The Media Has Helped Lead The American People To This Moment In History And Now They Blame Donald Trump

Photo: twitter.com

Photo: twitter.com


American Journalism

September 28, 2016

Allan Stevo

“If it bleeds, it leads,” is a long held maxim in journalism. The concept being that the more effectively you can terrify a person, the more readers, listeners, and viewers you will have, and correspondingly the more you can charge for advertising. Media, for decades, has, in many ways, been a race to the bottom, a search for the absolute lowest in society.

Suicides are heavily reported on, the gorier the better, despite a nearly undeniable copycat effect. Violent crimes are heavily covered, as well as acts of terror, both of which produce the same copycat effect. Programmers, after all, don’t exist with the benefit of the individual viewer in mind. They exist with detail to ratings and ad revenue.

Decades of the boob tube and it’s surrogates spewed on a smart, though relatively uneducated American public, has turned many into boobs. Many more of us than ever before end up graduating from high school. Many more of us end up in college. Many more of us end up with advanced degrees. Yet we are more lacking in common sense, empathy, and human connection than ever.

Horrible progressive nonsense is thrown at us day and night with every media titan’s agenda mixed in. We are told subtly that the Constitution is the enemy, capitalism is the enemy, traditional values are the enemy.

At the end of the day we are left with the average American acting as either a boob -absorbing much of it, or as a reactionary -disputing much of it. Both positions are prone to be equally unthinking.

The birth of Fox News was a reaction. It was a poor excuse for a reaction in that it became much of the same low-brow crap. The 2010 Tea Party was a reaction. To a large extent Obama 2008 was the same kind of reaction, as was Occupy – Americans wanted change. Black Lives Matter comes from the same place. Reactionary positions are seldom where an individual would naturally end up if life offered the individual a vacuum in which to temporarily exist and think. Reactions can be entirely unpredictable, violent, and seemingly uncalled for when viewed with hindsight. Reactions are, nonetheless, a natural part of human existence.

In any era, the stronger the powers-that-be hold on, and the more extreme their level of influence, the more violent the reaction to them will be as society lets off steam. Karl Marx, an instructive voice to many delusional people in positions of influence today, whether through Marxism itself, or through screwy neo-Keynesian, neo-liberal, and neo-conservative waterings down of Marx, held the mistaken theoretical belief that societal trends move in one direction. In reality, society shifts back and forth.

Donald Trump is the latest movement in society. He is popular among some Republicans, and even large swaths of Democrats are polling the man favorably. Bernie Sanders is a similar nativist reactionary. Both men espouse the increased presence of government in our lives, but with a renewed take on what common sense will be used to dictate the actions of government. Coming from an extreme smaller government view, I do not agree with some of their fundamental philosophical assumptions about government’s roll in the world. Having learned to obediently pull his punches, Bernie Sanders is likely to be a passing fad. Donald Trump appears to be the gorilla in the room that will affect the status quo. Some less than thoughtful ignoramus will read this and call me a Trump supporter because I’ve mentioned his name in a headline or not spent ink denouncing him as the greatest evil man has ever seen.

It is farcical to see journalists and politicos denounce Trump en masse, as if they are the only ones with the right to behave in extreme ways, as if there is some magic line that must not be crossed. In terms of deceit, in terms of extreme indecency, in terms of cultural attacks, in terms of the most ninnyish political beliefs and behavior, the media and their counterparts in the political class seem to have no boundaries. In that kind of environment, what right do any of them have to suddenly say the game has gone too far?

They are counter-reactionaries. Counter-reactionaries are crybabies who suddenly realize they don’t have the influence to bully others. Counter-reactionaries should be laughed at in every era, because they likely pushed society too far when they held roles of responsibility and should just be happy not to have seen a guillotine.

Art follows life. When it doesn’t, there is something wrong in a society. Politics follows life. Trump has not led the polls for months by being something America doesn’t want. Trump is following life. He has this moment in the limelight precisely because he is saying what people have long thought and have perhaps even been long saying at home.

Some of it is uncomfortable to me. Some of it may be uncomfortable to the establishment media and political elite. To those who are surprised I can only say, you never really knew your own country. Welcome to the American dinner table and the sound of its voice on the national stage as it speaks its mind reactionarily.

