Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Tempus adest gratiae

I must confess to liking the Christmas time. Perhaps it is due to the awful darkness of the sub-arctic winter (these days we don’t even reliably get permanent snow to Southern Finland before January which makes the 20 hours long night pitch dark and the 4 hours long “day” quite dismal). So, all lights and candles are very welcome in the midst of this darkness. But, in some respects, so is the message of that ancient story. Christianity is much, or more accurately, totally, disfigured by the various official Christian churches and sects and their incredibly primitive dogmas and superstitions. Any average Dawkinsian atheist can blow away the Bible as a science (or even philosophy) book along with all the assorted fundamentalists and traditionalists that read it as the literal word of their literal, small minded "God".

But I would argue that something immeasurably valuable of all the world religions escapes their dismal followers with their dismal sects and power structures: and so I do seriously believe that heavens really did open to the humankind two thousand years ago, regardless of any empirical evidence for or against. This particular message of forgiveness and redemption echoes on even through all these organizations and dogmas that seem as if designed to silence it.

Gaudete, Christus est natus...

Monday, November 19, 2007

Confessions of a book addict

It is only quite lately that I have considered that my intense relationship with reading could perhaps be seen as somewhat eccentric. It has been such an integral part, a central part of my life that I haven't really noticed my reading habit as anything very odd. By the age of eleven I already had a system set: there were two libraries that I would visit weekly, our own Nurmo Municipal Library and the Provincial Library in Seinäjoki. I would have a maximum limit of eight books for each visit and in most times I reached that limit. That made on average ca 13-16 books per week for about ten years. (How that was manageable, I wouldn't know.)

About the time of my tenth birthday I had already exhausted the children's departments and had moved on to adult shelves. So, I was a true addict already then, an escape artist, with my thoughts most of the time anywhere else than in the rather grim reality that was my life those times. Anything went: thrillers, detective stories, serious novels, fantasy, science fiction, history, biography, even poetry already in those early days - I was not a discriminating reader, if anything the preference was for the lighter stuff that I now see was often horribly badly written.

This I suppose is still fairly understandable - I was growing up in any case, gradually getting more interested in more than mere escape, reflecting, reconciling books with experience and vice versa. But that magical initial burst is still quite inexlicable to me: around the age of 8 years I had read all the books we had at home (well, not quite all: I mostly skipped, strangely, the plentiful religious literature there was). For the time and place we had a wide selection with the emphasis on the classic Finnish fiction of the late 19th and early 20th century. This selection was combined with an utter respect for books and learning that no doubt is getting quite rare these days.

So there I was, compulsively reading Kivi, Canth, Jotuni, Kauppis-Heikki, Aho, Lehtonen, Leinonen and many others: an 8 year old boy from a very sheltered home background - I surely couldn't understand anything I was reading about. What could it have been about? It was a long ago, I have changed and can now hardly remember what I was searching for, but I do remember, I do remember that the experience really was magical, strange, compulsive - I had found a gate and gone through it and have since never returned, or glanced back.

For that first burst I have no real explanation - simultaneously I did go for conventional children's literature which I could genuinely understand and enjoy, but I did enjoy also those other books at home, having clear preferences and favourites among them though I certainly couldn't have understood much of those serious adult motivations and complexities of language and meaning. Since that long bygone time reading has been an integral part of my life, a very central part. By my twenties I averaged I think about a book per day. I switched to English around my 19th birthday, first basically for the wider selection, then for the glories of the English literary tradition.

Helsinki City Library, University Library and Student Library were paradises for me: I remember feeling drunk at the mere sight of the endless, dusty shelves of the Student Library Book Storage. Bright flames in great darkness were those places for me during that bleak time. And even these days I think I read on average about a couple of books per week navigating still regularly back to those self-same beacons of thought and feeling. It was a true gate, a true portal to something more than what is routinely, self-defeatingly had in this mortal world.

Themes have changed though - escape gave gradually way to intellectual search which in turn has been much replaced by more independent and more detached reflection. I'm now not able to read badly written fiction or clumsily thought out, shallow factual studies. Fiction and history are the main interests, I have overcome my snobbish (History Department) disdain of biography (if well written and thought). I can still enjoy good thrillers (say Barbara Vine) or thoughtful science fiction (in many ways a more politically and socially relevant genre than mainstream fiction that has largely lost its intellectual self-confidence and scope in the postmodern era), but altogether the subject matter is more serious and fiction is now in a distinct minority (poetry is something separate again, intensely meaningful but in some sense hardly literature for me, I have a very narrow selection of poems and poets that I return to again and again).

Writing this I notice that I find it very hard to describe the actual, concrete meaning of books to me, the actual texture of the feeling of reading, the rush - the polyphony of voices, of angles, the added scope, the limitless complexities of language, meaning and experience... In some sense all texts are speculative fiction, whether they are fiction or not, just as in some sense our lives are a speculation, a gamble - we are provisional and shifting, never fixed and permanent. We see myriad possibilities but no absolute solutions. So I read sceptically and critically but with an open mind and suspended judgement, coming only to provisional conclusions, trying to take in all possibilities, all meanings. As impossible as it is.

In many respects reading has been my true occupation all these years: I have kept endlessly travelling through strange landscapes while supporting myself by in comparison trivial occupations. At first it was a panicky escape, but lucky in direction (at a time when luck seemed to be in very short supply). Though not to paint any overly rosy image: for long, immensely painful years there was no reconciliation between mind and body, between intelligence and experience, I was immature, uneven, only partially a real person.

I have changed much since, for the better, being now more settled, intellectually, emotionally more self-confident (though remaining an abysmally poor writer as always), pursuing now the origin and course of love, and not fundamentally meaningless intellectual abstractions. But to this day I have remained throughly addicted, throughly hooked, still spending long hours somewhere else, with this glorious dialogue and two-way interpretation that is reading. I am now in much less of a hurry and much more inclined to draw more permanent conclusions, thus narrowing the scope - it is not possible ever to reach any real certainty, so we have to settle with what limited understandings we can have in this world.

Writers like George Eliot and E.M.Forster have become the lodestars: I keep trying to connect, to reconcile, to comprehend our experience in a liberal, open-ended fashion, avoiding absolutes and unsupported certainties. It has been a strange pilgrimage through a rapidly passing civilization - but with such excellent, incomparably grand company. I can't imagine how it would be without this added scope, without these long views.

