Reading: Enigma with Flower by Pablo Neruda

The great Chilean poet Pablo Neruda (1904-1973, born as Neftalí Ricardo Reyes Basoalto) deserves a place in our anthology as well. I browsed his poetry and found this item, ‘Enigma with Flower’ suitable for today’s short reading.

Victory. It has come late, I had not learnt
how to arrive, like the lily, at will,
the white figure, that pierces
the motionless eternity of earth,
pushing at clear, faint, form,
till the hour strikes: that clay,
with a white ray, or a spur of milk.
Shedding of clothing, the thick darkness of soil,
on whose cliff the fair flower advances,
till the flag of its whiteness
defeats the contemptible deep of night,
and, from the motion of light,
spills itself in astonished seed.

The poem is set in the boldest key of lyricism, rendered in Keatsean English. The original Spanish begins like this:

Una victoria. Es tarde, no sabías.
Llegó como azucena a mi albedrío
el blanco talle que traspasa
la eternidad inmóvil de la tierra,

 

Victory and the whiteness of the lily. The protagonist seems shy, he doesn’t dare to break the silence of earth, to push through the clay ‘with a white ray, or a spur of milk (‘espolón de leche’)’. That’s the fragile lily flower surfacing. The flower, emerging from its bulb, is fighting the darkness of the soil and the ‘contemptible deep of night’ (‘el fondo indigno de la noche’). This description sounds very classicist indeed. The lily sheds the dark soil like clothing and appears innocent, like a virgin.

But its whiteness is just a flag, a symbol. It stands for a power it doesn’t possess, but represents. The metaphysics in the closing phrase is worth considering. The Spanish reads “y de la claridad en movimiento / se derraman atónitas semillas.” It sheds astonished/flabbergasted seeds from the clarity in motion, or something like that. This is the real flower power! The flower defeated darkness, only to be disseminated immediately, just by the motion of light. And its seed is astounded. They will become new bulbs and the process will be repeated. The little flowers put their tiny heads above the dark soil and grow into proud lilies that are caught off guard by the motion of light.

This whole procedure gains some purpose because we are there, and we can interpret it als ‘victory’.

Reading: Enigma with Flower by Pablo Neruda was originally published on Meandering home

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Self-confidence

Because of all the wonderful and extraordinary selves that are currently on display if you are bored enough to browse the Internet, it is easy to misconstrue the nature of self-confidence. Our Internet heroes have grandiose that make them seem independent. The veil of their staged independence is paper-thin, but no-one cares to lift it lest they spoil the entertainment.

Of course, selves only have any meaning in relation to other selves. Self-confidence only emerges, as a comfortable emotion or as a painful lack, when there is more than one self involved. A lone survivor of a plane crash can be described as ‘courageous’ and ‘confident’ but this is a translation back into the language we are familiar with. Sure, the wilderness survivor trusts himself, relies on himself. When he stares in the eyes of a beast, he might feel fear or blood lust, but these emotions are to be distinguished from self-confidence, for the simple reason there is no self involved.

The abstract and shared concepts that are the unique accomplishment of our species, are of no use against a furry nonverbal opponent. It would most likely be a fatal distraction from the bloody reality of claws and jaws. In our society on the other hand, navigating the delicate web of power relations is what enables us to firmly position ourselves within that web. In other words: we develop our selves as we are situated in power relations with our fellow humans. In puberty, we discover the boundaries of our parents and peers, and develop certain expectations we adjust our behavior to. These expectations enable us to ponder power relations before they occur.

We know that we can deal with the expectations we have of each other in a different way than we would with expectations of natural events. If I know it is going to rain, my self-confidence would only warm up my brain and waste precious energy. When in human company, however, I can use language games and thereby avoid physical violence. I can put into words which position in the web of power that our social fabric is I deem fittest for my own survival. And if I do so, I become aware of the relations between me and the others. I will say only that the self is fundamentally relational. My intention is to share a modest observation, not a conclusive philosophical tractate on some alleged ‘nature’ of the self.

When the self is deeply relational, self-confidence becomes a quality of those relations. It is not (only) trust in one’s self and abilities, but trust in others. I like this result more when I think of an example. An employee is full of self-confidence because she knows that tomorrow, she can finally receive her promotion. What she is really confident in, is not her own achievements, but the expectation that her boss will judge them favorably and grant her a promotion. A writer is confident that he will be successful, because he trusts others to buy his books. A politician shines with self-confidence because he trusts that people will campaign and vote for him (and thereby confirm his political self). A religious person can be a self-confident zealot because he knows there will be enough other zealots around to applaud him en allow him his place in the web of power we kindly call society.

The more we trust others (not just all others, the ones most relevant for our position in the web of power) the more self-confidence we will experience. When we say we ‘trust the future’, come what may, we mean that we have positive expectations of others, we believe that they will treat us well, give us jobs, sell us food, and so on. When we have low self-esteem it means we don’t occupy an adequate position in the web of power. We lack people to trust.

