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Another Jump Point

It’s really been a rough several months. I haven’t been writing here. Either my writing is offline, part of an eventual project waiting for the right ending, or else it’s therapeutic writing that really no-one else should see.

I’ve been personally challenged in a number of ways, and have learned several more *very* difficult but very valuable lessons. I’ve had to rearrange my priorities and go back to basics on some skills that I haven’t had to focus on in quite some time.

While I can’t get into the circumstances, I CAN jot down a few things that have lowered my stress level, improved my health, and helped me to accept and release things that I do not have the power to improve, heal or enhance.

  • Be calm. Be just as calm as you can, no matter what.
  • Do not get cornered. Do not allow yourself to be pushed into a defensive stance.
  • Remember: The Dunning-Kruger Effect – not your problem or your responsibility to fix. Don’t internalize.
  • Keep rereading this and just practice, practice, practice, even if the need for it continues to be infuriating at some level: How to Deal with Impossible People

Thinking Through Hans-Georg Gadamer’s Truth and Method

Found essay from 1988, when I was immersed in the academic study of religion. This was not the only tool in the toolbox, of course, but it’s funny for me to see the way I thought about things from that perspective. It was during my first year of graduate school, and I always tried to find something of value in everything I read, always tried to rescue something from a text even if I disagreed with many of its points. I was struggling to situate my thoughts in a context that was still very strange to me. There are a couple of good bits but it’s hilarious how ungrounded this really was, and how I floundered with the idea of understanding itself. It’s also interesting the way I sidestepped the issues of gender, race, class, and even geography. Still, there’s something from that time that does live on in me. I was perhaps kinder then, and more curious.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Scientific methodology in the human sciences, including the study of religion, is shaped by a scientific ideal that excludes the observer from that which is observed. The use of objective methodological tools to analyze and control key texts places the interpreter above the realm of the examined. The participatory aspect of humanity and tradition is often not taken into account, and so a dead representation of the original meaning, wrenched from its rightful place, is transmitted in a rehashed form inappropriate to the experience of the time. Gadamer, in Truth and Method, outlines an ontological shift which seeks the reintegration of “belongingness” as a way to vitalize and reunify the truth obscured by the alienating “distanciation” of method.

“Effective-historical consciousness” allows us to recognize our present reality as part of a tradition that cannot be done away with. We cannot wish it away (although we may sometimes ignore it and assume an ivory-tower stance). We stand in a context in which we pose questions of a text that may have contributed to the context in which we are standing to ask the question. The sphere of understanding shown within texts from the past (or even of a different and contemporary community) has a different “horizon” from the one in which we are asking questions. Likewise, professors in an academic context provide the shape (to some extent) of the horizons of students and other colleagues. The interpreter, through a creative and responsible interpretation of texts, opens new horizons yet becomes part of a particular tradition.

A historical and reflexive consciousness is particularly appropriate for scholars who study religious and philosophical works, which have shaped the academic world in which we find ourselves. Individually, we play with academic traditions and we are played by them, but we must also find common ground to discuss the “something” called religion if we are to consider ourselves as composing a distinct discipline within a pluralistic society. An examination along the lines of methods and theories in the study of religion is one way to explore the ways discussion is currently proceeding.

In the study of religion, we consider important cultural texts, language captured by signs called words, wholly abstracted from a particular place and time and let loose on the world. If the text speaks in such a way as to expand the current horizons of the individual reader, it also speaks dialectically to and through the interpreter in the form of a dialogue of question and answer. The text may become (or may already be) part of a human tradition, and it may shape the questions and answers of the future in ways that were never intended by the author. Hermeneutics seeks to retain the unity of the original meaning while letting the text speak to the current constellations of meaning. The text has the possibility of becoming a hermeneutic event at any time, and–if it is published–for anyone who cares to read it. In addition, the text may have the power to shape the world view of a community.

Gadamer is often perceived as a conservative because his emphasis seems to assume the rightful authority of a present tradition. He is, after all, playing with and being played by his own context, which may be a privileged one. If the tradition of which Gadamer speaks must necessarily be limited to being for and about only a small portion of the human population (as critical theory would have it), then it is possible to see flaws in his philosophical-hermeneutical thought. However, if one applies Gadamer’s insights to Gadamer’s own work, it is possible to argue that his emphasis on a certain type of Western tradition (in which he lives, and must speak from) is not fundamental to his understanding of being and knowing. Rather, his hermeneutic approach is part of its own historical dialogue and opens the doors to a better understanding of our present consciousness.

In questioning institutional authority, one takes a stance against a certain type of prejudice as it is expressed by power, but to do so necessarily expresses another in relation to the opposed viewpoint. Gadamer may be a bit idealistic in presenting dialogue as a universal possibility–as though all sides would sit down amicably, discuss political ideology, agree on a plan of action, and peacefully change the world. However, one cannot criticize effectively without coming to a dialogic understanding of the claims being presented. To put this another way, you have to grok it somehow to be able to translate it at all into another context, even if it’s to critique the claim.

