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- @ClassicBookworm Also on 24th the draw for first rounds of Cl and EL. Guess your dear Spain will not do it till end of July. 37 minutes ago
- @ClassicBookworm Well, that is being done in all leagues in Europe, only England was the first. Germans will know that on 24th. 38 minutes ago
- BBC Radio 3 - Classical Collection bbc.in/Sl0TMk 4 hours ago
- 317,277 hits
So many stones are thrown at me
that I no longer cower,
the turret’s cage is shapely,
high among high towers.
My thanks, to its builders,
may they escape pain and woe,
here, I see suns rise earlier,
here, their last splendours glow.
And often winds from northern seas
fill the windows of my sanctuary,
and a dove eats corn from my palm…
and divinely light and calm,
the Muse’s sunburnt hand’s at play,
finishing my unfinished page.
‘Start not with the good old days, but with the bad new ones.’
After spending a few hours in the company of Hungarian philosopher Gáspár Miklos Tamás, rarely has Bertolt Brecht’s corrective to nostalgia seemed so apt. Tamás’s resolve to ferret out all that is retrograde about the present situation in the West is unstinting. ‘This is no passing malaise’, he tells me, cigarette smoke wafting upwards, ‘it’s a crisis’. And he’s not just talking about the global economy either; he’s also talking about a crisis of political culture. ‘We don’t seem to have the wherewithal to find the solutions’, he continues. ‘We are not equipped conceptually, emotionally and culturally.’
Tamás has not always been so disillusioned with the politics and culture of the West. As a dissident intellectual in Communist Hungary during the 1980s, fresh from being blacklisted in his native Romania in 1978, Tamás actively fought for a bright, liberal democratic, not to mention capitalist future. In 1989 and 1990 he even served in the newly constituted Hungarian parliament as a Liberal Party MP. Now, though, his judgement is severe: ‘The peaceful revolutions of 1989 have been absolutely defeated and their result is a total failure.’
It didn’t take long, according to Tamás, for the hopes of freedom and affluence to ebb. ‘People wanted participatory democracy and got a pretty rigid party system. And they wanted prosperity and got economic collapse. Within 18 months of democracy almost half of Hungarian jobs had been lost – a black hole exists in the place of the former economy.’
Hungary today is far from the dream of Western liberals. Properly speaking, it’s closer to their nightmares. The right-wing Fidesz party comfortably won the general election in April last year, and Jobbik, a fervently nationalist, far-right party, gained over 12 per cent of available parliamentary seats. Now Tamás himself has his own painful experience of the new political climate: in November, he was ‘retired’ from his position at the Hungarian Academy of Sciences by its recently installed head, allegedly at the government’s behest. Officially it’s because he lacks the right credentials; unofficially it’s because Tamás, a regular fixture in Hungarian media, is a little too mouthy.
Yet anyone expecting Tamás, now a self-proclaimed Marxist, to be spitting anti-fascist blood will be disappointed. Instead, he is prepared to take seriously the discontent of which the right has taken electoral advantage. Yes, Hungarian society is riven by a ‘never seen before inequality’, but alongside that there is a ‘feeling that we are not free… a general sense of being dominated by foreigners’. By this, he means ‘an obscure, incomprehensible, semi-invisible network of financial and political influence, such as the World Trade Organisation, the European Union, the International Monetary Fund’. And Tamás’s response to this widespread resentment of unelected, external, opaque authority? ‘In my humble opinion, in this people are right.’
This is not to say Tamás shares the nationalistic outlook of his right-wing foes. Rather, it is to suggest that he understands the source of the right’s current success: people’s feelings of powerless within a society in thrall to such undemocratic powers as the EU, the IMF and the WTO.
