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Ovi Symposium; forty-fourth Meeting Ovi Symposium; forty-fourth Meeting
by Nikos Laios
2015-02-09 23:43:03
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 Ovi Symposium:

“A Philosophical Conversation on the Nature of Art within Modernity
and the Envisioning of a New Humanism”

between Ms Abigail George, Mr Nikos Laios, Drs. Paolozzi, Paparella and Mr. Rywalt
Forty-fourth Meeting: 29 January 2015

symposium01

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Symposium's regular participants (in alphabetical order)

abigailAbigail George is an African activist for human rights, a feminist, writer and poet. She has received writing grants from the National Arts Council, Centre for the Book, and ECPACC (Eastern Cape Provincial Arts and Culture Council). She is not purely devoted to poetry but to pursuing writing fulltime. She has written two volumes of poetry, and her latest book is titled Winter in Johannesburg. Storytelling for her has always been a phenomenal way of communicating and making a connection with other people. All About My Mother (a collection of short stories) was published by Ovi magazine in July 2012.

laios_01Nikos Laios is a poet, artist, lover of philosophy and student of the human condition, currently writing poetry and producing art; he is also a sculptor, a photographer, widely read in the humanities. He hails from the highlands of Epirus in Greece; greatly influenced by the poetic traditions which have been passed down from his poet ancestor on his maternal side from the island of Cephalonia. He currently resides in North Sydney Australia, is an autodidact and a passionate ‘renaissance’ man, has always been a practical philosopher, throwing himself into the hard questions that life has to offer in search of elusive gems of wisdom.

enDr.Ernesto Paolozzi teaches history of contemporary philosophy at the University Suor Orsola Benincasa of Naples. A Croce scholar and an expert on historicism, he has written widely and published several books, especially on aesthetics and liberalism vis a vis science. His book Benedetto Croce: The Philosophy of History and the Duty of Freedom was printed as an e-book in Ovi magazine in June 2013.

papDr. Emanuel Paparella has a Ph.D. in Italian Humanism with a dissertation on Giambattista Vico from Yale University. He currently teaches philosophy at Barry University and Broward College in Florida, USA. One of his books is titled Hermeneutics in the Philosophy of G. Vico, Mellen Press. His latest e-book Aesthetic Theories of Great Western Philosophers was printed in Ovi magazine in June 2013.

rywaltEdwin Rywalt is a computer specialist living in Pennsylvania with his family. He is a talented and accomplished pianist with a college education from Columbia University and a life---long scholarly interest in the nexus between science, technology, and the liberal arts. Beginning in May 2014 he will be offering pro bono services to the Ovi Symposium with typo correction editing and other useful suggestions aiming at improving the overall format of the twice a month section of Ovi magazine. Perhaps in the future, if his commitments allow it, he may decide to join the Symposium’s ongoing dialogue.

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Subtheme of session 44: Whatever happened to the love of ideas?

Indirect Participants within the Great Conversation across the ages: Plato, Aristotle, Marcus Aurelius, Shakespeare, Einstein, Warhol, Socrates, Euripides, Aristophanes, Fellini, Nietzsche, Cavafy, Sappho, Hemingway, Uphan, Maugham, Orwell, Johnson, Thackeray, Stein, Kundera, Maarten, Tan, Vico, Hobsbaum, Marx, Pope Francis, Silone, More, Confucius, Da Vinci, C.P. Snow.

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Table of Contents for the 44th Session of the Ovi Symposium (29 January 2015)

Preamble by the Symposium’s coordinator Emanuel L. Paparella

Section 1: “La Dolce Vita: the Sweet Life Enhanced by the Love of Ideas.” A presentation by Nikos Laios.

Section 2: “The Dry Land: an Essay and some quotations.” A presentation by Abigail George

Section 3: “The Return of the Gods: Envisioning a New Renaissance.” A presentation by Emanuel L. Paparella

…………………………………………………………………………………………………………..

Preamble by the Symposium’s Coordinator Emanuel L. Paparella

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In this 44th meeting of the Ovi symposium we begin with a debut presentation by our new regular contributor from Australia, Nikos Laios, who has already been introduced and welcomed to the Symposium in a previous meeting. The readership in fact already knows him well for his poems, paintings, and philosophical reflections contributed over several years. Once again, a warm welcome aboard, Nikos.

In section one Nikos gives us a sobering reflection on what we have tragically lost with the advent of a philistine consumerist society: nothing short than our cultural identity and our love of ideas as transmitted to us over millennia via the humanities and the liberal arts. He does so with a poetic voice, a poetic photo and a poetic painting that provide a hauntingly lyrical voice to the nostalgia for times forever gone; a sense of loss felt by all who love the liberal arts and the humanities as they witness their ongoing demise within a brave new philistine prosaic world of commerce and entrepreneurship. For indeed what we have lost is nothing short than the love of ideas and the poetry and the romance that went with them, which formerly were integral part of the cultural identity of the Western World. Nikos inspires a needed hope that such a state of affairs may not last indefinitely, that the gods may return eventually, for if that were not the case, then sadly our sickness would be unto death, the sickness of those who are sick and don’t even know it. All of this is well within the telos or purpose, or mission statement, if you will, with which our symposium began as announced in its heading: a philosophical conversation on the nature of art within modernity and the envisioning of a new humanism or Renaissance, if you will, for the new millennium.

In one way or other, with this 44th session, and indeed all the meetings of the symposium, we return to those origins by delving in the objective cycles of history of humankind throughout the ages and in the more personal subjective poetical examination of one’s human existence and situation examining their overall meaning for our penultimate and ultimate destiny, for indeed, as Socrates has well taught us, the unexamined life is not worth living and the microcosm of a human life in some way reflects the macrocosm of the perennial life of humankind and its historical consciousness. Abigail George demonstrates such a wisdom for us in as much as she too poetically examines the microcosm of her personal human experiences which then become metaphors for recalling the larger macrocosm or the human condition from its primordial origins, for the journey begins in Africa, to be sure, to our times of crisis.

In the third section we revisit a trope which seems to be crucial to the understanding of the predicament of our civilization:  the return of the gods, that is to say, the return to that lost whimsical world poetically and nostalgically alluded to by Nikos and Abigail. In its own modest way this presentation too will hopefully help us envision a new Renaissance, for without a vision to guide us, the journey becomes an aimless and purposeless meandering in a cultural wasteland. Indeed, if there is a signal characteristic of  Western culture it is the idea of its recurring rebirths or its renaissances, the almost miraculous recovery, via the historical consciousness, of what seemed irreparably lost, in an attempt to understand the root causes of complex events and how they effect the present and the future.

Such a recovery necessitates a return to origins, a sort of back to the future operation, for in the beginning there is the end and in the end there is the beginning within the telos of the universe. The enlightenment idea of “inevitable progress” and ongoing perfectibility will ultimately not serve us very well, since it glaringly fails to acknowledge that not everything modern, arriving at the end of an epoch, yelds necessarily the best of all possible outcomes; it may in fact turn out to be the worst of all possible outcomes. And so we hopefully, even joyfully, await the return of the gods. Silone prophetically called that kind of patient and hopeful waiting “the conspiracy of hope.” Long live the conspiracy of hope!