Without the language of experience expressed in the claims of the oppressed, critical theory could not exist. The interpreter of culture permits the subject matter to have its way, without losing a sense of hermeneutic validity. The claim of the text or artwork must be allowed to score its own points, and the interpreter tries to become as conscious as possible about how their own pre-understandings may be obscuring or cloaking their interpretation. Pulling in every kind of approach you can – existential, poetic, etymological, sociological – within and outside the text brings better questions to ask. Empathetic common ground, then interrogation. Gadamer does not go so far. He does reinscribe, so that his welcome is slightly cyborgian.

It is impossible to avoid the historical context; history and understanding proceed onwards and around–together. Gadamer’s reflective moment is in a continual dance with the historical one. Creativity and imagination are born of language that has its home in a particular place. Although Gadamer phenomenologically links authority, prejudice, and tradition, his elucidation of the interaction of these terms attempts to rehabilitate these terms from their negative connotations. Each individual voice–in becoming itself–decides what “authority” means before, through, and as one speaks in language in which we “articulate the experience of the world in so far as we are in agreement.”

The dismantling of barriers to understanding can be accomplished only through language based on hermeneutical experience. Social criticism and more importantly, cultural understanding, would only be supported by full and complete interpretations of key texts through an open (but careful) dialogue with them. Hermeneutic approaches encourage bridges of understanding in our pluralistic society by encouraging the voice of the alien, the voice of a stranger in our strange land, to become in some sense “at home.”

Situating human consciousness is a continuous dialogue that rests on an event of understanding that places the experience and the interpreter/participant within an interstructural world of language. The hermeneutical event is as much an ordeal as a subject for study. Religious thinkers and writers and artists deal with precisely these issues. The interpreter of art, culture, psychology, and religion must seek the self in the alien and become at home there, partaking of another worldview, which in turn informs a changed self, one that has reshaped its presuppositions, in order to begin to translate those claims into the continuing dialogue outside the self. This is the hermeneutical circle. Without a dialogue (language) based on both methodological approaches and grounds and subjects for discussion, no community of scholars could exist.

Careful attention to language is a way to create a keen understanding of this community. Whether it is specialized branch of academic study, or a global community, the group or individual projects possibilities for itself and reshapes its own presuppositions continually. For instance, memory as an idea has an history of its own. The concepts of remembering, forgetting, and recalling were formed in and into traditions of common use, they were not created in a cultural vacuum. Ideas, as expressed in words such as memory, fact, truth, God, and religion have histories which cannot be ignored if the words are to be employed. In addition to the history of ideas, the individual or group who “remembers” has to learn what it means to do so at roughly the same time as he/she/they are actually remembering. If the academic study of religion–in using memory as a tool, supposing facts to be self-evident, asserting truths, and describing previous and current ideas of humanity and God–forget the subject matter at hand in the manipulation of information, then the sometimes-present spirit of technocratic professionalism has played it pretty roughly. Without a sense of the history of ideas as well as the consciousness of historical dialogue, each scholar’s work can only become disconnected and airy, narcissistic and atemporal, leaving out too much of the lived experience and realities that can’t bow down to universal claims.

It is because scholars of religion must themselves wrestle with the “big” questions, (i.e., what it means to be human, how meaning and ultimate concerns are constructed and why) that they can be at all qualified to examine how others did and do so. Imagination and good scholarship, like a good poem, suppose a common ground, that of language as experience. When the history of the reception of ideas and their effects begins to obscure the claim of the idea, it is the scholar’s job to reconstruct what went wrong and present a new interpretation with the integrity appropriate to serious discussion.

The finitude of understanding is never overcome, but students of religion can re-perform or re-tell insights to give them better light. It is an art to learn to take a claim seriously and to restructure your presuppositions based on a recognition of the truth of that claim. It is not an art that is commonly taught, but it is an art indispensable to the study of religion. The opposition inherent in an exploration of the alien, especially as regards the normative claims made in religious texts, requires a way to create bonds that become productive and constructive of new meaning that better “speaks” to an audience that can be very culturally removed from an original text. Hermeneutic understanding does not stipulate the end of imaginative endeavors in the interest of consensus. Rather, it is a way to bring some measure of consensus of meaning into scholarship, despite its ever-incompleteness.

