Carl Sagan’s The Pale Blue Dot drawn by Zen Pencils

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Some of Carl Sagan’s most well-known and inspiring ideas, concerning the minuteness of our tiny planet when compared to the vastness of the cosmos, have been beatifully drawn by Zen Pencils. Click here to access this great visual representation of Sagan’s insightful and poetic words! Below, this Awestruck Wanderer shares the whole transcript of the “Pale Blue Dot” famous reflection, as well as a video with Sagan declaiming it himself. Enjoy! It’s my hope this will bring at least a minuscule spark of laughter to the pilgrims passing through this infinitesimal point in the blogosphere… Cheers, fellow earthlings!!!

“From this distant vantage point, the Earth might not seem of any particular interest. But for us, it’s different. Look again at that dot. That’s here. That’s home. That’s us. On it everyone you love, everyone you know, everyone you ever heard of, every human being who ever was, lived out their lives. The aggregate of our joy and suffering, thousands of confident religions, ideologies, and economic doctrines, every hunter and forager, every hero and coward, every creator and destroyer of civilization, every king and peasant, every young couple in love, every mother and father, hopeful child, inventor and explorer, every teacher of morals, every corrupt politician, every “superstar,” every “supreme leader,” every saint and sinner in the history of our species lived there – on a mote of dust suspended in a sunbeam. The Earth is a very small stage in a vast cosmic arena. Think of the rivers of blood spilled by all those generals and emperors, so that, in glory and triumph, they could become the momentary masters of a fraction of a dot. Think of the endless cruelties visited by the inhabitants of one corner of this pixel on the scarcely distinguishable inhabitants of some other corner, how frequent their misunderstandings, how eager they are to kill one another, how fervent their hatreds. Our posturings, our imagined self-importance, the delusion that we have some privileged position in the Universe, are challenged by this point of pale light. Our planet is a lonely speck in the great enveloping cosmic dark. In our obscurity, in all this vastness, there is no hint that help will come from elsewhere to save us from ourselves. The Earth is the only world known so far to harbor life. There is nowhere else, at least in the near future, to which our species could migrate. Visit yes. Settle, not yet. Like it or not, for the moment the Earth is where we make our stand. It has been said that astronomy is a humbling and character building experience. There is perhaps no better demonstration of the folly of human conceits than this distant image of our tiny world. To me, it underscores our responsibility to deal more kindly with one another, and to preserve and cherish the pale blue dot, the only home we’ve ever known.” – CARL SAGAN (1934-1996)

See also:

Philosopher and cognitive scientist Daniel Dennett on the similarities between God and Santa Claus (a bright provocation…)

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“Few forces in the world are as potent, as influential, as religion. As we struggle to resolve the terrible economical and social inequities that currently disfigure our planet, and minimize the violence and degradation we see, we have to recognize that if we have a blind spot about religion our efforts will almost certainly fail, and may make matters much worse… If we don’t subject religion to such scrutiny now, and work out together whatever revisions and reforms are called for, we will pass on a legacy of ever more toxic forms of religion to our descendants.

Religion plays its most important role in supporting morality, many think, by giving people an unbeatable reason to do good: the promise of an infinite reward in heaven, and (depending on tastes) the threat of an infinite punishment in hell if they don’t. Without the divine carrot and stick, goes this reasoning, people would loll about aimlessly or indulge their basest desires, break their promises, cheat on their spouses, neglect their duties, and so on. There are two well-known problems with this reasoning: (1) it doesn’t seem to be true, which is good news, since (2) it is such a demeaning view of human nature.

Everybody already knows the evidence for the countervailing hypothesis that the belief in a reward in heaven can sometimes motivate acts of monstruous evil. (…) This can be seen as an infantile concept of God in the first place, pandering to immaturity instead of encouraging genuine moral commitment. As Mitchell Silver notes, the God who rewards goodness in heaven beats a striking resemblance to the hero of the popular song ‘Santa Claus Is Coming To Town’…”

DANIEL DENNETT
Breaking the Spell: Religion as a Natural Phenomenon
(Pgs. 38-39 & 279-280)
Available at the Toronto Public Library.

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COLLISION: Is Christianity Good For The World? [Download the documentary]

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“COLLISION carves a new path in documentary film-making as it pits leading atheist, political journalist and bestselling author Christopher Hitchens against fellow author, satirist and evangelical theologian Douglas Wilson, as they go on the road to exchange blows over the question: “Is Christianity Good for the World?”. The two contrarians laugh, confide and argue, in public and in private, as they journey through three cities. And the film captures it all. The result is a magnetic conflict, a character-driven narrative that sparkles cinematically with a perfect match of arresting personalities and intellectual rivalry. COLLISION is directed by prolific independent filmmaker Darren Doane (Van Morrison: Astral Weeks Live at the Hollywood Bowl, The Battle For L.A., Godmoney).” – Official Web Site

Download: http://bit.ly/1f7iCUG (torrent).

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OVERVIEW

In May 2007, leading atheist Christopher Hitchens and Christian apologist Douglas Wilson began to argue the topic “Is Christianity Good for the World?” in a series of written exchanges published in Christianity Today. The rowdy literary bout piqued the interest of filmmaker Darren Doane, who sought out Hitchens and Wilson to pitch the idea of making a film around the debate.

In Fall 2008, Doane and crew accompanied Hitchens and Wilson on an east coast tour to promote the book compiled from their written debate titled creatively enough, Is Christianity Good for the World?. “I loved the idea of putting one of the beltway’s most respected public intellectuals together with an ultra-conservative pastor from Idaho that looks like a lumberjack”, says Doane. “You couldn’t write two characters more contrary. What’s more real than a fight between two guys who are on complete opposite sides of the fence on the most divisive issue in the world? We were ready to make a movie about two intellectual warriors at the top of their game going one-on-one. I knew it would make an amazing film.”

