Monday, 29 September 2008
Saturday, 27 September 2008
"It’s easily forgotten, Inspector, that history is not what you read in books. It’s a personal thing, and people are vengeful creatures, which is why history will never teach us anything."
“We are all mad, Inspector, for the simple reason that we don’t know why we exist and this …” he waved his hand at the tissue of existence before him, “this life is how we distract ourselves so that we don’t have to think about things too difficult for us to comprehend.”
"You think you know yourself until things start happening, until you lose the insulation of normality. I would have called myself “aware” before I lost my wife. People would look at me, Narciso for instance, and think there goes Zé Coelho, a man who knows himself. But I’m like anybody else. I hide. My wife was right. I’m inquisitive for the truth but hide from my own. The stuff I’ve carried with me and ignored."
Thursday, 25 September 2008
"Many in the West no longer believe in God, but lost belief, like a lost fortune, has effects that linger. A young man raised in wealth may, when he comes of age, give his fortune away and live in poverty. His character, however, will remain that of a man raised in wealth, for he cannot give his history away. In a similar way, centuries of rigorous, godly character-building have created an ideal of human character that stands fast even though, for many, its foundation has been removed. When Westerners encounter a culture with a different ideal, when we find ourselves saying, for example, “The Japanese are different,” we discover, indirectly, the strangeness and durability of our own ideal, our inherited sense of what a human being should be."
And strange, when looked at from a distance (or through the eyes of another culture), one’s own cultural heritage might indeed appear to be. Again Jack Miles, this time from Christ: A Crisis in the Life of God:
"All mankind is forgiven, but the Lord must die. This is the revolutionary import of the epilogue that, two thousand years ago, a group of radical Jews appended to the sacred scripture of their religion. Because they did so, millions in the West today worship before the image of a deity executed as a criminal, and – no less important – other millions who never worship at all carry within their cultural DNA a religiously derived suspicion that somehow, someday, “the last will be first, and the first last” (Matt. 20: 16).The Crucifixion, the primal scene of Western religion and western art, has lost much of its power to shock. At this late date, perhaps only a non-Western eye can truly see it. A Japanese artist now living in Los Angeles once recalled the horror most Japanese feel at seeing a corpse displayed as a religious icon, and of their further revulsion when the icon is explained to them. They ask, she said: “If he was so good, why did he die like that?” In Japanese culture “good people end their lives with a good death, even a beautiful death, like the Buddha. Someone dying in such a hideous way – for us, he could only be a criminal.”
Needless to say, this is not how Westerners see it – if they see it at all. The message for them is that by losing everything (one’s life), one wins everything (a place in heaven). In other words, redemptive fulfilment lies at the core of popular Western belief (only the Christian faith recognises original sin and corresponding redemption). For a Chinese this seems hard to grasp, at least for Lin Yutang, who, in 1938, wrote in The Importance of Living:
"All in all, here is still a belief in total depravity, that enjoyment of this life is sin and wickedness, that to be uncomfortable is to be virtuous, and that on the whole man cannot save himself except by a greater power outside. The doctrine of sin is still the basic assumption of Christianity as generally practised today, and Christian missionaries trying to make converts start out by impressing upon the party to be converted a consciousness of sin and of wickedness of human nature (which is, of course, the sine qua non for the ready-made remedy which the missionary has up his sleeve). All in all, you can’t make a man a Christian unless you first make him believe he is a sinner."
It goes without saying that quite some Westerners find this also rather difficult to understand.
Tuesday, 23 September 2008
In "The Project Ebru: The Story of a Journey", Durak not only gives an informative account of how the project came into being but also describes how he became interested in photography. By accident, really. When at university, he took a course in photography because it looked like the easiest way to increase his grade point average but he then found that "for that year I did nothing but take photographs, and I had no desire to do anything else. By the end of the academic year, a life without photography was simply unfathomable to me. During that same period, I took the overland route to Egypt and stayed there for about a month. That particular journey led me to discover something about myself: I liked, and actually preferred, going to different countries and photographing people that I found to be different."
In 1996, Durak immigrated to New York, "a city of eight million people from different lands and cultures, speaking more than 100 different languages and believing—or not believing—in hundreds of different religions and denominations, and all living together. One third of this population is comprised of first-generation immigrants from approximately 200 countries. In the City’s restaurants you can taste the cuisines of every country of the world, and in its arts centers, parks, subway stations, and streets, you can listen to the music and watch the dances of the most unexpected regions and peoples. As Henry David Thoreau said, everyone “hears a different drummer” in New York. Yet it can hardly be said that they remain indifferent to the beats of other drums in the process. It is also common to find that different beats have mixed together to create entirely new sounds. While Americans often employ the “melting pot” metaphor in describing the cultural diversity in the United States, this “melting” aspiration hasn’t had much of an impact upon New Yorkers. There, if it’s meant to be, time gets the job done; and if it doesn’t, nobody could care less. That’s why New Yorkers prefer the “mosaic” metaphor to describe the culturally diverse fabric of their city. This particular metaphor is their way of explaining that the many and varied peoples who co-exist here may, if they like, maintain their own constant, invariable colors without having to mix and mingle their hues with those of others."
