Wednesday, 31 August 2022

The World of Art

 A great work of art, if it accomplishes anything, serves to remind us, or let us say to set us dreaming, of all that is fluid and intangible. Which is to say, the universe. It cannot be understood; it can only be accepted or rejected. If accepted we are revitalized; if rejected we are diminished. Whatever it purports to be it is not: it is always something more for which the last word will never be said. It's all that we put into it out of hunger for that which we deny every day of our lives. If we accepted ourselves as completely the work of art, in fact the whole world of art would die of malnutrition.

Henry Miller: Sexus

Wednesday, 24 August 2022

How I never see myself ...

This is the way I never see myself, except on photographs that show me how the ones taking pictures have seen me in a given moment. Only when looking at photographs of me do I have a closer look at myself, it seems to me, for hardly ever I take the time in front of a mirror to contemplate what I have before my eyes.

A strange phenomenon, come to think of it, that aptly illustrates that we cannot see ourselves how others see us. So which view of me is the right one, mine or theirs? Both, of course.

These pics were taken by Blazenka Kostolna on 12 August 2022 in Adliswil.

Wednesday, 17 August 2022

The appeal of newspapers

 The appeal of newspapers was altogether different from the appeal of books. Books were solid and permanent, and newspapers were flimsy, ephemeral throwaways, discarded the instant after they had been read, to be replaced by another one the next morning, every morning a fresh paper for the new day. Books moved forward in a straight line from beginning to end, whereas newspapers were always in several places at once, a hodgepodge of simultaneity and contradiction, with multiple stories coexisting on the same page, each one exposing a different aspect of the world, each one asserting an idea or a fact that had nothing to do with the one that stood beside it, a war on the right, an egg-and-spoon race on the left, a burning building at the top, a Girl Scout reunion at the bottom, big things and small things mixed together, tragic things on page 1 and frivolous things on page 4, winter floods and police investigations, scientific discoveries and dessert recipes, deaths and births, advice to the lovelorn and crossword puzzles, touchdown passes and debates in Congress, cyclones and symphonies, labor strikes and transatlantic balloon voyages, the morning paper necessarily had to include each one of those events in its columns of black, smudgy ink, and every morning Ferguson exulted in the messiness of it all, for that was what the world was, he felt, a big, churning mess, with millions of things happening in it at the same time.

Paul Auster: 4 3 2 1

Wednesday, 10 August 2022

On Spirituality

The spiritual life has always attracted me  in theory, not in practice. I do associate it with monks, Thoreau's Walden, simplicity, and wisdom. 

The other day, when starting to reread Pico Iyer's The Lady and the Monk. Four Seasons in Kyoto, I came across this. "... the vision I had always cherished of living simply and alone, in some foreign land, unknown. A life alone was the closest thing to faith I knew, and a life of Thoreauvian quiet seemed most practicable abroad."

"The readiness is all", says Horatio in Hamlet. Readiness for the spiritual life, it seems to me, is only possible once the capitalist options (to have, to possess – including books, ideas as well as knowledge) are exhausted or have become irrelevant. When to simply be sounds attractive.

When the actor Billy Murray was asked: "You're rich, you're famous, what do you still want from life?", he replied (I quote from memory): "To be more consistently here, or differently put: to be also mentally where I am physically." 

Wednesday, 3 August 2022

Chris Patten: The Hong Kong Diaries

I read books for insights and memorable lines respectively. One such line The problems were predictable, and, as always happens, they looked their most formidable on file muddling through is not an option ever advocated in briefing folders  is from Chris Patten's East and West, a tome that I immensely enjoyed; it is also one of the reasons for my interest in The Hong Kong Diaries; the other is my fascination for things Asian.

As befits a published diary, many remarks can be found in this well-written tome that go beyond the purely personal and do express the kind of common sense that I cherish. On his daughter Laura: "She is a lovable girl but at the moment very much a teenager – she knows what she wants to do and that's that." Moreover, it comes with judgements that often made me smile. On Lee Kuan Yew, a man of supreme self-confidence: "A clever Cambridge graduate, he had opinions on most international political subjects and very occasionally would listen to the views of others on the same subjects."

