Tag Archives: Walter Benjamin

… body electric …

Tolima Pectoral 1000AD

In my last post, Teddy mentioned my fascination with AI. This interest became obsessive while doing a sabbatical film degree that ended in 1997 – my lucky chance to catch up on cultural history and post-modern theories. I plan to re-type my dissertation, which includes pages of tedious notes and a bibliography. But presently, like so many papers I wrote at the time, the master piece rests in an old Mac disc in a format I can’t translate to Word.

Artificial intelligence is unstoppable. I’m curious as to your take on the subject, so I’m sharing a few quotes from my exploration of human identity in the digital age.

I pinched the title for my dissertation ‘Body Electric,’ from Walt Whitman’s poem ‘I sing the body electric.’  He celebrates the body – of man, of woman, of child, bodies of flesh, sinew and blood. Do follow the above link, the invigorating poem stands in ironic juxtaposition to the theme of AI. Could a mechanical electric body ever convey the curious, breathing, laughing flesh that Whitman hearts because it pleases the soul? How would its divine nimbus compare to a form governed by mechanical algorithms? For Whitman the human body is sacred. Its magnetism comes through eyes, from the soul, a term shelved by neuroscience. Call it what you will, soul or consciousness; its light will forever seek vessels and new direction.

Fronting ‘Body Electric’ is my translation of R M Rilke’s Sonnets to Orpheus X, which, even at his time, bemoans machines that ignore the hesitant gesture of a radiant hand. Here only one a few lines:

Yet our being remains spun in mysteries of birthing

Origins from enchanted wells, a play of pristine powers

To behold only with eyes closed and in adoration.

The text develops as an intuitive assembly and starts with a quote by Michael Foucault:

‘Man is only a recent invention, a figure not yet two centuries old, a new wrinkle in our knowledge; he will disappear again as soon as that knowledge has discovered a new form.’

For the artist Maya Deren (1917-1951,) who created some highly influential films in her short life, scientific findings were but the raw materials of creative action: ‘The first step of creative action is the violation of the natural integrity of an original context.’ She saw the function of art and its validation in the creation of mythical realities. Her symbolic images of personal significance also chime universally.

Here is a link to her film ‘At Land.’

In dreams, time vanishes. This applies equally when dream worlds are shared, with the additional ecstasy of an interactive virtual reality:

‘… we would enter the world of fluids … Over with the solid, over with the continuous and the calm; some dance quality would invade everything and Cartesian philosophers would go through a trance, floating on history like chops on gravy.’ – Henry Michaux

But what about the vanishing space? In the public realm of instant ‘in’form’ation’ nothing keeps its form long enough to take root. Spaces to hide or resist the other fade as human nature is flood-lit. Jean Baudrillard foresaw a silence of the masses as ironic and antagonistic coping mechanism:

‘… hyper conformist simulation of the very mechanism of the system, which is another form of refusal by over acceptance …’  Jean Baudrillard

Simulated reality blinds with the Gestalt of our collective mind, where every viewpoint exists at the same time. It lacks context and shadow definition, over-exposes our field of consciousness. For Baudrillard, the schizophrenic subject can no longer produce the limits of its own being, or produce itself as a mirror. It becomes a screen, a switching center for all networks of influence. The electric sphere of the internet simulates our nervous system and turns it inside out. There remains the reality of our psychological experiences, where shadows have to be reckoned with.

Donna Haraway, a biologist and professor of the History of Consciousness, sees pleasure in the confusion of boundaries. She once said, ‘I would rather be a cyborg than a goddess.’ This intrigues. The inspiring, if manic torrent of concepts pouring into Haraway’s lectures requires extreme co-presence from her students. I resonate with her thought that contradiction is the criterion of the real, which is a theme in my planned third book (following Course of Mirrors and Shapers.) I like it that Haraway’s favourite story teller is Ursula Le Guin 🙂

CYBORG – a human, enhanced with integral technology. Visit this link for a taster – a TED talk by Kevin Warwick, a Professor of Cybernetics.

When it becomes possible to clone super humans one has to ask, why the need for babies, why the need for women, and what’s the point of males. Can myth be banished, and what if the human being – that pack of neurons – is squeezed into microchips like genies into bottles, how will future societies hang together?

