Human Rights – “Lives Rights” – Children’s Rights



The article attempts to add a new direction to the debate on human rights by looking at it from four perspectives: practice, development, everyday’s life and political responsibility of social work. This aims not least on working towards the foundation of a fourth generation of human rights, supplementing the generally accepted three generations. At stake is the genuine acknowledgement of social human rights in everyday’s life.

Human rights are often looked at if they are – be it in reality or by way of perception – breached. To speak of perceived or real breaches is certainly often superfluous, because it is obvious that certain actions and situations are even a matter of disrespecting the most fundamental and inalienable human right: the one to live, i.e. to mere existence of the human being. However, in many cases the situation lacks such clarity: definitions and practices are controversial, and furthermore it is often controversial whether certain issues, though they may be obviously being inhumane, are actually human-rights-related questions. The reason for such statement, possibly surprising for some of the readers, is simple:  human rights have their origin in protecting citizens against arbitrary abuses of the states’ power against the (world) citizens. In other words human rights had been linked to the state, as Weber says the only entity upholding the claim to the monopoly of the legitimate use of physical force in the enforcement of its order.

In such a reading private actions – and these are also acts of companies in global markets or actions of fanatical fundamentalist religious communities[2] – are strictly irrelevant to human rights. There is another dimension to the fact that these rights are nearly only issued in case of violation: both, the rather abstract reading of human rights and the consideration of individual violations reveals again and again that addressing these rights is bay and large detached from everyday’s life. At least apparently they do not affect the ordinary insanity: conflicts repeatedly preventing in different ways in everyday’s life that people can develop with all its facets of personality.

Admittedly this is a rather complicated and complex situation. But it is also a fundamental question, concerning the fundamental difficulty of defining human rights. Narrow definitions look at very obvious “cases” – even if one has to admit that the two declarations of human rights claiming universality (resolution 217 A [III] of the General Assembly on 10 December 1948: Universal Declaration of Human Rights; – 7/8/13; Cairo Declaration on Human Rights in Islam, Aug. 5, 1990, UN GAOR, World Conf on Hum Rts, 4th… sess, Agenda Item 5, UN Doc A/CONF.157/PC/62/Add.18 [1993]; – 7/8/13) are in fact not really universal. This is also true and clearly the case for the UN Declaration, which contains a strong affirmation of the capitalist mode of produciton (see below and Presentation Narrowing the Gap Between the World’s Richest and Poorest Contribution for the German wave GLOBAL MEDIA FORUM 2011). However, a broad definition runs not only the risk of including too many aspects, but at the same time it also opens the door for arbitrariness. Anyway, it is important to focus on the importance of human rights in every day’s life, going beyond the protection of mere existence. The development up to now is commonly seen as characterized by three generations:

The first generation concerns “negative rights,” in the sense that their respect requires that the state do nothing to interfere with individual liberties, and correspond roughly to the civil and political rights.

The second generation … requires positive action by the state to be implemented, as is the case with most social, economic and cultural rights. The international community is now embarking upon a third generation … which may be called “rights of solidarity”

(Vasak, Karel, 1977: A 30-Year Struggle. The Sustained Efforts to Give Force of Law to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights; in: The UNESCO Courier. A Window open on the World; Paris: UNESCO: 30/11: 29/32; here: 29; cf. Herrmann, Peter (forthcoming): Justice and Law Today: On the Translation of General Ideas on Justice into Claims for Security and Responsibility; in: Herrmann: God, Rights, Law and a Good Society [Writings on Philosophy and Economy of Power, 2]; Bremen/Oxford: EHV Academic press, 2012)

It is fundamental that a fourth stage is missing – and such stage is actually difficult to imagine within contemporary paradigms of social sciences in general: the social law and the socio-economic self-FORMATION law in a very genuine sense. It is justified to see the debate on human rights as being firmly based in the tradition of positive law – be it in a positive or in a negative way. However, it has to be seen that

[p]ositive law assumes an ordered social context that exhibits certain deficiencies: it envisages more desirable – an ideal – ordering of the context; it prescribes the steps to be taken in order to move the actual towards the ideal; and it orders that these measures be instituted. That is, positive law is at once expository, normative prescriptive, advisory, and imperative. But it is positive law as a means to an end …

(Jenkins, Iredell, 1980: Social Order and the Limits of Law. A Theoretical Essay; Princeton: Princeton University Press: 75)

This can only be understood in the context of society and socialization. Significant is the statement of Norbert Elias, who points out that people can only be understood as a process in its ongoing development, and he also suggests that this orientation is constantly undermined by the overwhelming tendency to push all processes into some form of structures (see Elias, Norbert, 1980/81: Social Process Models on multiple levels, in: Elias, Norbert: Essays On Sociology and the Humanities III; Dublin. University College Dublin Press, 2009: 40-42).


Of course, structural thinking knows as well thoughts about development, but these are fundamentally shaped by a very particular and peculiar understanding: it assumes an indispensable link between two areas:

  • First it is stated that there is a (more or less) straightforward development to “modern” societies – this is idealised as enlightenment, in reality it is about the development of capitalist modes of production;
  • Secondly, development is then also increasingly about development of human rights. On the one hand this is seen as development of human rights themselves – i.e. they are taken as dynamically expanding, steadily albeit very slowly; on the other hand “successful development” is indentified with modern societies and it is suggested that they are guaranteeing human rights – certainly is not denied: “unfortunately” we would find “slips” within and even caused by the capitalist system, but this is just considered as an exception and mostly seen as “bad practice”, which can actually only be found in the countries of the global South.[3]

Important is not so much the accuracy of the proposed relationships – which is of course highly questionable. A key point is more a question of the methodology (see Herrmann / O’Leary, in preparation: Human Rights – Search for a Fourth Generation): Apart from the fact that the underlying understanding is highly individualistic – thus following very much the tradition of European Enlightenment – another problem has to be seen in the fact that certain human rights are faded out by a structural-methodological pattern. First, these are everyday issues – as mentioned earlier, human rights issues are only then on the agenda where we find breaches in extreme situations. Secondly, however, the concept of development itself implies a certain ignorance: underdevelopment means lack of development of human rights or lack of human rights awareness and therefore “underdeveloped people” need to be “developed” in order to be able to accept and live these rights.

Of course, this is an exaggerated and simplified version of a complex problem. But such simplification is useful to clarify extremely important questions:

  • Human rights are in this way conceptually reduced and seen as passive rights – and only “fully developed human beings” can really take full advantage of these rights (of course it is left open who these “fully developed human beings” are;
  • they are only taken individualistically – as only the capitalist formation represents such “full development” and provides completely developed awareness in terms of the underlying idea of man.

Just a quick note on the last point must do suffice: The UN Declaration points in Article 25.1 out:

Everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of himself and of his family, including food, clothing, housing and medical care and necessary social services, and the right to security in the event of unemployment, sickness, disability, widowhood, old age or other lack of livelihood in circumstances beyond his control.

