On a Wonderful, Beautiful, Almost Failed Sentence By Virginia Woolf | Literary Hub

“Considering how common illness is, how tremendous the spiritual change that it brings, how astonishing, when the lights of health go down, the undiscovered countries that are then disclosed, what wastes and deserts of the soul a slight attack of influenza brings to light, what precipices and lawns sprinkled with bright flowers a little rise of temperature reveals, what ancient and obdurate oaks are uprooted in us in the act of sickness, how we go down into the pit of death and feel the waters of annihilation close above our heads and wake thinking to find ourselves in the presence of the angels and the harpers when we have a tooth out and come to the surface in the dentist’s arm chair and confuse his ‘Rinse the mouth—rinse the mouth’ with the greeting of the Deity stooping from the floor of Heaven to welcome us—when we think of this and infinitely more, as we are so frequently forced to think of it, it becomes strange indeed that illness has not taken its place with love, battle, and jealousy among the prime themes of literature.”

–Virginia Woolf

It may well be the sentence that for diverse reasons—because thinking about Woolf, or sickness, or essays, because trying to emulate a certain rhythm in my own writing—I’ve copied out by hand more than any other.

Each time, I’ve marveled at the logic and ease and length (181 words) of the sentence, the hard clausal steps that slowly mount (or is it descend?) to a grammatically wrong-footing conclusion—the dash’s flat fall where we might have expected a “then…” or “so…” I have wondered about the oddity of Woolf’s metaphors—the sentence is mostly made of metaphors—and their unabashed mixture: the lights go up, the lights go down, the patient rises and falls as though in a rickety old elevator, till at last the cage clatters open, slightly missing the floor one wanted. This is the first sentence of Woolf’s 1926 essay “On Being Ill,” and it’s hard to think of a verbal array whose structure better mimics both its subject and the larger text of which it’s part: precisely because, despite its exquisitely shaped adventure, the sentence finally fails to hold itself together.

Everything that rises must converge, or not. Seven times—four hows and three whats—the sentence invites us to anticipate a logically and artistically satisfying terminus. With the final how we may reasonably expect that the grammatical, argumentative, and symbolic denouement is just around the comma-swiveling corner. Instead, we embark on a mysterious paratactic excursion, with no punctuation and no hint, for what seems an age, that our destination is the dentist’s chair: “we go down… and feel … and wake … and come to the surface … and confuse…” Everything tends toward the sentence’s second and final dash—the first dash, the dentist’s, may as well be any instrument at all—and an abrupt meta-swerve: “—when we think of this…” Do we, does even Woolf, really think of this? The sentence has allured us a long way, but I’m not certain I follow, not even sure what “this” consists of, never mind the “infinitely more.”

Woolf was complexly unwell in the autumn of 1925, when T.S. Eliot asked if he might publish a piece of hers in the literary magazine The Criterion, which he had founded in 1922. (By the time Woolf’s essay appeared, the journal had relaunched as The New Criterion.) The novelist was trying to start work on To the Lighthouse, but had been laid low by flu, headaches, and a vulturous pecking at the spine: this last, in a letter to her friend and lover Vita Sackville-West, is Woolf’s way of describing her most recent mental and emotional breakdown. When she speaks in “On Being Ill” about “the act of illness” (how odd, to think of it as an act) and “the great experience,” when she imagines the moment when “we cease to be soldiers in the army of the upright,” one may assume she has more vicious symptoms in mind than feebling coughs and sniffles. The essay is a lurid reflection on the uses of melancholy, the limits of sympathy, and the triumph of death.

