Tag Archive | History

The Corpse Exhibition and Other Stories of Iraq – Hassan Blasim

The Corpse Exhibition and Other Stories of Iraq

 

“Stories have to be told or they die, and when they die, we can’t remember who we are or why we’re here.”
― Sue Monk Kidd

 

The crack of dawn is just half an hour away. I’m neither interested in the passing night nor the approaching new day. Two fried eggs on a rye toast for breakfast. That is what I’m thinking. That is what I shall eat among the stench of blood, the sordid gore and a curious child fishing for a frog in a puddle of blood. The images don’t seem to leave me. The voices crowded my auditory senses. The book clutching in my palms as the heaviness akin to a corpse that now takes over my sensibilities ,words engulf me, maybe it’s the heavy silence of the passing night or my mental claustrophobia that has become the mythical Hydra. I knew it right then that this book will frequent my sanity for weeks to come.

 

Because every child born in this world is simply a possibility, either to be good or evil, according to the classification set by schools of religious education in this stupid world. But it’s a completely different matter to us. Every child that’s born is just an extra burden on the ship that is about to sink.

 

Are human corpses the wartime metric scale upon which a country’s heroics are measured? As the world unified in blindness revelling in the creativity of death, a trained assassin learned his first tutorial, the infliction of banal humanity beheaded on the pillar of cowardice. The bloody knife glistened to the tune of a sombre child’s lullaby inaugurating the corpse exhibition, taking a deep bow was the mortician, a truly great war-time artist working overtime with utmost gratitude and kindness, elegantly restoring mutilated corpses. Watch for fear in people’s eyes, he said. A lesson on ‘how to be a lion’ imparted from the palms of a delinquent. In the quest of being one’s own God, the killers and the compass stamped into the memory of physical and sexual brutalities. Is it really worth having trust in humans when the sanctity of human conscience is in exile? Why are graveyards the only real estate bought during the war? In absurdities of assassinations and power grabbing egotistical vanities where betrayal is as common as stepping into a bloody puddle, the green zone rabbit awaits to lay an egg. The web of psychological wiles nestled in a silenced revolver; a pensive youth embarks on an unspecified terrorist operation puzzled over the validity of an egg laying rabbit.

 

Life and death was a game of running, climbing and jumping, of watching, of secret dirty words of sleep and nightmares.

 

To the dead of the war writes an army newspaper, the words of poetry and prose shall honour the martyrs with sublime tales woven with love and destiny, honesty and valour, memoirs of humanity. Personal vanity and desperation hastily layers with the madness of the war. Greed, lies and deceit ravaged the spirit of an literary editor, the built-in incinerator a silent witness to coloured workbooks and inhumane folly. Horror and paranoia stumbled in the sea of coffins. War and peace became permanent riddles, down and across imprinted in a sinister crossword. The shrieks of a trapped soul deafening the darkness of a tormented life try to solve the life and death enigma.

 

Aren’t we humans, killing and looting mankind to ruination similar to devils and ‘jinni’, residing in our own holes of idiocies and hallucinating in our cannibalistic overtures? The language of mankind challenges the language of God in the depths of an underground hole. The purging of earth from devils is detailed in the bizarre rituals of a cannibalistic jinni. The war of religion and politics gets wrapped around the lives of the innocent; terror paralyzing the silence of peace. History and heritage of a land lost among the missile noises and military coup. Tales of Western agents and exotic blondes with guns misplaced among the disregarded words of the madman of Freedom Square. The baptized soul waited to view the fated empty chair, a prayer for his beloved mother led into a journey to the next world. The Iraqi Christ overwhelmed by a mysterious desire for salvation.

 

Spilled blood and superstition are the basis of the world. Man is not the only creature who kills for bread or love or power, because animals in the jungle do that in the various ways, but he is the only creature who kills because of faith.

 

A magical tale of a thousand and one knives portrays violence in the extremities of pain and torment. The mysteries of the magical knives remain unsolved as do the mystery of humans taking comfort and pleasure in crucifying their brethren. The bleating of goats recounted a grim memory of a septic tank, a pulsating cry in the murkiness of a prosaic tale. The chorus of the song of the goats blaring from the loudspeakers infiltrated the competitive troubled narratives, a prize in offing. The sanctimonious virtue of religion is marred by selfish desires, murderers and thieves thriving under religious cloaks. The emergence of false gods examining moral compasses of human obligation to schizophrenic religious dogmas. Is then life a burden or a blessing? The songs of a composer paying the price of patriotism muddled with militant insurgency. The pillars of religion, humanity and patriotism; in the chaos of flesh and fire which one outweighs the rest and which one crumbles? The fate of an inauspicious smile dangling between the curses of agony and joy, vaguely chants “the body must be protected, not the thoughts”.