 

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1

LA DOLCE VITA: THE SWEET LIFE ENHANCED BY THE LOVE OF IDEAS
A Presentation by Nikos Laios

 syn00018

The streets of Alexandria

I
OUR ALEXANDRIA

In the early light of our new century, I reflect on the journey that humanity has made through the ages, and of the profound progress - and chaos - that has been constructed on the back of our mind, of our humanity, that has built for us a 'sweet life' of sorts, or 'La Dolce Vita' as the Italians call it.

On the flickering flames of ideas of various civilisations that laced the world and down to our modern age like some flaming beacon signals high on mountaintops, where ideas and the love of ideas has inspired the world; enhanced lives and also created some chaos.

Though the good outweighs the bad, and I ask myself where is our love of ideas? Where has our golden cosmopolitan city of ideas, our 'Alexandria' gone?

But the flame has dimmed, the lighthouse now gone; the streets of the cosmopolitan city of ideas has emptied, and the waves of wisdom receded. The once bright flame that flickered against the burnished brass is radiant no more. The light that shone on blooming geraniums and hyacinths, that wreathed themselves around the feet of our desires and thoughts;their shadows now stroll through empty, arching crumbling porticoes.

Where thoughts and desires mingled in equal measure to mellifluous sounds; the haunting  melodies that floated over the room and across the city like a zeppelin, as the night breeze slowly undulated the soft curtains like the curves of an exotic dancer,ice cubes clinking in the glass, under the mournful notes of some sad eastern song.

Cooled by the soft kisses of the once great city, as the last beads of sweat danced and coiled themselves around my neck.My mind, flying, flying on the wings of the once bright light from The Pharos that illuminated the dark recesses.

O, how I yearn for those cosmopolitan days, for our 'Alexandria'.

As the dried, dead geraniums and hyacinths tumble down the cold and darkened city streets past shuttered shops.For the flame has dimmed, the lighthouse now gone; we have lost our Alexandria.

During the last few hundred years in the western world, the pursuit of truth and knowledge and the belief within the humanist tradition was that the intellectual and contemplative life represented the highest form of human life and activity. This pre-eminence has now been challenged, in that the idea of the pursuit of truth and knowledge is being seen with scepticism at the possibility of objective knowledge; and this scepticism has seeped into institutions of higher learning and has had a profound effect therefore on the intellectual life, that if there is no uniqueness in the pursuit of truth and knowledge, then it has become a meaningless and antiquated ritual.

Yet for Aristotle, truth was the object of science, that philosophy is the science that considers the truth. For the true seeker of truth, wisdom and knowledge therefore; the classic works of, Plato, Aristotle, Epictetus, Marcus Aurelius, Shakespeare or the Bhagavad Gita are valid and contemporary to every time. But the modern age is marked by the laziness of the mind.

 syn00019

Painting of the Lighthouse of Alexandria by Nikos Laios

Albert Einstein, once stated in 1954 that: "Somebody who only reads newspapers and at best books of contemporary authors looks to me like an extremely near-sighted person who scorns eyeglasses. He is completely dependent on the prejudices and fashions of his times, since he never gets to see or hear anything else. And what a person thinks on his own without being stimulated by the thoughts and experiences of other people is even in the best case rather paltry and monotonous. There are only a few enlightened people with a lucid mind and style and with good taste within a century. What has been preserved of their work belongs among the most precious possessions of mankind. We owe it to a few writers of antiquity (Plato, Aristotle, etc.) that the people in the Middle Ages could slowly extricate themselves from the superstitions and ignorance that had darkened life for more than half a millennium. Nothing is more needed to overcome the modernist's snobbishness."

As a result this rejection of universal knowledge and truth, this has also resulted in the rejection of meritocracy, to avoid the hurt feelings of rejection. Where the banalization of knowledge through easily digestible bite-sized chunks of technical opinions are fed to the public, and the promotion of the policies of inclusiveness and participation, at the expense of the maintenance of high levels of excellence of knowledge and truths.

Where excellence is seen as an elitist attempt at excluding a wide section of the population from any attainment of knowledge, and where now this new philistinism has accordingly become entrenched in higher centres of learning and through public policies.

We now live in a new philistine age, an age which is marked by a deficiency in liberal culture and whose main interests are material and commonplace, marked by apathy and social disengagement.

What is required now is a new war against the philistines, for the philistines have already won their war against the humanists and seekers of the pre-eminence of the intellectual life and the life of contemplation as the peak ideal of human society. The philistines have won their war in our own modern times like some bloody battle of Stalingrad, that haunts my dreams still.

The climbing caves that hovered above the urban jungle against the blue sky; to the sounds of crackling gunfire and artillery shells pounding the crumbling walls; the screeching, twisting metal tearing at the sun.

As they scurried among the smoke-filled, bloodstained rubble, scooping up handfuls of water from cloudy puddles, picking at stale bread crumbs. The glowing tracer fire flashing overhead lighting up the green climbers that clung to the climbing caves, with the red and orange algae stuck to the rock walls like orphaned children.

As their haunted faces lit up In the dark caves of their ignorance, like a Goya painting; illuminated by a single candle flame as they waited.They couldn't remember when they stopped; stopped thinking, and dreaming.

When the love of ideas was once as important to them as the very act of breathing; but that was in a bygone age.They had time to ponder this question over the smoking ruins of their microwave, minute-noodle, big brother, hollow Andy Warhol world.

The silhouette of their mediocre philistine age, pressed sharply against the blue sky.

The one location where ideas, and the love of ideas still resonates strongly is the cafes ringing around the ancient agora in Athens. One of the highest pleasures and privileges in life for me is when I travel back home to Athens and head immediately to the lyrical cafes of the agora.

Reading the platonic texts, sitting in a shaded cafe with the ruby red grapes glistening amongst the luminescent green vine leaves, shimmering, providing shade overhead, to the clicking sounds of cicadas, next to and overlooking the ruins of the ancient agora, under the blazing summer sun, and the chalky blue sky, with the white-cubed, red-shuttered Cycladic homes splashed randomly around the base of the Acropolis.

The serenity and haunting shades of Socrates, Plato, Euripides, and Aristophanes still echo and haunt this serene and magical place. Where so much of the cultural legacy of the world was born. I feel the same presence of place when dwelling amongst the ruins in Rome.

In the agora in Athens exists still, the ruins, the foundations of the prison where Socrates was executed; the exact prison cell where he held court with all the intellectual luminaries of ancient Athens before he drank the hemlock. A true martyr for the freedom to reflect on, and examine truth, wisdom and knowledge; yet how meaningless is his sacrifice now in our modern, materialistic and vacuous age, which is threatened by curved blood-dripping scimitars, and a new banal numbness of the mind in the urban centres of our world?

II
THE SWEET LIFE; AND THE DESCENT

The poverty of the mind has been built in the twentieth century on the foundations of the rise of the rapid urbanisation, industrialisation and the mass production of food, which has increased the population of the world like at no other time in human history.

During this period in the western world, the separation of church and state started to become even more pronounced and man slowly abandoned God, and the metaphysical structure of spiritual life, while in other parts of the world the belief in God and a canonical literal belief in religious dogma strangled and killed ideas, and the love of ideas dead in its tracks.

