Realism – Realities I

This day my students in Cork faced their own reality: the exam for the course I had been teaching. For me it had been the day of a flight to Copenhagen. Time differences, differences of realities. I arrived after a somewhat exciting flight, which gave me a little bit the feeling of sadness. Surely partly due to the fact that I had been a bit exhausted: I tried over the last couple of days to provide some guidance for the exams – to those who asked for it. Mails flying through the world, moods on the side of the students oscillating between strain, jokes, anger, dolorousness and perplexity – at least this is my impression from trying to read between the lines of the mails I receive. My effort of replying the issues of substance, but also aiming on “balancing”: bringing back seriousness where things were taking to easy, relaxing situations where strenuous situations lurked to burst … Not only for the students an important time, also for me somewhat hazardous: on the one hand hoping to make it not easy, to challenge them, on the other hand I do not like to put them under pressure. And notwithstanding this, other works could not be entirely neglected.

An exciting flight as it leads me into some kind of new reality, a world that seems not to be there, that we all know from clippings, but which still does not easily present itself as a complete change of the mode of production. You may contradict, but I think that, as long as we still use the old buzzwords and slogans, we easily fall short of the drastic character of what is actually going on. In this sense I am glad to receive Sarah’s mail with which she thanks me for last year’s course:

… Thank you for all your help and guidance throughout the year – I have grown through the process and can certainly say you have opened my eyes to the system. I have enjoyed the learning process immensely (although at times felt the hammer beating me over the head). Perhaps our paths may cross again in the future …

I answer, being grateful for having served as eye-opener, also always using the teaching as challenge to keep and force my own eyes open; I answer sitting at an altitude of 10,000 feet:

In this sense you are the first to whom I send an e-mail sitting somewhere – but where ? – rather high over you and that world, not yet playing the harp but somewhat on a cloud: airline allows wifi-access.

Yes, perhaps our ways cross again …  – when? where?

Sur-realism? Cubism …

Pablo Picasso’s Las señoritas de Avignon[1]

Mon expérience d’aujourd’hui dans l’avion – My experience today in the aircraft.

It may be that this experience of mailing from an aircraft, the possibility to “register” on the “global social virtual community” (or should we say “global virtual social community”?) facebook “I am 10,000 above you” gives me a different understanding of what I read in the in-flight magazine[2] – a brief overview should be sufficient to allow the reader of the present lines to delve into the …, the weirdness? newness? oddity? … of what is actually everything else than extraordinary. Features of a new reality which looks somewhat unreal to us as we are not entirely used to it yet. And that seem to be so real by creeping into our life as little pieces, not allowing us to realise that actually the entire scene changes. On to the clips then:

  • the review of attractiveness: advertisement of island get-aways, moving away from ‘every-day’s realities’ by moving towards ‘real realities’;
  • the celebration of the past and with this the promise of finding oneself;
  • the advertisement of naturalness – literally wrapped into the advertisement of soap, delving into a bubble of genuineness.

But then it is getting even more interesting:

  • given naturalness is transformed into …. – a suggestion of something that is even more natural by being designed: talking about “designed food”, not by way of genetic modification but as matter of its presentation;
  • reality, at least the reality of something material, tangible as the virtual reality further evaporating, disappearing in cloud-computing, the last bit of some kind of reality: a potentially tangible, rachable hard-drive further removed to some “cloud”, and with this completely out of our control when it comes to deleting data;
  •  superstition, magic, witchery and enthralment, celebrated in an article on coffee and baristas but not even mentioned in other areas; thus they are bringing us to the point of a conclusion in regard of the perspective on media and their way of (co-)constructing reality: power and veiling power, appropriation and undermining it.

After this, two features deserve special attention, and have to be marked as important moments in the context of outlining the scaffold of the further development of the mode of production.

The one is about the orientation on and establishment of communities of belonging. Of course, these are business strategies, and of course these are not real – but this does not mean that we can simply push aside as not existing.

Home is just a cheap call away

And of course it is attractive to reduce phone bills while roaming. Home then – even if you are abroad. But it is not only this family and home orientation, suggested to have an eternal and brazen grip; it is, as further reading shows, the firm grip of a new entity claiming to be US, the new WE: The offer of cheap phone calls is part of the airline’s reward scheme … – another opportunity of extending plastic life, getting a new membership card of another imagined community.

After having learned in the editorial that the sky is the limit and after getting the impression that even this ceiling is crumbling away, it seems that we have to build finally the floor. – Lets us briefly turn to the question of architecture.

Of course,

[a] spider conducts operations that resemble those of a weaver, and a bee puts to shame many an architect in the construction of her cells. But what distinguishes the worst architect from the best of bees is this, that the architect raises his structure in imagination before he erects it in reality. At the end of every labour-process, we get a result that already existed in the imagination of the labourer at its commencement.