References:

Hans-Georg Gadamer, Truth and Method
Paul Ricoeur, Hermeneutics and the Social Sciences

Truth Be Told – in Atlanta Oct 29th

Gregorio Smith has announced the Atlanta premiere of his controversial documentary film about growing up a Jehovah’s Witness, TRUTH BE TOLD. Due to the recent publicity of several child sex abuse cases against the religion, this film exploring the oppressive hold the Watchtower Society has on its members is particularly timely. TRUTH BE TOLD will be screened exclusively on Tuesday October 29, 2013 at AMC Phipps Plaza 14. Get your tickets now!

TRUTH BE TOLD – a new feature-length documentary – lifts the veil on the seemingly benign Jehovah’s Witnesses religion to expose a profit-driven, isolationist culture characterized by fear, totalitarian corporate leadership, intellectual & spiritual intimidation, suspension of critical thinking, failed prophecies, doctrinal inconsistency and improper handling of physical and sexual abuse allegations within the church.

See former Jehovah’s Witnesses candidly discuss growing up inside the religion. They reveal experiences including the effects of proselytizing door-to-door, shunning non-observant family and friends, suffering the discouragement of pursuing dreams like gaining a higher education, missing other societal holidays and customs. Ultimately the film reveals why Jehovah’s Witnesses have the lowest retention rate of any religion with only 37% of those raised as Jehovah’s Witnesses continuing their affiliation with the religion.

This exposé – the title of which refers to the Jehovah’s Witnesses’ perception that their beliefs are ‘the truth’ – is the first feature-film directed by Gregorio Smith.

Trailers, excerpts, production stills and other content are available on the official TRUTH BE TOLD website: www.hereliesthetruth.com
Direct link to trailer: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=B4nqYtzDaGE
TRUTH BE TOLD on Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/hereliesthetruth
On Twitter: @TRUTHBETOLDDOC
About the Filmmaker
Gregorio Smith is an independent filmmaker and writer. His work has been featured in the Staten Island Film Festival, Anthology Film Archive, Dallas Video and Film Festival, Denver Underground Film Festival, Bowery Poetry Club and other forums. His work has also been covered by The New York Times, Boston Globe and other media outlets. He is a graduate of Baruch College and a member of the International Documentary Association.
Mr. Smith was born and raised a Jehovah’s Witness. He describes TRUTH BE TOLD as ‘immersive, informational, expository and controversial …an honest glimpse into the culture of growing up in the Jehovah’s Witness religion.” TRUTH BE TOLD is the director’s sixth film and first feature.

See details and trailer here (http://www.tugg.com/events/5867).

Truth Be Told

Was it Really That Hard to See?

Marilyn videos…

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AaMXDrJ5pY4[/youtube]

Nobody Listened, by Delta Goodrem

I am in one of those dreams
Where you just keep on falling and
No one hears you calling

All that you saw was my smile
But it’s been dark for a while
And the days have gone cold
No more sleep for my soul
Or that’s what I’ve been told

Did you think that things would be ok?
That my life could keep going on this way?
When I cried when I shouted and I screamed and I yelled
And I was mad and I was angry
How come no one could tell?
Say why didn’t you listen to me?
Was it really that hard to see?
Nobody listened

One day I found the creature asleep
I had a secret to keep
And now the whole world knows

And if I did now go
And I know be on show
Unprotected did you know
From it all came the blow

Did you think that things would be ok?
That my life could keep going on this way?
When I cried when I shouted and I screamed and I yelled
And I was mad and I was angry
How come no-one could tell?
I said why didn’t you listen to me?
Was it really that hard to see?
Nobody listened
Nobody listened

Invader took the breath from me
Healer the angel did I see

All that you saw was my smile
But it’s been dark for a while
And the days have gone cold

When I cried when I shouted and I screamed and I yelled
And I was mad and I was angry
How come no-one could tell?
Say why didn’t you listen to me?
Was it really that hard to see?
Nobody listened
Nobody listened

And then I cried and I shouted and I screamed and I yelled
And I was mad and I was angry
How come no’one could tell
Say why didn’t you listen to me?
Was it really that hard to see?
Nobody listened
Nobody listened

Invader took the breath from me
Healer the angel did I see

Invader took my breath away
Healer the angel did I see

It’s not too far to go now
Like a train off the rails here
Cuz nobody listened
Nobody listened (nobody listened)

But they’re listening now…

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=l1tcrLeHayo[/youtube]

Goodbye by Natalie Imbruglia

Everyday’s the same
I feel them merge
I try to separate
Resist the urge

But they tell me, I’ll be fine
That it will all get better
Just try to write it down
Or put it in a letter

But the words won’t play
And there’s no easy way to say
Goodbye, goodbye

Keep my head on straight
And don’t look down
With all I’ve pushed away
I’m losing ground

But they tell me, I’ll be fine
That it will all get better
Just try to write it down
Or put it in a letter

But the words won’t play
‘Cause there’s no easy way to say
Goodbye, goodbye
Goodbye, goodbye

And from the sidelines
Watch me fall down

And I don’t understand the things I do
But I’ll probably be fine
As long as I keep moving
I’ll try to write it down
So things just keep improving

Still the words won’t play
‘Cause there’s no easy way to say
Goodbye, goodbye
Goodbye, goodbye

Goodbye, goodbye
Goodbye, goodbye
Goodbye, goodbye

Please, J.K. Rowling, More Stories

The current Harry Potter moviefest that I’m enjoying with my son has inspired me to make a request of J.K. Rowling. I love these stores – we’ve read all the books multiple times – because they give me hope. It’s just that simple. They give me hope.