 

Why are the trees so green and beautiful as though they’re washed with water every day? Why can’t we be peaceful like them? We live in houses like pigsties. While their houses are warm, safe and colourful. Why do they respect dogs as much as humans? Why do we masturbate twenty-four hours a day? How can we get a decent government here?

 

War and migration, the trials and tribulations of refuges in the aftermath is filled with humiliation and dreams of a dignified life. The question of securing asylum is solved by a constant dread of wavering stories of killers and heroes. The ordeal of a wounded man recounts seeking asylum in the reality and the record of an abstract truth. Dreams that never learnt the language of a new country, survival in an adopted homeland burdened with philosophies of pride and indignity. The ghosts of the pasts wear out the fate of a vulnerable being trying to find the meaning of life. The valuable existence of Salim Abdul Husain disseminating in the recurring nightmares of Carlos Fuentes.

 

Iraq, a country besieged by the cycle of war and death and its citizens trapped in the nihilistic trenches of insanity. Hassan Blasim’s anthology of challenging stories pierces right through the heart with glimpses of a land dwelling in visceral horror and repellent irrationalities. The history of Iraq spans from the horrific eight yearlong Iraq-Iran War (1980-88), American troops occupancy, dictatorship (Saddam Hussein), militant Kurdish insurgency, mushrooming terrorist organisations and an endless loop of civil war. Dubbed as the ‘Iraqi Kafka’, Blasim pens a memorable yet haunting ugly truth of menacing savagery and failure of human conscience without a glimmer of wisdom. The meaningless world of war prevails in hopelessness, bloodlust and bloodshed. The surrealistic nature of these metaphorical tales let out an honest cry of a dystopian homeland.

 

There is nothing beautiful about war. There is no triumph in it. Victories marred with the blood of the innocent. Are the dead happy over the victories of war? Do the dead agonize over their crimes or martyrdom? Are the sufferers ever liberated from the shadows of war? The dead become mere statistics until the next battle. The fragility of life measured with the next conquest. Is annihilating civilization seen as a laudation for bravery? Do the footsteps of peace have to march on the road strewn with bloodied corpses? In a world where allegiance to dogmas of faith outweighs the respect to mankind, the lines of real and unreal are blurred by hostilities and fanaticism, the sanity of humankind rotting in an abyss of mortal horror; there will be no escape from the chaos of war.

 

4/5****

The Notebook, The Proof, The Third Lie: Three Novels – Ágota Kristóf

The Notebook, The Proof, The Third Lie: Three Novels

Toughening exercises….resistance….a composition.
War…..mortal solitude…..a composition
Love….objectivity…..a composition.
Truth…..lies….a composition.
Words…..immortality…..a composition.

The sharpened graphite moves silently in the dark attic on naive white paper sheets, reciting nightmarish trepidation. Every thought, every word emitting a chaotic soul finds refuge in the scribbling of the graphite. Amid the sirens of an air raid, it moves zealously. New pages are explored as the skeletons swing to the sad tunes of a harmonica like couple of wind chimes. It does not fear the stomping of the soldiers, the shots of a rifle, the abuse of an old lady. The pencil is fearless. It seeks truth, it endures lies. It keeps on moving even as agonizing cries of a rape fills the air, as pigs grunt to the sight of a shimmering knife and fresh graves are born under the vegetable beds in the garden. The pencil writes the darkest desires, the chaos of solitude. As the houses are destroyed, streets get vacant; the notebook overflows. While Harelip embraces the dog on her bare skin; Lucas writes. Claus writes. As Clara embraces Thomas; Lucas writes. Young Mathias writes too. Victor wants to write. To the sound of the detective movie Klaus . T. writes. Writing helps. Words release the excruciating pain that does not find a listening ear or an obliging mouth.

