Saturday, August 29, 2009

The falling man

Occasionally, an artist has fate on his side. Then he succeeds in turning all his skill and experience into a sublime work. ‘The Falling Man’ by Richard Drew is such an example. He made the photo at that sunny morning of 9 September, 2001. He immortalized the falling man. That can be the beauty of still photography: if the photo works, history stops – no past, no future. The man is still falling. The eternal recurrence of the same moment. The man never hit ground zero. He is alive in an eternal now. A successful Icarus. This heroic son of Daedalus affirmed the tragic.

Tom Junod wrote a beautiful essay about the falling man in Esquire.

Candy Cigarette

'Candy Cigarette' is a photograph by American Sally Mann of her daughter Jessie in 1989.

Monday, August 24, 2009


“‘I have to fast, I can’t do anything else,’ said the fasting showman.
‘What a fellow you are,’ said the overseer, ‘and why can’t you do anything else?’
‘Because,’ said the fasting showman, lifting his head a little and speaking with his lips pursed, as if for a kiss, right into the overseer’s ear, so that no syllable might be lost, ‘because I couldn’t find any food I liked. If I had found any, believe me, I should have made no bones about it and stuffed myself like you or anyone else.’
These were his last words…”

Franz Kafka – A Fasting Showman

The fasting showman eats the void – the nothingness. In the Dutch translation ‘the fasting showman’ is called ‘the fasting artist’, but he is not an artist. He has taken the first step to creation – recognizing instead of denying the nothingness – but he does not create anything out of it (or despite of it).


Optimism is much easier if one has a solid home base. On the other hand, if one is considered a visitor, a residing alien on a temporary stay permit, one has to face the fact that one can be expelled – and not excommunicated – at any moment. A simple signature of an immigration, police or secret service official is sufficient to turn a life in turmoil. The alien is the ultimate Other without Otherness. The alien stands outside normal life, normal rules do not apply. The alien is only defined in negative terms, what he is not, he is not part of US, he is not from this earth as Indonesians say.
It is therefore no miracle that Judaism is an inherent pessimistic religion. A religion that does not offer redemption with a heaven as an after-life retirement home. David Ben-Gurion made therefore a grave mistake to give into pressure to declare the new state of Israel a Jewish state, and not because it contradicts tenets of political liberalism, i.e. the secular state, but because it contradicts Judaism. It is therefore no surprise that some orthodox Jews do not recognize the state of Israel, they persist in their pessimism (they also do not join the Israeli army, because they do not want to defend a state they do not recognize).

the God of details

“We all know the phrase ‘the devil resides in the details’ – implying that, in an agreement, you should be attentive to the proverbial small-print specifications and conditions at the bottom of the page which may contain unpleasant surprises, and, or all practical purposes, nullify what the agreement offers. Does this phrase hold also for theology? Is it really that God is discernible in the overall harmony of the universe, while the Devil sticks in small features which, while insignificant from the global perspective, can mean terrible suffering for us, individuals? With regard to Christianity, at least, one is tempted to turn around this formula: God resides in details – in the overall drabness and indifference of the universe, we discern the divine dimension in barely perceptible details – a kind smile here, an unexpected helpful gesture there…”

Slavoj Zizek – On Belief

Saturday, August 22, 2009

How to fail successfully?

All of old.
Nothing else ever.
Ever tried.
Ever failed.
No matter.
Try again.
Fail again.
Fail better.