So, I navigated over to her website at http://www.jkrowling.com and – sure, why not? – clicked on the contact link.

The Blair Partnership represents J.K. Rowling internationally and across all media. Please direct any queries to info@theblairpartnership.com and a member of the team will be in touch directly. J.K. Rowling very rarely does interviews or public speaking, and when she does they are usually around a new project or charitable commitment. Please note that she does not undertake fee-paying public speaking engagements. Because of the huge volume of requests coming in, J.K. Rowling also regrets she is unable to…

Yada yada yada. Well, ok, fair enough. I sent the following email, but just in case there isn’t any analysis or reporting of the communications, I’m also posting it here. You never know, maybe they do some version of web analytics, social media harvest, or even a Net Promoter Score (put me in the “I would definitively recommend” bucket).

To Whom it May Concern:

I am aware that the illustrious J.K. Rowling could not possibly respond to the billions of her readers, but I am hoping that you maintain some sort of thematic statistics for her.

If so, may I add to the numbers of those who pray that she considers creating more stories that work at multiple levels for children and adults alike? I pray for very few things.

There are so very few such nourishing narratives that do (or can) burst into our mainstream cultures as they exist today. In the Potter books (and films – one must include the films) human complexity is better grasped in these contexts that show how important existential choices are (whether or not someone has quite enough information, whether or not situations are fair, whether or not you think anything you do will make a difference to yourself or anyone else). The stories allow us to feel (with the very deepest of empathy and intuition) compassion and pity and courage and friendship and trust and even alienation. That they do so with a marvelous reinvention of all the long-standing traditions of literature, fairy tale, and even institutional satire gives incredible depth to the world she crafted and creates the speculative but nuanced expansion of imagination that used to be the basis of all liberal education.

In short, the Potter stories give me hope during what I consider to be rather dark times.

My son Ben (now 12) has grown up with the Potter story. It has given us so many opportunities to discuss life’s issues and mysteries in a common language. I can tell you – definitively – that navigating the terrain of the characters and story have made a significant difference to his own evolving character and intellectual/creative/spiritual development. He understands being true to himself, and the meaning of friendship, and the gifts of love, awareness, grace, support. He has internal reference points for things that are difficult to articulate, but can be recognized. And he doesn’t simplify into simple dualities and sound bites. He learns to ask better questions. Thank you for this gift to my son, and to me, and to all the others, everywhere.

I love the woman of her personal history and of her effects in the world, but please – more stories. The world so desperately needs them.

Most Beautiful Song for the New Year

Regina Spektor – My Dear Acquaintance (A Happy New Year)

My dear acquaintance, it’s so good to know you
For strength of your hand
That is loving and giving
And a happy new year
With love overflowing
With joy in our hearts
For the blessed new year

Raise your glass and we’ll have a cheer
For us all who are gathered here
And a happy new year to all that is living
To all that is gentle, kind, and forgiving
Raise your glass and we’ll have a cheer
My dear acquaintance, a happy new year

All of those who are hither and yonder
With love in our hearts
We grow fonder and fonder
Hail to those who we hold so dear
And hail to those who are gathered here

And a happy new year to all that is living
To all that is gentle, young, and forgiving
Raise your glass and we’ll have a cheer
My dear acquaintance, a happy new year
Happy new year

I Only Report

“A Report to an Academy” (“Ein Bericht für eine Akademie”) is a short story by Franz Kafka, written and published in 1917. In the story, an ape named Red Peter, who has learned to behave like a human, presents to an academy the story of how he effected his transformation. The story was first published by Martin Buber in a German monthly. This English version was translated from German by Philip Boehm.

Esteemed Gentlemen of the Academy!

I feel honored by your invitation to present the academy with a report on my former life as an ape.

I am afraid, however, that I will be unable to comply with your request. It is now some five years that I have been separated from apedom – a short time according to the calendar, perhaps, but an eternity when you have to gallop through it the way I did. And even though I was accompanied, at least for parts of the way, by fine human beings, good counsel, orchestral music and applause, my journey was in essence a solitary one, for the accompaniment-to stick with the metaphor-kept far away from the barricade. This achievement would have been impossible if I had desired to cling to my origins, to the memory of my youth. In fact the first rule I set for myself was the renunciation of any and all forms of obstinacy; I, a free ape, willingly accepted this yoke.

