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Ovi Symposium; fifty-fourth Meeting
by Abigail George
2015-06-22 15:47:28
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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 and Paparella
Fifty-fourth Meeting: 18 June 2015



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.


Subtheme of session 54: “Reflections on the Concepts of Power and Justice within Democracy” 


Indirect Participants within the Great Conversation across the ages: Socrates, Acton, Plato, Aristotle, Machiavelli, Hobbes, Bacon, Descartes, Nietzsche, Augustine, Thucydides, Wright, Christ, De Tocqueville,

Ortega y Gasset, Arendt, de Caprariis, Croce, Kant, Campanella, Kafka, Nin, Diana, Jolie, Antigone, Theresa, Rilke, Huxley, Orwell, Whitman.


Table of Contents for the 54st Session of the Ovi Symposium (18 June 2015)

Preamble by the Symposium’s coordinator Emanuel L. Paparella

Section 1: “Some Timely Philosophical Considerations on the Ethics of Power.” A Presentation by Emanuel L. Paparella

Section 2: “Alexis de Tocqueville on Power and Democracy.” A presentation by Ernesto Paolozzi (translated from Italian by Emanuel L. Paparella)

Section 3: “A Feminist Subjective Perspective on Power-relations between the Sexes.” A presentation by Abigail George


Preamble by the Symposium’s Coordinator Emanuel L. Paparella


Niccoló Machiavelli who authored The Prince in order
to  advise the Medici family on dynamics of political power

In this 54th meeting of the Ovi symposium we focus on the role of power and justice vis a vis democracy and liberty. Power seems to be a double edged sword which, when abused and misunderstood, especially when it is construed as a value in itself, may lead to the eventual self-demise of a democratic polity. This is something which troubled the founding fathers of the American Democratic Republic: they were aware that most republics throughout history had destroyed themselves internally; so they were concerned with a fair distribution of power within three branches of government which they termed “checks and balances.” They would keep a check on each other so that power could not be abused.

The true nature of power seems to be best grasped by those who, do not conceive of power as an ultimate political goal, a value in itself, the ultimate value justifying any means, but a mere means to worthier goals such as justice, liberty, democracy, prosperity. Did Machiavelli conceive of power thus? There is disagreement on that issue. We do know however that in Plato’s Republic freedom is never an ultimate goal valuable in and by itself, but a means toward the Good, the True and the Beautiful. That seems to be all but forgotten nowadays beginning with the era of science which declared that “knowledge is power,” a far cry from “knowledge is virtue.” Perhaps Machiavelli, before Francis Bacon, may have had something to do with that conception of power. This is the thorny conundrum we will attempt to explore in this meeting of the symposium.

We live in an era which had for a while deluded itself that a period of peace was upon us, one of prosperity, tolerance and harmony and appreciative of the value of liberty, made possible by the fall of the Soviet Empire in 1989 and the steady geographical expansion and economic progress of the European Union. The assessment harmonized quite well with the theory of inevitable steady progress conceived by the Enlightenment. Alas, such a progressivist dream remains just that, a dream, almost an unreacheble utopian ideal never to be realized, in as much as Russia, a good part of it situated in Europe, seems to be slowly returning to its former obsession with global political outreach and power buttressed by ideological struggles, all underpinned by the most rabid kind of the nationalism of old. Even the EU democracies are struggling to preserve their democratic ideals based on liberty; right leaning parties within them, imbued with nationalism and xenophobia, stressing security at the expense of individual rights and liberties function as Trojan horses within the very citadel of freedom and citizens’ representation which the democratic EU Parliament and the US Congress supposedly symbolizes.

Given this foreboding, ominous context, it is natural to ask: what exactly is the nature of political power? How can it be used beneficially rather than destructively? Is power an end which justifies any means for its attainment? The first presentation attempts to give a few theoretical answers by exploring the various conceptions of power devised throughout human history.

In the second presentation, in some ways complementary to the first, Ernesto Paolozzi reminds us of a scholar from another era that he considers a contemporary, in as much as he had analyzed and predicted, two hundred years ahead of his times, some of the most acute crisis of our modern democracies. Paolozzi  convincingly argues that if we wish to fully understand the intricacies of the modern democratic process, its development, the  potential democratic deficit to which it may fall victim and threatening the very survival of its liberty, a return to an attentive reading of de Tocqueville is a sine qua non. The comparison to Machiavelli is inevitable here and in fact, toward the end of his presentation Paolozzi briefly contrasts Tocqueville to Machiavelli. Much remains to be explored about Machiavelli’s influence on the concept of political power which is perhaps as great as that of Tocqueville, in any case, we have at a minimum initiated a dialogue which may continue and bear further insights in the next sessions of the symposium.

Undoubtedly this is a subject that can be approached from many and varied angles. In the third presentation Abigail George offers the readers a feminist subjective confessional stream of consciousness style presentation of the paradoxical dynamics of power relationships between men and women and how these relationships often relate to the concepts of justice and freedom. Indeed the microcosm is reflected in the macrocosm and vice versa. Let the readers judge how successful we have been in our efforts. 



Some Timely Philosophical Considerations on the Ethics of Power
A Presentation by Emanuel L. Paparella

Power corrupts; absolute power corrupts absolutely”
                                                         --Lord Acton

“Gentlemen, it is easy to escape death, what is more difficult is
to escape corruption which runs faster than death and once it
has caught up with you, she may be weary of relinquishing you”

                                                              --Socrates, in Plato’s Apology

In that charming movie, originally a musical, Camelot, King Arthur is struck by a sudden insight on the nature of political power which he expresses thus: “Not might is right, but might for right!” What the insight alludes to is the rebirth of democracy in the very heart of the Dark Ages. With the mere switching of a tiny word, king Arthur has stumbled unto that ancient Athenian notion of power democratically balanced and shared. This rather abstract concept of shared power is then concretely illustrated by Arthur’s building of a round table where Arthur will preside not to lord it over and impose his will as king, hoarding power, but as the first among equals among the other nobles sitting around the table. The legend calls them “the knights of the round table.” Undoubtedly, this is a vastly different kind of king than the king in Hobbes’ Leviathan and it echoes Plato’s philosopher king in Plato’s Republic.