In other words, realistically, the only way of full involvement is to participate in the global capitalist system.


Formulated provocatively, social work is facing an impossible task – the squaring of the cycle. On the one hand it is of course important to recognise the basic human rights in the given understanding, aiming on securing their realisation. But at the same time we are facing the necessity of engaging in the balancing act of criticizing these rights at the level of the underlying methodology and the subsequent definitions. Two aspects have to play a particularly important role – in the following they are only addressed as questions for future research and action:

The first is development of practice: human rights must be understood more as matter of social human practice. This means in a global perspective the need to acknowledge other modes of production; in national perspectives it means to allow other ways of life – not only as matter of multiculturalism, but more in the sense of different understandings of the production and reproduction of everyday’s life. Obviously, this includes especially the recognition of such modes of work and lifestyles as they are claimed by some ethnic minorities. And importantly we are here also facing the particular issues and conflicts: are such rights compatible with requirements of gender equality – as for instance some issues of gender equality in the modes of production of Gypsies, Islamic communities, etc. – Mentioning the possible tensions is here only meant to raise issues, not more and not less.

The second issue is development. It is a challenge as we have to ask and answer how we are dealing in this light with “non-development” and “not-developed people”. In this formulation, this seems to be sufficiently provocative to clarify the issue at stake: the conceptual difficulties that do exist in dealing with interpretations presented by certain groups. These are considerations that are partly already arising in official discussions in connection with the so-called rights of the third generation. In the present case, however, the solidarity rights must be understood correctly: we are talking about the right to develop and practice the social, and not only realise oneself within a defined social context. That means both “rights for the weaker members of society”, but it also means to overcome fundamentally the concept of weakness, gong much beyond ideas of support. One of the issues that is obviously conflictual is the religious requirement of self-determination, which then potentially threatens the right to life under certain circumstances. Children are just one important group that requires solidarity in this sense.

Thirdly, it is about daily life: All these considerations need to be anchored in everyday life – not only with regard to the daily lives of the many whose rights are obviously violated, but also the matters that are still leading to structural “hidden disadvantages”. Actually these infringements are not so secret at all. An example that is not sufficiently seen as breach of basic human rights is the disadvantage of women as it finds its expression unequal pay. A permanently occurring question has to ask if it can be justifiable that collective agreements are not possible anymore and it has to evaluate in which ways they are increasingly undermined.

Fourth, the question of political responsibility must be re-visited. This refers in particular to processes of education. The responsible citizen, capable and ready to participate is certainly a widely used catchword. But it is at the same time also a question that needs to be considered in normal daily life of social work practice. This means as well that it is about the normal daily life of people – even the ordinary people. Change of society should not be moved to infinity by the fact that one cares first only about “really serious cases”. Just because a negative comparison is ridiculous, it is important that such extreme breaches can not least happen, because we easily ignore minor injuries – and this means also that we have to take the violations of the small ones, the children more serious. We easily assume a natural superiority of the West, the adult , the men of the professions etc. And we forget them equally easily, because we often emphasise the rights of “the disadvantaged” without further reflection: multiculturalism, anti-globalization, freedom of religion, transsexuality, the conflictuality  – important issues to reflect upon without neglecting the highly conflictual, and often explosive content.

And yet it moves – Galileo Galilei supposedly said those words. It does not matter whether he said it or not. Social work, generally, the social professions have finally (again) realise that they have to move more and they have to move in more fundamental ways.

[1]            Rough translation of an article, published in Sozial Extra 7|8, 2013

[2]            One may think of gender policies in the name of Roman-Catholic fundamentalism – this saves from reflecting on more or less distant regions, for instance dominated by Islam.

[3]            Such regionalisation is indirectly suggesting that the real reason can be found within these countries.


mailing address

Just to make sure that it is now properly communicated ..

Prof. Dr. Peter Herrmann

EURISPES – Istituto di Studi Politici, Economici e Sociali

Osservatorio Europeo sulla Qualità Sociale

Via Orazio 31

00193 Roma


Elfin Dances, to be Performed by Elephants

After it had been Time to say Good-bye and after it had been Time to say Goodbye. Again some time later …

…. – it surely had been a strange feeling, coming back to the country in which I lived for so many years, on the occasion of a conference concerning EU-issues – the Symposim “Drives of Regionalism and Integration in Europe and Asia“.

However, returning meant not least to go for the first time to the Gate Theatre in Dublin, where Ibsen’s The enemy of the people had been performed.

The program booklet interestingly states as “main topic” the question of democracy and the right of one indvidual claiming the right of cicil disobedience.

But then, for me, something came up on a deeper level.

Quoting Ibsen from the Gutenberg-text on the Internet

Peter Stockmann. A man with a family has no right to behave as you do. You have no right to do it, Thomas.

Dr. Stockmann. I have no right! There is only one single thing in the world a free man has no right to do. Do you know what that is?

Peter Stockmann. No.

Dr. Stockmann. Of course you don’t, but I will tell you. A free man has no right to soil himself with filth; he has no right to behave in a way that would justify his spitting in his own face.

And we find also the following section:

Mrs. Stockmann. Well, one would not give you credit for much thought for your wife and children today; if you had had that, you would not have gone and dragged us all into misfortune.

Dr. Stockmann. Are you out of your senses, Katherine! Because a man has a wife and children, is he not to be allowed to proclaim the truth-is he not to be allowed to be an actively useful citizen—is he not to be allowed to do a service to his native town!

Mrs. Stockmann. Yes, Thomas—in reason.

Aslaksen. Just what I say. Moderation in everything.

Mrs. Stockmann. And that is why you wrong us, Mr. Hovstad, in enticing my husband away from his home and making a dupe of him in all this.

Sure, there are various layers, food for thought.

Not least the integrating role and function of the family. And looking at Ibsen’s play, we learn about the two sides: integrating, i.e. requiring subordination; but also integrating by way of “integer solidarity”, unconditional love and trust, the production and provision of integrity.

The question is also about democracy and opportunism and the meaning of individuals fighting for something that they see as their “individual conviction”, against marjority rule and “exceptionalism”- as said this is stated in the (by the way: completely overpriced) program booklet. We read – and hear also in the play:

After all, we are a democratic country. Now, God knows in ordinary times I’d agree a hundered per cent with anybody’s right to say anything. But these are not ordinary times. Nations have crises and so do towns …’

And indeed it can be seen – probably not only in Irland – as matter of

our own broken little country, at a time when leadership and integrity are called upon, an inconceivable time when the many must take the consequences for the risks taken by the few.

