To vaguely ask what the biggest development has been in the African continent this past year would most likely be meaningless, unless if one was to follow Binyavanga Wainaina’s eloquently satirical argument on effectively writing about the continent: treat it as if it were a country; keep the stories ‘simple’ and entirely episodic, be confident with sweeping generalizations, etc. It is the strategy of domination, of marginalization, of dispossession; and it has been the way most narratives on and about Africa are being shaped. Indeed, they are not unlike Karl Marx’s depiction of the masses during the French Revolution; masses who “are unable to assert their class interests in their own name… [Who] cannot represent one another, [and who] must… be represented."
When the National Interest issued an entry with an inquiring title: “Is Africa’s Narrative Changing?”, one would expect the possessive to imply an African ‘ownership’, and the interrogative to allow the continent some space to independently decide the direction, the tone, the timing, the priorities in shaping its own narratives. Only that it did not. Indeed, it needed not.
The article was mainly concerned with security and political dynamics in Africa in the past year, because “This year, the big story in Africa is less about growth rates, or big changes for better or worse in conflict dynamics. Instead, the biggest story is in the realm of politics.” Although it is nowhere close to the omnipresent negation, the traditional negative stereotypes about the continent, it nevertheless left out major issues and details that are as crucial. At any rate, if Africa’s narrative, or if narratives on and about Africa are changing, these issues and details warrant discussions. Unfortunately, Is Africa's Narrative Changing? seems to have completely missed that point.
Consider, for instance, the glaring omission of the signing and entry into force of the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA)—the largest free trade area since the establishment of WTO—that aims to boost intracontinental trade, drive innovation, bring prosperity, and help fight the hard battle against extreme poverty. Such an omission is unconscionable, especially given that the article avowedly adopted a utilitarian framework by considering “the numbers of people affected and the trends that could be created or reinforced” to justify its choice of the “big six” countries to analyze.
Moreover, one would also expect the ongoing talks on reforming the African Union (AU) to make it as a ‘big’ story of the year. Indeed, if one story should deserve the epithet “African,” the perceptible winds of change of the AU, the push to make the continental body more effective in its activities, more efficient in its spending, and more self-reliant in sourcing of its finances should have been on anyone’s short-list. But the cut is hardly surprising: It is another reminder that writing about Africa fundamentally entails wiping out anything that does not fit into the set agenda or interests of those telling the story. Africa or African, here, is more an idea than a palpable reality.
Nonetheless, since the article is primarily concerned with “security and political dynamics” in the continent in the past year, it is perhaps warranted to specifically examine a number of omitted developments in that area.
The piece argues, for instance, that the “trends in democracy… are OK”, completely ignoring the disconcerting trajectory being taken by a growing number of countries, erstwhile promising democracies, since across the continent, and more recently in West Africa, there are growing concerns about “democratic decay,”. Benin, once lauded as the laboratory of democracy and West Africa’s model democracy, and Guinea, whose Alpha Conde has become a shadow of his old self, morphing from “democratic savior” to a lethal threat to his country’s democratic aspirations, are two examples that readily come to mind. This is not necessarily a subscription to the claims of democratic recession in the region, but it is to point out that a balanced analysis of the recent political dynamics in Africa ought to consider such developments. Similarly, the silent revolutions in Algeria and Sudan warrant a passing mention, if only because of the trends that could be created or reinforced by these developments.
Also, it is intriguing that the article failed to consider the conflict in the Sahel Region, especially in Mali, as a major playing ground for both regional and continental security. For instance, the Economic Community of West Africans States (ECOWAS) warned that the Malian crisis could spill into neighboring countries and destabilize the region. More striking, however, is the article’s complacent section on DR Congo. The authors frustratingly failed to elaborate on the country’s worrying Ebola crisis. The current epidemic in DR Congo is said to be the second-biggest Ebola epidemic outbreak since that of 2014-2016. In fact, on July 17, the World Health Organization (WHO) declared it a global health emergency, and the assessments mentioned fears that it might spread into neighboring Uganda, Rwanda, and South Sudan. These concerns were echoed by the UNSC, which observed that “the disease could spread rapidly, including to neighboring countries, possibly having serious humanitarian consequences and impacting regional stability.”
Thus, rather than simply wondering if Africa’s narrative has changed, perhaps the real questions should be: how are narratives on and about Africa changing? Could there be a room for Africa to claim their ownership? And how to best do that? The task is not to replace one single story with another. Rather, as da Costa Peter eloquently argues, “There is a need to push the boundaries, to find new ways to communicate about [developments], to represent Africa in all its complexity and contradiction…” Only then could we have in-depth and informed analyses; and only then could we offer balanced perspectives about the complex dynamics unfolding in Africa. The real challenge, in a nutshell, is to provide balanced and substantiated perspectives, rather than catchy titles with hollow contents.
Getting the Question Right: What’s Really Changing? Is It Africa's Narrative or the Narrative On and About Africa That’s Changing?
Most discussions on Africa: its development challenges, its poverty, its raging wars, its intractable conflicts, its booming population, its economic growth, its security issues, its unstable political landscape, etc. constantly reminds one of Karl Marx’s observation in “Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte”. They are indeed reminiscent to his observation that "they [the masses in the revolutionary France] are unable to assert their class interests in their own name, be it by a parliament or by convention. They cannot represent one another, they must themselves be represented." Simply substitute Africa for “the masses” and you pretty much get the answer the questions posed above.
Yet The National Interest, an American bimonthly international affairs magazine associated with the realist school of foreign policy thought, seems unaware of this plain reality. Just a day ago, it published an entry wondering whether Africa’s narrative is changing: “Is Africa's Narrative Changing?”, it asks. The possessive clearly implies an “African ownership” of the narrative, whereby the continent independently decides the direction, the tone, the timing, and everything in-between of the narrative(s) on and about it.
Yet the magazine is quick to decide that “This year, the big story in Africa is less about growth rates, or big changes for better or worse in conflict dynamics. Instead, the biggest story is in the realm of politics.” Who decides what the “big story” is for the continent—what matters and what does not? Based on what is such decision made? And where is the purported “African ownership” the title so conspicuously brought forth? One is left, to say the least, perplexed with these questions; but their answers are plainly obvious enough to require mere hard thinking.
Apparently, the signing and entry into force of the African Continental Free Trade Area, the largest free trade area in the world since the creation of the World Trade Organization (WTO) in 1995, isn’t important enough to be a big story, for instance; nor is the conflict in the Sahel Region, especially in Mali, despite the recent warning from the Economic Community of West Africans States (ECOWAS) that the crisis could effectively spill into neighboring countries, thus potentially engulfing and destabilizing the whole region. The list could go on and on. What is undoubtedly true is that for the National Interest, like so many others, all these developments are not big stories simply because the magazine decides so.
Thus, shouldn’t the real question be: What’s Really Changing? Is It Africa's Narrative or the Narrative On and About Africa That’s Changing?
It is not uncommon to hear and read about or even witness the tragic stories of human sufferings in many corners of the globe, in both near and far distant places. It is not also uncommon that they are, more often than not, Man-made tragedies: political repressions, violent social strife, armed conflicts, rebellion, to name but a few. If gauged by their immeasurable and profoundly enduring consequences on human lives, the urgent need to fathom their root cause is beyond any shadow of a doubt. And only then could humanity genuinely answer the yearning calls of the helpless and powerless victims.
Across space and time, political repressions, violent social strife, armed conflicts, etc. are either generated or intensified by mainly three factors: a lack of strong and independent institutions, a high and persistent degree of concentration of powers, and a lack of institutional transparency and accountability.
Yet it is not enough to just identify the causes of these enduring tragedies. After all, the pressing task is to identify plausible measures and workable solutions to deal with them; that is, the real challenge is to unearth the ways in which the aforementioned factors could be mitigated if not entirely eliminated. The aim here is exactly to undertake that task.
I shall contend that a functioning democracy, understood as a political system or a form of government that promotes strong and independent institutions, guarantees the separation of powers, and invariably ensures transparency and accountability of state apparatus, is the ultimate solution. It is absolutely true that I am adopting a functional definition of the concept of democracy; but it is equally true that these are the central goals of a functioning democracy. I shall explore how it achieves best each of these goals and how it is thus better equipped to alleviate the above mentioned tragedies.
To be sure, however, democracy is not an infallible system—it can in fact often be messy, frustrating, and most of all unstable—perhaps the Brexit farce and the Trump White House epitomize best what democracy can entail if or when taken for granted. Nevertheless, a functioning democracy, as described above, works better than its alternatives; and there lies its particularity: “Democracy”, Winston Churchill asserted quite pointedly in 1947, “is the worst form of government except all the other forms that have been tried from time to time.”
First, a functioning democracy is more likely to better promote strong and independent institutions. For instance, unlike authoritarianism and dictatorship, both of which succeed only by weakening or dismantling institutions, democracy is based on the core tenet of building and strengthening them. Indeed, both authoritarianism and dictatorship are built around strong leaders, who quite simply strive to project personal strength and guts by amassing political powers at the expense of institutional checks and balances. Quite sadly, however, the fall of these regimes is more likely to bring the country into chaos, state failure, and even armed conflicts as different factions compete for state power—with the rules of the game usually being the law of the jungle; this is particularly true for countries that have witnessed long years of authoritarian/dictatorial rule. Iraq, Yemen, Libya, and today Sudan (amongst others) offer illustrative cases in that regard. Likewise, undemocratic regimes are more prone to chronic instability since they often lack legitimacy beyond rentierism. Though they might manage to stay in power despite popular discontents, these regimes usually succeed in doing so through recourse of coercion, persecution, and constantly manufactured fear of repercussion and oppression for disobedience.