(Marx, Karl: Capital Volume I, Part 3, Chapter 7, Section 1)

But this does not mean that these architects are allowed to build castles in the air. But on the other hand we may ask Who said that human societies, and in particular capitalist societies follow the rules of architects/builders? In the well established idealist tradition they rules of gravity are obviously turned, standing on their head.

  • The roof is build first.
    Affluence, ease of life – a world for some, only limited by the sky …, and it seems that even this can be by and large ignored.
  • The walls, not mentioned, are already attacked by moss and decay:
    Precarity, mass unemployment, drug abuse, ….
  • And finally, at the end, one thinks about the floor: the Social Protection Floor.

In the present context this is about the airline’s ad-article

UNICEF brings child labourers back to school in India

an ad-article as we read underneath that

[a]s Signature Partner to UNICEF, Norwegian supports the organisation’s work of giving children the best possible start in life, and a safe and happy childhood.

I am surely not arguing against this program – on the contrary I would like to see more being done for children, and I surely would like to see more being done for their safe upbringing, and this includes education as conditio sine qua non. Now, we have to leave aside the question if it is correct that

[c]hild labour is illegal in India, but the law is only enforced in factories. Walk down any alleyway in the city’s poor neighbourhoods, and children can be seen working in small workshops.

It is well known that in actual fact many of these small workshops are producing for the factories.

And for the moment we can leave aside discussing in depth presented very individual case: a child running a tea-stall for her father who is the

owner with a drinking habit

and who can be convinced to allow the young girl going back to school:

Please promise us that you will your children study. It’s like an insurance policy, pay now and you’ll reap great rewards in ten or fifteen years.

There remains with all these cases a mouldy aftertaste: Are we really talking about the right to education as matter of free development of personality or are we talking about the preparation of children for well-functioning parts of a global economy. Not denying the meaning and importance of the UN-Universal Declaration of Human Rights, adopted by the UN General Assembly on 10 December 1948, we should not hesitate to be critical about the meaning of Article 23, in particular the first two sentences, stating:

  1. Everyone has the right to work, to free choice of employment, to just and favourable conditions of work and to protection against unemployment.
  2. Everyone, without any discrimination, has the right to equal pay for equal work.

In historical reality, employment is just one form of meaningful social activity – and we should see it as such, subsequently also make clear that income from employment is just one form of making a living – and we should see it as such. This means not least to emphasise the importance of peoples’ and people’s right to control the way in which they (re-)produce themselves. In 2011, on the occasion of the Deutsche Welle Gobal Media Forum 2011: Human Rights in a Globalized World. Challenges for the Media I elaborated during the Forum Narrowing the gap between the world’s richest and poorest on the global dimension of this topic.

The statement of a green bird in one of the advertisements is surely as true as it is simple:

Looking different means to stand out.

Acting different means to be outstanding.

And it is also as true as it simple that being outstanding is only useful if in reality it is meant as matter of outwalking: being ready to move into an entirely different way, fundamentally questioning the existing perspectives in analytical and practical terms rather than fundamentally working towards standstill.

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I mentioned that I feel some sadness while reading and thinking this. It is about … – the feeling of some further loss of reality, the impression that we reached another level of alienation and the recognition of the fact that this new level of disenchantment is at least in one respect different to previous eras: whereas up to hitherto things and people had been veiled in a world of commodification and exchange, it seems that now people and things themselves disappear. It looks like the evaporation of the object, volatility of meaning …., leaving it to the subject to search meaning in him- and herself. Or should we speak about the subject looking for meaning in itself? And shouldn’t we actually be happy about the development, allowing us a fundamentally new grip of reality?

But it is also the sadness about not even looking for rights – which may then be contested in their exact definition and also in the way of their implementation. Instead we find reasoning about new values and mercifulness, Big Societies in their different forms.[3] Actually it is very much a standstill by reform-ulation. Neglecting the fact that there is a huge step from revolving towards revolutionising.

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I rush from the airport to the city-centre, heading to the rendezvous. It will be a short meeting in a coffee shop near the train station – on the occasion of the transit: organised incidence allowing us to meet. A short meeting – the encounter of two travellers, eternal tourists. The modern travellers’ life as jigsaw: hours, days nights – the here and there losing meaning as space is becoming only a formal shell, meaningless in its own terms, and most important to allow experiencing a déjà vu. – It had been a short meeting in a coffee shop near the train station – only when we move to the door, when it is time to say good-bye, I feel the startling naturalness – stunning because it is so full of tension, of contradictions in the perception of two people. Stunning because it is pure, tangible reality.