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Source: On a Wonderful, Beautiful, Almost Failed Sentence By Virginia Woolf | Literary Hub

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A Sparrow Alighted Upon Our Shoulder

Live & Learn

Jóhann Jóhannsson, 47, was born in Reykjavík, Iceland. He has been composing music for a wide array of media including theatre, dance, TV and films. His stately, slow-building and hauntingly melodic music, frequently combines electronics with classical orchestrations, has been quietly bewitching listeners since he released his first genre defining solo record Englabörn in 2002. (Find him on Facebook and iTunes)

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Reflections on Our Pilgrimage Into Society | By Gabriele Castagnoli, Sesto Castagnoli in Kosmos Journal

In February 2016, we started out on a pilgrimage—one with no time limit. Beforehand, we had given away all our possessions except the contents of our two rucksacks. The wish to do so came up when we were planning our first pilgrimage from October to December 2015 from our home in Switzerland to the World Climate Conference in Paris.

There’s no single motivation for what we’re doing. Each of us has his or her own motives, aspirations, and vision. What binds us, however, is our belief in the common sense of this new stage in our joint life journey. The name we have chosen for our website, the green pilgrims, fits the manifold topics we stand for and want to move.

On this pilgrimage into society, walking no longer has priority. We want to meet people to swap ideas and inspire each other. In the simplest form, we do this under the title ‘green thoughts’—an exchange of one to two hours with a few or many interested people. We ask strangers in the street, in a café, or in front of their homes if we can stay with them. Some people ask their friends and network if somebody wants to host us for a while. People we hardly know will ask us if we want to live in their house for a few weeks while they are away.

Our only possessions are the contents of two rucksacks.

It happens in an instant. We trust; the people trust. We are all courageous in this together. Asking, offering, giving, sharing, taking, and thanking. Talking at a conference or in front of some students, collaborating, soul-storming and mind-mapping a project with somebody, or doing a vision workshop for a working team.

Life still has its own very special ideas. In December 2016, Sesto was told that both hips needed to be replaced. Not thinking twice, Sesto intensified his self-healing work. It seems that’s when our pilgrimage began in earnest.

For Kosmos Journal, we have asked each other some questions to reflect on our pilgrimage into society so far.

Gabriele asks Sesto…
Dear (life) companion, did you gain any new insight on our common pilgrimage?

Yes! I felt deeply the loneliness and the feeling of being socially weak that people living on the street must have. I always had compassion when seeing people lying on the street, when I walked home in a cold night in Switzerland, but I had a warm place to go inside. One day in Germany, this feeling overcame me. I am still very grateful to this day, even thinking about it. It was just one moment for me, but others have this feeling daily. On a rainy day, I could feel what it does to me being in a cultural centre with a library. I sometimes would see our friends from the street seeking warmth, but they had to go out again into the rain and bad weather because they were not accepted. We have been luckier with our nice clothes and rucksacks. One day we tried to eat from our rucksack and someone came and said: “You are not allowed to do this here!” So, where to go… Suddenly, I had the feeling of being part of the aliens from the street. No more a sophisticated ‘green pilgrim.’ Fear, disbelief, strange feelings about our society all rushed into my body and mind in a second.

We called ourselves the green pilgrims. This provokes different images in the perception of people. Today, how would you like to come across?

I would like to come across like I am myself in the deepest way possible. It is so wonderful to be recognized as the one who you truly are. I love the name we have, the green pilgrims, but it does not really matter. At the same time, I like that it provokes different images with different people. The name is ambiguous. For me, ‘green’ stands for nature and ‘the pilgrims’ for the inner path. This is what characterizes me: I treasure nature as a gift from God and I follow my inner wisdom. When people ask about ‘the green pilgrims,’ I describe my thoughts about the name and listen to what they think about it. Dialogues start naturally and have led to wonderful conversations with people from all walks of life.

Quite a few of the people that we met are everyday heroes. Who in particular touched your heart and why?

Indeed! I would not like to take one everyday hero out of all the wonderful and unique human beings we have seen on our way. They all touched my heart in a very particular way. They opened their homes to us. They shared their food with us. They looked after us like family members. Writing this, I now feel tears coming into my eyes, thinking about the many wonderful souls who hosted us and joined us in our ‘green thoughts.’ I am overwhelmed by the generosity and love of the people we met, the understanding, the help, and the deep conversations. It gives me so much hope for our world and for Mother Earth in particular.