Richard Harris as King Arthur in Camelot

Keep the image of the round table in mind as we explore the thorny concept of power. It may prove helpful in grasping that in that short pronouncement, not might is right but might for right, there are in fact two divergent notions of power: one is power to lord it over others, the other is power exercised democratically and responsibly with others for the common good. The first is corrupting, the sort of power that leads to the condemnation of a just man like Socrates, the other is ennobling leading to the envisioning of a just society concerned with the common good, what the US founding fathers called a more perfect union. They understood that for power to be ethical ensuring justice for all, it needs to be shared power; hence they established three branches of government with checks and balances on each other so that power could not be easily abused.

The question naturally arises: should power be limited, curtailed, restricted, controlled, even perhaps eliminated? Marx certainly seems to suggest so once the heaven on earth of the proletariat has been achieved by revolution. Or perhaps it ought to be distributed so widely that no one can ever use it for wrong? Should we make power so difficult to obtain that it can never threaten anyone? As hinted above, the entire US system of government is, after all, based on checking and balancing of power, to prevent abuses. A corollary question could be: Does power only work when it is soft and weak? Indeed, power is a dangerous phenomenon because it is – well – a powerful thing and can blow in one’s face. But does that mean that power itself is evil?  Aside from the issue of a just war, one can easily see that the power of the military can be used for good purposes when it helps people in emergency distress situations, and in fact it has been so used. That is to say, it remains possible to use “might for right.” Of course the conundrum is this: how do I exercise power for good purposes if I don’t have it in the first place; if my Machiavellian competitor for whom the end—the acquisition of power—justifies any means, bent on grabbing it and holding on to it at any cost and by any means, beats me to it? 

I’d like to begin this investigation of the two quotes placed at the beginning of this presentation: one ancient and one modern. They are well known: one by Socrates and one by Lord Acton. I’d like to suggest that they come at the same important concept from different angles – and that concept is responsibility.  In order for power to be ethical it must in the first place be responsible, conceived as a means to a good end or purpose; for to conceive it as a value and an end in itself is to turn it into a corrupting influence.  Both Plato’s Republic and Aristotle’s Politics stress that the exercise of responsible power aims at insuring justice and the common good of the polis, and that only a philosopher (whom Plato calls “the philosopher king”), can determine what the common good is and which laws best promote it.


Francis Bacon, the father of the Scientific Method who believed that “Knowledge is Power”


“All power to the King” in Hobbe’s Leviathan

Obviously from Socrates to Acton’s conception of power there has been a shift. In Acton’s quote we hear distinct echoes of Machiavelli, Hobbes, Bacon and even Descartes. It was after all Francis Bacon who turns Socrates dictum up-side-down; from “knowledge is virtue” into “knowledge is power.” Thus power begins to be conceived in a Machiavellian mode, for its own sake, to be sought and held by any means, even unethical ones. Some scholars maintain that Machiavelli never counsels an unethical use of power, but the fact remains that he has been so interpreted, the use of the word “Machiavellian” hints at it. At best the case can be made that he has been grossly misinterpreted. Be that as it may, the misinterpretation leads to the shift which in turn points directly to  an abnegation of  responsibility; to the state which, unlike an individual, is not held to ethical standards, what Kant call the categorical moral imperative. But the problem, as the ancients saw it, is that the polis is nothing else but the sum total of its individual citizens, and a tipping point is eventually reached when enough citizens  acting unethically  results in a disastrous polis.  The Machiavellian interpretation of course sees it otherwise: the only responsibility of a state is the responsibility to its own interests protected by the power it wields, what  Machiavelli calls “ragion di stato,” a concept dear to all sorts of anti-democratic fascist leaning individuals such as Hitler, or Mussolini, or Stalin, or Mao, just to mention a few.

Broken down to basics, this new concept of power simply says that what I can do, I may do; there is no need for ethical judgement on my part because everything that is possible is allowable. Thomas Hobbes in his Leviathan declares that freedom is the absence of the obstacles in its forward movement. That is to say, progress or what is considered progress is unstoppable. He seems wholly unconcerned with the ethical implications of a freedom based on power held and wielded capriciously, on the relinquishing of the individuals’ power to a sovereign king who may or may not reign wisely. Most kings, in fact, have not been wise philosophers. There are precious few Marcus Aureliuses.  

Power seems to be what everybody seeks in the modern world enamored of progress; it comes in the form of wealth, political influence, powerful weapons, power to intimidate and influence, power to make people do things, power to build things and institutions, power to get things done. Every movie, every news story, most everything we hear nowadays seems to be based on the pursuit of power, stated over and over again. The Nietzschean “will to power” has become ingrained in the very fabric of contemporary Western culture: the will to dominate, built empires, lord it over, more often than not tied to the necessity of violence to forcefully assert one’s will.  This is the kind of power Lord Acton is referring to; a rather negative brutal sort of power. Indeed, power causes many problems; in the light of the many abuses of power it is quite tempting to think of it as generally evil and corrupting.