But because of that my memories withdrew more and more. And the gateway of return, had the humans willed it, which at first was as great as the heavens that vault the earth, became less and less lofty and more and more constricted as my development proceeded at its spurred-on pace. I felt increasingly at ease, increasingly included in the world of men. The storm that followed me from my past abated, and today it is nothing more than a breeze to cool my heels, and that distant aperture through which it blows, the same opening I once passed through myself, has grown so small that I would have to scrape the fur off my body to make it through-assuming I had the strength and willpower for the journey back. Frankly speaking, much as I enjoy finding images to describe all this, frankly speaking, esteemed sirs, your own apedom, insofar as something similar may lie in your own past – could not be further from you than mine is from me. But every creature that walks the earth has a ticklish heel: from the small chimpanzee to the great Achilles.

Nonetheless, I may be able to respond to your request after all, at least in the most limited sense, and I’m very happy to do so.

The first thing I learned was how to shake hands. A handshake is a sign of candor, and today, at the pinnacle of my career, I’d like to expand on that first handshake by adding a few candid words as well. And although what I have to say won’t teach the academy anything essentially new, and though it’s far less than what was requested of me-and what I cannot articulate despite my best will-I might nevertheless be able to offer a broad outline of how a former ape managed to penetrate the world of men and continue his existence in that world. Nor would I permit myself to say the little that follows unless I was absolutely certain of myself, having secured an unshakable position in the biggest variété shows of the civilized world:

I come from the Gold Coast. As to the method of my capture I have to rely on the accounts of strangers. A hunting party of the firm Hagenbeck-incidentally I have since downed many a bottle of good red wine with the leader of that expedition-had set up a blind in the bushes by our watering place along the riverbank, where I went in the evening together with my tribe. Shots were fired, I was the only one hit, I took two bullets.

One grazed my cheek, and although the wound was superficial, the bullet did shave out a large red scar that led to my being called Red Peter–a disgusting name, completely inappropriate, only a monkeybrain would come up with a name like that, as if the red mark on my cheek were all that distinguished me from the circus chimp Peter, recently deceased, who was well known in certain parts. All that just as an aside.

The second shot hit me just under the hip, and it was serious; to this day I limp a little as a result. I recently read an article penned by one of the thousands of gossiping gadflies that write about me in the papers, who claims that my apish nature is still not completely repressed, and cites as proof my predilection for removing my pants whenever I have guests to show the entry point of that bullet. The man who came up with that should have each finger shot off his writing hand, one by one. I may remove my pants in front of whomever I please, the most anyone would find there is an impeccably groomed fur and the scar from a shooting wound that was-and I use this word carefully so as not to mislead anyone – that was downright criminal. It’s all plain to see, there’s nothing to hide, for when it comes to truth, even the highest-minded individual is ready to let his manners drop. On the other hand, if the author of that article were to take off his pants when he had visitors, well, that would be another matter entirely, and I’ll give him the benefit of any doubt he doesn’t do this. But he should stop imposing his own delicate sense of propriety on me.

When I woke up after being shot – and this is where my own memory gradually begins – I found myself in a cage on a Hagenbeck company steamships, down in steerage. Instead of four walls of bars this cage had only three, and was fastened to a large crate, which comprised the fourth wall. The whole thing was too low to stand up in and too narrow for sitting down. So I just crouched inside, with my knees bent and constantly shaking, and my face turned toward the crate, as I didn’t want to see anyone and wished only to be left alone in the darkness, the bars cutting into my flesh from the back. This method of confining wild animals is supposed to be particularly advantageous during the first days of captivity, and judging from my own experience I cannot deny that this is indeed the case, from the human point of view.

But at that moment I wasn’t thinking about that. For the first time in my life I was trapped with no way out, at least nowhere I could go directly, since straight ahead of me was the crate, board securely fixed to board. And though I discovered a gap between the boards, which made me howl for joy in all my ignorance, it wasn’t even big enough to stick my tail through, and all my apish strength couldn’t make it any wider.

Later I was told I made unusually little noise, which led everyone to believe I would either soon die or else – assuming I survived the first, critical period -would prove to be very tamable. I survived. Dull sobbing, the painful search for fleas, apathetically licking a coconut, banging my head against the wall of the crate, and sticking my tongue out at anyone who came near me-this is how I first behaved in my new life. But my one prevailing feeling was that I had no way out. Of course today I have to rely on human words to describe what I felt then as an ape, so my portrayal is bound to be distorted, but even if I can no longer attain my old apish truth, at least my depiction is very much in that spirit, there’s no doubt about that.

