Monday, August 29, 2016

The white goddess of tragedy

Jonathan Bate's new biography of Ted Hughes is excellent: judicious, sympathetic with deep understanding of both poetry and human imperfection. After finishing I reflected about those passionate lifes and lines and first thought that so typical of artists, jumping into dangerous depths heedless of safety - but maybe all lifes are, ultimately, mad and heedless, even if only in the absence and fear of those things. Fundementally, I suspect, there are no dignified, measured ways to exist: passion, fear and love will through in one way or the other.

One curious thing is the, dare one say, "goddess mongering" - like with Yeats or Graves, his great heroes, the particular "objective correlate" (inversed in a very Eliotian way: rather should he have talked about subjective correlate) is so very ridiculous. Wasting his time writing silly things about the Goddess in Shakespeare (or something), just as Yeats with his bizarre astrological histories. And of course not wasting: finding his burningly serious subject matter through strange, outwardly barely coherent meanderings.

All the while living that life of betrayal, hurt and great love, living a tragedy, for himself and his loved ones. With no party being a stereotype, not helpless victim nor sadistic abuser, tracing, imitating the courses of stars, the swift lines between them.

Thursday, July 28, 2016

Defending reason and decency

One longstanding theme of this blog has been the weakness of our liberal and western convictions and their increasing dependence on material wealth and consumerism. Our principles and institutions feel hollow - the anti-keynesian elite politics of globalization and liberalization almost in sole favour of capital and finance sector are on several levels undermining the Western society, atomizing it, making for ever increasing cynicism and scepticism.

Ground fertile for nasty sentiments, nasty regimes (one very close to my native Finland), for hatred and brutality whether (still) only in sentiment or even in deed. There seems to be next to no elite understanding that the enlightenment values do need vigorous and convinced defence - the society is in desperate need of liberal idealism and liberal defiance. Instead we have faceless technocrats catering for the finance industry.

Our enlightened values are truly deserving of militant, passionate backing: the values of liberty, of reason, of human value, compassion and sympathy are so vastly superior to this creeping nastiness and baseness and dishonesty, to Trump and Putin, to alt-right, to religious fundamentalism of all kinds.

Our liberal world view is under attack and on retreat. A fight has started and it needs to be joined.

Friday, June 24, 2016

Anglais mort a Florence - a citizen of two countries

Brahms was never my dark familiar, and I have never experienced a unity of to be and delight, only various glimpses of it, and them I do have, fleeting perceptions of moments of glory. But being a Protestant, at the very least, culturally, I would not expect to find even a temporary perfection on this fallen earth. Though still, notwithstanding, I'm not only of this earth but also of another and better home: of beauty, of art, friendship, love, even in a very Finnish Pietist sense, religion (for who could tolerate the earth). And so, even if only ever partially, protected from the worst corruption of this human world, adhering to the long views.

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Boom years

Continuing my tradition of highligthing obscure (but excellent) Finnish writers...

Alpo Ruuth is a master portraitist of the post-war communist Finnish urban proletariat: a community defiant, bitter, closely knit and wonderfully humane and warm. Now his best work appears rather folkloric - those people, that culture have been swept away by history, by relentless social change. Elegies of bygone times. But there are reasons for that collapse, that failure of faith: to borrow the terms of their creed, it all was based on "false consciousness" - if all those things in Nordic, deeply imperfect but improving Finland were wrong and unjust (and by and large they were), what then of the promised land, based on bloody terror and systematic suppression of all freedom and free debate? Such self-deception is bound fail; it was built on a lie.

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Meaning and beauty (in the age of artificial intelligence)

To any moderately observant person it should be clear that we are on the cusp of a real technological revolution - the first that I would witness personally with personal computing and the internet not amounting to that much in the end. The post-industrial society will get automatized creating a whole new cultural, economic and social situation. And like any revolution, however much planned, analyzed and rationalized, this one too will be chaotic, uncontrolled, uncontrollabe with countless unforeseen and unintended concequences: "Marie, Marie, hold on tight"...

No, I'm not hugely worried about our despotic, robotic overlords taking over: we already do despotic, robotic overtakings very expertly, thank you, have always done. Maybe in some corners of the West, of the postindustrial society we have a few scattered elements of enlightenment and liberty, but by and large the global system is a bloody, despotic kleptocracy, so maybe an AI version of despotism would actually be better. But it seems rather meaningless to speculate about this popular image of malignant machine intelligences - we simply don't know how things will turn out to be, though for me this particular scenario does not seem a likely or plausible end result.

Instead, I wonder from where shall our various artificial intelligences get their strange machine meanings from? Facts are simple enough: there's always facts around, scurrying away this way and that, but meanings are so much harder to come by. Where shall they get their Nietzschean criticism that without which it's so hard to imagine ourselves, lost here on this darkling plain? Hard to imagine these odd intelligences. (Especially as I don't mean the kind of "artificial intelligence" that many of the experts seem to mean for much of the time: really clever, self-learning machines going trough the tricks of moderately complicated tasks.)