Dear media elite, dear political elite, you helped bring us to this moment in history. Now what are you going to do about it? If the answer is fight harder to ensure compliance and silence from the American public, that’s probably the wrong answer, because in response to greater repression, it is not impossible to imagine a much more reactionary America. Let the American dinner table have its moment and if future generations ever look back in shock, be ready to apologize for the role you caused in making that moment happen.

Allan Stevo writes on Slovak culture at www.52inSk.com. He is from Chicago and spends most of his time traveling Europe and writing. You can find more of his writing at www.AllanStevo.com. If you enjoyed this post, please use the buttons below to like it on Facebook or to share it with your friends by email. You can sign up for emails on Slovak culture from 52 Weeks in Slovakia by clicking here.

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“My First City Clothes” / “Môj prvý mestský oblek” by Milan Rufus

The Hills over Jasenova. | Photo: http://deadia.ngt.pl

The Hills over Jasenova. | Photo: http://deadia.ngt.pl

 

Rufus – My First City Clothes

September 27, 2016

Allan Stevo

Each Friday, another poem appears on 52 Weeks in Slovakia from Slovak Nobel Prize nominee Milan Rufus (1928-2009). These poems come from a translation excerpted from his final book Ako stopy v snehu (Like Footprints in the Snow) and appear in the book In Poems released in June 2015, written by Rufus, translated by me, and published by our team at 52 Weeks in Slovakia.

In the collection appear prominent themes of childhood and coming-of-age. Two weeks ago we had a poem about Rufus’s mother and a week earlier, just before Father’s Day, we had a poem about his father. In last week’s poem, “Olinka Herzova,” we see Rufus recalling a crush on his childhood classmate Olinka, or “little Olga.” Below with this poem, “My First City Clothes” we enter into the Slovak concept of chlebodarca, which literally translates as “the giver of bread.” The concept of chlebodarca, in brief, has to do with the concept of who provides for you and is a fascinating concept that I hope to further highlight in the pages of 52 Weeks in Slovakia. Chlebodarca is a prominent theme in Ako stopy v snehu, and deserves an equally prominent place in In Poems. The translator’s notes of In Poems illustrate some of the challenges I had in translating the idea of chlebodarca into English and communicating the subtleties of a word as seemingly simple as chlieb in Slovak (“bread” in Engllish).

Below, first in my English translation, followed by the Slovak original, is “My First City Clothes” in which we see a story of Rufus and his mother working to buy the village boy his first pair of city clothes so he looks good when he goes to his new city school. In the Slovak version are two items that may require a footnote for some readers. “Liturgický švabach” is an older form of writing that is common to religious texts in Slovakia, seeking a similar concept in English, I’ve translated it here as “the old hymns that she sang.” The section “Ej, horí ohník, horí… / Aj do mesta ma vystrojili hory,” appears to be a line from old folk song or poem known to Rufus, but not widely known at the present time, which left me with the challenge of incorporating the meaning of a reference that I was not able to dig up. While I did not preserve the economy of words in the translation of this particular piece, the face value of these words are captured here with this English translation ” ‘Burn fire burn!’ / sang the mountain men of old, / ‘Even when I had to leave home for the city / it was the mountains that still clothed me. / Burn fire burn!’ ”

I present to you the poem “My First City Clothes” by the man who at the time of his death in 2009 was the unofficial poet laureate of Slovakia.

 

My First City Clothes

An autumn day,
day – a treasure from God’s workshop.
The sky was within easy reach, close.

Like an unrealistic dream
a carpet of cranberries in the grass of
Opalisko Hill.

We collected them the entire day.

And with the coins given us for that find,
those oval pearls of the forest
Mom bought the white suit in town.

To this day her voice,
to this day in me lives,
as sacred as the old hymns that she sang:
“You sure arent’t going to that city school
in those tattered village rags…”

“Burn fire burn!”
sang the mountain men of old,
“Even when I had to leave home for the city
it was the mountains that still clothed me.
Burn fire burn!”

 

* * *

 

Môj prvý mestský oblek

Jesenný deň,
deň – klenot z Božej dielne.
Obloha bola na dosah ruky,
blízka.

Vyzeral ako neskutočný sen
koberec brusníc v tráve Opaliska.

Zbierali sme ich celý deň.

A za ten úlovok, tie lesné perly oblé,
kúpila mama v meste biely oblek.