There is then at least a third point – a question:

Who is actually the “enemy”. Aren’t we all – at least occasionally – claiming to be exactly that: individuals, not opportunistically subordinating ourselves but doing things our own way? Somewhat stubbornly following what we think is the right thing to do?
It surely comes back to the point mentioned earlier, with reference to the program booklet: the question if “one” can claim superiority, if an individual can claim to be right, ignoring the right of the majority …, the right to be wrong.
But in its simple statement this easily overlooks one matter, admittedly one that does not allow being answered in a simple way:
Isn’t this majority in many cases simply reduced by charismatic leaders to an amalgamation of individualists?
Perhaps the most telling is in Ibsen’s play the quasi-appeal to the common wealth, well presented in the Gate’s performance, adding the speech by the mayor who clearly “sells” the idea of individual wealth as matter of a collective good.
Now, if any economist needs teaching material on the plausibility and wrongness of liberalism, if any applied social science academic needs proof of the shortsightedness of the own liberalist thinking, I can only recommend a visit to the Gate theatre’s performance. – The task: learning how to be able to enjoy a “we-meal”.

May well be that we all think we are standing up – while we can be easily convinced that we are sitting in the same boat. Perhaps we should more think about sitting around the same table, for the said “we-meal”, however easily accepting as unquestionable that some get substantially more while others are actually sitting also around the table, but they are sitting on the floor, only allowed to pick up the bread crumbs.

It is true – alluding to some expression in Ruppert’s Beethoven-biography: that sometimes elfin dances – the differentiated academic analysis – needs to be performed by elephants. There is indeed always the danger of a traitor – and there is alwyas the question if we recognise early enough if it isn’t oursevles who are respnsibile for The Taking of Christ. (Yes, the National Gallery of Ireland is surely worth visiting.)

The Gate showed with a really fine performance that a bold message – the dance of an elephant – can well provoke the fine-tuned questions of elfs.


Of course, even if thinking and especially academic thinking is characterised by its systematic and strategic analytical dimension, it is surely also influenced by coincidences – contingent occurrences that are determined by what is happening around us, what is actually by our mere positioning in the world visible, perceivable to us.

And one of these coincidences may well be my recent return from a multi-million city, the 2nd largest city of a multi-million country and occupying a rank of 5 to 10[1] on the list of the largest cities of a multi-billion world.[2]

But it is not simply this experience that brings space in some specific way my attention – others are since some time engaging in social science: be it the geographer David Harvey, or the (amongst others:) urban theorist Mike David, looking at the Planet of Slums.


It is early July now – I booked the ticket for the Museum of Fine Arts some time back. If I would not have this ticket, determining even the time slot of my visit, I probably would not go there – well, Egon Schiele is actually not my favourite artist, and his rather blunt view on nudity and exhibition of himself[3] would not invite me to leave to Hősök tere on this nice summer day. Or are his 170 self-portraits actually more about honesty than about exhibitionism? Honesty ablout the search for identity at times when society itself lost identity?

Anyway, the ticket is booked, and it is also a little bit of an obligatory act for the art historian that is dormant in me 😉

And there I am: the bright, sunny day left behind the doors through which I entered the gallery – behind the doors now being outside.

I am actually fascinated, drawn to or even into the painting that is right opposite of the door through which I enter the even darker room on the ground floor of the eclectic neoclassical building:

Self-Portrait with Chinese Lantern Plant from 1912

It is well known and, having seen it frequently in books, on post-cards and on the internet, I always asked my self why it is such a widely reproduced painting. Seeing now the original, and seeing it stepping out of the dark surrounding, I know immediately what causes the fascination: space.[4]

There is something that goes much beyond the painting which is actually a rather simple small composition: the painter depicting himself against the background of a lantern plant; the person captured with its contradiction of a relatively bright appearance of the distorted and grave face.

The upper body stands sharp contrast – in the bold dark suit against the shiny background, a space that has something playful, given by the lantern flower.

And after the recent visit this flower adds surely to the fascination – a kind of call from another world.

Not these contrasts but the order of space cause an irritation that arouses an utmost positive sensation of the view.

It is difficult to grasp – photography fails to picture it, and words surely fail too. It is a dialectical tension of mutual capturing and conquest. The question is if the person occupies, surrounds the space or if the space surrounds, occupies the person. Is it this loss of clarity about space and its occupation, these ‘blurring borders’ of hegemony that cause this outstanding face?

In the words of the Museum of Fine Arts’ smart phone application we look into

[a] face filled with torment, dishevelled hair standing on end, and hands clenched in anguish.

It is the question – but nevertheless it is a question that is not asked and that still seems to be answered without a single word.

Space then becomes more and actually different to what geography proposes. It emerges as immediate social space in its genuine meaning:

In the decade preceding World War I, Vienna was still an imperial city enjoying an Indian summer of refined sensual pleasures for the privileged few. However to later generations it appears rather as a laboratory febrile ‘end-of-the-world experiments’ (Karl Kraus) then a model for a multicultural, pluralistic and incredibly multifaceted society.

(Sármány-Parsons, Ilona: Vienna, City of Eros and Thanatos; in: Egon Schiele and his Age. Masterpieces from the Leopold Museum Vienna. Exhibition Catalogue. 26 June -29 September 2013; Budapest: Museum of fine Arts; 9-37; here: 10)

Strolling through the exhibition, I am another time convinced: Social science can hardly do without looking at arts as a mirror of society, surely not showing the entirety , but depicting some important elements of the Zeitgeist. And playing with it – turning space and time around, against each other …; moving in space and being moved by spaces … – and thus exploring the dialectical tension of mutual capturing and conquest of space, movement in space and thus time.

Look at The Hermits, also from 1912; or the Klimtian Portrait of Henryka Cohn by Richard Gerstl (1908)

Sure, all this is about Early Viennese expressionism – and we learn from the exhibitions comment

The secession was still enjoying its golden age when the new generation appeared on the scene in Vienna, who’s members were eager to move on from the kind of stylised art that smothered everything in ornament and refined elegance, and which was turning the Secession, in a majority of cases, into nothing more than decoration. The desire to replenish form with content – symbols and emotions – flooded forth with elemental power where som artist were concerned (Richard Gerstl, Oskar Kokoschka) but trickled as more of an undercurrent with others (Egon Schiele, Max Oppnheimer). By replacing the gently curving contours with robust field of colour, the new generation broke the dominant trend that ruled around the year 1900. Carefully evaluated balances of colour and form were discarded, and in their place, in Schiele’s art around 1910, came an expression of form that was motivated by feelings and instincts that welled from deep within.


The lantern flower from Schiele’s portrait had been mentioned – and there may be more to it: aren’t lanterns also offering guidance? Aren’t they also offering security, hope – the hope of moving towards the light at the end of the tunnel, its perception always suggesting that it is not the light of the train entering from the other end.

So we return to the catalogue from which we learn that

[a]fter 1903, and more pronouncedly after 1905, Viennese art was more influenced by the many foreign works that were shown at exhibitions in the city than had been the case earlier. These works unveiled stylistic trends which could no longer be judged according to traditional critical categories based on mimesis. The principal yardsticks for judgement now became originality and the boldness of a picture’s formal experiment.

