a grid of paradoxes

The Middle Way. To find the way through the enigma of the middle way. Vaclav Havel was beset by various interpretations of the middle course of action; between the Maimonides view and the older Aristotlean. To be stuck between the wise and the pious; to play with the Kafka construction of the line of the law and when to go beyond the letter of the law. When to go beyond the practical and rise above the emotional. Unlike Kafka’s K, he faced the castle and was let in. He did better, and maybe his motives were truer, less guileful and calculated than K’s, but his permeation by guilt, his grappling with the sense of not being home in the world, even a castle, perhaps happier laughing in the dark at someone else getting a pass in Kafka’s Before the Law. Maybe a man before his time.  As Kundera said, the Soviet Communist vision of organized forgetting, institutionalized forgetting was replaced by a man, Havel, who understood that memory is redemptive and that dignity was an expression of inarticulable mystery not reduced to polished slogans. ….

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Because “communism was the perverse extreme” of this modern world-view, Havel sees life under communism as “a kind of warning to the West, revealing to it its own latent tendencies”. But the West shows “unwillingness to hear the warning voices coming from our part of the world.” So, it misses the real significance of “the end of communism,” which is “a signal that the era of arrogant, absolutist reason is drawing to a close.” Read More:http://scepticalmarketobserver.blogspot.com/2011/12/vaclav-havel-reflection.html

Peter C. Newman: From our brief exchange, I recall only two fragments. “I’ve learned never to be surprised by anything,” he shrugged when I asked how it felt for a beleaguered playwright to suddenly find himself a famous president. To my question about the secret of politics, he shot back: “Write your own speeches and express hard truths in a polite way.” Then he paused, and added: “Of course, everyone is replaceable.”

…Mr. Havel was one of those rare conscience-driven politicians we can’t afford to lose. He kept himself removed from the darker tricks of his craft and wasn’t impressed by the fumes of fame. He believed that character is destiny and that it was therefore essential to live a principled life, even at the risk of being imprisoned for his beliefs – which he was.

---His apartment is filled with the smell of his cigarettes, Petras, a Czech brand. They have a queer, sour smell -- more like burning vegetables than tobacco. It is the perfume of opposition in Eastern Europe. He quotes his last prison conversation with a Charter 77 co-founder, Jan Patocka, who died soon after in his cell. “He said the real test of a man is not the way he fulfills the role he invented for himself, but how he fulfills the role fate casts upon him.”--- ( 1989)--- Read More:http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/blogpost/post/vaclav-havel-laid-to-rest-a-look-back-at-the-dissident-in-1989/2011/12/23/gIQASWnaDP_blog.html image:http://www.indexoncensorship.org/2011/12/vaclav-havel-jail-ludvik-vaculik/

… he enjoyed a highly developed sense of the absurd. Mr. Havel’s plays were absurdist creations in mundane settings with universal characters. He started writing when he was 13, but his plays were banned after the Soviet invasion that extinguished Alexander Dubcek’s counter-revolution in 1968. Czech theatres remained closed to him until his Velvet Revolution of 1989.

Mr. Havel led the peaceful overthrow of the occupying Russians and in the winter of that year assumed Czechoslovakia’s presidency. That meant moving into Hradcany Castle, a huge pile of palaces and cathedrals overlooking the Vltava River in Prague. Just eight months earlier, he had been serving a four-year sentence in a Communist prison a few kilometres away.

He had been the spiritual catalyst of the bloodless revolt that swept the Communists out of power, and now he was the country’s first democratic president since 1938. Being a playwright, one of the first things he did was make sure everyone wore appropriate costumes. He asked his friend Theodor Pistek (who won an Academy Award for his costumes in the movie Amadeus) to design properly pretentious royal blue parade uniforms – complete with toy sabres – for the castle guards. When they were delivered, Mr. Havel tried one on, and ran into the castle kitchens waving his pretend weapon, yelling, “Let’s go scare the cooks!”…

---I like Hašek, with his very original and very specific sense of humor. And Ionesco really influenced me in my youth in the late fifties, together with Beckett and Genet. But if I were to say who influenced me most, then I’d say Franz Kafka. And his works were always anchored in the Central European region. About twenty years ago, I was awarded an honorary degree at the University of Jerusalem where I gave a speech called “Franz Kafka and my Presidency.” I basically said that if Franz Kafka hadn’t written his works, then I would have had to do i

r him. Which sounds a bit vain, but I think people understood what I meant.--- Read More:http://www.theparisreview.org/blog/2011/12/20/vaclav-havel-outtakes-from-an-interview/

…He later got fed up with soldiers marching around the castle to regal marching music and had one of his friends compose a jarring melody in seven-eight time that no one could possibly march to, then insisted that it be played for the changing of the guard ceremonies.

