Death of civilization….

I received a mail …

Il giorno 13/set/2014, alle ore 14:30, …

It is a death ,..

Actually I received the mail after arriving in Berlin for a planning meeting of a network on precarity …

I follow the article – thinking that it is a somewhat unusual death notice, though I know the person who sent it. The article is speaking about the library closures going on in the UK, it could and should speak bout the library closures in the global north-west …

… and the moral …?

Never allow dead people making politics or policies …:-(

I rely by adding another point – referring to something I read earlier in another mail:

Libraries ,,doors to knowledge and haven of peace ,,,what is there (in the libraries) not to like. For me ? To make a choice ,,,hate to do as I am greedy about certain things ( eg : books) Having to return them ,,

I personally would have a huge library, part of it destroyed by my parents: you could name it a “private book burning” though in that case they intentionally drowned them. Part of it actually drowned in my Irish estate – d e to frost damaging some pipes; others still existing somewhere I could not store them anymore. Just a side remark on the latter: I offered a huge store to the university library in Cork – for free: interesting unpublished stuff s well, from EU (or EC) times: documents, project documentation, project analysis …. They declined: No space, but not least “it is not in English” (just in alien languages as Dutch, French, German, Italian, Russian, Swedish).

Today the same university library in Cork, as many others, stores the books somewhere, one has to order them and they will be available next day, perhaps even the afternoon of the same day.

Sure, there is a problem of space – but there is a problem of building cages, prisons … I have been very privileged at times: One of the universities where I studied provided all year round access (I think it had been closed just one day, they called Christmas). Overnight and holiday limitations applied: only one entrance open. It had been in a way just one huuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuge room, probably one entire floor of the University in Bielefeld. All departments; sure “we” have had “our” area: economics, law, sociology; but in some way we shared the “room” with physics, quantum mechanics, nuclear biology, impressionism, renaissance architecture, philosophy of Mencius – things we sometimes (many times) did not know how to spell, we did not know that they existed. But as much as there had been in the 1840s a spectre hunting Europe, there had been the spectre of universal knowledge hunting many of us in such a library. I encountered this spectre also when I worked (did I ever work? Didn’t I only study throughout my life?), so many books I didn’t understand, but being there and begging for respect, though I should have been the begging one: asking humbly to be part of this affluence of knowledge …

… there we come to the tricky point, the im-materialisation of the spectre, emerging as spirit.

Marx said once (something as) The idea turns into a material force if it gains the support of the masses (bad memory, bad translation – I remember only the German original:

Die Idee wird zur materiellen Gewalt wenn sie die Massen ergreift

Another, very special experience when I studied (or worked …, or played, or worked on the project of changing the world?) in Amsterdam. I remember once finding myself in part of the law library, asking one of the librarians a silly question. Actually, silly had been that I asked as he wanted to see my library card which I handed over. He looked at it and said

Hm…, actually you are not allowed to be in this area …. – but …, well for these documents you have to go to the third shelve …, actually I will come with you and give you the box with the commented drafts of the legislation ….

On another occasion I visited the library for anthropology, looking for a special book. I walked along the Prinzengracht (if I remember correctly, may be it had been the Herrengracht) and looked for house number (lets say) 378. Walked along, saw house number 374, 376, 380, 382 — strange, walked back, and the house number 378 had been a house without number, I entered: I saw “glimpses of a library”: a sign with opening hours, the name … . “Glimpses” because it had been just one of the beautiful “private houses” now being used as library. And the library had been only really coming to the fore after I left the corridor – indoors one could walk into house 376 – just the ordinary rooms but full of books. Sure, systematic, but at the same time due to the architecture not: one section ended …, and had been continued in another room, perhaps not the next because that had been used for another subject area.

In such places you CAN CHOOSE; and nothing has to be returned because it cannot be taken out – all remains OURS: written by us, inherited by us, read by us, carried on by us.

I won’t tell you about my stays in the library for theology, for philosophy (sitting under a beautiful “Rembrandt-like “ paining, a “reading cushion” and on it the second addition of Spinoza, in Latin, in front of me (and admittedly the Latin language added to the pleasure, though caused as ell some pain; and I will not expand on being more or less the only reader for several weeks in the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam: arts …. history, techniques, epochs, great artists, exhibitions … (well, I could have gone to look at van Rijns “Night watch” as break – but going there before, being on my own just with security, had been more fun…) – sitting there in the reading room: computer, fountain pen, book from the library, note book … I remember a gentleman with two kids walking along (it is one of these “show libraries”, but usually people watched from the balcony). The guy, standing with the kids next to me, pointing at me, I could not hear, don’t know if he really said

… You see, this is what they did and how lived in those old times ….

I still buy books, and I get your point

what is there (in libraries) not to like – For me ? To make a choice .. hate to do as I am greedy about certain things ( eg : books). Having to return them …

But try to get my point: I do not know if I really want to buy more books, want to own them, instead of sitting in a good library, reading, browsing, possibly meeting people, talking with them about what they read, what I read, what we read.