Dodnes jej hlas,
dodneska vo mne žije,
priam posvätný jak liturgický švabach:
„Nemóžeš chodiť do tej gymnázie
v dedinských starých hábach…”

Ej, horí ohník, horí…
Aj do mesta ma vystrojili hory.


Allan Stevo writes on Slovak culture at www.52inSk.com. He is from Chicago and spends most of his time traveling Europe and writing. You can find more of his writing at www.AllanStevo.com. If you enjoyed this post, please use the buttons below to like it on Facebook or to share it with your friends by email. You can sign up for emails on Slovak culture from 52 Weeks in Slovakia by clicking here.

Milan Rufus (December 10, 1928 – January 11, 2009) was the unofficial poet laureate of Slovakia. This Nobel Prize nominee has the uncommon distinction of being a poet who has regularly outsold trade paper and mass market fiction. A collection of Rufus’s poems translated by Stevo entitled “In Poems” is now available.

 

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The Importance of Cordial Discussions

Photo: comicsbulletin.com

Photo: comicsbulletin.com


The Decline of Free Speech in America

September 26, 2016

Allan Stevo
 

I was once a proud socialist.

I exposed those deeply held views to scrutiny.

They did not hold up.

I was left with the same core beliefs for a more just world. I just came to recognize a more just world wouldn’t be made a reality by chasing politicians down a promised path to utopia.

I continued my reading and have written some 300 essays and opinion pieces on this topic and related topics. At the core of nearly everything I write is some search for truth and some understanding of freedom and justice.

Socialism is the most cockeyed idea. It does not “work” in any actual sense. It has nearly zero economic grounding in reality. It tends to be a dream of people with big hearts and a limited grasp on reality. It has caused poverty, war, starvation, and general suffering throughout the world that would not have occurred if the shitty socialist government in question just folded up and went on permanent vacation, leaving people to their own devices.

I am so thoroughly read in so many areas of the political spectrum and have done everything from personally knocking on doors for politicians to writing speeches for politicians to fundraising for politicians to escorting politicians through the door of high profile events to training others to do the same to running campaigns to even being a candidate for federal office. From the very theoretical to the very concrete nuts and bolts application of politics, I am incredibly well-experienced.

Through this all, I have been exposed to the Hinlicky Rule.

Though I am better educated on economics and politics than virtually anyone I ever meet during the course of my day, more widely published and have engaged in a wider array of discussions;

Though I have painfully time and again taken deeply held beliefs and challenged them to the point of rejecting them and I know as a result have had a very robust gauntlet that my ideas have gone through;

Photo: scncucc.org

Photo: scncucc.org

Despite all that I am never ever an asshole to anyone in a discussion.

That’s because I have first-hand met the widows of intolerance. When religion becomes fundamentalist or political thought becomes fundamentalist, those widows of intolerance are not far behind. There is an attempt to co-opt the word intolerance in English not to mean “intolerant against people who share my viewpoint.”

This trend I have seen from my friends on the left. Some of my friends on the right couldn’t care less about the world feeling intolerant. To some of them, that’s just part of life for many people and not worth talking about. Some of my friends on the left would agree. The co-opting of the term intolerance is taking place among the progressive left.

Intolerance is certainly not a term owned by any segment of a population. Intolerance can by brutally levied on anyone. Where there is peaceful behavior, brutally levying intolerance is not an acceptable response from a society or government.

I have firsthand felt the pain of extremism. This extremism is a scary tendency that the American left is trending towards.

Despite all that and more I refuse to address anyone like an asshole even when I hear the most trite, poorly regurgitated opinions of others for what may well be the 400th time over the course of a year. Trite opinions tend to repeat themselves easily and reproduce through a society, often with the opinion holder certain that his truth is the highest, greatest, most original truth.

Because we are all on a journey. And some of those people are exactly where I once was on that journey, familiar territory is what I see in their words. I know what questions got me from where I was then to where I went after and ultimately to where I am now, a place I am unlikely to stay for long for constant challenging and growth is so central to how I understand ideas, as opposed to being some final destination that one can get comfortable with once one has arrived there. They may never even set foot where I am today. That’s okay. They may be on a very different journey than me. I nonetheless honor the risks they take along that path.