The Utopian Novel New Atlantis by Francis Bacon
exploring the nexus between Science and Political Power

The question naturally arises: Is Machiavelli and Nietzsche’s glorification of the “will to power”  even when properly understood, a misguided transformation of responsible power; power no longer conceived as mere means to what the ancients called the Good, the True, and the Beautiful, but as a value in and by itself. How did we get from the ancient conception of power as a means to the common good, subservient to the Aristotelian “will to truth,” to the disastrous modern conception of “the will to power” leading directly to so many international disasters? 

To use a concrete analogy, the modern conception of power is not unlike the explanation for my speeding that I may offer to a police officer ready to ticket  me, to the effect that if my car can reach a speeds of 150 miles an hour, it’s ok for me to drive at that speed.” I suggest that such an argument will persuade very few policemen; it may even result in the doubling of the penalty. As competent drivers, we’re expected to balance the power that the use of a car gives us, against the laws of the land, the laws of physics but also, and most importantly, the common good. Even if I can legally do 70 miles per hour on a highway, there may be conditions (such as fog, or snow or ice) that may make it dangerous to do so; that is to  say, common sense and good judgment, in effect a limitation of power, dictate that I exercise prudence, despite the actual mechanical power of the car and what the driving laws may allow.

We might further consider that in driving there are three levels of constraint: that imposed by the machine itself, that imposed by the law, and finally that of personal judgement.  This three-fold set of constraints operate in a number of areas. The levels seem to be: what is possible, what is legal (or accepted as reasonable by a particular group) and individual judgement. What is possible implies what is impossible: driving at 70 miles an hour is possible; walking at 70 miles an hour is an activity against which no legislative body bothers to make laws because it simply is not possible. But possibility does not automatically translate into legality. Not everything we are able to do should be done, and that takes ethical judgment.

Of course, in considering what is imposed or permitted by the law – one immediately comes up against the question of, “What law?”  Each practitioner will have to find the answer to this level for himself.  Moreover, when we impose rules, whether for safe driving or for curfew times for our children, we always hope that eventually those subjects to the rules will become self regulating; when good habits become the standard, there is no longer a need for penalizing laws. Aristotle calls those good habits virtue; to the contrary, he calls bad habits vices. This is ethics in practice and Aristotle makes clear that an ethical theory is pretty sterile unless accompanied by its practice.

On a more theological level, God is the most powerful “entity” in the universe that the human mind can conceive of, the very ground of being. In addition to omnipotence, God is also purely good. Therefore power, at its core, is not evil. In fact, it is a standard theological concept dating back to at least St. Augustine that abused power is not power at all, but a falling away from true power; in Christian terms we call this abuse original sin.

Power therefore is the capacity to get things done. In its pure form, power is creative and enabling, cooperative and constructive. This goes back to Genesis: God creates everything and that in itself is pretty powerful stuff. But God doesn’t create the world to lord over us in a bad way; God creates the world to share with us, out of an abundance of love, the delight of life and creation. And God shares that power with us: we are also creative and constructive, capable of cooperation and helping each other; in some way we became God’s co-creators. But in sharing power, God also gave us freedom (a power in itself), which means we have the power to abuse our own power. We can misdirect our creativity towards creating destruction, we can cooperate for the sake of evil. We can use power to build a polis aiming at the common good and increasing the ability or power to do further good, or we can use power to destroy a polis, to set it ablaze. That negative application of power is in fact a falling away from the very source of power and a negation of power. In harming themselves people reduce their overall capabilities.

What then, is the point of power? To do good: to help those in need, to educate the young, to create and cooperate for the sake of the common good. As king Arthur puts it, it is nothing short of might for right, rather than the Thucidyan  or Machiavellian “might is right” wherein the stronger wins the war and declares it a just war and dictated the conditions of surrender. Any falling away from this ideal may seem like power, but it is actually a form of destruction, a harming of the whole for the benefit of a part. The part may gain power, but in fact that part is harming itself by harming the whole. The mistake of every power grabbing dictator is to fail to realize that his nation is not the whole but part of the whole which is humankind.       

Robert Wright has an interesting book called Nonzero: The Logic of Human Destiny, which talks a lot about cooperation and its benefits. It is all a matter of changing zero-sum games into non-zero-sum games. The first option can only benefit one side – the other loses – the second option benefits both sides, and the difference is cooperation. This is the logic of creative, not destructive power. Extreme disparities of power and lack of distributive justice are always ultimately debilitating, because the few with concentrated power are always weaker than the many with broader power. We have seen this in the revolutions in the Middle East, where new technologies empowered the people to overthrow old regimes which based their power on the hoarding of military and economic might, but which could not control the spread of the cooperative power of communications via the internet and cell phones.

In conclusion, power is not evil in itself; It is a tool that needs to be used rightly, which means shared, cooperatively and creatively, for the sake of the common good. We should not fear power; we should fear its misdirection. And what tells us how to direct our power? Ethics, of course. True ethics is always for the sake of directing power to the benefit of the common good; it is never for the sake of empowering one group or disempowering another. When Christ commanded to love our enemies it was for the sake of overcoming animosity, repairing community, restoring cooperation, to make our enemies our friends or at least ally ourselves with their better part, and to then grow together to be better than we could be separately. That may take a lot of faith in humanity and God, but it seems to work wherever and whenever it is sincerely attempted.


Friedrich Nietzsche (1844-1900) who coined the slogan “Will to Power”

The problem seems to be in the misunderstanding of power, and that is so because we rarely see good examples of it. So we end up thinking that power consists in hoarding wealth, or destructive weapons, in force and intimidation; indeed that is what we are constantly being told in our film stories and in the news; and that is too bad. It then becomes easy to misunderstand Nietzsche’s “will to power” as an injunction to seek and hoard power by whatever means available. We ought to become more skeptical of those stories presenting power as tyranny and opt to exercise our own ethical judgments based on the hard factual evidence. The fruits of pursuing power for its own sake are not very good throughout history. In the twenty century they are abominable as we have argued in the last issue dedicated to genocide.