In Christopher Hitchens, Doane found a celebrated prophet of atheism. Loud. Funny. Angry. Smart. Quick. An intimidating intellectual Goliath. Well-known for bullying and mocking believers into doubt and doubters into outright unbelief. In Douglas Wilson, Doane found the man who could provide a perfect intellectual, philosophical, and cinematic counterpoint to Hitchens’ position and style. A trained philosopher and and deft debater. Big, bearded, and jolly. A pastor, a contrarian, a humorist–an unintimidated outsider, impossible to bully, capable of calling Hitchens a puritan (over a beer).

It was a collision of lives.

What Doane didn’t expect was how much Hitchens and Wilson would have in common and the respectful bond the new friend/foes would build through the course of the book tour. “These guys ended up at the bar laughing, joking, drinking. There were so many things that they had in common”, according to Doane. “Opinions on history and politics. Literature and poetry. They agreed on so many things. Except on the existence of God.”

BIOS

CHRISTOPHER HITCHENS
Christopher Hitchens (b. April 13, 1949) is a popular political journalist and the author of several books, including “God Is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything”. Hitchens is regarded as one of the most fundamental figures of modern atheism. A regular contributor to Vanity Fair, The Atlantic Monthly and Slate, Hitchens also appears regularly on The Daily Show, Charlie Rose, Washington Journal, and Real Time with Bill Maher. He was named one of the US’s “25 Most Influential Liberals” by Forbes and one of the world’s “Top 100 Public Intellectuals” by Foreign Policy. Hitchens died in December, 2011.

DOUGLAS WILSON
Douglas Wilson (b. June 18, 1953) is a pastor of Christ Church, editor of Credenda/Agenda magazine, and a Senior Fellow at New Saint Andrews College. A prolific writer, he is the author of many books, including The Case for Classical Christian Education, Letter from a Christian Citizen, Reforming Marriage and Heaven Misplaced: Christ’s Kingdom on Earth. Wilson lives in Moscow, Idaho.

DARREN DOANE
Darren Doane is a Los Angeles-based independent filmmaker. Doane made his name as a music video director. His work for Blink-182, AFI, Jimmy Eat World and Pennywise is credited for helping bring punk rock into the mainstream in the 1990s. His previous documentary film, The Battle For LA, explored the underground battle rap scene in Los Angeles. Doane is currently in production on the documentary film To Be Born Again about legendary musician Van Morrison and has also written and directed several feature films, including Godmoney, 42K and Black Friday.

“IF YOU WANT TO BE AWE-INSPIRED…”

WOMEN singing the BLUES: a mixtape to honour the birthday of Janis Joplin (January 19, 1943 – October 4, 1970)

The phenomenal human-hurricane Janis Joplin was born 71 years ago, and as a tribute to her music here’s a mixtape that starts with her awesome song “Try (Just a Little Bit Harder”. In this digital music-box shared above, Janis is joined with lots of great female voices singing the blues: Bessie Smith, “After You’ve Gone”; Big Mama Thornton, “Willie Mae’s Trouble”; Nina Simone, “I Wish I Knew How It Felt to be Free”; Susan Tedeschi, “It Hurt So Bad”; Aretha Franklin, “The Thrill is Gone”; Beth Gibbons of Portishead, “Numb”; Eleni Mandell, “Moonglow, Lamp Low”; Lisa Germano, “Red Thread”; and Os Mutantes (With Rita Lee), “Meu Refrigerador Não Funciona”. Enjoy the ride! And trip on with some of Janis’ classics:

Theather in Toronto: a review of Bertolt Brecht’s “Rifles” @ Next Stage Festival, January 2014, Factory Theathe

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Synopsis: “In the midst of the Spanish Civil War, Senora Carrar refuses to pick sides: her husband died in combat and she’s determined to keep her two sons alive and out of the conflict. But as Franco’s army marches towards their village, her resolve is challenged.”

RIFLES
Based on Bertolt Brecht’s
Señora Carrar’s Rifles

Written by Nicolas Billon and directed by Michael Wheeler.
Cast: Kate Hennig, Ben Sanders, Cyrus Lane, Araya Mengesha and more.

Seen at The Next Stage Theatre Festival,January 18th,
at The Factory Theatre in Toronto.

Article by Eduardo Carli de Moraes:

Bertolt Brecht‘s work is almost unanimously considered one of the best in 20th century’s dramaturgy. In 1952, Hannah Arendt hailed Brecht as “beyond a doubt the greatest living German poet and possibly the greatest living European playwright”. She was not alone in praising him: an intelectual of the stature of Walter Benjamin also cherished Brecht’s oeuvre and these “independly-minded Marxists” met in the 1920s, becoming involved in a dialogue and correspondence that is really worthwhile to get acquainted it. Toronto’s 2014 Next Stage Theatre Festival has honoured Brecht accordingly with an intense and lively staging of his 1937 play “Señora Carrar’s Rifles”.

Orwell2Rifles is an one-act play with a minimalist setting: the whole action takes place inside a Spanish household during the Spanish Civil War (1936-1939). Inside this house, wounded by a bullet and with a broken arm, lies in bed a British writer, Eric Blair, worldwidely known by his nom de plume George Orwell (1903-1950), who would publish Homage to Catalonia about his experience in war-drenched Spain. In Brecht’s play, while Orwell waits to be taken to a hospital, he spits words of rage: “I would fight the fascists with only one arm!”

In Carrar’s home, while the sound of bullets and battle are heard all around, a heated controversy arises. In an historical situation such as this, with Fascism gaining terrain in Europe (Hitler was in power since 1933 in Germany, and Mussolini since 1922 in Italy…), what would be the best decision for the common people: to take arms and join the militias that are resisting the fascists? Or to stay unarmed and neutral, just observing the events without actively engaging in them?