(Sármány-Parsons, Ilona: Vienna, City of Eros and Thanatos; in: Egon Schiele and his Age. Masterpieces from the Leopold Museum Vienna. Exhibition Catalogue. 26 June -29 September 2013; Budapest: Museum of fine Arts; 9-37; here: 22)

Thus we may say that Schiele is only looking for the light, being caught by the lack of direction; Anton Faistauer only a little bit later (in 1913) being confronted with the answer, with one answer. At least this is what he suggests in his painting

Street towards Duerstein (1913)

But this one answer is actually only focussing the diffuse helplessness – confronting us with the alternative of the coming and the going. Facing the original we are challenged to decide: are we coming, or are we actually going? What is the end, the goal – and (how) can determine it … – glimpses only can be seen, vague, very vague. But at least these glimpses of Cubism can be seen, shining through while the era is facing in reality the loss of hope, answering with the roar of a wounded animal.

What happened a short time later did give one answer: the answer that is most definitely a non-answer, an option we should never consider again as it will not lead us anywhere!!

And cum grano salis this also the question I had been facing recently – not as question of war, of such a war.. – but the question of the clash of cultures: standstill and development and development in which way ….? The question Lv, Xuxiang and their mates will have to answer …

The question that stands in multi-million cities and villages of a view people alike.


I return to the office, walk buried in thoughts along the Andrássy út, the noble street, street of the former nobles, then and now the street of embassies; the street that celebrated the turn of the century by opening the first metro in the year 1896; the street that, today divides the Pest of the ordinary people and the heroes by its stretch of noble shops: the international brands, spacetimes of today’s nobility: global efforts of maintaining hegemony; global efforts of tying down the not of governance that needs to be opened with a complex strategy, taking up four ends at the very same time: the four-in-one strategy, that constitutes hegemony and counter-hegemony alike – Frigga Haug worked extensively on such strategy.

It is  long walk – listening to Ludovico Einaudi’s Divenire is accompanying me ….

[1]            The ranks are extremely difficult to determine – relevant lists show different figures without allowing an insight in clear definitions of relevant criteria.

[2]            According to the data are as follows:

07-07-2013 20:56:26: 7 105 642 573 (Current world population); 3 583 606 273 (Current male population); 3 522 036 300 (Current female population); for China: 1 361 022 180 (Current population); 706 618 530 (Current male population); 654 403 665 (Current female population)

[3]            says the blogger … – … Hic Rhodus, hic salta!

[4]            Admittedly it is also the way of exhibiting the painting. I saw it earlier in Vienna, without being caught in the same way.

Once upon a time – and everything changed … !?!?!?

A day at the end of June, 8:36 a.m. – high-speed train G7381 with the name “harmony” brings me from Shanghai to Hangzhou.

Apparently it had been Marco Polo who said


上 有天堂

and indeed, it seems to be heaven on earth. I am moving there on the ground, at the earthly speed of nearly 350 km …

… outside the built-up areas, the fields, the streets and the huge green-house areas – passing like images of a dream, appearing and disappearing like the clouds one may see when looking out of the window of an aircraft … 350, 300 …

… 250, 200, 180, 140, 90, 80, 55, 30, 20, 10, 9, 7, 4 … the train stops …


… it is a while ago that I lived in a town in Germany – mind, not a village, not a city: a town. There had been approximately 25,000 inhabitants and occasionally we went to a city nearby: a place with probably 100,000 inhabitants. Well, we thought it would be a city. At least there had been an opera house and theatre and I had been privileged, occasionally being able – finding transport and having the money – to go there. I had been a child then and this is one of the memories I am fond off; one of the things I thoroughly enjoyed during my childhood; perhaps I enjoyed it so much because it was a little perforation in an environment that seemed to be smooth and that actually had been smooth, any attempt to escape only leading on slippery ground that did require permanent movement, but did not allow progressing.

A bit later this tiny, seamless world had been bursting – for me in the same way as for the many who turned to the streets at the end of the 1960s: against the aggressors in Vietnam, against the German media-giant Springer who had been one of the gofers of the aggressors in the far-east; against the Gaullist system in France; but also in favour of matters: of Bloch’s notion of the Principle of Hope and Marcuse’s realist utopia, proposing

You should sleep nine hours without dreams. Then you have the day for dreams.

And we had been moved in favour of A.S. Neill’s ideas on education, seeing

[t]he function of a child is to live his/her own life, not the life that his/her anxious parents think he/she should live, nor a life according to the purpose of the educators who thinks they knows best

and seeing this not only as right of children but as right of human beings in general. And those of us, who had been more radical, saw it as particular right of the oppressed: the working class, women, migrants …

Another short while later, after laying down sound foundation stones of my future academic life, I actually lived …, well in a city you may say, probably nearing 200,000 inhabitants …

… and another bit later I began floating around … – real cities, reasonably spread across the globe. After a while I stopped bothering about numbers – perhaps an exception being the time I worked in Taipei which I found remarkable not really because of the number but because of a kind of de-pressing tightness; and an exception at some stage Munich – the first time when I lived there I have had the impression that this would be the real eternal city: eternal vividness if one accepts that 24 hours, exactly one day, is eternity. There seemed to be no real rest: some time the entire city comes to a respite. Moscow perhaps had been another exception at some stage – but it may well be that I had been actually impressed by the seize of the building of the university in which I lived: one of the Vysotki, the “seven sisters” is surely something remarkable …

… travelling, moving on …, at least moving from one place to another, between large places and small spots … and though there is a lack of stability when it comes to the side to which I actually had to leave the bed, there had the stability of my brain: never really loosing the direction, always answering the wake-up call in the hotels in the correct language (even when talking to an automated system), and indeed always leaving the bed to the right side – knowing that it has to be at the end lead to the left side anyway.


A day at the end of June – Shanghai is now left behind – I spent only a short time there, about two weeks, teaching at SHU – but still it allowed me to explore a little bit of the city …, no: time to explore the contradictions of a place which surely is a city. Apparently one cannot rely on figures when it comes to its population – but what does it matter if it is 20 million or 24 million. Aren’t a few million people at the end small differences in such place? The really exciting part is actually another: that this city – probably like any other city – is a multitude of social places where

the social is an outcome of the interaction between people (constituted as actors) and their constructed and natural environment. Its subject matter refers to people’s interrelated productive and reproductive relationships. In other words, the constitutive interdependency between processes of self-realisation and processes governing the formation of collective identities is a condition for the social and its progress or decline.[1]

And they do it in very different ways.

The baseline is that many of these are Chinese citizens, but not registered in Shanghai. The baseline is that there are many foreigners – not allowed to work but nevertheless working, even paying taxes. The baseline is that this mega-city is gigantic hub, lacking clarity though its different nods of traditionalism and modernity, poverty and affluence, paralysis and vividness are entangled by an amazing network of a progressive metro system with 13 lines (though line 12 does actually not [yet] exist), covering 439 kilometres.