I’ll leave it at that. I would like to receive suggestions for improvement of this essay, but please keep it philosophical. I desire philosophical debate beyond an exchange of feelings and subjective imagery.

Self-confidence was originally published on Meandering home

Why I like cooking

This is not a recipe blog. There are far more knowledgeable cooks maintaining interesting blogs like this one here.

Why, then, does this blog write about cooking? To be sure, I do love cooking for reasons other than the psychodairy this blog serves at times. The smell of fresh rhabarber, a good garlicky hummus, a Lao noodle soup, fried tofu, Korean kimchi, palak paneer… Being busy in a crowded kitchen cooking with friends, telling political jokes while cutting shalottes and dancing to the roaring sound of a blender – I like it a lot.

But it is the psychodairy I want to whip up a little here. When we do something, when we engage in any action, we can distinguish between the process and the result. When we write something, when we travel, paint, repair a bicycle, sew, drill, comb, brush, scratch, walk, meditate, breath, talk, and so on we can differentiate between the process itself and how it affects the status quo post. Now if we judge each other’s activities (which is our normal mode of interaction), we intuitively want either

A) to demonstrate we can do the activity better, or
B) to demonstrate that we have very compelling reasons why we can’t – so compelling that our inability becomes normative.

In order to show A) or B) we can refer to the process as well as the result, whichever supports our argument. If I want to show that you are a bad driver, for example, I can argue that the driver itself (the process) was too dangerous, uneconomical, or slow. But if this doesn’t work, because I drive irresponsibly myself, I can refer to the result that you arrived later at the party. This practice mixes the activity and the result because it derives its arguments from both and hence achieves functional unification and blurring of the semantically important distinction.

This doesn’t appear harmful at first sight. But if someone on whom rests bad prejudice want to accomplish something, he can be too easily denied because of the way he does things. People don’t look plainly at the result because they have been preoccupied with establishing A) or B).

When we cook, the distinction between process and result becomes very clear. Someone can tell you that you have to cut your vegetables in a different way, that you have to lower the heat or boil the water first or cut the onions in finer dices, out of a sickening appetite for power, but he can’t argue with the results. The freshly cooked food, waiting on our tables to be eaten, is the result of an action that is still relatively independent of the process leading towards it. Here is our opportunity to defy the madness of power-slaves telling us how to do anything we do. Here we don’t have to waste any words on counterarguments but we let what we cooked speak for itself.

And a friend might be even interested in how we did it, so over dinner we share our ideas; A) and B) stand untouched with the table salt.

Bon appetit.

Why I like cooking

This is not a recipe blog. There are far more knowledgeable cooks maintaining interesting blogs like this one here.

Why, then, does this blog write about cooking? To be sure, I do love cooking for reasons other than the psychodairy this blog serves at times. The smell of fresh rhabarber, a good garlicky hummus, a Lao noodle soup, fried tofu, Korean kimchi, palak paneer… Being busy in a crowded kitchen cooking with friends, telling political jokes while cutting shalottes and dancing to the roaring sound of a blender – I like it a lot.

But it is the psychodairy I want to whip up a little here. When we do something, when we engage in any action, we can distinguish between the process and the result. When we write something, when we travel, paint, repair a bicycle, sew, drill, comb, brush, scratch, walk, meditate, breath, talk, and so on we can differentiate between the process itself and how it affects the status quo post. Now if we judge each other’s activities (which is our normal mode of interaction), we intuitively want either

A) to demonstrate we can do the activity better, or
B) to demonstrate that we have very compelling reasons why we can’t – so compelling that our inability becomes normative.

In order to show A) or B) we can refer to the process as well as the result, whichever supports our argument. If I want to show that you are a bad driver, for example, I can argue that the driver itself (the process) was too dangerous, uneconomical, or slow. But if this doesn’t work, because I drive irresponsibly myself, I can refer to the result that you arrived later at the party. This practice mixes the activity and the result because it derives its arguments from both and hence achieves functional unification and blurring of the semantically important distinction.

This doesn’t appear harmful at first sight. But if someone on whom rests bad prejudice want to accomplish something, he can be too easily denied because of the way he does things. People don’t look plainly at the result because they have been preoccupied with establishing A) or B).

When we cook, the distinction between process and result becomes very clear. Someone can tell you that you have to cut your vegetables in a different way, that you have to lower the heat or boil the water first or cut the onions in finer dices, out of a sickening appetite for power, but he can’t argue with the results. The freshly cooked food, waiting on our tables to be eaten, is the result of an action that is still relatively independent of the process leading towards it. Here is our opportunity to defy the madness of power-slaves telling us how to do anything we do. Here we don’t have to waste any words on counterarguments but we let what we cooked speak for itself.

