The lure of looking back

Autobiographic writing is lying he truth

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A few weeks from now I will turn 77. Which is a holy number but a dubious age. No doubt any more that my future is in the past. Looking ahead my common sense dictates to dispose of most of the contents of my bucket list.

So I won’t move to Scandinavia, will not resume piano lessons, forget about a degree in Portuguese and will not travel extensively in Patagonia.

Looking over my shoulder I see the long road I have travelled my previous 77 years – at the same time there is my mental cemetery. It’s huge and overloaded by my buried history.  And I suddenly feel a  urge to revisit former paradises that aren’t there anymore.  A desire to return to places where my life peaked. Exhibitions, concerts, even some inspiring lectures I attended to. Wanting to know about the girls I knew. The exes and almost exes. About the old former friends. About colleagues who faded in the mist of time. And foes or rather some of my dearest opponents.

But I won’t even try.

Because I know it doesn’t work. The one thing it will bring is disappointment. Things changed, places changed, we’ve changed, the magic has gone. Forever. They were once in a life time experiences. I know because I did put it to the test.

That happened for instance when we wanted to re-enact one of our life defining moments.

In June ’60 my fiancée and I stayed a night at the small, solitary hotel at the top of the Ballon d’Alsace, France, where we officially shared a hotel room for the very first time during our very first holidays together. There and then we exchanged engagement rings after a year of being in love.

It was special also because of other reasons.

Firstly Hotel Staufer was extremely romantic in many ways. It was located on the bare, windy top of the highest peak in Les Vosges – a “moyenne montagne”, a mountainous area with altitudes ranging from 500m to 1500m.  Moreover the atmosphere reminded of Wuthering Heights: “I’m so cold, let me in your window…It gets dark, it gets lonely, on the other side from you…. O, let me have it, let me grab your soul away” (the Kate Bush version of Emily Brontë).

Secondly, perhaps even mainly, because of the old lady who was the receptionist in the hotel.

In those years unmarried couples legally weren’t allowed to share one hotel room.  But even though it turned out we were the only guests that night, this angel showed obvious disbelief when we asked for two rooms. With a wink she answered we could get what we asked for, but that she thought young people like us in all likelihood preferred one room.

Of course she didn’t need to be  clairvoyant for that observation. But her liberal French attitude – so different from the then current Dutch Calvinism- was surprising to us all the same. Slightly embarrassed, but grateful, we accepted this lifeline bridging our tight budget, our wish for relative comfort and our huge lust.

Years later, in the seventies, my wife and I decided to revisit paradise.

That we shouldn’t have done. It was a huge disappointment.
The place had become a tourist destination. The hotel had changed in an unrecognisable way. The old lady had gone and slick management had taken over.

We stayed over the night only to discover the building’s ultimate make over was still or again in full swing. The provisional wall separating our room from the adjacent one, was that thin that we could clearly overhear that couple’s amorous exercises: “Ma chérie… Oh, mon petit chou, mon chou… Je t’aime, mon cœur… Moi aussi..”. Interesting, but no.

The urge to revisit personal highlights is nothing but a desire for sentimental journeys and nostalgia. Two misleading emotions actually. Hence my habit of burying memories, to leave them behind. Fight sentimentality, cut ties and trust on new ones. What was, will never be the same.

So forget about it. No pangs of nostalgia. No experiences of wistful and melancholic emotions.  It made me thrive..

So I will suppress this urge to organize reunions and visit places where my footsteps are already. I will stick to my habit till the end.

Apologetic?

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The home-grown terrorists’ attempts on CharlieHebdo ignited a growing number of seemingly apologetic comments and publications I read last few days. Which perhaps is not intentional. Many of them just aim to put the crime in perspective. To put the role of religion in perspective. To put the scale of the crime in perspective. And to put the public indignation in France and neighbouring countries in perspective.

Yet I tend to question them.

(1) The victims by their extremely provocative cartoons, by not taking care of the limits of their civil liberties, knowingly defied true believers and caused them to take resort to this abominable act of crime.

In the face of ten dead editors and cartoonists, can ridiculing religion ever be relevant enough motive to kill?

(2) Terrorists claiming to act on behalf of the same monotheistic religion commit much more serious mass murders in countries like Nigeria, Somalia, Philippines and many others. Paris media coverage is disproportionate.

Is that relevant in relation to West European reaction to CharlieHebdo? Should the measure of these atrocities in other parts of the world, mitigate the indignation, anger and fear in West European public domain?

(3) Western non-Muslim terrorists, say KKK and Breivik, claiming to act on behalf of another monotheistic religion, committed mass murders too. They didn’t spark outrage of comparable dimensions. And even though one (well, I) may doubt the assumption that these criminals were acting in the name of a religion, it definitely is true that in history Christian Crusaders, Roman Catholic Inquisition and the SJ, Evangelical Anti-abortionists or Protestant and Catholic terrorists during the Ulster ‘troubles’, were killing in the name of their religion.