She says, “Yes. There are lives sadder than the saddest of books.”
I say, “Yes. No book, no matter how sad, can be as sad as life

It is the universal truth; nobody wants a war. Wars begin on a lie. It further creates a complex mesh of lies. The lies then slowly seep into the innocent lives and become a concrete part of the living. Wars arise from the world of Utopian delusions. People live in a deluded world that the war has gifted them. If a war is commenced to bring happiness to the land, then why does the land become a grave to happiness. Lives that find death cruel for being denied the frosty embrace, plead other lives to bless them with death. To ask a life to release another life is not the liberation that a war should seek. Kristof with her lucid text makes it crystal clear, that a war- torn land can be reconstructed and restored to normality; as if it has been untouched by conflict. Sadly, it is the shattered lives that do not get the respected privilege. The wounds of the war breathe with the people as long as they live, which at times can seem forever. The war may restore the buildings, but it cannot restore the dead. Laws can exonerate the innocent lives that were executed. But, can it restore Clara’s grey hair to its original sheen? Can the war restore the lost youth that it ravenously swallowed? The only gifts that war ever bestows on the privileged citizens are the art to kill and an impassive life, dwelling in the abyss of mortal solitude. Lucas/Claus knew the exact precision of killing a life. War had taught them the skill. At times, they would offer a vulnerable life the gift of death; if one mercifully begged. It was not something they sought to do, but absolutely needed to do. The brothers had triumphed over every aspect of pain, be it heat, hunger, cold or anything that causes soreness. They never cried even when their grandmother abused them or people in the streets heckled them with tortuous condemnations. They could defend themselves just as they defended Harelip. The war had taught them. The war had become their school. Mathias did not cry either. The war had taught him too. Kristof meticulously brings a world where one is fortunate to glimpse the next sunrise or the magical sunset. People do things not because they desire to; it is absolutely needed to. A place where nauseated absurdities thrive in normality. A place where humanity wanes in a treacherous barter system.

“Two or three hundred of them pass by, flanked by soldiers. A few women are carrying small children on their backs, or cradled against their breasts. One of them falls; hands reach out to catch the child and the mother; they must be carried, because a soldier has already pointed his rifle at them.”

Kristof’s trilogy which begins with the twins arriving at their Grandmother’s house in Little Town, is a war in itself. Alongside the periphery of the country’s war, each of Kristof’s characters is a casualty of a simmering private war. The atrocity of the external war trickles down bringing an internal chaotic conundrum. Fear and grief become the only recognizable sentiments. For some of the characters the war had begun much before their country knelt to the brutal conflict. Lucas becomes an integral part in this trilogy. His life explores the inconsistent terrains of war, communist acquisitions, counter-revolution and later on the capitalist environments. It is evident when later Claus confirms the doubts by declaring, “It is a society based on money. No place for questions on life.” Although, Lucas is an interesting character; it was the characterization of Harelip, Mathias and the ‘Officer’ that intrigued me the most. Harelip’s desperation of finding love ; Mathias struggle to find a place in “societal regularity” and the isolation of the Officer from his asphyxiated love , made me ponder on whether if given a chance would they hold a placard pronouncing , “Don’t come in the world of mine.”

Akin to her characters, Kristof’s prose if simple yet convoluted. Maybe, even equating to the onset of a war. Eventually, a war finds its conclusion. A war victim never gets that privilege. A war creates heroes of men, but, has the war ever thought about the women and children who have been victims and will live in deathly solitude and eternal pain. As life progresses, memories may fade, pain may diminish, but it does not disappear. Are men the only heroes of the war? Kristof audaciously makes this point.

“It’s like an illness. A sort of illness of the soul…..excessive solitude”.

‘Mortal solitude’ becomes a major salient feature of the war. Kristof gives the ‘state of solitude’ a demonic personality. The desperation that stems from loneliness blurs the lines between fact and fiction. Truth and lies amalgamate into an obnoxious lattice of desire and loss. The dead are woken up by stubborn memories that never fade; sex becomes a lucrative trade in the ongoing barter system, forlorn emotions seek refuge in objective love; the panic of old wounds reopening and the skepticism over validity of the dead that are found everywhere and nowhere. It is in this curse of solitude that one seeks the comfort of a grave. — “The best place to sleep was the grave of someone you have loved.”

Lucas, Claus, Victor and the others struggle to free themselves from the ugly depths of solitude; nonetheless it was only seclusion what they searched to write their nightmares. Peace was a rare commodity in their lives. Is death then a better option? As one of the twins says, “I tell him that life is totally useless, that it’s nonsense, an aberration, infinite suffering, and the invention on a non-God whose evil surpasses understanding.”

All is not lost, as Kristof elucidates that beneath the ruthless layers of desperation, there lies the strongest bond of love which survives the atrocities of the war.

“Love is not a reliable word…….It lacks precision and objectivity.”