Moreover, to succeed in consolidating power, authoritarian and dictatorial regimes invariably endeavor to centralize and concentrate political powers with the aim of having control over the entirety of state apparatus. The danger, yet again, is that such regimes are more liable to social and political grievances as they are inherently exclusive and blatantly discriminatory. They must, therefore, have recourse to brutal force and political wickedness to remain in power; no wonder coups and counter-coups are likely to become ubiquitous as the military becomes politicized, and politics militarized. By sharp contrast, however, a working democracy functions best through a separation of powers (executive, judicial, and legislative), thus not only promoting institutional independence and broader social inclusion, but also, and perhaps more significantly, allowing for checks and balances of the state apparatus. Moreover, democracy is better equipped to allow broader and more inclusive political participation and social engagements through party competitions, popular elections, and demonstrations.
Finally, by allowing strong and independent institutions to flourish and by permitting the separation of powers and checks and balances, democracy ensures transparency and accountability. For instance, a corrupt or incompetent government will surely be voted out of the office either through (peaceful) protests or through ballots. By the same token, the independence of institutions would also ensure that corrupt leaders are fairly and transparently held accountable for their misdeeds. Undoubtedly, the principle that democracy guarantees transparency and accountability renders it ever more stable and more enduring both as a political system and as a form of government.
In a nutshell, in promoting strong and resilient institutions that have the capacity to resist and absorb shocks (both internal and external), a functioning democracy helps foster the stability and security of the state. Likewise, in preventing the concentration of powers in the hands of despots, democracy ensures that even the most vulnerable social layers—children, women, elderly people, and disabled—would not be encroached at will by the mighty. Indeed, in addition to protecting the most vulnerable from political oppression and persecution, it allows for more inclusiveness and more political participation; thus ensuring that people can express their grievances without having recourse to violent strife, armed rebellions, or revolution, as the system ensures that no one is above the law or immune to transparency checks and ushering in the required accountability.
According to Andrew Heywood, democracy can play an even greater role in alleviating Man-made human tragedies through sustainable peace and security since it fosters the legitimacy of the ruling regime through consent (of being ruled); it also allows rival interest groups to live together with relative peace through compromise, conciliation, and negotiation; and finally, democracy “operates as a feedback system that tends toward long-term political stability” and human prosperity.
If the utility of any political and social system is measured by its ability to protect and improve the wellbeing of its population; and given that the more capable a system of government is in playing a positive role in social and economic developments the more legitimacy it gains; and, above all, given that the value of any form of government must be gauged by its ability to promote independent and resilient institutions, ensure an effective and equitable distribution of powers, and guarantee the accountability and transparency of the state apparatus, there are, undoubtedly, solid enough reasons to argue for democracy to be the worst of all, except for all those that have been tried from time to time.
From Beijing Capital International Airport, I was to take a taxi to the campus. Though I got the necessary instructions on the available options, picking a cab was the most convenient; that’s particularly true if one takes the financial cost out of the equation. And on that particular day, the cost of taking a cab to the campus was not of great concern anyway, not because I was rich enough to care less about the price tag to be paid—I am, like many students are, highly responsive to price fluctuations; rather, it was, literally, the only assuring means to get to the university. Safe?
After a five-hour delay in the Ukrainian capital, Kiev, my flight was long and tiring; and in a city I’ve neither been to nor understood the language, opting for public transportation, though much cheaper, was not the wisest thing to do. Even time seemed to have conspired against that option. The plane landed at 4 am; that’s, long before the daybreak. I knew that the inner city public transport in Beijing stops at 11 pm. So I assumed (fairly reasonably) that it resumes at 6 in the morning, but I couldn’t and didn’t try to find out. The truth is, the idea of endeavoring to find out never actually came to my exhausted mind.
From a long line of awaiting taxies, I picked one. I’ve hoped to find a driver who could speak English. But I soon realized that I may have to wait there in vain, eternally. I’d learned some useful Chinese phrases; or, to be more precise, I’d learned Chinese phrases my online sources said would be enough for a traveler to China. Yet, once in the airport, I found myself unable to use them. First, I could not recall many, and those that came to my mind I could not say properly. And with the only one or two I got correctly in asking for direction, I couldn’t understand the reply either because, to say the same thing, my interlocutors used different concepts than they ones I’d memorized or because they spook so fast that I could barely hear what they said. A disaster. I should have known better that, by relying on those phrases, I was simply deceiving myself, for it requires a lot more than that to survive a language barrier.
When I decided to pick the cab, I realized that I couldn’t say my destination, Peking University, in Chinese. I haven’t thought of that before, and having no Internet connection, Google “father” was useless. It took some time before we (the driver and I) could sort it out. And believe me when I tell that you really don’t need to know how!
It took us less than I’d expected to reach the campus—the roads were clear, and the traffic stream absent. Once on the campus, however, it took us much longer than anyone could believe to get to the right destination, our residence. The driver could not map the address on the campus, and asking by-passers did not help any more than my own ignorance. They would give conflicting information ant led the driver to go back and forth, turning around the same spot. Even those who did not know the place the driver was asking for would say something and indicate one direction or the other in giving instructions to follow. At some points, I was expecting the driver to start shouting angrily for the lost time. Instead, I was deeply impressed by the maintained cool temper. Yet I’d a vague idea of Chinese people always being in a hurry, impatiently rushing around as if chasing some historically lost time…
If that idea is true though, the driver was an obvious exception, an outlier? Eventually, we found the place we’ve been looking for. More impressive to me was the fact that the driver did not ask for any additional fees as I got off and only took the normal fare when I paid.
My hope and expectation though of getting some rest before the scheduled activities of the day, were squashed by the delays starting from Kiev. Therefore, I had no choice but to proceed with the administrative formalities, as scheduled for the day. I’d had a long and tiring journey, and now I was to have a similarly long and tiring day of activities. But I could blame no one since that was exactly the price I was to pay for deciding to come later than the sated dates of arrivals! Yet still, what a disappointing hope and a clearly unsuccessful plan I’ve had!But I’m an aspiring student of von Goethe, and like his young Werther, I’ve long known that “All men are disappointed in their hopes, and deceived in their expectations.”
As I prepare my journey, cheerful friends and curious classmates wonder why I’ve chosen to further my studies in China. It is a reoccurring scene.
The truth is, it is neither the first nor the last time I (or any international student) would encounter such queries; that is, the questions of why one has decided to pursue his/her studies in this or that country, city, and university. To be sure, the wording usually differs, but the content, the idea is always the same. Like many other students, it’s become a first-hand experience for me, too.
Interestingly, however, I often find myself giving different answers to different people (or to the same people who happen to ask more than once!) depending on the circumstances, for some people would ask with a genuine curiosity, some with a mocking smile, and still others with an unhinged indifference.
Surely, each student, in deciding to study abroad and in choosing a particular country, city, or university, has his/her distinct motives, which may include the availability of scholarships and targeted programs, the quality of education, amongst others. But it is not always easy for one to make such a decision; indeed, it is a curiously exciting task to think about: embarking on a new journey, a new adventure; the opportunity to discover new places, meet new people, make new friends, encounter new cultures, and have a new lifetime experience.
Now, before me is a new page, a blank page on which I intend to write a new chapter of my life. There is no doubt, it can be an exciting moment as well as a period of undeniable anguish, ambiguity, and uncertainty.
To be sure, I’ve never been to China before, and that nourishes my curiosity even more; and writing about my yet to be lived China “story” is akin to writing a fictional story to satisfy my youthful fancies. And like a fiction, what matters isn’t so much how ‘truthful’ the story is as how close to ‘reality’ it presents itself. My China story is, therefore, a way of expressing my hopes and potential fears.
The partial truth is that I’ve chosen China as my destination to carry on my graduate studies because Yenching Academy (YCA) has offered me a uniquely generous scholarship to attend a prestigious and groundbreaking program at a globally renowned university, Peking University (PKU). It feels like a dream come true, a liberation, a site of boundless possibilities, and I intend to make good use of it.
What is more, the program neatly meets my projected career objectives, as I aim to broaden and deepen my understanding of the African International Affairs in this era of pacing globalization. Today, when one talks about the African international relations, China is highly likely to come first to our mind, given the ever-growing prominent role it has been playing in the continent in recent years. In order to fully fathom the Sino-African relations, what better way could there be than being an inside/outside observer for clear insights, objective analyses, and impartial conclusions? YCA provides me with that unique opportunity, and I’ve decided to take it.
Furthermore, it is almost impossible to resist the international environment YCA provides its students; similarly, its interdisciplinary curriculum that fosters cross-cultural understanding through constant interactions and exchange is nearly irresistible to a young and curious mind! I need not mention China’s vast and historically rich culture.
But that is not all there is to my decision to pursue my studies in China. My experience in the last two years of studying in Turkey has not been the most memorable episodes of my life. In fact, I wish it were a blank and unfilled page, an empty memory. Instead, it was overloaded with a perpetually agonizing despair, a disheartening helplessness, and a stormy sea of infinite troubles. My journey to China, I hope, will provide me with a fresh start, a different and better experience, and a catalog of vividly memorable souvenirs.
My hope? It is that my China story will be that of further academic accomplishments, a cultural enrichment, an ever-expanding network, etc. I hope the blank page before me, the new chapter of my life will be a new (personal) discovery, the end of the restless sea of troubles, and a sound refuge from haunting memories. That is, a respite and an opportunity to learn, grow, and thrive...
Indeed, their journey from the very beginning could have been smooth—that is, enjoyable—had they had the needful administrative experience of traveling overseas or, at least, if they were skillful enough in many foreign languages; but they lacked both of these crucial skills.
If the audacity of hope has been the defining force for Barack Obama’s impressive life story and his uncharacteristically remarkable and triumphant political career, it can be said that the audacity of defying obstacles was the driving force for these young men not just throughout that adventurous journey, but it was and still is the single determinant pillar, the raison d'être of their lives. It is often said, with good reasons, that what does not kill us makes stronger to mean that we learn better and grow stronger through experience, usually through bad experience. But for these young souls, the seemingly insurmountable daily challenges of their lives do not just so much make them stronger and better and wiser as that, by learning from those struggles for survival and betterment, they have come to embody a sense of conscientious readiness for whatever may come, for they know that life, in essence, is always comprised of tops and downs, just like each hill must have its downhill. That reality they’ve understood, admitted, and embraced it; it is wisdom in disguise!