Is that relevant in relation to CharlieHebdo? Does the fact that people of a Christian denomination were in the habit of terrorism in some way, to some extent, also, neutralize the fact that the killers of Charb and his colleagues were Muslims?

(4) Terrorists claiming to act on behalf of their monotheistic religion killed more people in New York, Bali, in Madrid and in London in recent years than they did in Paris.

Is that relevant in relation to CharlieHebdo? Does that add information in order to see the assassination in a clearer and softer light?

I wonder, are these willingly or accidentally apologetic arguments relevant here and now?

As for me I think I understand the urge of some, or many, to fit “CharlieHebdo” in their mental frame. To criticize selective indignation. To safeguard 1.5 billion people from the world’s condemnation because of a bunch of guys and dolls gone berserk – be it that the bunch is pretty widespread and not small.

I understand, if only because that’s an urge I experience myself. And I understand that perspectives may differ in relation to where you are, what you are and who you are – literary and metaphorically. What is huge at a distance of a few hours in a train may appear to be pretty small from ten thousand miles away.

But apart from all that, do these apologetic remarks really cut any wood?

I don’t think so. The bottom line in a secular state of law is that you’re safe expressing your opinion , whatever it is, in whatever peaceful way, be it subtle or blunt, without running any physical risk. You may only be held responsible by secular law. Frontier justice is off limits. Whether or not you think a Holy book, a prophet or God herself has been insulted. Period.

Who cares for the “99%”?

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I consider myself to be a social-democrat.

Social-democracy is the political branch of which Karl Marx is the progenitor and John Locke it’s godfather. I think that’s a happy and worthwhile mix. In the past, the present and for the future.

Alas, my political philosophy is moribund.

The British Labour Party, the German Sozialdemokratische Partei Deutschlands ( SPD) and my own country’s Partij van de Arbeid ( PvdA), lost their ideals, lost their course, lost their appeal, lost their voters and will be extinct soon. Partly because their leadership jumped on the bandwagon of neo-liberal triumphalism after the competing Soviet Union collapsed in ‘89/’90. Tony Blair, Gerhard Schröder and Wim Kok respectively misled and betrayed their party, their voters, their philosophy. Their potential voters, mainly lower class and middle class people are left in the cold.

It’s even worse. There’s a blizzard raging, bringing globalization and inequality, which in their stride destroy socio-cultural habitats as well as social economical firm ground. It creates huge distrust in national and international institutions. What’s called “reform” in reality is redistribution of wealth from the poor to the rich.

Outrageously unfair. Vide Piketty.

At the same time the bureaucrats and representatives in charge are rather obscure greedy villains, rather than fighters for their noble cause. Well, at least that’s the perception of the rank and file. And those involved  don’t seem to care  too much about the motions of disapproval at the ballot boxes.

There also is a lot of anger at the cultural elites who hand over tokens of their local and national identity to supra national institutions or any other pressure group that is to be appeased. It’s being done casually and without much ado.

Social Democratic administrators, politicians, bureaucrats and progressive intellectuals have failed and still fail their grass roots. The men and women in power should take the “99%”serious at long last. Because now for them there’s only the choice of apathy, alienation, taking refuge on the extreme right (hoping for protection of what they perceive as  national identity) or the extreme left ( hoping for protection against neo-liberalism).

But left wing extremism can cause a growing number of industrial conflicts and strikes, right wing extremism is breeding ground for xenophobia and scapegoating.

A new strong movement is necessary. One that offers a perspective of safety. One that acknowledges we need a cultural elite which is at least as cocky as the French one, when it comes to defending national traditions. And fulfils the wish for a thorough narrative that presents a convincing, reassuring and aggressive answer to the challenges neo-liberalism puts to the welfare of the 99% ( which perhaps is 80, 82, or 75%).

I’m afraid I will not live to see the changes I hope for. Which of course is inconsequential. My life, that is what remains of my life, is good enough as it is. But a cohesive society demands other solutions than the present situation of ongoing austerity measures and transfer of sovereignty. The working class is competing with cheap exploited labourers from low-income countries, the declining middle class is fighting a losing battle against the privileges of big business and big banks.

In the not so long long run that’s the recipe for economic misery for most people and social disintegration of national society at large.

I’m not opposed to the EU. I’m opposed to the Lisbon treaty. I’m not opposed to globalization. I’m opposed to Big Business taking advantage of the process by restoring 19th century relations between capital and labour.

It’s about time responsible progressive leaders start making a difference for the better.

Milestone

See you later Fox and HareDevica aan de top 09.11.2014

It’s not cool to be a nerd. The be a bookworm. You don’t want to be. You don’t want your child to be, do you?

For me it’s different.

Actually I once wanted to be one myself. But in spite of the approximately 5000 books I own, I failed. I always stayed a superficial loud mouth. And now I do what lousy grandparents tend to do; I try to transfer my own frustrated ambitions to my offspring :-P.