If Rifles was a movie, it could be shot in one single take, inside an apartment, similarly to Hitchcock’s Rope or Tommy Lee Jones’s The Sunset Limited. But, despite the fact that Brecht’s play focus his attention only at the Carrar’s home (this play could be called a “chamber piece”), it’s amazing how public matters flood in from all sides, attacking the Carrar’s house like a snowstorm, until it becomes impossible for the family to retreat into private life.

The drama is centered on the mother of the family, recently widowed by the civil war: her husband has been killed in combat by Franco’s soldiers, and now she’s determined to forbid their two sons of following the same path. Señora Carrar has had enough of emotional loss and is convinced that her family should completely withdraw from battle. Then enters the scene Señora’s Carrar brother, who has joined the anti-fascist militias: he comes to get the rifles that are hidden in a trunk of the Carrar’s household. Brother and sister then engage in a heated debate, until bloody events leads them to agree on the necessary course of action.

The ethical dilemma proposed by Brecht is one of the enduring virtues of this work-of-art, which still has so much to say to audiences nowadays. One of the greatest dialogues in the play opposes Señora’s Carrar brother and the priest of the village, Francisco. The warrior in the militias, defending the need for the people to rise in arms against General Franco’s killing machine, clashes against the pacifist of the clergy who praises resignation and unresistance. This debate is still alive today – for example, in Mexico, where the Zapatista uprising has resorted to armed struggle against neoliberalism, imperialism and ethnocide since January 1st, 1994: the EZLN (Ejército Zapatista de Liberación Nacional), according to its leader Subcomandante Marcos, has decided that the only way they had to be heard was to get armed, an defends this choice by claiming this the path to empowerment that the powerless had to take in order to no longer by crushed by capitalism’s devastating powers.

Brecht’s message, in Rifles, seems to be that pacifism can’t be seen as an absolute ethical value, to be defended in all circumstances, with no possible exception. This play written in the 1930s seems to state that there are historical circumstances in which it’s almost impossible to discern between pacifism and complicity with a genocidal dictartoship. Those who do nothing are being simply “neutral”, or is neutrality a fallacy, a mask that cowardice hides behind?

todorov  In an excellent study about concentration camps and gulags, Tzvetan Todotov’s Facing The Extreme, the author asks the question: could the genocidal machinery of the III Reich be stopped by any other way than by the an armed struggle against it? What would have happened to Europe, and especially to its Jewish population, if France, England and U.S.A. had chosen the path of pacifism? Todorov’s impressive description of the up-rising in the Jewish ghettos of Warsaw, in 1943, leads the reader to a similiar state of mind than the one aroused by Brecht’s play: is it better to walk sheepishly to the slaghterhouse, or is it better to fight until death in the resistance?

In Brecht’s Rifles, Señora Carrara starts the play believing that the fascists “can be reasoned with” and that pacifism (or neutrality) is the best course of action. But when innocent and beloved blood gets spilled all over her face, once again, she experiences a sudden transformation, not unlikely the one that Lars Von Trier’s Grace (Nicole Kidman) goes through by the last acts of Dogville (2003) – perhaps the most Brechtian movie filmed in our century. After witnessing too many murderous acts by Franco’s genocidal regime, she finally decides that the rifles shouldn’t be left rusting inside the trunks. In an Orwellian twist of events, she goes outdoors to fight the fascists with her whole family. What will happen from this moment on, Brecht prefers not to reveal us: we’re left to wonder and debate about it after the curtains have dropt. 

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Excellent article by film critic André Bazin (1918-1958) about spanish filmmaker Luis Buñuel (1900-1983)

CRUELTY AND LOVE IN LOS OLVIDADOS

by André Bazin

In: The Cinema Of Cruelty, Arcade Publishing, New York, 2013.

bunueldThe case of Luis Buñuel is one of the strangest in the history of the cinema. Between 1928 and 1936, Buñuel only made three films, and of these only one — L’Age d’Or —was full length; but these three thousand metres of film are in their entirety archive classics, certainly, with Le Sang d’un Poète, the least dated productions of the avant-garde and in any case the only cinematic production of major quality inspired by surrealism. With Las Hurdes, a ‘documentary’ on the poverty-stricken population of the Las Hurdes region, Buñuel did not reject Un Chien Andalou; on the contrary, the objectivity, the soberness of the documentary surpassed the horror and the forcefulness of the fantasy. In the former, the donkey devoured by bees attained the nobility of a barbaric and Mediterranean myth which is certainly equal to the glamour of the dead donkey on the piano. Thus Buñuel stands out as one of the great names of the cinema at the end of the silent screen and the beginning of sound —one with which only that of Vigo bears comparison — in spite of the sparse-ness of his output. But after eighteen years Buñuel seemed to have definitely disappeared from the cinema. Death had not claimed him as it had Vigo. We only knew vaguely that he had been swallowed up by the commercial cinema of the New World, where in order to earn his living he was doing obscure and second-rate work in Mexico.

And now suddenly we get a film from down there signed Buñuel. Only a B feature, admittedly. A production shot in one month for eighteen million (old francs). But at any rate one in which Buñuel had freedom in the script and direction. And the miracle took place: eighteen years later and 5,000 kilometres away, it is still the same, the inimitable Buñuel, a message which remains faithful to L’Age d’Or and Las Hurdes, a film which lashes the mind like a red hot iron and leaves one’s conscience no opportunity for rest.