Any move that is guided by some basic attentiveness discourages us to speak of a city as living space. Although people move around, although the clash of poverty and affluence is permanently present, the actual life is taking part in some other regions – and it is surprising …


Actually the original plan for these months had been to live in Rome, the so-called eternal city. And instead of settling in a new life, I continue floating around. So instead of change there is continuity in my life: travelling, occasional concerts, galleries.

I am so lucky that Lv and Xuxiang show me around. Or should I say, allow me to live a little bit with them, joining their life.

Lv herself is one of these sweet Asian girls – matching every prejudiced expectation: looking like the blossom of lotus, her voice being like the sound of the flute she played the one night when I got known to her, and having eyes shining like jade [actually I am so ignorant that I do not even know the colour of her eyes for a long time; and then it turned out that they are actually brown … – yes, there is brown jade]. Well she is really good looking and a really lovely person, leaving poetical embellishments aside. And this young woman showed me so many places: galleries, concerts, the small old shopping centres, most beautiful gardens and a modern department store.

Though she knows exactly where we are going, it is more strolling around – and going may mean walking, going by taxi, taking the metro are sitting in the back of the Rikscha (though not a real one, but its motorised version).

… and it is surprising indeed …:

While being a modern and fast developing place, the tradition cannot be overlooked. Of course, it is the tradition of temples and the ornaments of some of the buildings. The parks still being a spot for many – and actually walking through them gives occasionally the impression of too many going there. But even if they are busy they are a kind of oasis – an oasis by contrasting the busy hassle and bustle of this multi-million project of togetherness; an oasis by contrasting the smoothness of the straight-lined modern business centre with the romantic bridges across the small ponds, never just a line from one spot to another – instead they are angular constructs that allow engagement with space, provoking playful rendezvous with nature and the self and others. Sometimes music is playing in the background, coming from loudspeakers – or is it actually the singing of birds? Or even only an illusion: the memory of the flute play of the one evening, of the tender sound of the Guqin?

And the parks, the small tables on the streets in the quartiers are an oasis as they let us forget the ere seize of the mega cities, show us where life simply flows like the water after having left the spring and forming a little trickle before it is getting lost in the large streams.

In some way all is of special attractiveness where it is remarkably “dislocated” from real life of contemporary realities and still visible as its vivid part. As the middle-aged woman, sitting in front of the house in the presumably poor area near the posh 1933 shopping and arts centre. Somebody else – her mother, a woman from the neighbourhood …? – holding the sheets of music. And the woman sitting on a simple chair, holding the instrument – a pipa – on her lap and creating a harmony that is simply “round”, content and resting in itself – resting in order to allow permanency of movement.

Exotic one may say. One may also say it is just the visibility of the daily tensions and the beauties that are even entailed in what we usually assess as something negative: tensions.

Some time during my visit I will have the opportunity to look at the sheet of music for the Guqin – it looks a little bit like a technical construction plan, the instruction for an arithmetic equation. It is so different from Western sheets of music – and it makes me think about “hearing maths”, something I had been reading some tome ago in a Russian journal.

For the layperson it may look like a plan that presents the blueprint for one of these monumental metro stations – some of them are surely as large as the core of the small village that served me once as home.

And it is this a paradox of continuity of personal life and societal life alike. As much as

the territorial state emerged concurrent with the deterritoriali- zation of political economy and geographical imagination,[2]

as much we can see that we are personally increasingly defensive of our own little territories, many of us having lost the sense and ability of genuine sociability. I will come back to it later – under the title the bowl of rice for every one but not for all.

We see this difference also in the new ways of life and living – still the old patterns of communities – but as they loose their strong inherent coherence that defines their closure from inside, that are now increasingly defined as gated communities: the inner wall replaced by the outer wall, the knowledge and compliance with moral requirements and orders, the acquaintance with a common and more or less unique language …, all this replaced by a single piece of metal or a chip or a PIN, opening the gate. And still there are the same things happening inside: the play of chess or card games, making music or listening to it …, and match making, different in forms but following this language that is written between the lines, the meaning that is standing behind the words – and cannot be found in any dictionary. But still

the interaction between people (constituted as actors) and their constructed and natural environment

follows different rules and although

[i]Its subject matter refers to people’s interrelated productive and reproductive relationships

this does not say anything about the concrete forms that it takes.

Recognising the increasing meaning of the patterns of the Westernly-enlightened world, does not necessarily suggest levelling of difference. On the contrary it is – be it pleasing or scary or both at the same time – of special interest in which way the different offers merge, evolve into something new as dance on the squares: unconditional participation and equally unconditional dedication; the understanding of rights and duties, or righteousness and wrongness … – it is also the matter of bringing the different resources together: many shops actually being workshops in the true sense – selling the repair of nearly everything, the perfection of recycling and ideally the interaction with the customer who is present while the way of repairing is looked after and the actual work undertaken. This is where productivity is so limited – and where the social character of production is so genuinely present. And this is where productivity is so high – where the social character of production is so genuinely part of what is produced …

– … like in water heavens – but this is something that will retain our thought much later.


Continuities in a life – hearing and reading in e-mails about the post that arrives home, in Rome. Being there in the Far East, I look forward to going home though it has to wait another couple of weeks – and then I will be there only for few days: Arriving home, i.e. in Rome, like I came home to Aghabullogue in my previous life: short meetings, changing clothes, checking post – that is what a director, even an academic director does, right?

– Anyway, after having been strolling around in the megacities different villages with my friend, I look also forward to spending the other day again together with her and her friends. We will go to Suzhou … continuities of explorations and excitements.

But before going there, I am attending a one-day conference at SHU: sitting in some large place: the conference hall that is part of the library building, listening to presentations and at the same time writing – multitasking-abilities of the equipment being increasingly mirrored by the need of the operator to follow in the same mode. Well, in this case the presentations had been more than boring and I do not have a clue why they invited these people to speak – all somewhat Americans: “genuine” Americans from the “second generation” (i.e. the ones who are successors of those who conquered the country about 200 years ago and drove the Indians to the deserts and mountains, if they did not completely genocide them – well, even if language does not fully appreciate the fact: genocide always had been and will always be something that is done, and should be expressed by a verb) or people who settled there, as the Oz-Italian yank whose words had been so shallow that even dust would not have been able to find a place underneath.


So nothing changed? Or everything changed? What did really change? This moment, sitting there in the hall, I have increasingly (mind: italics) the impression that my “real life” is not real at all. Living in such a world where it is true what I came across long time ago as a joke, somebody saying to me on departure

Had been good meeting you. Look forward reading you.

A joke I thought as the person I met actually meant he would read more articles and books of me instead of actually seeng me. Yesterday somebody saying

Best regards from Nadia

– short hesitation. Yanfang saw it, mentioned the surname:

I just exchanged mails with her and she … .