Therefore over the last few years I’ve provided my granddaughter with numerous children’s books. Partly to anticipate her intellectual awakening. Yeah, I did and do bet on my granddaughter to become the full professional family nerd.

After many years of having been reading stories for Devica Esha a few weeks ago my six years old granddaughter has read two and a half pages of the thrilling story of “Tot kijk, Vos en Haas”( Goodbye, Fox and Hare ) to me.  TO ME. Milestone! Yes! Hesitatingly sometimes, but pretty much flawlessly :).

And, well, apparently she suddenly actually crossed the border. She independently explores literary territory ;-).

And it didn’t stop there :). Look at the picture!

Like any real dedicated reader she found herself a special place where she can read undisturbed. On top of the wardrobe in her bedroom. With her back against the books of giants the like of Astrid Lindgren,  Roald Dahl, Hans Christian Andersen and Annie M.G. Schmidt. Not bad, these great authors’ book covers offering physical comfort during the very first stage of her voyage of discovery :).

She is making a head-start by choosing such a nice secluded place to read. Out of reach from curious parents and other potential intruders intending to annoyingly checking content over her shoulders and offering unwanted comments.

Yes, hurray, she shows the right attitude. I’ve high hopes she will be our first family nerd indeed :).

Tropical naturalism; two novels by Okky Madasari

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Maryam (2012) which revolves around people who are displaced due to their beliefs and then banned into exile. Maryam has been translated into English under the title The Outcast (2014). Her first novel, Entrok (2010) which tells a story about military dominance during Indonesia’s New Order Era, has been translated also into English language with the title The Years of The Voiceless (2013).

 

One of the most wonderful ladies in Jakarta  sent this parcel a couple of months ago. Anonymously ! But I know who she is :).

It’s content? Two items, two examples of today’s Indonesian literature. By Okky Puspa Madasary, who is a very prolific and successful Indonesian author and literary prize winner. She published four novels within the timespan of only four years. That’s really extraordinary.

Perhaps she would be shocked if her novels would be compared to those of Emile Zola. After all she herself considers modern classic celebrities Antonio Gramsci, Michel Foucault and Edward Said to be her intellectual roots. Which in the case of Gramsci is a brave admission -at least when you are a citizen in Indonesia’s anti-socialist environment.

Yet judging by the contents of the novels I recently read, she also is a literary great-great granddaughter of the great French naturalistic author. While on the surface the focus of the two stories seems to be on the relation between daughter and mother, de facto the absence of rule of law which turns a religious minority in prosecuted victims and the exploitation and abuse of common people in the New Order military system, is what these books really are about. “The outcast” (Maryam  = name of the main character) and “The years of the Voiceless” (Entrok – = bra) expose the dark harshness of a life of  vice and misery, of discrimination and exploitation, of oppression and violence, of corruption and arbitrariness, of poverty and racism in Indonesia’s recent history. That, in my opinion, very much resembles hardcore tropical naturalism. And, by the way it fits one of my four preferred themes: vulnerable people and their human condition.

I like the novels :). With all my heart.

And what about the brain? Because the question whether these novels are good or even excellent books, has yet to be answered.

The answer will be given by history and the forum of literary pundits of which I’m definitely not a member. Apsanti Djokosujatno however is. He wrote she is in the league of, Pramoedya Ananta Toer.

Pedantic as it may be, I think that’s an exaggeration. Though my appraisal may have been influenced by the translation. I guess an able editor could have worked wonders – at least for “The Outcast”.

Now of course her books no doubt are a good, entertaining read, because  Okky Madasari is an excellent storyteller. They are relevant, because they deal with real problems the people of Indonesia had and have to cope with. They carry the reader easily away, because the main characters resemble people you can’t but sympathize with.

But “The Outcast” as well as “The Years of the Voiceless” suffer from overload. Too much. Slightly too much urgency. Perhaps even slightly too much of an activist lampoon.

Maybe the ambitions caused overreach also. While dealing with the development of the relation between daughter and mother, the books also address the struggle of modern women with tradition. On top of that the whole range of social, economic, religious and political tensions of the New Order comes along in a critical sense.

Real hors concours novels have to be timeless. Now Okky Madasari deliberately choose to write for here and now. That’s a very respectable choice but creates the danger of setting the sights too high at this stage of her career.

One more detail. I’m not excited about the author’s choice of perspective – the third person narrative. It’s common and fits late nineteenth century naturalism. But I’m afraid that’s more or less outdated. It produces a lot of description and relatively few dialogue. Which doesn’t help the reader to use his/her imagination. It’s a pitfall the author couldn’t always avoid.

So, a new, female, Pramoedya? No, not yet.

************************************************************************

Yet.

All in all, in spite of some flaws, I really enjoyed the novels. The author is ok, she is young, she is an interesting representative of a new generation of Indonesian authors. So I hope to lay hands on her other books – one dealing with corruption, one with individual freedom.

 

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