The theme is outwardly the same as that which has served as a model for films dealing with delinquent youth ever since The Road to Life, the archetype of the genre: the evil effects of poverty and the possibility of re-education through love, trust, and work. It is important to note the fundamental optimism of this concept. A moral optimism first of all, which follows Rousseau in presupposing the original goodness of man, a paradise of childhood destroyed before its time by the perverted society of adults; but also a social optimism, since it assumes that society can redress the wrong it has done by making the re-education centre a social microcosm founded on the trust, order and fraternity of which the delinquent had been unduly deprived, and that this situation is sufficient to return the adolescent to his original innocence. In other words, this form of pedagogy implies not so much a re-education as an exorcism and a conversion. Its psychological truth, proved by experience, is not its supreme instance. The immutability of scenarios on delinquent youth from The Road to Life to L’Ecole Buissonnière (the character of the truant) passing via Le Carrefour des Enfants Perdus, prove that we are faced with a moral myth, a sort of social parable whose message is intangible,

Now the prime originality of Los Olvidados lies in daring to distort the myth. Pedro, a difficult inmate of a re-education centre in the shape of a model farm, is subjected to a show of trust-bringing back the change from a packet of cigarettes — as was Mustapha in The Road to Life — buying the sausage. But Pedro does not return to the open cage, not because he prefers to steal the money but because it is stolen from him by Jaibo, the evil friend. Thus the myth is not denied in essence — it cannot be; if Pedro had betrayed the director’s trust, the latter would still have been right to tempt him by goodness. It is objectively much more serious that the experiment is made to fail from the outside and against Pedro’s will, since in this way society is saddled with a double responsibility, that of having perverted Pedro and that of having compromised his salvation. It is all very well to build model farms where justice, work and fraternity reign, but so long as the same society of injustice and pain remains outside, the evil — namely the objective cruelty of the world — remains.

Poster35In fact my references to the films on fallen youth only throw light on the most outward aspect of Buñuel’s film, whose funda­mental premise is quite different. There is no contradiction between the explicit theme and the deeper themes which I now propose to extract from it; but the first has only the same importance as the subject for a painter; through its conventions (which he only adopts in order to destroy them) the artist aims much higher, at a truth which transcends morality and sociology, at a metaphysical reality — the cruelty of the human condition.

The greatness of this film can be grasped immediately when one has sensed that it never refers to moral categories. There is no manicheism in the characters, their guilt is purely fortuitous — the temporary conjunction of different destinies which meet in them like crossed swords. Undoubtedly, adopting the level of psychology and morality, one could say of Pedro that he is ‘basically good’, that he has a fundamental purity: he is the only one who passes through this hail of mud without it sticking to him and penetrating him. But Jaibo, the villain, though he is vicious and sadistic, cruel and treacherous, does not inspire repugnance but only a kind of horror which is by no means incompatible with love. One is re­minded of the heroes of Genet, with the difference that in the author of the Miracle de la Rose there is an inversion of values which is not found at all here. These children are beautiful not because they do good or evil, but because they are children even in crime and even in death. Pedro is the brother in childhood of Jaibo, who betrays him and beats him to death, but they are equal in death, such as their childhood makes them in themselves. Their dreams are the measure of their fate. Buñuel achieves the tour de force of recreating two dreams in the worst tradition of Hollywood Freudian surreal­ism and yet leaving us palpitating with horror and pity. Pedro has run away from home because his mother refused to give him a scrap of meat which he wanted. He dreams that his mother gets up in the night to offer him a cut of raw and bleeding meat, which Jaibo, hidden under the bed, grabs as she passes. We shall never forget that piece of meat, quivering like a dead octopus as the mother offers it with a Madonna-like smile. Nor shall we ever forget the poor, homeless, mangy dog which passes through Jaibo’s receding consciousness as he lies dying on a piece of waste ground, his fore­head wreathed in blood. I am almost inclined to think that Buñuel has given us the only contemporary aesthetic proof of Freudianism. Surrealism, used it in too conscious a fashion for one to be surprised at finding in its painting symbols which it put there in the first place. Only Un Chien Andalou, L’Age d’Or and Los Olvidados present us with the psychoanalytical situations in their profound and irre­fragable truth. Whatever the concrete form which Buñuel gives to the dream (and here it is at its most questionable), his images have A pulsating, burning power to move us — the thick blood of the unconscious circulates in them and swamps us, as from an opened artery, with the pulse of the mind.

No more than on the children does Buñuel make a value judg­ment on his adult characters. If they are generally more evil-intentioned, it is because they are more irremediably crystallised, petrified by misfortune. The most horrifying feature of the film is undoubtedly the fact that it dares to show cripples without attract­ing any sympathy for them. The blind beggar who is stoned by the children gets his revenge in the end by denouncing Jaibo to the police. A cripple who refuses to give them some cigarettes is robbed and left on the pavement a hundred yards away from his cart — but is he any better than his tormentors? In this world where all is poverty, where everyone fights with whatever weapon he can find, no one is basically ‘worse off than oneself’. Even more than being beyond good and evil, one is beyond happiness and pity. The moral sense which certain characters seem to display is basically no more than a form of their fate, a taste for purity and integrity which others do not have. It does not occur to these privileged characters to reproach the others for their ‘wickedness’; at the most they struggle to defend themselves from it. These beings have no other points of reference than life—this life which we think we have domesticated by means of morality and social order, but which the social disorder of poverty restores to its original virtuality as a sort of infernal earthly paradise with its exit barred by a fiery sword.

It is absurd to accuse Buñuel of having a perverted taste for cruelty. It is true that he seems to choose situations for their maxi­mum horror-content. What could be more atrocious than a child throwing stones at a blind man, if not a blind man taking revenge on a child? Pedro’s body, when he has been killed by Jaibo, is thrown onto a rubbish dump amongst the dead cats and empty tins, and those who get rid of him in this way — a young girl and her grandfather — are precisely amongst the few people who wished him well. But the cruelty is not Buñuel’s; he restricts himself to revealing it in the world. If he chooses the most frightful examples, it is because the real problem is not knowing that happiness exists also, but knowing how far the human condition can go in mis­fortune; it is plumbing the cruelty of creation. This intention was already visible in the documentary on Las Hurdes. It hardly mattered whether this miserable tribe was really representative of the poverty of the Spanish peasant or not — no doubt it was — the important thing was that it represented human poverty. Thus, between Paris and Madrid it was possible to reach the limits of human degradation. Not in Tibet, in Alaska or in South Africa, but somewhere in the Pyrenees, men like you and me, heirs of the same civilisation, of the same race, had turned into these cretins keeping pigs and eating green cherries, too besotted to brush the flies away from their face. It did not matter that this was an exception, only that it was possible. Buñuel’s surrealism is no more than a desire to reach the bases of reality; what does it matter if we loose our breath there like a diver weighed down with lead, who panics when he cannot feel the sand under his heel. The fantasy of Un Chien Andalou is a descent into the human soul, just as Las Hurdes and Los Olvidados are explorations of man in society.

