again, eternal child, welcome to warmth, elation, wonder and respect for all differences. For a while there is no judgement, no right or wrong. We’re moving in a vastly different dimension, of which the visible world is just one expression.

Various traditions propose or speculate on a purpose to life, but ultimately we create our own purpose by committing to a path and changing its meaning on the go, only the intelligence of love seems to be a constant.

The separation between past, present, and future is only an illusion, although a convincing one’ – Einstein

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… dreams …

Photos by Ashen

Photos by Ashen

I used to host regular dream groups. We did not so much set out to analyse our dreams, but we played with them by engaging with their images, characters and objects. Sometimes we enacted scenes to widen associations and deepen our insights. While there is some excellent literature on working with dreams, a lot of it is boring, misleading and superficial. For me, the main purpose of valuing dreams lies in befriending the unconscious and the bringing to light what is timely and meaningful.

When we have no obvious explanation for events, dreams may bring subtle messages, offering glimpses of dynamics usually hidden from our awareness. A staggering 90 percent of personal and collective psychic dynamics trigger and compel our actions in life, and for good reason. The self-regulating psyche protects us from too much awareness. When encouraged, respected, and left to do its work, much like the immune system, the psyche can encapsulate runaway viruses of the mind by blanking out anxieties and obsessive thoughts, unless a trauma results in an ongoing inner storm. The processing of traumatic experiences is vital for the health of the individual, the family, the tribe, and our collective psyche. Something equally important to consider is that as adults our natural childlike curiosity about life may have become flattened by engrained habits and obsessive needs for security and control, both diminishing the meaning of our lives.

Note: Each embedded link here will not lead you away from this post but bring up a fresh page.

In an earlier blog post Joe Linker’s comment led me to an article by Oliver Sacks on altered states in The New Yorker  where Sacks pointed out a long tradition of ceremonial drug-use to stimulate the brain. Drugs certainly relax jaded attitudes by activating the senses and bringing insights and fresh perception. Sacks, and many like him, were admiringly fearless and creative, before there was a clamp down on drugs and they became illegal.Dreamseries 2

In dreams as in trance, induced or not, the mind can kick up imaginal representations of feelings, and metaphors. We shift to another realm, escape the logical structure of time and also tap into the collective psyche. We may hit a T junction, one path leading to an illuminating visionary state and the other to a schizophrenic state of confusion, which is why science sticks with rationality and is generally not keen on the imagination. The question as to what pulls us towards Heaven or Hell has no easy answer, yet all inner state, when approached with respect, patience, and most of all, wisdom, can have a healing and effect on our personality, and, in instances, as we know, result in significant works of art.

Dreamseries 3

Freud’s iceberg metaphor illustrates that our individual psyche swims like a mountain of ice in a vast sea, only to reverse into its fluid state once its coherence dissolves back into the sea. As a simple and more intelligent map of various unconscious states I prefer the egg diagram by Alberto Assagioli, the founder of Psychosynthesis.

Active imagination is a gentle way to befriend the unconscious and build bridges towards consciousness and daily life, and a way to explore dreams without messing with the dreamer’s unique meaning. I share here some practical tips:

Remembering dreams:

You can ask for a dream, especially when you feel stuck and ponder a question. You might even write the question on a slip of paper and put it under your pillow.

Try not to move your head after noticing a dream. Place holds memory.

Have a notepad and a soft pencil next to your bed, maybe a microlight, so you can scribble down a memory facet before fully crossing the threshold into waking. Even a single image, phrase, number, colour or feeling can act as a key for recalling a dream later on.

To catch a dream – try disrupting your sleeping pattern with an early alarm clock setting.

Experiment with your head position while sleeping – north, east, south or west.

Towards understanding dreams:

The psyche does not care about logic. The meaning of a dream may however unfold like a seed when we attend to its poetry and rhythm.

Ask yourself … how do I relate to the characters or objects of a dream? What feelings and sensations are evoked? In what context did the dream arise? How does it relate to my present situation?

Write a story or make sketches of the images. Tiny fragments can offer connections via free associations.

Give a voice to the characters and objects appearing in the dream. What do they want? Allow them to express their thoughts and feelings. Such dialogues can reveal surprising insights.

Change the script, create a different outcome, face down a fear or a shadow and follow through to what wants to happen. This approach can move a dream to a different level of understanding.

Ask yourself: Where does the energy want to go? What is emerging?

Dreamseries 4

 

Dreams express the voice of the soul; they are our contact with our deepest self, our inner substance. The mere act of recalling, experiencing and consciously honouring our dreams connects us with our real selves and awakens previously unavailable levels of creativity and vitality, even without interpretation.

Carl G Jung

A related post on altered states.