And, also, and maybe even more importantly: where shall they get their idea of beauty from? The one, classically, that is so closely bound with the concept of ethics - where are their appropriate, proportionate ideas of fate fashioned? Or are they fashioned at all? It shouldn't really matter which material you are made of but which meaning and experience of the world you have - anything outward and obviously material is irrelevant. But the question still stands, and will stand, regardless of the of the changes to come: shall we have empty minds overseeing empty tasks? And to what rational purpose then?

As for the unfolding of the actual historical process, these thoughts are totally meaningless: they won't be considered for a moment. Things will happen without any overall control: there will be unforeseen and unintended occurrences, and we shall arrive where we never expected to arrive. We can only hope - and I have already argued here that it is our only realistic hope - that technological progress will free us for meaningful things and experiences. We will see.

Saturday, March 05, 2016

Your words like swallowing something sharp

Lately I had an evening of reminiscing: remembering persons and feelings, music and poetry. It is weird, this middle-age, being wiser and dumber, more numb. Those burning feelings of the 20 somethings seem at once both silly and easily more profound than the relaxed, resigned wisdoms of the late 40's. Age is no key, no route, no way in itself - to be alive to this awful, beautiful world is to remain intense: no resignation, no relaxation.

Monday, February 29, 2016

Külmale maale

I will not seize to wonder how easily the stalinist crimes have been forgotten in Europe. And, yes, surely the Nazis were even worse, I do agree. But if you think that, if you really see the horror of nazism, then you are logically bound to recognize also the red version, surely. I'm a liberal, so this really is not a great problem: any wholesale state violence against groups of people is very easy, very natural to condemn. So, against this background, it's weird to see how one set of crimes against humanity could be so easily forgotten compared with another such one.

Monday, January 11, 2016

The Thin White Duke - the leader of the freaks and misfits

I guess this is a kind of a 1970's eulogy: the world was different then, and oh how different was Finland, a remote wounded country painfully entering modernity. Now everyone can do it and does, and it's great and if it's not, you turn to the next one, you are free to turn whichever way. But he did it then: broke codes, very important codes, religiously guarded central codes - of sexuality, gender, of identity, of personhood. He evaded the dead categories with seeming ease, with grace. And aided me and undoubtedly countless of others also trying to find a path away from that deadness, and not with ease, not with grace. That is not a small thing to say of anyone, and next to that, his person, is his marvellous, glittering art: defiant, constantly changing, evading, slipping away from all your attempts of control. He was much too fast for that. So, a sad day this.

(Of course it is the land of all teenagers and young adults: the inner freakhood, the pain of not fitting into the world but it can feel extra sharp if you cannot even begin to think of a compromise, a gradual adjustment as your very being is a radical rebellion against liveless past certainties that still control thoughts and expectations.)

Thursday, January 07, 2016

On amoral codes of conduct

Of all things I have been reading and watching The Camomile Lawn - I prefer the excuisitely acted series, but the novel is rather curious: not great writing, unfortunately, but a sharp, odd vignette of an era.

I was thinking about that breezy, self-confident attitude combined with the various liaisons and came first up with the word "libertine" - and then thought it completely wrong, misleading, and also that "amoral" would only work in a very particular (and unfortunate and hurtful) context of "moral".

Though there surely must be a moral framework for our actions or else they will be void of any significance and responsibility: but that framework must be individually, genuinely wrought and thought out, shaped to be real - and it is unreal, dishonest and fundamentally libertine (shamelessly indulging in one's narrowness and meanness), and thus completely immoral to opt for Victorian puritanism devoid of the philosophical-religious principles of that puritanism (that do not save that anti-morality from shallowness and cruelty but who at least provide it with some intellectual foundations).

I also thought that my values have actually been rather close (though not identical) to those mores so interestingly and strangely portrayed by Mary Wesley. That I do have individually wrought a moral code of conduct totally and satisfyingly anti-victorian and unlibertine. At times it didn't feel this way, but there really was a serious code of conduct there, and is, I do believe.

Thursday, December 31, 2015

On not taking stock

I'm not William Ewart Gladstone, nor was meant to be. Though I too used to write profoundly weird end of the year diary posts: very Protestant, very phoney, full of false optimism and painfully fake personal piety. I grew out of it, he didn't, though that very obviously was not an impediment for achieving great things. But I did grow out it, matured, wisened up. Strange that, and excellent.

I can still vividly recall myself: reading those selfsame diary posts in the History Department library: thinking them both phony and admirable, painful, attempting to balance, and failing. And only belatedly seeing that it wasn't any total failure but in some respect also rather admirable and ultimately successful effort. And Gladstone - his phoniness was not the most important thing about him, or the most relevant: his idealism was. And with me, perhaps, my realism.