When you think of your time as a well-off businessman, a family man, someone who initiated the World Spirit Forum to bring spiritual networks together, and now living as a ‘have-not’ pilgrimaging through society, what have been your greatest challenges?

As I look at different stages of life, each one seems to have had its own great challenge. In business, I could have done many things differently. As a father and family man, I definitely made many mistakes. The World Spirit Forum opened my eyes wide and now the pilgrimage is evolving me every day, thanks to my fellow brothers and sisters. As one evolves, I think the challenges become less weighty. Maybe a great challenge 30 years ago would be a small challenge today.

But going deeply into your question about the greatest challenges, I may say that it was my time in West Africa. The time was so special, the continent, the culture, Mother Africa, the experiences, the suffering, the poverty, and the hunger. I was in another world and another culture, still living like a European, not like an African. I loved the people, felt at home, and wanted to stay there. I felt the difference from Europe. Back in Switzerland, I used to say to my friends: “In Africa, they have nothing and are always smiling—sharing with you what they have. Here most people have everything, yet so many have unhappy faces. Our richness is the money; their richness is the soul.” Africa was my spiritual awakening.

Do you think our way of living has an effect on our world and the people we meet?

When I listened to the people we met on our pilgrimage so far, it seems to me that, yes, we have affected some. They are astonished and ask, “Is it possible to live like this?” It may affect them more as they start to think more about it. They may lose fear and gain faith. Definitely, I think the exchanges with the people we met and still meet are very deep and touch their souls.

Sesto asks Gabriele…

Dear soulmate and partner in life, looking back upon your life path through different stages in the business world, then co-organizing the World Spirit Forum, living in an apartment in a Franciscan monastery shelter, developing oralab, and now on this pilgrimage, what was your inspiration to choose this way?

YES gathering, Germany

100th picnic

Visions Workshop

It was about being human or, better to say, becoming human. The world of advertising and marketing was very superficial and I was missing authentic interchange between myself and others. I was surely lacking in my connections at that time, too. Working with you and other like-minded people on the World Spirit Forum was a great opportunity to combine my business skills with all the issues that my mind and soul were longing for. Our time at the monastery shelter in Baldegg near Lucerne felt somehow like coming home. I once said that the place had found us. Surely there was some re-member-ing from another lifetime—like with you. When we met, there was a knowing of each other. It was clear from the beginning that there was a common mission for us together. It was like someone was telling us: “Go for it.”

When I originated ‘oralab—develop mutually,’ I finally turned from business skills to my gifts—from profession to calling. And the pilgrimage? It was already there, even when we didn’t know anything about our shared future. Looking back on my life, there were a lot of signs that pointed in this direction. From the beginning and more and more today, my way of living was what the media calls a sufficient lifestyle, a lifestyle that has been described by Duane Elgin and others as ‘voluntary simplicity.’ And still it can be improved. “Less is more” is beautiful!

How does it feel to have just one rucksack and a few items inside as possessions?

In one word, natural. I remember earlier times when I just put my toothbrush and pants into my handbag and went on a long weekend. Planning a journey and packing a big suitcase—that’s not for me. And the possessions? Well, I find my 33-litre rucksack holds a lot of things, especially the small side pockets. It’s like any drawer in a house. Occasionally, you take a look inside and you think: “Gosh, where did all those things come from?!” What you own is always enough and mostly too much. I call it peeling the onion—one layer follows the next. You can give away or let go and there is still so much left. If my rucksack would be gone tomorrow, I wouldn’t mind. When I die one day, I hope I will be able to let go of this skin rucksack with all my bones inside just as easily—simply saying, “Thank you for carrying me!”

Did the impressions on this pilgrimage change anything in you?