In any case, it is only by that philosophical-ethical exercise that we may hope to be empowered with wisdom. For, if philosophy does not ultimately empower us with wisdom, it runs the risk of falling into mere sterile theoretical speculation and futility.


Alexis De Tocqueville on Power and Democracy
A presentation by Ernesto Paolozzi
(Translated from Italian by Emanuel L. Paparella)


No philosopher, writer or scholar is relevant or irrelevant to the times. Rather, we can define contemporary authors as those who have presented problems and themes that history will later represents, even if in different forms and modes. In that sense we have today the glaring return to our attention of the thought of Alexis de Tocqueville. So, the bicentennial of his birth is more than a mere pretext to celebrate and reconsider his important work.

The French magistrate, who had originally embarked on politics with little success, then went on to historical-juridical studies, social studies in a more general sense. While traveling in the United States of America he begins to notice the essential traits of that great democracy, and eventually he traces its limits. He notices that American democracy is a classic among the classics of political literature and represents an essential point of reference for anyone who wants to research the nature and the destiny of democracy as a political system.

Would we wish to list, almost as an ideal index, in a very contemporary book dealing with the fundamental issues of the democratic deficit in which we find ourselves, but also dealing with a possible re-birth of the same in the Western world, we would find them all already discussed by the great French scholar.

Tocqueville notices that democracy is above all a historic-political process which in many ways is unstoppable. It seems to represent an evident sign of modernity, beyond what may be the theoretical or formal connections with ancient Athenian democracy. He grasps the tight connection between the political principle of equality with that of economic development of capital with the consequent spreading of economic welfare among greater and greater numbers of society’s sectors. He also shows how the growth and affirmation of democracy does not only concern the political world, neither is it exclusively the sphere of institutional jurisprudence, but is an essentially socio-cultural phenomenon, almost anthropological, to the point that it crosses the whole of society in all its manifestations, involving, for example, women, who at his time were still a marginalized part of public life.

Granting all of this, and it is an epochal social phenomenon, it is also true that the radical modification of society carries with it several problems, not a few risks and fundamentally it is the very system of modern freedoms that is placed on the table for discussion due to the influence of the new imposing American political system.

There is little doubt, let’s say it at the outset, that liberty, then as today, finds within democracy a way of being and, probably, a mode of actualization that is more radical and more complex than what history had allowed till then. But it also finds a limitation, and in some moment of excessive expansion of the same democratic system, it runs the risk of not surviving.


And here is where Tocqueville’s analysis is deep and original; it can be placed on top of all the reflections on mass civilizations and on totalitarianism as condoned by large numbers of the population. I am thinking here of Ortega y Gasset and Hannah Arendt. Tocqueville does not utilize apocalyptic tones nor intellectual snobbery. Nor does he indulge in irrational historiographic and political forms. With methodic persistence he notices that the same development of democracy may lead to the creation of a paternalistic State, in its own way oppressive, or at the very least invasive to the point of representing a danger to political freedom and even threaten individual liberties. To use a famous saying, it may lead to the tyranny of the majority. And this is so not because an assumed majority of electors may violate the rights of minorities and single individuals, but because it is in the very nature of democracy that favors the process of decadence of liberty.


To say it in a few words, it is conformism, the leveling process toward the bottom of creativity, of aspirations, of the critical spirit which finds in the democratic system an unexpected ally. One can do anything within a democratic system except talk disrespectfully about the people, of the people’s taste, of the ordinary people, as we say today; that is to say of that diffuse mind-set which has no name or surname but gets around and in the end it lords it over. When that happens, liberty itself is in danger. Tocqueville, already in mid 19th century, how industrialization slowly takes over the world of culture, and becomes a fundamental element of this process of leveling consciences and intelligences.

Do we need to further insist that Tocqueville is one of our contemporaries? It is not by chance that after a substantial period of disinterest, we are returning to him in various ways and modes. Moreover, it is not by chance, that in the 50s, a scholar such as Vittorio de Caprariis, who was part of a whole generation of Croce scholars, committed to the reinvigoration of Italian culture, dedicated a whole essay to the French scholar titled A Profile of Tocqueville, reprinted a few years ago from the editor Mario Guida.


A Feminist Subjective Perspective on Power-relations between the Sexes
A Presentation by Abigail George


An Introduction

There is power and justice in everything that we read until we give our perspective the permission to see it as thus. The democratic polity exists even in nature. Human nature. I will write further on this as I continue. Told by a close friend that the following ‘reads like a memoir’, I have chosen this to be my presentation. Do not get me wrong. I love men and I love women too. One means relationships and the other friendships. Women are little birds, giraffes surveying the world. Men are hungry lions, tigers kept in captivity looking and waiting for prisoners. I do not know how the one exists without the other.

When I was a child, I was always looking at the external as most people do. They believed oh, if I do not have this then I could not be part of this reality that I am living in. I call that living in poverty. A kind of intellectual poverty, spiritual poverty. A tarnishing comes with the human spirit’s measure of what loss is. We grieve for a while and then it goes out of our hands, our mental faculties, psyche, awareness, vision, psyche and intellect as if nothing has happened. With the sheer and unnatural force of illness comes a novel instinct and we learn new definitions of words like ‘truth’, ‘love’, ‘friendship’, ‘trustworthiness’, introspection’, ‘Kafkaesque loneliness’, ‘solitude’ and ‘fury’.