I had always had so many ways out, and now there was none. I was trapped. My freedom of movement couldn’t have been more restricted if they had nailed me down. And why? You can scratch between your toes until you start to bleed and not discover the reason. Press yourself so close against the bar of the cage until it nearly slices you in two and you won’t find the answer. I had no way out, so I had to invent one: otherwise I was doomed. If I had stayed staring at the wall of that crate I would have inevitably died a miserable death. But that’s where Hagenbeck & Co think apes should be, and so I stopped being an ape. A beautifully clear train of thought I must have somehow hatched out with my belly, since apes think with their belly.

I’m afraid that you may not understand exactly what I mean by a way out, which I mean in the most ordinary and fullest sense of the phrase. I am deliberately avoiding the word freedom, because I don’t mean this grand feeling of freedom on all sides. As an ape I may have known it, and I’ve met humans who yearn for exactly that. But I myself have never asked for freedom, neither then nor now. As an aside: freedom is something people deceive themselves with far too frequently. And just as it counts as one of the most sublime feelings, so, too, can it lead to the sublime disappointment. Often, before going on stage as part of a revue, I’ve watched this or that pair of trapeze artists high in the air by the ceiling. They would swing and sway, floating into each other’s arms, one would carry the other by her hair in his teeth. “So that’s another example of human freedom,” I thought, “ego-maniacal and high-handed.” What a mockery of holy nature! There’s not a building on earth that could withstand the laughter of the apes at such a sight.

No, I didn’t want freedom. All I wanted was some way out – right, left, wherever it might lead. I kept my demand small, so that if it turned out to be a delusion, the disappointment would be no greater. Anything to get on, to get out! And not just stand there with upraised arms pressed against the wall of some crate.

Today I see clearly that I could never have escaped without the greatest inner tranquility. Indeed, I think I owe everything I have become to the calm that came over me after those first few days at sea. And I probably have the crew to thank for that.

They’re good people, despite everything. To this day I enjoy recalling the sound of their heavy steps that echoed through my half-sleep back then. They had the habit of taking everything extremely slowly. If one of them wanted to rub his eyes, he’d raise his hand as if it were a hanging weight. Their jokes were crude, but hearty. Their laughter was generally mixed with coughing that sounded dangerous but didn’t mean anything. They always had something in their mouths to spit out and couldn’t care less where it landed. They were constantly complaining about the fleas jumping from me to them, but they weren’t ever really angry at me; they realized that fleas thrive in my fur and that fleas are jumpers, so they learned to live with that. When they weren’t on duty they’d sometimes sit around me in a half circle, more cooing than speaking to one another. They would stretch out on the crates and smoke their pipes, slapping their knees whenever I made the slightest movement, and now and then one of them would take a stick and tickle me where it felt pleasant. I can’t say I’d accept an invitation to take another voyage on that ship, but nor could I claim that all the memories I have from that passage are ugly ones.

Above all, the tranquility I acquired among these people kept me from trying to escape. Looking back, I think I must have sensed that if I wanted to live, I needed to find some way out, and I must have understood that fleeing would not accomplish this. I no longer know whether such an escape was possible, but I believe it was – surely escape is always an option for an ape. Today my teeth are such that I have to be careful even with ordinary nutcracking, but back then it would have probably been just a matter of time before I chomped my way through the lock on the door. But I didn’t do that, for what would it have gained me? As soon as I stuck my head out they would have recaptured me and locked me up in an even worse cage, or else I might have crept off unnoticed, to the other animals–for instance to the giant boa that was caged across from me, and breathed my last breath in its embrace. I even might have managed to steal onto the upper deck and jump overboard, in which case I would have rocked a while on the water and then drowned. Desperate deeds every one. I didn’t calculate things in such a human fashion, but under the influence of my surroundings I acted as though I had.

I didn’t calculate, but I probably observed things in peace and quiet. I watched the people going back and forth, always the same faces, the same movements, I often had the impression there was only one of them. So this man, or these men, went about with no impediment. A lofty purpose began to dawn on me. No one promised me they would open the bars if I acted like them. After all, promises aren’t made for seemingly impossible tasks. But when such tasks are accomplished nevertheless, the promises are made after the fact, and exactly where you would have looked for them in vain before. Except there wasn’t much about these men that truly tempted me. Had I been a follower of the grand freedom I mentioned earlier, I’m sure I would have chosen the sea over the way out I saw in the gloomy faces of these people. But in any case I spent a long time observing before I ever had thoughts like that, and it was the only accumulated observations that first pushed me in a specific direction.

Imitating people was so easy. Within a few days I was able to spit. We would spit at each other in the face, with the only difference that I licked my face clean afterward, and they didn’t. Soon I was smoking a pipe like an old salt, and if I pressed my thumb into the bowl to boot, the whole steerage would cheer; except it took me a long time to understand the difference between an empty pipe and one that had been fully stuffed.