In most of the western world, the abandonment of God has meant the embrace of shallow materialism and consumerism, which became the new framework within which society attained a meaning. This trend become especially pronounced post World War Two, and built upon the rubble of a destroyed and alienated western world, and it is during this supposedly affluent and prosperous period that man finally lost his balance, his centre which had thus far defined him throughout human history.

The pursuit for societies in the western world now is to live the 'the sweet life', or 'the good life'.

La Dolce Vita, which in Italian means a life of pleasure, simple luxury; enjoying the good things in life and indulging in the things that one likes. Where the higher contemplation of the mind has been abandoned, and life has been reduced to an individualism, a personal subjective chase of pleasure and materialism, within the context of this world of our soul-sucking day jobs, home mortgages, credit cards and the five minute television preachers.

This bland, soulless life is no better illustrated than in the Italian post-realist movie by the same name; 'La Dolce Vita', where Marcello, a tabloid news journalist in Rome during the 1950's,lives a meaningless burnt-out existence; a man with no centre or direction in life. In a fruitless search of happiness, love and meaning in a decadent society, devoid of any values except for alcohol, sex, fame and wealth; demoralised by the meaninglessness of his profitable job.

Torn between the suffocating domesticity offered by his co-dependent and suicidal girlfriend, and the allure of spending time with Rome's shallow social elite, faded celebrities and sycophants; chasing the ephemeral moments of parties and sex.

A philandering paparazzo journalist who ignores his faithful and loving girlfriend, and falls into one meaningless sexual encounter after another with the various women he meets; chasing a visiting movie starlet, to encounters with bored socialites; and is only briefly shocked when his intellectual friend Steiner - whom he looked up to - kills his children and commits suicide.

An emotionally sterile intellectual who identifies the absurd futility of life in his world, who instead of rebelling, takes the coward's way out, whereby Marcello becomes lost in a sea of cruelty, self-loathing and frivolity.

This is Marcello, the man with no moral or intellectual centre; who is symbolic of man today in the western world, living a charade.

The dislocation and metamorphosis from the humanist ideals of the search for truth and the life of contemplation, could not be more stark than in today's preoccupation with materialism and consumerism, where the devaluation of the love of ideas has occurred as soon as the age of philistinism descended upon us.

For this in turn lead to instrumentalism, which is an ethos which only values education, culture and art where they serve practical instruments for the wider economic good, where knowledge has become a product, and academic establishments have become the production line and catering industry of the economy.

The universality of truth and knowledge are now challenged by the theory of relativism, which is a view that states that ideas and perceptions of moral values and truth are relative to the groups and persons holding them, and where the subjective has become dominant over the objective.

Where once the right wing of politics was against truth and knowledge of the enlightenment tradition - and the left its champions - these roles have now been reversed due to the left's victory in academia and the professionalization of the intellectual life, where they now see the universalism of the enlightenment as a threat to their now entrenched intellectual life.

This rebellion against the universalism of the enlightenment has become even more entrenched in academia where the ethos of particularism has been adopted. It defines the truth and knowledge of intellectualism through the particular experience, which dedicates their intellectual interests to one's own group, party, sect or nation.

Where instead of there just being an intellectual, we now have today black, feminist, English, Gay and Jewish intellectuals; where intellectual ability no longer resides on the ability to represent the truth, but on championing and affirming the identify of a specific group.

Such a move is the most dangerous and odious of all, in that it entrenches the shift away from the universality of the intellectual life to the ambition to affirm the particular experience, and such a view is in turn a hostile and a conservative reaction against the critical questioning of society.

Where this particularist and relativist challenge of the universality of knowledge has been dominant since the 1960's.Where the rebellion against universalism has turned into a celebration of difference, and to the dominance of a post-modernism and systematic rejection of objective knowledge, and where only through subjectivity can understanding be established; according to their worldview.

Where this also takes the form of claims of ethnocentrism and cultural imperialism; where various groups have laid claims to being the only authorities that can write their own histories.

Where for example, only the English would have the right to write English history, or that only blacks have the right to write black history, or that only gays have the right to write gay history, or that according to the feminist worldview, that only women have the right to write female history.

Where the rationalism of the enlightenment is rejected as biased and a 'male logic', and truths can only be found via the subjective experience; this is the perverse, dumbed down world that we live in at the moment, where theorising and contemplation are therefore rejected.

Does that mean that an American cannot write English history? Or that a German cannot write African history? Or that a Chinese cannot write Indian history?

Where the gifts of detachment and objectivity - of a distance between topic and observer - gives a far more valid, complete and accurate, holistic picture of the particular topic in question, rather than from an observer who is deeply rooted and subjectively biased and related to the topic in question.

These instrumentalist, relativist, and especially the particularist world-views are the most ridiculous and absurd and are to be rejected outright.

For being white or black, male or female, Greek or Turk does not give one a unique access to a  special experience or truths; these claims can only be considered absurd, where the holistic truth is excluded in any assumption.

The question now begs to be asked, how can we imbue our experience of the world with more meaning, the way we live, and how we define the 'sweet life'?

Can we - unlike Marcello - find our centre? find our soul? find our meaning?

Our society has erred in rejecting the metaphysical, ideas and the intangible, simply because they cannot be measured by scientific instruments; for if the instruments of science have their limitations  in measuring the cosmos around us, then how can we deny the horizons of our imagination?

For there are truths that have yet to be discovered, and as Nietzsche stated in 'Once Spoke Zarathustra';  "One must still have chaos in oneself to be able to give birth to a dancing star."

Until we accept certain truths, and start changing the direction of our society back on to the right course, let us mourn for the loss in the meantime of our cosmopolitan golden age, our Alexandria. The Greek poet C.P. Cavafy eloquently expressed this feeling in his poem, 'The God Forsakes Antony' on his native city:

"When suddenly, at midnight, you hear
an invisible procession going by

with exquisite music, voices,

don
t mourn your luck thats failing now,
work gone wrong, your plans

all proving deceptive
—dont mourn them uselessly.
As one long prepared, and graced with courage,

say goodbye to her, the Alexandria that is leaving.

Above all, don
t fool yourself, dont say
it was a dream, your ears deceived you:

don
t degrade yourself with empty hopes like these.
As one long prepared, and graced with courage,

as is right for you who proved worthy of this kind of city,

go firmly to the window

and listen with deep emotion, but not

with the whining, the pleas of a coward;

listen—
your final delectationto the voices,
to the exquisite music of that strange procession,

and say goodbye to her, to the Alexandria you are losing.
"

Until then, I will yearn for a return to our Alexandria, our lost golden cosmopolitan age; then I consider the death of Socrates - who died for the right to search for the truth, and challenge the truth - and I realise how cowardly the rest of us are.

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2
An Essay and Some Quotations:
I
The Dry Land
A Presentation by Abigail George

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Houses that smell of dogs are wonderful places. To feel estranged from these animals is a way of dying too. Wings, and silence are not enough. For lovers of the cold and Alaska. It is an explosion. This dream world that is poetry and Alaska. My golden flesh and the notebook of my spirit. The tenderness of the natural world. Madness is just another sickness that will make you tremble that will make you weep. Remember this. That there will never be anything extraordinary about that. I don’t need to love or be loved in return as much as I need to swim towards the light towards the illusion. That is both honesty and hostility. I find I must always be keeping the dog on the leash as he discovers the essences of humanity, dirt and the altered states of mind that keeps humanity under wraps. For poetry is another country. Far and away beautiful and lovely. A bride holding a book. The pages majestic and smelling of roses and together we will make golden discoveries.

