rhapsody in the key of hope
THE NEW MAN
ROBERT J. LEWIS
Envy, to which the ignoble mind's a slave,
Is emulation in the learned or brave.
is beyond our power
what we stand in need of.
In his essay “Welcome to the Age of Tropical Classical,”
travel writer/essayist/book reviewer and man of the world Pico
Iyer identifies “a new universe,” inhabited by a
new kind of “omnivorous voiced” writer: someone
who is at home in the world wherever he finds himself, and is
informed not by one but perhaps two or three cultures. He singles
out, extols the writing – the world view – of the
poet Derek Walcott, essayist Richard Rodriguez, novelists Salmon
Rushdie and Michael Ondattdje, and since it takes one to know
one, Pico Iyer himself must be included in this novel, ground
breaking, break away embryonic grouping.
often hear or read about the conflict and contradiction between
the writer’s orderly productive life and the shambles
of his personal life, where the former is invariably more dignified
and instructive than the latter. What distinguishes the above
group is that there is no apparent incongruity or discrepancy
between life and art: the writer and writing go hand in hand
as each takes his place in the world, advertising his remarkable
reach and adaptation wherever he finds himself. As such, they
are all much more than just professional writers since their
writing has been shaped by something antecedent – a combination
of worldview and very exceptional psychological makeup and constitution.
It is especially the latter that suggests the prototype, the
emergence of the much needed ‘new men,’ who for
the most part are isolated from each other because like characters
in search of an author, they haven’t found for themselves
a name, an identity, or uncovered the laws that shape their
very particular equipoise and manner of being-in-the-world.
to the oeuvre of Friedrich Hölderlin, the philosopher Martin
Heidegger proposes that the poet is someone who has the courage
to live in the destitution of his times. If we grant the destitution
the urgency and amplitude that is its due, and man’s primary
role in its ongoing development, ‘the new man’ cannot
come soon enough as the world’s peril (environmental,
demographic) approaches the critical hour.
sets apart the new man is his natural competence and facility,
which is his exceptional nature. He need not “overcome
himself” because he is already born overcome, or born
with his gift, as Einstein and Mozart were born with theirs,
gifts so extraordinary that lifetimes, if not millennia, would
be required to accomplish what came to them in flashes of genius.
allows the new man to tower above the rest of us is his freedom.
He is the first man -- not to break from -- to be mysteriously,
marvelously free from human nature as it is understood and recorded
in the constants of violence and war in human history. The new
man is not a “rope between man and the Superman;”
he does not have to will himself to transcend himself in order
to make himself into something other than what he is. He is
simply, fortuitously, and quite exquisitely born free -- free
from the mostly paralyzing imperatives of man’s biological
mandate. When he says no, like many of us do, his negation,
unlike ours, manifests in his affective life: his negation is
an extension of his nature while ours is in direct conflict
with it. He is not in thrall to what Ralph Waldo Emerson describes
as “the preponderance of nature over willing practical
new man is the antithesis of the average everyday man. With
the divide between the haves and have-nots of the world growing
incommensurately wider and deeper, and the worldwide refugee
crisis at the tipping point, never before have so many of the
world’s citizens been uprooted or have self-uprooted in
order to pursue a better life elsewhere. The creative arts are
bursting with infinitely sad, self-pitying works from men and
women who have turned their mostly self-imposed exile into a
life-long orgy of brooding and regret, looking backwards for
roots begging to be planted and nurtured in the present.
against this inversion of life, like the phoenix rising from
the ash trashed landscape of the walking dead, comes the ‘new
man’ who is at home in these very same conditions. If
the legions of exiliacs find themselves chronically depressed
and diminished in their unalleviated exile, the new man exults
in it, recognizes its privilege and state of grace that allow
for a more comprehensive grasp and love of the world in all
its majesty and splendour. He doesn’t travel the world
in the conventional sense because he is always and everywhere
at home in it.
the average man is positively disposed towards his own kind
based on culture, religion or language, the new man is eerily
exempt from that biological constraint. Instead, he bonds around
the ideas and ferment and advance created by others like himself.
Points of contention and segregation that arise in connection
with race, God and ethnicity are regarded -- like hair colour
-- as mere incidentals of life: without valence, without value.
If most people measure their inner circle as an extension of
family and blood, these new men, with the exception of immediate
family, gravitate towards those with whom they share a common
worldview. The ruinous and unforgiving eruptions of pride and
envy that imprison the average man, in the new man produce wonder
and awe, leading to privileged association: Salieri and Mozart’s
relationship exemplify the former, Handel and Mozart’s
their choosing of friends, husbands, wives and partners, they
reject the conventional determinants (social standing, property
and race) and are instead attracted to the freedom the other
embodies, and the new order or way of being-in-the-world that
is being improvised and elaborated upon whenever and wherever
their disposition is so at variance to the normal, we must ask
and concern ourselves with the behavioural extremes direct contact
might excite? Will we persecute them like witches or decide
to remake ourselves and follow their example?
Phenomenology of Perception, Merleau-Ponty, explicating
authenticity, takes issue with the cripple whose unhappiness
stems from his comparison to the other. By choice, (and not
by Dasein) he refuses to see that when he is reading a book
he is not a cripple but someone reading a book. When Pico
Iyer visits the banks of the river near his home,
the river is his for as long as he is there because no one else
is. Wherever he travels in the world, that part of the world
belongs to him because he has made it his abode, and we know
that to be true because he has so vividly written about those
worlds such that we could never doubt that he wasn’t there
and that the world he is describing didn’t belong to him
in the sense that he straddled it.
the destiny of the world hangs in the balance, most of the new
men are living in isolation, unsuspecting of the other; still
others are not yet aware of their gifts, of their special mission.
But there is hope for the world because each carries within
him the blueprint of a more wholesome and constructive future,
much like the small black seed in the ground carries the promise
of the miracle of the watermelon. And through them should the
inclination to worship finally find its proper object of devotion
and expression, the new gods will be the good earth and its
a group, these new men and their manner of being in the world
is an attitude that challenges the conventional methods and
criteria around which values are created and conflicts traditionally
resolved -- in the crucible of the death count. These new men
inauspiciously enter our lives as questions we might ask of
ourselves as we march to the incessant drumbeat of human nature
that makes mockery of our best intentions while the world’s
sirens go unheeded.
kind of relationship can we expect between these new men and
our ailing world? Will they recognize their exceptional role
as it concerns the destiny of the world? Must they sign on to
old world narratives in order to lay their hands on the levers
of power, or is there a fourth way? Will their exceptional worldview
provide them with a new politic that will facilitate the dissemination
and embrace of their new way of being in the world?
challenge is no less our challenge. How will we recognize these
new men who are already in our midst? And how will we receive
them? Will we show common pride or uncommon perception in deciding
to make their urgency an affective part of our labours? What
can these new men do to make us face up to and further disclose
this urgency -- before it turns into an emergency?
before the last light disappears and the reign of darkness begins,
will these new men manifest in time the kind of fitness required
of them to transform the world into their image? Will their
hands, (F.R. Scott) “turn this rock into children.”
Rejection by John Ellis
We drift along
From port to port, we're lost at sea
Where to now?
What's left for us?
Bales of bone
They twist their heads
And close their hearts
In this cruel world
Thrown out, despised
Far from home
Where's your mercy
Here in filth we lie
Sick and hungry
How long till we die?
And turns to dust
The days drip
They melt away
Sleep never comes