Anger however, and hostility, in response to honest inquiry is too much for me. The American left has lost its credibility nationally. What was once the territory of the kind-hearted, tough, effective Ralph Nader – a thoughtful socialist with whom I agree on key issues has become the Chicago-style bullying of Saul Alinksy. I knew the Chicago style bullying was always present on the left, since I am no stranger to political strategy sessions in support of candidates and ideas throughout the political spectrum and I grew up in Chicago politics. It has now become so apparent though, so impossible to ignore, so public, so national.

I don’t feel bad about being bullied. I am excellent at taking off the gloves. It is not a plea for my own self-defense or self-preservation. This has nothing to do with anyone bullying me. A segment of the American left is so incredibly guilty of a level of escalation against an ugly law and order element of the American right. I do not like the ominous outcome that such a series of events foretell.

When Bernie Sanders supporters are beating Donald Trump supporters bloody in the streets, something inaccurate is taking place in America. Words are not enough justification to provoke a person into a fight. “I’m offended” is no excuse to look the other way when violence occurs. Triggering is not a real thing among people who seek to be viewed as and treated like functioning adults. Kids will be kids, is no excuse for violence in response to political free speech.

The American left has become a physical bully, has become a social bully, and is correspondingly becoming increasingly closed off to cordial political discussion.

Photo: twitter.com

Photo: twitter.com

This is a sad development to take note of, and from a segment of American society that I have long found to be capable of discourse. Viewing myself as removed from the left-right dichotomy, I see no particular appreciation for any faction in that dichotomy. I do though find great displeasure in the increasingly aggressive and violent American left and the lack of opprobrium that comes from within its ranks.

How quickly I’ve watched these descents from freedom into chaos take place in other countries. How many stories I’ve heard. I’ve always felt until now, that America was just a little bit more capable of honoring the concepts of freedom than people in the rest of the world. This is ceasing to be the case. Honest, open discourse is being met with such violence in America and it’s coming from the left. The importance of preserving that liberty in America is vital, for if it were to disappear the world would be left without a comparable example.

I can’t imagine how threatened a person must feel to be a part of that, how intellectually inferior they must view their own ideas, how socially inferior they must view themselves.

No matter what happens in the world around me, I know what I believe, I know how capable and comfortable I am of challenging my own ideas and entertaining the ideas of another, no matter how contrary or threatening to my own they may seem. It wouldn’t be a terrible thing for others to calm down a little and learn to do the same. This is a much more productive response than the more base, and to some twisted minds, more gratifying, shift toward violence.

No matter how hatefully a person speaks, no matter how much privilege a person has and is unwilling to recognize, no matter how disgusted you can get yourself worked up about a person that you feel extreme dislike for, there is no reason for a thinking person to do violence on another who is simply trying to walk into a political gathering and to hear someone speak about contemporary policy. If you have any serious faith in yourself and your own ideas, laugh at someone like that and go about your life.

Having stood as a proud socialist once upon a time, and all the disgusting things that association means to me, and all the pain that concept has caused in the world, I am most disgusted right now watching Americans behave with little understanding of the freedoms that make America special. The world is a very unfree and unjust place and the world needs a free America to help illuminate what heights can be reached with that pursuit of greater freedom. If America ever descends into something less pleasant, and with less freedom, the world will have lost a functioning country that guides all the others by example toward what a good life can be lived, not a perfect life but a good life, in the presence of a free people, as uncomfortable as it may be, agreeing to freedom for all.

My understanding of the extreme fragility of freedom makes the easy way Americans are trifling with that concept sad to watch and makes any escalation of tension between the progressive left and the law and order right, an attack on the freedom that America has found to be such a successful model, despite some of its shortcomings, and that the world has looked to as a model for what can be aspired to and maybe even one day improved upon.

No matter the opinions being spoken, he who does violence to a free man seeking to exercise is right to communicate those opinions is no friend of mine. I hope you will agree with me that he should be no friend of yours either. For while I may not agree with what you have to say, I insist that you be able to say it.

Allan Stevo writes on Slovak culture at www.52inSk.com. He is from Chicago and spends most of his time traveling Europe and writing. You can find more of his writing at www.AllanStevo.com. If you enjoyed this post, please use the buttons below to like it on Facebook or to share it with your friends by email. You can sign up for emails on Slovak culture from 52 Weeks in Slovakia by clicking here.