An emerging idea proposes that to maintain homeostasis requires a new religion, DATAISM. Check this link to an extract from Homo Deus: A Brief History of Tomorrow, by Yuval Noah Harari on WIRED … 

Would shadow entities of the collective psyche slip through data and act out hidden agendas? Kevin Kelly wrote: ‘… as we unleash living forces into our created machines, we lose control of them. They acquire wildness and some the surprises that the wild entails. This then is the dilemma all gods must accept: That they can no longer be completely sovereign over their finest creations.’

Besides the above quotes, my dissertation includes thoughts from Marshall McLuhan, Paul Virilio, Roger Callois, Walter Benjamin, Gregory Bateson, Don Cupitt, Francis Crick, D Dennett, Goethe, Anthony Stevens, John Searle, David Chalmers, Horst Hendriks-Jansen, Sherry Turkle, Danah Zohar and many more – all of them google worthy.

As a golden thread through my dissertation I use scenes from the film Bladerunner, where replicants are indistinguishable from humans and develop emotional responses. If we give them a past, Tyrell says, we create a cushion for their emotions and can control them. A fail-safe device makes sure of that. Familiar? It turns out that ‘mother’ the equivalent of history, is a trigger word for lack. One replicant blasts his tester to smithereens and seeks revenge on his maker. The film leaves one with the uncomfortable sense that we are all replicants, with memories implanted by history. There is no escape from the burden of existential insecurity.

Theodor Kittelsen 1857 – 1914

Relationships and the context of place are vital to experience a sense of identity, like an energy field that grows in relation to the reality we create for ourselves. In other words, we are artists of our continuous self-invention, and we must choose our horizons.

Reverend Don Cupitt wrote the self is an animal with cultural inscriptions on the surface. Not that he is wrong, but when he assumes the soul has died, he must refer to his personal version of soul and its loss of meaning.

The Soul, the light of the universe, eternal life and consciousness, is essentially independent of matter and mind. Once embodied, we tend to forget the light’s source and feel trapped and homesick. Whether there is a purpose to the cyclic embodiment of consciousness may be a useless question, since purpose can only emerge through living and through the myths we create. Bless our imagination. Presently AI is the most generously funded myth, forging ahead, regardless of the dire state of humanity and our planet as a whole.

Birth and death remain the ultimate spinners of life. In the parlance of the mystic, the moment of exaltation is in the immanent glimpse of the curl of the beloved. Can the beloved be the beloved if she is fully known? And what do we know of the various dimensions where she resides?

Don’t miss this worthwhile article by John Gray in the New Statesman (Oct 2016) on the upgrade from Homo sapiens into Homo deus. The page may take a while to load.

All links open a new page. They are part of post and totally worthwhile.



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… weeks sans heating – rant about smart devices – an offer …

I’ve not been so happy for a long time, which I’ll explain later. Following a November without heating, I was

The Poor Poet by C Spitzweg, 1839

initially cheered by a brand new boiler and enjoyed a span of blissful warmth and hot showers. Turned out the new boiler’s sensitive mechanism couldn’t cope with the system. In my young days I used to be tolerant of temperature changes. Small groups of poor students occupied large houses that had a big stove in the kitchen and coal or wood fires in individual rooms. Halls, toilets, bathrooms were freezing zones. During severe winters in    Bavaria we used hairdryers to defrost our car engines. On the upside, our car tires had spikes in them, making driving on snow and ice brilliant and safe fun.

December brought two more weeks in sub-zero conditions. Attempts to write and edit with stiff fingers continued, helped by three pair of trousers, jumpers, legwarmers, wrist warmers, winter coat and hat. In addition I frequently refilled the hot water bottle on my knees to supplement the electric heater taking the chill off my back. Concentration was difficult, nerves frazzled. Baked chestnuts and hot lemon drinks brought a little warmth to my hands.

I dealt with government agencies that give grants towards new boilers, involving subcontractors, and more subcontractors. Bless them all, but among the experts I felt like a girl serving coffee at a conference table. The situation made me immensely grateful to have a home at all.

And being me, my mind went into a spin, considering the bursts of technological innovations during my lifetime, deceptively useful, miraculous even, yet challenging, never more so when it comes to integrate old systems with oversensitive devices and their narrow applications.