A woman will always remain innocent until that man takes that innocence away from her and the same applies to a man. A man will always remain innocent until a woman takes that innocence away from him. Polities have always been the refuge, the sanctuary, the pedestal that a man has been worshiped from for eras. Man has always been glorified whether he is sane or insane, some part of him remained the joke at the party or the life of it. Whether he is talented or a devout disciple, a devoted follower. Instead of taking liberty with reflections on the concepts of power and justice within a democratic polity, I have endeavoured to look at how three people, ‘the man’, a young and inexperienced girl who still lives in a world of make believe and another young woman called ‘Anita’ live alongside this glorious democracy that makes fools out of all of us.

The people who have money can escape but ingénues will always find themselves drowning. The women in the world called Anita think that in the end they have power and that their ends justify the means of the sexual arrangement. Men not women use the word erotic and there is a certain power behind that word. The guffawing man in the following ‘memoir’ as my close friend called it is a concept or rather concepts. He is ‘power’ to one girl and ‘justice’ to the other. To me philosophy has not only been heaven-sent but I have read about, am constantly seeing the world from the writings of other women. Anais Nin, Ayn Rand, Susan Sontag, Princess Diana, the humanitarian Angelina Jolie, Antigone, princesses, mermaids with their conch shells pressed to their ears listening for the sound of the river falling into the ocean, the vast waters of the open sea, listening to the effortless sound of the fractured wind, and Mother Teresa. All woman are princesses. Rilke, Aldous Huxley, and George Orwell I admire and more (the list could go on and on) but I admire the female gender too.

Women have to change the way they think. To transform their circumstances they have to deliberately cut small holes in their inner and external reality to see the sun. In order for a girl to choose freedom, she faces a difficult decision when the men in her world have all the power, the influence, the status and all they seem to plant in her world are gifts.  At the end of the day, this is only the beginning of her moral captivity. She is a prisoner. While she fights for another day, her internal struggle will continue unabated. They will corrupt her in the end. Destroy the best of her. She will think by the time she has her own children, is a wife and a mother that she is ruined through the damning sabotage of the father figure she has searched for her whole life. Nothing has been ruined; I want to tell those young women. Nothing. It was an escape, then it was an intoxication, and then it was an infatuation. Of course, it was not love. Now your life is beginning. It is just another mask, another elaborate costume. At the end of the day, all of us must hang up our costumes.


A Memoir
The Psychology of Rebecca


Facts exist. This planet is hell. Men want the girl. Seldom want the woman. All girls want poetry in their lives. All women want is the large house and the kiddies but for her there is power in comfort and solitude. She found a hole in the sky to creep into. A blue cave and this is where she wrote. Visionaries can see their reflections everywhere they look. She knew her escape from the drudgery of her work that she had to love. That she had to live, think and act like a man to be an intellectual and a philosopher. One man told her that he did not have the time of day for women who became overwhelmed by his terms or women who became emotional. He thought that was disgraceful behaviour. Fear and depression are examples of pain. All three are chronic. All three will lead you down the laws of Whitman’s path. Are you witty another man asked her? Are you scared of being with a real man? Are you an innocent? There are always sides. Men who are dreamers. Men who have stories. One man wanted to know what she did when he was not around. She answered honestly that she read a lot. I can see, he said.

I can see you have many books. What kind of books do you read? Romance novels? She could hear the laughter in his voice. The smile in his voice. I read everything, she said in a small voice. Do you have anything to drink? No, she answered. I will leave you here with your books and I will pop out and get us something to drink. You look like you need a drink. He looked her up and down and smiled at her. You have beautiful hair. Do you always wear it like that? You should. It shows off your best features. Your high cheekbones. You aquiline nose. The man started to stroke her face. Put strands of her hair that came loose behind her ear. You are a girl who understands the intellectual life and he smiled again but it was more of a smirk than a smile. You seem to be a girl who puts herself in a lot of dangerous situations sweetheart. Not all men are like me but I think you know that already. I drink whiskey she said. No, he said. Today you are drinking what I drink. She stared up at him. Stared at his handsome face. Met his gaze and looked away again.


Sweetheart there are no good men. I am not good for you. The only thing a real man has is his personality. Character goes out the window when he is misbehaving. He closed the door behind him. She got up from where she was sitting and looked out the window as he got into his fancy car. She hoped he was never coming back again. That he would forget the number of her flat at the complex where she stayed. The air felt like she did. Airy. Light. She wrote in her journal. I have often thought of what is beautiful and what is ugly in this world. What separates the truth of a man’s character and personality?  I have a wardrobe full of dresses to make me feel pretty. To make me feel extraordinary. To make me feel like an exceptional woman. (She thought of the meat defrosting on her kitchen table. The meal she was going to prepare with ground beef that evening but the man as usual had other plans in mind.) Her father did not want her to go to the city. He told her that she would not find herself there nor her life purpose. He asked her to stay.

There was an urgency in his voice. Stay, please Becky but she was headstrong. She had made her decision. The man was back. She could hear him walking up the stairs. He was whistling. He did not knock. Just waltzed right in as if he knew, was so certain that she did not lock the door behind him. Party time. Are you ready for that drink now? I brought a friend with me. She is waiting downstairs for me in the car. Can she come up? At a loss for words, I see. Okay. Do not bother with glasses. This is how you entertain your friends I assume. Your male friends. Get comfortable. Do not be shy. I do not think that women are shy creatures. You are more woman than girl to me. She looked at him. The man who had told her that he was a father and a husband. The man who had a wife and progeny. If only his children could see them now. Where are your children, she asked him in a quiet voice. I do not know really. Visiting their grandparents. Your wife, she said trying to keep her voice even. Where is she?  She travels a lot. Travels all over.