Friday, November 02, 2007

That madcap Lord Mayor of London

The last 18 months have been an education. For the first time in life to lose a truly close person without any regard to any personal wishes on the matter was an admirably clear lesson of the limits of this world. Then to have welcomed a new person here, utterly vulnerable, without any real guarantees whatsoever of being able to protect his way has been a logical continuation of that selfsame lesson. This is what we have here, at maximum, and these things, these people, are what we will lose, one way or the other. Much of our human activity is designed to enable us to forget this state of affairs. But it is the wildest, unsafest ride imaginable and you have to be stubbornly narrow indeed to remain unaware of this. The terms are brutally harsh but in this brief span there is admittedly some tragic grandeur - and also moments of pure exhilaration in not having any safety nets available: a strange journey through the wildness.

Monday, October 29, 2007

Liberal positions

Surely the sum of our enlightened experience is that the only reasonable hope for us is in historical progress leading to a transformation, the nature of which we can hardly even begin to imagine. As we now are we will never escape: imprisoned by the cruel spectacles of history and nature and our own panicky animal instincts. A state all the more hateful because not all hateful: so many acts of human kindness, of integrity, of love, flicker in the darkness, brightly, briefly, perpetually surrounded by the eternal freezing cold that is our human stupidity, ignorance and fear. That instinct towards the better, those acts of love and integrity, we must set free thus fundamentally changing ourselves into something else and leaving (hopefully) all history and nature behind. This is the fundamental liberal position, surely. A refusal of both the narrowly shrewd, self-perpetuating conservative wallowing in the wretchedness that is humankind and the blind radical insistence that this wretchedness is not integral to us and easy and simple to abolish. This is what our serious human inquiry has established, and on this bleak position any hopes for future must be based.

Friday, October 12, 2007

In defence of George Eliot

In the course of the assorted tragedies and collapses of the 20th century we surely have lost an essential tone of doubt, inquiry and worry that was simultaneously perpetually, and rationally, uncertain of its own significance but still crucially confident of its internal coherance. It was an unflinching but humane gaze on mankind and our messy and bloody history of ignorance and aggression - nevertheless combined with a firm belief on the possibility of progress. Now instead we have the forever shifting language of the largely - and self-confessedly - irrelevant and self-doubting, self fleeing postmodern tradition accompanied with the most destructive and amoral materialism that it refuses to confront in its all pervasive relativism. Surely this is an overreaction to these not any more so recent shocks? History, quite apart from its modern guises, has in any case been one slow holocaust - and will perpetually continue to be so by the weight of its own logic and motored by our blind, panicky, animal passions.

The only exception, thus far, has been our brief enlightened, though largely failed, quest and hope for human understanding and progress. Just one pitiful, first attempt in all this time - and one reaching so far even in the deepest failure. There surely is ample time yet for change for the better, for developement, for reasoned self-control - for further attempts. And what is the alternative: should we never attempt more than what unspeakably little we have, and are? Who can set a meaningful limit for human growth, for serious human inquiry?

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

On not being an island

Now with a new member in the family I have noticed an excess of Donnean feelings: a sunny, vulnerable little boy has made the harshness of the world very concrete. Yes, with any luck we’ll be able to protect his way till the time he’ll start choosing it for himself (hopefully doing it also under lucky stars). But I know, we all do, that this is not the case for countless of families, for countless of children: today, tomorrow, every day random tragedies strike from blue or stormy skies. Every day we offer ourselves, our loved ones for this reversed lottery. The callousness we need for living is largely devoted to ignoring this reality. More horror than boredom in this world certainly.

Not that I would think that we are entitled to any perfect sorrow, or perfect joy here: we are, will perpetually remain, incomplete and hesitant beings, unsure of meanings, impermanent, quickly fading. But as much as we have permanence and promise it's connected with love, with giving, with this offering of hostages, however reluctantly, to the fate - with this decision to live with reckless abandon. When I survey the remains of my once proud ramparts that were so impenetrable and intricate, I now notice gaping holes: walls have been throughly razed down, no resistance will be possible here. That truly is a measure of success, but it comes at a high price, as everything valuable does.

So many of the ways of the world are designed to hide, to ignore and to protect us from this realization of how much we have gambled - or how much, out of base fear, we have not dared to gamble and grasped something graspable instead. Of course in place of any serious tones on this subject of living we have endless entertainment, corrupt, ignoble politics and sheer physical and mental tiredness: this society has its way chosen for itself and it will not be a conscious path towards increased awareness. And perhaps that is for the better, humankind cannot bear very much reality. If we could we would be something else, be somewhere else, in a different situation - but one wonders whether it would really be an easier situation... Still, my own preference would be for a far more austere, more serious disposition in this world of love and loss.


Wednesday, September 12, 2007

On the suicide of Alan Turing

I never cease to be amazed at how stupid our organizations are and how stupid, unimaginative and ignorant are the people in charge of them. Perhaps it is a failing to be surprised by this: it is the way of the world. Any philosophy will be used as an excuse for power - that may be their most fundamental use - and stupidity will forever congregate around power and its institutions. This is how it goes, how it has always gone. Perhaps our tragedy is that we can always see amazingly far beyond our painfully narrow scopes of action but we will always remain powerless to free ourselves from them. So, the stupidity is only a half of the story, the other half is that it couldn't be otherwise: we remain poised, wise enough to see the cruel limits but incapable of ever breaking them down. Not without a transformation that would change us into something almost unrecognizable. That transformation will surely remain the dream, but hardly a goal of practical action. Not in any foreseeable future.

Monday, September 03, 2007

Marie, Marie hold on tight

Reading Ackroyd's biography I have been quite struck how odd a person T.S.Eliot really was. In many ways his beliefs and personality were actually much crazier than those of Yeats, and that is much said. He was forced to construct an iron cage of a philosophy, however absurd, literally to survive as a poet, as a person. One sees disintegration and chaos following on his footsteps, and a panicked flight away from them. Touch and go it was on the way, a desperate survival game but one that yielded such majestic, such odd poetry. Strange music. Now it is easy to see the response to the Waste Land as a significant historical phenomenon itself, so much of it surely unintended and unforeseen by the author: that badly shaken, wounded era demanded an artistic expression and would have gotten one in any case but Eliot's disjointed, apocalyptic language was uniquely suited those circumstances. In many ways violence was done to his art in the process, but I don't think that either, the poetry or its effect, diminish from the misunderstanding. Perhaps the opposite. Such a century to have.

