the inveterate, avowed rabble
November 24, 2008, 12:32 am
Filed under: brave new world | Tags: , , , , , , , , ,

Here is a description of how Europe colonized the world between the Middle Ages and modern times, as described by Ryszard Kapuscinski.  His book The Other is short and sweet and so good for understanding our perennial tendency to look lovingly inward.

In their violent desire to expand into and profit from the outside world, European powers used men from low strata of society to do the dirty work.  The violence of those excursions was caused by both greed and by the xenophobia of the men sent.  Call them what you like, they were outcast:  beginning at home, and then cast out into worlds of mercenary violence.  They were nothing – because of their class – and everything – because of their mission.  And centuries later we recognize them as a medium that has channeled into our world fear and intolerance of the other.

“The image of the Other that Europeans had when they set out to conquer the planet is of a naked savage, a cannibal and pagan, whose humiliation and oppression is the sacred right and duty of the European – who is white and Christian.  The cause of the exceptional brutality and cruelty that typified whites was not only the lust for gold and slaves that consumed their minds and blinded the ruling elites of Europe, but also the incredibly low standard of culture and morals among those sent out as the vanguard for contact with Others.  In those days ships’ crews consisted largely of villains, criminals and bandits, the inveterate, avowed rabble; at best they were tramps, homeless people and failures, the reason being that it was hard to persuade a normal person to choose to go on a voyage of adventure that often ended in death.”

~Ryszard Kapuscinski, The Other


without you i’m nothing
November 18, 2008, 12:03 am
Filed under: the sweet life | Tags: , , , , , ,

When I was in boarding school, we were required to write a letter home before we could sit down for Sunday tea.  It was our ticket in.  We wrote in large cursive and double spaced, repeating ideas, drew a picture, signed, ran downstairs licking postgrams and handed them to our dorm mother presiding over the mid afternoon ritual.

Instruction was given to make it into something more than an empty gesture.  I remember being told to begin each letter by acknowledging and asking after our parents.  It was good form to establish the relationship this way before rushing headlong into descriptions of our weeks as we were prone to do.

I am reading The Other, a short book of essays by Ryszard Kapuscinski a Polish journalist.  In a way the theme of the book is similar to the method we used to write our letters.  And, it’s about what Coromandal is about – crossing the threshold from one place into another, in this case from self to other people.

This quotation is in the introduction to the book.  It is a description of the thinking of one of Kapuscinski’s mentors, Levinas.  L. takes the classic statement of Descartes that has formed the foundation of western civilization – I think therefore I am – and radically subverts it:  in the immortal words of Sandra Bernhardt, without you I am nothing!

’The Other’ was his central topic.  Levinas considered that philosophers were wasting their time on metaphysics and epistemology.  Although he lived in France, the land of Descartes, he did not believe that ‘I think, therefore I am’, but that ‘the self is only possible through the recognition of the Other.’”

~Neal Ascherson, from the Introduction, The Other, Ryszard Kapuscinski