As a matter of taste, it is never an interesting exercise to point out the deficiencies of someone's article. But the author of this article ought to look around once in a while on the internet. There's plenty of good poetry, especially in local languages. And whatever does he mean by this, by the way:
"Partly owing to the advent of technology that provides mass entertainment like television and partly because poets have developed a propensity to self-destruct."
Often I read this essay in order to remind myself that the weariness and the contempt that inevitably surfaces when I attempt to write my thoughts is not just a matter of mood, nor it is of a particular sentiment or the medium. It is all of that, but essentially it is a matter of character. Of the reader and of the writer.
"…And before I had time to look round I had adopted the views on life of the set of authors I had come among, and these views completely obliterated all my former strivings to improve. Those views furnished a theory which justified the dissoluteness of my life.
The view of life of these people, my comrades in authorship, consisted in this: that life in general goes on developing, and in this development we -- men of thought -- have the chief part; and among men of thought it is we -- artists and poets -- who have the greatest influence. Our vocation is to teach mankind. And lest the simple question should suggest itself: What do I know, and what can I teach? it was explained in this theory that this need not be known, and that the artist and poet teach unconsciously. I was considered an admirable artist and poet, and therefore it was very natural for me to adopt this theory. I, artist and poet, wrote and taught without myself knowing what. For this I was paid money; I had excellent food, lodging, women, and society; and I had fame, which showed that what I taught was very good.
This faith in the meaning of poetry and in the development of life was a religion, and I was one of its priests. To be its priest was very pleasant and profitable. And I lived a considerable time in this faith without doubting its validity. But in the second, and especially in the third year of this life, I began to doubt the infallibility of this religion and to examine it. My first cause of doubt was that I began to notice that the priests of this religion were not all in accord among themselves. Some said: We are the best and most useful teachers; we teach what is needed, but the others teach wrongly. Others said: No! we are the real teachers, and you teach wrongly. And they disputed, quarreled, abused, cheated, and tricked one another. There were also many among us who did not care who was right and who was wrong, but were simply bent on attaining their covetous aims by means of this activity of ours. All this obliged me to doubt the validity of our creed.
Moreover, having begun to doubt the truth of the authors' creed itself, I also began to observe its priests more attentively, and I became convinced that almost all the priests of that religion, the writers, were immoral, and for the most part men of bad, worthless character, much inferior to those whom I had met in my former dissipated and military life; but they were self-confident and self-satisfied as only those can be who are quite holy or who do not know what holiness is. These people revolted me, I became revolting to myself, and I realized that that faith was a fraud.
But strange to say, though I understood this fraud and renounced it, yet I did not renounce the rank these people gave me: the rank of artist, poet, and teacher. I naively imagined that I was a poet and artist and could teach everybody without myself knowing what I was teaching, and I acted accordingly.
From my intimacy with these men I acquired a new vice: abnormally developed pride and an insane assurance that it was my vocation to teach men, without knowing what.
To remember that time, and my own state of mind and that of those men (though there are thousands like them today), is sad and terrible and ludicrous, and arouses exactly the feeling one experiences in a lunatic asylum.
We were all then convinced that it was necessary for us to speak, write, and print as quickly as possible and as much as possible, and that it was all wanted for the good of humanity. And thousands of us, contradicting and abusing one another, all printed and wrote -- teaching others. And without noticing that we knew nothing, and that to the simplest of life's questions: What is good and what is evil? we did not know how to reply, we all talked at the same time, not listening to one another, sometimes seconding and praising one another in order to be seconded and praised in turn, sometimes getting angry with one another -- just as in a lunatic asylum.
Thousands of workmen laboured to the extreme limit of their strength day and night, setting the type and printing millions of words which the post carried all over...[...], and we still went on teaching and could in no way find time to teach enough, and were always angry that sufficient attention was not paid us.
It was terribly strange, but is now quite comprehensible. Our real innermost concern was to get as much money and praise as possible. To gain that end we could do nothing except write books and papers. So we did that. But in order to do such useless work and to feel assured that we were very important people we required a theory justifying our activity. And so among us this theory was devised: "All that exists is reasonable. All that exists develops. And it all develops by means of Culture. And Culture is measured by the circulation of books and newspapers. And we are paid money and are respected because we write books and newspapers, and therefore we are the most useful and the best of men." This theory would have been all very well if we had been unanimous, but as every thought expressed by one of us was always met by a diametrically opposite thought expressed by another, we ought to have been driven to reflection. But we ignored this; people paid us money and those on our side praised us, so each of us considered himself justified.
It is now clear to me that this was just as in a lunatic asylum; but then I only dimly suspected this, and like all lunatics, simply called all men lunatics except myself."
A Confession - by Leo Tolstoy (1872 or 1882) (Trans: Aylmer Maude)
Back in the day it was:
"That's really why he got upset that day when he couldn't get his engine started. It was an intrusion on his reality. It just blew a hole right through his whole groovy way of looking at things and he would not face up to it because it seemed to threaten his whole life style. In a way he was experiencing the same sort of anger scientific people have sometimes about abstract art, or at least used to have. That didn't fit their life style either." ("Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance," Robert M. Pirsig)
Feels to me it is the technology that has undergone a transformation in its gender. Back in the day it was "manly" and now it is "sexy."
With a population of just under two million people, Yiwu's business revolves around a huge building of 62,000 stalls containing umbrellas, socks, toys, electronics, zips and other goods -- all spread out over four million square metres (43 million square feet).
`"If you allocated three minutes per supplier during eight hours of daily business, you would need over a year to make your way round it (the market)," said Li Xuhang, vice mayor of Yiwu city, at the heart of Zhejiang province.'