© copyright 2002, Attila Durak
What one observes and experiences in places far from home often makes one become curious of home. And this is precisely what happened to Attila Durak - "the multitude of colors and voices in New York ignited my desire to explain the cultural diversity of Turkey via photographs".
When working briefly in Istanbul (in 2005), I felt deeply impressed by the cultural variety of the city, and of the places nearby. I howewer wasn't aware that the variety was that vast - the Ebru Project was an eye-opener. Actually, it was more than that: it was a heart-opener - it made me look with sympathy at the people portrayed, it made me like them.
© copyright 2001, Attila Durak
By the way: "The English translation of “ebru” is “marbled paper,” which refers to the fluidity of paint and water on paper. With its creative combination of water and paper, “ebru” inspires the possibility of conceptualizing historical flow and “passing solidity” at the same time. As such, it is a metaphor that offers a promising alternative to others like “the mosaic” or “the quilt” for thinking through the new and old dilemmas of cultural politics at the turn of the century."
Sunday, 21 September 2008
Friday, 19 September 2008
Lisa Kahane’s “Do Not Give Way to Evil” starts like this: “The past is never over. Image outlives fact.” It hit me, immediately: Yes, exactly, this is it, so true, that is precisely why pictures are more telling than words.
Images carry feelings, and these we remember – this is why images are so powerful.
The book shows photos of the South Bronx between 1979 and 1987, “not just another neighbourhood but another realm, visible but incomprehensible, an urban wilderness actively populated by ghosts.”
What is true for the first few sentences is likewise true for the first few photographs. In “Do Not Give Way to Evil” it was the first one – the abandoned Bronx Borough Courthouse – that did it for me. When contemplating it, I instinctively knew that I would like Lisa Kahane’s other pictures – and I did. All of them. For they not only showed me the South Bronx, they told me about life.
Moreover, I loved her helpful introductory text. For its humaneness, its unpretentiousness, and its insights. Here are some excerpts:
“Change is a constant in New York City and it’s usually considered progress. In the Bronx, it was extraordinarily brutal. Portrayed either as a garden spot or a wretched failure of civic life, the ruin of the Bronx, part natural progression of the American Dream, part intentional destruction, was a long time in the making. Fewer things than one imagines are coincidences. What is made to seem the inevitable process of history is often the interplay of money and power.
Withdrawal of federal funds, diminishing city services, and dependence on welfare turned the American Dream into an American Nightmare. Anger and frustration turned to cruelty, and boredom to loss of hope. Drugs were easy to get. Widespread fires, unknown since the early nineteenth century, made a comeback. Counterproductive government response made arson profitable for landlord and tenant. In the 70’s the borough averaged 12,000 arson fires a year, over thirty a day.
There are books now that explain it all and yet explain nothing. The devil’s best game, the poet Charles Baudelaire wrote, is to convince us that he doesn’t exist. Even though it’s always the present tense in a photograph, the spirit of the time can only be represented, not recalled or recreated. The best thing about these pictures of devastation is that they can’t be taken in the Bronx anymore.”
Lisa Kahane's "Do Not Give Way to Evil” was published in 2008 by PowerHouse Books, Miss Rosen Editions, Brooklyn, New York.
Wednesday, 17 September 2008
An appetite for faith may be to some extent its justification: it is certainly not its proof – we do not build a fire to prove or disprove the existence of cold, but to keep ourselves warm. A traveller on a perilous journey may draw comfort from the knowledge that he has a pistol in his pocket, though, unknown to himself, his servant has neglected to load it. Like the traveller, we shall only learn whether or not our pistols were loaded when the issue will have transcended speculation; till then we must draw our comfort from whatever we care to believe or disbelieve. Truth, if it exists, will remain unaffected. A starving animal will suck the dug of its dead parent and a man in extremity can condition himself to believe what he calculates will bring him most consolation.
A.E. Ellis: The Rack
Monday, 15 September 2008
"While watching the Sarah Palin interview with Charlie Gibson Thursday night, and the coverage of the Palin phenomenon in general, I’ve gotten the scary feeling, for the first time in my life, that dimwittedness is not just on the march in the U.S., but that it might actually prevail.
