the joy in me

I was nine when Ingmar Bergman made Scenes From a Marriage / Scener ur ett Aktenskap with Liv Ullmann and Erland Josephson, about the disintegration of a marriage.  I finally got around to seeing it now.

Bergman’s father was a Lutheran pastor.  In the interview with him on the dvd, he describes the de-Christianizing of Sweden, in which the new generation kept the outward signs of their faith – the courtesies, legalisms, forms, and got rid of the love.  This story is about a young couple – Marianne and Johan – who live in the illusion of their happiness which is based on these outward signs.  They have good jobs, young daughters, family obligations and connections.  And eventually, by the catalyst of an affair, they are forced to confront their relationship on a much deeper level.  Marianne is much more successful than Johan in this hard work, the work of knowing herself.  She uses a journal to do the hard work which she reads to Johan, and he utterly fails her here by falling asleep during the reading.

In her journal she describes a violence that is the real root of her proper, happy, bourgeois life.  And that the formal exterior is really a means of keeping that violence at bay.  And that families teach their children from a very young age to conform and repress their personality and emotions in the interests of conforming to the requirements of proper society.  She describes the guilt that acts as a poison that takes her over completely, and makes it hard to live a full life later as an adult.

Bergman describes how his film led to a spike in divorces as more Swedes decided to challenge their repressed relations.  Irony that the son of a pastor sees divorce as good: a reckoning of people to their own true selves and to what it means to truly love.

Marianne reading from her diary about self awareness:

Marianne:  In the snug world Johan and I lived in, taking everything for granted, there is an implied cruelty and brutality that frightens me more and more when I think back on it.  The trappings of security come at a high price:  the constant erosion of your personality.  It’s so easy right at the outset to thwart a small child’s cautious attempts to assert itself.  In my case, it was performed with injections of a poison that is 100% effective.  Guilt.  At first, it was directed towards my mother.  Later, towards others.  And finally, towards Jesus and God.  In a flash I see what kind of person I would have been had I never allowed myself to be brainwashed.  And I wonder whether I’m hopelessly lost.   Whether the potential for joy that was innate in me is dead, or whether it merely lies dormant and can be awakened.  I wonder what kind of wife and woman I would have become if I’d been able to use my resources as they were intended.

Ingmar Bergman Scenes From a Marriage, 1973

public life
July 19, 2010, 5:20 pm
Filed under: brave new world | Tags: , , ,

Mr de T, presumably, was over here when he scribbled this fierce little gem.  He says the start of individualism is a disaster, the start.  And it gets worse from there, much worse.  It starts by sapping, which is bad enough, and goes on to attack and destroy and to finally absorb, subsume.  A virus that just won’t quit.  And look at the object:  virtue, life itself, others, the very object of a good life on earth.

Individualism at first, only saps the virtues of public life; but in the long run it attacks and destroys all others and is at length absorbed in selfishness.

— Alexis de Tocqueville

thickening things
July 19, 2010, 3:02 pm
Filed under: brave new world, Uncategorized | Tags: ,

Some people are dangerous by their clarity.  For instance, some Kings and Presidents were, and are:  if not benevolent, their certainty would certainly act to destroy lives.  But not just kings.  I have friends who have inherited the divine right:  God told me, they say.  They’re not just saying it either, they believe it.  Here is another way:  to live in the uncertainty of meaning, whether divine or the liberal humanist version.

A quotation from Terry Eagleton’s — he calls it deeply embarrassing — book The Meaning of Life:

Religious fundamentalism is the neurotic anxiety that without a Meaning of meanings, there is not meaning at all.  It is simply the flip side of nihilism.  Underlying this assumption is the house-of-cards view of life:  flick away the one at the bottom, and the whole fragile structure comes fluttering down.  Someone who thinks this way is simply the prisoner of a metaphor.  In fact, a great many believers reject this view.  No sensitive, intelligent religious believer imagines that non-believers are bound to be mired in total absurdity.  Nor are they bound to believe that because there is a God, the meaning of life becomes luminously clear.  On the contrary, some of those with religious faith believe that God’s presence makes the world more mysteriously unfathomable, not less. If he does have a purpose, it is remarkably impenetrable.  God is not in that sense the answer to a problem.  He tends to thicken things rather than render them self-evident.