Kristof evaluates the idea of the so called “normality of love”. In the incongruous world of war could ‘normal love’ ever survive? All the characters in the book are in a frantic struggle to find love and be loved. The burgeoning solitude leads to the desperation of desiring a sense of belonging. With abandonment comes the wish for of a touch, an embrace; irrespective of the methods and act of achieving the idea of love. The pain of promiscuity, incest and at times even rape takes a backseat when it comes to being “loved”. Kristof compels you to question the normality of love. Who is to decide the regulations of love? Who is to define rationality of love? The soldier who rapes numerous women and goes home to a loving wife and a child? The men who fathered bastard children who were left at the orphanage? Or those who suffocate homosexuality? If you ask Victor or Lucas or Harelip or Clara or Yasmine or even the Officer who listened to the gramophone while desiring death, they may probably tell you that in the absurdities of love one seeks its normality, similarly as one seeks humanity in the inhumanity of the war.

“I’m convinced—that every human being is born to write a book……he who writes nothing is lost, he has merely pass through life without leaving a trace.”

Stories perish beside the bodies in the grave. While death justifies the treachery of life, it fails to recognize the agony of its journey; words are then needed bestow immortality. In this saga of love and separation, Kristof bequeaths the said honor to the lives of the anonymous war victims by immortalizing their plagued existence through her genuine words. I jot down couple sentences, stare, cry, smile and then go back to those words as if they were mine. Clutching the pages, I walk down the empty streets , the songs of the harmonica still lingering in the cafes, the blue building priding the street, the bookseller’s shop is open ; Joseph’s horse-drawn wagon lurking at the door. The desk is vacant, not a soul in sight. Next to the stack of books, a set of blank pages blush to the flirtatious breeze. A note: – ‘Chapter title – eternal words.’ The pencil in my hand smiles: – Ágota Kristóf.

5/5*****

Patriots and Partisans – Ramachandra Guha

Patriots and Partisans

To someone who is well-versed with the nitty-gritty of Indian political panorama and exceedingly vigilant to the chimerical democratic garb that Indian politics adorn, barring a few nostalgic personal textual pieces, this book is akin to reading newspaper articles and magazines scouting for scholarly debates over eloquent verses surpassing tapered attitudes to a universal perceptive of secularists farce under autocratic, fascists and pluralists mirages. To the unknown it’s a revelation.

2/5**

Every Man Dies Alone – Hans Fallada

Every Man Dies Alone

I should express thanks to Gudrun Burwitz, for if it was not for her ruthless news, I would not have found a brilliant book that stands for every belief which Ms. Burwitz expels from her very survival. Couple weeks ago, a news article describing Burwitz as the new “Nazi grandmother” made me explore further for its validity. Ms. Burwitz who at the ripe age of 81, still strives hard to support and nurture the most modern breed of Nazis ,keeping alive the malicious work and memory of her father Heinrich Himmler, the chief authority behind the Gestapo operations. “The princess of Nazism “, as one of the historian terms Gudrun, is a despicable bitch loathing the essence of humanity through her narrowed National Socialist mindset. I would not identify her as a cultured human being, let alone a decent citizen of a wonderful country. However, she would have been felicitated for her abhorrence during the Third Reich. In 1940’s Gudrun Burwitz would have been a decent German; the ideal daughter of Deutschland. Not, Otto Quangel, though. He was a traitor, a criminal who committed treason against the Fuhrer. Otto Quangel was the ‘Hogoblin’, whose righteous words were feared by anyone who touched or read them.

Otto and Anna Quangel was a working class couple. Like many other couples they were decent Germans. They obeyed their Fuhrer, you see. Their only son was serving in the army defending Hitler’s gruesome idea of legality of human race. They helplessly saw their neighbors being caught and shipped to concentration camps, while they silently sipped their watery coffee in sheer silence. They had to be tough in life. That was the common justification of every brutality the Gestapo police committed. Then one fine day, the death news of their only son arrived and Anna in a bursts of sorrow shrieked, “you and your Fuhrer!”. For Otto, a man of few words, Anna’s words weighed more than the misery of losing his child. The agony of guilt swelled up Otto’s moralistic integrity overwhelming his internal ethics. Otto proposed an obscure form of anti-Nazi warfare. He would write postcards with slogans against the ongoing atrocities.

“Mother! The Fuhrer has murdered my son! Mother! The Fuhrer will murder your sons too; he will not stop till he has brought sorrow to every home.”