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Announcing The Release Of Somewhere Between Bratislava And DC

Somewhere between Bratislava and DC

Somewhere between Bratislava and DC


Somewhere Between

September 24, 2016

Allan Stevo

Twelve years ago, I published my first book: Somewhere between Bratislava and DC – 66 poems in Slovak and English.

Here’s from the book blurb:

“Somewhere Between Bratislava and DC captures the essence of Central Europe – a place of no definitions, a place “in between.” Described as “revolutionary” by a European publisher who patently rejected it on those grounds, banned from public readings in Slovakia for being “anti-European in its sentiments,” this is a book you will tell your friends about. This is a book for the traveler, for the thinker, for the reader wanting to be challenged. It is written by an author from the American Empire as he ventures to the very edges of that empire and beyond its outposts.”

This week, our team put this title out in its fourth edition, while it’s been available in bookstores in Europe and the US, this title has finally been accepted for distribution by Amazon and the vast international network at its disposal. You can find Somewhere between Bratislava and DC on Amazon here.

Allan Stevo writes on Slovak culture at www.52inSk.com. He is from Chicago and spends most of his time traveling Europe and writing. You can find more of his writing at www.AllanStevo.com. If you enjoyed this post, please use the buttons below to like it on Facebook or to share it with your friends by email. You can sign up for emails on Slovak culture from 52 Weeks in Slovakia by clicking here.

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On The Occasion Of My Birthday – A Goal For The 52 Weeks Ahead

unnamed
Publishing

September 24, 2016

Allan Stevo

12 years ago I made myself a promise, that it was time to either take my dream of being a writer seriously or to dispense with that childhood dream.

I proceeded to reorganize my life to make myself one who spends his time writing. At some point that was just a few hours a day, at others as many as 8 and even 12 hours daily.

I had a book published that first year and others followed. I’ve created a well respected blog, been published in newspapers and journals, translated the poetry of a Nobel Prize nominee into English, and written over 300 essays.

I have of course also been much less good than I aspire to be. I have been known to leave some projects unfinished, even when they are just a few hours away from completion. I am partially proud of how often I let that happen. Knowing what doesn’t deserve to be shared with others is also a good quality, but I do that even with work that does deserve to be shared with others.

Ernest Hemingway once wrote about his late friend F. Scott Fitzgerald “Scott took LITERATURE so solemnly. He never understood that it was just writing as well as you can and finishing what you start.”

That is an important theme for me, along with another Hemingway quote, that I often make sure is somewhere reachable in my writing space, “You can write any time people will leave you alone and not interrupt you. Or rather you can if you will be ruthless enough about it. But the best writing is certainly when you are in love.” It’s sometimes good to seek out the advise of masters who have done impressive work.

From my birthday, this September 18, I vow to redouble my efforts and to commit to sharing even more of my work. I have a personal goal and a private goal for the next year – a birthday present to myself for all the hard work these years.

My public goal: I’m going to see to it that 12 books written by Allan Stevo are released in the next year.

My private goal: check back next year and I’ll tell you if I hit it.

As always I’ll seek to create authentic work that is true to me and to share the overwhelming majority of it freely on AllanStevo.com.

If you’d like to buy those books, pre-order those books, or to be involved in the creation of those books, there will be opportunities like that ahead.

With an eager staff on board and a good chunk of the work already started, I promise the next 12 months to offer a flurry of creativity at a volume unlike any I’ve shared in the past.

Welcome along for this exciting ride.

Allan Stevo writes on Slovak culture at www.52inSk.com. He is from Chicago and spends most of his time traveling Europe and writing. You can find more of his writing at www.AllanStevo.com. If you enjoyed this post, please use the buttons below to like it on Facebook or to share it with your friends by email. You can sign up for emails on Slovak culture from 52 Weeks in Slovakia by clicking here.

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Book Review: A 130 Page Joseph Campbell Book That Succinctly Ties Together Many Loose Strings

Photo: pinterest.com

Photo: pinterest.com


An Open Life

September 21, 2016

Allan Stevo
 

What it is:

In a series of interviews with radio personality Michael Toms, we get an important summary of the life discoveries and philosophies of 20th century scholar Joseph Campbell toward the end of his life in a succinct 130 pages.