I look into the eyes, see the face, the freckles, feel the warmth of the skin, close to me – it is as if we would know since the time of no-remembrance, since eternity. But it is at the very same time as if we never met before, even more: as if it is the first time that I see a creature like her: real, attractive … and unreal, aloof, even a little bit eerie. In one word: unique as the single moment, each single moment, being already past at the very same moment we encounter it. And as elusive as it is, it is not less deeply engraved. It is a short moment, my hand on her shoulder, I pull her body gently towards me, though I have the feeling that it is not me pulling, instead she is pushing towards me. A nearly ephemeral embracement and we move apart, the hands float over the arms, a short contact of the hands – again so familiar, and still so new: new as if it would be the first time, the first touch ever. We separate, each of us making the first step, each moving into a different direction. Hej, hej – it cannot sound wistful even with its melancholic undertone, it carries a natural intimacy and makes it easy to leave each other behind. A brief encounter and still giving the feeling of having been deeply encroached into each other – a long time until we will see again, perhaps. But it may a short time only until the next encounter. Carpe diem. And now and then a lasting impression of naturalness, real like the Den lille havfrue of Copenhagen and unfeigned as the smile of Da Vinci’s Mona Lisa.

At this moement we may only have a brief look at the famous smile – on another occasion, talking a little bit about gender – we will come back to it.

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At this stage, after the brief rendezvous, it is only a short time ago that we stood in the Magyar Nemzeti Galéria: now I am talking about a group of students from Corvinus university and myself. I am talking about the visit at the gallery which made it so vivid to me that teaching and learning is in this course, more than it is with any other class anyway, not really separable. For me teaching is so much a process or learning, of mutually developing issues and bringing differs to perspectives together. So different to what is in some ways unavoidable result of the so-called reforms of the last years.

We are gathering in front of the rooms with the paintings by Munkácsy Mihály and the 20th Century Realism. For me it is always difficult to accept such classifications. Of course there are occasionally good reasons for such classifications, allowing us to distinguish styles, drawing borders in order to understand the emphasis given to certain features – the characteristics of a painter and the personal style, the characteristics of the style as dominating arts during a certain period and with all this, more precise: underlying and determining all this, a specific Zeitgeist as it is part and parcel of the mode of production. But then we may take a different perspective, asking ourselves: to which extent does a classifying term like realism limit our thinking, suggesting one and only one reality, prohibiting to understand that reality, as objective as it is, is also constructed reality? And aren’t there – not withstanding their objectivity – also different realities? A variety of realities, depending on our perception, our position, our experience? Depending also on our knowledge about what goes on behind the scenes? And all this being part of a complex field of different inter-actions? And Is not arts in al its different forms a matter of specific takes on the one reality, the way it impresses us and the way which is space for our expression; the way in which we enter deep into it by positioning ourselves outside, surmounting, arriving at a surreal position?

Before we enter the pleasantly air conditioned room, I look a little bit back to what we did so far.

The dissolution of the strict chain by which the individual had been welded into the communitarian circle. Initially it had been a process that had been independent from capitalism in its strict sense, a condition for its development: The citoyen, claiming the right to be person: personality independent from the mercy of the nobility – independent in thinking and acting, aiming not least on the right to be economically active: being his own lord.
Subsequently we find the dissociation of

  • use value and exchange value
  • product and producer

all based on and culminating the falling apart of aim and meaning.
This opened the field for questioning the role of god, the immediate meaning even if god’s fundamental existence had still not been doubted. In particular Calvin and Bodin play an outstanding role at the outset of a new, the modern state.
This is not least providing a framework that serves as condition for the fact that space and perspective regain meaning. Accepting some simplification we may say

  •  initially we find people living in one space – sharing one room together with (the) god(s)
  • subsequently, however, space is given away, externalised: the increasing knowledge of the fact that there are “others” outside of the immediately controlled and controllable space – the barbarians; and the increasing awareness of the lack of knowledge creating a new space for the god(s), not easily reachable by climbing up the mountain to some sort of Acropolis but impossible to reach and even impossible to know about;
  • further development leads to regaining space: the increasing knowledge and the increasing direct engagement with the other – the barbarian – merge at some stage into the rather rational order, later spelled out by the Westphalian peace agreement: in practice the birth of the modern state, the change of space from a war theatre to a theatre of personalities and trade.

We may refer to the German language, allowing us to clearly present the issue in question that is we see in the emergence of spaces of action, the Handlungsräume. Handeln translates into acting and also into trading. This is very much the economy of the time – it can be further specified by characterising it as questioning and defining space also in terms of nation states. On the one hand there had been of course the demarcation, taking the form of mercantilism. On the other hand we are dealing the need to expand: productive forces reaching new levels and breaking the fetters of parochialism open.

