coromandal


difficulty in dying
May 8, 2020, 8:14 pm
Filed under: chronotopes | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , ,

Looking back at 'La Peste' by Albert Camus - The Hindu

How very lonely dying must be. How much more lonely today as we isolate to keep the virus from spreading.

In normal circumstances, confined to bed whether at home or in hospital, with media – a book and a TV perhaps – the nurse, the occasional visitor for company, but mostly we’re left with our memories of people we miss and of friendships. Our thoughts form around muffled sounds of talking in the hall, pets in the courtyard, household work, local construction. The curtain, window and door are important thresholds that let in the outside to enliven our minds. The images are pleasurable as each reminds and promises us of our deep connection to the world.

In the time of cholera and covid, the isolation is even worse without visitors, and wary nurses suited in layers of protective equipment, gloves and masks.

Our towns play roles in our relative isolation when sick. At the start of his novel La Peste, excerpted below, Albert Camus’ narrator tells us – before the rats start to die, before the concierge catches the deadly plague – how lonely death can be, and how the conditions of death can vary widely depending on the conditions of the place you inhabit. The town he describes, Oran in North Africa, is a scrappy place, uninspiring, with hardscrabble business affairs, hot and dry with climate extremes and dark nights. All are features that conspire to attenuate the discomfort of an invalid – he hears the despair of the city and and is unsettled.

There is a hint in the passage that an environment can help us to die better. A place that is “inspiring” and affords “small attentions,” and “something to rely on,” render comfort to the sick. These aren’t physical attributes, they’re intangibles. A pandemic by definition circles the globe and the conditions for the sick vary widely from luxurious to squalor. But thankfully, inspiration, support and attention are intangibles that can be built into any place on the planet. This is how we support the sick and dying in the time of covid.

What is more exceptional in our town is the difficulty one may experience there in dying. “Difficulty,” perhaps, is not the right word, ‘discomfort” would come nearer. Being ill’s never agreeable but there are towns that stand by you, so to speak, when you are sick; in which you can, after a fashion, let yourself go. An invalid needs small attentions, he likes to have something to rely on, and that’s natural enough. But at Oran the violent extremes of temperature, the exigencies of business, the uninspiring surroundings, the sudden nightfalls, and the very nature of its pleasures call for good health. An invalid feels out of it there. Think what it must be for a dying man, trapped behind hundreds of walls all sizzling with heat, while the whole population, sitting in cafes or hanging on the telephone, is discussing shipments, bills of lading, discounts! It will then be obvious what discomfort attends death, even modern death, when it waylays you under such conditions in a dry place.

La Peste, Albert Camus



What other goals, principles satisfactions?
October 21, 2016, 4:42 pm
Filed under: brave new world | Tags: , , , ,

Image result for office workers magnum photographs

Photo: Lise Sarfati

Modern people are commodities; disconnected from self, others and nature; their virtual only focus is exchange of personhood with other persons on the market. Life is subsumed in these market processes: packaging and moving personhood as a product, negotiating exchanges and consuming.

What of life, real life? What other goals, principles satisfactions?

Modern man has transformed himself into a commodity; he experiences his life energy as an investment with which he should make the highest profit, considering his position and the situation on the personality market. He is alienated from himself, from his fellow men and from nature. His main aim is profitable exchange of his skills, knowledge, and of himself, his “personality package” with others who are equally intent on a fair and profitable exchange. Life has no goal except the one to move, no principle except the one of fair exchange, no satisfaction except the one to consume.

Erich Fromm



waste of the world
September 13, 2015, 1:57 pm
Filed under: chronotopes, departure lounge | Tags: , , , , ,

Italo Calvino describes his mother’s domesticity and his father’s passion: struggles with ourselves and with the world.

His mother turned passions into mere duties, her strategy for quotidian domestic life: sure, methodical, hardworking. His father on the other hand embraced passion, altruism, innovation, pain of existence, a desperate confrontation with the world.

That life is partly waste was something my mother would not accept: I mean that it is partly passion. Hence she never left the garden where every plant was labelled, the house swathed in bougainvillea, the study with its herbariums and the microscope under the glass dome. Always sure of herself, methodical, she transformed passions into duties and lived on those. But what pushed my father up the road to San Giovanni every morning – and me downwards along my own road – was not so much the duty of the hardworking landowner, the altruism of the agricultural innovator – and in my case not so much those definitions of duty that I would gradually impose on myself – but passion, fierce passion, pain of existence – what else could have forced him to scramble up through woods and wilderness and me to plunge into a labyrinth of walls and printed paper? – desperate confrontation with that which lies outside of ourselves, waste of self set against the waste of the world in general.

The Road to San Giovanni, Italo Calvino



Do your work, then step back
June 19, 2014, 6:49 pm
Filed under: brave new world, the sweet life | Tags: , , , ,

Fill your bowl to the brim
and it will spill.
Keep sharpening your knife
and it will blunt.
Chase after money and security
and your heart will never unclench.
Care about people’s approval
and you will be their prisoner.
Do your work, then step back.
The only path to serenity.

Lao Tzu



the prescribed consensus
May 13, 2014, 10:01 am
Filed under: brave new world | Tags: , , ,

Lew Rockwell's photo.