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Decline and fall

I have lately been wondering whether I should stop following US politics altogether. This largely for the same reason as I don't any more much follow contemporary Russian politics: the truth will not emerge, or change anything, just causes will not be rewarded and the whole political discourse is absurdly skewed and unreal, vile things are said, celebrated and rewarded. Where is now the American Revolution with its enlightenment values, where is the proud and selfconfident Republic that once took seriously the idea that there are inalienable rights and an absolute equality before the law?

I am not saying that those principles were ever perfectly implemented but they were taken seriously and there was a sincere, widespread faith in progress and rational political discourse. Now we have a staggering 30% of the electorate obsessively, even voluntarily divorced from the empirical reality. We have amazing concentrations of wealth that cannot but corrupt the political process. We have an alliance of primitive fundamentalist religion and cynical corporate elites that has created a very permanent seeming corrupt populist logic to the political process. Yes, there might be a polite, housetrained Democrat elected to the presidency in 2008, the majorities of polite, housetrained Democrats in the Congress might increase. There might be some temporary, marginal tinkering of the system before the orchestrated media onslaught and the unavoidable burdens of office will create a new, hysterical and irrational backlash.

We would desperately need a fundamental shift of the political constellation everywhere in the West but it is very hard to see any such transformation happening with the current distribution of power. There is an irrational and atavistic lock on political power that seems in many ways organic and natural concequence of the structures of the modern Western society. I'm no longer that sure that the system works anywhere: the wheels are slowing down and once coherent political traditions are gradually disintegrating into corruption and meaninglessness. History has always followed power and the highest form of power are increasingly in the stupendous concentrations of capital that we now have in the modern world economy. Once capitalism was best protected by a (limited) selection of enlightenment values and protestant Christianity but now it does quite well with just the entertainment industry combined with the increasing demands of "work place efficiency" and painkilling doses of primitive religion purged of any genuine thought.

I really wonder what permanent improvement any progressive movement can accomplish in these hostile circumstances (certainly at their most hostile and most powerful in the USA but in existence everywhere in the West). The deep currents of social and economic change seem mostly to be against any serious reform and return to enlightenment values and to the discourse of progess and reason. Perhaps this is a too pessimistic and in any case unhelpful, impractical contribution. Still, I would think that the modern left is quite in need of the broad perspectives and coherent, holistic approaches to the political process. These chaotic skirmishes and daily battles with the irrational and atavistic opponents are invaluable, a civilizational defence indeed, but on this ground, with this balance of forces, can they be anything more than holding actions? Inch by inch we seem to lose real ground even when having scattered local successes and apparent reversals of fortune. Can we turn the tide?

(A cross post from DK.)

Friday, August 17, 2007

Homines maxime homines

I have never found any classical control or proportion in the ancients. They have seemed untame, reckless, uncouth - dare one say - barbaric. Certainly there is much nobility in that wild leap forward, but such narrow nobility: no universal themes of redemption and compassion that our civilization was only infused with by Christianity (and then liberalism). But this said, with the burst of Athens into the world history a theme of emancipation was introduced that has not ever been since silenced. Yes, originally it was interpreted very narrowly, very harshly indeed, in a way almost contradicting itself, but that theme was of nature to rupture any arbitrary boundaries.

So, even with the softening influence Christianity, we are fundamentally still in the same position: recklessly exposed to fate as free individuals, as individuals striving for freedom. That has led in history to similar bloody and cruel dominions and cul-de-sacs as Athens experienced, but our human experience has in any case been dominated by those issues: what is radically new is this note, this promise and hope of emancipation, of reason and self-control. It is dangerous to exalt those barbarian times (remembering poor Friedrich, for example) but they nevertheless constituted a majestic beginning of a great experiment.

Friday, August 10, 2007

Joseph, my little man

In 1923 the Catholic Bulletin bitterly berated Yeats for his failure to write more like this:

"Una, my little one, be a nun.
Joseph, my little man, be a priest if you can."

But the call went unheeded - instead Yeats kept stubbornly producing this kind of language:

Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.

Surely some revelation is at hand;
Surely the Second Coming is at hand.
The Second Coming! Hardly are those words out
When a vast image out of Spiritus Mundi
Troubles my sight: a waste of desert sand;
A shape with lion body and the head of a man,
A gaze blank and pitiless as the sun,
Is moving its slow thighs, while all about it
Wind shadows of the indignant desert birds.
The darkness drops again but now I know
That twenty centuries of stony sleep
Were vexed to nightmare by a rocking cradle,
And what rough beast, its hour come round at last,
Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?

The contrast is humiliating: this is Christianity shrunk and enfeebled by modernity, once universal, universally serious world view is shrivelled to a set of narrow rules, blindly and unquestioningly to be followed against all dictates of reason, esthetics and humanity. Today the equivalents of this parochiality of dogmatic religion can be seen in the clumsy, pseudo-scientific formulations of intelligent design and creationism. These forms of religion cannot any longer operate without denying reason and empirical observation - there was a time when Christianity self-confidently saw no reason to doubt that reason and empirical observation would be in any conflict with its teachings. If Christianity as a force in culture cannot any more reach to the complexity, the majesty and tragedy of our being in the world, it will have lost its meaning. It might remain popular as an easy pain killer, a handy blindfold, but it would not have any moral significance or value. I know from my native Finnish Pietism that there are approaches that can still easily escape any blunt Dawkinsian instruments - but outside such occasional oases of universal visions directly connected to the original revelation, we seem to have increasingly only a choice between bland, convictionless official churches or then shallow and escapist fundamentalist interpretations. Not really encouraging thinking of the gift, the vision once so memorably received.

Thursday, August 09, 2007

Once out of nature

I have again immersed myself in the excellent biography of Yeats by R.F.Foster. Foster’s text does need several readings, a subtle and beautiful study. Surely that personality, those poems are one of the miracles of the Western world. Yeats must have been such a maddening person abounding with self-centred childishness, half-baked philosophies. In some ways craving for art, for otherness, must be a sign of immaturity, a sign of not having come to terms with the world, as it has dictated those terms. In that sense full maturity, full satiety is a kind of surrender: how could we not want more, strive for more than this? Yes, Yeats was childish, self-centred, maddening, but under what aesthetic control those forces were kept, what amazing, haunting poetry was written about our condition in the world. Perhaps real maturity is actually based on part on reckless folly, on not fully accepting this world, its harsh limits. “The light of evening, Lissadell, / Great windows open to the south”…

Saturday, August 04, 2007

Well wadded

Today was saved early by coming accross two George Eliot quotes by A.S.Byatt in the Guardian:

"When the commonplace 'We must all die' transforms itself suddenly into the acute consciousness 'I must die - and soon', then death grapples us, and his fingers are cruel; afterwards he may come to fold us in his arms as our mother did, and our last moment of dim earthly discerning may be like the first."