A few interesting points:
 

1. Life’s Events Make Sense and It’s Important to Follow Your Bliss in the Process

While life’s events may seem so disconcerting in their lack of connectedness, the synchronicity of life eventually becomes so obvious as one looks back from an advanced age. While moving toward that point, it’s worthy of keeping in mind the following advice from Campbell who came of age during the Great Depression and saw several instances of family financial ruin: “If you follow your bliss, you’ll have your bliss, whether you have money or not. If you follow your money, you may lose the money, and then you don’t have even that.” Here’s Campbell explaining that at greater length.

Campbell: “If a person has had the sense of the Call – the feeling that there’s an adventure for him – and if he doesn’t follow that, but remains in the society because it’s safe and secure, then life dries up. And then he comes to that condition in late middle age: he’s gotten to the top of the ladder, and found that it’s against the wrong wall.

If you have the guts to follow the risk, however, life opens, opens, opens up all along the line. I’m not superstitious, but I do believe in spiritual magic, you might say. I feel that if one follows what I call one’s “bliss” – the thing that really gets you deep in the gut and that you feel is your life – doors will open up. They do! They have in my life and they have in many lives that I know of.

There’s a wonderful paper by Schopenhauer, called “An Apparent Intention of the Fate of the Individual,” in which he points out that when you are at a certain age – the age I am now – and look back over your life, it seems to be almost as orderly as a composed novel. And just as in Dickens’ novels, little accidental meetings and so forth turn out to be main features in the plot, so in your life. And what seem to have been mistakes at the time, turn out to be directive crises. And then he asks: “Who wrote this novel?”

Life seems as though it were planned; and there is something in us that’s causing what you hear of as being accident prone: it’s something in ourselves. There is a mystery here. Schopenhauer finally asks the question: Can anything happen to you for which you’re not ready? I look back now on certain things that at the time seemed to me to be real disasters, but the results turned out to be the structuring of a really great aspect of my life and career. So what can you say?

And the other point is, if you follow your bliss, you’ll have your bliss, whether you have money or not. If you follow money, you may lose the money, and then you don’t have even that. The secure way is really the insecure way and the way in which the richness of the quest accumulates is the right way.”

 

2. Where You Stumble, There Your Treasure Is

The moments that are the hardest in life are also the moments that offer each person the chance for the greatest growth. Here are Toms and Campbell on that.

Toms:”So often we see those dark places as huge problems rather than as opportunities. What does mythology have to say about that?”

Campbell: “Well, mythology tells us that where you stumble, there your treasure is. There are so many examples. One that comes to mind is in The Arabian Nights. Someone is plowing a field, and his plow gets caught. He digs down to see what it is and discovers a ring of some kind. When he hoists the ring, he finds a cave with all of the jewels in it. And so it is in our own psyche; our psyche is the cave with all the jewels in it, and it’s the fact that we’re not letting their energies move us that brings us up short. The world is a match for us and we’re a match for the world. And where it seems most challenging lies the greatest invitation to find deeper and greater powers in ourselves.

Toynbee speaks of challenge and response, and every culture and individual runs into these challenges. If the power to respond fails, then that’s the end. But where the power to respond succeeds, there comes a new amplification of life and consciousness.

When I wrote about the Call forty years ago, I was writing out of what I had read. Now that I’ve lived it, I know it’s correct. And that’s how it turned out. I mean, it’s valid. These mythic clues work.”

 

3. The Metaphor of the Holy Grail is Very Much Pertinent to Modern Lives

Being on a quest and finding one’s path in life through that quest through life makes a person truly themselves rather than an imitation of what someone else would have us be. Here are Toms and Campbell on that.

Toms: “Myth also informs us about the stage of life we’re in. Isn’t that so?”

Campbell: “Yes. Actually, that’s one of the main functions of myth. It’s what I call the pedagogical to carry a person through the inevitable stages of a lifetime. And these are the same today as they were in the paleolithic caves: as a youngster you’re dependent on parents to teach you what life is, and what your relationship to other people has to be, and so forth; then you give up that dependence to become a self-responsible authority; and, finally, comes the stage of yielding: you realize that the world is in other hands. And the myth tells you what the values are in those stages in terms of the possibilities of your particular society.”

Toms: “Let’s take a typical myth that most people would be familiar with: King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table, and the search for the Holy Grail. How would that myth relate to the present?”