But Buñuel’s ‘cruelty’ is entirely objective, it is no more than lucidity, and anything but pessimism; if pity is excluded from his aesthetic system, it is because it envelops it everywhere. At least this is true of Los Olvidados,for in this respect I seem to detect a development since Las Hurdes. The documentary on Las Hurdes was tinged with a certain cynicism, a self-satisfaction in its objec­tivity; the rejection of pity took on the colour of an aesthetic pro­vocation. Los Olvidados, on the contrary, is a film of love and one which demands love. Nothing is more opposed to ‘existentialist’ pessimism than Buñuel’s cruelty. Because it evades nothing, con­cedes nothing, and dares to dissect reality with surgical obscenity, it can rediscover man in all his greatness and force us, by a sort of Pascalian dialectic, into love and admiration. Paradoxically, the main feeling which emanates from Las Hurdes and LosOlvidados is one of the unshakeable dignity of mankind. In Las Hurdes, a mother sits unmoving, holding the dead body of her child on her knees, but this peasant face, brutalised by poverty and pain, has all the beauty of a Spanish Pieta: it is disconcerting in its nobility and harmony. Similarly, in Los Olvidados, the most hideous faces are still in the image of man. This presence of beauty in the midst of atrocity (and which is by no means only the beauty of atrocity),this perenniality of human nobility in degradation, turns cruelty dialectically into an act of charity and love. And that is why Los Olvidados inspires neither sadistic satisfaction nor pharisaic indig­nation in its audiences.

If we have made passing reference to surrealism, of which Buñuel is historically one of the few valid representatives, it is because it was impossible to avoid this reference. But to conclude, we must underline the fact that it is insufficient. Over and beyond the acci­dental influences (which have no doubt been fortunate and enrich­ing ones), in Buñuel surrealism is combined with a whole Spanish tradition. The taste for the horrible, the sense of cruelty, the seeking out of the extreme aspects of life, these are also the heritage of Goya, Zurbaran and Ribera, of a whole tragic sense of humanity which these painters have displayed precisely in expressing the most extreme human degradation — that of war sickness, poverty and its rotten accessories. But their cruelty too was no more than the measure of their trust in mankind and in painting.

* * * * *

Watch some of Buñuel’s classics in the silent film era:

The Future according to Robert Crumb

robert crumbAmazing Crumbian depiction of 3 alternative futures for mankind’s adventure.
Take a look at BBC’s doc “The Confessions of Robert Crumb” below:

DANCING NEAR THE ABYSS: Nietzsche’s dangerous life as portrayed by Stefan Zweig…

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Some remarks upon...

nietzsche zweig
STEFAN ZWEIG (1881-1942),
Part of the trilogy “The Struggle With The Demon – Kleist, Hölderlin and Nietzsche”
Introduction and Translation by Will Stone.
Hesperus Press, London, 2013.


stefan-zweig-nietzsche-le-combat-avec-le-demon_2254061-MArticle by Eduardo Carli de Moraes:

PART I. A DANGEROUS LIFE

Maybe the thrill in our veins when we read Nietzsche derives from the sense of danger that his words exhale: he’s inviting us to dance near the abyss, and without safety nets. Nietzsche desires life to be risky and full of surprises, and is furious against all tendencies of sheepish conformity. A true lover of art and poetry, Nietzsche was both a great thinker and a great artist – one who claimed that “we have art so that we might not die of the truth.” For him, an authentic “free spirit” doesn’t shy away from confrontation with the riddles of existence, even the most scary and painful ones: if you want knowledge, you’ll have to face the monsters of the abyss, and let the abyss stare into you!

As Karl Jaspers wrote on his awesome book about Nietzsche, the philosopher worthy of his task is a figure similar to Theseus: he enters boldily into the labyrinth, willing to face the danger of being eaten by the Minotaur. In Stefan Zweig’s writings on Nietzsche we feel the emphasis falling upon the dangerousness of Nietzsche life and fate. In his introduction, Will Stone recalls how much Zweig’s book focuses on “the decisive abandonment of security by Nietzsche and his propensity to take an ever more self-destructive tightrope walk, where all safety nets are strictly forbidden.” (Will Stone, Introduction, XIX)

“Voluntarily, in all lucidity, renouncing a secure existence, Nietzsche constructs his unconventional life with the most profound tragic instinct, defying the gods with unrivalled courage, to experience himself the highest degree of danger in which man can live.” (Zweig, p. 6)

Few philosophy books can be said to be as exciting as a roller-coaster ride or a bungee-jump. I believe Nietzsche’s impact on posterity has to do, partly, with those adrenaline shots we receive from his writings. We can re-read his words many times because they provoke us, entice us, marvel us, enfuriate us – but hardly ever leave us indiferent. The flame of life, in each to us, seems to burn more brightly and intensely when we come to spend so time in company with Nietzsche’s flaming words. My experience as a reader of Nietzsche’s books leads me to cherish him as a powerful voice who affects people deeply – some may disagree with him, but this disagreement itself is usually so vehement and intense that it serves as a sign of the echoes, either consonant or dissonant, that Nietzsche’s words arouses. Philosophy in the 20th century was profoundly shaken and inspired by Nietzsche’s books, but in his life, as Zweig points out, he was eaten alive, bit by bit, by the demon of solitude.