I think she is landing in Cape Town as we speak but enough about them. What about you little woman? You have a body on you. Still going to make me supper. Are you sure my friend cannot come up? She must be bored by now thinking where in the world I am. I promise she will not bite. Have you ever been with a woman before? I think everything about you is erotic. He opened the bottle, leaving the silver foil and the cork on the floor and began to drink straight from the bottle gutturally. A little bit of erotica never hurt anyone. You have gone all quiet on me now woman. Am I shocking you? What is your name again? My name is Becky. She said. Becky, he repeated. Becky, can I kiss you. If you want to, she answered. My friend is waiting, he said. He pressed his mouth on hers waiting for her to open her mouth. He leaned back and said that was nice. Becky you are a good kisser. He put the bottle down and settled next to her into the sofa. This is comfortable. He put his hand on her knee and started to stroke her leg. Is it okay if I do this?

He looked at her closely. Yes, she said. What were you like when you were a little girl? Were you a daddy’s girl? He picked up the bottle from the floor and took another swig from it. It is up to you whether my friend can come up. I think she is listening to the radio in the car. Is she young, Becky asked? Are you jealous? He looked at her watching her closely. No worries Becky. You do not have to be jealous. A beautiful woman like you. Young like you do you mean or older and more experienced. He guffawed. My friend is anything you want her to be. You do not have to be scared of me. I will not take advantage of you. My friend also has a body. Tell me about your wife, Becky asked. She wanted answers. He did not give her any. I need to straighten up a bit Becky. Where is your bathroom? Straight ahead, she said. Be open to new experiences, she told herself. Be an open book. She did not feel at all strange. She felt liberated. She was curious about the woman in the car. What did she look like? What was her childhood like? Was it anything like Becky’s?

Did she have an overprotective father as Becky had once had who sheltered her from the world? A father who did not want her to go to the big city. Becky is beautiful. The man literally was breathing down her neck now. Kissing her head. Running his hands up and down her back. Sit on my lap Becky. She hesitated. Are you sure you do not want a drink? Drink with me Becky. Just have a sip. Becky took a sip and felt drowsy. The man guffawed. Yes, Becky you are a bona fide woman now. She sat on his lap and leaned into him. Becky, I admire you a great deal, he whispered into her ear. This is what all girls must learn when they come to the bright lights of the big city. To be submissive. To be dominated. Are you sure my friend cannot come up? I promise you we can have so much fun. We see with our eyes but we can also see through touch, say it is so Becky. You are a woman now. What does that feel like? I feel different. The man guffawed loudly again. She can come up if she wants to. Your friend. She must be bored out of her mind by now thinking that you have forgotten her.

Becky took her shoes off. Standing up barefooted in her slip, she made her way to the bedroom. Are you sure Becky? I do not want to corrupt you. I have a feeling you were raised in the church. I have a feeling that you are a virtuous kind of girl. Raised with values and all of that. Does she have a name? Do prostitutes have names? Her name is Angel or Angela something or other. She looks like an angel. You look like an angel too, except your name is Becky. She smiled when she heard him say her name. You smoke. Sometimes. Becky, what kind of answer is that. Either you smoke or you do not. When I feel stressed out about something at work that is the only time I smoke, Becky answered. Tell me about the hospital. Tell me about hospital life before I go and fetch my friend. I will read something I wrote about it to you, Becky replied. I love it when people read to me. I am glad you feel different. He guffawed loudly again. Out of drinks. Are you sure you have nothing that I can wet my lips with in this place? Cute house though. You have made it very cozy.

I like the arrangement of scatter cushions on your bed. It looks like you like to read many catalogues to get ideas from them. Is that all that you do with you spare time, Becky, read instead of living? I live for the moment. The man guffawed again. I do not think that I have ever met someone like you Becky. I cannot overlook how beautiful you look to me right now. The man said stroking her head. Can I touch you Becky the way you have touched me, transformed me. Yes, you have transformed me into another man. Angela is waiting, Becky said. Sitting on the edge of the bed with her feet under her looking up at him. You are such an innocent child, Becky. I must corrupt you first. The man looked at her sadly. He took his tie off and then his jacket. You really do not mind if I corrupt you first, do you, Becky. You are a sharp one. You look at me like a girl but then again you also look at me like a woman possessed. Are you a woman possessed, Becky? This is your cue, Becky. Either you will be corrupted or you will remain innocent.

The choice is yours. I want you to corrupt me. I am tired of being innocent. All people, all women, all men see is what they want projected onto their individual selves. They want to think that they are innocent when they are merely lost or at a loss for words. The man began to cry. I have children. I have a beautiful house. I have a wife. It does not matter to me anymore that I will never have those things, Becky said. I do not want any of it. They are beautiful things. They are not trophies. They keep me warm on cold nights, Becky. Books keep me warm on cold nights. Hot chocolate and literature. Abandon yourself, Becky said. (I carry these sorrows within my anatomy. Mental faculties in childhood are made up of mansions that have many rooms. My past overwhelms me sometimes with its own urgency and brains. There are extensions that are like catalysts, sparks, fireworks. The cracks in my childhood made up with their own alphabet. A neglectful mother whom lacked insight into her own children’s lives. A mother who never loved me. A father who was both father and mother.


The culture that we live in as children exposes us to fragments of phenomenology. In the end, we are all scholars of trivia. We are all students of the school of life. Can you understand the property of dreaming? Silence between lovers who have known each other for a long time can be convenient sometimes. One person has his or her own thoughts. The other is lost in their own world. This lover lives in his or her own reality. That lover lives in his or her own reality. Each reality is stranger than fiction. Just as much as people can become estranged from their families, from their infirm and elderly parents, from their own arrogant, moneyed siblings there is a wide-open space that is as vast as a desert. Life is always cosmic for visionaries. That is all they see. The awareness that others are not privy too. A woman lives in a cave. A man lives in his cave. The only time they ever meet is when they come out of their caves to look at the stars and to worship heaven. Humanity, human life deals in that currency. They both realise that there is a bleakness in this world.