The last British governor of Hong Kong, from 1992 to 1997, not only gets briefed upon his arrival, he also learns "that I'm not really trusted to dress myself anymore." Nothing could illustrate better that he isn't there as Chris Patten but that he has an official role to play, a role that comes with lots of staff as well as impressive accomodation that also offers a not so terribly appreciated view on the Hong Kong and Shanghai Bank building. "Princess Margaret is said to have remarked that it looked like the back of a fridge. To which the obvious response was – 'But how does Princess Margaret know what the back of a fridge looks like?'"

The Hong Kong Diaries is a very instructive tome that not only provides insights into the governor's strictly planned daily life, from how to dress to meetings, lunches and dinners with political officials as well as encounters with the real world. So many talks and conversations – I felt exhausted! Also, one cannot escape the impression (he must have taken notes on a daily basis) that the author is also diligently working on securing that his view will be prominently feature in the history books.

This busy life comes with quite some perks like, for instance, an impressive yacht, it is however often overlooked that the price one has to pay is noteworthy too – life as a balancing act between political friends and foes from the British as well as from the Chinese side. I appreciated to learn almost as much about Patten's family life as about his life as a public persona for, needless to say, the two can't really be separated although some pretend that they can or should. I do however find this a rather artificial stance for it is the character of a person that primarily matters in everything he or she does.

The governor had not only to deal with differing views in the British government, he also had to find a way of how to handle the Chinese, who regarded even holding public meetings as controversial. I must admit that I soon lost track of the innumearble meetings, British and Chinese. Yet what increasingly baffled me was– given the present Chinese handling of Hong Kong  that all the controversies, all the hostilities, all the paying attention to diplomatic detail as well as to cultural sensitivities, all the efforts of giving face were seemingly for, well, not much, or so it seems.

Sure, engaging in diplomacy appears to be an interesting, privileged, but also demanding way of spending your time on planet earth, yet it doesn't seem to achieve much when it comes to interests of power. Differently put: I wonder what made the British believe that the Chinese would honour the 50-year-agreement of "one country, two systems". The fact that many Chinese businessmen as well as chief executives for the communist colonial power in Hong Kong and their family members held foreign passports may be more than just an indicator that public statements are what they are – statements for the public.

The Hong Kong Diaries is not only informative but also an entertaining read. I guess, it is his humour (apart from his family and his Catholic faith) that prevented the governor from not going nuts. "A visit to South Korea, staying in Seoul with the ambassador, Tom Harris, and his Taiwanese wife. The weather was freezing. I saw the President, the Deputy Prime Minister and the Minister for Trade; two out of three were called Kim." And, "High Wye" is how Margaret Thatcher pronounces Hawaii.

Chris Patten wonders at times what made him want to become a politician and governor of Hong Kong respectively. "I don't want to leave Newcastle so quickly. I'm also rather fed up about spending the whole winter being rubbished by China, criticized by businessmen and perhaps watching public support drain away. I sometimes don't know what it is about me that seems to attract controversy, I don't mean to be anything other than an amiable fellow living a life full of good intentions and with rather liberal views on things." Well, that sounds more like a decent human being than a man in politics.

I felt again and again puzzled why we do not call politics what it essentially is: a fight over money and privileges. "A lot of business leaders appear to have done a Faustian deal with the Chinese; you give us the capitalist part of the Joint Declaration and you can do what you want with the rest."  Also, I thought it particularly revealing that Chris Patten's goal to secure political freedom and the rule of law seems to have been made especially difficult ... by the British.

The Hong Kong Diaries is testimony to the belief that "Hong Kong's fight for freedom, for individual liberty and decency, is our fight as well." Our best weapon is to behave with decency, and this is what Chris Patten has done.

Chris Patten
The Hong Kong Diaries
Allen Lane, London 2022