And if the subject of dreams interests you, here are some more links:

Edward C Whitmont was a Jungian psychoanalyst, who deepened my understanding of the psyche through his exceptionally clear writing. His books may be out of print, which would explain why they’re so expensive:  Dreams – a Portal to the Source and The Symbolic Quest

Other excellent authors to look out for, apart from Jung, are Anthony Stevens, Private Myths – Dreams and Dreaming, and Marie-Louise von Franz – The Interpretation of Fairy Tales.

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… four years of blogging …

The host of my virtual island – wordpress – alerted me to the four-year anniversary of my blog.

I thought I share with my followers some private photos. I’m not good at private sharing, but since my first book is going to be published this year, one way or another, some visuals of myself are in order.

pretending to fish

pretending to fish

about 30 years ago,  before selfies were vogue

about 30 years ago, before selfies were vogue

more recent, four or so years ago, a young sixty something

more recent, four or so years ago, a young sixty something

Lack of time limits my interactions, so I assume my over 300 readers are truly genuine. Thank you all for reaching out, for your friendships. It’s heartening to know my posts are enjoyed, and occasionally inspire. I sample your islands at random, and delight in how everything posted resonates. I appreciate your likes, and will respond to every comment left here.

Looking back, this was my first short post in March 2011 – just one sentence:

                                           We are each of us born a star in search of our world.

The second post was: A recent series of Haiku – for those who like Haiku

a town is gone

hawthorn flowers

white in the sun

*   *   *

among rubble

the snapshot of a child

splashing in a wave

*   *   *

spring morning

a ginger cat leaps home

across frosted lawns

*   *   *

the robin arrives

sampling dry grass for its nest

sky is cut by a plane

*   *   *

sunlight in a puddle

birds dowse their wings

no other sound

*   *   *

emerald shoots

on brittle cement

patter of feet

*   *   *

plastic bags rattle

in wire and branch

blobs of colour

*   *   *

a wave is rolling

over the grid of streets

hush among crumbled walls

*   *   *

lichen dried silver

in the hot spring

a rain of blossoms

*   *   *

a golden leaf

in the shade

white plumes rise

*   *   *

under smooth ice

a shimmering carp

visible silence

The concluding post in March 2011 was a letter to my shadow, ending …

         … Without you, I’d only be fluff on the coat of real human beings …

Time-permitting, please explore my posts, listed in the archive column to the right of my home page.

I hope you bear with me. Heartfelt thanks to all my readers.

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… the ones who walk away …

Ursula Le Guin’s short metafiction, ‘The Ones who Walk Away from Omelas,’ first published in 1973, had its 40th anniversary last year. My first reading, when Google and book review sites were non-existent, left a deep impression. This week’s re-reading, once, twice, three times – the story deserves it – made me curious as to what other readers might have made of it. Obsessing in a web-crawl I came upon predominantly moral interpretations, which I distinctly remember resisting, though these associations are understandable. The way our systems deal with the unadjusted tends to appease the troubled conscience for the rest of us normal citizens.

For me, there were deeper complexities in this brilliant piece of writing. I decided to share my thoughts and tempt those of you who don’t know the story to read it and derive their own insights. I’ll use spoilers, so if you want to read the story first, here is a link: http://genius.com/Ursula-k-le-guin-the-ones-who-walk-away-from-omelas-annotated

… With a clamor of bells that set the swallows soaring, the Festival of Summer came to the city of Omelas, bright-towered by the sea …  

Childhood, Thomas Cole, 1842

Childhood, Thomas Cole, 1842

We are shown a charming city where order and harmony reign, a city well-protected in a bay, resembling a womb. Reality is suspended. There’s a sense of timelessness. It is a civilised place, decorous, joyful, without hierarchy. No king, no swords, no slaves … no power games. Utopia comes to mind, the idea of eternal life – the eternal innocent child.

No science has yet dispelled the vision of a haven without strive, where everyone is happy. In the wake of traumatising wars and unspeakable atrocities, there are always attempt to re-create places like Omelas, attempts to soften the reality of birth and death, the extremes of joy and pain, nature, the cosmos our life depends on and which we try to fathom. But since our spiritual lore cautions that life is an illusion – an ornament that covers ultimate truth we can’t perceive with our senses, we get anxious when life becomes too comfortable.

The narrating voice, anticipating our scepticism, invites us to fill in the sketches of this perfect democracy. We are told, ‘They were not simple folks, you see, though they were happy.’ After all, Omelas may strike some as goody-goody. Smiles, bells, parades, horses, bleh. ‘If so please add an orgy.’ More delightful pleasures are suggested – celebrating life, with one significant addition, ‘One thing I know there is none of in Omelas is guilt.’