Tamás’s preparedness to look the bad new days in the eye is not limited to Hungary, of course. As he sees it, the political culture of the West is in crisis, too. In this regard, he finds the social response to our economic travails telling: ‘People don’t say anymore, as they did before the Second World War, or even during the 1950s, 60s, and 70s, “Okay, things are bad, let’s change the system”. Instead, people turn to the state and say: “Why don’t you do something about it?”’ We have a situation, he explains, where relatively isolated interest groups make passionate but particular demands of the state – don’t cut our funding, cut something else, and so on. This contest between different groups for ‘ever-dwindling resources’ is divisive, he says.
Tamás illustrates his point about society’s increasing ‘acceptance of divisions’ with reference to the current situation of the elderly in the West. ‘In developed countries you have murderous feelings against the old. Pensioners are being regarded as parasites. In Eastern Europe, there are now lots of new slang words against pensioners. This is worrying – historically, societies always had respect for the old. But this has gone and there’s now a very strong generational pull in politics.’ It’s not just Eastern Europe where pejoratives for the old have proliferated, as anyone familiar with terms like ‘coffin dodger’ can attest. However, it is in the perfectly acceptable mainstream debate about the so-called pensions crisis where the old are regarded almost solely in economic terms, as ‘a drain on resources’, that these ‘murderous feelings against the old’ are most apparent.
Such divisive special pleading to the state has flourished, argues Tamás, because of the collapse of something like the social-democratic consensus. ‘These divisions’, he tells me, ‘have at least always been papered over by social democracy. And I include the Communist parties of France and Italy in that – portraits of Stalin on the wall but social-democratic policies. This has been a social-democratic half-century. Nixon, de Gaulle, Lyndon Johnson never attacked redistribution – they were social-democratic in their social policies… though not in others, of course. That’s why the mild anti-statist rhetoric of Thatcher’s Tories, for example, was regarded as heretical. For at least 40 years after the Second World War, there was an alliance between different social groups because they had something in common… That has gone.’
It’s not that Tamás is yearning for the social-democratic past, nor indeed his own Eastern Bloc Communist past. ‘I grew up in a society that was pretty awful – those were very conformist times’, he says. ‘There is nothing to be tearful about.’ Still, what he is keen to get at is what we have lost ‘conceptually, emotionally and culturally’. And this, if I understand Tamás correctly, can be summed up in one sentence: we are losing the habit of abstraction.
That is, we are losing the ability to abstract from the concrete particularity of experience, and to conceive of what is universal. That, after all, is the key to abstraction: to penetrate the appearance of things and conceptualise what is essential. The desire to make this theoretical effort, to get at what mediates our diverse realities, just doesn’t seem to be there anymore.
Tamás allows himself recourse to the good old days. ‘If you read the continental popular papers [of the nineteenth and early-twentieth century] now, you’d find them sophisticated and serious. They may make boring reading today because they’re very circumstantial and lengthy. But nevertheless, they expected patience and concentration. And this was made possible because people were like that then. It’s not simply a matter of cultural decadence that attention spans are so short these days. People then used to be forced to enlarge their attention span, by school, by the workplace, by the army – endurance [that was] both intellectual and physical.’
My friends, can you descry that mound of earth
Above clear waters in the shade of trees?
You can just hear the babbling spring against the bank;
You can just feel a breeze that’s wafting in the leaves;
A wreath and lyre hang upon the boughs…
Alas, my friends! This mound’ss a grave;
Here earth conceals the ashes of a bard;
A gentle soul, a simple heart
He was a sojourner in the world;
He’d barely bloomed, yet lost his taste for life
He craved his end with yearning and excitement;
And early on he met his end,
He found the grave’s desired sleep.
Your time was but a moment – a moment sad
He sang with tenderness of friendship to his friend, -
His loyal friend cut down in his life’s bloom;
He sang of love – but in a doleful voice;
Alas! Of love he knew naught but its woe;
Now all has met with its demise,
Your soul partakes of peace eternal;
You slumber in your silent grave,
Here, by this stream one eventide
He sang his doleful farewell song:
“O lovely world, where blossomed I in vain;
Farewell forever; with a soul deceived
For happiness I waited – but my dreams have died;
All’s perished; lyre, be still;
To your serene abode, o haste,
What’s life, when charm is lacking?