They were driven not by the general false belief that life is somehow readymade over there, but by the fact that it was a precious opportunity for them to realize their potential; that is to say, their decision to travel was perfectly entirely based on the undoubted desire to seek knowledge—it was a mission, a self-appointed mission. As such, they did not leave their fate, as so often happens with many African youths in recent years, to mere chance or to some dubious circumstances of good fortune: theirs was a well-thought-out journey. It was not a journey of despair undertaken by desperate souls, but that of deserved accomplishments by young and enthusiastic boys full of undeniable potential.
Their trip took place in late September, that is, in autumn 2013, and it was their first time to ever experience such a season. More than the differences in seasons, however, they didn’t fail to notice the glaringly perceptible contrasts between what they left and everything that was mow about them. From the skies, for instance, they could see how immense their city of destination was; and the airport where they landed was as big and crowded and busy as they could never have imagined.
They were also quick to realize that, here, almost everyone smokes almost everywhere. Not soon had they left the airport to see that smoking was a—natural?—habit, and they had to gently request their taxi driver to stop smoking on their ride. As if it were the most common thing to do, as if it were a universally approved behavior as that of greeting, the driver lightened his cigarette as soon as he started the car. But that was not the most socking thing about him. As though he intended to make them share the disturbing and disconcerting exhaled smoke, he started to chatter about everything with them. (That too—chattering with strangers—was a common, most natural thing here.) While in contrast to where they left—that is, their homeland—gusts are met with greetings and friendly smiles and fresh water, not with bad smoke and unworthy questions. And so they had to courteously ask him to stop smoking, but even that did not induce him to stop bantering too!
Also perceptible was the dramatic change in the weather. They left a rainy season with a fairly hot weather; they are from a tropical country and have nothing to do with either the yellowing leaves of autumn or the naked trees in winter. Here, it was raining too, but the weather was much colder. To them, even more fascinating was to see the denuding trees despite the frequently pouring rain…
While enjoying what they could enjoy and adapting to what they could adapt to their new environment, they started what they came for: study. The languages, they were quick to learn and to integrate into their hosting society. And despite the undeniable daily challenges, everything seemed to go fairly well. They were quick, too, to establish themselves as diligent, committed, and engaging students in their academic environments. But then came the summer of 2016.
Before then, they had nothing and were living with nothing, yet they never complained. But that summer made sure to leave them with less than nothing. Everything about it is a blow to these miserable souls, an agonizing despair, helplessness, and hopelessness, a haunting memory of a flowing sea of troubles. It was in that summer that many of them became school-less and homeless—that is, destitute! And it was during that cursed summer that they all saw their dreams shuttered, their hopes squashed, and their lives become not dissimilar to that of Victor Hugo’s Jean Valjean and other miserable souls of his Misérables.
But they managed to survive the storms and resist the unsettling waves of the stormy sea of troubles. And slowly, but surely, they are rebuilding their confidence, determination, commitment, and diligence for a better future. Against all odds, they have surmounted the insurmountable. And once again, they have defied the insuperable obstacles of their incontrovertibly hazardous adventure.
They have now graduated. And proud of themselves and relieved, they certainly are. But are they happy, and can they be said to be happy?
Five years ago, five young men—amongst whom was the author of these lines—were embarking on an adventure in unknown distant territories. It was in 2013, and they were to pursue their higher education abroad. It was, they recall, their first time to travel abroad or, to be more precise, it was the first time they ever embarked on an overseas journey, an adventure across seas to a place they have heard of so little and to a culture they knew almost nothing about, except that, as they found out after a laborious search, over there people always drink milkless tea and use a lot of bread in their daily meals.
Back then, what did they look like? In a nutshell, they were young boys of average heights, serene at varying degrees, curious by nature and naturally intelligent and industrious: they were travelling overseas to study on scholarships. They were, in their specific ways, highly distinguished students, about which they would pride themselves and boast about how immensely competitive they have always been and how little their doubts were about their abilities to surmount challenges they may encounter on their adventurous journey. Oh, miserable souls, how confident that sounds! Yet one can hardly blame them. Could they have known what was awaiting them? Could they have imagined the daunting challenges they were to face? Could they have had an idea of the daily struggles, of the hardships they would have to endure? Could they have known that they were travelling not to make history, but to face its brutal and naked ignominies?
They could not have had any idea of what was to haunt them in the years to come; nor could they know that life sometimes makes us pay dearly the price for events we know nothing about, and about which we could barely understand. But they were to face that horrifying reality… A lot was awaiting them and they would have a lot to deal with, since, as if the whole world was against them, as if history had condemned to misery, and as if they were to bear the burden of the whole humanity, the journey on which they so happily embarked was rift with ineffable obstacles, unfathomable challenges, and indescribable hurdles.
Life, it seems, is a learning journey from which one never graduates…
But there is much more about Black Panther than this analysis offers. First, let’s consider what the beginning of the plot says about the movie. It presents us a fictional city-state called Wakanda, which, by no coincidence, is located in Africa. About Wakanda? It is a resource-rich (namely vibranium) polity with a highly advanced technology and a profoundly vibrant culture. Here, we must pose and reflect how close to reality this depiction could be. With such an image, Black Panther is partially right. Africa is immensely rich; at any rate, the African land is immensely rich in precious natural resources. But Black Panther is also wrong since none of the African states has hitherto succeeded in translating its natural wealth into real, functioning economy. Indeed, the undeniable truth is that natural resources have been more of a curse than a blessing: Congo is just an example, Sudan is another; and the list could go on, endlessly. They bring human tragedies rather than abate them, induce violent conflicts, and open African countries to (foreign) exploitation.
Also interesting about Black Panther is the image of Wakanda that never suffered the brutality and exploitation of colonialism. And here is where Black Panther succeeds in accommodating its targeted pristine-Africanists audience, which sees in the movie what Africa could have been like today had it not suffered the fate of colonization. Yet, Black Panther also embodies a dangerously irreconcilable paradox and a misrepresentation of a crucially important historical development: the struggles for decolonization in Africa.
Wakanda opted for isolationism and turned a blind eye to the suffering, in the hands of colonial oppression, exploitation, and subjugation, of other African nations. Nonetheless, this is a misrepresentation of the historical development surrounding the process of decolonization in Africa. What is true is that, in their struggle for emancipation and self-determination, African independence leaders sought and found support from one another. The Organization of African Unity (OAU) was not established on 25 May 1963 out of a vacuum; nor is Ethiopia (one of those two countries to have never suffered colonialism) on the way of becoming the Capital of Africa out of sheer coincidence. These are historical facts and facts of history available to all who want to know—but, of course, facts are no longer needed.
In that regard, Erik Killmonger should have been the hero of the movie, not its terrifying villain; his claim that ‘death was better than bondage’ conspicuously echoes Patrice Lumumba’s words in his letter to his grieving wife: ‘I prefer to die with head high, with indestructible faith and profound belief in the destiny of our country than to live in humility and renounce the principles which are sacred to me.’ But not only does Black Panther agonizingly fail to give Killmonger his deserved image (heroism); even more excruciatingly, it also fails to get the historical facts about the struggles for Africa’s liberation right. Yet, that did not prevent Black Panther from capturing the “hearts” and “minds” of its African audience. The bargain seems something like: ‘you can get the facts (about Africa) wrong as long as you give us a black super-hero, lionize our blackness, and satisfy our futurist imagination’. After all, it is an intriguingly scintillating movie with an excitedly quenching thirst for “black recognition”. It seduces the long-dispossessed people in their long for assertive empowerment; yes! Albeit fictional, it conveys a hope-bearing message to “a people” whose existence has been intermittent frustrations and disappointment. Indeed, the warmth reception Black Panther has witnessed is a glaring proof that the world is in need of something new, something better. But self-deceived, it seems, will be those assuming such a change to have begun with Black Panther: a startling ambition with an enduring hope?
Also problematic is the system of government in Wakanda. It is an absolute monarchy with no elections to be held. In fact, we are presented with a situation whereby the leader must eliminate his (her?) political contenders to assume the reign. Given the fact that the fictional Wakanda is believed to be in Africa, however, one wonders if Black Panther is not more of a cinematographic legitimization of authoritarian and dictatorial rules that characterize many African countries, for these leaders would certainly be pleased with the movie for granting them a free card of international recognition.
Perhaps more disturbing, however, is the central role Black Panther gives the CIA agent (K. Ross) in the fight against Erik Killmonger: it is a manifest way of reifying the expansive overreach of the American empire. Moreover, the scene clearly seems to legitimize America’s interference and (even military) interventions in other countries’ internal affairs, considering the notorious role the Agency has been playing in countering revolutions and overthrowing governments in foreign lands since its inception in 1947; and the demonization of Killmonger and the involvement of K. Ross in operations against him show that Black Panther is not, in fact, the kind of Black Panther we were waiting for. More than anything, it is a counterrevolutionary movie that effectively reiterates white supremacy. It is a continuation or, rather, a recreation of the status quo by other means.
But we were waiting for an emancipating, a freeing Black Panther. ‘Why’, Žižek rhetorically asks, ‘is [K. Ross] selected to shoot down Killmonger’s planes? Isn’t it that he holds the place of the existing global system in the film’s universe?’ Indeed, not even in a fictional world would it be conceivable to challenge this mainstream narrative. Yet the world is in dire need of a new global system; a system essentially concerned with justice and equality; a system in which the weak is not squashed to make the mighty mightier.
The (commercial) success of Black Panther marks also its greatest failure. Hélas! It is a missed opportunity: though it is breaking records in the cinematic world, it did little to offer something different, something right. But, wait! What if that was exactly the aim, a business strategy? What if the objective has never been to get things right for once, but reinvent the status quo in a different guise? What if Black Panther was to accommodate all, to represent all, and to speak for all and none, simultaneously?
