From Iceland — The Grave-digger and the Bell-ringer

The Grave-digger and the Bell-ringer

Published May 31, 2007

The Grave-digger and the Bell-ringer

I’m a ridiculous man – all too familiar with self-contempt and self-mistrust. I envy those who can sleep, who can ‘dream’ without imagination… who can have that clarity distilled upon them by ‘meaning’… who seek profound moments… where all is still while life is such a blunder; comfort must be found in such blindness.
But there is one miserable being, dear reader, who I loathe even more than myself: The Politician – and I sometimes wonder how this mysterious creature can think… and feel. I will, however, not make a thorough study of its face. I will only listen, and remain an ever present critique – and never so epitomizing arrogance as to criticize people: I leave that task to the ignorant and truly clever… Power structures will be the only objects of this petty inquiry:
Every human society is overrun by diverse forms of Power, which rule our acts and regulate our trains of thought, whether we like it or not, and Power is a key element in the formation of all social-structures: a painter seeks power over his paint-brush, a politician seeks legislative power, the media seeks power over social debate, a parent seeks power over her child as a teacher seeks power over his pupil; and this master-slave dualism will be evident throughout human history ad infinitum… Welcome to the hierarchy.
But, Power ‘itself’ is not a simple concrete object which can be scrutinized in a dark laboratory until we have determined its essence and finalized its fundamental nature. Power ‘itself’ is so much more deceitful and Machiavellian than we can ever imagine; like gravity, it is invisible, unattainable, and thus, in order to examine its true essence, we must study the way it announces itself before our very eyes – we must wait for it to show its face – like gravity exposed itself to Newton in the form of a falling apple.
Power is perfectly reflected in the absence of a single, innocent, little word: ‘Why?’ When this childish question is nowhere to be found, an unconditional obedience to the current state of affairs is unveiled; an unconditional obedience which is encapsulated in a well known example of Primo Levi’s experience in the notorious Auschwitz concentration-camp: ‘When the thirsty Levi reached for a pile of snow in the window-sill of his shed, the guard outside hysterically ordered him to step back; when the astounded Levi asked Why? – why should such an act, which contradicts no rules and is of no apparent damage to anyone, be rejected? – the guard replied: Hier ist kein Warum! – here there is no why.’ The complete absence of ‘Why?’ demonstrates Power par excellence – whether you need a bearded metaphysical clause to anchor that or not.
Politics make strange bed-partners, overcast by the shadow of the recent Icelandic governmental transformation – where the so called ‘left-wing’ Social-Democratic Alliance and the right-wing Independence Party were united in a perverted Midasian embrace – I must ask the question which so many have asked before me: Was Fukuyama correct when he wrote The end of History and announced the death of ideology? Is there space to be found for a fundamental ideological debate if the ‘left’ is embedded in the ‘right’? Is a capitalistic democracy the only imaginable possibility from the eternal multitude of infinite possibilities? Are we not men anymore? Have we lost the naïve talent to ask Why? – the talent of interpretation which makes us human – the talent to criticise power-structures? Has the childish Why? quite simply, been sent to the gas-chamber?
The grave is open, the bells are ringing, and ideology is being buried alive… Left- and right-politics are dead clichés! you say. Well, let me remind you, that to become too easily afraid of the cliché, is to become one yourself. They… (The Cliché), grasp us, not we them; when the emperor walked proud and naked in the New Clothes, his subjects could not find words sublime enough to describe his elegant attire. It was not until someone finally broke the object of illusion that the herd started laughing: Can’t you see that the man is naked! – it was a child who spoke out. A good argument is always better than bad peace.
I have no political-compass… all I have is my all too human heart.
(In this text, there are references to a few philosophers (most of whom are long-dead), but it would be barbaric of me to name any of them; so in the spirit of the late Derrida, I chose not to fragment my debt of gratitude – or to quote Montaigne: I quote only others to quote better myself.)

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