Arts &
  Arts Culture Analysis  
Vol. 14, No. 4, 2015
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Robert J. Lewis
  Senior Editor
Bernard Dubé
  Contributing Editors
David Solway
Nancy Snipper
Louis René Beres
Lynda Renée
Nick Catalano
Andrew Hlavacek
Daniel Charchuk
Farzana Hassan
Betsy L. Chunko
Samuel Burd
Andrée Lafontaine
  Music Editors
Nancy Snipper
Serge Gamache
  Arts Editor
Lydia Schrufer
Mady Bourdage
Chantal Levesque Denis Beaumont
Emanuel Pordes
  Past Contributors
  Noam Chomsky
Mark Kingwell
Naomi Klein
Arundhati Roy
Evelyn Lau
Stephen Lewis
Robert Fisk
Margaret Somerville
Mona Eltahawy
Michael Moore
Julius Grey
Irshad Manji
Richard Rodriguez
Navi Pillay
Ernesto Zedillo
Pico Iyer
Edward Said
Jean Baudrillard
Bill Moyers
Barbara Ehrenreich
Leon Wieseltier
Nayan Chanda
Charles Lewis
John Lavery
Tariq Ali
Michael Albert
Rochelle Gurstein
Alex Waterhouse-Hayward

rhapsody in the key of hope




Envy, to which the ignoble mind's a slave,
Is emulation in the learned or brave.
Alexander Pope

It is beyond our power
to choose
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.

We 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.

Referring 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.

What 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.

What 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 life.”

This 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.

Set 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.

If 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 the latter.

In 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 they congregate.

Since 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?

In 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.

While 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 caretakers.

As 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.

What 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?

Their 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?

And 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.”


2nd Rejection by John Ellis

We’re sinking
We’re stinking
We’re rotting
We drift along
From port to port, we're lost at sea
Where to now?
What's left for us?
Friendless, alone
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
Your compassion
Here in filth we lie
Sick and hungry
Tossed asunder
How long till we die?

No seconds
No minutes
No hours
Time withers
And turns to dust
So weary
The days drip
They melt away
Sleep never comes
Only night





Arts & Opinion, a bi-monthly, is archived in the Library and Archives Canada.
ISSN 1718-2034


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