And right now receiving a mail from Poznan, somebody asking me to join some board: I listened to your presentation in Moscow and …

I would be honoured if you agree to accept my invitation …

No, it is not about being real “player” in this global world – what actually really changed is that I feel like a cue ball on a playing field that is much too large for me and probably too large for all the other players, feeling somewhat crunched between and by different players. And having the feeling that it is not just me who is crunched but that there is something and so much going on that is completely out of control – though processes of controlling are mutually exercised.

During this conference I had been approached by somebody – a “low-position assistant”, asking a question on logistics – and I answered, showing her the staff card with my name …

I know who you are …

Well, then she obviously knows more than I do: perfectly trained. But also: You are your name and well, I will come back to it later – they are so meaningful here, every word well chosen: the meaning and what do I want my son/daughter be, that is what is expressed by the name – not looking back as the O’s and von’s and van der’s; not looking at the profession of the forefathers of the Thatchers and Muellers. We are looking into the future, seeing that

you are wisdom, reflecting before you act

– I think that is the full name of this one queen I can call my friend…; and Yanfang actually being with her name a “queen”, but I know only the first part of her name …

Anyway, I had been sitting in the conference hall, writing my article against “knowledge from books” and I should possibly have added some sentences against approaches suggesting one could learn creativity from books, fancy power point presentations and shallow-fancy phrases. Then I had to stop before the conference came to an end as I had to watch the time, having been asked to join for a special dinner (very formal and not the best for me as vegetarian). But I stopped writing at that stage anyway as there had been another beautiful music performance at the end – classical Chinese music … – after that a very short break and some Chinese youngsters playing pop music …: loud, though it had been in some way soft rock music (well known songs – the Western charts), it had been somewhat like hammering it in the brains …, and the Americans around, cold when before the beautiful music had been played, now moving their body, underpinning each bar, seeing their culture hammered into the minds of people, into a culture, like they are building skyscrapers in Pudong, pillars that are keeping up the MacD-, Starbucks- and KFC-culture on the ground.

Yes, pillars maintaining their foundation …, a world standing on its head. No, I didn’t cry though I had been actually near to it; I didn’t scream though I felt like a scream being possibly a means to maintain sanity – and I did not even kick the guy sitting next to me: an Indian-American, hammering with the others against his knees – though I had been near to kick. Even much, much worse, I mentioned my body moving too … .


… and I walked a little later, on the occasion of another ceremonial event, across the carpet – yes, a red one, perfectly ignoring the flashes of the cameras, smiling and waving: somebody telling me what to do …

It is only a show …

again I did not cry, scream, kick …; I tried to enjoy the show of which I had been one of the involuntary players.

While being driven to one of these events, another small facet comes to my mind. The colour of the cars –those vehicles used on such official occasions: black. As black is also the colour of moaning in so many cultures, I am wondering if it used for these events as an expression of government bodies, officialdom, academia, business etc, expressing the wretchedness of the loss of ground.

So far I came across only one exception when it came to these cars: Cuba. An old car, the driver probably having many other jobs. I also remember that we discussed the upcoming meeting with the driver while he brought us from the ministry of culture to the meeting of the Centro de Investigaciones de Política Internacional  – government buildings, by the way, that would surely not have been recognised as such (though I have to admit that I know this also from other countries: the actual work of ministries done in houses and quarters where one would not expect it).


Sure, all this is so far presented in a black and white kaleidoscope, a burning glass that does not even allow seeing shadows let alone the truly colourful joys of honest academic debates.

Such debates I experience actually one of these days in Hangzhou – finally meeting a colleague with whom I had been in contact for a long time.

I am collected from the airport and the first thing after arrival is that one of the students in the “office of the professor” – while he does not use it after moving to another campus, two master students can use it for the work on their varied topics – offers me something to drink.

You want coffee of tea?

I decide for the tea, of course, and I am told about the special green tea here in the city. I get it from a paper cup. Not the moment of celebrating tea, but still admittedly a really lovely taste of the Longjing tea. I assume somewhere there is a special language – as there I a special language for wine. Being ignorant of such a language, I can only try to grasp the by the words fully flowered, tasting sweet-bitter. I take great pleasure in this refreshing taste and also enjoyed chatting with An – a very open young student, telling me about her work but also asking about what my interests are.

It is not long and my colleague arrives – my expectation from the previous cooperation is not matched: a joyful, more or less young man, very energetic, stretching his hand out to me and greeting me with a warm, welcoming laugh. He tells me a little bit about the program of the next two and a half days: the work, the lunches and dinners, the excursion to the garden and the West Lake, and he presents the structure of the departments, schools and institutes to me. I am standing in front of the large organisation chart: public administration, private and cooperative economy, governance … – mixing in ways that are unknown from my usual Western environment.

– One thing may be remarkable in a side remark: the party is part of it – as party cell of the university. But it is not mentioned.

Later it will be mentioned – when we sit for a formal lunch. Formal means that the various representatives are present. For me is surprising what the locals probably do not even recognise: the presence of students and administrative staff. Formal means that we are eating together – my neighbour Xian-guo, Dean and professor, makes me aware of the actual meaning of something that I always get pleasure from without having yet thought why it is so delightful: the we-eating, the different dishes, permanently new ones being brought, exchanged by other dishes, all standing on the large glass in the middle of the table, turned around according to gusto, the “power” as matter of taking the liberty to look for whatever one wants, the “power” as matter of consideration on the wishes and doings of the others. – I cannot refrain from making a side remark, remembering several similar occasions when some Westerners had been sitting around such “rotating table”, keenly looking on what they yearned for, forgetting everything around them, as much as they forgot that communication is not about telling stories bunt about the

interaction between people (constituted as actors) and their constructed and natural environment.

Earlier I wrote that we might come back to the bowl of rice for every one but not for all. It may well be the bowl of rice we all like to have as coming with the meal. This, and the bowl of soup, is in the Asian concept of meal apparently the only part that is “belonged” by individuals, personal property that we Westerners had been extensively clinging on after the curse of the apple, bringing individualism and the claim of property rights over humankind; and after this blight had been multiplied by the capitalist enlightenment – an enlightenment that allowed citizenship only as precondition but not as actual consequence of freedom.

Liberté, Égalité, Fraternité

– even Kant with his categorical imperative would and could not have dared to think first of the brother or sister. And liberty had been first needed – even if it had been only in order to abandon it, to treat it as freestyle and thus as residuum as soon as equality of the contracting parties had been reached.


Back to the lunch, having been a formal lunch meant many toasts – I had to learn that it sometimes has to do suffice to take the glass without actually drinking. Toasts, clinking glasses – another we-experience but also a matter of individuals: somebody getting up from the other side of the table, welcoming somebody else, cheering each other up … – and finally allowing now the party coming into play: after the exchange of 12 name cards between 12 people and at least 24 toasts later, the topic changes: we talk about the Great Chairman. Yes, ever present – and yes, also a matter of critique, debate, search for solutions – and questioning.