"That element of tragedy which lies in the very fact of frequency, has not yet wrought itself into the coarse emotion of mankind; and perhaps our frames could hardly bear much of it. If we had a keen vision and feeling of all ordinary human life, it would be like hearing the grass grow and the squirrel's heart beat, and we should die of that roar which lies on the other side of silence. As it is, the quickest of us walk about well wadded with stupidity."


What a wise, serious voice we have here, so acutely concerned with our human experience. We surely have lost something when we have lost this scope, this aim. Perhaps it has made the situation easier to bear: the pace has quickened indeed, well wadded we pass through the moments, constantly entertained, amused, shielded.

Thursday, July 19, 2007

That Shakespeherian rag

We don't know much anything about Shakespeare, one of the most pivotal artists of the modern West. I don't know if he wrote for all ages but he certainly did write for ours. It was all laid out almost before the age, our age, had even properly begun. Only we don't know much anything about him as a person: just a very bare outline of facts can be sketched. This seems to be hard to take for the more commercially inclined academia - there is today a veritable Shakespearean biographical industry in place with the most outrageous, farfetched and elaborate interpretations loudly presented. And not only outrageous, there are also some fairly plausible arguments, just totally unsupported by any evidence. There is next to no evidence.

What we do have is the body of his work and so these modern scholars mainly work backwards from that: based on this and that reference, a few lines in a play, a few plays, he's a catholic, or no, he's a protestant, atheist, you name it, gay, straight, bi-sexual, soldier, sailor - anything does go, anything can be claimed. It is after all a huge body of work, in all senses of the word. Previously it was quite typical that somehow miraculously, the Shakespeare that emerged resembled in his views and attitudes quite a bit his humble biographer. In these, more practical days the interpretation just needs to be anything that can be marketed as "new and groundbreaking".

We just can't know. We won't know. Some writers can be fairly obvious in their sympathies and experiences of life (though even then we can't extrapolate any detailed biography out of the text), some then can be like chameleons adapting into all kinds of skins and shapes. Shakespeare very obviously belongs to the last category - contradictory positions get marvellous lines, no obvious lessons are learned, no perspective underlined as being the "correct" one. There is a scary comprehensiveness, a scarily life like openness and uncertainty of view. To cherry pick individual positions and experiences from this kind of almost uniquely multidimensional text is not only folly, but criminally stupid: forcing, flattening arbitrarily one note out of a polyphonic melody. Of course we can't help ourselves, we read the text and form impressions, guesses about the author. It is natural, even fascinating, but no material for a serious study.

For what it's worth, for me he remains a mystery: this open endedness, this incompleteness is baffling, scary. Who knows, maybe it was accidentally dictated by the pressures of commerce or the primitive Tudor era politics, or perhaps it was innate, his organic vision of the world. It would seem to be a clue that he absolutely didn't write any religiously motivated text which would have been perfectly easy even for a secret Catholic of the time. Instead he seems to be only concerned with this chaotic, uncertain human experience of the world and not in any proposed supernatural aspect of it. (Strangely enough this position would, surely coincidentally, be sympathetic to my own preferences...)

Monday, July 09, 2007

On human constellations

In my student years it was quite a revelation to acquaint myself with classical sociology: such unreal, formal approach to our messy human organizations. As if you could replace people, their connections, their persons with abstract, dispassionate functions. Schooled in the rigorous standards of the Helsinki History Department it seemed like an elaborate and pointless game of meticulously misportraying our chaotic human reality as timeless, rational construct of formal relationships – in jargon filled dead language, as dead as the thought behind it. This was the epitome of academic blindness for me: any moment, any constellation in history is surely unique, brief and passing. A totality of chaotic, passionate, blind strivings for short term gain, constantly shifting, constantly improvised.

Yes, it is hard to build a science on this shifting, ephemeral foundation. But surely it is not sensible, not rational to opt for manageable, logical, clean and clear unreality instead. This has remained my firm conviction ever since: I approach all situations in time as unique constellations, as particular, momentary systems fuelled by human passion and partial vision (or, so often, complete blindness). This is not to deny themes and structures in history, but to argue that they interact chaotically forming always unique combinations, unique moments. Thus history, our mad projectory through time is uncontrolled, uncontrollable – whatever sociology and sociologically based human sciences imply, or wish.

Thursday, June 07, 2007

The dissociation of modernist sensibility

I currently have the pleasure of reading a collection of Edmund Wilson's essays (published in 1950). That confident, coherent, serious tone does bring back feelings of regret. Surely in that tone, in that moment, our liberal Western civilization achieved its peak. I do not see any other competitors to moral seriousness than this great liberal tradition of literature and literary criticism. Certainly not organized religion with its feverish and comforting, undisciplined imaginations, as much as it has been a historical source for meaningful ethical thinking. Nor really in the artificially abstract, dry formulations of formal philosophy. But it is 2007 now, and books don't matter any more, or no-one any longer believes or pretends that they do - instead the chorus of primitive Bible (or Koran or for all I know Bhagavad Ghita) thumpers is actually growing ever louder. Loud they might be, but not serious, there is no seriousness in that atavistic escape to wishful thinking. The kind of ethical, secular, austere tone that is so proudly ringing in Wilson (among many others) has mostly disappeared. Naturally one should be careful when establishing glorious pasts, Eliot himself being a good example, but I still would argue that something valuable has been lost in the relentless onslaught of postmodern all-doubting scholastism. Essential foundations have been needlessly undermined and nothing really ethically and morally serious and durable has been built to replace the current ruins. Ruins are all we have left, if you don't count the entertainment industry, of course.

Naputäis püssirohtu

It is strange to think back to times when I did not pursue the origin and course of love but was instead so hopelessly lost in the abstract maze of my mistaken lordly studies. Now, having found my person, my place by finding another person, every aspect of life has come so integrally together that those once so vividly dark days seem distant and hazy. I can't now easily recollect that frigid, frozen atmosphere where no quick thought was ever quick enough to escape through the impasse. Of course, this present brightness gives most distinct shades: bitterly, relunctanctly offered hostages to indifferent fortune, but to have achieved this, to have this, to have arrived here, is still an incredible, indescribable feeling. There is such joy in this moment having survived the desert of years that constituted my intellectual education: come what may, and perhaps mainly good things will come, I have found my person, my place by finding love. And that's such a huge thing that it is scary even to acknowledge it in language - so much importance, meaning in someone other, protected by no special providence.