Despite his attempts to make his voice be heard, many commentators point out that Nietzsche lived an utterly lonely, isolated existence – “a solitude deprived even of God”, writes Zweig. Nietzsche ended up “crushed by the world’s silence.” (pgs. 5-7) In the following lines, Zweig is less a biographer than a painter: he’s trying to get us in synch with the philosopher’s emotional mood: “One feels here is a man residing in the shadows, apart from all social conviviality, (…) a man who over the years has lost the habit of social interaction and dreads the prospect of being asked too many questions.” (pg. 10)

Nietzsche’s health can be seen as one reason for his choice of an isolated life-style, but it doesn’t explain why the philosopher chose to cut himself even from the most basic of relationships needed, for survival reasons, for someone in his condition: the relationship with a doctor! Nietzsche rarely sought aid of professionals in the medicine field: he mostly self-medicated. He kept away from alcoholic beverages, never drank cofee nor smoked cigarettes. His pension-room had always among its furnishing elements, according to Zweig’s lively description, “an horrifying arsenal of poisons and narcotics”:

 “On a shelf, innumerable bottles, flasks and tinctures: for headaches, which regularly occupy so many wasted hours, for stomach cramps, spasmodic vomiting, instestinal weakness, and above all, those terrible medicaments to control insomnia – chloral and veronal.” (11)

nietzsche-munch

A portrait of the philosopher by Norwegian painter Edvard Munch


Imagine Zweig as a painter, and his words as drawings in our imagination, and let’s hear how he further paints Nietzsche portrait: the philosopher’s eye-sight is poor, without his glasses he would be blind as a bat. But that seems to be no impediment to his will to devote so much energy into the activities of reading and writing (which demand so much eye-labor). Most nights, Nietzsche’s brain just won’t turn off, and he can only restore his energies by sleep if he ingests some kind of soporific medicine.

“Sometimes he spends the whole day confined to bed. And no one comes to his aid, not even a helping hand, no one to lay a cool compress on his burning brow. No one to read to him, to chat with him, to laugh with him… never a warm naked female body beside his own.” (p. 11-12)

A grim picture of disease and loneliness is painted before our eyes by these Zweigian words, but they serve merely as background for the main figure in the painting: a tragic hero in the realm of knowledge, Nietzsche himself, and the process by which he falls down into the abyss. Would we dare, right here and right now, rebelling against the silence that springs from his grave, delve into the mystery of Nietzsche’s life and death?

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Zweig seems to want his reader to pity the fragile and lonesome state of poor Nietzsche – friendless, abandoned, unloved. I couldn’t help imagining how Nietzsche himself would judge Zweig’s portrait. Nietzsche himself was never attracted by self-pity, and it may be argued that he chose voluntarily to lead a life in which we wouldn’t bother others with his health issues – as if he was trying to put to practise a radical attempt at self-reliance, even in the worst conditions. As Jacob Burckhardt points out, Nietzsche lived as if his task were “to increase independence in the world” (quoted by Zweig, pg. 89), and it’s hard to imagine a philosopher who took so seriously the task of being independent. The fluctuations of his health had profound impact upon his emotional state and the “mood” of his tought: by his own life-experience Nietzsche extracted awesome insights into the inner workings of the human mind. He’s arguably one of the greatest psychologists of the 19st century (he claimed to have learnt psychology mainly with Stendhal and Dostoivésvki), an certainly a pioneer in pre-Freudian times.

 Zweig’s book focuses a lot on Nietzsche’s life, especially the connection between his existential loneliness and his outstanding artistic and philosophical productions. It leads the reader to ask himself: why did this philosopher, who had demolished the moral ideals of asceticism (mainly in his Genealogy of Morals), chose to live in a condition of isolation similar to those hermits he criticised so much? What caused Nietzsche’s attitude of removal from sociability: was it arrogance or pride ? What could have acted as an impediment in the route to Alterity, in Nietzsche’s life? What was the obstacle he couldn’t trespass, keeping him from crying out for help and accepting the aid of human love? Were the people around him to blame for being indiferent and uncomprohensive?

According to Zweig, aways, everywhere he lived, Nietzsche was a foreigner. And that usually doesn’t make easier the task of building friendship. It can’t be said that friendship is highly valued in his books. And it doesn’t seem to me that Nietzsche pursued in his life, with much interest or passion, a quest for human warmth and love. Lou Salomé is maybe the sole female figure in Nietzsche’s life to have aroused in him some kind of dream about redemption by love, some passionate widening of his emotional chest to the realm of the Other, but we know well things didn’t turn out that rosely. Nietzsche couldn’t see la vie en rose and his passion for Lou Salomé turned out to be a devasting heart-break. After the rupture with Lou Salomé, facing what he calls “the greatest crisis of his life”, he writes Zarathustra, a work-of-art and an philosophical poem that carry the mark of something unique. His bond with Lou had collapsed, in ruins were all the bridges of dreams, and in utter solitude he set out to write a book about a character who spent ten years far from all human contact, and tries to re-descend among the humans, to reveal what he learned whilst dwelling in the wilderness, only to discover that everyone miscomprehends him. A book born out of Nietzsche’s abyss, filled with dancing stars, chaotic and colourful as life itself. 

louSalome1

PART II. THE WOUND OF NO REPLY

“The year-in year-out lack of a really refreshing and healing human love, the absurd loneliness that it brings with it, to the degree that almost every remaining connection with people becomes only a cause of injury; all that is the worst possible business and has only one justification in itself, the justification of being necessary.” – Letter sent by Nietzsche to his friend Overbeck, 3.2.88

Much speculation about Nietzsche breakdown in Turin is to be found in dozens of books. To this pile of speculation, Zweig adds his own contribution:

