In Liverpool

I remember saying in one my posts, I guess in Black, that I will keep going back to writing about, or getting help from music. Particular songs. The song of the day, of that day. Sometimes the song itself is the source of inspiration. At other times, I have something to write about in mind, a theme, a feeling, mostly – always? – when I am feeling bad, and a song magically finds its way into the theme, capturing the feeling better than anything I could write.

That’s what happened today when I took myself forcibly off of the bed to take a stroll in the empty streets of Vienna, with the vain hope of drenching my solitude in strangers’ eyes, furtive looks and improbable encounters. As always, I looked for “cafés nearby” in Google Maps and decided on one, some Luxor-Bar on Grünentorgasse 19B, which seemed promising for someone in search of “eyes, looks and encounters”.

The weather was gloomy, the streets emptier, the café more woeful than I expected. Cheezy music, uncomfortable chairs, and one customer, a middle-aged nice-looking guy with messy hair (the proverbial “artist” or writer), taking notes on his laptop while sipping his cafe. I could have chosen any chair as the whole place was mine and his, but I chose to sit across him. Maybe I was trying to attract his attention, to exchange a smile.

This was exactly when Suzanne Vega’s angelic voice broke into my reality, kidnapping me from myself and the present:

In Liverpool
On Sunday
No traffic
On the avenue
The light is pale and thin
Like you
No sound, down
In this part of town
Except for the boy in the belfry
He’s crazy, he’s throwing himself
Down from the top of the tower
Like a hunchback in heaven
He’s ringing the bells in the church
For the last half an hour
He sounds like he’s missing something
Or someone that he knows he can’t
Have now and if he isn’t
I certainly am

I knew it was coming. I knew he was coming. I knew I was missing something, or someone I knew I can’t have now, at least not in the reality I inhabit.

Maybe he was still here with me as mamma keeps telling me. “When you cry he’s by your side, hoping you will see all the good things in life”, she recently reminded me, when I reached out to her in one of my many breakdowns. But if he was here, why wasn’t I able to see him, to feel his presence as she could? Why couldn’t I even look at pictures of us, laughing, playing, having fun (living is fun, dying is boring, right my son?)?

Maybe I had to change my reality to be able to see him. Not the way I perceive reality for, as I said above, this wasn’t possible, but start thinking about inhabiting another reality, his reality, the place I could find him. This required a huge sacrifice, not for me, but for those who love me, and maybe for him too. “He wants us to live in all the ways he couldn’t”, said mamma. For that, I had to stay alive. I had to persevere, endure the breakdowns. But how could I know that this is what he would want? He wasn’t old enough to know the meaning of altruism. This is us imparting ideas on him, to make his departure from the world of the living more bearable. We all suffer in different ways, and we are all:

Homesick for a clock
That told the same time

And yet, there is no such clock. Clocks show different times; it is 13:51 in Vienna, 06:51 in Guadalajara; it is Suzanne Vega here, the Little Mermaid over there. But what time is it where he is? What song is he listening to? If he were here, we would be listening to Despicable Me. But he is not here. And sometimes, most of the times, I don’t want to be here either.

The guy sitting across me packed and left. I am still here.

Happy Father’s Day Sweden…

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“But reality is diabolical”

“I understand, all right. The hopeless dream of being – not seeming, but being. At every waking moment, alert. The gulf between what you are with others and what you are alone. The vertigo and the constant hunger to be exposed, to be seen through, perhaps even wiped out. Every inflection and every gesture a lie, every smile a grimace. Suicide? No, too vulgar. But you can refuse to move, refuse to talk, so that you don’t have to lie. You can shut yourself in. Then you needn’t play any parts or make wrong gestures. Or so you thought. But reality is diabolical. Your hiding place isn’t watertight. Life trickles in from the outside, and you’re forced to react. No one asks if it is true or false, if you’re genuine or just a sham. Such things matter only in the theatre, and hardly there either. I understand why you don’t speak, why you don’t move, why you’ve created a part for yourself out of apathy. I understand. I admire. You should go on with this part until it is played out, until it loses interest for you. Then you can leave it, just as you’ve left your other parts one by one.” Ingmar Bergman

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On love and constructivism

It was the beginning of the 2000s. God knows why, I have decided to write my first single-authored academic article on “ethnosymbolism”, the particular approach to nationalism developed by non other than the late Anthony D. Smith, the doyen of nationalism studies, my instructor at the LSE, the person who taught me most I know on nations and nationalism. (No, no, don’t worry, this is not an essay on nationalism of course! It is on love and constructivism).