And a friend might be even interested in how we did it, so over dinner we share our ideas; A) and B) stand untouched with the table salt.

Bon appetit.

Money should have a flavor

How to start a contempary reflection about money, a reflection that should both instruct and entertain because it is bound to the format of a blog post, because it will live as an entry among millions on an internet website with a narrow time window of readership that extends not much further than two weeks after its dates of publication? How to write a reflection about money in such a volatile and futile medium like a public digital diary?

Thank you for recognizing the analogy between writing and money here, whose ultramodern dematerialisations we consider in what follows. Jawohl!
There is no need to write yet another meditation about the crisis. That has been done and the public seems to understand bloody well what a bursting bubble is, and how packaging derivatives options high gain total super performance low risk high leverage financial products are the tools of the ugly kind of greed we only tolerate because it is the stuff the very system is made of. Oogh. Such meditations are obsolete the minute after they are written down. What we need is something else.

When we are “spending money” what we perform should be understood as a redistribution of power. Let’s assume designating and justifying power is the prime function of money (we can’t develop that in this small space). When we buy a product we acknowledge its producer and supply chain by means of a monetary transaction. We confess our needs, that is our lack of power, and recognize the superior power of the product. Then we use our symbolic power (our money) to balance the bill. So far so good.

Power is erratic and auratic. If we observe systems of power, be it a boyscout group, a freemasons society, a fire department, or the international monetary fund, we find that power is exerted in certain well-understood forms. The power of one boyscout over another is of another quality than the power of Strauss-Kahn had over his subordinates. From this, it appears logical to think that this quality of power needs to be reflected in money, somehow. Money should have a flavor, it should be defined as currency for one specific system of power. Society as a whole (that’s the premisse I allow myself because I’m blogging) is not one clearly defined power system but a diffuse conglomerate of systems, all working at their own pace and interacting in their own ways.

We could have food-money, communication-money, shelter-money, cultural-money, yes political-money, or various kinds of currencies for specific aspects of society, aspects that we don’t want to depend on each other because we want them to be stable. There won’t be problem exchanging these different currencies, the crux is that they should never be produced ad libitum like our current money is printed for us triggered only by short-term macro-economic observations, not long-term vision.

Thus I conclude my blog-post about money. The thought presented here might have been too dense, akin to a black hole – it won’t reflect anything if you try to shine a light on it. Or does it?

September 6. Berlin attracts me again.

Night I spend on the highway Szeged – Budapest – Bratislava – Brno – Prague – Dresden – Leipzig. The car smells of bell peppers, four big sacks of Serbian bell peppers share the back seat with me. I am happy. This is the father and his son. They take me kindly to Leipzig, and very quick. Why, so I wonder, do I feel so much alive even now as an experienced free rider? Is it that I am consuming the spirit of Kerouac? Why is being on the road in itself source of excitement, even if all you see is asphalt and a needle pointing steadily at 170 km/h? The feeling of breaking away, leaving that world behind in which the person you spoke to yesterday is operating and has woven his thickly net of power. You are the fat fly escaping, assuming a different kind of power. All the webs are below you, glistening in the sunlight that is enough for them. You see the whole panorama below you, you see the vanity, the weakness of the silk. A different kind of power. A different kind of power.

In Leipzig central station Silvia comes to see me, which excites us both. We have a lot to tell each other. Our lives have both changed in and out and we understand each other well. Traveling life blends with reality. We have become busy people and our hearty goodbye was quick. That night, I arrive in Berlin by a comfortable private train and get an incredibly kind welcome from my friends. They are making the unlikely real, that I feel happy and complete in this very city where I buried some ugly stones of a past.

September 6. Berlin attracts me again.

Night I spend on the highway Szeged – Budapest – Bratislava – Brno – Prague – Dresden – Leipzig. The car smells of bell peppers, four big sacks of Serbian bell peppers share the back seat with me. I am happy. This is the father and his son. They take me kindly to Leipzig, and very quick. Why, so I wonder, do I feel so much alive even now as an experienced free rider? Is it that I am consuming the spirit of Kerouac? Why is being on the road in itself source of excitement, even if all you see is asphalt and a needle pointing steadily at 170 km/h? The feeling of breaking away, leaving that world behind in which the person you spoke to yesterday is operating and has woven his thickly net of power. You are the fat fly escaping, assuming a different kind of power. All the webs are below you, glistening in the sunlight that is enough for them. You see the whole panorama below you, you see the vanity, the weakness of the silk. A different kind of power. A different kind of power.

In Leipzig central station Silvia comes to see me, which excites us both. We have a lot to tell each other. Our lives have both changed in and out and we understand each other well. Traveling life blends with reality. We have become busy people and our hearty goodbye was quick. That night, I arrive in Berlin by a comfortable private train and get an incredibly kind welcome from my friends. They are making the unlikely real, that I feel happy and complete in this very city where I buried some ugly stones of a past.