Otto’s heroic resistance to the Nazi Regime magnified only through his personal tragedy. Did the death of his son made him courageous as now he had nothing to lose? Would Otto walk the mutinous path had his son arrived safely home?

Hans Fallada who suffered through his own personal war as Rudolf Ditzen, brings the laudable efforts of Elise and Otto Hampel (1931), a real life couple who wrote anonymous postcards and leaflets to educate people about the ongoing atrocities ,informing to not buying Nazi papers and resist from participating in the war. The writing is trouble-free and the plot predictable; nevertheless, throughout the fictional portrayals of the Quangels, Fallada beautifully enlightens the misery of ordinary Germans who struggled from their own moral battles. Like, Eva Kungel who curses the fact of her birthing children who would eventually end up becoming monsters. The investigation of the Hobgoblin case and the defenselessness of Inspector Escherich expose the disintegration of humanness in a society where the nobleness of a feeble endeavor to capture terror was misplaced.

Otto Quangel was the burning conscience of a guilt –ridden nation. He and Anna were among the few whom were “good corns” sown in the fields of weeds. Fallada signs off the book saying, “But we don’t want to end this book with death; dedicated as it is to life, life always triumphs over humiliation and tears, over misery and death”.

Otto and Anna’s death was inevitable and their efforts although ineffectual were not insignificant. The Quangels did the unattainable and unfortunately their voices were lost among timid tones and pigheaded establishment, contrasting Wael Ghonim the cyber hero whose efforts instigated a revolution finally overthrowing Hosni Mubarak from supremacy.

4/5****

Birds – Aristophanes

Birds

Nephelococcygia, a metropolis in air,
Zeus’ cloudy nightmare,
Unlikely a bedroom scare
From a sparrow’s wild rare.

A respite between heaven and earth,
“An avian heaven”, says Pisthetaerus,
Flirting with the nightingale’s mirth
Hoopoe consents ; what a fucking putz!

Sacred chants float over the lustral waters,
The birds join the jubilant choir,
The peacock dancing in a tutu simply backfires,
It’s not an ass-whooping Le Ballet Noir!

The pelican, the spoon-bill, the horned-owl, the teal, the stormy petrel and the titmouse,
Solemnized the laws of the land,
Harboring the Olympians grouse,
I rather be chained and canned.

Messiah to Bitch Dependency,
“Birds over bitches!” proclaims a pimp called Slickback,
Pleading for wings is a bitch tendency,
Cloud-cuckoo town- a two-cent hustler.

Rainbows descent on womanly divinity,
“That’s a bitch!” , yelps Slickback,
Iris, messenger of Gods, heart of Zeus’ affinity,
“That bitch’s gonna fuck y’all”.

Perching on twigs, the birds laud the forgotten heroes,
A choral interlude, a cry for pigeons,
Howl the pigeons preening their Afros,
“You came to the wrong neighborhood, motherfucking wigeons!”

A cry of an amateur,
Verses may not rationally click
Least an award clincher,
I care a fuck ; I just blasted a stick!

2/5**

An Artist of the Floating World – Kazuo Ishiguro

An Artist of the Floating World

Each time my eyelids bowed down to the devil of grave drowsiness, the concave depths displayed a lean, modest shadowy figure standing on the Bridge of Hesitation; the wrinkles on his forehead becoming deeper , trembling with culpability, wishing for Noriko’s miai to be an incessant success. The Idle Thoughts of an Idle Fellow Jerome K Jerome was accurate with his analysis of the solitude of an idle mind bringing generous thoughts. There I was, nursing an acute bronchial cough cursing the fateful knitting needles for hampering my purling flair even as Masuji diffidently questioned Mr.Kuroda’s whereabouts to his surly assistant. How could a man be punished for something he believed in? How can skepticism prevail on man’s patriotic ideals when his loved ones too perished in the dreadful horror? Is the idea of patriotism merely seductive when one does not have to stand on the edge of its justification? “Ordinary men with no special gifts of insight, it was simply our misfortune to have been ordinary men during such times.”, that is what Mr. Mastuda asserted rubbishing Masuji’s contemplation of a culpable survival. The close knit life of ordinary men is anything but ordinary. The narrow area of existence magnifies the aspects of circumstantial actions. The wrongs do not get washed by the flow of vast oceanic waves but float amid the marshes of a pond. Isn’t ‘the lives of ordinary men’ restricted as the stagnant pond waters? The tight-knit communities in which he daily moves, the by-lanes, the alleys which witness his daily travels and those numerous heads that pop up at the windows every time he closes his door; absolutely nothing is inescapable in the life of an ordinary men. With such unusual vigilance how could his troubles then be marginal? Dignity and self-respect brings a sense of calmly happiness to the life of an ordinary man. With no monetary affluence or supremacy, ‘dignity’ seems the only path of his civil acceptance. In a world so constricted with flimsy lifelines of obstinate relationships, exile is a nightmarish death.