Why humanity is important to humanity? Why is poetry needed? By poets and humanity alike? And what of the lovers of tea? I will wrap the skin and hair of Alaska around me like a shroud and wear its veil and cover my physical body and chakras with enthusiasm and pride. For child prodigies and their mothers (lovers of tea). Why skin and hair? The tapestry of flesh. I need trees and leaves. Grass and the seasons. Precious mountains and wild life with all their simple orchestrated movements. The unmistaken frame and rapture of it all. There’s beauty in everything. In the simple ceremony of pouring tea. Drinking it as if you were primitive once again. The sunrise is in the image of a woman. Her femininity. What would we call that muscle? Would we call those wings, lungs? A well of tidiness springing up relentlessly. There’s blood in the old life. Blood in the new one. Prospering breath after breath. So, empires are built. The crown of laughter. Poetry and studying the poem’s death.

 syn00021

I winter amongst pale haunted icebergs. I winter amongst Sappho. Sup with plants and ghosts. Whatever is in the nature of praying meditatively and of discovering happiness behind the aloof façade of illness and sickness? Sickening creative ritual and impulse is where I live now. Yonder. Where the glaciers are. Thirst for the primitive and the prizewinning leap of faith. Finding myself at the deep wreck of the world at large. He didn’t need to tell me that all I had to do to find him again and again was to read. Read all the poetry I could get my hands on. Sonnets and odes. It was as if I knew them all off by heart. The silences within them. There’s silence all around me now. I’ve earned them those stripes. And the dead and the living go on and on like handsome tigers at the zoo. They are my companions on this blue planet from the beginning of pain, decay and growth until the end of days. And when it came to divorce and separation all they knew of love was that they loved each other and it was enough for both of them in theory.

Of pain they’d only learn of that later on. They would only remember their own childhood when looking at the faces of love on the angelic shine of their children. They’d whisper to themselves. Rapture, oh this must be it .Rapture! An atlas of it amongst all the difficulties.

And how we’ve all drowned in that lake with those cursed words calling themselves poetry. Constellations in the sky, erosion in the earth’s soil. When I discovered the person who I was supposed to love. He was my fire to my flint. And in childhood I danced but also found myself quietly observing, studying the minutia in my environment. The climate change. The end of beauty. This is where words and language, Latin starts to bleed into belief. Serious brides. Serious women. All of them cursed. All of them female poets. Was Eve really a lady? Drifting from one world at large to the next in search of material possessions to claim as her own with her entourage. There are ghosts that bloom in this world and there is nothing that you can do about that. However intensely heaven might wound you. The spirit is so self-conscious. So self-pitying that it only speaks to us through our subconscious in valid ways.

Silvery communion. Come to me please. Come to me. You are worshipping the wrong God. You are in the presence of the wrong gods. Shroud cover me up completely. Take your veil and your tapestry too and lift me towards the light. Towards glorious erosion. And what is left of the earth. Living in its ochre details. And so we dive into the dream that is the sea. Climb that great treehouse made of imaginary oak. Wouldn’t we all if we could want to be threaded with the magnificence of love instead of the blurry reality of mourning. The blood knot, the lesson in our heart. Remembering that love. I lost him beautifully, wonderfully. In the ways that men are supposed to be lost. To other women. To other children. His voice then became a rhyme. Then it became an echo. Mapping out difficulties. I did not conceive of anything except that I loved him in ways that were not mutually exclusive. I knew I had to have him. Not marry him but the poetry in his eyes sparkled and his skin did as well and so I was caught up and my humanity reduced to many things. Reflections for one.

 On the artist in me that was dying in me so was the madness that was dying in me but it was also freeing in a sense in imaginative ways. I will live without him by my side. Without his glare. Love will remain mysterious. Folded like origami beasts. People generally want to go all the way when it comes to love. I’d rather stick to the straight path of impossible sadness. There is the exposure of driftwood from the Arctic Circle and a woman sleeping. The divine light, the aura of weeping willows. She stood upon that treasured wilderness. Praying about the history that was sheltered there. That stood tall. And through her lips she breathed the words, ‘Arctic. Poles. The end of the world. Siberia.’ This is desire. The cleanliness, the purity of desire. With all of its bedazzling rituals that you covet or don’t covet. Jane Eyre was there. And so was my mother. At twenty-five years old my mother was the bride in her white lace. Emily Dickinson was there. Rapunzel and Eve too with their eyes and their hair like the sun. This is what it is like in the womb for girls.

Sweetie eating placenta. No work. The days are pleasurable. There on that continent of ice you taught me how to love even though it was forbidden. My fingers map out the braveries of the atlas where men have tread before. Warriors all my life I have desired you like hills, desire, valleys, and mountains. The naming commodities and being committed to them. My scars are budding. Blooming like flowers and their vision is like an animal’s. I find myself again in the interiors of a room where the silence is a breakthrough. It is as cool as rain. I can feel a planting beginning through the chilled earth. Through the tips of my fingers. Through this winter guest of mine over this threshold. There’s a harvest farmers have committed themselves to. All the pretty horses on the prairies. I know what I have to be delivered from. It is silence, the despair of silence, the bleak landscape of the rural post-apartheid countryside. But I need the fragrant air that is vital, fresh. My bones need to acquire it, that certain pleasure. My lungs need to be filled with more than grace. I am in need of wings and a rosary.

You are reduced to be being a thing that is worshiped when you are in love. Put on a pedestal or put on a throne wearing a crown. Once you were that sought after. You were the vision that we have of ourselves enough to transform and transfigure our souls. Winters will be deposited here long after we have summered here in the hot zone of this climate. You are the saintly but also filthy lover of this dream I have of you. You are the dreamer and the exotic perfumed one. You are my cure for me to be purified and my tonic. How I long for your arms and for your warm embrace. You are my extraordinary emergency service. Bright, vivid, vivacious and signalling red. War is my country but then again so are you. My Paris, my Hemingway, my moveable feast. All the pretty horses on the prairies. Anchorage. I know what I have to be delivered from. It is silence, the despair of silence, the bleak landscape of the rural post-apartheid countryside. But I need the fragrant air that is vital, fresh. My bones need to acquire it, that certain pleasure. My lungs need to be filled with more than grace.

I am in need of wings and a rosary. You are reduced to be being a thing that is worshiped. Put on a pedestal or put on a throne wearing a crown. Once you were that sought after. You were the vision that we have of ourselves enough to transform and transfigure our souls. Winters will be deposited here long after we have summered here in the hot zone of this climate. You are the filthy lover of this dream I have of you. You are the dreamer and the exotic perfumed one. You are my cure for me to be purified and my tonic. How I long for your arms and for your warm embrace. You are my extraordinary emergency service. Bright, vivid, vivacious and signalling red. War is my country but then again so are you. My Paris, my Hemingway, my moveable feast, my paper town. He does not eat our sickness, our red light coma. Let us eat our garden-variety snails, and frogs’ legs. Leave him with a wasteland of a breakfast. This magus. Let us plate yellow moons for him and his stomach. Let us pool our leftover lasagne into a bowl for him. Let him drink ice water.

