Tag Archives: bewilderment

… speed – falling upwards into spatial & temporal bewilderment …

Always keen to bridge and connect seemingly unrelated intellectual territories, I tend to dip into essays of poet-philosophers and cultural theorists stacked near my bed.

Paul Virilio’s ‘Open Sky’ is a recent addition, translated by Julie Rose in 1997. Not an easy read, but the analysis of the social destruction wrought by modern technologies of communication and surveillance drew me in. The last chapter, Escape Velocity, relates a striking experience by Buzz Aldrin during the Apollo 11 mission. I share it here, within a short excerpt from the chapter, curious to discover what my readers make of it:

… Inflated to fill the dimensions of the world’s space, the time of the present world flashes us a glimpse on our screens of another regime of temporality … Outrageously puffed up by all the commotion of our communication technology, the perpetual present suddenly serves to illuminate duration. Reproducing the alternation between night and the solar day that once organised our ephemerides, the endless day of the reception of events produces an instantaneous lighting of reality that leaves the customary importance of the successive nature of facts in the shade; factual sequences little by little lose their mnemonic value …

… In his memoirs of the first moon landing, Buzz Aldrin in his own way confirms this disqualification of sunlight. Listen to what he has to say from the surface of the night star:

‘The light is also weird. Since there’s no atmosphere, the phenomenon of refraction disappears, so much so that you go directly from total shadow into sunlight, without any transition. When I hold my hand out to stick it in the light, you’d think I was crossing the barrier to another dimension.’

It is as though, for the astronaut, shadow and light were two new dimensions, inasmuch as any kind of transition no longer exists for him. The loss of the phenomena of atmospheric refraction produces a different perception of reality …

Virilio draws a comparison to a similar loss for earthlings … the different degree of illumination which, before the invention of electricity, still marked the hours of the day or the days of the year has become of diminished importance. Under the indirect light from screens and other control centres of the transmission of events, the time of chronological succession evaporates, paving the way for the instantaneous exposure time as harsh as that floodlighting of which Aldrin tells us:

‘On the moon, the sun shines on us like a gigantic spotlight.

All three astronauts of the Apollo 11 mission had problems after their return to earth. Spatial and temporal disorientation are not easily reconciled with one’s reality identification. Virilio writes … as for Aldrin, after two nervous breakdowns, several detoxification treatments for alcohol abuse and a divorce, he was to wind up in a psychiatric ward.

Struck by Aldrin’s experience, I thought about the increased screen time, especially now so many of us engage in since the corona virus changed our rhythm of interaction with nature, local environments, family, friends, and the wider world.

I first pondered the cultural implications of the digital advent during  a mid-1990s film degree as a mature student. For those interested – my post from 2018 gives a flavour of my dissertation – click here for ‘Body Electric- – it’s worth a visit.

John Wheeler came up with the idea of the universe as self-observing system (being.) Light travels at 186 000 miles per second. When we look into deep space we are seeing galaxies over ten billion years old. In that sense everything we see is in a past, which our observing consciousness creates. So I ask myself what realities do we envision during this surreal corona time, individually and collectively?

Is Paul Virilio’s bleak vision justified? Is the hyper centre of present time becoming the sole reference axis of worldwide activity? Is the individual of the scientific age, with diminished positional reference, losing the capacity to experience him/herself at the centre of energy?

Click here for an article from the Frieze magazine.

And if you’re brave, read this fascinating & sobering interview of Paul Virilio by Caroline Dumoucel.

Or – can we create enough pockets of stillness to counter the acceleration of the fall upwards, of progress propaganda, and instead re-connect to body, earth and roots?

P. S. All links in the post open a new window.

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… meeting my foxy child in twilight …

a tall fox appears

in the garden’s night shadow

he stops – sits – alert

cautious from a safe distance

we eye each other

he triggers my cunning child

buried long ago

since grownups detest smartness

even hunt their kind

yet through our meshed lineage

recognition plays

in the nimbus between us

we affirm being

and our shape shifting stories

Next day I strung up my little hammock near that magic spot, with different views:                                       

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Mostly, during these surreal lock down days, I sigh and groan a lot, bewildered by hilarious media stories and the never ending blame games, which, given people are bored, have gained major entertainment value – and this from my perspective of not having watched TV for years.

Keep sane my friends.

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… put parents on the payroll …

Traditional family structures are falling apart for a variety of reasons. No use blaming parents for their inability to cope, or romanticising the past. When we look at the whole picture, we must also acknowledge that the sacred family unit was often a torture chamber of abuse. Affected individuals (predominantly women and children) suffered in silence. The shocking narratives that keep emerging from across all sections of society show ignorance perpetuated over generations about what a child needs to thrive.

On the positive side, there are new forms of families emerging, families of heart and mind. Housing policies seem blind to this new phenomenon. The trend is still to build little boxes rather than independent units around a communal space that would allow socialising and sharing.

On the negative side, why is the psychological knowledge that has been available for decades not disseminated to parents? Corporations offer courses on motivation and people skills to their employees, because they realise these skills improve business.

There were attempts. During the 80’s and 90s, I was involved with Parent Link, a non-profit scheme that offered a playful and empowering set of twelve experiential sessions transmitting people skills. The resulting emotional self-awareness reduced stress and frequently turned lives around. The charity, set up by I. Sokolov and J. Pearson, offered subsidised training to parents who had benefitted from what they learned, and unlearned. Consequently hundreds of parents went on to facilitate more courses, drawing in more parents. Teachers were keen to bring the programme into schools. Sadly, without government support, the brilliant scheme did not survive its popular success.

Since stay-home parents pay no tax, they are considered a drain on government resources, unless they get a job and perk up the employment statistics. The status of parents has been gradually eroded, and, to top it, they are blamed for the ills of society.

Ten years ago I hatched the following idea and was laughed at:

Offer an appropriate part-time wage (taxed) to those who choose to be vocational parents or carers and are willing to learn, since the wage would be tied to basic obligations, like involvement in the community and the attendance of courses to develop relevant skills and knowledge. A reward for the most vital of all contributions to society would shift the status of a parent or carer – lessen social segregation – defuse the destructive acrimonious fights over property and maintenance where relationships break up –  raise self-esteem and build a stronger community spirit through networking and sharing of responsibilities, while still allowing part time work outside the home.

A parent or carer who has financial security will not be perceived as a burden to the state. No more would he/she be diminished by cliché projections and judgements.

It makes also financial sense – some benefits could be scrapped and the funds re-applied to wages, skills training and creative community projects.

And here is why any idea that proposes a shift in the social structure will be regarded as naïve, and not convince politicians:

Our social system thrives on unsustainability. Problems have become a growth industry. In the social sphere it is poverty, unemployment, sickness and criminality that have turned into the most profitable enterprises.

Present social policies are irresponsible, like building a high-rise in an earthquake zone disregarding safety regulations. They are based on blame, the lowest of all public denominators. They are an insult to the intelligence of ordinary people, who, with heightened awareness, tenacity, creativity and sacrifice, struggle to stay sane.

Ashen Venema

The above illustration is by Daphne Jo Grant, and was  kindly provided for my 1993 poetry collection ‘Gapsy Truth.’

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