We may add another dimension – by using a play with words finally we want to gain also for us the freedom which had been mentioned. The term trade evokes surely the impression of nearness to the French traduire/traduction which stands for translation. This is surely also some characteristic of the economy of the time if we take this as matter of transformation. It is the transformation that takes place by way of production; furthermore it is the transformation that takes place by way of use value entering as exchange value the process of circulation; it is also the transformation of individual, i.e. abstract labour into socially valued effort; and not least we find here the transformation of national and international processes of different social forms of production into individual wealth. The Hanseatic League as alliance of cities and traders should not be underestimated as also important in the context of the movement of arts as part of scientific and ideological exchange and mutual stimulation (s. also Prolegomena. Encore Citizenship – Revisiting or Redefining?; in: Herrmann, Peter (ed.): World’s New Princedoms. Critical Remarks on Claimed Alternatives by New Life; Amsterdam: Rozenberg Publishers, 2010). One can see this also as an important point of juncture in a very specific respect: the guild system played in the development of the arts a major role. And The Hanseatic League can be seen as major force of protecting the guild system while it secured at the very same time the expansion of the guilds and guild-products.

In a way we may speak of a paradox: the parochial system strangely merging with the orientation on liberal and unrestricted world trade.

The Dutch term for the currency of the time guilderexpresses it in a nutshell. In some way it is even justified to see here a specific foundation of the gold standard as currency based on gold: the Dutch guilderlinked to the guilds as the protected pure craftsmanship in the countries of the northern parts of Europe as ‘trademark’ of the crafts-trade (or early capitalist) societies (s. also Prolegomena. Encore Citizenship – Revisiting or Redefining?; in: Herrmann, Peter (ed.): World’s New Princedoms. Critical Remarks on Claimed Alternatives by New Life; Amsterdam: Rozenberg Publishers, 2010).  And the Fiorino, i.e. the Italian Florin. In its denomination it had been linked to the pure (i.e. fine) content of gold and surely an indicator for the more finance-based setting of generating economic value based in the finance sector.

– The prominence of the term denomination in both areas, tat of money and that of religion may be pure accidence, of course.

A fundamental condition is the dissociation between humankind and nature, with this the dissociation of man of himself. Reason is now in a new way externalised. With the development of science – this is now understood as natural science which first has to develop itself by loosening the bonds to science in a more general understanding – ratio is externalised, seen as inherent in nature. And from here it re-enters society: as lex naturae. This implies that it is now possible to claim societal laws. But rather than establishing them as matter of societal practice – as process of relational appropriation – we see them now presented as replica: even the bonum commune is subordinated under this form. In his critical review of Thomas of Aquino, Franz Borkenau concludes in his work Der Übergang vom feudalen zum bürgerlichen Weltbild, that for Aquino

[t]he law is inherent in humans, because it is evidently reasonable; but its reason can be found in its reference to the aim of general happiness. Actually this is the order by which the drives of the imperfect individuals are directed on a perfect entity – and with this they are becoming congruent with themselves.

(Borkenau, Franz: 1932: Der Übergang vom feudalen zum bürgerlichen Weltbild. Studien zur Geschichte der Philosophie des Manufakturperiode; Darmstadt: Wissenschaftliche Buchgesellschaft, 1971: 26)

As much as Descartes and Hobbes erect on this basis their theories of ratio and respectively the state by reducing quality on space and figures, we find in economic thinking the emergence of the manufactures, based in a simple system of mechanical division of labour.

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And now we are standing in front of the painting Avenue of Trees Colpach by Munkácsy Mihály. If we accept for a while periodisation and classification of styles we can see here the search for reality which had been lost during the preceding period. Crossing distances as part of international trade, an early globalisation as matter of standardisation, and with this the alienation evoked new answers of how to shape life – of course, for the working classes most pressing though for these classes there had not been any time or space to ask. Alienation, however, had been a general problem – one for all members of society and even for society at large. But what is actually even more profound: New questions had to be defined as the alienation had not been a matter of technical “distancing” or separation of human action and technical means and social output (though this would have bee already quite a lot). Rather, we are looking at a period and genre where the immediate reality did not play a role. Instead, we are here dealing with the question of a change of the entire system of relationality:[4] not only the roles but also the stage itself.

Now, let us look at the Avenue. It is a well known landscape – one may even say: too well known here in Hungary. As Dóra mentions, everybody actually has seen such a landscape. It is so familiar, it could be nearly anywhere and in this way, Colpach is not more than a placeholder for so many other places. And we may go even further, anybody who ever walked through deciduous woodland will have this déjà vu-experience – and it is exactly this familiarity which draws our attention to the painting. Moreover, it draws us somewhat physically into the painting, we want to enter it, we feel like entering this space unfolding in front of us. Is it correct to express it this way? Aren’t we actually already in the middle of it? “Looking through the telescope” helps to intensify this experience: forming the hands to a tube and holding them in front of the eyes so that the surrounding, the disruptive elements are faded out. Not much imaginative power is needed to feel part of the space, and with this: to feel involved in a specific environment. But familiarity is only one moment. The reality of which we know that it is an accessible reality, that one can actually enter it and move within it. The asperities right in the front, paradoxically underlining this aspect, allowing us to re-experience (or expressed more succinct: to remember) that even hurdles of this kind are not by any means insuperable. On the contrary, they emphasise the reality of our existence, our walk through life: by and large even, smooth with, not despite the asperities.