They both feel displaced when they leave the order and routine they experience in their cave. There is sadness in you. There is sadness in me. I project all fantasy onto you. You project the reflection of admiration onto me. We clothe ourselves in costume, in make believe and in fancy dress. I wanted you to save me. You wanted me to save you in return. You have become significant to me in ways you cannot even begin to imagine. Talk to me about intimacy he says and I do my best but I talk like a girl and I walk like a girl. I wear my hair like a girl piled on top of my head with bobby pins like I used to as a child when I went to ballet lessons in a church hall. Does he love me? Does he want me? Does he desire me? Is all I ever want to know from the men that I pass in the street, who sit in cafes drinking their coffee, eating their croissants. Men who are artists and men who are not artists. Men who were my English teachers. Men who were not my English teachers. Men who lectured me at college. Men I admired as I admired my own father.

Men who are fathers and husbands. After all, they are the most important. I know they will leave. I know they will betray me in the end. They will teach me all they know of life. The contents and romanticism of their life experience. Their maladjusted behaviour, their rudeness, their tempers, their arrogance are what make them who they are. The loveliness of their eyes, their anatomy that is so different from mine and their fine manners, their exquisite stories that they enthrall me with are what make them who they are. My father did not teach me these things. He only said be wary of them. The men that you work with. Do not ride with them in their cars to go to places. In the end, they will not respect you or love you. They will only patronise and condescend to you. Most of these types of men belong to an exclusive club called ‘the elite’. They are wealthy. They love fast cars. They love smoking a certain brand of cigarettes and drinking whiskies in the evening. They love women. It does not matter even if they are married they still love women.


They are grown men who are still children. Children who still want to be worshiped and put on a pedestal. The men who belong to the elite are articulate, well educated, some of them are intellectuals, and some are not. Be wary of them. They are sharks. There are shark-infested waters out there in the bright lights of the big city. You will find them everywhere. Around every corner. In every mall. In every family restaurant. They will look right through you. They will look you up and down. They will sweet talk you. Whisper sweet nothings in your ear. They will give you gifts. All of her bittersweet childhood Becky was brave, bold, brilliant. She felt she had to shout her existence into being form the rooftops of the city. Her tears were always diamond pinpricks in her eyes. She always wanted to be saved but from what she could not give it a name yet. She did not know what to call it yet. She lost herself in music. In opera. The classical greats. She went to piano, swimming, speech and elocution, drama lessons. She learned early on that there was an art to everything in life.

There always had to be room for it in her life. She decided early on that her life always had to be governed by art. She always found herself picked last. She could not do handstands and cartwheels like the other girls. In high school, she had never had a boyfriend.  She had never been kissed. She was lonely. In the terrain of the city, although she felt that all the life she was experiencing was putting space between her and the hometown she had grown up in. I am a woman now. She said it repeatedly like a mantra. She soon faded into the squalor of the city.  It is my turn to talk now, said the man. Have you always been like this? Have you always written so beautifully? Have your eyes always been filled with so much insecurity and doubt? I doubt if you have been this adventurous all your life. What would you like me to get you? No, I am being serious. I would like to get you something if it will make you happy. Daring to be someone else not yourself. What is so wrong with you Becky?  Why the self-hate and the torture?

Why the self-sabotage? You manufacture touch. Venture through the sensory, understand the volition of the personality’s intuition and you do it so well. With understanding, elegance and grace. Did your mother have elegance and grace? I see I have touched a nerve. Did the two of you not get along? Did your mother make many sacrifices for you? Did she ever touch you? Did she ever tell you how much she loved you? Why are you crying? Child. You are after all just a child but I guess that corruption took place long ago before we even met each other. Every man that Becky had ever fallen in love with was beautiful to her. Their manners, their physicality, the impressions that they left upon her, marking her for life. She wanted them to possess her in exactly the same way that she possessed them.

She wanted to master her traumatic childhood. She wanted to master the male and the female innerness of her soul. The spirit of the child that was still a part of her even in adult life. She had an androgynous mind. She wanted to master pain and then when she realised her own sexuality she did master the pain that she had internalised for so long. Then it finally was released. It finally had an external world. Men were always somewhat of a mystery to her. When they left her of course, she felt abandoned. When they did not call her on the telephone of course, she felt neglected. She was an adult yet she still thought, acted and moved throughout the world like a child and with a child’s intuition and velocity. She knew she had to explore the city. It had territories and districts filled with light and dark acts. This man just wanted to talk all the time about her childhood.

Tell me about your childhood. Tell me about your mother. Do you look anything like her? Did she ever read your stories? I am guessing here not. I am right. I am always right. I should not have spoken to you about my wife and children. There is always room for a young woman to grow and to learn from her mistakes. You will soon learn that a mistake is an education in itself. Just do not end up loving me, regretting me or hating me for what I did to you. Sometimes men do not think when it comes to an inexperienced young woman. Men are creatures of empires and kingdoms. Women are creatures of habit. Woman always want to fall in love. Yes, you do want that swimming pool and the kiddies. I know you do. I can see it in your eyes. I know what loneliness, isolation and rejection is. I have lived through all of that. It is only the beginning. The beginning of life. Nerves shaking. Anxiety ridden. Panic-stricken. It happens to the best and brightest of humanity. You should have banished me when you had the chance then I would not have exploited you and yet you wanted to be exploited because you wanted to forget. You wanted to forget your childhood.