To know of bliss, with all the spirit’s striving,
Only to see oneself cut off by an abyss;
Each moment to desire and yet fear desiring…
O refuge of vexatious hearts,
O grave, sure path to peace,
When will you call to your embrace
The poor bard?”
The bard’s no more … his lyre’s silent…
All trace of him has disappeared from here;
The hills and valleys mourn;
And all is still … save zephyrs soft,
That stir the faded wreath,
And waft betimes above the grave,
A woeful lyre responds:
© A. Wachtel, I. Kutik and M. Denner
‘Egypt is not Tunisia,’ the pundits repeatedly said on television after Zine Abedine Ben-Ali fled Tunis for Saudi Arabia. They pointed to the differences between the two countries: one small, well-educated, largely middle-class; the other the largest in terms of population in the Arab world, with a high rate of illiteracy and ever widening inequality. Tunisia was a repressive police state in which information was tightly controlled and most people never dared to criticise the leadership out loud. Egypt was a military dictatorship that allowed a fair amount of freedom of expression, as long as it had no political consequences: you could criticise the president, but not launch a campaign to unseat him. In Tunisia, a rapacious first family indulged in widespread racketeering, alienating every social class. In Egypt, most of the elite benefited from the stability the regime maintained, and while corruption was endemic, it was not generally identified with a single clan.
But there were also important similarities. In recent years, the legitimacy of both regimes had begun to wane; in each case the ruler had been in place so long that half the population had no memory of his predecessor – more than 23 years in the case of Ben-Ali, nearly 30 in the case of Hosni Mubarak. People were uncertain about the future. Both regimes had effectively emptied formal politics of meaning by banning any party that had real popular appeal and restricting others to the status of a loyal opposition, thus depriving itself of intermediaries between the state and its citizens who could have negotiated an end to the crisis. Both countries’ supposed stability was dependent on a strategic relationship with the West. Tunisia enjoyed a warm and privileged relationship with Paris: it was reassuring for the French, angst-ridden about the growing visibility of their Muslim minority, to be able to look approvingly on a Muslim country that peddled its own commitment to laïcité as a signal that although it might be a dictatorship, it was an enlightened and progressive one. As for Egypt, Anthony Eden may have described Nasser as ‘that Hitler on the Nile’, but after the 1978 Camp David Accords the country became a pillar of American interests in the Middle East and – by its withdrawal from the Arab-Israeli conflict – an unwitting enabler of the expansionism of the Zionist state.
Above all, Tunisia and Egypt were the last places in which most people – whether experts or ordinary citizens – would have expected to see uprisings anything like those of recent weeks. On the evening of 27 January, I sat in a hotel room in Tunis, eyes glued to Twitter for news of what was happening in Egypt. I had come the previous week to report on the Tunisian revolution, which on 14 January had forced Ben-Ali to flee. The mood in Tunis was exhilarating, the situation seemed pregnant with possibility. I didn’t recognise the country I knew: a people I had thought cowed by years of subtle psychological terror as practised by one of the Arab world’s most sophisticated police regimes, had changed overnight. On my last visit to Tunis, in 2003, people had seemed to be on the edge of a nervous breakdown, and in some way – cruel though it may be to say this – complicit in their own predicament. Now Tunisians were high on the freedom not only to express themselves, but to imagine the future shape their country might take. …
I was in great difficulty. An urgent journey was facing me. A seriously ill man was waiting for me in a village ten miles distant. A severe snowstorm filled the space between him and me. I had a carriage—a light one, with large wheels, entirely suitable for our country roads. Wrapped up in furs with the bag of instruments in my hand, I was already standing in the courtyard ready for the journey; but the horse was missing—the horse. My own horse had died the previous night, as a result of over exertion in this icy winter. My servant girl was at that very moment running around the village to see if she could borrow a horse, but it was hopeless—I knew that—and I stood there useless, increasingly covered with snow, becoming all the time more immobile. The girl