Familiarity and the knowledge of the possibility to access this presented reality are only to moments drawing us into the picture. Two other can be made out – not less important than the before mentioned.

The one is the way in which naturalness is captured: entering from and into the dark, walking towards light. And this light is precisely depicted: as it is: reality in a looking glass. What Munkácsy masterfully presented is the attraction by the mystification of the disenchanted, or is it the attraction of disenchanting the myth? We can turn it in whichever direction we like. There is in any case a fascination going out from the light – but it is not the clear light, easily allowing us to see “the veracity”. Instead it is the light of the joy and – we may add another allusion to Friedrich Schiller’s letters and his high estimation of play:

… as the sensuous impulsion controls us physically, and the formal impulsion morally, the former makes our formal constitution contingent, and the latter makes our material constitution contingent, that is to say, there is contingence in the agreement of our happiness with our perfection, and reciprocally. The instinct of play, in which both act in concert, will render both our formal and our material constitution contingent; accordingly, our perfection and our happiness in like manner. And on the other hand, exactly because it makes both of them contingent, and because the contingent disappears with necessity, it will suppress this contingence in both, and will thus give form to matter and reality to form. In proportion that it will lessen the dynamic influence of feeling and passion, it will place them in harmony with rational ideas, and by taking from the laws of reason their moral constraint, it will reconcile them with the interest of the senses.

(Schiller, J. C. Friedrich von, 1794: Letters upon the Æsthetic Education of Man. Letter XIV)

Another attraction is coming from a social element, in the present reproduction not easily seen is the women with the blue dress. The presentation, distant enough, allows, even challenges us to play with our thoughts. A certain splendour can be seen, but with this also a certain playfulness, play-ability – standing in a dark section of the painting, she nevertheless suggesting the ease of being at any time able to leave. Looking closely into the details, we see not much more than a shadow, leaving it to us, to the spectator to fill it with life: the life of romantic togetherness or the life a joyous-playful further walk, joining some imagined group further away.

Faites vos jeux!

Is there a message in it, actually contradicting the realism of the style? The real life is, though not in the other world but at least in nature, away from the daily hardships? We may assume it while “walking through the picture”. Being at first glance trapped by a somewhat impressionist[5] view, we enter through the darkness, but also through the roughness of the ground and arrive at a bizarre mixture of the presentation: on the one hand we see now an amazingly detailed view for instance of the leaves; on the other hand we do not see further asperities – they are fading away in the wealth of light and the promise of the social contact.

Of course, it is a far-fetched interpretation, but is it really obscure to think in this context about a certain kind of empty promise by an anthropological Zeitgeist, pertaining in modern capitalist economies which we will present a little later?

At least there is some detail in the painting that we may take as suggestion in this direction. The women we see – still in the bottom part, thus real but at its margin, in tendency moving towards the realm of the “bright-light top” – wears a blue dress. Thus it is – against the dominant green of forest – the complementary colour. So, rather than mixing the two colours – thus arriving at grey[6] – we may say we leave the grey, moving from there towards the two complementary forms of existence: natural and social being as genuine forms of reality, standing against the crude existence of the modern capitalist Zeitgeist.

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I turn around the corner, walk into the direction of the town hall – a brief look only across the street: Tivoli, a different reality. From this distance I see the carrousels, rollercoaster …, hear the screaming of the people breaking through the noise of the traffic. Screaming – but expressing in its very specific way joy, having fun. In the world that suggests the evaporation of the object, volatility of meaning meaningless movement may offer the only meaning. Circulation carried to the extreme. The individual now itself being drawn into the movement, being movement. The Cartesian Cogito Ergo Sum being translated into Movo Ergo Sum: I am moving, therefore I am – the ongoing change of place as confirmation of existence. Sure, a paradox, the aim being further separated from the meaning. Evaporation, being permanently on the run, escape as confirmation of existence. Reality as matter of denying its presence. The reality also as veil …, tending to deny the genuine truth as point of reference.

The anthropological pattern, presented by Herbert Marcuse in his presentation titled Man in a Socialised World (see  Marcuse, Herbert, 1966: Der Mensch in einer sozialisierten Welt. Aufnahme: 03.10.1966, BR Technik: Schmitt Laufzeit: 47:13; CD 2: track 1: 2.45 min; from: Der Mensch in einer sozialisierten Welt. Originalvorträge von Herbert Marcuse. Autor: Herbert Marcuse. Sprecher: Herbert Marcuse. Aus der Reihe: O–Ton–Wissenschaft. Thema: Soziologie, Wissenschaft. 4 CDs – ca. 200 Minuten), is moved a step further, reaches a new level. He highlights the following issues as characterising the current anthropological Zeitgeist, pertaining in modern capitalist economies:

  • life is presented and perceived as plight and alienation
  • however, there is a ‘better life’: the satisfaction of needs and wants as remuneration of labour – though suffering is the irretrievable foundation of happiness
  • life is a matter of striving for being – and the substance of life is productivity with and in favour of society
  • refined values are separated from ever day’s life, from the daily performance. Finding to yourself is left for the time outside of work.