Terry Eagleton, The Meaning of Life, p77


author / Terry Eagleton

book / The Meaning of Life

arrested at utopia
July 17, 2010, 2:17 pm
Filed under: brave new world | Tags: , , , , ,

Our cities and towns – their politics and form – are a direct consequence of the policies of our leaders and the ideas we hold dear.  Jefferson was suspicious of the city because he saw it as the seat of the totalizing power of money and capital.  Generations later we still don’t really know how to build a proper city, it seems.

The following passage talks about an ambiguity in the American mind: that our cities are developed democratically but that the cities we have made are wrong, somehow.  It implies that democracy is foundational to development, that the market should be allowed to fulfill its project and that to impose a utopian vision on the development of our built environment is, well, utopian.

Continue reading

don’t get paved over
July 11, 2010, 8:03 pm
Filed under: brave new world | Tags: , , ,

More evidence of the prevalence of the analytic:  we don’t plan, we merely do, or react or whatever.  This attitude is dominant in the offices I have worked in on the east coast.  I call it ‘how bout this?’  In designing a new product, the chief offers some low level input at the beginning and at critical phases.  The worker bees busily develop the idea.  BZZZ.  BZZZ.  Hundreds of solutions are developed when four or five, with meaning, would do.  They are shown to the client: how ’bout this?  how ’bout this?  The toss out rate is extremely high and hundreds more are developed to replace the ones being binned.  And all because there is no big picture, no one willing, or capable, or something, of making goals, developing a vision.

Here is a quotation from Bob Yaro, a planner in New England:

“When you’ve done some planning in England and you come back over to this country, you realize how futile it is, because no one’s really looking at the big picture.  I admit that what we’re doing here is looking as some individual pieces of property and trying to make sure they don’t  get paved over.  But where is the big picture?  It doesn’t exist.”

Bob Yaro, since departed for his new job with the NYRPA, offered this final assessment in a phone interview:  “When they come to chronicle the decline of this civilization,” he said, “they’re going to wonder why we were debating flag burning, abortion, and broccoli eating instead of the fundamental issues of how we live and use the environment.

–Bob Yaro, quoted by JH Kunstler, The Geography of Nowhere

can’t see the forest for the trees

We analyze and parse, and collect data, and manipulate it but can never seem to make judgments based on it.  My design students today spend weeks and reams of paper and blood and sweat collecting, analyzing, charting, but never never make summary statements about their work.  There is always a huge gap left between early research analysis and the design work they take on later in their semesters.  The analysis operates as a mere pretext and the design work is developed from a position of unhinged bliss.

It appears we operate by a technocracy that allows us to float untethered from the implications of real research.   Is this why we ask so few questions and put our heads down and work:  to avoid having to react directly to what our research is telling us and to continue generating fantasies?

Here is the quotation from Geography of Nowhere:

The intellectual position of Jackson, Venturi, and Lewis vis-a-vis the American landscape illustrates how the discontinuities of our everyday surroundings are mirrored by the discontinuities of the university.  Viewing a landscape full of totem objects designed to convince us that we live in a thing called a community – ‘colonial’ houses, Red Barn hamburger joints – the academics declare that these objects may be minutely observed without considering their value in relation to other things – for instance, to some notion of what makes a community authentic or false, good or bad.  Their position is an outgrowth of technocratic view that believes only in measuring and quantifying.  Perhaps those in the arts and humanities take refued in this position out of a sense of inferiority toward those in the sciences.  By turning the arts and humanities into pseudosciences, the ideas they contain assume a false empirical authority.  And when the arts and humanities no longer deal with questions of value, of what constitutes a life worth living, they give up altogether the responsibility for making value judgments.

Thus, a Jacksonian student of landscape can observe a Red Barn hamburger joint, he can remark on its architectural resemblance to certain farm structures of the past, measure its dimensions, figure out the materials that went into building it, record the square footage of its parking lot, count the number of cars that come and go, the length of time that each customer lingers inside, the average sum spent on a meal, the temperature of the iceberg lettuce in its bin in the salad bar – all down to the last infinitesimal detail – and never arrive at the conclusion that the Red Barn is an ignoble piece of shit that degrades the community.

–James Kunstler, The Geography of Nowhere