There is a tiny detail, worth mentioning. It is abut the name cards – in the West we are usually talking about business cards, right? But there is so much in a person; and here is so much in a name – although it may be a wish, a dream the parents have for their children. And although these wishes are of course about wealth, security, saturation, they are still very much about the wisdom of matching the silk hair with the silk shawl – just wait a while and I will explain ….


– This critique, debate, search for solutions – and questioning is surely not the same as I mention, coming back to Lv and Xuxiang. And actually earlier the week comments by my students gave me some insight into expectations – and disappointments. Few of them follow here:

  • As through several classes, we’ve already have our own understanding about social, social quality and the structure. For justice and quality, so many years I do not recognize the difference between them, because they always been translated to the same word, now I finally catch the subtle nuance. The whole class ,I guess it not only has been an interesting thing, but also the way to teach us how to theorizing what we observed, and this is the serious part.
  • The way Peter teach is quite different from the Chinese way, it gives us more chances to present what we think, but not take it all from the book. I think it’s more flexible, through this we learn the course more rapid.
  • This foreign teacher is serious and earnest, the theory and opinion he gives is not just other people’s, part of them maybe came from his own observation and contemplation, so its quite fresh and original.
  • The summer semester is short, but I’ve learn things, especially the theory about social equality and social responsibility, these are the hot issue through the country, what we learn in class make us rethink the social policy in our own country, not daily discussion but to theorizing the events.
  • The first time to take a English course, and I followed it through, as a student from engineering, the most important thing Peter gives me is the way to analyze the incidents in our daily life, from a social scientific perspective.
  • This class has been useful. Now I have a general idea about these several definition like society and sociology. Also, we learned a new way of thinking.
  • It is not everyday we have a chance to get a lesson, especially everyone was given chance to do a presentation. I hope our professors in SHU could give more lessons like this.

Sure, this says more about the students and their experience in the educational system … – and also about what they experience in and want for life, it says more about this than it says about me and my teaching. And it leaves me with some contradiction. Though such statements are surely indicating some strive to break open conventional ways, I see also that many of the ways are actually already open. This critique, debate, search for solutions is surely much more open than what I experienced for so many times in these so-called open-governance circles of pseudo-critical Western lefties, where left is more about having left reason behind, having left the ground of proper consideration, instead of being a matter of political positioning.

I know, the following may easily be misunderstood – supposedly whitewashing many breaches of rights, apparently denying the problems of this country, be these the ongoing problems of what is still so often called a developing country or the new problems of an overdeveloping BRIC-country – one of these countries where bric may stand for brick: as building block or as instrument that falls on peoples’ head, neck, back or feet, striking without any care, but with its destroying energy the life of so many people. – These days I think frequently of Arrighi’s work and his analysis of “progress”: the move of the centre from Asia to Italy, to The Netherlands then, before reaching England, later taking off from there to the United States of Northern America – had not all these emergences being accompanied by these huge forces of corrosion? Not the Schumpetarian creative destruction (if we should consider something like this being real), but the destroying force of a steamroller of alleged progress. Not least a progress brought to the fore by the old superpowers. Nobody talks about the breach of human rights by capitalism – I do not mean just the obvious use of child labour etc., it is just the power of capitalism that moves into every pore of life – just as we know it already from Marx, pointing in the first volume of The Capital out that there exists a General Law of Capitalist Accumulation:

It establishes an accumulation of misery, corresponding with accumulation of capital. Accumulation of wealth at one pole is, therefore, at the same time accumulation of misery, agony of toil slavery, ignorance, brutality, mental degradation, at the opposite pole, i.e., on the side of the class that produces its own product in the form of capital. [..] This antagonistic character of capitalistic accumulation is enunciated in various forms by political economists, although by them it is confounded with phenomena, certainly to some extent analogous, but nevertheless essentially distinct, and belonging to pre-capitalistic modes of production.

And there is another point that strikes me time again – it is not the first time but I remember the same happening when I visited Cuba, Moldova, Russia, Taiwan, Turkey and others: the thinking of the Westerners. It is apparently so easy to forget – forget what one criticises in the “own” country; and so easy to forget what one acknowledges when looking at the host country from the outside. – And some may even wrap their forgetting nicely; transforming the “critique of imperialism” into the “right of the oppressed to adore the oppressor”. Sure, many find by going this way an excuse for their own lack of more fundamental critique.


Theatre, stages of producing oneself, not least by producing the other – without consideration, accepting the reality only to the extent to which it is result of the construction by oneself. But also without consideration of the fact of the self being equally constructed – by the constructed other. Reality is indeed more Kafkaesque the even Franz K could imagine …

– So I still dream, looking at what seems to be the only real world that is left for me: a lovely walk with the girl whose name is “you are wisdom, reflecting before you act”, and I look forward to next Saturday: I will return from Hagzhou, meet this wisdom and her friend at the people’s square and we will go to a concert, before I leave the morning, well, just after midnight, to Moscow. Lv, when we organised this, said

You will be tired.

I could only nod, but I am more tired from permanently leaving, from living between Ireland, Italy and Hungary and Greece and France and Germany and The Netherlands and China and … . No, I am actually not so much tired from travelling and calling at times a suitcase my home. It is more about being tired to live on this stage of mutual constructions, where everything has to be calculated, emerges as part of the theatre, a matter of roles to which the book had been written not just by somebody else, but even worse by an unknown author, now disguising him- and herself, claiming to be “I” and “we”, though leaving “me” and “us” actually in a world that seems to be without real exit …

…, only allowing few escapes – admittedly beautiful escapes like those to the heaven of tranquillity in the midst of 20 million+ people – a heaven of harmony in a hidden teahouse …

No, it is not paranoia (yet?); and perhaps it is not even really that anything changed. Perhaps it is just the continuation of a Diary of a Journey into Another World.


I am dashing across the train station, finally the silk fever got hold of me: I see a beautiful shawl in the window of one of the shops – pure silk. Seeing it, I see immediately that it is a nice present for a nice person. Actually I do not even think about the person, do not have to visualise her. I just see both matching. I look at the price tag, think about ..

… no, Sir, we do not accept credit-cards …

I ask for an ATM – and though the words are not understood, the matter at stake is understood. Soon I am nearly flying through the lines of people waiting for their train, trying not to loose my new guide out of sight: the sales person does not only show me the way to the next ATM – mind the emphasis on ATM, not so much on next (if next is understood as something that is near), she also shows me how to jump the queue, pass security gates without major stops; and she makes sure that I find the way back: the way to her shop, well the shop in which she works.