In contrast, the voice notes the bad habit of a different place, where pedants and sophisticates consider happiness as something rather stupid. ‘Only pain is intellectual, only evil interesting … the treason of the artist: a refusal to admit the banality of evil and the terrible boredom of pain.’ The voice insists that the citizens of Omelas were mature, intelligent, passionate people whose lives were not wretched.

The Festival of Summer has begun. ‘Do you believe?’ the narrator asks. ‘Do you accept the festival, the city, the joy? NO? Then let me describe one more thing.’

And there it is, the secret lurking out of sight, a child, kept in the darkness of a tiny cellar room, with only a faint ray of hope based on a dull memory. The child is not driven out of the city, like the traditional scapegoat, but contained below ground; there to absorb everyone’s fear of reality and its cruel justice, embodying, maybe, submerged histories, rather like the depths of the iceberg below water keeps its peak afloat in the light.

… They all know it is there, all the people of Omelas. Some of them have come to see it; others are content merely to know it is there. They all know that it has to be there. Some of them understand why, and some do not, but they all understand that their happiness, the beauty of their city, the tenderness of their friendships, the health of their children, the wisdom of their scholars, the skill of their makers, even the abundance of their harvest and the kindly weathers of their skies, depend wholly on the child’s abominable misery …

Terms are clear, should this child be freed, the beauty would wither and be destroyed. The pragmatic solution seems such: One punished and suffering child is meant to redeem the rest from coming to terms with their inherited sins and traumas.

To leave this comfortable enclave of Omelas means leaving security and loved ones behind. It requires crossing mountains, stepping into the unknown, with no charm against collective guilt.

Omelas’ citizens are free to look at the unacceptable child. While reactions, those of young ones mainly, vary from disgust to outrage, most accept the necessity of this child’s sacrifice, though some fall quiet and leave Omelas in the middle of night, alone.

For me the child is there to serve cohesion, symbolizing a lid on the unconscious, primitive, wild aspects of the psyche. Isn’t dis-ease a loss of order and rhythm? If you judge this pragmatism harshly, consider the purpose of trip-switches in an electricity-wired house. Or, consider how people under social or dictatorial pressure may choose to safeguard the lives of their loved ones at the cost of betraying their knowing heart.

Le Guin does not condone staying or leaving Omelas, she provides no answers. I am one of those who walked away, many times, always at a cost, because I preferred guilt to shame. C G Jung developed the concept of individuation, hoping for it to expand collective consciousness from the inside out, through the individual, sometimes involving a precarious personal journey, going through a process of separating psychologically from parents, state, authority, to become whole. Like in the Zen story where the seeker eventually returns, better able to serve the community. While a single brain does not survive its limited life-span, the collective memory of matter, and each human experience lives on and is transmitted to every new-born life.

Each one of us carries the traumas of our histories, though not everyone has the opportunity to redeem such wounds, contribute new ideas, or explore different states of being. What drives one to walk away from the familiar – is it inner conflict, allegiance to one’s heart, fear to upset the order, the need for a wider perspective, or simply a calling? We bond to the systems we grow up in, in cases we adjust our behaviour in order to emotionally survive, along with the implicit bargain to keep quiet about the shit, our shit, others’ shit, and how we deal with all the shit.

There are those who leave a comfortable place and those who stay. Maybe a balance between conservative forces that protect structures and revolutionary forces that seek change is necessary. Not everyone, for example, can face existential pain and futility without succumbing to psychosis. There is a case for Festivals of Summer, sport, drugs, ecstasy, trance …

Was the power of the imagination born from fear of mortality? Is this why we envisage dystopias or utopias, and, ultimately, scenarios that make us feel in control of our destiny?

What we hide from ourselves and from each other often relates to our most prominent outcast, the neglected inner child, so embarrassing to the adult world. This child in Omelas seems to embody the ongoing ritual of shame for walking from Eden into the dawn of creation, a reality burdened with consciousness, and free will that frequently misses the mark, but, heck, is the very process of becoming human.

My naïve hope is that we can learn to embrace our all too human failures, show patience with our children, stop seeking blame and end scapegoating, yet also acknowledge our individual and collective need for comfortable realities … protecting us … from what?

Here a quote from a former friend and teacher, Fazal Inayat-Khan … taken from a lecture on Reality:

‘For the whole collective of the human mind – outside that self-created reality there is a storm. That storm – that wind – that pressure – that influence and space is for our existence and permanency completely annihilating and destructive … our assignment outward is because of a deep decay … Reality is a veil that is spun with the finest and thinnest and strongest silk. It weighs nothing – it covers a little darker area behind – and yet the moment when you reach out with your hand to draw the veil away it will skin your hand till blood is drawn.’ 

To fill this emptiness we assign our meaning outward. Call it the human project. Sorry to trouble you, my friends, but the function of reality is worth contemplating, and, in my view, Ursula Le Guin’s story does just that.

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