Whatever the stance one chooses to take, one thing seems clear enough: Black Panther is not the type of Black Panther we were waiting for. And as Russell Rickford observes ‘Black Panther has captured our attention. But it cannot constrain our imagination. We must transcend the film’s conceptual boundaries, restoring a politics that valorizes all black life while demanding the salvation of oppressed people everywhere.’ That is, we may rightly extol the film for its fame, but we must not fail to pinpoint its shortcomings. That is the ultimate task!
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world…
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.
—William Butler Yeats, The Second Coming
Yeats uttered these famed lines in 1919 to capture the general state of mind in the aftermath of WWI; an illustrative war, which marked the highest stage of European inter-imperial rivalries, during which the best truly lacked conviction while the worst were full of passionate intensity. After all, if John Stuart Mill is to be correct—as I believe he is—“Bad [M]en need nothing more to compass their ends, than that good [M]en should look on and do nothing”. Though the subsequent post-1919 events proved Yeats’ foresight right, the current developments point to a historical period whereby an “enormous” anarchy seems to be loosed upon the world: Trump’s America First is tightening its fists, the end of the Cold War decades ago has not entirely eliminated the possibilities of a nuclear war, the Mediterranean has become an unceremonious graveyard, and inland human tragedies are prevalent in nearly every corner of the globe.
Yet these issues will not be my primary focus in this piece; instead, my focus will be on the unsettling yet urgent problems of the failing educational systems in Africa. From the antiquated curricula, which seldom get updated, and the ill-equipped schools to the never-ending teachers’ strikes, and the idly embittered students, the education system in this part of the globe has been crumbling before our very eyes—too loudly, for too long. Yet little close to nothing is ever done to attend to it. It is as though the system was of a Kafkaesque nature, an Edu-dysfunctional scheme with which everything seems terribly wrong and with which there is a dire need of turnabout.
Once a week we would have a two-hour session of Informatique course (Computer Science), where we were supposed to be familiarized with the basics of information and communication technology. Though the course was compulsory, one genuinely wonders about the real rationale behind such an educational policy. To some extent, one may be taught to fairly grasp the basics of Biology without a laboratory; but to institute a compulsory Informatique course, to teach computing without computers is abysmally a glaring proof of the dysfunctionalities of the educational system. Indeed, it is no more possible to truly master the features of a Microsoft Word processing window without a computer than it is to form a guitarist without a guitar, a pilot without a flying plane. Yet that is exactly how I spent my seven years in high school (un)learning various computer programs i.e. turning computer ON/OFF, Microsoft Word, Excel, etc. etc.
Our Informatique lectures were a sheer boredom, and usually ran in the following fashion: “to start a computer, press the power bottom; to open a new file double-click on the icon; to select a text, press Ctrl + A; to copy, Ctrl + C; to cut, Ctrl + X; to paste, Ctrl + V; to save, Ctrl + S … and to close the computer switch off the power bottom”. After spreading all these universal, convoluted formulas and figures on the blackboard, the teachers or inforamticiens (computer technicians)—as they are called in French—are obliged to double-check that their students (read we) have correctly and squarely transferred them to their (our) individual notebooks. That is, utilizing multi-colored pencils, we would be tasked to draw, as succinctly as our drawing abilities could allow, what we saw on the blackboard. Ultimately, at least two sources of potential mistakes would stem from these proceedings: one from the erroneous representations by the inforamticiens themselves, the other from the students’ drawings—or even a combination of both.
Personally, for instance, I’m terrible at drawing, and I find no pleasure in performing such a task. I hardly need, therefore, to confess that I seldom got these drawings right and rarely would I perform well in Informatique examinations. With the above-described teaching methods, students learn—if they learn anything at all—neither by touching the machines (PCs) nor by typing on the keyboards, not even as standby observers, but through graphic representations. In fact, computers, including their features and programs were, to us, an abstract idea, perceived only through imagination, graphic portrayals, and drawings, as though it were a kind of imperceptible dream. As such, it is indeed easy to see that such an educational system unspeakably suffers great setbacks.
In his overly dramatized lecture, Monotheism and its Discontents, Vidal points out that: “The word "radical" derives from [radix,] the Latin word for root. Therefore, if you want to get to the root of anything you must be radical. It is no accident that the word has now been totally demonized…, and no one… dares even use the word favorably, much less track any problem to its root.” Perhaps, more than ever before, it is time to get radical in uprooting the infectious plague that has been affecting education in the continent for too long now.
 Vidal, G. (1992). Monotheism and its discontents. Nation, 255(2), 37-41.
Of course, I’m stealing this title from Barack Obama’s biographical book, The Audacity of Hope: Thoughts on Reclaiming the American Dream. Certainly, he is one of those few politicians worth stealing from. Yet I’m stealing the title not because he is a conspicuously laudable leader, but because it neatly sums up what I have in my mind in writing these lines: the audacity to hope even when there is little to nothing to hope for.
I confess that it has been a long while since I read it last; but I vividly remember that it was more about Obama’s unwavering American nationalism and less about ‘how’ and ‘why’ HOPE is an ineffably driving force, a sustaining power even for the most vulnerable. Of America and its people, for instance, Obama has this to say in the prologue of his Audacity of Hope:
Not only did my encounters with voters confirm the fundamental decency of the American people, they also reminded me that at the core of the American experience are a set of ideals that continue to stir our collective conscience; a common set of values that bind us together despite our differences; a running thread of hope that makes our improbable experiment in democracy work. These values and ideals find expression not just in the marble slabs of monuments or in the recitation of history books. They remain alive in the hearts and minds of most Americans—and can inspire us to pride, duty, and sacrifice.
Earlier I said that the tittle neatly summarizes what I have in mind yet helplessly fail to put into words. If I were a mullah, I would have described it as the unfailing capacity to hold and steadfastly endure even the mounting challenges of ineffable proportion, for they are constant, intermittent tests to be rewarded someday in some way or another. But I’m not a mullah; and even that does not accurately describe the audacity of hoping I’m concerned with.
The closest depiction I can think of is that which calls for a willful, deliberate determination in acknowledging one’s personal responsibility in shaping one’s life or even “writing one’s destiny”. I can surely hear you growling with defiance and disbelief. But, before you crucify me on the altar of spite, hear out what I have to say: Life is generally uncaring and unloving; it can even be brutal as it can be quite intimidating; it is usually full of daunting challenges as it often encompasses seemingly insuperable hurdles.
Indeed, this is where that unwavering power of the audacity of hoping is most needed. When dealing with an uncooperative wind, for instance, only strength and tact can be called upon. When swimming counter-current, energy and swimming agility are most needed to overcome the tidal might; and when threatened, a furious Cape buffalo, unlike a scared turtle, does not hide inward nor does it give in before its last breath. So too, the audacity of hoping amidst challenges is the ability, the conscious and deliberate willingness not to succumb to despair and cynicism.
Hundreds of years of slavery, colonialism, exploitation, resource extraction, corruption, nepotism, bad governance, extreme poverty, hunger, etc.; the continent is constantly haunted by a tragic history, a deplorable present, and a dimly dubious future. In other words, the continent has been in a constant state of limbo for too long. About half a century after the struggles for independence, the leaders of African countries have spectacularly failed to meet the basic hopes and aspirations of their people; the hopes and aspirations for freedom—political, economic, and psychological—development, prosperity, and progress.
Although some are fairly doing better, the overall reality is a glaring impotence, an egregious failure to deliver. Beyond any shadow of doubts, the continent, notwithstanding years of ruthless exploitation, still abounds in innumerable and invaluable natural resources, rich and cultivable lands, and naturally generous and productive climates. On human scale, while many regions of the world are increasingly witnessing ageing or even depopulation, Africa has the world’s largest share of young people. To be clear, the aim here is not to attempt at drawing up the balance sheet of Africa’s richness; it is too well-known to warrant repeating. Rather, it is to explore the root causes of the African paradox of poverty in the midst of plenty, and of scarcity in the midst of affluence.
Hitherto, however, the continent is yet to capitalize on its available resources. In fact, due the startling failures of the African governments, these opportunities have, mostly, been a curse rather than a blessing: corruption and nepotism at industrial scales and the ubiquitously corrupted leaderships have generated a disproportionate and widening gap between the handful rich and the massive poor; indeed, the geological blessings, the natural resources have become calamitous, ushering in factional conflicts, extreme-poverty, hunger, mass displacements, and uncontrollable migrations.
Above all, however, the gravest and probably the long-lasting consequence of this lack of delivery is the frustrated and deeply distrustful African youth. As a result, it is haunted by at least three unavoidably inter-related specters: first, juvenile delinquencies, whereby the pursuit of education becomes a futile endeavor; in lieu, petty and gross robberies and other innumerable crimes become the rule. And as they generate intermittent fears, social unrest, and insecurity, these young people are doomed to fill penitentiaries. The second specter is more or less related to the first. In a nationally unproductive economy—where job opportunities are as scarce as golds and diamonds, where there is little chance of pursuing or even getting a quality education, where chronic unemployment is the only palpable reality, where the pursuit of self-realization is a clearly unattainable dream, and where the sense of intermittent failures, idiosyncratic as well as systematic, oppresses young men and women heavily like a dead weight upon their mind, a load of misery of which they are unable to get rid—life, worldly life loses all its worth and anything else grows into meaningless promise. Consequently, these young people are seriously in danger of falling prey to terrorists, who promise tempting rewards in afterlife, a self-destruction for a promised paradise. They, therefore, turn into a danger to themselves and to the whole human race: they can blow themselves along with anyone around, at any time, and anywhere; that is the unpredictability of the tragedy! That an innumerable young people have been joining various terrorist organizations as a result of cynically losing faith in a better future, need not be demonstrated.