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Will to meaning

Often our various enlightened quests for understanding come bogged down with Nietzschean counterarguments: there never are good enough reasons for action, so we stand still, paralyzed by the infinity of the possibilities of the world. Out of this cul-de-sac we must then manouver ourselves: I have come to see us as meaning giving beings, the physical world is observed with varying degrees of accuracy, but those observations don't in themselves contain any self-evident meanings, any automatic significance. So, we give, generously, out of our own beings, and in that sense continuously diminish our separateness, merging, cohering with the world.

Thus I see the nature of our experience in non-rational terms: passionate, wild, untamed, personal. But to see it so, is making a rational conclusion. This is the proposed solution then to the Nietzschean dilemma - even if only a partial one: what exactly is the mechanism of this passionate will to meaning remains an unsolved mystery in the context of any attempt to a universal explanation. We exist locally, are served with local contexts, cultural meanings, and supplied with those tools we then proceed to our semi-independent directions. Any conflicts that arise cannot then be objectively resolved, unless it can be argued that the structure of our experience will neutrally point us to a specific conclusion. That is the question that does remain stubbornly open, not kept open by Nietzsche but by the world.

Thursday, May 17, 2007

Politics and the English language

In these pleasant times when the Kremlin is busily replaying the 1930's and the theocon administration of George W. Bush establishing the "unitary executive" (as liberty must really be destroyed in order to protect it) one reaches instinctively for Orwell. This is not to say that he would have been perfect, or not faintly ridiculous - he was deeply flawed and faintly ridiculous. It doesn't matter one bit: his fearless, moral analysis is one of the high points of our liberal, enlightened civilization. And now that those values, of liberalism, of enlightenment, are engulfed and growing ever fainter, his example shines even brighter. You don't find such analysis, such honesty in the modern mainstream media. News are merging with the entertainment industry and fewer and fewer serious efforts are made to penetrate the political kabuki theatre of spin and obfuscation. The masses are kept satisfied with mindless entertainment and tired with the ever increasing demands of work efficiency, the elites, blind, shortsighted and greedy are no longer motivated by our enlightened heritage - we go on, but with no real conviction, no memory. So one does reach instinctively for Orwell: he surely wrote and lived in even darker times, bleakly surrounded by hysterical, irrational ideologies and hatreds. It doesn't matter what the odds are: our only obligation is for truth, not power. The mainstream media might be quiet as the grave, but the net is full of islands of understanding and honesty, a strengthening chorus of protesting voices is slowly gathering. History is not predictable, hope will never be lost.

Wednesday, May 02, 2007

Stalin's willing executioners - Pro Estonia

Now I suppose it is the influence of Burke that makes me believe that there is a built-in reflex, a built-in capability in humankind for terror and violence. It is in our blood. It can find its expression through fittingly atavistic and primitive racial or religious beliefs but it can also dress itself into stolen clothes of progress and rationality. These latter are easier for the intellectuals and media to take seriously as a motive for action: it is hard to imagine brutal violence in its chilling reality, but quite easy to see from afar that progress and enlightenment, those comfortable abstractions are necessary even at some "cost".

But extreme, wholesale violence and terror will never be just means, they will always transform themselves into ends - this call for the bloody, mad dance is too much bred in the bone, too deep in us, not to awaken and take control. This is what we witnessed in Hitler, in Stalin, in Mao, in Pol Pot during the 20th century: an ancient ritual of running amok through innocent, powerless victims. This is our age-old instinct, and whether it's awakened or not depends more on the random historical circumstances than on individuals, thus no-one can ever be completely guilty, completely innocent: history is not only a crime, it is also a punishment for a crime. We all need absolution.

I was recently reading the Finnish Civil War History Commission's report on the ethnic Russians summarily executed or otherwise perished in the disturbances in Finland during 1914-1922. 1604 names are listed in the report (see the link above). The Civil War of 1918 is still a surprisingly traumatic subject in Finland but it has been discussed and debated exhaustively and often painfully for many decades now. The once dominant White narrative has lost its prominent, official status and the losing side has had justice finally done to it. All victims are now mourned, including these Russians, often killed by the White nationalists regardless of the level of their actual revolutionary aspirations or lack of them.

Names are listed, remembered, a kind of justice is done - people ending up on the losing side are thus, belatedly, honoured. And so there starts to be a certain cartharctic understanding for all sides involved in this nightmarish storm of history. Touchy, difficult issues have been broached, motives and later narratives debated and at least partially understood. An absolution has thus been clumsily, gradually seeked, and partially also found, with countless benefits to the national discourse and atmosphere: a poison has largely been expelled from the historical memory, hateful lies and fantasies have been replaced with factual, even compassionate understanding.

It struck me that those 1604 Russians are probably the only ones to be so exhaustively reported and remembered of that horrific period. Many more Russians were killed in the revolution and civil war than perished in the First World War. Awful terror, counter-terror and famine raged throughout that wide country. Horrific, sadistic scenes were acted, millions of innocent, powerless lifes were lost. Now I guess they are forgotten, seen as necessary price for history, if seen much as anything.

For other things followed: Lenin's terror system was horrible enough but Stalin raised it to unseen heights: forced collectivization repeated the bloody visions of the civil war: terror and famine raged along with totally irrational, outlandish political repressions. Chillingly this new horror has been seen as doubly necessary in order to arm the Soviet Union for the coming Nazi attack - despite the fact that Stalin did so much himself to create that threat with the Comintern undermining all left-liberal forces in Germany during those fateful years of Hitler's rise and with Moscow stubbornly seeing the liberal-democratic West jus as bad, or for most of the time much worse enemy than Hitler.

A Finnish historian has used a brilliantly insightful metaphor to describe the Finnish Communists that survived Stalin's terror in the 1930's (mostly by being in Finnish prisons). He sees the situation as analogous to a family with history of prolonged incest: a dirty, horrible secret that must not be ever mentioned - Stalin had utterly slaughtered that brilliant generation that escaped the Whites to Russia, but he and his state had to be praised as it was one with their cherished ideology - to give up that faith would have meant seeing those innocent murdered as having lost their lives totally in vain.

So, iron entered their souls. They were rigid, orthodox, mortally afraid of straying from the correct line dictated in Kremlin. They never were a match for their flexible, quick Social Democratic enemies that could operate within the protection of the liberal democratic state, with no terror, no slaughter having been introduced to our Nordic society. In those conditions the Finnish Stalinists could not compete - and, perhaps, in the innermost reaches of their hearts, maybe they even didn't want to compete for the fear of winning...