appeared at the gate, alone. She was swinging the lantern. Of course, who is now going to lend her his horse for such a journey? I walked once again across the courtyard. I couldn’t see what to do. Distracted and tormented, I kicked my foot against the cracked door of the pig sty which had not been used for years. The door opened and banged to and fro on its hinges. A warmth and smell as if from horses came out. A dim stall lantern on a rope swayed inside. A man huddled down in the stall below showed his open blue-eyed face. “Shall I hitch up?” he asked, crawling out on all fours. I didn’t know what to say and bent down to see what was still in the stall. The servant girl stood beside me. “One doesn’t know the sorts of things one has stored in one’s own house,” she said, and we both laughed. “Hey, Brother, hey Sister,” the groom cried out, and two horses, powerful animals with strong flanks, shoved their way one behind the other, legs close to the bodies, lowering their well-formed heads like camels, and getting through the door space, which they completely filled, only through the powerful movements of their rumps. But right away they stood up straight, long legged, with thick steaming bodies. “Help him,” I said, and the girl obediently hurried to hand the wagon harness to the groom. But as soon as she was beside him, the groom puts his arms around her and pushes his face against hers. She screams out and runs over to me. On the girl’s cheek were red marks from two rows of teeth. “You brute,” I cry out in fury, “do you want the whip?”. But I immediately remember that he is a stranger, that I don’t know where he comes from, and that he’s helping me out of his own free will, when everyone else is refusing to. As if he knows what I was thinking, he takes no offence at my threat, but turns around to me once more, still busy with the horses. Then he says, “Climb in,” and, in fact, everything is ready. I notice that I have never before traveled with such a beautiful team of horses, and I climb in happily. “But I’ll take the reins. You don’t know the way,” I say. “Of course,” he says; “I’m not going with you. I’m staying with Rosa.” “No,” screams Rosa and runs into the house, with an accurate premonition of the inevitability of her fate. I hear the door chain rattling as she sets it in place. I hear the lock click. I see how in addition she runs down the corridor and through the rooms putting out all the lights in order to make herself impossible to find. “You’re coming with me,” I say to the groom, “or I’ll give up the journey, no matter how urgent it is. It’s not my intention to give you the girl as the price of the trip.” “Giddy up,” he says and claps his hands. The carriage is torn away, like a piece of wood in a current. I still hear how the door of my house is breaking down and splitting apart under the groom’s onslaught, and then my eyes and ears are filled with a roaring sound which overwhelms all my senses at once. But only for a moment. Then I am already there, as if the farm yard of my invalid opens up immediately in front of my courtyard gate. The horses stand quietly. The snowfall has stopped, moonlight all around. The sick man’s parents rush out of the house, his sister behind them. They almost lift me out of the carriage. I get nothing from their confused talking. In the sick room one can hardly breathe the air. The neglected cooking stove is smoking. I want to push open the window, but first I’ll look at the sick man. Thin, without fever, not cold, not warm, with empty eyes, without a shirt, the young man under the stuffed quilt heaves himself up, hangs around my throat, and whispers in my ear, “Doctor, let me die.” I look around. No one has heard. The parents stand silently, leaning forward, and wait for my opinion. The sister has brought a stool for my handbag. I open the bag and look among my instruments. The young man constantly gropes at me from the bed to remind me of his request. I take some tweezers, test them in the candle light, and put them back. “Yes,” I think blasphemously, “in such cases the gods do help. They send the missing horse, even add a second one because it’s urgent, and even throw in a groom as a bonus.” Now for the first time I think once more of Rosa. What am I doing? How am I saving her? How do I pull her out from under this groom, ten miles away from her, with uncontrollable horses in the front of my carriage? These horses, who have somehow loosened their straps, are pushing open the window from outside, I don’t know how. Each one is sticking its head through a window and, unmoved by the crying of the family, is observing the invalid. “I’ll go back right away,” I think, as if the