"Entrepreneurial activity hasn't ground to a halt. In Guangdong province, a manufacturing and trade hub, 62,400 companies shut down in 2008, according to government records. But 100,600 companies were started, resulting in a net increase of 38,200 companies."
This graph from the article shows a remarkable transition into private-owned enterprises.
Note: I had originally written a variation of this essay as a blogpost for a now-defunct blog of mine. Major Tammy Duckworth's story never loses its shine for me. Re-reading it, re-posting it under a different title each time...is how I stay connected. Major Tammy's photo courtesy Wikimedia Commons License.
How does a person develop dogmatic beliefs? I have a notion.
Most of us, when overcome by feelings of disconnectedness from our surroundings, experience a sense of inner agitation. When human affairs are pressed beyond the ordinary, such as when at war, these moments of disconnectedness steer us to identify things that are “right” or “wrong.” Soon these moments turn into beliefs. Then we become emphatic about these beliefs. Then we suddenly find it easy to relate our normal day-to-day occurrences to these beliefs.
But this disconnect, the inner agitation, doesn't go away. It seems to persist despite our emphatic beliefs of right and wrong. This feeling, instead of getting resolved, dissolved, disappear and reassure us in the staunch positions we take on the issues of political importance, seems to go right past our ordinary day-to-day beliefs and is still left dangling, in search of home.
Where is the home for this feeling, for this disconnect?
Those who saw “Conversations with Soldiers Wounded in Iraq” on C-SPAN (originally aired March 10, 2005, with subsequent repeat broadcasts) would likely have experienced a glimpse of the very such home. When this happens, when that metaphysical home is found for this disconnected feeling, one can't help but feel how pallid the exhortations of globalization, and of the "world citizen" are, compared to the experience of this home.
You don't have to see that C-SPAN show to relate to what I write here. I am writing here of what I saw: a celebration of life at its most intense and its most fullest reach. There you watch how the soldiers have very nearly died in the mess and blood of war, but who brought a renewal of life into our experience without the ugly melodrama and narcissism that a more self-conscious narrator of the drama, for example a modern day blogger, would bring.
To see what I mean, let's start with a simple question: “Where were we on Nov 12, 2004?”
Because on that day Major Tammy Duckworth, of Illinois Army National Guard, was on a free fall, her Blackhawk helicopter shot over the skies of Iraq. From her own narrative of the events of that day, “It was actually end of the day, we've been flying missions across Baghdad, mostly transportation of equipment. Had a great lunch, bought some christmas ornaments from the post exchange (it was middle of November). We were ten minutes from getting back to the base when an RPG shot by the insurgents hit the chin bubble (a Plexiglas window under the pilot seat of the Blackhawk.)”
She sat next to her husband with the C-SPAN interviewer. Her infectious smile, dark beautiful eyes and a gentle face would have you believe she may have just escaped with minor bruises, what's the big deal and wouldn’t "those army folks" be prepared for these sorts of things anyway?
Initial charge exploded between her knees and nicked one of the Blackhawk's blades. Instantly they lost the electronics, and the Blackhawk started to descent. Tammy immediately attempted to land the aircraft, little realizing that she lost the foot pedals and her legs. The control panels were gone. When she woke up in the emergency room the right hand was broken. The last thing she remembered was that she saw that the grass on the fields, coming through the chin bubble as they landed, was about 6 ft tall and she remembered thinking, "Wow, that's really beautiful green grass" before she passed out. Tammy lost her right leg. Lost her left leg below the knee to amputation. Her right arm bones were crushed and broken the moment the Blackhawk hit the ground. Doctors at the Walter Reed Army Medical Center, where this C-SPAN interview was taped, rebuilt the arm using metal pins and screws and grafted the tissue taken from her stomach.
And then there is Cpl. Michael Oreskovic - US Army, 23 years’ of age at the time of this interview. Lost his left arm from shoulder on: "Flopping around somewhere like a chewed up hamburger." He went through eleven surgeries and now uses a bio-electric arm.
This is a group of people who describe things that happen to them such as ripped arms, detonations in front of their faces, warm blood pouring down their faces, soaking their clothes, with a gentle smile on their faces. Not a hint of self-pity, not a hint of a loss, just a strange serenity in their faces, a jaded tiredness but a permanent light in their eyes: "Tough situations brings you closer.” He waits until the question is asked: "Was anybody else injured at all?" "Yeah, my squad leader died instantly"
The casual approach, the self-effacing manner in which these soldiers speak is maddening: "Tying the shoes and pulling the zipper are the hardest things to do."
Q: "What do you do when you get frustrated?"
A: "Go work out"
"I wanted to go back to my unit, but everyone says no." He describes the possibility of not being in the army in the words of, "They probably won't toss you out the window if you are a special force."
This phrase, "toss you out the window," speaks volumes of the loyalty they feel towards their unit. I cannot help but feel that this phrase is exactly that longing to find a home for that disconnected feeling, to find a home where a human being involuntarily experiences a whole body of emotions such as love, sacrifice and looking out for each other. It appears to me that this is what prompts a soldier to go back to serve.
There is not a hint of wasted thought, wasted emotion, in these soldiers' thinking. Perhaps it comes from being so close to life and death. Here there is no room for thoughts that scrape the bottom of the "about-ness," no room for the worlds of you and I where we build protective edifices of opinions and ideas of what is right and what is wrong, protecting from the action-at-a-distance.
After all, isn’t this distance, this disconnect, this tragedy-less tin-box of clutter in our minds, is what we are all searching to find a home for?
I am not a big fan of reading blogs via feed readers. This may be why the number of blogs I read have come down steadily. Sandbox is one of the very few feeds I have in my Netvibes reader, and I love reading every post.
This one, DEEP THOUGHTS WITH BIGGIE SMALLS, is a blast. I especially liked the punch line.