How is it that this woman could have been selected to be the vice presidential candidate on a major party ticket? How is it that so much of the mainstream media has dropped all pretense of seriousness to hop aboard the bandwagon and go along for the giddy ride?
For those who haven’t noticed, we’re electing a president and vice president, not selecting a winner on “American Idol.”
Ms. Palin may be a perfectly competent and reasonably intelligent woman (however troubling her views on evolution and global warming may be), but she is not ready to be vice president.
With most candidates for high public office, the question is whether one agrees with them on the major issues of the day.
With Ms. Palin, it’s not about agreeing or disagreeing. She doesn’t appear to understand some of the most important issues."
Since when have an understanding of issues, competence, or knowing what is going on, been a prerequisite for public office, I wonder? Actually, it more often looks like the other way 'round.
As Winston Churchill said: the best argument against democracy is a five minute conversation with an average voters (he however also said that democracy is still the best of all the bad systems available).
Okay, fine, but what should we do now? Listen to another Brit, John Lennon, who said: Don't follow leaders.
By the way: experience is consistently overrated. When the US supreme court (with members appointed by Bush Senior) bestowed the presidency on Bush Junior, some media, troubled by Junior's lack of foreign exposure, pointed out how reassuring it was that vice president Cheney was such an experienced politician. Well ... ?!
We should keep in mind what the German writer Kurt Tucholsky once said: that a man with ten years of experience may have been ten years completely mistaken.
Saturday, 13 September 2008
Thursday, 11 September 2008
"Are they handmade?" I asked the street vendor who had traditional garments on display. "No, no, machine, very better", she replied. It took me a while to understand what she meant: that the machine had made her work easier.
There was no taxi at the airport in Pitsanoluk. "How can I get to town?" I asked the young lady at the information booth. "My master will drive you", she said. The master turned out to be the director of the airport. "And how do you plan to go to Mae Hong Son?" he inquired. "I guess by bus" I said. "Bus no good" he replied. "You should do it like the Thais do it". "Aha, and how do they do it?" "Take it easy, fly." I flew.
Prachuap Khiri Khan. I explored this small town and the beaches on the back of a motorbyke. "Here eat drink", my driver said while pointing to a restaurant. "Here sing a song" - that was a disco. After a while, I felt I should also make a contribution. "Look at this beautiful bird", I shouted. "Bird", he shouted back. Thais have quite a remarkable ability to state the obvious.
In Bangkok, I bought a wallet. It was a Gucci imitation, plastic, and very cheap. A week later it broke apart. When I passed by the same shop, I decided to stop for a chat. "Look at this", I said to the salesgirls. "This wallet I bought here only a week ago and already it falls apart." "How much you pay?" the girls asked. "60 Baht", I smiled. They smiled back: "60 Baht one week, 80 Baht two weeks."
During a Thai class, somebody mentioned corruption. Our teacher, a gifted entertainer, the most important qualification for teaching in Thailand, said: Corruption? We don't have that here. And then, with a big smile, added: Well, come to think of it, that is our system.
Tuesday, 9 September 2008
J.M. Coetzee: Diary of a Bad Year
Sunday, 7 September 2008
The expressions that these values find in Europe and in North America differ however not inconsiderably – the American readiness to, for instance, exercise power (be it the death penalty or the invasion of another country) seems to indicate a mentality rather different from the ever so reluctant European attitude.
The culture we grow up in shapes the way we see the world. If this culture is one of strength, our view of the world will be one from a position of strength. In the case of America this includes a propensity to use that strength.
Cultures do not clash, humans sometimes do – not so much because of different values (after all: quite some of the behaviour of American soldiers in Iraq would be as offensive back in America) but because of, perhaps, a mix of fear, xenophobia, military training, lack of manners, and youth, a mix that can be found wherever an army (from East or West, North or South) is found fighting.
The debate about a possible clash of civilizations gives a prominence to cultural values that is not deserved – for any closer look will result in realising that what humans have in common by far outweighs their differing opinions – and obscures that the problems between Europe and America, as well as between the West and the rest of the world, is one of power (competing greed, egotism etc. – the character traits that we all share) and not of incompatible values.
Friday, 5 September 2008
Wednesday, 3 September 2008
'Pardon me, sir, I'm Rebecca Smith from CNN. What is your name?'
'Morris Fishbien,' he replied.
'Sir, how long have you been coming to the Western Wall and praying?'
'For about 60 years.'
'60 years! That's amazing! What do you pray for?'
'I pray for peace between the Christians, Jews and the Muslims. I pray for all the wars and all the hatred to stop. I pray for all our children to grow up safely as responsible adults, and to love their fellow man.'
'How do you feel after doing this for 60 years?'
'Like I'm talking to a fuckin' wall.'