It is good for him. Keeps the hunger pangs at bay. Gardens are hairy. Solitude stands. One eye blind. One Eye Blind. That is his name. Women like parrots around him. Please carry this. Please carry that. He will come to mum’s garden. He will pull out the weeds. He will eat, drink, and sup with us this beautiful stature. Homeless and tall. For him rain is like pebbles. Drives him to despair. Mocks his poverty. His liberty. He is a slave to the light. This man does not dance beneath moonlight. The diamond glitter of the stars. He will eat the stale loaf. Slice after slice. Lion and unicorn. Dangerous as any con artist and gentle as a lamb. He does not see his physical body nude in the looking glass. Reflections of biblical proportions. Steak and chips. Fish and chips. He is done, through with believing in God. His life is a bittersweet cauldron. He sits on the corner every day and he talks to the women that pass. He carries their packages. They give him cigarettes. Sometimes they give him their sex.

A transaction because is that not what women with that kind of nature do? His right eye is the most beautiful thing. It is cataract free. It is a dream. It is a city. It is a window. It is a dictionary. A walking, talking Encyclopedia Britannica filled with symbols. Filled with grains of humanity. Stupid people. Wonderful life. An inheritance. He drinks my coffee and he blooms. He waits for me in my dreams, he walks with me and I am unafraid. Eggs and dry bread. A feast for Apollo. He sleeps in a nest made out of dry empty cardboard boxes and newspapers. I will never be able to make a dodo out of him. He will never go the rhino’s way. If there are rich people then there have to be the poor. It people. Too wealthy. Snakes everyone but the poverty-stricken ones have music even in winter. They have gammon. Somehow, they have floating islands of gammon Christmastime. Pickled fish for Easter. Boiled eggs for the opening of the season. There is no ice here now and he is becoming dangerous. Well, his attitude is anyway. He wants more money.

He is making a stink about it. What has happened to my gifts? So now I will have to pay him more. There are more branches however, they will have to wait. There are always tomorrows. I can see him, the abstract of him as a crying baby that needs to be shielded from everything but where is his mother? The father has a blank face that I have to colour in. Watercolour in. What is, where is his life history? How can anyone flourish if there is no milk? I can see him as a glue-sniffing child under the bridge. Cold, wet, thirsty, hungry. Fingers tinged with blue. Tomorrow will have to wait. Who does his laundry? How does he perform his ablutions?

Does he know of Plato, of Socrates, of Shakespeare? Sappho? What has happened to his family? To his brothers, his sisters, and his house called home. Walking the streets. Up streets. Down streets. Sleeping in alleys. Nothing romantic about his life. About poverty. America is always beautiful this time of year. Everyone is living in self-imposed exile there. Soon I will follow too. Maybe Canada.

There I will write and write and write. There I will be published and inspired. However, One Eye Blind will still be touching me. In ways, you cannot even begin to fathom. He will give me flowers on Valentine’s Day. He will drink my lukewarm red cappuccino. Women who cannot bring children into this world often, feel maternal towards glare and illumination. They are nurses with their tea and biscuits. Then they will forget about their infertility. How men pass them by and look the other way when choosing a wife. I wonder does my father remember winter trees. The London experience. Dad’s university days. The pilgrimage on the continent while running with scissors. Scholar made of stone. Impressions of student life in the Western Cape, South Africa. UNISA, Rhodes, London University. Childhood was stick fighting days yonder. Selling peanuts. Water and tides rising up to meet the fishermen of Port Elizabeth every morning. The current a green feast of a life force where rivers of dust meet.

Dad’s forest of pain. Do not go into those Woods. Devils are waiting for you there. Nazi sympathisers. SS soldiers. The ballad of trains. Toy soldiers in the dark waiting to whisper you away and interrogate you. It is lovely to dream of a jubilee. Writing essays on beauty and white teeth when not all is well. Penguins with their slick of oil. African pavements with their slick of rain, of mud, of semen. He is an old man now. I write for the people not a class, not a system. To hell with the literary establishment. In the spirit of philosophy I write for the self-imposed exile. When I write everything in the world around me becomes objects and not just material possessions. Objects with an angel face. The perspective of a swimming pool. I have been to many otherworldly and worldly places. I will travel like the seeds in the indigenous garden. The perfume in my mother’s rinsed hair. Once again, I will travel in prison yards watching tomato plants grow. Putting down their roots, stalks evolving into stems. Green feasts of them.

Branches heavy laden with fruit like water when you are swimming instead your arms are branches and it is either chlorine burning your eyes, salt or a memory of a ghost. Stories of desire like that are eternal. Once there was a paper town. Let us call it Port Elizabeth. Gulls flew overhead into the horizon and disappeared north. Pigeons flood my roof. It does not matter what season. That is what climate change can do to you. It disorientates you. It makes you become aware of humanity. How cold humanity is, that is the truth. Winter guests every one assembling, assembling as if they were all parts meant to be assembled like pieces in a journal meant to be picked apart, weighed down slightly by studies of acute observation. Only a writer understands what is meant by studies of acute observation, ideas, flux, and the black hole of infinity. The male writer stands alone apart from his family, his wife and his children. The female writer stands alongside her small children and husband stuck somewhere in a paper town in a rural countryside. The female writer burns in her solitude. A flame.

Sometimes illness comes. Mental illness, one of the cancers, renal impairment, a miscarriage. The male writer who is the alcoholic yearns for misery, depression in his solitude that is what the world offers up to him. The female writer lives in an interrupted world, the interrupted life.

Writing is what makes ordinary people live extraordinarily even amidst painful things. The female writer well she wonders to herself when she throws up her hands in the air, and asks herself how she will survive it all. She will ask herself will her life always be this rudimentary, did she throw it all away by having those children, getting hitched but there is no difference when it comes to the writing of both genders. The male and female voices are eloquent, articulate on the page staring back at you. They speak of Siberia on the same terms. The remote idea of it. The distance between the poles. Glaciers. Reaching the peak of Everest or Kilimanjaro. That is what the idea of writing engenders in them masterfully.

They will have their cup of lukewarm coffee, one last cigarette, put on their radio. Whatever their routine is. While listening to those waves, imagining the sea of their childhood, an old crooner that their father loved, then they will go about quietly, methodically making history or changing the course of it. The page is where ideas, the collective of ideas, the accumulation of ideas find the exit out. The page is where passion has a bittersweet death, like innocence in high school abruptly coming to an end while you sit in those school benches, the birthday present that was never enough but it is where the idea goes into orbit, becomes a satellite, a project, and a memoir.

I did not believe in poverty before. Now I do after living in poverty for over a decade. After living in my parent’s house for nearly fifteen years. I do not know unfortunately or fortunately how to be a grown up.  Only this, that I am now a grown up child-playing nursemaid, playing daughter. Very willing to be adopted.  Adopted by other women to be their daughter. I did not believe in anything really before. I must have believed in the idea of God before I believed in God. I must have believed in the idea of religion before it took root, took route in my soul and languished there in my spirit. When I grew up with siblings, I knew what it meant to have a competitive spirit but somehow I lost it along the way. I had that feminine touch, that feminine approach but somehow too I lost that along the way. My mother scolded me.