The difference is not as fundamental as it may appear: it is in actual fact only the full realisation of what we already learned of Shakespeare and Rembrandt:

The world is a stage

And we are moving on this stage, and as we saw on an earlier occasion, namely when looking at Rembrandt, this is not least about positioning ourselves. But it is also about defining occasionally the stage in new ways.

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 Still, the very reality, the physical needs are undeniable, though they take in their refined and cultural embedding surely a specific form. Anyway, I feel hungry, open the door to the Vesuvio, appropriate to the mood that got hold of me. It is still early. Only a short time ago different times, different realities tore us apart. – I am used to be on my own, and now I am prepared for a relaxing evening. I sit down, a little later the waiter comes to the table, bids me a good evening:

God aften, sir.

I hesitate for less then the blink of an eye, say

Hej

imitating the intonation I heard so frequently since I am here: the emphasis in the middle of this one syllabus, a sharp, though friendly way, the voice moving slightly upwards to the end. But leave it there, switch language:

Sorry, you speak English?

– Life is a stage, a theatre, and to some extent it is up to us to play the roles we like to play. Thus, a mix of kindness and bravado evoke the next question:

O parli italiano?

With this I apparently killed the hope for a relaxed evening:

Certo, sono italiano! ….

So I have to take up the challenge – speaking a foreign language. It is only on such occasions that I mention how much some languages are not foreign languages, even if I am not native speaker. It takes a while, but at the end it is nice to get a little bit back into it, forgetting how easy, how fast it is to forget.

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 Can we actually position ourselves just somewhere? Or do we equally “design” our environment? Do we position things in the environment?

After stepping away from the Avenue of Trees we may move to The Park at Colpach by the same artist, namely Munkácsy Mihály.

In some respect it is very similar to the previous depiction – but nevertheless the topic lost some of its innocence.

Two views into a forest, light guiding the way – and in both cases the brightness at the end. However, here we face also the difference. We make take a cross as alignment when comparing the to objects.

Although we are approaching the Avenue from the dark, walking towards brightness, there is a distinction that we may put into words by saying that we actually walking in toto through light towards an ultimate brightness which also is – to some extent felt, to some extent seen – as surrounding, as environment of the “closed” space of the avenue. In this sense the closure of the space of the avenue is in actual fact not really given: it is obviously a temporary one. The destination of the walk is located at the upper part of the bottom half, but at the same time it is “stretched”, reaching with the opening to the sky beyond. With this it suggests also the openness of the walk itself – the destination not being fixed. This is supported by the “light from within” which acts as accompanying unfolding: an extension. In the park, on the other hand, the focus is moved from the visual to the special centre, the light at the suggested destination being externalised, remaining without strong meaning. It is only a small opening, else the trees providing a kind of border, a fortification wall that encapsulates the bright space which is limited: more like a field rather than suggesting a path. Looking at the “dominant tree” makes the same suggestion: not in a hostile way, perhaps even on the contrary “protecting” it provides paradoxically a shade, naturally the upper parts of the branches showing the bright colours, suggesting underneath a place for rest rather than a space for exploration. This suggests also that the genuine naturalness is replaced by some artificial, “given” order: But now it is not given in its own terms, but “designed”, “set”, not left open to be explored. With this the playfulness and even the thought of playfulness disappeared, the complement missing – also in the colour.

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Perhaps it is good that we are able to forget – languages, and how strange they can be at times, allowing us to speak in one language, give words – and deeds – one meaning.

Perhaps it is good that we are able to forget – I remember the visit to the Anne Frank house in Amsterdam – together with Yitzhak and David. In a way a weird trio, me being together with an English and a Jewish chap. At the end, before leaving the building which had been a place of “soft horror” various quotes for different people are gathered. I remember especially the one, saying something like the following:

Why are we so concerned, emotionally touched but this one fate, surely a dramatic one but in some way nothing if we acknowledge that many, thousands of people had been tortured at the time. Why are deeply moved by just this one case? The answer is simple: it is hard to cope with the one, to reflect and re-enact the suffering of Anne Frank. We would ourselves shatter if we would try to reproduce what happened to all those who we t through an era of hell.

Forgetting, not recognising, turning attention away – or cutting single moments out of an entire complex portrait is probably the only way that allows us to function at least in a reasonable way.

It is about the coping with daily life, seeing even in the darkest moments some bright light! Acknowledging the hardship without allowing it to take us completely into its grip.

