Sunday, May 30, 2010

Ignore the crazy

There is a "consensus reality" for people. It's that narrow ideaspace where the majority enforces its view of reality on all others. It sounds nefarious but it's mostly harmless, it's the sane state of mind that prevents us from jumping from buildings to test the theory of gravity, or picking fights with wild animals because they look at us in a funny way. But there is also a consensus reality for dogs, and although it's ultimately indeterminable for us, we can be assured that it's very different from ours. It would be a much less visual, and more olfactory concept: dog reality smells. And then there is also consensus reality for ants - or is it the reality of the colony - and you can think of all the other realities that are regularly experienced.

I love the South Park episode where Cesar Millan, The Dog Whisperer, trains Eric Cartman to be an obedient boy. His dog training techniques are used on Cartman to try and rid him of his unpleasant mannerisms. It's funny because it's true. In dogs we can get a somewhat exaggerated, but interesting picture of how we really function because their instincts are so much closer to the surface. But we have our own versions of those same instincts, which are very similar to those of our canine friends, and we're constantly influenced by them, and yet we can fool ourselves that we don't have them, because we keep them hidden much deeper beneath the surface.

But we also howl at the moon to channel our fears and keep the darkness at bay. We also bare our teeth at the Others, the people we distrust, or who for whatever reason give us a sense of foreboding.

Saturday, January 02, 2010

The weirdest thoughts arise in those hours when I have gone to bed and can't sleep, shifting my body to find that comfortable spot which keeps eluding me, thinking about how tomorrow is going to be so horrible because I will  be too tired from not sleeping. Sometimes I try to stop that by lying quietly and trying to let go of all of that boiling brain activity - all the thoughts that pop up and which led to other thoughts ad infinitum, I try to let those thoughts go and not run after them. And sometimes it feels like falling. Like all the conceptualization, all the thought processes that go into building our very identities and consciousness die down, and I actually stop being me. It's a bit counter-instinctual - forcing yourself to be non-responsive to your environment, and no longer interacting with it, becoming a happy, sleepy catatonic.

Saturday, October 31, 2009

Sometimes I forget how beautiful this place is. I went cycling last Friday night. From the town where I live, Alphen aan den Rijn, there’s a road that follows the river, de Oude Rijn (Old Rhine) to the city Leiden, along a stretch of 15 or so kilometers. The path goes over the Rijndijk (Rhine Dike), something which is reflected in the names of some of the villages you pass on the way: Hazerswoude Rijndijk, Zoeterwoude Rijndijk.
This is an ancient landscape: there have been thriving communities here leaving behind their traces for thousands of years, Celts and later Germanic tribes, living on the natural levees that were formed by sedimentation from the river. They were mainly hunters and fishermen at first, but later cereal grains were planted, wheat and barley, and peas and lentils were grown, and they started rearing livestock. They settled down.
Then came the Romans, who used the river as a natural border and built castella (singular castellum) along its length, small fortress settlements to defend the Empire. Two of these castella were Albanianae and Nigrum Pullum – “White Water” and “Black Earth,” beautiful symmetry there - which grew into the modern day towns of Alphen aan den Rijn and Zwammerdam. There are no buildings left here dating from the Roman Era, but the fact that the name of Alphen was derived from the Roman name Albanianae indicates that the area was in all likelihood constantly inhabited from that time on.
After the Romans left the Frisians controlled the area, but there were Franks here as well. The Dutch language was probably formed as an amalgamation of Frankish and Frisian Germanic dialects. From the ninth century the name Holland started to be used to refer to the area, which was etymologically derived from Holtland, meaning woodland. Ironically there's  not a lot of wooded land here; the name was originally used for only a small part of current-day Holland, an area around the city of Haarlem, which in all probability was wooded.
This was mainly bogland all the way to the sea. Flooding was a very regular occurrence; the geography was constantly changing. Holland could have been totally cut off from the European mainland due to the floodings and the sea creeping in from behind – the current day IJsselmeer, formerly known as the Zuiderzee, was a body of water grown from the constant flooding that was cutting into the Netherlands from the North. If there hadn’t been radical intervention Holland could have been reduced to a string of islands along the coast like the current day Waddeneilanden. We would have been island dwellers, like the English: isolated and beyond the reach of civilization!
So they began to build these very solid dikes along the length of the Oude Rijn, which paved the way for the reclamation of the land, turning Holland into the beautiful constructivist agricultural landscape that it has been for hundreds of years… the land was basically pumped dry to make it suitable for agriculture, and then cut into long rectangular strips of farmland, with the water channelled into a beautiful network of ditches and canals that connected up with the rivers like the Rhine.
Down here, the view often gets screwed up by ugly industrial complexes. There’s huge, inexplicably unsightful factories built along this stretch of the Rhine, a good location because it meant they could transport their goods by boat. I figure aesthetic considerations weren’t their main concern. But seen from the air, the landscape never fails to stun. Detailed old maps from the area are like pieces of abstract art, like the kind of beauty that Mondriaan strove to achieve. And down here there’s those moments, when you watch down from the dike at the immensely powerful geometric landscapes, tamed by our need for sustenance…and it takes your breath away. If an artist is said to infuse his art with his very own essence, then our essence must also be in this landscape.