‘The validation of a war’; I dread debating this subject as my nerves tremble with utmost anger. A part of me appreciates the use of military powers in virulent situation of civil conundrum. And, then there is the other half that contests the legitimacy of the power usage in case of political egotistical fulfillment. Comprehension of any war literature is a chaotic process hindered by my faint heart. I have always nattily stayed away from any war related prose, especially the ordeal of soldiers or the aftermath of human lives. I may not know the tribulation of braving a war front or structuring a war graph, nevertheless I certainly know that is shameful to doubt the worthiness of valiant sacrifices. The anger that seethed when Suichi called the deaths of young Japanese soldiers wasteful appeased when he validated his disdain by questioning the prevailing injustice of seeing the ‘real culprits’ still alive and enjoying luxurious perks amid the brazenness of righteousness. “To my mind, that’s the greatest cowardice of all”. How true! Isn’t’ that a bitch! Ishiguro speaks the language of restless youths of many generations questioning the inequitable penalty of the war. The politicians, spiritual leaders, capitalist cliques waving their chameleonic flags of patriotism shy away from battling on their once beloved home ground. Why those clandestine escapes to safe havens when their own vile concoctions amalgamate in their own drinks? Why not brave the salient turmoil themselves, that these ‘benevolent guardians’ stir? Suichi admitting flaws of the nationalistic chimera, the misplaced self-respect and prevailing shamelessness veiled under a patriotic farce is a tale told by every life of a torn nation.

Japan was a torn nation after the WWII, feelings ranging from compassions to abhorrence raced among the minds of those alive and trying to weave a better future in their displaced living. Those who once were applauded for their patriotic songs were now mercilessly beaten and whispers about selected betrayers flooded the atmospheric desolation. Masuji was among those who lived with ignominy finding getaways from his past leeched onto him like a hungry parasite. Masuji Ono may have once been the most revered artist of his time, but to me he is now a worried father of Noriko fearing the consequences of his past action being detrimental on his daughter’s future. Having lost his wife and son in the war, the only family Masuji had was his two daughters, how in the devil could he allow his condemnation of his war efforts hamper the bright prospects of his unmarried daughter. Masuji was no longer the influential artists of the Pre-war era; he was now an old feeble man who relied on old memories and occasion outing in the Midi-Hidari neighborhood for a pleasurable day; comprehending the wisdom behind the western influence in his grandson’s rearing

Kazuo Ishiguro highlights the apprehension of a man in admitting his mistake in the fear of his denunciation; chronicled three years after the war. An Artist of the Floating world, the name Ishiguro chose for his novel, travels through magical serenades of flamboyantly lit streets of Midi-Hidari district, the hypnotic sways of delicate fingers playing amongst the elegant kimonos captured through beautiful brush strokes ,where an local artist reveled in his honorable dignity only to lose it and then gain it back again with grit and determination as there is certainly no shame in admitting one’s mistake made in the best faith because in a ‘changing world’ one is bound to stumble and falter because no one is perfect or a virtuous ‘sensei’.

4/5****

Between Two Ages – Zbigniew Brzezinski

Brzezinski’s hope for a technetronic utopia and its Orwellian fear.

In a Jan’2012, Foreign Affairs issue, Brzezinski in his essay ‘Balancing the East, Upgrading the West’; stresses on the fact that in order to retain its supreme position the United States need to revitalize itself domestically as well as internationally in order to promote a larger West and bolster a balance in the Eastern hemisphere to accommodate China’s fiery draconic global status. This is certainly, a far cry from Brzezinki’s Trilateral Commissions days where he alongside his politically potent coterie emphasized on strong American –Japanese correlation for a stable political environment. I first read this book in 2004, when Thomas Friedman was considered to be at the helm of international politics, Nye’s “soft power” concept was gaining momentum and “terrorism” was a pivotal word in the political circles and the PATRIOT ACT appeared like a page from Orwell’s doctrinaire to civil libertarians. Brzezinski’s philosophical analysis on the advent of scientific stage in life as we experience enhancing political and social reforms revolves around the idea of technology being the pivotal resource of libertine equalization freeing man from social incongruity and forming a global political cohesion of sovereign states.