That’s a tricky question. First, what’s in me? Without naming it, I am sure there is something in me that is all-right and does not need to be changed. Instead, it needs to be fully realized. This may have happened already. A few weeks before we left our home, I had severe pain from a facial neuralgia. I went through this with breathing exercises and meditation only. That was a gift that really changed something for me. I realized that the pain could not change what is in me—or what I am. What both of us experienced later on throughout our path into society surely changed some of my attitudes. I don’t see them as being so much inside me but rather being part of my illusionary personality. There were some challenges and encounters that cracked my chestnut (which is English for Castagnoli). But “that’s how the light gets in,” like beloved Leonard Cohen sang to us. However, I don’t want to create the impression that this was happening easily. I am still in the stage where dispelling my self-image can hurt.

We shared ‘green thoughts’ with people in different countries. What is your experience from this exchange?

Our good luck charms

Working at the Cultural Centre

Visit to Mondragon Cooperative for the
third YES gathering, Spain

I learned a lot in mutual talks. I started off with some information about our unlimited pilgrimage, your motivation and mine, and some stories from our path. Almost every time, a field of mutual respect and trust unfolded and, in this atmosphere, people opened up and we could hear the most wonderful stories from them, too. Everybody has a story that is worthwhile listening to. People just need the right space and audience. So, our green thoughts are not merely about us and our journey. It is about listening to the people and getting into deep dialogue. That is where the values and topics we stand and walk for are realized, topics like life’s journey; pilgrimage and migration or freedom from fear; courage and social commitment; or cosmos, man and culture. These topics are derived from my work with oralab, or cooperatives, alternative money systems, and my (lack of) possessions.

One lesson I learned was that you can’t argue with fundamentalists—be it about politics, religion, or food—but you can listen and learn how they click, what is driving them (crazy). And if you manage to look at them with an open heart, you can see their wounds and fears, which will resolve your own uneasiness.

In the end, it is not so much about what you are talking about and who says the most reasonable thing. It is how we talk and how deeply we look at each other. Sometimes the latter is more connecting than any words.

After one year of this pilgrimage, what is the essence into society for you?

Throughout the time when we decamped from home until now, our life path has been unfolding. The coincidences, the serendipities, the synchronicities—which are just God’s way to stay incognito—were so continual that my trust in our guidance and the meaning of everything that comes across our path has been growing more and more. The essence? Martin Buber put it so beautifully: all real living is meeting. We are living in troubled but also very interesting times. To make the times better, we have to give ourselves to life.

http://www.evolutant.com, http://www.thegreenpilgrims.ch/english

Gabriele Castagnoli

Gabriele gained a profound experience from graphic design to marketing strategy in advertising agencies and different industries in Germany. Practising Naikan a Japanese introspective method let her join the German Naikan Association (Board Member 2002-2005) and inspired her to bring her life’s journey into accordance with her work, quitting her career in the marketing of […]
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Sesto Castagnoli

Sesto Giovanni Castagnoli, Evolutant, World Citizen Sesto Castagnoli has wide experience as an international entrepreneur, development consultant and spiritual bridge builder. He advises companies and individuals and gives lectures and workshops on issues of Spirituality in Business Life, Natural Economic and Financial Systems, Mutual Understanding of Cultures and Religions, Noosphere and other topics related to […]

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Source: Reflections on Our Pilgrimage Into Society | Kosmos Journal

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Neoliberalism is creating loneliness. That’s what’s wrenching society apart | George Monbiot | Opinion | The Guardian

From the wonderful George Monbiot, originally published in the Guardian Wednesday 12 October 2016 06.30 BST

What greater indictment of a system could there be than an epidemic of mental illness? Yet plagues of anxiety, stress, depression, social phobia, eating disorders, self-harm and loneliness now strike people down all over the world. The latest, catastrophic figures for children’s mental health in England reflect a global crisis.

There are plenty of secondary reasons for this distress, but it seems to me that the underlying cause is everywhere the same: human beings, the ultrasocial mammals, whose brains are wired to respond to other people, are being peeled apart. Economic and technological change play a major role, but so does ideology. Though our wellbeing is inextricably linked to the lives of others, everywhere we are told that we will prosper through competitive self-interest and extreme individualism.