A mass of data doesn’t equate with intelligence, unless used with skill, heart, intuition and imagination. Artificial neural networks aim to emulate human potential that is only just emerging, be it the psychological understanding of the self in relationships, the impact of the unconscious psyche on our lives (as explored by C G Jung,) enmity or collaboration rooted in past experience, strange attractions, genius, intuition, creativity, attitude. A flow of fresh associations reach us from spheres that hold accrued knowledge. I like Pierre Teilhard de Chardine’s concept of a self-reflective noosphere.

Whatever one may call this sphere, white noise permeates it with a new brand of global wilderness. Beleaguered hive minds resist dialogue and integration. To use a lame metaphor, as a radio needs tuning to reach a required station, so a brain needs to be free of agitation to access harmonising frequencies.

I think of the physical brains as mediator, like the motherboard of a computer, or a radio. I hope future generations will be receptive to the body and find ways to relax it, so the brain can maintain the antennae to the psychic totality of the wisdom of our collective, non-local mind-being & its guidance, and not be misled by expectations that every pesky problem in daily life can be monitored and sorted by automated devices.

 ‘Long live the dead because we live in them.’ ― Clarice Lispector – A Breath of Life

From an old postcard I can’t source

AI intrigues, yet also brings our shortcomings into sharp perspective. Humans mirror the vast intelligence of the cosmos, through myth, art, religion, the insights of seers and scientists, all encapsulating equal measures of truth and untruth. If a higher will exists it must include the collective experience of a universal psyche, including yours and mine.

I must be free to make mistakes and form perception. Neurotic people muddle through. Old cars muddle through, old washing machines, ovens, fridges and boilers muddle through all manner of obstructions and, with a little devoted attention, can be mended until they have fulfilled their purpose. Life wings through seasons of existence in this limited material world, resurrected through other forms in further life cycles. Heck; imagine your experiential persona trapped indefinitely in a robotic body whose every need is monitored and anticipated. Imagination and the potential to understand another human being would wither away, the wisdom of aeons reduced to numbers. What a dumb and spiritless existence.

‘Technology, instead of liberating us from myth, confronts us as a force of a second nature just as overwhelming as the forces of a more elementary nature in archaic times.’ – Walter Benjamin.

I like my old car. It doesn’t lock me in or out, records my whereabouts, or suddenly cuts off its engine at a red light because its programme decides to safe petrol. I like devices that can be repaired with a little thought or the occasional bang of a hammer. I like my seasoned washing machine that doesn’t tell the world where and when I’m doing my laundry.

My old boiler pushed through the sludge in my pipes and could have been made to work again, with attention to the system. My rant is NOT about the new as such, but about the general dis-empowering trend that sells us short and prevents recycling of perfectly repairable items.

Each day we navigate unpredictable situations and complex problems. We feel the joy and pain of organisms, creatures, people, and often our reason is clouded by our passion. If only children were taught about emotional intelligence early on. Yet industries decree that trusting humans is risky, dangerous, and uneconomical. The story begins to resemble Mary Shelly’s Frankenstein. Not worth a thought of course, because Shelley was a woman.

Jeanette Winterson expresses similar thoughts more poignantly in a lecture she gave in Holland … Super intelligence could conclude that all mankind is a waste of space and resources. Check for a translate button on the site. I thank my Dutch friend, Kitty, for sharing this link on FB.

Yesterday I had brilliant news. A couple of competent plumbers took up some floorboards and, with impressive intuition, and skill, solved the problem. My new boiler is at peace with the old system.

Happy & warm, I want to share my pleasure with a festive offer on Course of Mirrors:

The paperback will be half price for a limited period on this Troubadour page

In addition, the e-book will be 99 pence on most platforms up to the 2nd January 2018

In case you enjoyed reading my magical novel, you may consider leaving a short comment on the above Troubador site (no signing in required) and Amazon, where it apparently boosts sales, which would be wonderful.

I’m wishing all my readers peaceful festive days and a blessed New Year.


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… the gulf between writers and readers …

This post was sparked by a stimulating and taxing interview Philippa Rees conducted with the writer Vivienne Tuffnell  P1060427lower - CopyThe interview attempts to re-define the gulf between writers and readers in the way commercial algorithms define values for readers, blanking out the appearance of new green shoots.