Campbell: “There are about four quite distinct versions of the Grail quest. The earliest example we have is by Chrétien de Troyes, around 1190. But the most magnificent one is that of Wolfram von Eschenbach, about 1220. The best known version in the English language is that of a Cistercian monk whose name is lost to us. In that story, Galahad plays the main role.

Now the versions of Chrétien and Wolfram have a married man as the hero, who is a virtuous and competent warrior knight. On the other hand, the Cistercian quest which is called La Queste del Saint Graal, gives us the monkish figure, Galahad. For me, the great one is the quest of Parzival.

The problem of the grail quest is the re-vivification of what is known as the Waste Land. The Waste Land is a world where people live not out of their own initiative, but out of what they think they’re supposed to do. People have inherited their official roles and positions; they haven’t earned them. This is the situation of the Waste Land: everybody leading a false life. T. S. Elliot used that idea in his poem, The Waste Land, and he actually quotes several lines from Wolfram’s Parzival. The Waste Land is a place where the sense of the vitality of life has gone. People take jobs because they have to live, and then they find in mid-life that the job doesn’t mean a thing.

Now, the hero of the Grail is one who acts out of his own spontaneous nature. He comes to the Grail castle where the Grail king is maimed and lame, as the whole country is. Why is he maimed and lame? Because he just inherited the job. I won’t go through how it all happened, but the sense of it is that he was not living out of the spontaneity of his own life. Unfortunately, when the hero of the Grail was told how to be a knight, he was told that knights do not ask questions. So when he sees the maimed king, he is moved to ask, “What ails you?” That is, the quality of compassion and sympathy moves him. But then he thinks, “A knight does not ask questions,” and so he represses the impulse of his nature, and the quest fails. It takes him five or six more years to get back to the castle. But the spunk and pluck of his tenacity on the quest, and the revision of the mistake he made, yield the healing of the land.

So the meaning of the Grail and of most myths is finding the dynamic source in your life so that its trajectory is out of your own center and not something put on you by society. Then, of course, there is the problem of coordinating your well-being and your virtue with the goods and needs of the society. But first you must find your trajectory, and then comes the social coordination.”

 

4. You Do Not Need a Guru. You Have Yourself

In the West, a guru leading the journey would be undesirable. That would likely make you but a follower of the guru. The journey is entirely your own. Live life the way you want to.

Toms: “What about the desire to follow a guru? We see religions and cults based on the teacher-disciple relationship flourishing everywhere.”

Campbell: “I think that is bad news. I really do think you can take clues from teachers – I know you can. But, you see, the traditional Oriental idea is that the student should submit absolutely to the teacher. The guru actually assumes responsibility for the student’s moral life, and this is total giving. I don’t think that’s quite proper for a Western person. One of the big spiritual truths for the West is that each of us is a unique creature, and consequently has a unique path.

There’s one quotation I run into in La Queste del Saint Graal which hit me as being the essence of what I’d call the European or Western spirituality. The knights of King Arthur’s court were seated at table and Arthur would not let the meal be served until an adventure had occurred. And, indeed, an adventure did occur. The Grail itself appeared, carried by angelic miracle, covered, however, by a cloth. Everyone was in rapture and then it withdrew. Arthur’s nephew Gawain stood up and said, “I propose a vow. I propose that we should all go in pursuit of this Grail to behold it unveiled.” And it was determined that that was what they would do. And then occur these lines which seem to me so wonderful: “They thought it would be a disgrace to go forth in a group. Each entered the forest that he had chosen where there was no path and where it was darkest.” Now, if there’s a way or path, it’s someone else’s way; and the guru has a path for you. He knows where you are on it. He knows where he is on it, namely, way ahead. And all you can do is get to be as great as he is. This is a continuation of the dependency of childhood; maturity consists in outgrowing that and becoming your own authority for your life. And this quest for the unknown seems so romantic to Oriental people. What is unknown is the fulfillment of you own unique life, the likes of which has never existed on the earth. And you are the only one who can do it. People can give you clues how to fall down and how to stand up; but when to fall and when to stand, and when you are falling, and when you are standing, this only you can know. And in the way of your own talents is the only way to do it.