‘You are an intellectual, just like your father.’ Was she right? Was I too much ‘man’ not enough ‘woman’, too much Gertrude Stein? Was I too bright for the world, illuminating everything that I met with not with docility, not with ego and humour but with ill health and disability? I loved that feeling of my feet touching dry land when I swam in the sea with my boy cousins. The only rose amongst the war of the thorns. We all grew up, followed the establishment’s rules, the backlash of the system. Its wasteland became our wasteland. Its history became our history. I had this idea, which became a thought that if I became famous, I would even become more detached from who I was as a person. Of course, I did not want that to happen. Did not want to become more detached from the world around me than I was already.

I was not happy with myself even then. I thought that writing could change all that. I had this idea, which became a thought and the thought was this, that imagination would take you (little me places and I would become a greater me, a much more cool intellectual type). I wished that I could be more than an armchair traveller could be. When I was a child acting a little, becoming more detached from myself even then I could see how different I was from the people around me. I was a nurse to my father and a daughter. Not then as a child, that only came later when I was more or less fully grown up, less wilful, less confident. In a way, I was sad for the things that I had lost. I had not lost my identity, my attempts at humour, my ego yet. The feeling about infinity and beyond.

That most important feeling is to be felt in the world as if you are planting hot air balloons wherever you go, collecting short stories, ghost stories from the marginalised, disenfranchised and disadvantaged, drawing circles in the landscape’s air around you. At the end of it all, you come home. Do not forget this, that at the end of war and its pollution you must come home. At the end of a death in the family, the pronouncement of illness, its diagnosis, that long insidious membrane promising us that life is so, so temporary, then denial of life, of everything that is left in abeyance. Yes, by all means, do not go gentle into that good, sometimes long, dark night is what I am telling you, what I am asking you is this. You will come home. Perhaps you want to be reminded of who will be waiting for you on your return.

Your desk will be waiting for you, the writer, and the poet within you. Words will accumulate there on the pages in front of you, they will flock there in your journal first and that would be the most prominent place to start. It is worldly things, the material, possessions that stack up against your principles, my principles, the priest’s, the intellectual’s, the teacher’s and the philosopher’s. The last thing that you will think is that the crazy world you live in is really messed up and has messed you up so badly but you are either a writer or a poet because of that world. In the end, it does not matter to you. Your cat will be waiting for you who eats the mice and the rats. Your dog who barks at strangers will be waiting for you too. Everybody has a bird, a cat or a dog, named them after someone dearly beloved. Humanity is like that.

It is human nature to want this, to wander down, to water this continuum of life. To plant names, give them away as if we have all the right in the world to do that and call it a planting. That is what humans do in frightening ways with the routine and order of a tyrant, with Apollo’s principles with a lopsided view of the world at large, a kind of romanticism in society. You will antagonise those words in your journal in your bathrobe with your morning coffee and cigarette. Stare those ideas down as those thoughts wear you down as the rope of pearls did around your mother’s neck when she came back from church in her white stockings, your father in his Sunday best, a childhood spent in the church benches at Sunday school. Verses hollered down at you.

Words that you could anchor and repeat back parrot fashion to your Sunday school teachers. That was childhood. A childhood spent on benches. Next, your life became waiting rooms in hospital suites, ideas for essays, doctor’s orders. You will relish words, lists, grocery lists of them. Those same words will antagonise you back. I go swimming when the world tightens itself like a noose around my neck. I go to the beach. I watch the waves. I watch other people walking their dogs. I watch them litter. Throw their soul away, a little bit of the flux that their spirit is in with their litter. It is as if their litter becomes a part of their background. As if, their background becomes a part of the royal sun. I see truth, beauty, youth all around me. I even see youth in the moonlight. I wonder why it has escaped me. Wonder why that it is so.

I used to be a strong swimmer swimming the length and the breadth of the local swimming pool. Swimming out every distress signal, every emergency service, and all those illnesses that have found a home for themselves now in my body. Depression. My physical body is sated with exhaustion. Mental illness. My brain cells, my daily energy, my nerves seem to be stuffed with illness come hell or high water. Well, the capacity for renal impairment was always there. I wish I had just prepared myself for it. If I had known then what I know now would it have made a difference. Sadly, no, come to think of it. If one ponders the dangers, the futility, all those madcap hindrances of the nervous system, the most acute stage of depression where does it take you, where does it leave you? I will be loyal to you if you love me just a little.

Give me the royal sun for one more day and in return, I will give you my spirit. What if it leaves you uprooted? What if it leaves you unashamed? What if it leaves you a real nobody destination anywhere? Then I come to sadness. Stress. Suffering. I think of distress. I think of Misty Upham walking through those woods at night. Walking to the edge of the ravine. Walking to her death. Knowingly, unknowingly or wise. The young up and coming actor of Django Unchained and Frozen River. Of August: Osage County and I wonder did we have anything in common. I wonder what those mornings looked like in her childhood Seattle. America is so distant from me. I wonder if she was a feminist. She did not have to be. All I know was that she is Native American, a member of the Blackfeet Nation.

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II
Quotations

“I don't think that women ought to sit down at a table with men. It ruins conversation and I'm sure it's very bad for them. It puts ideas in their heads, and women are never at ease with themselves when they have ideas.”
                                                                                  
W. Somerset Maugham, Of Human Bondage

“All the papers that matter live off their advertisements, and the advertisers exercise an indirect censorship over news.”
                                                                                   
George Orwell, Why I Write

“The patterns are simple, but followed together, they make for a whole that is wiser than the sum of its parts. Go for a walk; cultivate hunches; write everything down, but keep your folders messy; embrace serendipity; make generative mistakes; take on multiple hobbies; frequent coffeehouses and other liquid networks; follow the links; let others build on your ideas; borrow, recycle; reinvent. Build a tangled bank.”

               Steven Johnson, Where Good Ideas Come From: The Natural History of Innovation

“There are a thousand thoughts lying within a man that he does not know till he takes up the pen to write.”

                                William Makepeace Thackeray, The History Of Henry Esmond, Esq.

 

“For an idea that does not first seem insane, there is no hope.”
                                                                                
Albert Einstein

 

“He was no longer quite sure whether anything he had ever thought or felt was truly his own property, or whether his thoughts were merely a common part of the world’s store of ideas which had always existed ready-made and which people only borrowed, like books from a library.”
                                                                                  
Milan Kundera, Life is Elsewhere

 

“Dare to dream! If you did not have the capability to make your wildest wishes come true, your mind would not have the capacity to conjure such ideas in the first place. There is no limitation on what you can potentially achieve, except for the limitation you choose to impose on your own imagination. What you believe to be possible will always come to pass - to the extent that you deem it possible. It really is as simple as that.”
                                                                              
Anthon St. Maarten

 

 

“And then it occurs to me. They are frightened. In me, they see their own daughters, just as ignorant, just as unmindful of all the truths and hopes they have brought to America. They see daughters who grow impatient when their mothers talk in Chinese, who think they are stupid when they explain things in fractured English. They see that joy and luck do not mean the same to their daughters,  that to these closed American-born minds "joy luck" is not a word, it does not exist. They see daughters who will bear grandchildren born without any connecting hope passed from generation to generation.
                                                                              
Amy Tan, The Joy Luck Club

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3

 The Return of the Gods: Envisioning a New Renaissance
A Presentation by Dr. Emanuel L. Paparella

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"If humanity is to have a recognizable future, it cannot be by prolonging the past or the present."