The whiskey bottle caused me the most difficulty. The smell was sheer torture, I forced myself with all my strength, but it took weeks to overcome my aversion. Strangely, the people took these internal struggles more seriously than anything else about me. While I don’t distinguish the people in my memory, there was one who kept coming back, alone or with his chums, day or night, at the oddest hours. He’d stand outside my cage with the bottle and instruct me. He didn’t understand me, but he wanted to solve the riddle of my being. He would slowly uncork the bottle and look at me, to check whether I had understood; I confess that I always watched him with wild-eyed attention-all too eager, in fact-no human teacher on earth would find such a student of people. After the bottle was uncorked, he would hold it to his mouth; I would follow with my eyes, from the bottle to his throat. He would nod, pleased with his pupil, and place the bottle to his lips. Delighted with my gradual discovery, I would shriek and scratch myself all over, wherever I felt the urge. He liked that – then he’d tilt the bottle back and take a swallow, and I was so impatient and desperate to emulate him that I wound up soiling myself in my cage, which would again cause him enormous satisfaction. Then, swinging the bottle away from his body and back to his lips, he would drink, exaggeratedly bending over for purposes of instruction, and down the entire bottle in a single gulp. Exhausted from so much effort, I could no longer follow him; I’d hang limply on the bar, while he ended his theoretical instruction by stroking his belly and grinning.

Then came the practical instruction. But hadn’t the theoretical part already worn me out? Indeed it had. Still, that’s part of my fate, so despite my exhaustion I reached as best I could for the bottle being held out to me, and, shaking all the while, uncork it. Success gradually brought renewed strength, and I managed to lift the bottle in a manner hardly distinguishable from the original. I raised it to my lips, then threw it away in disgust, disgust, even though it was empty, with nothing left but the smell. I was so revolted I tossed it on the ground, to the sadness of my teacher, and the greater sadness of myself, and the fact that I didn’t forget to stroke my belly and grin after throwing away the bottle didn’t make either one of us feel better.

All too often, that was how my lessons went. And to my teacher’s credit: he wasn’t angry with me, though he did on occasion hold his burning pipe against my body in some place I couldn’t reach, until my fur began to glow, but then he’d dampen it himself with his huge kind hand – he wasn’t angry with me, he realized we were both on the same side, both struggling against my apish nature, and he knew I had the more difficult struggle.

So what a victory it was for him as well as me, when one evening in front of many onlookers – it may have been a party, a gramophone was playing, an officer was carrying on among the crew-at a moment when no one was watching, I grabbed a bottle of whiskey that had been inadvertently left outside my cage, and did a perfect job of uncorking it-to the increasing attention of the group around me. Then I held the bottle to my lips and without the slightest hesitation or grimace, like a bona fide professional drinker, with round and rolling eyes and letting the liquid slosh into my throat, I really and truly drained the bottle, and threw it away, no longer out of desperation, but as an artist. Of course I forgot to stroke my belly, but for that, because I couldn’t help it, because I felt an irresistible urge, because all my senses were intoxicated – well, to make a long story short I called out “Hello!” in a human voice, and with this call I leaped into the community of humans, and their echo of “Listen to that – he’s talking!” felt like a kiss on my body that was thoroughly drenched with sweat.

I repeat: I never felt any desire to imitate people; I imitated them because I was looking for a way out; that was my only reason. And even this triumph was just a small step. I immediately lost my voice, which I took months to recover, and my aversion to the whiskey bottle came back worse than ever. But my course had been set once and for all.

When I arrived in Hamburg and was handed over to my first trainer, I soon realized that I had two choices: zoological park or variety show. I didn’t hesitate for a second. I told myself to focus all my strength on getting into the variety show, there lies your way out. The zoo is just a new cage, if you end up there, you’re lost.

And study I did, gentlemen. You learn when you have to, when you’re looking for a way out, you learn with no holds barred. You drive yourself with a whip, flogging yourself at the slightest opposition. My apish nature came tumbling out of me so fast that my first teacher nearly went ape himself, as the saying goes. He was soon forced to give up teaching and had to be taken to an institution. Fortunately he was released soon thereafter.

But I wore out many more teachers, even several at once. When I became surer of my own abilities, and the press began to follow my progress and my future began to shine, I hired my own tutors, had them set up in five adjacent rooms, and learned from all of them at once, constantly jumping from one room to the next.

What progress! How the rays of knowledge penetrated my waking brain from all sides! I will not deny it: it made me happy. But I must also confess that I did not overvalue my achievement, neither then nor especially today. Through an unprecedented exertion I managed to acquire the education of your average European, which might not mean a thing in itself, but at least it helped me out my cage, at least it provided me with this way out, this human way. I slipped off into the bush, so to speak-the human bush. I had no other choice, assuming that freedom was never an option.

