A Little Revulsion to Be Free

 

1930 - from the top left: Paul Eluard, Jean Arp, Yves Tanguy, Rene ClevelBottom Left: Tristan Tzara, Andre Breton, Salvador Dali, Max Ernst, Man Ray

Funny how history has thrown up so many variations of looking at the world. Human kind has never had a shortage of what to think or make of the world.  The Surrealists of the early 20th century are a case in mind.

Surrealism was a movement born out of the remains of madness and terror. After the Great War, the writings of an obscure psychologist in Vienna, Sigmund Freud suddenly seemed relevant. Soldiers had experienced what was called “shell shock” in the early twentieth century to a degree never experienced in the warfare of previous generations. The Great War produced such numbers of afflicted soldiers that no excuses of cowardice or treason, no amount of executions could make vanish the effects of war on the mind. The madness of war lingered and altered the rules of public engagement for so many individuals. It also set the tone for a movement that rejected outright the institutions of a society that allowed so many to die horrible deaths and with apparently little to show for but piles of dead bodies, rubble and wounded spirits.  As a wartime nurse, André Breton had observed the power of the wounded mind over the helpless body and in 1921, he visited Freud to learn more of what the doctor called the “unconscious mind.”

For Freud, dreams were “the royal road to the unconscious,” meaning the mind was capable of communicating at various levels, and perhaps the least of which was the conscious level. The deeper buried layer of the mind “spoke” in codes, whether linguistic or visual, and these clues had to be decoded by the psychologist who could translate the obscured messages. What he learned from Freud gestated in the mind of Breton and so began a movement of artists from every discipline to shake the shackles off a hypocritical, uncaring and morally bankrupt society whose rigid conventions of social behaviours carved the road to so many senseless deaths. Contemporary society holds on to a delusion that this war and others that follow evoke noble and commendable acts of self -sacrifice which are still commemorated as some kind of testament to the courageous spirit of our species, but the Surrealists cut through this social facade and dismantled the propaganda  of the Great Hoax  and saw the power games of the rich which lured so many unsuspecting young men into illusory notions of King and Country  to kill their fellow comrades across the vast trenches of Europe. The Surrealists rejected everything that society and civilisation deemed to be normal and scoffed at the hypocrisies of institutionalised society by looking into their subconscious and releasing a primordial instinct based on emotional relevance.

Salvadore Dali was one among many artists, including writers, sculptors, playwrights, poets who absorbed this new freedom to explore, express and to test the limits of the human imagination in direct defiance of social codes of conduct and attitudes and created some of the most wonderful Surrealist Paintings of this era. The Surrealist works of art remind us that the unconscious imagination is another window to another reality.

The Persistence of Memory (1931), Salvador Dalí

The Persistence of Memory (1931), Salvador Dalí

Dalí described his meticulously rendered works as “hand-painted dream photographs,” and certainly, the melted watches that make their appearance in this Surrealist masterpiece have become familiar symbols of that moment when reverie seems to uncannily invade the everyday. The coast of the artist’s native Catalonia serves as the backdrop for this landscape of time, in which infinity and decay are held in equipoise. As for the odd, rubbery creature in the center of the composition, it’s the artist himself, or rather his profile, stretched and flattened like Silly Putty

From the Other Side !

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Whenever I happen to perchance walking past or into a cemetery there is a timeless feeling of relief and tranquility washes over me like a cleansing agent for my emotional stresses. Walking past all of the rich and varied epitaphs on the grave sites offers a beautiful tapestry of singular moments caught in the memories of the deceased. I sometimes feel humbled at these precise moments of contemplation questioning, what is more important than celebrating communal life in all of its glory and transient wonder? I have never been obsessed with the thought of dying and I am not into living my life waiting for death but the absolute and final exit from this stage holds an unbelievable fascination for me. The idea that a close friend or relative or even a personal role model was with me in flesh and blood and we communicated once upon a time, undergoes a hard process to accept that this physical encounter will never happen again. I do not feel morbid or emotionally anxious about this inevitability that befalls everyone but at times I ponder the various platitudes surrounding the thought of death and also scan the mental images of this thought as perceived through the passageways of history. The conceptual reality that we walk into this room of life through the front door and then exit through the back door into a land unknown and from where no-one has returned leaves me stunned,  in a sense like being stung with a strong dose of medicinal reality.  I reflect on all of the trials and tribulations, all the hopes and the aspirations of so many; in fact all of humanity who have preceded me. In this realisation there is a comforting thought that emanates from a socialist perspective. All the riches, all the powers, imagined or real vanish once we pass that threshold. I empathise with my ancestors and imagine the sensual mysteries that life would have held for our progenitors; I witness the soothing theories of after-life and trace their natural demise with the ongoing rationale of contemporary science. And still as I meditate the discoveries of the modern world, the legacy leaves me with stunned silence and reverential respect for all that have passed by and for all who will enter into the beyond.

