Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Les femmes de Blaise

"Moi, un alphabet de 24 lettres me suffit pour faire revivre toutes les femmes que j'ai connues, connues selon la Bible ou tout simplement imaginées, sans parler des femmes de l'histoire et de la légende, les amoureuses peintes dans les musées, les phantasmes nocturnes, les inconnues que j'ai baisées en vitesse sur le pont des embarcations ou derrière une porte, les hermaphrodites, les succubes, mes filles illégitimes, mon ex-épouse, mon Amour, et Hélène-la-morte, celles dont j'ai tout oublié, la couleur des yeux, le ventre, le sourire, celles qui ne sont pas venues à un rendez-vous, celles dont on a pris congé pour toujours sans leur avoir plaqué, tant la hâte de la séparation était grande, un baiser d'adieu dans les jarrets, et toutes les muses, les oaristys, les égéries, les hamadryades de la poésie et les reines de l'écran d'argent. 24 lettres, cela me parait bien suffisant car avec un alphabet de 24 lettres on peut faire


combinaisons, ces trillions de billions de milliards de millions de combinaisons qui sont autant de noms propres qui me sont chers..."
Blaise Cendrars, L'homme foudroyé, Le vieux port, Une drôle de vierge.

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

About the discovery of cultural diversity

To discover the cultural diversity of human society, to learn the languages and local customs of even one people or group different from our own is a difficult goal to achieve. A remarkable exception, as Kwame Anthony Appiah so writes in his book Cosmopolitanism, might be Sir Richard Burton, a victorian adventurer who not only succeeded to learn the languages and the customs of many people, from India to Africa, but also was known to melt and disappear into the local crowds.

Ryszard Kapuscinski, in Travels with Herodotus, describes how he tried to make his someone else's culture but realizes how difficult the task is. In his words:

"It was a kind of malady, a dangerous weakness, because I also realized that these civilizations are so enormous, so rich, complex, and varied, that getting to know even a fragment of one of them, a mere scrap, would require devoting one's whole life to the enterprise. Cultures are edifices with countless rooms, corridors, balconies, and attics, all arranged, furthermore, into such twisting, turning labyrinths, that if you enter one of them, there is no exit, no retreat, no turning back. To become a Hindu scholar, a Sinologist, an Arabist, or a Hebraist is a lofty, all-consuming pursuit, leaving no space and time for anything else."
(Travels with Herodotus, Chinese thought)

This geometric view of a culture reminds me of Samir, my arabic teacher, who, confronted to a horde of rationnally-minded students, eager to understand a culture along a single linear line, from A to Z, used to describe it instead as a sphere, where there is no beginning and no ending.

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Walls of misunderstanding

Ryszard Kapuscinski writes in Travels with Herodotus about the Great Wall of China

"That is how the world's energy is wasted. In complete irrationality! Complete futility! For the Great Wall -and it is gigantic, a wall-fortress, stretching for thousands of kilometers through uninhabited mountains and wilderness, an object of pride and, as I have mentioned, one of the wonders of the world- is also proof of a kind of human weakness, of an aberration, of a horrifying mistake; it is evidence of a historical inability of people [...] to communicate, to confer and jointly determine how best to deploy enormous reserves of human energy and intellect. [..]
The worst aspect of the wall is to turn so many people into its defenders and produce a mental attitude that sees a wall running through everything, imagines the world as being divided into an evil and inferior part, on the outside, and a good and superior part, on the inside"

Not just the Great Wall, but any wall would be the signature of a failure, the failure of human understanding. Ryszard Kapuscinski, a Polish, was writing this piece in the 50's, about 10 years before the Berlin Wall started to be built. Think this is Past? Walls are still being built or reinforced at the time of writing. Examples are the Israeli West Bank Barrier, The United States-Mexico barrier or the European fences in Ceuta and Melilla among many others.

Wednesday, July 4, 2007

The Blue Marble

This is one of the first image of the Earth ever taken (this one was taken on December 24, 1968). It reveals that from space planet Earth is seen as a beautiful blue planet recovered by a turbulent sea of white clouds over a background of darkness. I am too young to have lived without such picture of Earth in mind. What about the wiser generations? What were their reactions the first time they realize how blue Earth is? Did they ever imagine such lifefull picture? If you can answer, please leave me a comment. I will be glad to read it.