Samuel Beckett

Monday, August 17, 2009


The Russian author Ivan Alexandrovich Goncharov published in 1859 the novel Oblomov. Today, the main character of this novel is famous for Oblomovism, which is a synonym for someone who is a sloth characterized by extreme laziness, indolent apathy and indecisiveness (which he has in common with Shakespeare’s Hamlet). Oblomov dreams of an eternal present of bliss where nothing changes because everything is already perfect: “in those days parents did not hurry to explain to a boy the meaning of life, and to prepare him for life as for something at once difficult and solemn. No, they did not weary a child with books which would cloud his head with questions likely to devour the heart and the intellect, and to shorten existence. Rather, the standard of life was furnished him and taught him by parents who had received it ready-made from their parents, together with a testamentary injunction to preserve the integrity, the inviolability of that standard as they would have done that of the Vestal flame.” However, according to Anthony Giddens, we all live now in post-traditional societies. Modernization has detraditionalized societies. Detraditionalization, though, does not mean there are no more traditions, either they become reflexive, i.e. we are aware that these are traditions and this awareness changes them, or become a form of fundamentalism. We can no longer speak of a natural order concerning our values and norms, values and norms can be renegotiated because they have to be justified in the light of social action. Of course, while we cannot simply return to a closed-off tradition, we should also not hold a utopian belief in inevitable progress.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

On blogging (and other unfinished things)

Recently I finished writing an essay, titled “Art of Living as a Tragic Fate, An Autobiographical Reading of Friedrich Nietzsche’s Ecce Homo.” My friend Heru Hikayat is organizing an exhibition at Semarang Gallery, which will open later this year, and he invited me to write one of the catalog essays. So I did – and, of course, comments are welcome. However, every time I write on Nietzsche, I certainly hope it is the very last time. I love his writings. I love to hate his writings. I hate to love his writings. A continuous struggle to make sense of the multifarious multiplicity called ‘Nietzsche’. Nietzsche’s life and oeuvre deal with the possibility of self-becoming, of self-creation. During the process of reading and writing, I could not help but ask myself the question what consequences an egalitarian interpretation of his work would have. In my essay I mention that turning Nietzsche into a self-help guru will make his work harmless; Nietzsche’s focus on tragedy will then be impatiently brushed aside. He is critical of mediocrity. After I finished writing my essay – that’s the good thing of a deadline, otherwise writing will never find temporarily an ending – I had a chance to read a book by Hal Niedzviecki: Hello I’m Special, How Individuality Became the New Conformity. Niedzviecki is critical of our pop culture. Pop culture gives us the illusion that we are all special. If we are special, respect is our due. However, if everyone is special, no one is. If deviating from the norm is the norm then nothing is deviant. The celebrity cult thrives exactly on the fact that only a few can be one the inside. And if we cannot become famous, then, at least, we can indulge in the extreme antics of the Paris Hiltons of today or the has-beens of tomorrow. Me, me, me…but the narcissist avoids interactions with the world and he or she already has a fixed idea of him- or herself. We can also read this as the fear of really becoming an individual, that we style ourselves in the latest fashion to be absorbed by the masses, i.e. fashion as a lifestyle instead of styling oneself as an individual, fashion as a lifestyle only shows surfaces, a surface that does not reveal any depts. Zygmunt Bauman writes that “through reducing the self to a surface, to something one can control and arrange at will, it offers the self security against intruders […] (Life in Fragments).” In his book, Niedzviecki asks the following question: “Why put your life on the internet for public consumption?” Sure, I don’t have a Friendster or Facebook account, but I obviously have a blog. And sure, I don’t pour my heart out online, but still, my musings can be considered personal. Philosophy, after all, is not merely an academic but also a personal endeavor. But why do I have a blog? What does it mean that an x-number of people from Texas and Iran visit my blog? What does it mean that my name gets an y-number of hits in Google's search engine? I do not consider my thoughts as original; my thinking is more of a recycling-reconnecting kind of process. Wittgenstein told his students at Cambridge University that if they have nothing original to say then they should seek a different profession. He put the bar high-up. It is safe to say that Wittgenstein is in a different league as a philosopher than I am. Time to look for a new line of work? Wait, wait, wait…

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Babel II

Jorge Luis Borges’ library can be considered analogous to how some utopians look at the Net. Borges writes: “The universe (which others call the Library) is composed of an indefinite and perhaps infinite number of hexagonal galleries, with vast air shafts between, surrounded by very low railings. From any of the hexagons one can see, interminably, the upper and lower floors. […] I say that the Library is unending (The Library of Babel).” However, unlike those cyber utopians, Borges dips his pen into a dose of irony.