Anyway, as if it was not foolish enough to pen a scathing critique of his theoretical perspective, I have submitted it to the journal he was editing! Great thinking, right? To my surprise, the article had good reviews and eventually published. And, naturally, Anthony smashed it into little pieces in a short reply (though, to this day, I believe I won the argument but that’s another question).

My kamikaze mission contained a passage comparing nationalism to love, individual love, in the context of a discussion on constructivism:

According to Smith, artefacts cannot generate passion. Are we to assume that only “genuine”, “authentic” things can generate passion then? What is genuine and authentic anyway? Take love. Is it real or constructed? Do we love someone because he or she is the real, the authentic partner for us? Do we [continue to] love that person because the myths, symbols and memories of our relationship have a long history? How do we manage to forget that person and carry on in case we are dumped? How do we manage to love someone else if he or she [was] ‘the authentic’ partner? The answer obviously is that love is something we have created in our minds, but also something we feel. The fact that our feelings are the products of some complicated cognitive processes does not make them less real to us. The same goes for the love of the nation, and in fact any other kind of love, of God, of family, and so on. It is Anthony Smith who reminds us of Durkheim’s famous dictum and rightly so: ideas, once born, have a life of their own.

Anthony’s reply to this passage was rather unexpected:

As they may indeed be prepared to die for “love”. Here Dr Ozkirimli treats us to a charming excursus on the reality or constructedness of individual love, even if we may not in the end wholly agree with his conclusion that the fact that “our feelings are the product of some complicated cognitive processes does not make them less real for us”. Love as the product of cognition? Surely, a cosmopolitan philosopher’s dream.

Now, how on earth did Anthony link my metaphor to cosmopolitanism, I don’t know. What I was trying to say was quite simple: Love, or any other feeling for that matter, is contructed in the sense that it is “cognitive”. Oxford English Dictionary defines cognition, in its philosophical sense, as “The action or faculty of knowing taken in its widest sense, including sensation, perception, conception, etc., as distinguished from feeling and volition” and adds “A product of such an action: a sensation, perception, notion, or higher intuition”.

In other words, cognition which I claim is the root cause of love involves “sensations, perceptions, conceptions” which, depending on our needs, expectations, our strengths and vulnerabilities at a particular moment, develop into, in fact morph into love, anger, hatred, you name it. Don’t external circumstances matter? Of course they do. A beautiful woman, a handsome man, individual intellect and humour can and do act as a trigger or catalyst. But we don’t fall in love with every beautiful, handsome, intelligent, humorous person on earth, do we? When we do fall in love, that is our mind, our thoughts, our perceptions and sensations – in short our cognition – which do the job. We create the object of our love. We embellish it. And all this is not always experienced (even though sometimes it is) at a conscious level. It just happens. And, this is the part Anthony chose to conveniently disregard, it is real. The euphoria is real; the ups and downs are real; the suffering is real – in their effects.

Let us not go into a discussion on the notions of “truth”, “reality”. If you have ever been in love, you would know what “real” means under those circumstances. If you lose someone you love, your suffering is the only “truth” that matters. All I am saying is, this is all in our minds. Not hearts. The heart pumps the blood that is necessary to do certain things love requires. The mind falls in love; the mind falls out of love. The mind is that which creates love and the object of love, with all its reality.

Perhaps then, the French novelist Stendhal who produced the theory of crystallization was the first constructivist?

Leave a lover with his thoughts for twenty-four hours, and this is what will happen: At the salt mines of Salzburg, they throw a leafless wintry bough into one of the abandoned workings. Two or three months later they haul it out covered with a shining deposit of crystals. The smallest twig…is studded with a galaxy of scintillating diamonds. The original branch is no longer recognizable. What I have called crystallisation is a mental process which draws from everything that happens new proofs of the perfection of the loved one.

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