The Russian nation would seem to have a somewhat similar relationship with Stalin - but complicated, twisted by one crucial matter: his leadership against the genocidal onslaught by Nazi-Germany (no matter that he contributed so much to that very same attack). So you have a psychopath, a murdering and torturing father as the head of an extended family: you can never be sure that you will escape his murderous, irrational rages, still many escape, and all fear. Then occurs a sudden and brutal attack by another mad psychopath with the intention of burning down your house and killing all the family. The brutal, sadistic father leads the defence of the house, and finally after awful, savage scenes and merciless sacrifices the house is saved and the attacker destroyed.

After some years of continued terror the psychopathic leader of the household then perishes peacefully in his bed: you are now all survivors, some favoured, some disfavoured, some tortured to the point of death, but all can feel pride in your common struggle against the invider that threatened you all with extinction. How could you really detach that pride from that leadership? Iron enters souls: awful, hysterical injustices can, maybe should, be accepted. And gradually the memory hardens, becomes selective, is used to benefit the regime, the abuse is not mentioned, its victims are forgotten, they are now a necessary price.

The Great Patriotic War becomes thus the central piece of the new state religion of boastful nationalism - the central foundation of modern Russia. This would seem to be the psychological narrative of the modern Russian nation and state - the moral cost is obvious, huge: millions of forgotten graves, countless acts of terror and slaughter accepted, even honoured. Millions and millions of Russians were killed through the actions of other Russians during the 20th century. Many were forced to participate in the killing, many were willing.

In 1939 Estonia had a million inhabitants, Finland with a similar age structure had 3,5 million - today Estonia still has circa one million inhabitants that are directly descended from the population of 1939 - Finland has 5,3 million. We would be missing about 2 million people had Stalin gotten here during the Second World War, though they would have been replaced by at least similar number of Soviet immigrants, mostly Russian. (Likely our losses would have been even bigger given the nature of our deeply rooted civil society and proximity to Sweden.)

Helsinki would likely have a Russian majority as would the whole of the South coast. Our cultural, economical and academic elites would have been physically liquidated. Our economy would be in ruins, as would most of our towns after 60 years of Soviet construction work. The countryside would have been unimaginably desolated and wrecked by bloody and chaotic forced collectivization. The postwar cultural classics in literature, film and art would largely be missing, replaced by soulless "socialist realism". All families would have murdered, deported or escaped members in their ranks. The new minority (a majority in many places) would see our awful, unimaginably horrific rape as "liberation" from "fascism".

This is not science fiction: all this happened to Estonia during the Soviet occupation. In 1939 it had a protected civil society without any state violence, no whole classes of people were exterminated or faced a threat of extermination. True, the political structure was of one of rather mild authoritarianism with Päts having assumed power to forestall a rightwing coup during the global depression. The process of slow, much too slow, re-democratization was interrupted by the war.

In any case there were under 100 political prisoners in the country, no executions, summary, wholesale or otherwise, no torture, no terror - people couldn't imagine a totalitarian police state, what it means to live in a society where opinions, or mere identities, can lead to state sponsored organized murder. In other words it was an unimaginably more civilized society than those two awful terror states led by the two madmen Hitler and Stalin. First Estonia was brutally occupied by the latter, then came the Nazi attack (Hitler shared an identical view of Estonian independence and cultural existence with Stalin).

There were a few genuine collaborators as in all occupied territories (including I think the Channel Islands of the UK) - and certainly much less, and much less willing, than were in the Vichy France for example. There was no Estonian state, anyone disobeying the German forces were directly disobeying Gestapo and SS. Still the overwhelming majority stayed away from the German atrocities. In those nightmarish circumstances the Estonians could not do anything but hope for a Western liberal democratic victory, for that famous "White Ship" from the West. In the meanwhile first the retreating Russians and later the hardpressed Germans forced thousands of Estonians to their armed forces.

Estonians were of course quite motivated indeed to defend their soil against the Red Army and thousands perished in heroic struggles (largely unassisted by the retreating Germans) - there was even a national government declared and the Estonian flag hoisted in Tallinn between the brief time of German flight and Soviet advance. Some people even dared to hope, there was the Atlantic Charter after all that "guaranteed" democracy and national self-determination to all nations. Maybe the West would help, the White Ship would arrive and peaceful, lawful national rebuilding would start once again after these awful experiences in the hands of the two terror systems.

It was not to happen - the Red Army reoccupied Estonia and the brutal process of Stalinization was continued: the Estonian civil society was destroyed, the agriculture was forcibly collectivized, a state of terror reigned in the country. The Bronze Soldier memorial has become to be the symbol of either "liberation" or subjugation of Estonian freedom. History can never be seen in completely neutral, objective light. But what I have described here are the facts, these things truly did happen. These events and processes can be empirically verified.

Yes, the Red Army protected the Russian nation in a heroic defence against the murderous Nazi attack. But it was representing an equally awful terror state and being led by an equally mad dictator. Once it crossed the Estonian border and didn't return after the Germans retreated, it turned into an army of occupation. Estonia was then not liberated, it was brutally raped. Estonia did not represent fascism, it represented civil society, a state free of casual governmental terror and aggression. The Red Army and the Soviet state were the closest thing to fascism in the post-war Estonia - actually a very close thing indeed.

Now I understand that Nazi-Germany can be seen as an even more awful terror system than the Soviet Union. It murdered less people but did its slaughter in a uniquely industrial manner, by a nation central to European civilization. I think it can be legitimately said that it descended even further into the heart of darkness than the Soviet Union (though I think that with these vast numbers of innocent, powerless dead it is a fairly meaningless debate, both systems are so deep in this horror that it really doesn't that much matter what, if anything, separates them). But which one was more dangerous? How many educated people, how many major powers still honour the Germany of Hitler and Goebbels? How many trendy, even politically active youths sport a swastika on their t-shirt?

Which victims are forgotten, unmourned? What do the words Solovetsk and Vorkuta connotate to you? How about Auschwitz and Bergen-Belsen? Germany has undergone decades of agonizing self-reflection, painful traumas have been under a constant process of analysis - the victims of Nazis are today remembered, mourned, honoured. So, I do seriously ask: which system was more dangerous, more tempting invitation to this bloody age-old rite of violence and terror?