“For 15 years this cave life of Nietzsche continues from rented room to rented room, while he remains unknown…. only the flight of Dostoyevsky, almost at the same moment in time, with equitable poverty and neglect, is illuminated by the same cold grey spectral light. Here, as there, the work of a titan conceals the gaunt figure of the poor Lazarus who daily expires from his despair and infirmity in solitude, as day by day, the miracle savior of creative will awakens him from the depths. For 15 years, Nietzsche emerges thus from the coffin of his room, moving upwards and downwards, with suffering upon suffering, death upon death, resurrection upon resurrection, until, over-heated by such a flood of energy, his brain breaks apart. (…) Un-accompanied and unkown, the most lucid genius of the spirit rushes headlong into his own night.” (13)

Tough Nietzsche suffered a lot, he didn’t turn angrily against life, nor did he sought final relief in suicide. His philosophy is born out of the dwellings of his mind with his pains: “pain always searches to know the causes, whilst pleasure remains in a fixed position and does not look backwards”, he wrote. “Mighty pain is the last liberator of the spirit; she alone forces us to descend into out ultimate dephts.” And elsewhere: “I know life better, because I have so often been at the point of losing it.” (p. 23)

“Nietzsche never sets up house, with a view to economizing and conserving, he builds no spiritual home; he wants (or perhaps he is forced by the nomadic instinct in his nature) to remain eternally without possessions, the solitary Nimrod who wanders with his weapons through all the forests of the spirit, who has no roof, no wife, no child, no servant, but who, on the other hand, has the thrill and pleasure of the hunt; like Don Juan, he adores not the enduring feeling but the fleeting moments of greatness and ecstasy. He is solely attracted by an adventure of the spirit, by that ‘dangerous perhaps’ that stimulates and excites as long as the chase is on but as soon as attainmet is reached loses its grip.” (29)

In Zweig’s perspective, Nietzsche sounds the alarms and alerts us – prophetically – against the ills of nationalism and praises cosmopolitism:

“Nietzsche is content to be without country, without home or possessions, cut off forever from that ‘parochialism of the fatherland’, from all ‘patriotic subjugation’. His perspective will be the lofty one of the bird in flight, of the ‘good European’, of that ‘essentially nomadic race of men who exist outside of nations’. (…) Once Nietzsche has established himself in the south, he steps definitively beyond his past; he is peremptorily de-Germanized, de-Christianized… the navigator to the realm of the future is too happy to be embarking on ‘the fastest ship to Cosmopolis’ to experience any nostalgia for his unilateral, uniform and univocal fatherland. That is why all attempts to re-Germanize him should be strongly condemned.

At the same time as de-Germanizing him, the south also serves to de-Christianize him completely. Whilst like a lizard he enjoys the sun on his back and his soul is lit right through to his innermost nerves, he ponders what exactly had left the world in shadow for so long, made it so anguished, so troubled, so demoralized, so cowardly conscious of sin, what had robbed the most natural, the most serene, the most vital things of their true value, and had prematurely aged what was most precious in the universe, life itself. Christianity is identified as the culprit, for its belief in the hereafter, the key principle that casts its dark cloud over the modern world.This ‘malodorous Judaism, concocted of Rabbinic doctrines and superstition’ has crushed and stifled sensuality, the exhilaration of the world and for fifty generationshas been the most lethal narcotic, causing moral paralysis in what was once a genuine life force. But now (and here he sees his life as a mission), the crusade of the future agains the cross has finally begun, the reconquest of the most sacred country of humanity: the life of the world.” (pg. 61-63)

Zweig also suggests that, with Nietzsche, it appears for the first time upon the high seas of German philosophy the black flag of a pirate ship. With Nietzsche, it dawns

“a new brand of heroism, a philosophy no longer clad in professorial and scholarly robes, but armed and armored for the struggle. Others before him, comparably bold and heroic navigators of the spirit, had discovered continents and empires; but with only a civilizing and utilitarian interest, in order to conquer them for humanity, in order to fill in the philosophical map, penetrating deeper into the terra incognita of thought. They plant the flag of God or of the spirit on the newly conquered lands, they construct cities, temples and new roads in the novelty of the unkown and on their heels come the governors and administrators, to work the acquired terrain and harvest from it the commentators and teachers, men of culture. But the final objective of their labours is rest, peace and stability: they want to increase the possessions of the world, propagate norms and laws, establish a superior order.

Nietzsche, in contrast, storms into German philosophy like the filibusters making their entrance into the Spanish empire at the end of the 16th century, a wild unruly swashbuckling swarm of desperados, without nation, ruler, king, flag, home or residence. Like them he conquers nothing for himself, or anyone following him, not for a god, or a king, or a faith, but uniquely for the pleasure of conquest, for he wants to acquire, conquer and possess nothig. He concludes no treaty nor build a house, he scorns the rules of war put in place by philosophers and he seeks no disciple… Nothing was more foreign to Nietzsche than to merely proceed towards the habitual objective of philosophers, to an equilibrium of feeling, to repose in a tranquilitas, a sated brown wisdom at the rigid point of a unique conviction. He spends and consumes successive convictions, rejecting what he has acquired, and for this reason we would do better to call him Philaleth, a fervent lover of Aletheia, truth, that chaste and cruelly seducing godess, who unceasingly, like Artemis, lures her lovers into an eternal hunt only to remain ever inaccesible behind her tattered veils.” (pg. 43)

In Nietzsche’s fate we can read the tragedy of someone who, tortured by disease and anguish, embarks head-on in Knowledge’s dangerous adventure. Alone and frail, but bold and curious, he’s a man who, like a serpent, exchanged skins thoughout his life. But, as Zweig points out, his only homeland was solitude. Wherever he lays his hat, there he’s alone. He journeys through the land, but doesn’t seem ever to leave loneliness behind. There’s a song by Portishead in which Beth Gibbons wails: “This loneliness just won’t leave me alone”. It’s quite possible Nietzsche knew a lot about this emotional mood. The philosopher has been acquainted with the blues. Sometimes, it seems, he tries to believe isolation is a merit and that the geniuses of humanity shouldn’t mix with the riff-raff – that’s why many nostrils can smell arrogance in Nietzsche attitude, some aristocratical eliticism, as if the man believes he shouldn’t wallow in the mud of common vulgarities.