I use these ponderous thoughts to whip up a mock epitaph using an image to bounce off……

From Beyond

Welcome stranger to my final rest

I come to you from the other side

A faceless person emerging from this nest

With a passion to guide

In life as in death the sad truth

Is captured in this prism I hold

The  wonders of  eternal youth

Of celebrations foretold

Do not deny me the dignity

Of your reflective thought

Strike a light on my memory

Immortalise what I sought !

Reality is Drowning – A psychological overview of the politics of drowning.

It is quite insane how people identify with a religion or social group or cause and label themselves as such without a thought towards what they are supposed to represent.

Take any case in point.

The Christian. Or the Agnostic. Or the Feminist. Or the Liberalist…….

To call yourself a Christian is nothing more than a force of utterance. It is a label you strap around your head and it makes you feel you belong to some kind of clan, to some kind of oppositional camp that has a better grip on reality than the other labels. But they are all labels and shameful labels at that. Their real inspiration derives from feelings of superiority and the holier than thou nonsense, as if the perceptive arrangements your group has concluded have an exclusive right to judge others and deflate what others subscribe to.

Why do I say this? Well just focus on Christianity for the moment. 

One of the basic premises of Christianity is Love……Love Thy Neighbour and all the other remaining basic Commandments.

If you consider yourself a Christian then you have to agree that you consider yourself a practising Christian, one who is guided by these all pervasive tenets of Christian dogma.

If you identify as a Christian then I take it  you strive to live by these commandments however difficult it may be to achieve these Christian ideals. Your aim in life is to practise through trial and error the basic commandments of the Christian faith and apply these principles into your everyday behaviours and attitudes.

This is not rocket science. It is very simple and straightforward. Where there seems to be a problem is in the idea that somehow an interpretation needs to be factored in.

This is where the hypocritical insanity takes over and the reality is lost at sea and floating on a flimsy raft of meaningless words.

e.g. Thou Shalt Not Kill. This is a very simple request and a basic commandment. It probably arose in a setting where killing got out of hand and it was borne out of necessity. Taking aside the functional purpose of killing and eating other animals the commandment is very straightforward.  But after the initial calm settles in some argue that this generic definition does not meet socially accepted standards, for example the reality of tribal wars, and the need to recruit, so therefore  a need arose for expediency and necessity- the need to change the original wording to the socially legal term of “murder”. This makes the commandment less hypocritical and better equipped to face the expectations of community aplomb.

So the commandment changes and becomes, “Thou Shalt Not Murder.” The nuances of the word “kill” are forever altered, confusion takes over, snowballing into a mixed bag of treats waiting for entrepreneurial ingenuity to pick and package a particular interpretation and forcing reality to take a nose dive, sinking into the depths of culpability and human fondness to conflict.

Now this is what happens when the politics of any social group manipulates a simple tenet to accommodate a specific context. Certainly reality is not a simple cut and dry affair so the idea of tightening the definition to embrace a changing context is nothing new. But why?

It can be understood that social, legal terms need to be strictly defined and leave nothing open in the equation for meaning because that is the way the law operates. Leaving a law open to individual interpretation and therefore misinterpretation would render it almost meaningless and ineffectual in a society looking to construct uniformity and civilised behaviour patterns. First degree murder, manslaughter all have their role to play in law. And the law does constantly adapt and change to suit new circumstances and contexts in an imperfect way, but nonetheless evolutionary in its purpose to embrace a concept of unmitigated fairness. 