Hradcany Castle is so huge that Mr. Havel sometimes resorted to getting around the place on a scooter, and after the first few weeks in office he agreed not to go to work in jeans but continued to receive visitors wearing a polka-dot tie. (His first press secretary was Michael Zantovsky, whose only claim to fame was as the author of the only study in Czech of the films of Woody Allen.)

As president (he was re-elected in 1990 and 1993), Mr. Havel granted amnesty to 30,000 prisoners, presided over the peaceful withdrawal of Soviet troops, defied public opinion by supporting the reunification of Germany and masterminded the Czech Republic’s application to join the North Atlantic Treaty Organizatiom.

But his main contributions were his evocative speeches, written by himself on a manual typewriter. Probably the best was his 1990 New Year’s message: “For 40 years, on this day, you heard the same thing in different variations from my predecessors: how our country flourishes, how many tons of steel we produced, how happy we all are, how we trusted our government and what bright perspectives were unfolding in front of us. I assume you did not nominate me to this office so that I, too, would lie to you. Our country is not flourishing. Entire branches of industry are producing goods that are of no interest to anyone. A country that once could be proud of the educational level of its citizens spends so little on education that it ranks today as 72nd in the world.”…

---There’s a moment in Disturbing the Peace where you say that every member of the audience must find a play out for themselves. You’ve always separated this writing from your political essays—but is there a way in which your theory of the audience is also a theory of a citizen in a democracy, of someone who interprets and takes part in a dialogue? In my opinion, theater shouldn’t give advice to citizens. Theater is there to search for questions. It doesn’t give you instructions. I always fought for a more humble position in life. For the small, the mysterious: something that can’t be summed up in four words. How each citizen takes on his citizenship is very individual. And I think that theater is there to create a certain atmosphere of togetherness. I think people are there to ask themselves questions, as a community. --- Read More:http://www.theparisreview.org/blog/2011/12/20/vaclav-havel-outtakes-from-an-interview/ image:http://nonsensegrandcentral.com/?p=315

…He went on like that for about 10 minutes, then came his seminal point: “Let us teach both ourselves and others that politics does not have to be the art of the possible, especially if this means the art of intrigues, secret agreements and pragmatic manoeuvrings. But that it can also be the art of the impossible, that is the art of making both ourselves and the world better.”

“Man,” Mr. Havel once wrote from jail, “is nailed down – like Christ on the cross – to a grid of paradoxes. He balances between the torment of not knowing his mission and the joy of carrying it out.” … Read More:http://www.theglobeandmail.com/news/world/europe/the-ballad-of-st-vaclav-patron-of-that-elusive-political-virtue-telling-the-truth/article2282521/


I sometimes wonder if I’m mature enough to go to prison. It frightens me. We should all come to terms with this problem once we reach adulthood, and either behave in such a way as not to have to fear imprisonment or consider what is worth such a risk. It is hard to be locked up for something that will have ceased to excite anyone even before your sentence is up. That, I think, is what happened to the people who were imprisoned for the pre-election leaflets in 1972. And that is why I was greatly moved and encouraged by Jifi Miiller’s message from prison in which he advised people to act in an effective way and to avoid arrest.

It is one thing if they imprison someone who knows exactly what he is doing and why, and quite another when a young, immature person lands in jail, more or less by accident. I was amazed, for instance, by the fate of Karel Pecka (a leading dissident writer who made his literary debut in the sixties), who frittered his youth away in the uranium mines. For someone to be able to pick up the pieces of such a wrecked life and to give it a meaning and value I believe requires a kind of courage he surely did not possess before his prison experience. A normal human being, even a relatively calm one, if he opens a chess game badly, feels like sweeping the board clean and starting again. You can do that in a game of chess, but you can’t do it in life….

…Most people are well aware of their own limits and refrain from actions whose consequences they would be unable to bear. Anyone who, in a cool season, persuades people to take on more, should not be surprised when they break. An instinctive fear of hunger prevents a healthy and sensible person from feeling sympathy for someone who, in his own and the general cause, goes on hunger-strike. A matter of life and death? The sensible person gets cold feet and tries to find a way of dissociating himself from it at least a little. Psychologists and politicians cannot expect heroism in everyday life except when the whole environment is literally ionised by radiation from some powerful source. Heroic deeds are alien to everyday life. They are special events, which ought to be reported. They flourish in exceptional situations, but these must not be of long duration. A mass psychosis of heroism is a fine thing, provided there are in the vicinity some sober minds who have access to information and contacts and who know what’s to be done afterwards.