–––––––––––––––––––––––

In the meantime we turned away from Munkácsy’s paintings, stand in front of Paál László’s painting Berzovai Utca.[7]

The comparison between the Munkácsy’s Avenue and Park brought up the topic of the “ordering” of nature by civilisation, the obvious fact that the park disclosed at least indirectly humans’ intervention.

Now we really arrive in Civilisation …

– Zoltán aptly characterises Paál’s work with about these words. The colours of the actual painting are not as bright as they are on the present reproduction. They offer a more depressed picture, a somewhat dark and dirty place. The impression the picture provides is different to what the title suggests. Are we really seeing a street (Hungarian: utca)? Isn’t it more a farmyard, closed, not providing the option of an exit? All is untidy, messy. And in a nearly frightening way the two depicted people loose meaning. We do not see personalities: unfaltering, taking a clear position, guiding towards a clearly defined destination nor defining such destination themselves. It is more as if they would have been thrown into something, being left there – abandoned to their fate. They are faceless and the bodies do not show the basic stress of healthy people. This is even marked by the clarity with which the animals are presented – a closer look showing that they actually do have faces. Yes, we arrive in civilisation: the downside of it. And making sense out of it is left top us. Is it just the shadow of the light? Or the social division: leaving playfulness to the one, sober hardship to the others? The Berzovai Utca showing us what is going on behind the scene of the Avenue and Park?

– There are so many realities in a day as there are days in the life of each of us?

Faites vos jeux!

Though we will see later that even this needs to be qualified as for some the days that are left are just condensed in one single option: reality as condemnation.

–––––––––––––––––––––––

The meal had been nice, the taste of the food mingles the smell of hair which is still in my memory from the meeting a short while ago. All this seems to translate the fuss of the Tivoli and traffic into some form of music. Alfred Doeblin’s Berlin Alexander Square comes to my mind, the reality he captured so well in his novel by using condensation as means of a multilevel, collage like presentation, allowing to hear the various sounds of the place, drawing the reader into it.

The squeal of breaks gets me precipitously out of my dreams, recalls impressions from one of the previous days, back home, letting me ask:

How much fits into a day?

More or less first thing in the morning I see again the old man who is obviously homeless – for him sleeping rough translates into a rough, permanently interrupted sleep. He sits in a wheel chair, lost both legs and is not able to lean his head against anything. So he doses off, his head, the entire body moving forward – he is nearly rolling over, awakes again, nodding off to enter this seemingly endless circle of his nights. And in a way he is still one of the lucky people who is not taken into custody as so many of them have to face now in Hungary.

Later in the office I fly over the news on the Internet. Too much to be listed, one somewhat outstanding story: the riots in the United States of Northern America. People expressing their desperation: violence that will not lead anywhere, that will not bring about any change if an escalation of state violence is left out of the equation; but this state violence is already there: cops, at the end surely may doing there job because they simply follow the logic of the system which says if you are not beating you will be beaten. A sufficient excuse? What is sufficient if choice is extremely limited? – One outstanding photo in the Mail-Online-article Re-Occupied! Thousands of activists clash with police as May Day protesters swarm dozens of U.S. cities by Daniel Bates, Lydia Warren and Louise Boyle, the subtitle of the photo reading:

Gloating: Businessmen in a window laugh after placing a sign on their window above where Occupy Wall Street protesters were marching. It reads: ‘The harder I work, the luckier I get’

Later again, I have to go into the city, first across the Vaci Utca, the tourist mall. Helpless … Zsuzsa said the other day, when I mentioned an article in a French paper about the prosecution of the poor: “Yes, we are getting famous.” Helpless now, seeing this fame, being immediately confronted with it. A poor woman, I kind-of know her, saw her throughout the years. She walks and stands rectangular: crooked, leaning on her simple cane. She has to turn her head in order to be able to look up to the two policemen who control her documents. “Oh, boys, you little scallywags, what are you looking. You are still just little foolish greenhorns.” This is the one expression; another is resignation – her hands tremble but there is no fear: she is too weak for that. … I feel trembling myself but there is no fear: it is just this feeling of helplessness, anger … and sadness.

Few days before I wrote a mail to my students in Cork – I mentioned it, saying I feel a little bit guilty, asking myself if I am too demanding. After this impression I know again why I wrote

Sorry for being somewhat fussy. The problem is that there are certain simple facts – and in some perspective there are in studying sp also these things as in all subjects we study. 1 + 4,987 is matter of adding two figures with a positive value and we cannot change the value nor can we take a subtraction out of it. Photosynthesis doesn’t work with every light as source for the composition; and an oil painting is not a painting in watercolour.

Indeed, I think that social policy teaching and research is in many cases too “soft”, actually not considering itself as serious academic discipline but as refined pub–chat, not suggesting hard measures of intervening into the productive process, not substantially fighting exploitation …, instead still hoping for the good: philanthropy, good will, insight ….