Ultimately, the third specter is directly related to the second. That is, faced with unbearable and unworthy living conditions in their respective countries, these young men and women do not deliberately and willingly give up on the worldly life to voluntarily join those who preach to shed-blood in the name of God; in lieu, they simply and determinedly move elsewhere (preferably, Europe as the ultimate destination), however dangerous and perilous the journey is.
No wonder, the Mediterranean Sea has grown into a deadly transit, a graveyard, for an untold number of refugees and migrants face tragic death in their endeavors to seek either safe-haven or better life in Europe. As the chokingly horrifying, disheartening and revolting images—whereby refugees and migrants are sold at ‘auction’ in Libya—demonstrate, however, the peril does not begin in the Sea.
Undoubtedly, whichever of the aforementioned paths these young people decide to take, the fallouts are no less perilous and consequential for them any more than they are to their families, communities, countries, and the African continent at large. These are the realities and challenges directly resulting from a continentally deficient leadership. Yet the consequences are far reaching for the continent and beyond.
The problem of the African continent, nolens volens, is, therefore, the problem of deficiency in leadership. To be sure, this lack of leadership is not only political, although it may be the most serious obstacle; there is also a deplorable deficiency in leadership in such crucial domains as education, business, industry, innovation, etc. It was of these deficiencies that Chinua Achebe was speaking in 1983 with a stunning exactness. Though he was writing about his home country, Nigeria, Achebe knew very well that the reality has always been the same throughout Africa. He, therefore, has no doubts in his mind that “[Africa] is what it is because its leaders are not what they should be.” Consequently, “The trouble with [Africa] is simply and squarely a failure of leadership… The [African] problem is the unwillingness or inability of its leaders to rise to the responsibility, to the challenge of personal example which are the hallmarks of true leadership". Indeed, it is not an overstatement to assert that the large portion of the population in Africa is certainly extremely poor no less because the continent has always been poorly governed.
What must be done to face these ever-growing tragedies? “Throughout the ages”, says PLO Lumumba, “the battles have always been the battles of the mind”. Perhaps, the statement warrants qualifying. Corruption, the institutionalized corruption (as is the case in the continent) will take more than changes in regulations to be reversed. Indeed, it will require a strenuous victory of the mind, a radical change in behavior, attitude, and practice. That is not all, however.
Achebe tells us quite accurately that to reverse the situation in Africa; to ensure that young people no longer end up in juvenile delinquencies; to safeguard them from falling prey to terrorist recruitments; and to prevent them from certain death in the Mediterranean route or from being auctioned in Libya and elsewhere, there is an urgent need of a genuine, a thorough leadership in the continent; and it is needed now. The needed leadership is that which leads by example; a leadership with a clear vision of strategies for sustainable development and prosperity, a leadership with a plain sense of responsibility for the well-being of the general population, and a leadership with a sense of priority in eradicating corruption in all its forms throughout the apparatus of governments.
The battle will certainly not be easily won. Yet a thousand-kilometer path begins with a first step. That first step in the present battle of mind will be won when African leaders realize the unavoidable dangers of cultivating and perpetuating today’s mindset of dependency; an almost complete dependency in aids, charities, and generosities from other countries’ tax-payers. Worse yet, the collected funds are hardly used to generate real economy. It is an uncomfortable truth; yet it must be acknowledged, for James Baldwin correctly reminds us that “Not everything that is faced can be changed, [but] nothing can be changed until it is faced”. It is time, therefore, for African leaders to face the truth, however discomforting it is. And the reality is that no country can ever achieve development and prosperity if the financing of its development projects is dependent on donors and charities.
Luckily, many leaders in a fairly growing number of countries have started to acknowledge and strive to face the uncomfortable truth, as the joint press conference between Emmanuel Macron and the Ghanaian President, Nana Akufo-Addo, during the former’s State visit in Ghana demonstrate, where Akufo-Addo concedes that such dependencies have always failed, and therefore African nations must change their mindset; that they must look for partners for productive investments to generate resilient economies that serve all the people, not just the handful corrupted elites. To win the battle, however, present leaders must know that society grows great when old men plant trees whose shade they know they shall never sit in, as the old adage has it. In that regard, Botswana, Mauritius, amongst others, have been leading the way; other stubborn and reluctant leaders must follow suit. They must all commit themselves to improving the living conditions of their people, providing the youths with well-paid and decent jobs, and other opportunities, for they deserve better livelihoods on their native lands. Only then would Africa reverse its globally marginalized status—D. Trump’s shithole?—and achieve its 2063 Agenda of “An integrated, prosperous and peaceful Africa, driven by its own citizens and representing a dynamic force in global arena.”
It is a long way to go; yet it is not an unsurmountable task!
The day was fully bright under the shining sun, and the air gay. It was not the least common thing of the usually heating summer days in the town. By now, however, the air in our sitting room seemed to have relaxed, too. But then, “you’re all wrong about everything you have been saying” was the acerbic conclusion a friend came up with.
As if we have been electrified, as if everything around us and well beyond has been paralyzed, there was a sudden stillness, an unsaid serenity. Indeed, as far as my memory can allow me to recall, it was the only moment we all agreed about or, rather, acceded to doing something at once—that is—doing nothing. We have been heatedly and passionately debating on the necessity of constitutionally limiting, and the dire need of respecting, the presidential terms in general. Yet our (in)famous case study was, naturally, Africa. For many (myself included), the problem is not to merely have a constitutional limit for the presidential terms, but that that limit should be unconditionally respected. An elected president, we argued, should not serve more than what the constitution allows him/her. We said, “UNCONDITIONALLY”—and I cannot emphasize it more—for there is no excusable reason, whatsoever, for that limit to be extended, the constitution changed. In the African continent, we contended, it is even imperative to abide by the said limits; and those countries whose constitutions lack such provision ought to incorporate it. For one, democracy in the continent—where it can be said to exist—is still meagerly fragile, and only with political alternation could it be consolidated. Indeed, most (if not all) conflicts and social unrests, throughout the continent, stem from political deprivations, the lack of genuine representations. If so, our unshaken conclusion was that political alternation, which allows participation, the respect of the constitutional limits, and free and fair elections would be the ultimate solution for the necessary stable environments to usher in prosperity and sustainability.
Despite this obvious fact, some would point to advanced democracies like Germany, or Britain to back up their sloppy position. They would also argue, yet selectively, that a leader may be doing well and that the limited terms might lead to an unfinished business; for them, therefore, Paul Kagame—who has worked to transform Rwanda from a genocide-ruined country to a model, a successful story of economic development—is justifiably defensible for extending his terms in office beyond the constitutionally set limits. Yet, how praiseworthy is a leader who is unable to inspire and raise young people to leadership so that they carry on the deeds already started? These line of thoughts imply that such a leader is the only one capable of constructively effective leadership and that when or if s/he dies the leadership, the nation, progress and development, too, dies along with him/her. To be blind is one thing, but to choose to be blind mentally or not to see what is too obvious is the bottom of blindness.
To me, it is, indeed, very intriguing that so many people fail to see (or at least seem to do so) that a constitution, like any other law, is written to be abided by, and not be used as a tool, a means for mere personal political gains. Yes, any law—if it is to be useful at all—should be subject to interpretation and, if need be, amendments or changes to reflect the social, ideological, and political changes of its time. Evidently, should that not be the case, there would not be any need for constantly electing and reelecting lawmakers in the first place.
Nonetheless, these amendments and changes become problematic in themselves when used demagogically to serve the narrow interests of a single or group of individuals. Here, Emmanuel Kant’s categorical imperative is a useful concept not for morality’s sake, No! but for the self-interestedness of each of the involved actors. To say the same thing differently, John Rawls’s veil of ignorance can equally illustrate what I have been alluding to. In a Rawlsian original position, for instance, certainly, no single individual (including this army of failed leaders that has mostly characterized the African continent) would accede to constitutional change at the will of the leader.
Logically, the same reasoning is equally applicable to settle the debate on whether democracy should be Africanized or Africa democratized. My honest view, to be blunt, on this particular subject-matter, is that it is a useless debate. In fact, if I had thought of it, as Chimamanda thought of Post-colonial Theory, I could have said that these concepts were created, primarily, by the African politicians to unabashedly excuse themselves for their glaring failures to ever deliver.
I ask anyone who contends that democracy is not compatible with African culture (if there is anything as a single African culture!) to explain the rationale for the erstwhile—in this particular case—African dictators, when ousted, to desperately seek amnesty, personal safety, and free of pursuits. If democracy is only for “others” and not for Africa, why would they be so scared of paying for their wrongdoings? Isn’t it damnably paradoxical to deny others what one wants for oneself: the right to life, property, and liberty, the freedom of thoughts and ideas, etc.?
These reluctant friends of mine were, by now, obviously annoyed. And I still wonder about what that comrade meant by “you’re all wrong about everything you have been saying”, for nothing else was added—not a word, nor an explanation, not even an explanatory gesture—about the subject before we departed.
It is an unfinished business, which may never be settled; yet it keeps turning!
What a gorgeously standing picture she was! Z— has known her. Oh, no! He has only seen her… That is a different thing (check the nuance!). Z— liked her from the first instant their eyes met; in fact, like a butterfly captured in a spider-web, he was uncontrollably attracted to her.
It was not a so-distant-past; a sublimely beautiful summer morning, when they first met during an international cultural day. D— came with two other people: a friend of Z. and his petite amie, who happens to be D.’s older sister.
The sun protruded its yet to-be boiling rays, while the winds brought about a gratifying air of salvation. They introduced to one another. A moment from which she caught his attention, his whole attention… As they walked hither and thither, they talked about anything and everything. Just keep the conversation going. For example, after talking up about important things like family, jobs (which neither has), past, present and future plans, they shifted to more trivial stuff like sleeping habits and its patterns, how, while Z. likes playing video games and watching films and TV series in his free time, D. prefers reading (but only novels) in hers, how they both happen to like sport, not just as spectators, but exercisers.
