Vertical Takeoff

On 1st October 1972, having just left the Soviet Union, Joseph Brodsky wrote in New York Times a five-thousand words article in which he condemned the political climate in Europe, and worldwide, evaluating its dangerous principles and hunger for domination and destruction. Brodsky expressed his scepticism in reference to all ‘political movements’ which he described as ‘structured methods used to avoid personal responsibility.’

Brodsky defended his belief in a different, and superior, system built on ‘personal movements – movements of the soul when a man who looks at himself is so ashamed that he tries to make some sort of change.’ The article, translated from Russian by Carl Proffer, appeared tangled, verbose and aimless; it sounded like so many other disoriented voices coming from dissidents and defectors of the era, but those who managed to read it in full recognised its unswerving accuracy in describing a failing world system.

Seamus Heaney called it a moment of literary ‘vertical takeoff’, crucial in establishing the capacity of language to go farther and faster than expected and thereby provide an escape from the limitations and preoccupations of the self.

It was, in itself, a warning signal that politics became a psychological danger for humanity, as it engaged people in external fights with the Evil, which automatically made them begin to identify themselves with the Good. And when mankind begins to consider itself bearer of Good, it slides into self-congratulation. This is a state of complacency which Brodsky, who was stateless in 1972, saw it as the source of everything that was radically bad about people.

Brodsky carefully re-considers the role of a united writing community which is vital in opposing official points of view and which should support ‘personal movements’ by engaging with our society in real exercises of reflection and learning. This engagement, however, is built on access to books, not articles about books; direct contact with ideas, not ‘pre-packed’ blurbs.

The latest PN Review editorial comments on the closure of nearly 800 British libraries over the past ten years. The Trump era defines how we conduct literature not only politics. ‘The triumph of the tweet’ reduced our engagement with books to a suite of emoticons, in which the responsibility for personal engagement with ideas is a constant forward-re-tweet and a sum of likes. Bring me someone who sits down to read War and Peace or a five-thousand words article in New York Times. I’ll be either their friend or their follower.

© Maria Stadnicka 2020

[‘Vertical Takeoff’ was published in International Times on 25/01/2020.]


Brodsky, J. (1972) ‘A writer is a lonely traveler’. New York Times, 1st October 1972. Available here.

Brodsky, J. (1997) On Grief and Reason. Essays, London: Penguin Books.

PNR, January-February 2020, vol. 46, no.3. Available here.

 

Art Climate

Sculpture © Khalil Chishtee

Artist Khalil Chishtee creates work from discarded plastic bags, expressing feelings of sorrow, dejection and even victimhood. He creates art from used plastic bags and he believes that art needs to lead to self-discovery and to a deeper understanding of ourselves and others.

Before the climate change entered the public debate, Chishtee (2010) reflected on the notion of recycling in some cultures which was not directly linked to environmental awareness, but with human greed. He referred to his experience and life in Pakistan, before moving his studio to the US.

Here is an interview with Khalil Chishtee, published in Art Now: Contemporary Art of Pakistan.  He currently lives and works in both US and Pakistan.

© Maria Stadnicka, 2020


More information about Khalil Chishtee’s work and major biennales participation is available here.

 

…where once was a meadow…

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Photographs: © Maria Stadnicka, Stonehouse, 2019

On Polar Bears and Euro Vision #Newsflash (part I)

©John Stadnicki, 2019

There is an invasion of polar bears in Russia. And the British press finally found out about it. When it happened, a week ago, the media wasn’t that interested to begin with. To be more specific, last week, the Russian authorities in the Novaya Zemlya islands declared state of emergency after dozens of polar bears entered residential and public buildings searching for food. This has been without precedent in the region and raises the climate change reality to a new level. And not just the climate change, in general, but the reality of heavy urbanism, socio-economics, pollution and many other sins of the neo-liberalist economies.

The British press wasn’t that keen on bears for reasons which can be, in part, understood. It applies the law of proximity. News is news only if it’s close enough to us. Last week, the media had a different concern. With the news about the British singer selected to perform at Eurovision, it had to re-think the strategy around coverage from Tel Aviv. And, lastly, the same media became consumed by an acute need to compete in predicting how bad things will be for all of us, once we are out of the EU. It is worth a mention that there are voices still in disbelief about Brexit. But there are increasingly more voices who question the whole legitimacy of the vote and the basis on which the Brexit process is based on.

In 2016, the Brexit referendum was primarily an electoral manoeuvre proposed by David Cameron who had become increasingly concerned with the threat posed by UKIP. The opportunism which motivated the referendum did not have the people’s best interest at heart. The government failed to articulate what Brexit really involved because Brexit was not actually supposed to happen. It was merely an exercise to get David Cameron elected and the Conservative Party united. When the politicians woke up to the shock results, the slogan ‘Brexit means Brexit’ took ground and quickly became a governmental mantra. The ministers themselves were unclear what Brexit meant and what plans needed to be in place to make the transition possible.

Two years later, after ‘heavy’ negotiations and ‘nerve holding,’ the political class is still praying for a miracle from Brussels, stocking paper and ink for the legislative system in need of restructure. In the meantime, millions of people who voted ‘pro’ or ‘against’ in 2016 are getting used to the shortage of beds in hospitals, the crowded doctors’ surgeries, the pharmacies experiencing delays in orders, the train cancelations, the ‘out of order’ buses, the increased criminality and suicide rate, the unaffordable houses. Many know, as they’ve been told in 2016, that the main problem this country has is the migration and not the polar bears nor the politics. And although people also know this is all a lie, they are too busy queuing, and put up with it. The French put up with far less.

(to be continued)

©Maria Stadnicka, 2019

Published in International Times, 16 Feb. 2019