In Britain, men who have spent their entire lives in quadrangles – at school, at college, at the bar, in parliament – instruct us to stand on our own two feet. The education system becomes more brutally competitive by the year. Employment is a fight to the near-death with a multitude of other desperate people chasing ever fewer jobs. The modern overseers of the poor ascribe individual blame to economic circumstance. Endless competitions on television feed impossible aspirations as real opportunities contract.

Consumerism fills the social void. But far from curing the disease of isolation, it intensifies social comparison to the point at which, having consumed all else, we start to prey upon ourselves. Social media brings us together and drives us apart, allowing us precisely to quantify our social standing, and to see that other people have more friends and followers than we do.

As Rhiannon Lucy Cosslett has brilliantly documented, girls and young women routinely alter the photos they post to make themselves look smoother and slimmer. Some phones, using their “beauty” settings, do it for you without asking; now you can become your own thinspiration. Welcome to the post-Hobbesian dystopia: a war of everyone against themselves.Social media brings us together and drives us apart, allowing us precisely to quantify our social standing.

Is it any wonder, in these lonely inner worlds, in which touching has been replaced by retouching, that young women are drowning in mental distress? A recent survey in England suggests that one in four women between 16 and 24 have harmed themselves, and one in eight now suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder. Anxiety, depression, phobias or obsessive compulsive disorder affect 26% of women in this age group. This is what a public health crisis looks like.

If social rupture is not treated as seriously as broken limbs, it is because we cannot see it. But neuroscientists can. A series of fascinating papers suggest that social pain and physical pain are processed by the same neural circuits. This might explain why, in many languages, it is hard to describe the impact of breaking social bonds without the words we use to denote physical pain and injury. In both humans and other social mammals, social contact reduces physical pain. This is why we hug our children when they hurt themselves: affection is a powerful analgesic. Opioids relieve both physical agony and the distress of separation. Perhaps this explains the link between social isolation and drug addiction.

Experiments summarised in the journal Physiology & Behaviour last month suggest that, given a choice of physical pain or isolation, social mammals will choose the former. Capuchin monkeys starved of both food and contact for 22 hours will rejoin their companions before eating. Children who experience emotional neglect, according to some findings, suffer worse mental health consequences than children suffering both emotional neglect and physical abuse: hideous as it is, violence involves attention and contact. Self-harm is often used as an attempt to alleviate distress: another indication that physical pain is not as bad as emotional pain. As the prison system knows only too well, one of the most effective forms of torture is solitary confinement.Self-harm the ‘biggest killer of people in their early 20s’ in the UK.

It is not hard to see what the evolutionary reasons for social pain might be. Survival among social mammals is greatly enhanced when they are strongly bonded with the rest of the pack. It is the isolated and marginalised animals that are most likely to be picked off by predators, or to starve. Just as physical pain protects us from physical injury, emotional pain protects us from social injury. It drives us to reconnect. But many people find this almost impossible.

It’s unsurprising that social isolation is strongly associated with depression, suicide, anxiety, insomnia, fear and the perception of threat. It’s more surprising to discover the range of physical illnesses it causes or exacerbates. Dementia, high blood pressure, heart disease, strokes, lowered resistance to viruses, even accidents are more common among chronically lonely people. Loneliness has a comparable impact on physical health to smoking 15 cigarettes a day: it appears to raise the risk of early death by 26%. This is partly because it enhances production of the stress hormone cortisol, which suppresses the immune system.

Studies in both animals and humans suggest a reason for comfort eating: isolation reduces impulse control, leading to obesity. As those at the bottom of the socioeconomic ladder are the most likely to suffer from loneliness, might this provide one of the explanations for the strong link between low economic status and obesity?

Anyone can see that something far more important than most of the issues we fret about has gone wrong. So why are we engaging in this world-eating, self-consuming frenzy of environmental destruction and social dislocation, if all it produces is unbearable pain? Should this question not burn the lips of everyone in public life?

There are some wonderful charities doing what they can to fight this tide, some of which I am going to be working with as part of my loneliness project. But for every person they reach, several others are swept past.