The turn of the conversation pleased Z. the most as it was more intimate, private, personal, and hence closing on. He was even more pleased that D. agreed when he whispered to her ears that they could have a look at a stand far in a corner. Thus offering them more space for a potential tête-à-tête. Z. recalled having, by mere accident (remember, he only plays games and watches series…), read somewhere, a very long time ago, this line from Rabelais, François Rabelais: “Gestures, in love, are incomparably more attractive, effective and valuable than words”.
From his side, he knew that there was not even a shadow of doubt that he was helplessly captivated, inescapably captured in the web. How could he possibly have resisted those shiningly bluish eyes, like the sky above them? Or her smiles; Oh, that smile! That lightens his heart, illuminates his soul, and revives his hopes of a renewed future happiness…
Two years before meeting D., Z. was in love with another girl (whose name he would not now want to hear for anything in the world). In fact, they really loved one another. Or so it seemed to Z. But all of the sudden, they had to terminate it, and parted. It was on one calm evening that the girl came over to Z.’s to announce the terrible news: “I’m sorry, but I’m no longer in love with you”. These words, their sounds, their rhythm and the assertiveness in her face took Z. aback. He jumped from his seated place. As if he did not hear what has just been said, or like to confirm whether he had accurately heard what was uttered, he posed standing, took a deep and prolong breath, like the final breath of a dying body, and asked her, with a shaking voice and an overwhelmed countenance, to repeat what she just said.
Later on, he was astonished by how shocked he was that evening. Long before her brutal announcement, he noticed a sudden change in attitudes towards him. For instance: late and short replies to his texts, bizarre excuses for not turning in either on time or at all on their meetings. And so on, and so forth. Though he was evidently afraid of the answer he may get (if she was to be honest), he resolutely made his mind to ask her these decisive questions: what is going on; what has changed, if anything; what is wrong…
Yet, on that same evening, he had planned to settle the matter, she answered all of his questions without him asking any, which took him aback. Perhaps, it was her brutal honesty, her anticipation, her determination, and the assertiveness with which she made the declaration that was shocking to him. Perhaps, it was her shameless declaration that she was now in love with another man, without whom (in her own words) “I cannot live” that shook Z. the most. At any rate, the matter was settled: they parted.
Yet, here is D. reviving those vivid sentiments with a force he never experienced before. As hours passed and the day leaned towards its joyful end, he knew that what felt in the morning was not just ephemeral, that the captivation was charmingly and irresistibly irreversible, that something deep inside him, and overwhelmingly indescribable yet powerful beyond his control, has changed for good, for-ever. Did she (D.) realize that?
PS. Due to privacy request, which I am honored and obliged to respect, only the initials are used and are allowed to be used. Besides, if I am to clear up the mysterious riddles around their names, the merit may be lost: the power of soothsayers lies in their dark hints and even doubtful oracles! As for the content, dear reader, I only faithfully reported the events as they had happened; without any addition nor a mere subtraction. After all, my lazy mind is only good at reporting not creating or imagining nor modifying!
My dearest daughter,
Yanis Varoufakis has written a book: “Talking to My Daughter About Economics”; might I not write a parody to you talking, not about the same notoriety, but about the beautiful, the picturesque, the scenic, the charming, the colorful nature? If Varoufakis bemuses his daughter with this opaque and jargon-infested subject, oughtn’t I to talk to you about that sublime beauty?
Yet, if I am allowed the apostrophe, I may have to confess that this fathering-author is a glaring exception to the sweeping generalization I made elsewhere about the contemporary authorship. He is an exception, not so much for being necessarily entirely immune of the mentioned deficiencies, as for speaking to, and for, the people, the masses, the multitude, the riff-raff. You name them! After all, wasn’t he the adult in the room talking to the daughter? A scholar of the many? A voice of the voiceless?
To his credit, in a language fairly fathomable to all, the book endeavors to trace the origin, the whereabouts of today’s capitalism. Indeed, one striking point about the “talk”, worth my mentioning, is his incessant insistence on the impossibility to a-politicize economics: economics is political and politics is economic. The one cannot strive without favorable policies stemmed from the other; nor could the latter survive if the former slumps continuously. I leave the burden to Varoufakis to clarify! I only aimed to show you, my darling, how inconceivable it is that a father should be as ruthless as to expect a child to understand these perpetual re-tournments.
My dear, you would forgive my digression and the belated reply to your entrancing letter.
Two weeks have now passed since you dispatched your correspondence full of inquisitiveness on my fondness for nature. I read, with effusions, your engrossing arguments to dissuade me from my endeavors. However, although I envyingly lack your unparalleled-stylish eloquence to extinguish your thirst for quest, my dearest, the following lines present a few lessons we should learn from nature (hence, my predilection for it). Since I had to pen them in haste, and since every aspect of nature teaches us something of considerable importance, the herein-enumerated lessons are neither comprehensive nor exhaustive.
Nature, to start with, in its vastness, contains all things—dormant-seas, boiling volcanoes, stars on the sky, aunts and bees on earth, etc. and, perhaps, the origin of all things, their fates and their finalités. We (human beings) are part of nature and, therefore, cannot separate ourselves from it; nor can we look at it in isolation (I). Wasn’t Albert Einstein right in advising humanity to look deep into nature to better understand everything (ourselves included)?
Nature, despite its kaleidoscopic character (or because of it), constantly bestows on us love, warmth, compassion, and tender caresses through trees, alternating seasons, rain, wind… all of which we take for granted. It equally enables us to live through its blessings: water, crops, and natural resources, for our wellbeing. These, we absorb with little care. Shouldn’t we learn to adopt these blessings to improve ourselves? Shouldn’t they help us achieve long-lasting global peace and stability? For instance, if we could learn that the plentiness of nature’s resources is to meet the desiderata of each and every person today and generations to come (not for a few to amass while an untold number of children die of starvation) there would be no issues like inequality, deprivation, grievances, class and generational conflicts (II).
Likewise, the nexus of human-nature relationship has always been a myriad of action-reaction whereby we’ve been asymmetrically benefiting from nature. Yet, so minimal have our efforts been to learn, and so little our knowledge about it. The consequences are our failures to sustainably utilize nature’s products and prevent humanity from the-faced-challenges of climate change, global warming, ozone depletion, etc. which gradually haunt our very existence. We should thus acknowledge that natural catastrophes like floods, droughts, tsunamis… are, more often than not, nature’s reactions to our deeds (III).
In its silent presence, nature teaches us to love and care for the powerless for social harmony and peaceful coexistence (IV). Yet, owing to our intérêt-propre, discontentment and bred-greed, the stronger crushes the weaker to accumulate nature’s resources. The ultimate results are fierce competitions, envies, and hatreds. Hence, we should explore the natural order of things wherein, without human disruptive interventions, harmony and peaceful coexistence always abound.
Another fundamental nature’s lesson is that nothing within nature (except for humans?) lives for itself: rivers don’t drink their flowing-waters; trees don’t devour their fruits; the blissful sunny-days and the cool rainy-days are for the good of neither the sun nor the rain; and roses’ odors expand not for flowers-sake. Hence, we should learn to live for others in accordance with nature’s rules (V).
Finally, nature’s alternating seasons teaches us to accept change, progress, and constantly seek improvement (VI). No wonder most (all great?) scientists, philosophers, poets, and artists have, in one way or another, found their inspirations for success in nature. Hadn’t, as a case in point, Rousseau written his masterpieces while drawing from nature? For, beyond any shadow of doubts, nature, like a woman (regardless of her beauty?), seduces with its sights, its scents, and its touches…
Since my time has lapsed, I’d to conclude that, insomuch as it inspires, nature has limitless lessons to teach us, which are of considerable importance if we’re to reverse this troubled world into a peaceful, equitable, prosperous and sustainable one. Perhaps, the world wouldn’t have been so-strained had we learnt from nature’s plentiful teachings, adopted its practices, and acknowledged its bounty.
Perhaps, it is time for human beings to reconnect their common-creed—humanity—with nature since, to revamp Janine Benyus’ idiom, “[nature] creates conditions conductive to life”.
Your loving father.
Each individual is a fully living world to herself, characterized by particular taste and preferences, and lured by antithetical whims. To state it differently, each human being is characteristically governed by unique sentiments, animated by particular opinions, and led by uncommon perceptions. Hence, I can (and will) only consider my leaning towards old books as a personal inclination, a prejudice befitting no one but myself, and a personal bias in favor of the “dead”, yet eternally ubiquitous amongst the livings.
While reading a good old book, there is a uniquely prominent sentiment that animates one: that of constant wonder. It is not that the contemporary books fail less in engendering a similar effect, but that the good old books always induce it more. The latter incessantly captivates its reader’s mind for mainly two reasons. One, the historical circumstances (economic, social, political, and cultural) that certainly have affected the old writer’s thoughts, his subject matter as well as his conclusions, which the reader vainly wish to customize. Second, the (un)frequent similarities between the so described events and the ones experienced by the reader dearly agitate the mind even further. A few examples would clarify my meaning.
One wonders about the kind of air Plato breathed, the kind of water he drank, and the love he loved that made him think that, to realize his ideal mathematical man, everything should be common. Dear Plato, if women are to be for all, should a child not know her father? Oh, wise old dead man! If your maxim that either philosophers must become kings or that kings must philosophize were to hold true in a society where women are common, you would have undoubtedly traded the love of knowledge with untamable vice, order with chaos, virtue with debasement, and morality with evildoing.
Who is that sane reader who crinkles not that Aristotle, having seemingly written Politics to cast doubts on Plato’s (his mighty teacher's) political and philosophical soundness, nevertheless failed to understand that slavery was a social construction no less than the divine right of mediaeval kings. That he failed to distinguish between cause and effect is even more astonishing. That a slave son was a slave simply because the society enslaved him and his father before him, Aristotle understood not. There is more astounding about him. He scorned lending money at interest because a “lifeless” metal begets not; yet he saw no human value in slaves, and disdained not the human wastes of his society!