I make a distinction between heroism and the integrity of the ordinary man. The ordinary man has a reserve of good habits and virtues, possesses his own integrity and knows how to protect it from erosion. Just as he doesn’t like to see anyone acting in too dangerously defiant a manner, he also likes to reassure himself that quiet, honest toil is the best, even if it isn’t particularly well rewarded, and that decent behaviour will find a decent response. Today, the main brunt of the attack is not directed so much at heroes as against what we used to consider the norm of work, behaviour and relationships. I would go so far as to say that the heroes are being given only measured doses of repression, which the regime feels duty bound to administer. It is reluctant to do this because it doesn’t want to give publicity to any heroes. The war should remain anonymous, without any recognisable faces or data. That is why the real explosive charges are scattered among the crowd, the intention being not to destroy anyone but rather to cause him to change his norms. A kind of neutron bomb: undamaged empty figures carry on walking to and from work….

…Under these circumstances, every bit of honest work, every expression of incorruptibility, every gesture of goodwill, every deviation from cold routine, and every step or glance without a mask has the value of a heroic deed. Our opponent, in particular, should find us ready – not to die for some rotten sacred cause, but to understand its positive aspects and to hold on to them. While heroic deeds frighten people, giving them the truthful excuse that they are not made for them, everyone can bravely adhere to the norm of good bshaviour at the price of acceptable sacrifice, and everyone knows it. Prague, 6 December 1978 – on the occasion of Karel Pecka’s 50th birthday. Read More:http://www.indexoncensorship.org/2011/12/vaclav-havel-jail-ludvik-vaculik/


Tom Stoppard, who was born in Czechoslovakia, described his friend Havel’s 1965 satire of a communist-run company, The Memorandum, as “the invention of an absurd society raised only a notch or two above the normal world of state bureaucracy.”

Now Havel has been tapped to help dismantle that world—to the amazement of those who knew him as a young man. “He was the most shy, courteous, soft-spoken boy who was always trying to avoid the spotlight,” recalls film director Milos Forman, who attended boarding school with the new president. The son of a wealthy Prague restaurateur, Havel was sent to the best schools and pampered by maids and governesses. But when the communists came to power in 1948, the family’s assets were seized. Because of his bourgeois background, Havel was barred from attending college. He took a job in a chemical factory and managed to attend a technical school at night, writing essays on poetry and drama in his spare time.

In the late ’50s, Havel became a stagehand at the Theater on the Balustrade, the leading avant-garde troupe in Prague. Enthralled by the works of Ionesco, Kafka and Beckett (who would later dedicate a play to him), Havel began writing drama. In 1963, before the crackdown, his play The Garden Party, which satirizes the circular logic of communist bureaucracy, became a huge success in Czechoslovakia. In 1965, The Memorandum—in which a state-run company imposes a nonsensical language on its employees—opened in Prague; in 1968 it was staged in New York City by Papp.

“Havel’s writing is European, but it has a good American sense of humor,” says Papp, who arranged for Havel to attend the U.S. opening. “He was like a conservative hippie. His behavior was not hippie. But he loved the Beatles. He loved Hair.” Adds Havel’s friend and English translator Vera Blackwell: “He even wanted to try LSD, but he didn’t.” Havel did, however, attend an antiwar demonstration in Central Park and was moved by the spirit of the protesters.

Three months after Havel’s return to Prague, Soviet tanks rolled through the streets. His work was outlawed, and he—like most Czech intellectuals—was consigned to manual labor. Yet, inexplicably, he was able to collect his foreign royalties and enjoy some material privileges. He and his wife, Olga, whom he married in 1964, had a spacious, book-lined apartment and a country home furnished with stereo components, embroidered tablecloths, goose-down comforters and rock posters.

In 1977, after he helped launch the human rights group Charter 77, Havel’s house was robbed and ransacked by government agents, and he was jailed for four months. In 1979, he was convicted of subversion and imprisoned again for four years, during which he developed a serious lung infection. But even when he was sick and depressed, he refused offers to emigrate. Read More:http://www.people.com/people/archive/article/0,,20116590,00.html
Yet, even as our respect for the mysteries of the world dwindles, we can see for ourselves again and again that such a lack of respect leads to ruin. All this clearly suggests where we should look for what united us: in an awareness of the transcendent.”

Havel could not work out how to effectuate this transformation because, I think, he embodied the essential contradiction. He was a product of Western civilization and could not bring himself to believe in any ancient religion-he was too alienated and too modern for that. This was a man who counted Frank Zappa and the Rolling Stones among his first invited guests to the Prague Castle after becoming President. But he grasped the crux of the problem.

“Dostoevsky wrote that if there were no God everything would be permitted. To put it simply, it seems to me that our present civilization, having lost the awareness that the world has a spirit, believes that anything is permitted. The only spirit that we recognize is our own. Read More:http://scepticalmarketobserver.blogspot.com/2011/12/vaclav-havel-reflection.html


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