This disrupted my sleep, in addition to lots of other stuff going on, so I tried stepping back for a wider perspective. No answers, only a few muddled reflections …

My generation, whose early years were without TV, needed to adjust to rapid periods of change, particularly the change from analogue to digital recording, – two entirely different metaphors. The true significance of this shift has not yet been absorbed by the general public.  In a dissertation during a sabbatical film degree as a mature student in the mid-nineties, I quoted Jean Baudrillard  who saw the forced silence of the masses no longer as sign of passivity or alienation, but as ironic and antagonistic. He commented on the strategy of the masses:

‘… refusal of meaning and refusal of speech; or of the hyper-conformist simulation of the very mechanism of the system, which is another form of refusal by over-acceptance. It is the actual strategy of the masses … it is the winning one today, because it is the most adapted to the present phase of the system.’ Moroc, Marrakech Riad roof, golden vision - low

I recognised this as the Zeitgeist  gradually reaching across the globe. My continuous studies, driven by curiosity and endless questions, prepared me, but I still find it difficult to accept a reality where, for many otherwise intelligent people, the beautiful term ‘soul’ has lost its impact. I place the word carefully in my work and in my writing to avoid bias. Marion Woodman  uses it powerfully … ‘Our very survival depends on spirit embracing soul.’  

The quote becomes poignant through experience, not theory.

Don Cupitt – a philosopher of religion who rejects authoritarianism, once said … ‘The soul, the self, has died. The self in an animal with cultural inscriptions on its surface.’ Sobering, and true, depending of course from which plane of experience one perceives.

In our present culture the commercial speed train whistles through every zone of life. Publishers are among many enterprises struggling to survive amidst overproduction. The ‘Road Closed Pending Repairs’ signs Philippa refers to in her interview grow like mushrooms. Small businesses, for example, vanish at an alarming rate, at least in my little town. Be it a supermarket or a bookshop, I’m bombarded with buy-one-get-one-free or two for three offers. Plenty of people I know look beyond the more-is-better and cheaper hype, but their numbers won’t topple the algorithm-driven logic of mass-cargo firms like Amazon (click for latest newsletter.) Their long term strategy is to please the consumer, which, now, increasingly, includes writers who self-publish … To make profit in an oversaturated market requires ever-new smart inventions.

Works not created from templates, but from inside out, which, sigh,  includes my novels, will struggle to find a position on consumer maps. Traditional meanings are collapsing.  New genres for books are proposed. The box marked cross-genre sounds like a stir fry of left overs. How, as a writer, does one shoulder the marketing speech for novels not fitting into boxes? Crime? No! Romance? No! Religious? No! Paranormal? No! Sci Fi? No! Fantasy? No!

The distillation of a life’s experience, a work of creative imagination? What’s that?

Authors of such ilk have the formidable and possibly worthwhile task of writing their own obituary. Are any of the thoughts a writer expresses original? I don’t think so. Thoughts happen to us. What’s original is their processing and linking based on personal experience, which may offer a new window of reference. I look at my bookshelves and ponder what I would have missed had the authors whose works snuggle up to each other had lost faith in their work. Few commercially produced genre books leave impressions that live on. They’ll drown in ISBN databanks. Our shelves at home hold unique books that surprised and inspired us over the years, and until we become cyborgs and can, with a mere thought, make book pages fall open on any surface of our choice, this will not change soon.

I admire self-published writers. Vivian published several novels herself,  as did Philippa, which speaks for their tenacity and belief in their work. And I admire Philippa’s poignant questions, and how Vivienne exposes herself to them …

the very uniqueness you want to write about? Could you define why that is so difficult? Is it simply too much surrounding noise? Or something else?

‘… is writing the way in which we confront out existential loneliness, and are readers who ‘get’ and share that now the substitutes for lovers?’ 

MercatsSuch questions and similar ones are worth their salt, and expose our vulnerability … do writers, any artists, want to be truly seen? Is one person’s interpretation of truth going to be interesting to others? Will the public feel preached to? Such questions haunt many of the most inspired artists, poets and writers who weave works from layers and layers of their psyche. To expect an instant resonance from crowds will bring deep disappointment.

And yet, the most deeply personal experiences, combined with some magic ingredient of presentation, can, over time, have universal appeal. Stan Brakhage, an experimental filmmaker, put it this way … ‘I had the concept of everything radiating out of me, and that the more personal and egocentric I would become the deeper I would reach and the more I would touch those universal concerns which would involve all men.’

If I’m positive about the future it comes from an understanding in tune with Walter Benjamin  … ‘Technology, instead of liberating us from myth, confronts us as a force of a second nature just as overpowering as the forces of a more elementary nature in archaic times.’