It is a privilege – and it is THIS privilege that makes me coming back to Frances: his camminare insieme.

In a completely different context a Hungarian friend of mine wrote

But it is a big question whether spirituality (and genuine morality) ought to have a basis in faith (or religion).

And she did not mean spirituality in the strict sense, but something of empathy, solidarity, justice …

Her answer simply

I don’t think so

And my answer is the same. I replied to her

I think that being only based in this, it will fail – there must be the material force …

And one of the material forces is the provision of common spaces, common ways on which we can walk together. The church, and other orders, provide that; however, “the public” – after undermining its own basis – cannot do so anymore, lost its own ground. – Slowly but surely it pushed people out of the public realm, calling it enlightenment, but actually meaning reducing them on instruments of instrumental reason, torsos calculating utilities …

As I wrote earlier:

Sure, there is a problem of space – but there is a problem of building cages, prisons …

Books, being imprisoned in storerooms warehouses, libraries … closed because of lack of money … – the revenge lurking around the corner: prisons that have to accommodate those people who could not access education, who had been excluded from society, who lived in a society that actually did not exist anymore, that had been reduced by liberals, by the right. Reduced by the liberals? Well, that is exactly it when what Thatcher did when programmatically stating:

There is now such thing as society.

I guess analytically she had been right; but she did not mean it that way, she meant it as program ….


Berlin, I walk to the meeting point …, passing memories, memorials.

Walking along the Spree where the life of Rosa Luxemburg and Karl Liebknecht found its end, a memorial plaque saying

The defiance of life and the brutality against human beings show people’s ability to inhumanness. It can and should not be a means to conflict resolution of any kind.[1]

Passing presence and future ….

Paul Farmer, a medical anthropologist stating:

Their sickness is a result of structural violence: neither culture nor pure individual will is at fault; rather, historically given (and often economically driven) processes and forces conspire to constrain individual agency. Structural violence is visited upon all those whose social status denies them access to the fruits of scientific and social progress.

Surely all this also being part of those things that have to be discussed when we talk about war, standing up against it


[1]            Original

Die Missachtung des Lebens und die Brutalität gegen den Menschen lassen die Fähigkeit der Menschen zur Unmenschlichkeit erkennen. Sie kann und darf kein Mittel irgendeiner Konfliktlösung sein und bleiben.

Domine Quo Vadis?

It seems to be a simple question that recently had been put forward here

But what are people coming to Rome want to buy? What is the special pleasure, the experience they are looking for when doing to the so-called eternal city?

And it seems so simple that at the beginning, near those times of the very beginning at which we find the word,[1] a man supposedly had been asked

Domine Quo Vadis?

found an immediate answer. At least this is what had been handed down to us: he promptly replied to the Apostle who thus asked:

Romam vado iterum crucifigi.

But seen in the light of the answer the question takes a different form – and is surely not simple at all, especially not if we accept that an answer as this is by no means self evident, and will surely not given by most of us.

Sure, the danger of being crucified is today marginal – though one wonders about some things happening in this world, at this stage, in this place called Europe: enlightened and shining bright, claiming to be idol for the rest of the world. Sure, the danger of being crucified is marginal as cases where people are fixed to a bench with needles in their arm for death penalty are called execution of justice in the name of the USNA-law [yes, it is part of Northern America, not The Americas].

Anyway, though we wanted to go originally to Gandolpho, I changed plans after looking at the map – looked too complicated, too much hassle.

“OK to change plan?” – “OK. We can go to the Via Appia Antica – perhaps there you find an answer on yesterday’s question!?”

After briefly checking the map, I started the engine and …

“Ready?” – “Ready!”

The first, though tiny Quo Vadis? experience occurred somewhere near to the city walls at the other side of the city, the Appian mountains already in sight. There are about four lanes – the traffic light had been red and I stopped – to my right a van, I only saw relatively late that it had been police. No bother, the usual “Roman kick start”, moving on when the traffic light just starts to think about changing to green would not be wrong … – no sign of traffic on the left side – until a car just flew along, bypassing me, the police car and ignoring the traffic light, still “deep red”. I had been a bit puzzled to see the police car still standing there … – not for long: the traffic light changed, the car on my right started and stopped the other car on the next junction – two cars now blocking the traffic, giving just enough space to pass with the scooter.

The question remained unchanged – perhaps not for the driver of the car. But Via Appia Antiqua. I had been thinking about a friend who visited me a couple of weeks ago:

There is something here in Rome ….., hm, this feeling of walking where over two thousand years ago “these people” walked, talked, prosecuted and celebrated victories …

What could I reply?