This is not to say anything against the magnificent Russian nation and its magnificent cultural tradition. It is exactly in the Russians' own desperate interest that this historical poison would be eradicated from the mind of the nation and it's rulers. For the victims to be properly mourned and the perpertrators be really forgiven or at least understood. But this the Kremlin won't allow: poisonous Stalinist propanganda about recent history is distributed far and wide, starting from schools and nurseries, a false national pride is created, militaristic aggression and cruelty exalted.

This is not the ordinary Russians' fault: when has the Russian nation been able to determine the leadership of the Kremlin - and when has the Kremlin pursued the vital interests of the Russian nation? If this ghost of the 1930's is not excorcized from this great European power, Europe will one day get into trouble due to its existence. Estonia already has. (This is not to say that the Estonian conduct would have been perfect during the present crisis, only that it is not based on any false and poisonous interpretation of history).

So, the macabre dance on the graves goes on: the millions of victims are not named, not listed, not honoured, not remembered, not mourned. A huge moral collapse is thus celebrated and exalted: iron has entered the centre of a great state's soul, poison lingers about its political elites and public discourse. As long as this goes on Russians will be viewed by their rulers not as individual citizens of independent value but as nameless cannon fodder of power politics, as perpetual pawns of history to be thoughtlessly sacrificed whenever needed by the morally corrupt elite organs. In this way the mad, bloody rites of the early 20th century still go on even today wounding new generations, newly reborn nations. When will we put stop to it?

Tuesday, April 03, 2007

Via media or an illustrated book about birds

After a stormy and, truth to be told, quite comical intellectual journey, I settled in my later student years for this extreme middle way that I have supported ever since. It has been quite an old-fashioned attempt to connect, to cohere, to reconstruct a rational, enlightened way to think, to live. (At least it used to be very old-fashioned in these postmodern times but it seems that finally this dissatisfactory, semi-irrational mood is lifting even in the humanities.) In politics it has been informed by Burke, Keynes and the young Walter Lippmann: highly pragmatic liberalism with a strong awareness of the base human nature and the rarity of historical structures that do actually function. I guess in my more conservative modes it has been Burke that has had the last word and in more optimistic, more forward looking moods, Lippmann and Keynes with their pragmatic, stubborn belief in progress, in the possibility of progress.

But politics is such a narrow field - art, philosophy and religion are much more meaningful perspectives - art comes always first, encompassing philosophy, but with my native Pietism there has been also a living connection to an older world, rural and Christian. Without that it surely would have been more straightforward, more superficial to exist in this blindly commercial, materialistic civilization with no history and no future. How to meaningfully connect such extremes? A strange, strange experience of the world we have: our passionate, disconnected existence seems impossible to be made to cohere, to be wholly rational. In a sense it no doubt is impossible, so this personal project will end in failure - but that's the way of this world: we will remain incomplete here. Thinking now back my own experience has been at times even cruelly limited: who needs action when you got words... Still, I evaluate life based on how unconditionally, how compulsively it is lived, and I can say that I have surely lived mine unconditionally, compulsively - I have not wasted this limited time as painfully much as I have lived it in error, in helpless confusion. It does feel strange to write down these words, remembering the times when having a conscious, self-assured voice seemed such a terrifyingly distant prospect, a hopeless dream.

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Pater familias

I had been ruminating - even worrying - about fatherhood already much before this Sunday's miraculous event: beyond words these things are, as tightly folded buds, in Larkin's apt words, we arrive here. Tiny and helpless, full of promise and daring recklessly leaping into the cold, random world. A miraculous event indeed that only enforced my earlier thoughts: surely the only way of being a meaningful father, capable of love and protection, is to be a meaningful person. The same goes for all our human roles, being a man or a woman, a citizen, a member of a civilization. The essence is inner, it is not found in any outward characteristics, in any boastful embellishments. Having a true security about oneself but at the same acknowledging also the precariousness of all human life, the brutal limits of all personal power and aims. Acknowledging the terrible defencelessness we then have here and daring still to feel, to risk love. Surely, surely the bravest thing in this world is to love: such fierce hostages to fortune we do give - should we be so lucky.

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

The myriad ways of Islam

I have lately been reading descriptions of modern Islam written from within the faith itself - admittedly from the more liberal end of the spectrum. The latest has been Ziauddin Sardar's most fascinating and enlightening Desperately Seeking Paradise. What strikes me most in these descriptions is the polyphonic multitude of different interpretations of Islam, a polyphony of individual voices.

When you then turn towards the Western, especially US media, what you get is an undifferentiated, ridiculously simplified monolith. Highly placed officials can't even tell the difference between Sunni and Shia, or place al-Qaida correctly within the Islamic tradition. Such criminal ignorance is guiding and leading this absurd "Global War on Terror" which in practice often translates as a somewhat random war against somewhat randomly chosen varieties of political Islam.

What the various elites offer to the electorate instead of any deep understanding are silly platitudes, slogans, whether politically correct or incorrect: "Islam is a religion of peace", "No, it's a religion of war!" etc. etc. ad infinitum et nauseam. Of course, any great religion is a huge spectrum of interpretations, from the most eloquently mystical, open and tolerant to the most pitifully literalist, primitive and aggressive. So with Islam.

This is not to say that some forms of these current fundamentalist interpretations (much in evidence for example in Saudi Arabia or Pakistan) wouldn't be a threat to Western enlightenment and liberal democracy (and the same can be said also of much of George W. Bush's fundamentalist Christian base), but that Islam in itself cannot be that threat: there is no one Islam. Perhaps one day the majestic potential for liberation and openness that is contained in those universal visions will be released.

Monday, March 05, 2007

Against painkillers

Namely the triple curse of our modern age: cheap sentiment, fundamentalist religion and reflexive cynicism. All three serve a common purpose of distancing ourselves from the scary reaches of our infinite, passing, ephemeral experience. All avoid living with loss, avoid giving hostages to fortune, to time. They offer easy escapes from our human predicament. But to turn away from experience is to avoid living, of being in the world - a cruel, random place surely, where all of us, quickly passing in any case, offer our loved ones, ourselves to a daily barbaric lottery of life and death, yes, but without that offering how could we perceive this sharp, harsh, amazing beauty of existence, the breathtaking vistas that open before our eyes, the ice cold, purifying shock of water as we plunge into every day? Without that sense of living without any false comforts, without any safe conducts, how can we live truly - and if we don't truly live, how could we live ethically, esthetically?