Finally, consider, if you may, Machiavelli, Machiavelli the favorite of political demagogues and the deceitful politicians for whom “A prince ought to inspire fear in such a way that, if he does not win love, he avoids hatred; because he can endure very well being feared whilst he is not hated, which will always be as long as he abstains from the property of his citizens and from their women.” Yet, though we undoubtedly cannot but agree with him that the foundations of any state, if it is to survive and prosper, lie in the goodness and justness of its laws; or in his own words “The chief foundations of all states, new as well as old, are good laws”; we also agree that a ruler, as much as any human being, should keep away from others’ properties and their women, we wonder how and why a prince ruling with just laws would need to inspire fear in the first place. Even more intriguing, however, is Machiavelli’s shaky conclusion that good laws are induced and maintained by armed force: “As there cannot be good laws where the state is not well armed, it follows that where they are well armed they have good laws”.
As one ponders over these lines, one cannot help thinking about today’s overwhelmingly growing prominence of police states. As Montesquieu rightly observed, Machiavelli should have known that "There is no greater tyranny than that which is perpetrated under the shield of the law and in the name of justice." Yet, throughout history and even more so today, despots have used his erroneous logic on the matter to excuse themselves and justify their wrongdoings.
I have increasingly come to despise, loathe, abhor reading contemporary books; contemporary in the most elementary sense of the word. Except for textbooks, notwithstanding their general boredom, which should (nay, must) be constantly updated to keep pace with the changing, evolving, and broadening human knowledge, I would rather read an old book. Present-day writers roughly suffer, at least, one of these deficiencies: they either typically lack the true ingenuity of their masters—unavoidably making them unworthy pupils; or they solely write to themselves, for themselves, and for their own sake (what a useless labor!)—they overwhelmingly disregard, overlook, and exhaust the general readership with their bumbling expressions, unfathomable jargons, pseudo-scientific and opaque language to explain (assuming that they understood in the first to be able to explain) complex concepts. They seem (are) quite happy to trade clarity with vanity, simplicity for the want of pretension (real or affected), and precision for in-group argots: pedantism and impertinence are equally important to them as air and water to any living soul. Or they greedily produce books on déjà vus for the sake of commerce, which is even more inflated by their conscious (but often unconscious) corollaries: modern critics; they inundate us with every day’s trifling so much so that they leave neither room for imagination nor do they wish to allow one. Though Gorge Orwell is right that the best books are those that tell us what we know already, these contemptuous writers share none of his reasons for writing, as he enumerates in “ Why I Write”. They would fill the bestselling lists, nationally and internationally; get the most enchanting praises from their corporate critics; be widely talked about and rarely read, if at all. Since they are bound to keep the business running, they are obliged to write streamingly. Advertising the newly finished (but rarely polished) work would not be enough, no more than it would serve any other business to stop foretelling about its realistic as well as imaginary future products, they deluge us with a limitless list of future publications, which they are bound to respect one way or another. As a writer is destined to write, well or ill, wisely or foolishly, it is pardonable to tell the audience that s/he will be publishing in times yet to come: whether achieved or not, no ill is to spring from that claim for the writer is merely reaffirming what is expected from her/him. But to give a full title, number of pages, table of content, and (why not a summary) of the work yet to be started, with a foreseen date for publication, is gravely and pitifully contemptuous and contemptuously pitiful: such a writer usually meets neither expectations nor quality, nor even a personal satisfaction.
Though a writer may conceivably be sickened for one of these defects yet do little harm, any two combinations of them can be graver than an outbreak of a pandemic. Should they all be present in one soul, then we may be certain of having not a writer, but an all too obvious industrious monster, a wild beast that ought to be kept in a menagerie… I do not intend to question their virtues and merits, though I question their sensibility no less than I cast doubt on their integrity.
With old books, like with their authors, I’m convinced not to be deceived by ill-intention and cunning: the dead cannot deceive the living any more than a child could attempt to dupe its parents on a dinner table. Rousseau, the sentimentalist Rousseau, thought himself witty so as to blind the world with confessional sentiments that “I have entered upon a performance which is without example, whose accomplishment will have no imitator. I mean to present my fellow-mortals with a man in all the integrity of nature… I have concealed no crimes, added no virtues”; yet, it would not take us a minute thought to figure out that Rousseau was telling a lie, a deliberate lie, out of vanity for even Fyodor Dostoevsky could see it from his Underground. The search for vanity has gravely prevented this great mind from observing this basic principle: that of the impossibility of the task of presenting the truth, the whole truth, of oneself, even to oneself, with no grains/drops of lies. It is not complicated a task to grasp this principle; even our author from Underground is right that “man is bound to lie about himself”; as it is, even to himself.
What could possibly be more delightful than deliberately listening to a man, who, filled with energy and pitiful contempt, seats himself heavily like a wounded horse, tells you a vast ocean of stories of which you know to be false, yet you wait till he elapses his energy and satisfies himself for having attained his insidious goal before cutting the source of his dead sea, before shaking the ground, the foundation of his store and let him know how aware you are of his lies?
Either because they were too honest to lie or because they were bad liars, old writers present us with pure, clear air of immortality, and sound arguments to their cause. You may dismiss the premise or the whole argument as fallacious, outdated, unpractical, utopian, improbable… yet you would conceive (at least, if one were to be honest with oneself) that there is an unquestionable merit in either or both.
“I have more confidence in the dead than the living” wisely said a witty man about which I cannot agree more. Machiavelli, although widely known as the father of deceitful, derogatory, negative, cruel politics, and his works, alas!—his works—that are today, widely spoken of and scarcely read—the holy books of post-truth politicians whose foundation is based on emotions not policies, division rather than inclusion, hatred not love, segregation not unity, tension not harmony, lies rather than truth, speculation not facts, alternative facts not universal ones, passion not reason, prejudice not impartiality, us vs. them, tells us:
‘The evening being come, I return home and go to my study; at the entrance I pull off my peasant- clothes, covered with dust and dirt, and put on my noble court dress, and thus becomingly re-clothed I pass into the ancient courts of the men of old, where, being lovingly received by them, I am fed with that food which is mine alone; where I do not hesitate to speak with them, and to ask for the reason of their actions, and they in their benignity answer me; and for four hours I feel no weariness, I forget every trouble, poverty does not dismay, death does not terrify me; I am possessed entirely by those great men’.
It is a grave shame that humans only take that which only serves there contemptuous pities for justification and groundness (if their deeds violate and shake all moral principles, they have Machiavelli’s works the justify them!), lest this exceptional mind would not have been misunderstood, nor deceitfully misrepresented.
I fare well with old books if only because these “mighty dead” provide me with a romantic delight, an unhindered source of knowledge and sound judgments, revive the curiosity of my hitherto sleepy minds, and eternally sustain, for eternity, the everlasting power of the giants the world has ever known. This, Machiavelli understood too well; and W. Hazlitt could not have said it in no better words: “By conversing with the mighty dead, we imbibe sentiment with knowledge. We become strongly attached to those who can no longer either hurt or serve us, except through the influence which they exert over the mind. We feel the presence of that power which gives immortality to human thoughts and actions, and catch the flame of enthusiasm from all nations and ages”.
What could ever be more pleasurable than conversing with Machiavelli so that “I am fed with that food which is mine alone”, listen to him justify himself for works, and tell him how it has ever been misunderstood? Imagine one single thing more romantic than having Rousseau or Hugo, Victor Hugo talk to me about romance, sentiment, and delightful love; their origins, their causes, their effects. The one by discussing his epistolary novel “Julie ou la Nouvelle Héloïse”, the other to reveal everything about women (their secret) and narrate his lifetime casual affairs. If any, I would not interview with Émile Zola for his sordid naturalism; instead, I would call on Balzac the romance, the romantic Balzac!
Enough of that for now, however!
It was already getting dark, on that Sunday evening, when Boni reached the only cinema center of his little provincial town. He cannot now recollect all the details. He cannot even remember anything about the check-in nor can he recall when and how he ordered soft-drinks along with popcorn. Boni only remembers that as he brought his troubled mind unto the entrance corridor, he could not believe it when he saw Rouk standing, beautifully standing at the entry door as if she has been standing there for eternity, waiting for him and him alone. He could neither believe his eyes nor think it possible. Boni never believes in random; he is, after all, the epitome of Plato’s mathematical man. But now he was confronted with a randomized reality, right before his eyes.
It was even harder for Boni to believe since a few hours earlier he daydreamt about something however similar to what was then happening. That he meets a girl, whose beauty has troubled his mind and his whole being so much for so long, in a cinema center about to see the same movie; that he has the chance to face at once and confront her for good; that Rouk was alone—with no ‘company’ (no boyfriend, for instance?)—he could not believe that it was all true. Like a thunder’s light, all these thoughts flash through his mind with no clarity, no time to be processed; yet, they were as vividly animating, agitating, exciting as Kafkaesque dream-walkers.
As he moved closer and closer to the entry door (that is, to Rouk, who now turned to him while awaiting), Boni sensed that his whole body would ultimately fail him: his heart beat at a pace that could propel his soul to his native land, his feet were trembling down his body, which was itself more dead than alive. Yet, he was able to walk over to her with a hard-made smile on the face. In addition to her natural-West-African beauty and her heart-catching charmingness, Rouk was dressing picturesquely and more invitingly than Boni ever saw her before. Of course, Rouk is a fashion girl; and Boni knew it. He has seen her with different modes in different places and occasions. But nowhere has he ever found her so irresistibly attractive than that Sunday evening…
‘Hey’, his voice was finally able to sound out as he came over.
Instead of returning a ‘hey’ back, he replied with a mind-blowing smile. What a dreadfully charming smile! He came to see the movie hoping to regain his spirit. In lieu of that, he could not even control his own voice. ‘Damn it all!’ he thought to himself. Dimly. And helplessly.
‘I’m going to see the latest episode of Designated Survivor’, Boni started again after an unnecessarily awkward silence.
‘So am I’, said Rouk.