On death (and life)

Ludwig Wittgenstein writes in section 6.4311 of the Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus: “Death is not an event in life: we do not live to experience death. If we take eternity to mean not infinite temporal duration but timelessness, then eternal life belongs to those who live in the present.” And, as Wittgenstein remarks, that requires the courage to really face death (and not merely ‘the image of death’, acknowledging mortality as an essential part of being human. We need horizons to create and have a meaningful life. Friedrich Nietzsche concurs with Wittgenstein’s interpretation of experiencing infinity in one’s own life. When he criticizes Paul’s misappropriation of Jesus’ teachings, he writes in section 160 of Will to Power that Jesus created a this-worldly ‘Kingdom of Heaven’, “he is purely inward. […H]e demonstrates how one must live in order to feel ‘deified’ – and how one will not achieve it through repentance and contrition for one’s sins […].” The spirit is then not an other-worldly divinity but those this-worldly persons who have become able to free themselves of metaphysical illusions to live in (tragic) reality (see Ecce Homo, How One Becomes What One Is, “Human, all-too-human, with two sequals,” section 1).

Tuesday, August 11, 2009


Albert Camus claims in The Myth of Sisyphus that anxiety can lead to either suicide or to freedom, but usually we try to hide in the illusion of ongoing normality. But why can Angst either lead to suicide or to freedom? It startles me. Stuck in today’s gridlocked Bandung I had an epiphany. I suddenly realized that down-and-out at the bottom of the deepest abyss – writing one’s suicide notes – one can burst into laughter: no more, no more fear. Affirming freedom in dealing with anxieties entails to laugh fate right in the face. Out of the courage to face paradoxes, uncertainty can resolve in a poetic work of art: life – and one self. Perhaps.

Monday, August 10, 2009


The net is a babylonic confusion of tongues. The disorderly amalgam of commerce, gambling, porn, news and weather forecasts, trivial confessions and holiday pictures. The perpetual recycling of what has been. Never arriving at a conclusion, let alone a solution. Customer service is anonymized, even Big Brother is outsourced. Google and Yahoo have come to the aid of China. Rem Koolhaas writes in 'Junkspace': "The subject is stripped of privacy in return for a credit nirvana. You are complicit in the tracing of the fingerprints each of your transactions leaves; they know everything about you, except who you are. […] Junkspace pretends to unite, but it actually splinters. It creates communities […] out of identical statistics and unavoidable demographics, an opportunistic weave of vested interests. Each man, woman, and child is individually targeted, tracked, split from the rest… [...] Globalization turns language into Junkspace. We are stuck in a speech-doldrums. The ubiquity of English is Pyrrhic: now that we all speak it, nobody remembers its use. […] Through the retrofitting of language, there are too few plausible words left; our most creative hypotheses will never be formulated, discoveries will remain unmade, concepts unlaunched, philosophies muffled, nuances miscarried…"

Above painting is 'The tower of Babel' by Pieter Brueghel the elder.

Sunday, August 2, 2009

Imagining Europe

Rem Koolhaas and AMO, the think tank of The Office for Metropolitan Architecture (OMA), designed a flag for the European Union, also known as the bar code. As it is composed by the flags of all the member states it signifies the diversity of the EU. Does Europe still exist as an idea? We can doubt this after the Irish 'no!', the French 'non!' and the Dutch 'neen!'.

War, Words and Form

At Salihara gallery the exhibition 'War, Words and Form' curated by the poet Sitok Srengenge can be visited until August 15. In this beautiful gallery, designed by Marco Kusumawijaya, work of thirteen Indonesian artists can be seen. These artists had to interpret poems to make their work. While Salihara is an oasis in Jakarta, it is murder to get there. A mad mad mad city. An intriguing city too. So it is ironic that in this mad city an exhibition on war can be visited in such a serene place.