                                                        --Eric Hobsbaum

The philosopher of history Giambattista Vico postulates that history is constituted by three recurring cyclical eras: the era of the gods, the era of the heroes, the era of men. He calls the phenomenon corsi and ricorsi. The first era he designates as poetical, the second as imaginative-philosophical, the third as that of extreme rationality or scientism. In as much as his philosophy was scientific and rational it belonged to the third era, in as much as it is imaginative and poetical, deviating from the usual Western linear deterministic approach to history, it belonged in the first and second era; it is a novantiqua; hence he titled it The New Science.

Were we to apply this philosophy to the our ongoing modern era, Vico would most probably locate it in his third era of extreme rationality, but please remember that the three eras are cyclical, hence 2015 could be the very end of the third cycle but at the same time it could be the very beginning of the recurring first cycle when the gods return; that is to say, it could be an age of disastrous extremes and decadence coming to an end and one of great promise, a renaissance of Humanism. For the moment the two are not clearly distinguishable.

But, in as much as man remains free to choose his destiny, he remains free to choose to continue on the disastrous course on which he has embarked since Descartes, that is to say, the path of extreme rationalism and scientific positivism parading as philosophy, (as already thoroughly explained in my articles on Vico and also explained by Ernesto Paolozzi in his Crocean elucidations on modern Positivism), or recover his origins rooted in the poetical and begin a new era. That is to say, he may decide to continue on the path of absurdity and dissolution or he may welcome the return of the gods: a return to the poetical (hence the importance of Vico and Croce’s aesthetics based on poetry and the intuitive) and begin a novel Humanism and Renaissance.  History will of course render the final verdict on this crucial question but meanwhile we can read the tea-leaves so to speak, in an attempt to get a glimpse of the kind of cross-roads we are on.

A renowned scholar who thought along the same Vichian lines was the British Marxist historian Eric Hobsbaum, who in 1994 wrote a book with the intriguing title of  The Age of Extremes: The Short 20th Century, 1914-1991, which he contrasted to the long 19th century, from 1789 to 1914. In the US the book was published with the subtitle: A History of the World: 1914-1989. He had previously written The Age of Revolution: Europe, 1789-1848; The Age of Capital, 1848-1875; The Age of Empire: 1875-1914. In other words, Hobsbaum thought that centuries are not to be measured and judged in strictly chronological term via neat dates of one hundred years apart, a rather arbitrary operation, but rather they are to be located in certain eras or cycles rationally and even poetically conceived. This, in my opinion, is Vichian cyclical thinking at its best.

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Eric Hobsbaum (1917-2012)

But let’s look at the book a bit more closely. In it Hobsbaum talks at length on the disastrous failures of state communism in Russia, which he sees as a betrayal of Marxian socialistic ideals. Socialism, as per Marx, socialism which was supposed to come about in the most advanced capitalistic countries, not a nation of paupers and farmers which ends up decapitating its own intelligentsia, to replace it with political bureaucratic hacks. He considers equally disastrous the phenomena of capitalism and nationalism in the 20th. Century. Nationalism (which I for one have treated in other Ovi contributions: see http://www.ovimagazine.com/art/1944) begins with World War I in 1914, a war largely provoked by extreme nationalism, to continue only twenty years later as War World II. Most people would consider those two conflagrations as nothing short than an unmitigated disaster for civilization as a whole but especially for Europe, ushering in the disaster of the Cold War, now being resurrected almost nostalgically by Mr. Putin.

What is interesting in the book’s analysis is that Hobsbaum does not stop with the merely political and economic, but as the thorough historian that he is, he goes on to examine the progress of the arts and societal changes in the latter part of the 20th century and finds those too a real disaster too in just about all its aesthetic forms. Hobsbaum writes this on Post-war modernist art practice:”...consisted largely in a series of increasingly desperate gimmicks by which artists sought to give their work an immediately recognizable individual trademark, a succession of manifestos of despair... or of gestures reducing the sort of art which was primarily bought for investment and its collectors ad absurdum, as by adding an individual’s name to piles of brick or soil (minimal art) or by preventing it from becoming such a commodity through making it too short-lived to be permanent (performance art). The smell of impending death rose from these avant-gardes. The future was no longer theirs, though nobody knew whose it was. More than ever, they knew themselves to be on the margin.” So, here again Hobsbaum echoes Vico: the decadence is historically not just political or economic but cultural and pertaining to the whole of Western civilization. After all, lest we forget, this is the era of two World Wars, the lagers and the gulags, not to count the innumerable genocides.

Moreover, Hobsbaum clearly points out the abysmal record of recent attempts to predict the world’s future. “The record of forecasters in the past thirty or forty years, whatever their professional qualification as prophets, has been so spectacularly bad that only governments and economic research institutes still have, or pretend to have, much confidence in it.” He quotes President Coolidge who, in a message to Congress on December 4, 1928, on the eve of the Great Depression said this: “The country can regard the present with satisfaction and anticipate the future with optimism.” Sounds like George Bush just before the great recession of 2008.

Hobsbaum in fact, following the present historical trajectory predicts continued turmoil: “The world of the third millennium will therefore almost certainly continue to be one of violent politics and violent political changes. The only thing uncertain about them is where they will lead,” and he then expresses this bold view: “If humanity is to have a recognizable future, it cannot be by prolonging the past or the present.” This too is Vichian: the future lies in a return to origins: in the beginning there is the end, and in the end there is the beginning.Then he makes a startling prediction: “Social distribution and not growth would dominate the politics of the new millennium.” [emphasis mine]. I suppose today we’d call it “distributive justice,” a theme repeatedly broached by the present Pope and the more enlightened political leaders of our times.

It is also a central thesis of Hobsbaum’s book that, from the start, State Socialism betrayed the socialist and internationalist ideals and vision it claimed to uphold. In particular, State Socialism always dispensed with the democratic element of the socialist vision: “Lenin... concluded from the start that the liberal horse was not a runner in the Russian revolutionary race.” To be sure, this anti-liberalism is ingrained in all authoritarian totalitarian regimes, on the right or on the left. In 1933, with Mussolini in firm control of Italy, Moscow insisted that the Italian communist leader P. Togliatti withdraw the suggestion that, perhaps, social-democracy was not the primary danger, at least in Italy. The case can be made that the failures of communism vis a vis democracy is a systemic problem of socialism per se, but that such is not the case was argued by Ignazio Silone in his famous essay “Emergency Exit.”