To me, this means learning and unlearning accelerates in condensed time. Think how we make ourselves visible by blogging. How brave and scary to step in front of a public mirror … Virtual or not, the psychological process of engaging with virtual friends and foes is totally real. Sherry Turkle expressed this … ‘I believe that our experience with virtual reality, with artificial life are serious play; our need for a practical philosophy of self-knowledge has never been greater.’ My self-understanding is now aided by the relationship with people I have not met face to face – I never shook hands with or exchanged a hug with Vivienne, but I emphasise with her loss of joy, and her frustration with the ironic and antagonistic attitudes of people who belittle deeper strands of truth for fear of looking inside, and the sense of being a square peg that doesn’t fit the neat round hole of genres and algorithms.

Many writers will recognise these obstacles, including Philippa, and myself. How do we attract and persuade people to sample the green growth in our plot? At the same time, I’m convinced we are co-creating artists of our continuous self-invention. Mourning a not-yet existing frame for our work  might hinder this process, which moves and dances naturally through each breath. And I’m heartened by how writers and poets influence us over time.

A poet and mystic from over 800 years back examplifies this phenomenon …

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


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… here is everywhere …

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

The growth dynamics of nations and those of individuals have striking parallels, especially when it comes to the forming of an identity in relation to the other, and the ongoing struggle to maintain or adjust set habits to changing circumstances. For instance, when religious authority declines, the blame for the ills of a nation can no longer be projected onto the omnipotent godhead. People find themselves challenged to reflect on how they contributed towards the ills and become accountable for their actions.   The psychological development towards spiritual independence and interdependence – for individuals or nation states – is a humbling process in that it confronts us with our failures, imperfections, and the need to learn from our experience and cultivate human qualities.

I’m German-English, my official citizenship is Dutch. Though I live in England, I have felt at home in the Arabian deserts, along the Mediterranean coast, among friends wherever they are. But is there one location from where I look out onto the world, one place that is traditionally called home? To not betray all my loves it would have to be the bridge, in a metaphorical sense. The theme of my first novel starts out with a bridge across opposites. On that bridge my protagonist has an encounter with herself where here becomes everywhere.

I feel like an ancient being torturing language to express the simplicity of experience, digging through layers of false evidence, sifting through sediments of unreliable gossip for grains of truth. Words fall from my pen like dust settling after another hole dug, showing the trifle of an image that needs a night of dreaming to cohere into a sentence, and then more sentences, resonating with a universal narrative, re-arranged in time as if the story is yet to happen.

Germany – Before print was instrumented by Luther’s Reformation, the Latin language represented the voice of divine authority – the father. A lone human hero, Martin Luther (1483-1546), Doctor of Theology, not a prophet, disputed the church’s practice of selling indulgences, which urged him to write his 95 thesis, among them: Why does the pope, whose wealth today is greater than the wealth of the richest Crassus, build the basilica of St. Peter with the money of poor believers rather than with his own money?’ When Luther’s followers printed his 95 theses and displayed them in public places, their controversial contents spread like wildfire. The papal hegemony was rattled. Convinced that salvation was not gained by merit but by the grace of God alone, Luther went into hiding and translated the bible into the most spoken vernacular. Time seemed to call for a voice like his. In some historic records he is accused of hiding under the mantle of the princes rather than siding with the folk, of not grasping the opportunity towards the forming of a German nation. Luther’s theme of grace was limited. When his efforts of converting the Jews failed, his loathsome sentiments incited their persecution. Yet he was seen as encapsulating the struggle of the German people for an identity while living under the shadow of the slain father, the Roman Empire, which compelled the German psyche to emulate its glory.

A.J.P. Taylor writes in The Course of German History: ‘Since Charlemagne founded the Reich in 800, more political energy went into maintaining German states independent of the Reich, or even hostile to it, than into the Reich itself.’ By the fifteenth century, the Holy Roman Empire of the German Nations was divided against itself. Through the intense struggle for wholeness emerged some of the world’s finest philosophers, scientists, writers, musicians and mystics, as well as the most ignorant and corrupted leaders.