What is the link between such hunt across the main train station of a 24 million city and the following words, I quote in a new text I am working on:

Time gains a new meaning insofar as it has to be made part of considerations in its meaning of a (très) longue durée.[3] Instead, time is meaningful, not as a matter of historical consciousness, but as part of immediate practice – histoire événementielle interwoven with and welding with the longue durée and vice versa.[4]

It is rather simple: even in something like this scene, which may well be seen as buying binge on my siede and rip-off on the other side, there is at times an amazing harmony: the perceived beauty, the expected match, the transposition into market relationships and the strive for natural survival for which income – coming out of the pockets of people like me – is needed. At least it seems that life, living is not taking place outside of this relationship but is immediate part of it. It is difficult to define, de-fine…, fine with its two meanings, find …

It is something that occupies frequently my mind these days. Here in China – perhaps more in general: in Asia – the idea of harmony plays such an important role. It is guiding social policy as much as it is already a principle that is guiding arts – I will come back to painting at a later stage. But here I am – again – simply stuck by the ideas, the feelings …: listening to the soft sounds that are so characteristic for the traditional local music, the harmony of the gardens that play such an important role also today, the silk that is so common here for dresses of different kind and the long soft hair of my friend that I felt the one day on my arm, when we stood in the museum, looking closely at the scrimshaw of the traditional exhibits.

– Only a matter of the past and the diehards? Only a matter of wealth and for the wealthy? Something else comes to my mind – from the same text I am working on, concerned with Green Growth: the attempt to emphasise the temporal dimension of dialectics.

Rather than understanding dialectics in the (simplified) triangular relationship of thesis, anti-thesis and synthesis (which, of course, remains as basis principle in place) it is here fundamentally historicised by way of looking at past, future and presence. With view on the organisations and the sector in question it means to acknowledge that they are

  • in principle rooted in pre-modern frameworks – as matter of the past

  • anticipate potentially post-contemporary features and requirements – as matter of the future

  • and – equally potentially – implementing these under the (at times recalcitrant) conditions – as matter of the presence.

And what is in this new text said in regard of CSO’s and the so-called third sector is cum grano salis probably also true for any kind of social action – and we remember the social being defined as

outcome of the interaction between people (constituted as actors) and their constructed and natural environment. Its subject matter refers to people’s interrelated productive and reproductive relationships. In other words, the constitutive interdependency between processes of self-realisation and processes governing the formation of collective identities is a condition for the social and its progress or decline.

Sure, the instruments are different, but the tune is not so different at all … And we have to look at the many untold, even unknown histories on every day’s culture: tea and coffee, silk and wool, eating with chopsticks or cutlery, haircuts and the way of walking – actually all these hi–stories are not untold and surely well known. But then they had been nicely wrapped, making us forget how much they are reflecting out daily life, i.e.

people’s interrelated productive and reproductive relationships.


Finally I arrive in the hotel – a modern place next to the university. And I am not so sure anymore about what I just wrote before. Is it really just about different instruments, playing very similar tunes? I enter the room – the soft beat of the song, asking to

Take me to your heart

sounds as strange as the Lipton tea tastes strange.

Hiding from the rain and snow

Trying to forget but I won’t let go

Looking at a crowded street

Listening to my own heart beat

The recent chat with Xiaohong on painting – comparing European and Asian arts – comes to my mind. Talking with him, I mention what Lv told me, commenting on a painting we saw in Sozhou:

It is so difficult. It takes a long time to learn this kind of painting.  One has to learn to breathe every stroke with the brush.

And as Xiaohong, an elderly man, develops: it is part of a complex cultural pattern.

This painting is modest in colours and forms, modest in the use of space. It comes from the utmost inner of the artist and is not about exploring, let alone about encapsulating space. It is about devotion, developing an inner harmony – a harmony between humans and the environment in which they live.


The evening before my flight leaves Shanghai Pudong International, I experience this so vividly – when I go with my friends to the Water Heavens by Tan Dun; a bit more then an hours drive outside of Shanghai. I am admittedly a bit nervous – finally I have to get the flight few hours later.

Still, it is truly the experience that

music can be seen and architecture can be heard.

This is what Water Heavens is about. I may add to this sentence, that I red in the program brochure, that the move of the bodies plays melodies and the melodies emerge from the amalgamation of bodies and environment.

Sure, this harmony (or disharmony) of mergers and exclusions, of enrichment between different cultures and the difficulties can sometimes be easily translated into very trivial problems. For instance the eating with chopsticks. Not that it would cause problems for me. However, when it comes to the point of spreading butter, imported from Denmark or New Zealand, with chopsticks on the Délifrance-bread, it requires some creativity. And it is surely much less exciting than the eating of Lotus-flowers as little snack as I did while we had been strolling around the streets of the mega-cities.


A day at the end of June, 1:45 p.m. – Aeroflot flight SU207, nameless, bringing me from Shanghai to Moscow. We are moving with a groundspeed of exactly 349 kilometres – the plane is taking off. Heaven on earth will soon be underneath. Underneath also the built-up areas, the fields, the streets and the huge greenhouse areas and the cities. – Now all is passing in the memories, if I will manage to sleep? Thoughts blurring with dreams – those that are not kept for the days when we are going to change life, lives and living conditions. Dreams like those that bring us solutions rather than asking us to work towards them – and surely they have their genuine right too:

You know, when I was in primary school my dream was playing the flute and sitting on a cow near west lake when it was raining, because I always think there will appear a handsome god, make your dream come true.

What still stays with me is small, and still this megacity and the ultra- development cannot easily destroy it: the souvenir of the soft voice of a young woman who is searching, full of energy, her way in this mix and blurring of different worlds – and finding it not only for herself; the memory of the soft sound from the Guqin, played by her boyfriend when we visited together the tea house: still determined to go the harsh way of studying abroad, studying for himself, for contributing to the advancement of science and his fellow citizens. And what still stays with me is … – si, un mazzo di fiori … – and even if it will soon be withered, remembering the smell, remembering the two friends may be one of the contributions helping to move on, and helping to slow down …. – making stages to spaces of real life again.



– I look on the tray in front of me; I look up, the airhostess looks friendly at me …, and I correct myself


… she smiles at me …

Opening another chapter of this book of which we are all part though frequently forgetting this somewhat funny feeling of living in a history book – the book of which everybody is him- and herself author.

[1]            van der Maesen, Laurent J.G/Walker, Alan, 2012: Social Quality and Sustainability; in: van der Maesen, Laurent J.G/Walker, Alan [eds.]: Social Quality. From Theory to Indicators; Houndsmills: Palgrave 260

[2]            Steinberg, P. E., 2009: Sovereignty, Territory, and the Mapping of Mobility: A View from the Outside. Annals of the Association of American Geographers 99[3]: 467–495: here: 468

[3]            Understood quite in line with the work presented by the École des Annales

[4]            Herrmann, Peter, forthcoming: Green Growth – Critical Perspective on Third-Sector Development; in: Anastasiadis, Maria [ed.]: ECO-WISE. Ecologically oriented Work Integration Social Enterprises; there quoted from: Herrmann, Peter, forthcoming: Do we really need Human Rights; Rodrigue, Barry et altera [eds.]: NN; University of California Press