As for support for international revolutions Hobsbaum writes that “The communist revolutions actually made (Yugoslavia, Albania, later China) were made against Stalin’s advice. The Soviet view was that, both internationally and within each country, post-war politics should continue within the framework of the all-embracing anti-fascist alliance.... There is no doubt that Stalin meant all this seriously, and tried to prove it by dissolving the Comintern in 1943, and the Communist Party of the United States in 1944. The Chinese Communist regime, though it criticized the USSR for betraying revolutionary movements after the break between the two countries, has no comparable record of practical support for Third World liberation movements.” So much for love of democracy. The question arises: how can a revolution be “from the bottom up” unless it be democratic?

The Maoist doctrine of perpetual revolution is also a canard according to Hobsbaum: “Mao was fundamentally convinced of the importance of struggle, conflict and high tension as something that was not only essential to life but prevented the relapse into the weaknesses of the old Chinese society, whose very insistence on unchanging permanence and harmony had been its weakness.” Hobsbaum here draws a straight line from this belief to the disastrous Great Leap Forward to the subsequent Chinese famine of 1959-1961. I suppose this ability to tell it straight is what makes him such a notable historian. He is convinced that socialism as such was betrayed because “...hardly anyone believed in the system or felt any loyalty to it, not even those who governed it.”

To be sure, this thesis of the betrayal of Socialism is also apparent in The God that Failed, a book of essays by famous dissenters from Communism among which Ignazio Silone’s above referenced essay which claims that while State Communism has proven to be a failure, socialism as such, as an aspiration of the human heart for justice and fairness, can be found in the acts of the Apostles and in Plato’s Republic and in More’s Utopia, and will long survive  the repressive ideological Communism of a Lenin, a Stalin or a Mao. 

Hobsbaum has very mixed feelings about the end of the nineteenth-century imperial order, largely because he is no happier with the nation-states that replaced the empires.  He writes that “ World War I... had made the habitual and sensible process of international negotiation suspect as ‘secret diplomacy’. This was largely a reaction against the secret treaties arranged among the Allies during the war... The Bolsheviks, discovering these sensitive documents in the Tsarist archives, had promptly published them for the world to read.”

Despite these failures of Communism Hobsbaum remains adamant in his critic of free-market capitalism: “Those of us who lived through the years of the Great Slump still find it almost impossible to understand how the orthodoxies of the pure free market, then so obviously discredited, once again came to preside over a global period of depression in the late 1980s and 1990s, which once again, they were equally unable to understand or to deal with. As it happened, the regimes most deeply committed to laissez-faire economics were also sometimes, and notably in the case of Reagan’s United States and Thatcher’s Britain, profoundly and viscerally nationalist and distrustful of the outside world. The historian cannot but note that the two attitudes are contradictory. It is ironic that the most dynamic and rapidly growing economy of the globe after the fall of Soviet socialism was that of Communist China, leading Western business-school lectures and the authors of management manuals, a flourishing genre of literature, to scan the teachings of Confucius for the secrets of entrepreneurial success.” [emphasis mine]. We have seen this irony time and again in the pages of Ovi where entrepreneurs of various stripes have glibly sung the praises of Chinese capitalistic free-market enterprise without ever explaining the blatant contradiction of a central command center which remains totalitarian and tied to a Communist ideology.

But ultimately, in world terms, Hobsbaum sees capitalism being just as much of a failure as state socialism: “The belief, following neoclassical economics, that unrestricted international trade would allow the poorer countries to come closer to the rich, runs counter to historical experience as well as common sense. The examples of successful export-led Third World industrialization usually quoted – Hong Kong, Singapore, Taiwan and South Korea — represent less than two percent of the Third World population.” Food for thought here for the entrepreneur, selling his tacos for profits and unconcerned with justice, to chew and muse upon.

Denying fascism’s claim to philosophical respectability, Hobsbaum writes: “Theory was not the strong point of movements devoted to the inadequacies of reason and rationalism and the superiority of instinct and will... Mussolini could have readily dispensed with his house philosopher, Giovanni Gentile, and Hitler probably neither knew nor cared about the support of the philosopher Heidegger. The popular appeal of fascism lay with its claims to technocratic achievement. Was not the proverbial argument in avour of fascist Italy that Mussolini made the trains run on time?” He concludes with this powerful statement: “Would the horror of the holocaust be any less if historians concluded that it exterminated not six millions but five or even four?”

Hobsbaum goes on to write that “The cultural revolution of the latest twentieth century can thus best be understood as the triumph of the individual over society, or rather, the breaking of the threads which in the past had woven human beings into social textures”. This for him paralles Margaret Thatcher’s claim that “There is no society, only individuals.”  Indeed, science deals with beings and particulars, philosophy deals with Being and the universal. The universal may be an abstraction but does it follow that it is no less real than the particular, at least in the human world of the intelligible? To deny the reality of the world of the intelligible is to deny the whole Platonic Western tradition.

And so, we are back to the world of the two cultures: scientism and positivism vs. Liberal Arts and Humanism. A Leonardo Da Vinci conceived no such dichotomy and could therefore be comfortable in being a scientist and an artist at the same time. The positivists wish to convince us that religion and philosophy, the liberal arts and the humanities have been superseded and only science should count nowadays. To the contrary, Vico, and probably Marx and Hobsbaum also, would suggest to the brave entrepreneurs of our brave new world, the new barbarians of the intellect, that far for being a stand for progress, their stand is a stand for regress and decadence.

So the question is this: Is it not high time for a new science, a new renaissance and a new civilization? Without it the present crisis can only worsen. In 2015, one hundred years after World War I, at the very end of the 20th century we’ll have to finally decide whether or not to continue with the fallacies of the 20th century as outlined in this essay or charter a wholly new century with new paradigms suited for a new Renaissance.

Time is running out, the arctic ice-cap is melting as we speak, and not to decide will be a decision in itself. We cannot run away from our destiny. Free will is our glory but it can also be our downfall if we decide to ignore the alarming warning signs. As Alessandro Manzoni put it: “Ai posteri l’ardua sentenza” [the answer belongs to posterity]; that is certainly true, however, we as a civilization, Western so called, will in some way, directly or indirectly influence the future answer to the question; in fact the right question cannot even be asked unless one is knowledgeable of one’s past.

The past, the present and the future are inextricably intertwined and history, Fukuyama’s “end of history” notwithstanding, far from being dead, remains integral part of the human condition; as such it will remain with us till the end times.

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 END  OF 44th SESSION OF THE  OVI  SYMPOSIUM (29/01/2015)

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Intro - P. 1 - P. 2 

2nd Meeting - 3rd Meeting - 4th Meeting - 5th Meeting - 6th Meeting - 7th Meeting - 8th Meeting -

9th Meeting - 10th Meting - 11th Meeting - 12th Meeting - 13th Meeting - 14th Meeting - 15th Meeting -

16th Meeting - 17th Meeting - 18th Meeting - 19th Meeting - 20th Meeting - 21st Meeting -

22nd Meeting -23rd Meeting - 24th Meeting - 25th Meeting - 26th Meeting - 27th Meeting -

28th Meeting -29th Meeting - 30th Meeting - 31st Meeting - 32nd Meeting - 33rd Meeting -

34th Meeting -35th Meeting - 36th Meeting - 37th Meeting - 38th Meeting - 39th Meeting -

40th Meeting -41st Meeting - 42nd Meeting - 43rd Meeting - 44th Meeting -

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