This does not require a policy response. It requires something much bigger: the reappraisal of an entire worldview. Of all the fantasies human beings entertain, the idea that we can go it alone is the most absurd and perhaps the most dangerous. We stand together or we fall apart.

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Source: Neoliberalism is creating loneliness. That’s what’s wrenching society apart | George Monbiot | Opinion | The Guardian

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Spring came early this year

It was only the last week in March when the first geese flew northwards over the city and even earlier than that when a brown hare crossed my path, its winter coat of white quite gone.

In this last week of March sunshine when temperatures rose to plus 9 and above and the ice melted in great sheets of water that drenched me as cars sped next to me on the bridge over the North Saskatchewan River, bare legs, capris and sandals have appeared on campus – despite the chilly winds.

Canadians, you see, and this is how its done here at latitude 53.

My friend and colleague emailed me last night from Santa Fe. “There’s blossoms and green grass here”, she said. “It’s plus 11 in Edmonton and there are shards of green grass everywhere”, I replied.

Elevator conversation – always about the weather – has been accompanied by smiles and comments of pleasure in these surprisingly warm days. “Spring has come early”, we’ve smiled, while expecting that yes, more snow will come as it always does, even in May, here at Latitude 53.

The unspoken truth that no one wants to hear hangs in the air.

We’ve already passed 2 degrees warming in Alberta. Extreme droughts and floods are at our doorsteps and no one is prepared.

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This Is a Poem That Heals Fish: An Almost Unbearably Wonderful Picture-Book About How Poetry Works Its Magic – Brain Pickings

“A poem … is when you are in love and have the sky in your mouth.”


“Poetry can break open locked chambers of possibility, restore numbed zones to feeling, recharge desire,” Adrienne Rich wrote in contemplating the cultural power of poetry. But what is a poem, really, and what exactly is its use?

Every once in a while, you stumble upon something so lovely, so unpretentiously beautiful and quietly profound, that you feel like the lungs of your soul have been pumped with a mighty gasp of Alpine air.

This Is a Poem That Heals Fish (public library) is one such vitalizing gasp of loveliness — a lyrical picture-book that offers a playful and penetrating answer to the question of what a poem is and what it does. And as it does that, it shines a sidewise gleam on the larger question of what we most hunger for in life and how we give shape to those deepest longings.

Written by the French poet, novelist, and dramatist Jean-Pierre Simeón, translated into English by Enchanted Lion Books founder Claudia Zoe Bedrick (the feat of translation which the Nobel-winning Polish poet Wisława Szymborska had in mind when she spoke of “that rare miracle when a translation stops being a translation and becomes … a second original”), and illustrated by the inimitable Olivier Tallec, this poetic and philosophical tale follows young Arthur as he tries to salve his beloved red fish Leon’s affliction of boredom.

Arthur’s mommy looks at him.
She closes her eyes,
she opens her eyes…

Then she smiles:

— Hurry, give him a poem!

And she leaves for her tuba lesson.

Puzzled and unsure what a poem is, Arthur goes looking in the pantry, only to hear the noodles sigh that there is no poem there. He searches in the closet and under his bed, but the vacuum cleaner and the dust balls have no poem, either.

Determined, Arthur continues his search.
He runs to Lolo’s bicycle shop.
Lolo knows everything, laughs all the time, and is always in love.
He is repairing a tire and singing.


A wonderfully illustrated, almost heart-achingly beautiful work of art. Find it here..

Source: This Is a Poem That Heals Fish: An Almost Unbearably Wonderful Picture-Book About How Poetry Works Its Magic – Brain Pickings

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I Explain Winter to my Future Grandson

A poignant, beautiful requiem for Winter.

Christian Drake is a spoken word poet who has performed extensively across North America and lived in Washington, DC; Oakland, CA; Albuquerque, NM; and too many places in New England to name. Known best for his slam poetry, he also dabbles in page poetry as well. He is thirty-three and currently lives in his home town of Northampton, MA. He loves singing sea chanteys and playing roller derby. He hopes to some day visit Nova Scotia and Ireland.