Perfume. The expensive kind. Becky finally told him what he wanted to hear and he smiled at her. A smile that was warm and genuine. Inviting her to smile with him as if they were playing a game. She knew she would recollect their conversations in a myriad of ways in her journal. One man became two, became three, became four, and became five and so on and so on. When she telephoned her father every Sunday evening he would ask her, a slight tremor in his voice when was she coming home? Did she have a boyfriend around her age yet? What kind of people had she met in the city? Certainly not the people you told me about daddy. Nobody is taking advantage of me. I am living my life. I am living my life on my terms. I am worried about you her father would reply. Come home. Come home soon. You cannot live alone in the city like that. The city has shark teeth. Is there room for a cat or a goldfish? No there was no room for a cat or a goldfish. What was that in the background he would always say anxiety rushing through him?

The man it seemed had a lot on his mind or he seemed to have shortly lost his mind. He seemed to speak as if she was taking notes. As if, she was his stenographer. You are useful in making me forget too. You wanted to regret something, regret me because that makes you forget the past. In other words, you can also say I used you and you used me. We used each other. When you regret something, it is also a small triumph. If I kiss it better will it make it all right again? If I tell you that I love you, will you believe me. The sky is blue. You do not have to be. Tell me what does it feel like to have lived your whole life near the ocean. Men want to believe that all girls are chaste.  All girls want to be are women. They want to get married and wear a meringue of a dress, wear flowers in their hair and that ring on their finger but not you. You say it defiantly as if you are taking a stand for something. For all the girls who have lost their way in this world. For all the girls whose mothers never loved them. For all the girls who are madly intellectual and surround themselves with literature.

Is there someone there with you, her father would say in a singsong voice? It was nothing daddy, Becky would implore. It is only the television. You can afford a television on your wages. I get a salary now. I pay it off in monthly installments. Let me go and switch it off. Do not get into the backseat of their cars. Oh, dad. Becky would say biting her bottom lip. Becky listen to me. Come home. You will find someone nice and a decent man. You mean someone you approve of daddy. Oh, Becky. What has become of you? What is becoming of all your dreams, all your goals? Do you still feel inspired to write? There is a novel I am writing but her father was not interested in that. Are you still a girl? Are you still my daughter? Daddy, please do not ask me that. Your mother is busy. She cannot come to the telephone right now. Daddy, I want to speak to her. Oh, Becky. Why will you not give us your number? Where are staying? Do you have a roommate or roommates? Please come home and the conversation would go back and forth like this. She could hear her mother in the background.

What happened? What happened? You escaped. You found the exit out. We all do even men who are still boys at heart. You have a life. You have not failed at anything. You have dreams. You have goals. You inspire. You are creative. You have your little novel that you are writing and you are doing your best to cope, to act as if you have it all together but anyone can see that not everything is all right in your world. Everyone can see that you are not coping. You are a late bloomer. Are you really living or do you live life like one of the protagonists in your stories. Do not say anything to me. You might regret it later. You have choices in life. I had to make choices too and at the end of the day, you are either a poor loser or the winner who takes it all. Do you know what your purpose is? Our purpose is to love and be loved in return. That should be the mantra of human life. This is what you have to do although it might sound very strange. You have to live. You have to give life a chance. If you do not, it is tickets for you. You will find yourself drowning in a pool of your own tears.

Becky could hear her mother’s voice. By now, she is probably a dancer in one of those clubs. That is what happens to girls like her. She is probably a dancer for money. Leave me out the conversation. Becky could feel the diamond pinpricks of tears behind her eyes. Let go, let go, let go and surrender. She hates me. My own mother hates me. Becky thought to herself. Then I should go on living the way I do. I have a talent for it. For listening to shadows that wear masks and illusions that can strum guitar and violin strings illuminating truth and beauty. How do you know you are drowning even though you continually come up for air? It is not truth that will set you free. People talk about emancipation all the time but do they actually know what freedom means. Here in the Johannesburg streets the air felt like no other. The people moved differently. Up streets. Down streets. Walking in alleys. There was always traffic everywhere she looked. All she wanted was silence. All she wanted was a room of her own. All she wanted was to write.


Self-pity is a terrible thing for a young woman to feel. It will make you a tragedy when you are not even close to being one. I know what it feels like when a young woman trembles in my arms. You are a girl. You are a girl. You are a girl. I know at this moment in time you want to be a woman but for now just be a girl. When you are older, you will know what I am talking about. Do not rush things so to get to a place where you will only feel older and more alone than you already are. I do not want that for you. (This man can talk like a woman, thought Becky to herself). You must have met many young men in your short life. No? Oh, well that is a surprise. Have you ever been happy? You have educated yourself well I see from all the books around me. What do you want from life? Life is so short and the most precious thing about it is the love that that human life and artists can express. If you are a writer, you are an artist. Your whole life is a ballad. Your whole life is made out of music. You are difficult. On the one hand, you want respect but with the kind of life you live now you will never find it.

My name is Anita, said the girl when she finally came up the stairs. Why did you leave me waiting in the car so long? I thought you were never coming back for me. Oh, sorry. I thought it was Angel or Angela something. The man said meekly. He had stopped guffawing. This is your eternity, Anita said nastily. Tell her to stop looking at me like that. Do you understand what that word 'eternity' means? Yes, Becky said. I do. This is my eternity, Becky repeated.




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 - 45th Meeting -

46th Meeting - 47th Meeting - 48th Meeting - 49th Meeting - 50th Meeting - 51st Meeting -

52nd Meeting -53rd Meeting - 54th Meeting -



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