The answer was short, sharp, assertive yet not rude. The voice, her voice was musical, poetical to his hears…
‘What’s your seat?’ ‘Mine is 10’, said Boni with an almost failing tone.
‘09’, she replied; again shortly and musically.
So they entered and took their seats. As they sat, Boni seemed to have been determined not to waste this opportunity, so long awaited. ‘I must seize it’, he thought to himself.
Boni and Rouk have been classmates from the very beginning of their high school years. More than classmates, however, they were “rivals” (if I’m allowed to use that vocab in this innocent context). They were second to none; the two best students in the school; the two leading students of the very best in the whole provincial town. They only had to compete for the two places: first or second; and nothing else.
Yet, his was a hardship childhood; his upbringing was a so strenuous that whenever he thinks about it (as he always does) it gives him a goose bump. Boni was born in a family where poverty, more than the world Tolstoy created for Simon in his short story “What Men Live By”, was the defining characteristic of their lives: hopelessness the reality of their raison de vivre, and helplessness their unavoidable destiny. The family had no land, no shelter, and no farm of its own. It has always lived on a daily basis with whatever they could earn only serving for bread to sustain their failing souls. It, therefore, comes as no surprise at all that his parents could neither read nor write. They were neither schooled nor could they envisage to get one. Their chief aim, their raison d'être was to ensure that they earn bread for the day to provide to their four little children.
Boni has one big brother, who, like his parents before him, never went to school and could not spell his own name. Yet, he always kept dreaming of a better life full of worthy goals, not just daily bread earning. To break the glass-ceiling, he knew that he must work three times harder to improve his lot and that of his miserable family.
Boni also has two sisters: one elder, the other younger. Having been to school for only a few years, Maria and Tina could barely read or write in their official language, their colonial heritage: French. But they could speak more or less fluently with a fairly perfect understanding. Boni, who is the only one to have remained at school, was determined to give them all a helping hand with reading and writing as soon as he was done with the national exam in his final year of high-school.
Before that, however, he has a more urgent situation, a more pressing problem to attend to. The problem? He was dangerously losing his focus; he was no longer able to study without intermittent intervals of distraction. He was unable to concentrate as he used to be. More shockingly, it was inexplicably unpredictable. He used to enjoy studying with as much focus as there can be and as long as he wished it to last. What was now going on worried him dearly. What was happening to him was worrisome, and unspeakably perilous and equally pitiful.
Boni knew too well that he had to regain his spirit and have control over his mind. He had to overcome that present situation if he were to successfully complete high school with outstanding scores, as he has hitherto been able to do. It is so imperative, lest he gets no scholarship to pursue his university studies. In which case, his education would come to an end, pitifully. How dreadful he felt when the idea of failing to pursue a higher education flashed over his struggling mind!
The problem that has been troubling him was Rouk; and he knew it too well…
Some time has passed since Rouk approached him to offer her ‘real friendship’ (her own words), whereby they would be more close to one another, freely share their problems and secrets, and when (0r if needed) study together. He was reluctant to accept the offer. Though he has been secretly admiring her for her hard work, her attractiveness and naturally irresistible beauty, and her tempered and humorous character. Boni too was very young (if not too young), handsome, spirited, and good-humored. Although he had a lot of friends, only a very few amongst them were very close to him. Only to those few was he opened enough to share his personal troubles with. Particularly, with Rouk, whose family was far better off, he has always kept his distance. He never succeeded to reconcile her attractiveness with their competitive rivalry. He was even haunted by an idea that Rouk, with her invitation, may be setting him a trap so that she may outperform him. Also, he has been doing well with his ‘closed world’, wherein his personal troubles and his family’s hardships were personal, private wounds deeply hidden down in his feeble heart.
Yet, like an unveiled mask, their conversation that day made him realize how much he wished that moment to last… forever, for eternity. He has been successful, or successfully resisted various temptations as girls always flirted around him. His history with misery and his family’s debilitating situation were personal challenges too great to be forgotten. And only by being successful in his studies by dint of hard work could he hope to handle them and reverse their present situation.
Troubled with these daunting thoughts, Boni resolved, vainly, to keep his distance as he always did. With Rouk, it was different, impossible, and improbable. He could not help himself thinking of her. Nor could he keep all his senses at ease whenever she happened to miss a class or even merely be late. What was he to do? Should he talk straight to her? And how was he do that?
It was in that undecided state of mind that Boni went to see the movie, that fatal Sunday evening, with the hope of regaining his spirit and thinking it through calmly and thoroughly. Yet, there she was… standing… beautifully…
That but to see him in the first surprise
Of widower and father, nursing me,
Unmothered little child of four years old,
His large man's hands afraid to touch my curls,
As if the gold would tarnish,–his grave lips
Contriving such a miserable smile,
As if he knew needs must, or I should die,
And yet 'twas hard,–would almost make the stones
Cry out for pity. There's a verse he set
In Santa Croce to her memory,
'Weep for an infant too young to weep much
When death removed this mother'–stops the mirth
To-day, on women's faces when they walk
With rosy children hanging on their gowns,
Under the cloister, to escape the sun
That scorches in the piazza. After which,
He left our Florence, and made haste to hide
Himself, his prattling child, and silent grief,
Among the mountains above Pelago;
Because unmothered babes, he thought, had need
Of mother nature more than others use,
And Pan's white goats, with udders warm and full
Of mystic contemplations, come to feed
Poor milkless lips of orphans like his own–
Such scholar-scraps he talked, I've heard from friends,
For even prosaic men, who wear grief long,
Will get to wear it as a hat aside
With a flower stuck in't. Father, then, and child,
We lived among the mountains many years,
God's silence on the outside of the house,
And we, who did not speak too loud, within;
And old Assunta to make up the fire,
Crossing herself whene'er a sudden flame
Which lightened from the firewood, made alive
That picture of my mother on the wall.
The painter drew it after she was dead;
And when the face was finished, throat and hands,
Her cameriera carried him, in hate
Of the English-fashioned shroud, the last brocade
She dressed in at the Pitti. 'He should paint
No sadder thing than that,' she swore, 'to wrong
Her poor signora.' Therefore, very strange
The effect was. I, a little child, would crouch
For hours upon the floor, with knees drawn up
And gaze across them, half in terror, half
In adoration, at the picture there,–
That swan-like supernatural white life,
Just sailing upward from the red stiff silk
Which seemed to have no part in it, nor power
To keep it from quite breaking out of bounds:
For hours I sate and stared. Asssunta's awe
And my poor father's melancholy eyes
Still pointed that way. That way, went my thoughts
When wandering beyond sight. And as I grew
In years, I mixed, confused, unconsciously,
Whatever I last read or heard or dreamed,
Abhorrent, admirable, beautiful,
Pathetical, or ghastly, or grotesque,
With still that face . . . which did not therefore change,
But kept the mystic level of all forms
And fears and admirations; was by turn
Ghost, fiend, and angel, fairy, witch, and sprite,–
A dauntless Muse who eyes a dreadful Fate,
A loving Psyche who loses sight of Love,
A still Medusa, with mild milky brows
All curdled and all clothed upon with snakes
Whose slime falls fast as sweat will; or, anon,
Our Lady of the Passion, stabbed with swords
Where the Babe sucked; or, Lamia in her first
Moonlighted pallor, ere she shrunk and blinked,
And, shuddering, wriggled down to the unclean;
Or, my own mother, leaving her last smile
In her last kiss, upon the baby-mouth
My father pushed down on the bed for that,–
Or, my dead mother, without smile or kiss,
Buried at Florence. All which images,
Concentred on the picture, glassed themselves
Before my meditative childhood, . . as
The incoherencies of change and death
Are represented fully, mixed and merged,
In the smooth fair mystery of perpetual Life...
By Elizabeth Barrett Browning (FIRST BOOK).
It is in a desolated state of mind that I’m penning this note. Does it happen to you too, my dear friend? Do you share the same feeling that there is nothing in this uncaring and often unloving world worth celebrating? For more than two decades of my existence, I’ve been receiving the same wishes—of “Happy New Year” or “Happy…Something” in a similar fashion—from different people in different places; yet the ‘disappointment’ has been all the same: it often ends up being neither “Happy” nor “New”.
My dear, in your latest letter, you—convincingly?—stated that such occasions provide us with an invaluable opportunity for self-assessment; that the occasion should allow us to evaluate our successes and failures; a self-evaluation, that is. Though I agree on the undeniable importance of reflecting on one’s achievements and failures, I’m skeptical that only on the New Day such an evaluation could be done in the guise of celebration. Tell me then; how is a soul whose very existence has been an accumulation of intermittent failures to celebrate—a soul whose only achievement is to have aged one more year, thus drawing a step closer to the grave? To Paul ELUARD, celebration is nothing more than “celle qui veut faire croire aux hommes “qu’il y a quelque chose DE MIEUX sur la terre”. More precisely, like him, “Je hais toutes les fêtes parce qu’elles m’ont obligé à sourire sans conviction, à rire [sans raison], comme un singe…”
I am, therefore, of the opinion that generalized celebrations of any kind—religious or traditional—are only pleasurable in young age—that is, when life is innocent—and therefore ought to be left to kids…
I know this to be a “fact” no less because I myself used to look-forward up to various feast-days for celebration, with an innocent joy, with an unfailing determination. Back then, life was yet to reveal its real beastly claws; and I used to be flattered by the aforementioned wishes, the audacious hope that the New Year would be different, better than the one that just ended. Yet a long-lived lady of high social class with a fine education and right upbringing tells us: “hope is a tease designed to prevent us from accepting reality.” My dear friend, could you disagree with such a wise assessment of life?
I also feel that you would agree with none of these words. Oh, I can even see you reddening as you read through this letter. Do write me back and let me know what you think. Maybe, just maybe, you may convince me on the matter. And please, tell me how you have been celebrating the New Year, if at all… Here, despite the bitter cold, the city is vividly animated, colorful with decorations, etc., etc.
Your honest misanthrope,
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