horses were ordering me to journey back, but I allow the sister, who thinks I am in a daze because of the heat, to take off my fur coat. A glass of rum is prepared for me. The old man claps me on the shoulder; the sacrifice of his treasure justifies this familiarity. I shake my head. In the narrow circle of the old man’s thinking I was not well; that’s the only reason I refuse to drink. The mother stands by the bed and entices me over. I follow and, as a horse neighs loudly at the ceiling, lay my head on the young man’s chest, which trembles under my wet beard. That confirms what I know: the young man is healthy. His circulation is a little off, saturated with coffee by his caring mother, but he’s healthy and best pushed out of bed with a shove. I’m no improver of the world and let him lie there. I am employed by the district and do my duty to the full, right to the point where it’s almost too much. Badly paid, but I’m generous and ready to help the poor. I still have to look after Rosa, and then the young man may have his way, and I want to die too. What am I doing here in this endless winter! My horse is dead, and there is no one in the village who’ll lend me his. I have to drag my team out of the pig sty. If they hadn’t happened to be horses, I’d have had to travel with pigs. That’s the way it is. And I nod to the family. They know nothing about it, and if they did know, they wouldn’t believe it. Incidentally, it’s easy to write prescriptions, but difficult to come to an understanding with people. Now, at this point my visit might have come to an end—they have once more called for my help unnecessarily. I’m used to that. With the help of my night bell the entire region torments me, but that this time I had to sacrifice Rosa as well, this beautiful girl, who lives in my house all year long and whom I scarcely notice—this sacrifice is too great, and I must somehow in my own head subtly rationalize it away for the moment, in order not to let loose at this family who cannot, even with their best will, give me Rosa back again. But as I am closing up by hand bag and calling for my fur coat, the family is standing together, the father sniffing the glass of rum in his hand, the mother, probably disappointed in me—what more do these people expect?—tearfully biting her lips, and the sister flapping a very bloody hand towel, I am somehow ready, in the circumstances, to concede that the young man is perhaps nonetheless sick. I go to him. He smiles up at me, as if I was bringing him the most nourishing kind of soup—ah, now both horses are whinnying, the noise is probably supposed to come from higher regions in order to illuminate my examination—and now I find out that, yes indeed, the young man is ill. On his right side, in the region of the hip, a wound the size of the palm of one’s hand has opened up. Rose coloured, in many different shadings, dark in the depths, brighter on the edges, delicately grained, with uneven patches of blood, open to the light like a mine. That’s what it looks like from a distance. Close up a complication is apparent. Who can look at that without whistling softly? Worms, as thick and long as my little finger, themselves rose coloured and also spattered with blood, are wriggling their white bodies with many limbs from their stronghold in the inner of the wound towards the light. Poor young man, there’s no helping you. I have found out your great wound. You are dying from this flower on your side. The family is happy; they see me doing something. The sister says that to the mother, the mother tells the father, the father tells a few guests who are coming in on tip toe through the moonlight of the open door, balancing themselves with outstretched arms. “Will you save me?” whispers the young man, sobbing, quite blinded by the life inside his wound. That’s how people are in my region. Always demanding the impossible from the doctor. They have lost the old faith. The priest sits at home and tears his religious robes to pieces, one after the other. But the doctor is supposed to achieve everything with his delicate surgeon’s hand. Well, it’s what they like to think. I have not offered myself. If they use me for sacred purposes, I let that happen to me as well. What more do I want, an old country doctor, robbed of my servant girl! And they come, the families and the village elders, and take my clothes off. A choir of school children with the teacher at the head stands in front of the house and sings an extremely simple melody with the words
Take his clothes off, then he’ll heal,
and if he doesn’t cure, then kill him.
It’s only a doctor; it’s only a doctor.
(transl. Ian Johnston) via The Kafka Project | English.