The third revolution in the American society or as Brzezinski preferred to label it – technetronic age; is a post-industrial Technetronic age phenomenon where scientific aptitude becomes the deciding factor in societal progression. Knowledge is the new “think tank” of social innovations and political stabilizations.

The Technetronic era :-‘a society that is shaped culturally, psychologically, socially and economically by the impact of technology and electronics – particularly in the arena of computers and electronics.’

The book begins on a sanguine observation the evolution global political process and its effects on domestic and international politics. The comprehensive assessment of the industrial and the post-industrial eras brings a constructive outlook on Brzezenski’s ideology of human race needing structure and communal equilibrium to thrive in the burgeoning international political atmosphere. The written text elucidates the onset of an electronically enhanced era that undervalues the archaic industrial age. Knowledge becomes the ultimate power and the mass media its weapon, Widespread and free education may lessen racial segregation, the emergence of television may diminish immunity to foreign problems and the idea of a global village dissolves the concept of “we” and “they”. Charts are drawn and statistical graphs are calibrated to specify the rise in mass media communication. The discussion in overcrowding cities leading to pathological and violent is a bit outdate, yet holds true in the current social functioning. The rural to urban shift has been on the rise since the industrial revolution and with the uneven mass to density population equation, the existing tranquil consistency is bound to be disturbed. The apparent rise in urban violence, drug crimes and other related issues has been a determining factor to Brzezenski’s concern of overcrowding outburst. However, before 2001, American domestic progress showed a positive census with increase in social prosperity, personal security and vast opportunity asserts the advantage of the technological era. The political and cultural pessimism that followed after September 2001 clearly depicts the problems of a technocratic environment wavering in the manipulations and false perception of mass media, once again putting American foreign policies in the Lippman’s gap whirlpool. (Lippman’s Gap – “consists in bringing into balance, with a comfortable surplus of power in reserve, the nation’s commitments and the nation’s power.” If this balance exists, the foreign policy will command domestic support. If commitments exceed power, insolvency results which generates deep political dissension”

The assertive propagandas expressed in the book may look fruitful, but one fails to see the loopholes in Brzeznski’s elitist ambiguous dogma. The debate of “internal man” and “external man” fulfillment stretches to a point of totalitarian madness.

“The possibility of extensive chemical mind control, the danger of loss of individuality inherent in extensive transplantation, the feasibility of manipulating the genetic structure will call for the social definition of common criteria of use and restraint….while the chemical affects the individual, the person is significant to himself and to society in his social context —at work, at home, at play. The consequences are social consequences”.

Is Brzezinski inferring that only through the creation of a “zombieland” can science achieve human homogeneity? Potentially, do governing elites need to resort to genetic and chemical alterations of human mind to bring societal equilibrium? This can be however dismissed on the grounds of futuristic possibilities of one man’s political buoyancy. Nevertheless, on the domestic front, Brzezinski makes a promising analysis on how the use of advanced scientific intelligence can minimize the gap between governmental and non-governmental institutions, reduce the racial conflicts and promote rationalization of humane values. Techetronic era aligns on equivalent information age planar. Indisputably; America is global identity for excessive personal freedom, homogenous existence and highly advanced in scientific technology. Hubert Vedrine verifies Americans being powerful entities as they can “inspire dreams and desires of others, thanks to the mastery of global images, through film and television and for these same reasons, large numbers of students from other countries come to the United States to finish their studies”. The soft power argument persuades the important reality of reinforcing adequacies in political agendas in the current ‘information age’ analogous to the tangible power of knowledge of Brzezinski’s flourishing technetronic era. The argument over the shift from balance of power to global governance falters effectively on the probability of the explosion of counter coalitions lest a leading nation adheres to hegemonic predominance. Brzezinski observation of the new global world lacking identity and cohesion and in need to discover harmonized stability, curtly suggest that globalized homogeneity is still a far fetched dream.

What is westernization to the West , is imperialism to the rest. (Samuel Huntington).