Sea Chanteys & Mexican Radio

It was a window that kept out mosquitoes.
A season both savage & dull, like a dog
gnawing a bone out of boredom more than hunger.
You were the bone, it the teeth scraping
like the snow shovels that rasped the sidewalks.
When the wind came from the North, it stripped
your warmth like housepaint. Buried you
in its oblique angle of sunlight, a cold fluorescence
like a xenon bulb. The deer starved & wandered
onto the highway to lick salt. There was something
called sleet, which was rain with knives.

But Winter could be merciful. The falling snow
thickened the air like a cathedral, but didn’t always
dissolve on the ground; it could stay. We even
called it a blanket. The world slept, fitfully.
It slept, & we were the dreams. We stayed awake
with the owls & coyotes. We cursed & stomped,
shook ice off, weathered the fugue. We schemed

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The Banality of Evil: Hannah Arendt on the Normalization of Human Wickedness and Our Only Effective Antidote to It – Brain Pickings

“Under conditions of terror most people will comply but some people will not… No more is required, and no more can reasonably be asked, for this planet to remain a place fit for human habitation.”


“Never react to an evil in such a way as to augment it,” the great French philosopher and activist Simone Weil wrote in 1933 as she contemplated how to make use of our suffering amid a world that seemed to be falling apart. But modern life is no fairy tale and one of its most disorienting perplexities is that evil isn’t always as easily recognizable as a Grimm stepmother. Maya Angelou captured this in her 1982 conversation with Bill Moyers about courage and facing evil, in which she observed: “Throughout our nervous history, we have constructed pyramidic towers of evil, ofttimes in the name of good.” Joseph Brodsky echoed the sentiment five years later in his spectacular speech on our greatest antidote to evil: “What we regard as Evil is capable of a fairly ubiquitous presence if only because it tends to appear in the guise of good.”

A core cause of this perplexity lies in the fact that while acts of evil can mushroom into monumental tragedies, the individual human perpetrators of those acts are often marked not with the grandiosity of the demonic but with absolute mundanity.

This was the revolutionary and, like every revolutionary idea, at the time controversial point that Hannah Arendt (October 14, 1906–December 4, 1975) made in 1962, when The New Yorker commissioned her, a Jew of who had narrowly escaped from Nazi Germany herself, to travel to Jerusalem and report on the trial of Adolf Eichmann — one of the chief architects of the Holocaust. In 1963, her writings about the trial were published as Eichmann in Jerusalem: A Report on the Banality of Evil (public library) — a sobering reflection on “the lesson that this long course in human wickedness had taught us — the lesson of the fearsome, word-and-thought-defying banality of evil.

A decade after Arendt established herself as a formidable thinker with her incisive inquiry into how totalitarian tyrants take hold of a people, she writes:

The essence of totalitarian government, and perhaps the nature of every bureaucracy, is to make functionaries and mere cogs in the administrative machinery out of men, and thus to dehumanize them.

It is through this lens of bureaucracy (which she calls “the rule of Nobody”) as a weapon of totalitarianism that Arendt arrives at her notion of “the banality of evil” — a banality reflected in Eichmann himself, who embodied “the dilemma between the unspeakable horror of the deeds and the undeniable ludicrousness of the man who perpetrated them.” In a passage that applies to Donald Trump with astonishing accuracy — except the part about lying, of course; that aspect Arendt addressed with equal prescience elsewhere — she describes Eichmann:

What he said was always the same, expressed in the same words. The longer one listened to him, the more obvious it became that his inability to speak was closely connected with an inability to think, namely, to think from the standpoint of somebody else. No communication was possible with him, not because he lied but because he was surrounded by the most reliable of all safeguards against the words and the presence of others, and hence against reality as such.