Yes, but in some way one gets used to it: there you walk in the footsteps of Nero, there you sit down where Cesar had been sitting, and at the corner, it is the building much later erected under …. – and they are all present, not only the locals:  Raphael, Genteleschi (father and daughter [sic]!) and hundreds of others: Goethe, Stendhal, Keats, Shelley, Byron, Boromini, Bernini. All coming, leaving, asking, criticizing, agreeing ….. finding something new, while permanently asking where they go – Well, you get used to it and at the same time you probably never get really used to it.

The engine switched off, the machine locked, the real via is not passable with the scooter, at least it is not recommended (leaving aside that it is also prohibited). Quo vadis! – Perhaps it is just this question that brings so many people here: as the priest said during the sermon we attended, it is about the father and redemption:

Io, io sono

– it is me that is

– and it had been added

By redemption it is that you can be – speranza: hope

After enlightenment this probably translates into esperienza: experience.

If we really can gain that experience we are expecting, or if it is another experience; if we are actually able to make any kind of such experience is another question, and looking for it is like walking on a tightrope. While we are walking further, I ask

Do you remember Jean-Paul Sartre, writing about hope?

Of course I new the answer:

– Sûrement, mais …

The reply comes with some hesitation from somebody who knows Sartre not as idol, not as writer, but as co-actor of those years in the late 60s, where he pleaded that intellectuals and workers belong together, where he ended one of his public speeches with the words like:

We (workers and intellectuals) will meet again: not because the intellectuals should tell the workers the truth; but to develop it to something new

Seeing him in this way, his permanent questioning had been difficult to cope with: not because of the questions that he asked but because of the answers it evoked. And this had also been the permanent challenge: the freedom we are all striving for though we are apparently unable to deal with.

This is the similarity and difference if you want: The one had been asked Quo vadis and knew the way, which required much courage; the other asked himself and others permanently new questions and he did not know exactly the way – he only knew that we have to go it: Freedom had been for him action.

In any case, for both one question did not exist, had not even been possible to be thought:

Who sent you here?

Indeed, we can come back then to the question:

So what are people, coming to Rome, want to buy? What is the special pleasure, the experience they are looking for when doing to the so-called eternal city?

Perhaps they are just looking for the answer, although they know that the given answer remains unacceptable for them when they return. As Antonio Gramsci once wrote

To create a new culture does not only mean to make individually “original” discoveries, it also and especially means, to critically distribute discoveries that had been already made, in other words to “socialise” them and thus to establish them as foundation of vital actions, element of coordination and the intellectual and moral order.[2]

The crux is that people, facing the question Sartre posed, are easily referring to such new culture but do so only as long as somebody else makes the actual step, still saying for them

Romam vado iterum crucifigi.

Father, redemption and hope for eternity – not least as everything we do today has nolens volens, and if we know it or if we don’t, eternal meaning.

And of course, as we all know that this kind of search, the huge numbers of tourists travelling from one country to another, moving between places is not without costs – not least for the environment – there is a new means at hand, allowing us following our sinful search, namely the modern way of selling indulgences: compensation in form of paying for charities that are active in the environmental area, a flight across the Atlantic is “charged” with about 60 Euro.

Of course, all this cannot be seen as rebuke – the challenge for us, who had been brought up in the tradition of the father, the redemption and the hope for eternity is nearly insurmountable, and possibly within this habitual way of thinking even logically impossible. We may remember Rosa Luxemburg’s words:

Freedom only for the members of the government, only for the members of the Party — though they are quite numerous — is no freedom at all. Freedom is always the freedom of dissenters. The essence of political freedom depends not on the fanatics of ‘justice’, but rather on all the invigorating, beneficial, and detergent effects of dissenters. If ‘freedom’ becomes ‘privilege’, the workings of political freedom are broken.[3]

This sounds simple, but even Rosa, according to one biography, refused once to dance on a New Years Ball with [if I remember correctly] Kautsky, saying something like:

I cannot dance with you, while knowing that you will most likely attack me in the next parliamentary plenary.

This little episode sheds some light on the difficulties of welding general principles with individual behaviour – asking for redemption, unable to truly reconcile.



[1] Alluding to the Gospel according to St. John. Which begins with the words:

“{1:1} In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. {1:2} The same was in the beginning with God. {1:3} All things were made by him; and without him was not any thing made that was made. {1:4} In him was life; and the life was the light of men. {1:5} And the light shineth in darkness; and the darkness comprehended it not.” (The King James Version of the Holy Bible; 611)

[2] Gramsci, Antonio, 1932-33: Gefängnishefte. Elftes Heft (XVIII) [Einführung ins Studium der Philosophie]; Antonio Gramsci. Gefängnishefte. Bd. 6: Philosophie der Praxis; herausgegeben von Wolfgang Fritz Haug; Hamburg/Berlin: Argument Verlag, 1994: 1365-1493; hier: 1377]

[3] Rosa Luxemburg – Gesammelte Werke Vol. 4; Dietz Verlag Berlin, 1983: : 359, Footnote 3