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

So distinct a shade

I am most fascinated - and baffled - about the way we invest our experience of the world, and thus the world itself, with meaning. Naturally, science is the most reasonable tool available in giving us a framework for that process but I don't think it can in any way logically dictate the meaning of its findings. I would guess that a hard materialist would say that the question itself is meaningless; which for me is a peculiarly pointless view. Traditional religion, in those brief times that it has not been hopelessly entangled in temporal power struggles, has functioned as a kind of a shortcut to meaning, but it obviously is, in this peculiarly human form, intellectually and logically totally untenable.

Philosophy and art are much better, much more effective and aware in their exploration: ideally, perhaps, a combination of those two would bring us closer to understanding the structure of our passionate being here. In some sense, I would think that this incompleteness of self-understanding is a permanent feature of our human nature - and that any real progress will mean abandoning that state of being. Until that our existence will unavoidably have the partial character of an intellectual and cultural cul-de-sac, with the only open question being the concrete historical level of fear, hysteria and aggression that this state generates.

Tuesday, February 06, 2007

S Novym godom - svetom - kraem - krovom!

It has been a longstanding regret of mine not to be able to acquaint myself with the magnificent Russian literary tradition in the original. Brodsky's exhilarating essay on Marina Tsvetaeva's "Novogodnee" (whose brilliant, joyous opening line is in the title of the post) was another occasion to reflect on this. (Brodsky is such a great essayist combining an artist's reckless courage and style with a critic's discerning, detached eye.) I have only rudimentary Russian - having studied it for only two years at high school - but I have always felt that there is a certain depth and vitality in the language that translations can't completely capture. And a great tradition it certainly is, perhaps partly explained by the horrendous social and political history of the nation.

It is very strange to think that Russia has never truly experienced an administrative system not morally corrupt, not venal, not brutal (whether or not clumsily disguised). There have been brief times of fresher air, of optimism soon to be dispelled, and never a strong and healthy civil society. Out of the darkness we have got these amazing flashes of genius and integrity. A high price certainly. And so the curious combination goes on: a magnificent nation docile under the control of cynical, ruthless pygmies. If that is a permanent Russian Sonderweg, which I don't believe for a moment, it certainly would be a tragic, fruitless cul-de-sac. But that corruption was not the image that stayed with me yesterday having finished Brodsky's essay: it was of exiled Marina Tsvetaeva and her angelic speech to stars, to Rilke.

Monday, February 05, 2007

In one of the dives on Fifty-second Street

Joseph Brodsky's heavenly essays (On "September 1, 1939" and To Please a Shadow) are once again half-persuading me to have another look at Auden. I have been here earlier. It is very hard to pinpoint the problem: Auden is accomplished and profound, but his cadences and rhythms seem to be a hard taste to acquire for me. There is something there that feels lifeless and vague, something that fails to raise emotion and thought. You admire but are not engaged, encaptivated.

Of course to my shame there are some external factors involved as well - I have always found Auden's person slighly distasteful. All his various ideological phases, Freudian, Marxist and religious are varyingly unsympathetic to me. Freud was a mechanical, totalitarian thinker, the European heart of darkness in the 1930's was surely in Moscow, not Berlin (this shifted concretely only during 1941-42, whatever pre-existing hidden potential there was: in any case, if you were blind enough to venerate Stalin and discredit liberal democracy, you wouldn't have perceived any hidden montrosities anyway). The move to the neutral and isolationist USA in 1939 of all years does leave a questionable taste to mouth: after all that exhortation comes - a well timed departure. His bewilderingly shifting strands of Christianity I'm least familiar with; in case they obviously weren't very beneficial for his later poetry.

Still, once again Brodsky makes such a powerful, eloquent case that leaves very tempting echoes in the mind: years have passed since the last effort, perhaps I have matured enough for Auden...

Thursday, February 01, 2007

And so to Iran?

Josh Marshall perfectly encapsulates my own position on this question. Any rationally behaving administration would not stake all into another war of choice after the complete debacle in Iraq. Such an idea would simply be preposterous, there are no resources left, no rationale left. But this is not a rationally behaving administration: ideology trumps empirical observation, facts on the ground don't matter. The president's motto is very obviously "Après' mois le deluge" - it is quite frightening to think that the US political system would be so dysfunctional as to bring us to this point. One wonders if the corrective actions will come in time of if there are any self-corrective impulses left within the administration itself: for the next two years this disastrous, criminally incompetent and impetuous president doesn't need to think about democratic elections. Interesting times indeed.

Friday, January 26, 2007

Through Western Eyes

I suppose I'm in a very small minority identifying myself culturally as a Westerner first, a Finn second and a European as a fairly distant third. For me the most essential identity is truly the membership of the modern, liberal and post-industrial West. One could no doubt draw crude Huntingdonian conclusions of this in line with the current hubristic atmosphere of the decadent Washington. But that is not my point: religion, history and ethnicity are irrelevant here. I do not feel any affinity with the old, Catholic and aristocratic, rural Europe that gave birth not only (somewhat accidentally) to Enlightenment but much more essentially to aggressive imperialism and all pervasive racism. In this inherent aggression it didn't essentially separate itself from any other agricultural and aristocratic civilization.

Where we do have truly new beginnings is in the Enlightenment, in the fresh, unique formulations of radical, progressive and inclusive philosophies and ideologies - so universal that any specific, local cultural background will surely be buried under the vast, limitless visions of the implied universalism. Of course, so pitifully little of all this has ever been realized, and maybe this is most that will ever be accomplished (in most areas in the modern West we see currently more deteriation than progress). Nevertheless, I would argue quite defiantly: so far all history has been a slow, irrational holocaust anyway - what is the only new thing is this radical attempt to break free of this circle of human aggression and ignorance. For this we should never apologize.

Friday, January 19, 2007

Ethics and esthetics

Having freshly read Alan Hollinghurst's excellent "Line of Beauty", I began to thing about this strange, complex connection, perhaps more implicit than explicit in the book itself. Of course, I see art as fusion of these two, but I have not regarded them as directly connected in any essential way. It would seem that might be a too hasty conclusion. There is a certain proportion to our mostly tragic, brief and ephemeral fates and actions here, to our wild, unsafe experience, so quickly forgotten. A sense that too fortright ethical conclusions are lacking depth and understanding. In that way it could be said that esthetics have a deep ethical dimension - and vice versa. There are appropriate endings and valuations in the particular contexts and shapes of our passionate lifes that escape any simple ethical conclusions. This to me is not devaluing ethics but the opposite: giving a deeper, more universal moral significance to our scattered, inpermanent persons and actions.