Brzezinki specifies the onset of world-politics and the crucial task of technology in acquiring information of global realities. The 19th century represents the quest for liberty, the 20th century strived on the quest of equality, but what the political analysts fail to foresee was the thirst for identity politics that emerged at the start of the 21st century. Brzezinski’s elitist attitude in correlating the usage of technology to lessen social and political fragmentation birthing global homogenous ideologies dangle on a skeptical edge of cultural clash. The escape from freedom v/s escape from reason debate assesses violence clashes and revolutionary rebellion that were ripe during the 1960s and 1970s, were termed as socio-psychological in origin and vaguely moralistic in content. Contrary to what Brzenski had inferred the world still in chaotic morality distinctiveness.

Brzezinski’s utopian analogy comes to an abrupt end when he affirms a possibility of universal homogeneity. The term in itself is flawed as when applied on a global platform that streams of varied tribal cultures; liquefies the idea of a homogenous existence. . Huntington in his cultural epic, “Clash of civilizations” elucidates the modern and post-modern generational discrepancies. The text delineates the dilemma of those whose study abroad in American universities and absorb Western cosmopolitan ideologies and language find themselves in a parallel world compared to the generation who studied in their homeland diluted with the metropolitan culture and “knowledge is indigenized by means of translations. The problem arises when the former have to find means to assimilated in their parental societies to accommodate their societal values. The resulting insecurities and segregations may not be conducive for the notion of a homogenous world that Brzezinski’s technetronic optimism thrives for. Nevertheless, if applied to domestic policies expectation of a homogenous existence in a multiracial country like the United States sounds more plausible than creating a universal religion which is itself a call for social instability.

Since, this book was written years before the disintegration USSR as a sovereign state, Brzenski’s adherence to socialism seems a natural outcome for his solution to a post-communist world.

“The desire for equality has made most of the leaders of the new stated embrace socialism. They see in socialism a vehicle for ensuring the objectives which most of them shares….flowering of their nations, own distinctive cultures, national economic development and the gradual erosion of internal inequality”.

This is quite puzzling and simultaneously contradicting. At this juncture, Brzezinski favors socialism as a tool to modernize the advancing societies and yet his push for a technologically privileged homogeneity makes the stated doctrine appear nonsensical in a world that may turn into a scientific autocracy dominated by a certain politically influenced “elite”.

“More directly linked to the impact of technology, it involves the gradual appearance of a more controlled and directed society. Such a society would be dominated by an elite whose claim to political power would rest on allegedly superior scientific know how. Unhindered by the restraints of traditional liberal values, this elite would not hesitate to achieve it sends by using the latest modern techniques for influencing public behavior and keeping society under close surveillance and control”.

The question of liberal democracy then arises masking a Orwellian future. An Orwellian The section on Liberal Democracy in this book puts forth an interpretable passage on Revolutionary Activity of the Violent Left, suspecting if Brzeznski had calculated the onset of global terrorism early on in this psychologically philosophized ultramodern vision.

“Revolutionary activity—through terrorism, sabotage, selective assassinations, and urban guerrilla strife— is possible and even likely in the early 1970s. It will come not from the New Left but from its emerging successor—the professionally Violent Left; Not from the idealistic young people who infuse it with zeal and confusion but from those among them who have been hardened, disillusioned, and embittered by their experiences in prisons and penitentiaries”.

The onset of global terrorism:-

“Persisting social crisis, the emergence of a charismatic personality, and the exploitation of mass media to obtain public confidence would be the steppingstones in the piecemeal transformation of the United States into a highly controlled society.”

The perennial debate of PATRIOT ACT( TITLE II) ; its application to counterrrorism v/s violation of civil liberties.

“The emergence of a large dominant party, alongside the more narrowly focused and more intensely doctrinaire groupings on the right and the left could accelerate the trend toward such technological managerialism. The inclination of the doctrinaire left to legitimize means by ends could lead them to justify more social control on the ground that it serves progress. The conservatives, preoccupied with public order and fascinated by modern gadgetry, would be tempted to use the new techniques as a response to unrest, since they would fail to recognize that social control is not the only way to deal with rapid social change. The American transition also contains the potential for an American redemption.”

The bursting of a methodological utopian equivalence and the predominance of Orwellian hegemonic opprobrium translates Brzezsinki’s technetronic ideology as an optimistic survival mode for the United States in an illusionary superlative international community while trying to define its national interests. However, this book is not some symbol of hope for policymakers or as the author himself assures for the text not being an exercise in “futurology”. Hence, Brzezinski optimism can be seen as a political reverie or a philosophy to crony capitalism and institutionalized democracy. Lastly, as the prose concludes, in technetronic era, philosophy and politics will be crucial as globalization only brings free markets but not cultural homogeneity.

3/5***