Looking over my development and its purpose up to this point, I neither complain nor am I fully content. I half-sit, half-lie in my rocker, my hands in my pockets, a bottle of wine on the table, and look out the window. If I have company I show them the proper hospitality. My agent sits in the anteroom; if I ring then he steps in and listens to what I have to say. I perform nearly every evening, and my success could hardly be greater. If I come home late after a banquet, a scientific society, or a friendly evening at someone’s house, a small, half-trained chimpanzee is waiting for me and I have my pleasure with her in the manner of apes. I don’t wish to see her by day, as her eyes have the insanity of the befuddled half-tamed animal, which I alone can recognize, and which I cannot bear.

By and large I have accomplished what I set out to accomplish. It cannot be said it wasn’t worth the effort. Nor am I asking for any human judgment; all I wish to do is disseminate knowledge, I only report, and that is all I have done for you tonight, esteemed members of the Academy: I have reported, and nothing more.

Pre-Election Roundup

Some various items from the last few weeks…

World Poll: Strongly Favors Barack Obama – Only Pakistan’s respondents said they would prefer to see Mitt Romney win November’s election.

THE CHOICE: The New Yorker’s Endorsement of Barack Obama

Politifact Truth-o-Meter

How U.S. Stimulus Bested U.K. Austerity

Sorry, U.S. Recoveries Really Aren’t Different

Team Romney still fighting arithmetic

The Plutocracy Will Go to Extremes to Keep the 1% in Control

Bork? Bolton? 9 Romney Advisers You Need to Know About

‘Moderate Mitt': Neocon Trojan Horse

Under Romney’s Plan, US Auto Makers Would Have Died

Romney & Company Shipped Every Single Delphi UAW Job to China

Mormon Mitt in Bed with Big Tobacco

Inside Bain’s Chinese Sensata Factories, Where Workers Put in 12-Hour Days for $.99-$1.35 an Hour

Employees of Romney Family’s Secret Bank Tied to Fraud, Money Laundering and Drug Cartels

Romney Lied in Court And Then Screwed Over His Friend’s Wife During Nasty Divorce With Staples Founder

Romney Supports Welfare – For Corporations

GOP Platform Calls for Nuking What’s Left of McCain-Feingold Law

Romney Cites Study Based On Repealing Almost All Middle Class Tax Breaks To Bolster His Tax Plan

Gender Inequality Map – Women in Utah have it the worst. There, the average working woman makes 55 cents for every dollar the average working man makes.

Marco Rubio Helps Demonstrate that the GOP Simply Opposes Paying Women Fairly

GOP Rep. Tells Employers To Intimidate Their Workers Into Voting For Romney

Faith Leaders Condemn GOP Senate Candidate’s Statement That Rape Pregnancies Are A ‘Gift From God’

Court Requires Disabled Rape Victim To Prove She Resisted

Pennsylvania Bill Would Reduce Welfare Benefits For Women Who Cannot Prove They Were Raped

GOP Congressman Says Abortion Is Never Necessary To Save A Woman’s Life

“LOVE PATRIARCHALISM”—ITS UNDERSIDE IS HATE by Carol P. Christ

Anti-Choicers Show Their True Colors

Did the Climate Deniers Win?

Palin, Trump continue to lead right-wing hate party against Obama

With ‘Dreams From My Real Father,’ Have Obama Haters Hit Rock Bottom?

Ayn Rand Would Be Proud: Soup Kitchen in Paul Ryan’s Photo Op Loses Funds, Gets Attacked By Conservative Trolls

Maryland pastor tells anti-gay group: LGBT people are ‘worthy of death’

Missouri Pastor Goes Viral on Gawker: Separation of Church and Hate

Paul Broun: Evolution, Big Bang ‘Lies Straight From The Pit Of Hell’ – Broun is a high-ranking member of the House Science Committee, of which Rep. Todd Akin (R-Mo.) is also a member.

Tea Party Voter Suppression Group Under Investigation

Clear Channel takes down voter fraud billboards – The anonymous sponsor of the ads is still unknown. Clear Channel Outdoor is affiliated with Clear Channel Communications, which is majority-owned by private equity firms Bain Capital and Thomas H. Lee Partners.

FBI Investigating Hoax Letters to Voters in Florida

Ohio county sends voters wrong election date, directions to polls

Third instance of Republican voter registration dumping found in Virginia

Virginia AG won’t investigate GOP worker who dumped voter registration forms

Department of Justice: Investigate Tagg Romney owning voting machine in Ohio

Georgia Charter Schools, Amendment 1 (2012) – Vote No!

Georgia Multi-Year Rental Agreements, Amendment 2 (2012) – Vote No!

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