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

下来有苏杭

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.

********

谢谢

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

спасибо

… 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

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  1. […] it is not simply this experience that brings space in some specific way my attention – others are since some time engaging in […]

  2. […] 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". […]



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