But do the same procedural practices apply to a spiritual quest for personal salvation? Or a pragmatic search for a better lifestyle? Or set of attitudes? Isn’t the basic foundation underpinning religious belief or improvement in lifestyle attitudes that people begin in these journeys as uninitiated, imperfect prototypes? That individuals have an inherent need to undergo a personal process of trial and error to achieve a personal ideal and in this way forge spiritual or pragmatic fulfilment? What is personally and morally right or wrong is a deeply personal discovery and there is an underlying assumption that a person’s instinct, conscience, humanity helps to override any misinterpretation and guide the unenlightened to some kind of personal awakening.

 If the wording does not fit or meet the needs of a contemporary context then the belief system is outdated and therefore an anachronism. It  should be discarded into the wastebins of history. Trying to adapt it to a new set of circumstances is like grasping on to an alien life- jacket floating on the seas of Jupiter. 

Forcing an interpretation on a simple request such as ” Thou Shalt Not Kill” should set the alarm bells clanging away warning the individual that something is amiss,  to question who exactly has the right interpretation. When people start toying with the basic tenets of Christianity or any social cause then this process sets off the chain reaction of political manipulation whose imperative is to confuse, divide and rule.

This process of obfuscation is very much like George Orwell’s  “Animal Farm” when the pigs are defining their authority by reinterpreting the revolutionary manifesto of equality and insert the notion that some are more equal than others. This ofcourse is to justify their ongoing ascent into privileged lifestyles and outcomes of authority over the rest of the animals on the farm.

These techniques share many  similarities with the processes underpinning advertising. What advertisers do to a basic product is to offer a reinterpetation of that product. Advertisers do not sell a basic product but a carefully designed manipulation of how we identify with that product. So associations of strength, coolness, power and individuality, for example are toyed with for the prime purpose of harnessing unsuspecting individuals into buying something and satisfying an emotional identification. These processes of advertising are also used to divide and reinforce brand loyalties and to construct group loyalty.  

If you indulge in a simple experiment and exchange the label from Christian to any other one including,  feminisim, islamism, protectionism, isolationism, atheism, deism, judaism, patriotism, liberalism to name just a few off the cuff, I think the argument of the title rings true; our collective sense of reality is drowning, and it is drowning in a quagmire of self perpetuating conflict and hostility, divorcing us from our humanity and reflective compassion for our species.

The Religion We Call War !

Syria and the Civil War

Al Jazeera has posted a history of the Syrian War on its web page.

Syria’s civil war explained from the beginning

Looking at this documentary makes your blood boil with anger , looking at it makes you resent the rotten core of humanity and what we are capable of doing to each other in the name of some specious cause. In any conflict the equation is simple – you hurt me and I’ll hurt you back and so the cycle spins out of control and we sink into the dark abyss of barbaric behaviourism.

The disbelief I have in the notion that people are still clinging to some religious authority to justify or codify these events beggars belief.  Sitting back in the safety of armchair politics and surveying these cruelties I can only imagine at the desperation and lingering threats that have become daily rituals for people living in war zones. I know that the will to survival is a strong potion; however, the phenomenon of martyrdom and a secure place in an imagined afterworld is also a frightening prospect the modern world is having to contend with.

Why is it that war has been and remains such a glorified subject in our history?  in our lives? in the institutionalised pages of our collective memory? The likes of Julius Caesar, Alexander the Great, Hannibal, Genghis Khan, Napolean Bonaparte are indelibly imprinted in our shared narrative yet has anyone really questioned the logic of this adulation? Has anyone stopped to think of the senseless slaughter, the whimsical insanity that these power mongers have perpetrated on their fellow species?  Have we seriously considered the vanity and the lunacy of these individuals? in their quest for power through the killing and the maiming of their fellow comrades in life?

Why is it we devote so much social paraphernalia to the institutions of war? We have Academies and Museums devoted to war, we honor the heroes and the dead of war and we commemorate the sacrifices that war has come to symbolise in the social traditions of sovereign states. We are obsessed with war. War is the illusion of greatness in a species destined to destroy not only itself but everything and anything that stands in its way. And yet when the conflict settles and the dead are buried and gone, we rinse and repeat our worship at the gates of wars’ institutions.

War is the religion that feeds our insatiable desires to outdo one another and if we resist then, the old adage” Might is Right” creeps back and shuts down the political will to oppose.

Carl Sagan sums it up in his eloquent speech reflecting from a vantage point in space looking back at the Pale Blue Dot we call Earth when he reminds us :

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.

Image result for planet earth from space