The Nazis, Arendt argues, furnished this deliberate disconnect from reality with what she calls “holes of oblivion.” (Today, we call them “alternative facts.”) In a searing testament to the power of speaking up, she considers what the story of the Holocaust — a story irrepressibly told by its survivors — has taught us:

The holes of oblivion do not exist. Nothing human is that perfect, and there are simply too many people in the world to make oblivion possible. One man will always be left alive to tell the story.[…]

The lesson of such stories is simple and within everybody’s grasp. Politically speaking, it is that under conditions of terror most people will comply but some people will not, just as the lesson of the countries to which the Final Solution was proposed is that “it could happen” in most places but it did not happen everywhere. Humanly speaking, no more is required, and no more can reasonably be asked, for this planet to remain a place fit for human habitation.

Arendt took great care to differentiate between the banal and the commonplace, but some reviewers — as those pre-bent on a reflexive rebuttal are always apt to do — accused her of suggesting that the atrocity of the Holocaust had been commonplace, which of course was the very opposite of her point. Among those who misunderstood her notion of the “banality” of evil to mean a trivialization of the outcome of evil rather than an insight into the commonplace motives of its perpetrators was the scholar Gerhard Scholem, with whom Arendt had corresponded warmly for decades. At the end of a six-page letter to Scholem from early December of 1964, she crystallizes her point and dispels all grounds for confusion with the elegant precision of her rhetoric:

You are quite right, I changed my mind and do no longer speak of “radical evil.” … It is indeed my opinion now that evil is never “radical,” that it is only extreme, and that it possesses neither depth nor any demonic dimension. It can overgrow and lay waste the whole world precisely because it spreads like a fungus on the surface. It is “thought-defying,” as I said, because thought tries to reach some depth, to go to the roots, and the moment it concerns itself with evil, it is frustrated because there is nothing. That is its “banality.” Only the good has depth that can be radical.

Eichmann in Jerusalem remains, unfortunately, an increasingly relevant masterwork as we face a world seized by banal tyrants capable of perpetrating enormous evil with their small hands. But perhaps John Steinbeck put it best in his superb letter written months before Arendt arrived in New York as a refugee from Nazi Germany: “All the goodness and the heroisms will rise up again, then be cut down again and rise up. It isn’t that the evil thing wins — it never will — but that it doesn’t die.”

Read more…

Source: The Banality of Evil: Hannah Arendt on the Normalization of Human Wickedness and Our Only Effective Antidote to It – Brain Pickings

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Insomniac City: Bill Hayes’s Extraordinary Love Letter to New York, Oliver Sacks, and Love Itself – Brain Pickings

“The most we can do is to write — intelligently, creatively, evocatively — about what it is like living in the world at this time.” BY MARIA POPOVA “If you are too much like myself, what shall I learn of … Continue reading

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Peace through Justice

“Karanga against appropriation
One of the most powerful parts of the Week of Peace was the Karanga Tangaroa, an event hosted by the Pacific Panthers at Mission Bay on Thursday morning. The sky grew dark grey and a bitter rain fell as a circle of wahine toa, powerful women, called out to Tangaroa, the god of the sea, to reclaim him from the grip of the military.”
Deep gratitude to our wahine toa at home – Maori women warriors for peace for this powerful at of reclamation, including our wonderful wahine toa and Green Party MP, Marama Davidson. Nga mihi whanui, nga mihi aroha ki a koutou katoa.

Deep gratitude to the folks back home for their stalwart action in the face of fierce government opposition. The karanga to Tangaroa – God of the Sea –

Auckland Peace Action

uss-go-home-stay-homeIt has been an amazing ‘Week of Peace’ action here in Auckland. The things that we have achieved collectively during this campaign – culminating this week – will go a long way towards building a stronger and more focused peace movement.

Building bridges
One of our main goals at Auckland Peace Action is to “Build solidarity across movements by recognising the interconnected and disastrous consequences of war, colonialism and capitalism for the majority of people in NZ and the world.”

The presence of a huge number of allies at our blockade of the arms expo on Wednesday demonstrates the possibilities of combining our power to tackle the root causes of modern warfare: the use of extreme violence by those who hold power to protect and enhance their power and to steal the resources of the powerless.

Friends and comrades from the Pacific Panthers, No Pride in Prisons, Auckland Action Against…

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