Now, here in the Vaci Utca I can only move on. A little later I enter the building of the embassy, walk though the glass door – it is a heavy door, the glass only being the small part, decoration between the timber and metal. Control of documents …: A glass door like a glass ceiling: suggesting openness, but being in some respect impassable, making entering impossible for those who are not authorised.

It is not just the story about the passport as a travel document – far more: it is about an international standard. And this is one of the next things when I am asking myself the question: how much fits into day. How can we define and maintain within all this our identity.

At that time still looking forward to the visit in Copenhagen which I mentioned earlier and knowing that I will have a little bit spare time during the upcoming visit, I check the Internet – google, of course: Copenhagen. The first result brings me to Wikipedia. Now one could say: yes, an objective information rather than a possibly glossy self–presentation by the city, it’s tourist office, chamber of trade …. . But that Wikipedia is a neutral source, is as true that angels are sitting on a cloud, playing the harp. It is probably too much of an honour to give it the same status as the great work of the encyclopaedists of the 18th century – the great names of d’Alambert, Diderot, Rousseau, Voltaire shining up. But it is not an honour for Wikipedia that it claims neutrality and universality. With that this falls much below the older encyclopaedists, who new that they a moving on a stage – not one of presentation but one of disputation – real and public, much less than a mouse-click away.

Well, as I do not have much time for the internet-search I accept the offer, glance over it, being especially interested in one section, culture and recreation, namely museums/galleries. According to the mentioned source, the city I will be visiting

has a wide array of museums of international standard.

I hesitate but give in, follow the link

International Standard

I hardly trust my eyes and senses:

International standards are standards developed by international standards organizations. International standards are available for consideration and use, worldwide. A prominent organisation is the International Organization for Standardization.

There is surely a good reason for acknowledging the outstanding work of some artists – and to be honest the work on these new perspectives is a great experience not least as I learn to deeply appreciate my personal privilege: I can say that I saw so many of the paintings that are of highest standard with my own eyes – those in the famous galleries as Le Louvre and those hidden in small galleries, some of these exhibition places hardly known even to most of the locals as those at the border of Rome’s Trastevere.

Though I am not principally opposed to the qualification of arts and to taking a comparative perspective, drawing a link to International Organization for Standardization is at best an expression of bad taste, ignorance and disrespect.


[1] For some the first painting of Cubism

[2] Reference is made to the Norwegian Airlines in-flight magazine #02. April-May 2012. However, many of these features can be found in various journals, magazines, newspapers … .

[3] In another context, namely being asked to comment on

the difference between the Third way politics and Strong Democracy, Big Society and the Social left?

I wrote in an e-mail (10 May 2012 09:00:52 GMT+01:00):

Point of departure is for me the definition of society.

In the conservative understanding it is based on the notion of a strict methodological individualism (for me the easiest, clearest presentation on few pages in the beginning of James Coleman’s two-volume oeuvre – don’t know the title; some stuff by Hartmut (?) Esser, but I think only in German; may even be that wikipedia is good enough): It is individuals acting as such and only being ex post “merged”. Big society is a little bit the Hobbesian Leviathan then, but as conscious and voluntary cooperation of individuals not as the state but “resisting” the competition on a small scale. In terms of the “old philosophies of the state” it is very much about Bodin and Vives – and the idea of the bonum commune as imagined something.

And this is the difference to the 3rd way. It refers to some form of the bonum commune as real, as something that exists and needs to be made conscious to all. As such it does not trust the reason and insight into things but aims on enforcing them, the “gentle” enforcement by workfare (did I say “gentle” enforcement? – but to be fair, I know people of this calibre and they think it is exactly this. And I also know colleagues … that at least at some stage thought this way – don’t know if they returned to using their brain). As such – and this is a marked difference – the reference is not the individual but an imagined collective actor (you see: radically different to the imagined something of the B[ig] S[ociety].

Then you have the Social Left – as said I do not know what you actually refer to. If it is what I think it is it is again rather different: actually starting from the (imagination of a) real collective actor being identical with the real collective interest – here we do not have the bonum commune anymore. The B[ig] S[ociety] is somewhat “outside”, external – like Hegel’s “absolute idea”. The real collective interest is inherent: “what people really want”. In this way there is actually no difference anymore between individual and social and private and public – … and they still live happily together …. But before do[i]ng so they have to get rid of some power which emerged as Leviathan, from the genuine evil … – as such they fall in their idealism back and arrive at Aristotelian ideas on virtue and vices …. – and as soon as they return to [the] paradise of the mode of production of antiquity th[ey] are ready …, living happily together.

[4] relationality had been presented already on another occasion

[5] This is not about suggesting that the work is part of the impressionist style.

[6] As known, mixing complementary colours results in grey.

[7] The colours in the present reproduction are badly matching the original.

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