This loner consoles himself, to lessen the pains of his solitude,  with the idea that posterity will understand and honour him. Free spirits yet to be born keep him company through his darkest hours. He warms himself by the fireside of his imagination of future glories. Zarathustra is filled with images, bursting from a mind intoxicated by poetry, of better days to come, of men who have outgrown mankind as we know it. The question I pose is: how maddening is it to seek human warmth on the imaginary realm? Can you cure yourself from loneliness with the dreamt shadow of future friends?

In Nietzsche’s final years, he gets increasing bombastic. Now he brags he’s dynamite. His previous books were almost completely ignored by the general population of the planet, and he can’t deal with this easily, emotionally speaking: he felt “only immutable solitude multiplied” and this is what, according to Zweig, “turns his soul gangrenous”: the wound of no reply.” (75)

 His descent into the abyss is portrayed by Zweig as a tragedy of utter solitude. Nietzsche sinks, his brain shatters, because the burden of the world’s indifference and deafness is too much to bear. Nietzsche’s own judgement of his past achievements, in Ecce Homo, may sound deeply narcisistic and self-glorifying: he believes, for example, that Zarathustra is the biggest gift ever given to humanity, the greatest book ever written, and that whole universities should be created and devoted to its study. Some chapters of Nietzsche’s intriguing auto-biography are filled with self-celebration and megalomania, as if he’s trampling modesty underfoot: Nietzsche explains to his readers why he  is so wise, how does he manage to write such great books, and considers himself to be an event in History that will divide it in two epochs. Zweig’s interpretation invites us to understand this as a symptom of his social isolation, of his frustration about the silence that surrounded his ideas, and which was so rarely broken in Europe during his life (only George Brandes, professor in Copenhagen, made an effort to spread Nietzsche’s ideas in academic circles during the philosopher’s life).

When he reached the period when he wrote his last books – among them are The Antichrist, Twilight of the Idols, Ecce Homo… –  Nietzsche seems to be increasingly furious, bombastic. He writes with outbursts of rage and indignation, striving to get some answer from the world around him. Even hostility from readers seems to him to be better than silent indifference. This is how Zweig describes this late Nietzschean works:

“There are contained the most unbridled scornful cries of rage and heavy groans of suffering, flayed from his body by the whip of impatience, a savage growling through foaming mouth and bared teeth… provoking his epoch so that they react and let go a howl of rage. To defy them still, he recounts his life in Ecce Homo with a level of cynicism which will enter into universal history. Never has a book exhibited such a craving, such a diseased and feverish convulsion of impatience for response, than the last monumental pamphlets of Nietzsche: like Xerxes insubordinately battling the ocean with a scourge, with insane bravado he wants the indifferent to be stung by the scorpions of his books, to defy the weight of immunity which enshrouds him. (…) In the glacial silence and lost in his own entrancement, he lifts his hands, dithyrambic his foot twitches: and suddenly the dance begins, the dance around the abyss, the abyss of his own downfall.” (p. 77)

Stefan Zweig’s book is filled with this kind of highly dramatical images, as if he’s trying to honour Nietzsche with a painting worthy of a tragic hero. It’s certainly a very impressive and sensitive portrayal of Nietzsche, tough in its less than 100 pages it doesn’t share many details of the philosopher’s life (this has been done by Curt Paul Janz, Rudiger Safranski and other biographers). Zweig’s perspective is filled with melancholia and he decribes the “struggles with the demon” experienced by Hölderlin, Kleist and Nietzsche as something he also has experienced in his own flesh. Zweig’s life, similarly to that of Nietzsche, can’t be said to have ended happily: he was living in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, when he commited suicide in 1942. He had sought refuge from the horrors of the World War in Europe, a jew fleeing from the claws of the Holocaust. For a while, he believed Brazil to be “the country of the future”, a safe harbour where no racism or anti-semitism existed. In his book, Brazil – Country of The Future, he idealizes his new home with the eyes of the refugee who was leaving behind a world of intolerance, hatred and persecution. Then, frustration takes over, and he shoots himself in Petropolis. But that’s another story.

I believe Zweig’s Nietzsche is a book whose great merit lies in the description of Nietzsche’s existential position, one of social isolation of almost complete lack of community bonds. He’s downfall, according to an interpretation by Brazillian philosopher Oswaldo Giacoia, one of the leading figures in Nietzsche studies in Latin America, is deeply related the fact that he couldn’t belong to what Hannah Arendt used to call “a common world”. One of the most interesting psychological problems posed by Nietzsche’s fate, it seems to me, is this: how important for psychic health are the lived experienced of community bonds? What are the consequences of radical rupture with the whole dimension of alterity? Or, put more simply, what’s the price that pays the person who lives without any of the warmth provided by friendship and love? 

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Stefan Zweig, author of “The Struggle With The Demon – Hölderlin, Kleist and Nietzsche”. Click here to read an excerpt of the last chapter of Zweig’s book.

* * * * *

TRIP ON:

Human All Too Human – BBC Series – Full Episode

12 Songs that shout “FREEDOM!”…

…and if you ask me: that’s a great word to shout, Dude!

On our menu:

01) Jimi Hendrix;

02) John Lennon;

03) Neil Young;

04) Richie Havens;

05) Bob Marley;

06) Ben Harper;

07) Funkadelic;

08) MC5;

09) The DT’s;

10) Rage Against the Machine;

11) Charles Mingus;

12) Nina Simone.

Pump up the volume…
and enjoy the ride!

* * * * *

cecilia

“Freedom is a word nourished by the human dream:
there is no one who can explain it
and no one who doesn’t understand it.”

(Cecilia Meireles,  1901-1964, brazilian poet)

 

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