Walter Benjamin had a vision of Hope and Despair, inspired by a painting:

A Klee drawing named “Angelus Novus” shows an angel looking as though he is about to move away from something he is fixedly contemplating.  His eyes are staring, his mouth is open, his wings are spread.  This is how one pictures the angel of history. His face is turned toward the past. Where we perceive a chain of events, he sees one single catastrophe that keeps piling ruin upon ruin and hurls it in front of his feet.  The angel would like to stay, awaken the dead, and make whole what has been smashed.  But a storm is blowing from Paradise; it has got caught in his wings with such violence that the angel can no longer close them.  The storm irresistibly propels him into the future to which his back is turned, while the pile of debris before him grows skyward. This storm is what we call progress.    

                   – Walter Benjamin, Ninth Thesis on the Philosophy of History

The extremes of enlightened spirituality and regressive brutality happen wherever human fallibility seeks to reconcile itself with the divine ideal. A geographically hemmed in Germany was not relaxed about its identity, which was further knocked by the Versailles Peace Treaty. Debates about the effects of the treaty are ongoing. Germany was blamed for the First World War and had vindictive reparations imposed that aided hyperinflation. The crushed self-respect of its people called in a saviour, who tragically sublimated his oppressed childhood with vastly inflated ideals.

Sanity might have prevailed in the darkest hour had Germany given more value to its folk tales. They leave nothing of human nature untold. The secret mysteries of the heart are found in mythical tales all over the world, and while set in local landscapes, their themes are similarly transcending race. These coded treasures are basically the stuff of all yearning for the home or source, a human phenomenon riddled with the tensions of fixation and avoidance.

A hint of the tenacity available to the German people can be found in the tales collected by the Brothers Grimm when storytelling was still practised with the potency of embodied memory. Children growing up with the characters, animals and landscapes of these stories are absorbing timeless themes through symbols and metaphors. Censors protested, and still do, that these themes are cruel and unfit for the innocent child.

The Grimm brothers comment in the introduction to the second, updated 1819 edition of their collection: ‘The right usage discovers nothing bad is in these tales, but as a beautiful word has it – a testimony in our heart. Children point without fear into the stars while others, as popular belief has it, would insult the angels.’

Was the melancholy that gripped so many German people their nemesis or their salvation? Tales that contain symbols of mythic time need to be deciphered again and again within a temporal context. Yet because the emotive power of symbols defies rationality, the sentiments evoked are always in danger of being abused by myopic national concerns. When a nation loses balance by being overly defended or irrationally unleashed, differences of religion, race or politics are thought to explain the matter – yet we all know there is no pure race.

England, like Germany, struggled through internal conflicts but achieved a sense of unity by conquering the world. Felling forests to build boats which sailed under the banner of the Royal Navy, explorers and missionaries spreading across the waters formed a Colonial Empire that brought great wealth and influence. The Commonwealth still lingers like a halo and gives Britain a sense of sovereign pride. Cultural Imperialism, natural to nations with access to the sea, had created the other at a safe distance rather than at home. Yet spoils of victory, too, come at a cost.

When the flagship of King Henry VIII was lifted from the depth of the Solent Estuary into the twentieth century on 11 Oct 1982, the Mary Rose flared back into view and boosted national confidence, adding a powerful impetus to Mrs Thatcher’s resolution to win back the Falklands. It worked – just. Yet now it seems conflicting images of the past, informed by freed-up information providing more and more varied perspectives, are testing every nation’s conscience.

In the twenty-first century, with migration being a global reality, nations are obliged to open their doors to the other. Given changing policies, foreign individuals are often able to acquire legal membership. Since the Schengen agreement, European borders, apart from Britain’s, can be crossed freely, though the agreement is regularly challenged by exceptional circumstances. http://www.migrationinformation.org/Feature/display.cfm?ID=859 

Migrants – who are we?  If there are tendrils resembling roots, they connect to the deep impressions left by parental figures and childhood landscapes, and to the layers of national symbolic themes, ancient, historic and contemporary. Social and ethnic codes ricochet among children in every school-playground, even between neighbours like Germany and Britain. We use icons to sum each other up. At times they move us to tears, at times to laughter, often they serve humorous self-reflection, but mostly they envelope us in a ritualistic trance:

Bratwurst with Sauerkraut, Fish & Chips, Schubert and Kurt Weil songs, God save the Queen, the first four notes of Beethoven’s 5th symphony, a blinking eye of Shakespeare in a hologram,   Goethe’s Faust, the Thatched Cottage, das Edelweiss, The Royal Jewels, der Adler, Jack and Jill, King Ludwig’s Castles, Stonehenge, Rapunzel, Big Ben, Karl Valentin, Spike Mulligan, Lorelei, or the Mary Rose:

In order to preserve them, we gave the Mary Rose Trust a chemical solution called polyethylene glycol. Once these items (such as wooden bowl and leather shoes) have been soaked in this solution, they undergo a freeze-drying process that will preserve them for posterity … ‘You can be sure of Shell.’     (Shell advertisement  1985)

Patrick Wright in his book ‘On Living in the Old Country,’ recounts the findings of a young journalist, Charles Moore. He was commissioned in 1982, after Lord Scarman’s report on the Brixton disorders, to interview the really oppressed people in the area, defined as the elderly white people of Lambeth. The findings expose a national sentiment which, in essence, could equally apply to other nations and individuals: it remembers the state of grace and laments the fall which is said to occur when ‘the blacks’ and the welfare state arrive:

In the beginning there was order, friendliness, dignity, sharing and mutual respect: ‘Everyone mucked in and was properly neighbourly.’

A betrayal of the idea of paradise – in the absence of divine certainty someone or something other needs to become bad, in order to preserve the good.

Seeking fault with the other is meant to shield paradise. An oversight – truth stagnates in the fenced gardens of eternity. Enduring human vitality flows from change and is born of vulnerability. The trance of blame sucks us into its gravitational slow time. Unawares, we perpetuate the shielding in the collective psyche, leaving it for the next generation to absolve.

Recorded history is like a rope broken in many places and knotted together again and again. In the light of new truths these knots are strained and made brittle until they snap. Tribes, nations and ideas are strung along this rope. But new concepts of time are changing our perceptions; many individuals struggle to free themselves of knotted history. The desire to make things solid is an automatic reaction to the fear of losing the familiar we nurture – people, environments, passions and beliefs we bond with, that are mirroring us and allow us to discover ourselves. The problem is not loss, but the manner in which we deal with loss, as if it is destroying our identity. Inevitably, if not death, someone or something will be the agent of change in our lives.  Something dear is wrenched from us, a way of life is gone, those around us and the rest of the world may care for a moment, but our identity, the sum of all our embodied experiences, is ours to keep or lose. The valid anger in the face of change is not lifted by words of wisdom, only plastered up. The heart has to suffer and soften before the conscious decision of an individual can unplug resentment and embrace the enduring presence that truly connects us within. Only individuals can release blame and lift the veil of ignorance.

Dich im Unendlichen zu finden, must du unterscheiden und dann verbinden.

To find yourself in the infinite, you must first distinguish then combine.

–  Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

A truly global citizenship must be composed of enough individuals brave enough to explore their own psyche, brave enough to think for themselves and realise that our collective identity unfolds beyond the existence of individual transitory lifespans. We know that, given respect, tolerance and stimulation, a child will engage with life creatively and trusts in the future. Applying this insight to how we educate our children nourishes the collective intelligence of humanity.

The German filmmaker Edgar Reitz has with great sensitivity restored a balanced meaning of the German Heimat in his TV series of the same name, spanning from 1919 to the fall of the Berlin Wall. The series follows three ordinary families and comprises 52 hours of film. The yearning to belong, so distorted by the idealism of the Third Reich, is shown in localised context and conveys the human aspects of the war story. The impetus for the creation of this document was an American Holocaust series on TV in 1978. Reitz was horrified that German intellectuals seemed to accept the sentimental spin as treatment for national guilt.

The knots in the rope of time we constructed are brittle with guilt, the burdening guilt of not loving humanity enough to fully take on its pain, the way Christ did. He said, ‘Thy will be done.’ Does such surrender of will, even if taken symbolically, really release us of using our own will to effect change?    The concept of surrender is more subtle than giving up the power to will. I see surrender as an alignment of our conscious will to the dynamic flow of change, the universal will, enabling evolution to happen and work freely through us, so that here is everywhere. In instances when this shift happens inside, we are.

*    *     *

References other than mentioned in the text:

The Angel of History: Walter Benjamin’s Vision of Hope and Despair – by Raymond Barglow, published in ‘Tikkun Magazine,’ November 1998

Recently 500 more tales, collected by a contemporary of the Grimm Brothers, were uncovered:




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