Not sure I agree with this entirely, but it is a point of view … I’ve always seen education as a liberating agent but, like any complex thing, it has more than one characteristic.



heart attack
January 26, 2014, 5:15 pm
Filed under: the sweet life | Tags: , , , , , ,

In the 1950s, two researchers named Bruhn and Wolf went to the village of Roseto in eastern Pennsylvania near the New York border, to attempt to find out why the townspeople there were outliving – by a wide margin – people everywhere else in the country.  Their assumption going in had been that there were physical reasons for the longevity, like diet and health.  What they found was evidence that the reason for exceptional health was social.

Rosetto PA was settled in the 1880s by stone workers from the Italian town Rosetto Valfortore.  The settlers brought the name of their southern mountain town with them and apparently they brought a lot more than just the name.  When Bruhn and Wolf visited the town they found a very tightly knit, socially cohesive community.  They were publicly and privately social, they lived in extended families, they worshipped together, they formed multiple social organizations, and the classes mixed and were mutually supportive.   Continue reading



Lightly my darling, on tiptoes
July 1, 2013, 1:20 am
Filed under: brave new world, the sweet life | Tags: , , ,

From as early as I can remember, I’ve had a serious streak, scoldy, and humourless. In my undergrad a girl called me IYM, for intense young man.  I don’t think I’ve shaken it quite, still striving, overreaching, catastrophizing, sweating.  Having fun, yes, but returning too often to the youthful seriousness. Here’s the antidote:

“It’s dark because you are trying too hard. Lightly child, lightly. Learn to do everything lightly. Yes, feel lightly even though you’re feeling deeply. Just lightly let things happen and lightly cope with them.

I was so preposterously serious in those days, such a humorless little prig.
Lightly, lightly – it’s the best advice ever given me.
When it comes to dying even. Nothing ponderous, or portentous, or emphatic.
No rhetoric, no tremolos,
no self conscious persona putting on its celebrated imitation of Christ or Little Nell.
And of course, no theology, no metaphysics.
Just the fact of dying and the fact of the clear light.

So throw away your baggage and go forward.
There are quicksands all about you, sucking at your feet,
trying to suck you down into fear and self-pity and despair.
That’s why you must walk so lightly.
Lightly my darling,
on tiptoes and no luggage,
not even a sponge bag,
completely unencumbered.”

― Aldous HuxleyIsland



you were supposed to sing or to dance
January 10, 2013, 11:49 pm
Filed under: brave new world, the sweet life | Tags: , , , ,

From Alan Watts, Life and Music:

Then when you wake up one day about 40 years old, and you say, “my god, I’ve arrived, I’m there!”  And you don’t feel any different from what you always felt.  And there’s a slight let down because you feel there was a hoax.  And there was a hoax.  A dreadful hoax.  They made you miss everything.

We thought of life by analogy with a journey, a pilgrimage, which had a serious purpose at the end.  And the thing was to get to that end:  success, or whatever it is, or maybe heaven after you’re dead.  But we missed the point the whole way along. It was a musical thing, and you were supposed to sing or to dance while the music was being played.



the centre of all the possible magic and revelation

When the great poets Sylvia Plath and Ted Hughes first met, Ted tried to kiss Sylvia and she bit him.  They got married and had a son whom they named Nicholas.  I guess Ted tried to kiss other girls too and Sylvia was very jealous.  When Nicholas was only one, she gassed herself in an oven – horror.

After his mother’s suicide, his father wrote that Nicholas’ eyes –

“Became wet jewels,

The hardest substance of the purest pain

As I fed him in his high white chair”.

Forty seven years later, Nicholas then a scientist living in Alaska, became depressed and took his life.

What an awful story.  It makes me think Nicholas never got over the loss of his mother.  Or that his dad must have treated him callously or abandoned him.

A LETTER

Following is a letter that Ted Hughes wrote to his son after visiting him in Alaska.  In it Hughes offers to his son a sort of primer on how to manage in a life in which relationships are often times quite difficult.   Continue reading



ask, heed, respond, agree

To live is to converse.  Sounds glib, until you ask yourself how many people in your life you have a vital, clear, continuing verbal relationship with.  Some people do, but a lot do not; I include myself in the latter.  I have short intense wranglings, but rarely life long explications.

There is a history of dialogic relationships – friends who chat – in literature: Don Quixote and Sancho Panza, Iago and Othello, Holmes and Watson, Vladimir and Estragon, Lodovico Settembrini and Leo Naphta, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern among the best known.  A contemporary conversation worth checking out is that between Lars Iyer and W. – a philosophic and funny wrangle between two UK philosophy professors – in Iyer’s books Spurious and Dogma.

Here is a good description – by the philosopher Bakhtin – of how dialogue is the essential act of communion that gives us life, the medium by which we are inducted into it, our ticket to what he calls the world symposium:

“Truth is not born nor is it to be found inside the head of an individual person, it is born between people collectively searching for truth, in the process of their dialogic interaction”

“The single adequate form for verbally expressing authentic human life is the open-ended dialogue. Life by its very nature is dialogic. To live means to participate in dialogue: to ask questions, to heed, to respond, to agree, and so forth. In this dialogue a person participates wholly and throughout his life: with his eyes, lips, hands, soul, spirit, with his whole body and deeds. He invests his entire self in discourse, and this discourse enters into the dialogic fabric of human life, into the world symposium.”

Mikhail Bakhtin, Problems of Dostoevski’s Poetics

Dialogic Tectonic, Scott Francisco