If you go out for athletics, the coach doesn’t tell you exactly how to hold your arms; he watches you run, estimates your form, and tunes you up a little bit. It’s your way and that’s the way of the whole life, it seems to me. This is why I don’t think the guru thing is as great as it’s supposed to be. It’s an Oriental idea where the uniqueness of the individual is utterly disregarded, I think I’m right there. I’ve spent a long time with Oriental studies, and I see nothing that does not say each has the law of his caste or his tradition or his church to follow.

Yeats, in A Vision, speaks of the two masks that life wears. The first is the primary mask that the society has put upon you – the technique of life. But in adolescence the individual has a sense of a potentiality within himself that has to throw off that mask and find what Yeats calls “the antithetical mask” – the mask contrary to that of society. And then comes that struggle so characteristic of youth in our society. In the traditional society, you are not allowed to follow the antithetical; the primary is there like a cookie-mold on you. But here comes this struggle. Now, if the family or society opposes that, it becomes rather fierce. But with a gradual yielding and attention, the young person can learn his own possibilities and what they can do for him. This is the proper way.”

 

Who shouldn’t read it:

Anyone set in their beliefs on any topic pertinent to the book – religion, spirituality, mythology, finding ones calling, living an authentic life – would likely not enjoy this book. The book so effectively ties together themes that reach between mainstream Christianity, mythology, and some new age practices and beliefs in a way that leaves the Christian with a richer understanding of his religion and himself, in addition to his place in the world.
 

Who should read it:

Anyone with an inquisitive mind who enjoys reading about culture or religion, would likely get a great deal from this brilliant collection of interviews. This description seems to fit many of the readers of 52 Weeks in Slovakia who I have had the opportunity to meet.

Joseph John Campbell (March 26, 1904 – October 30, 1987) was an American mythologist, writer and lecturer, best known for his work in comparative mythology and comparative religion. His work covers many aspects of the human experience. His philosophy is often summarized by his phrase: “Follow your bliss.”

Michael Toms (1941-2013) known by some as “the Socrates of radio, Toms was the longtime host of the radio program “New Dimensions,” which explores issues of faith, science, social change and healing.

Allan Stevo writes on Slovak culture at www.52inSk.com. He is from Chicago and spends most of his time traveling Europe and writing. You can find more of his writing at www.AllanStevo.com. If you enjoyed this post, please use the buttons below to like it on Facebook or to share it with your friends by email. You can sign up for emails on Slovak culture from 52 Weeks in Slovakia by clicking here.

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“Olinka Herzova” by Milan Rufus

Photo: theoddesseyonline.com

 

Rufus – “Olinka Herzova”

September 20, 2016

Allan Stevo

Each Friday, another poem appears on 52 Weeks in Slovakia from Slovak Nobel Prize nominee Milan Rufus (1928-2009). These poems come from a translation excerpted from his final book Ako stopy v snehu (Like Footprints in the Snow) and appear in the book In Poems released in June 2015, written by Rufus, translated by me, and published by our team at 52 Weeks in Slovakia.

In the collection appear prominent themes of childhood and coming-of-age. Last week we had a poem about Rufus’s mother and a week earlier, just before Father’s Day, we had a poem about his father. In this week’s poem, “Olinka Herzova,” we see Rufus recalling a crush on his childhood classmate Olinka, or “little Olga,” as we might say in English. English lacks the rich degree of diminutives that Slovaks have so extensively developed and rely on. Olinka in Slovak is a cuter, more endearing way to say the female given name Olga.

Without further ado, first in my English translation, followed by the Slovak original, I present to you the poem “Olinka Herzova” by the man who at the time of his death in 2009 was the unofficial poet laureate of Slovakia.

Olinka Herzova

I just wanted to help her into her little coat
my fellow first grader Olinka.

I wanted to, but what actually happened is
what matters.
First-gradily unskillful.
With a fingernail I carved a scratch into
one of her precious child hands.

Her father was a storekeeper
who did only honest business.
And when I came to visit her in the store
he grabbed me,
he grabbed a pair of scissors
and he humanized my ten claws,
without blame or unnecessary shouting.
He did it lovingly and peacefully.

And that’s how those
bittersweet years passed

Later, after the war,
time flowed by like a surging river
And every little thing
was about something else.
One day someone said to me “You can no
longer find Olinka here. Into the promised
land, she went, through an Auschwitz
chimney.”

I saw that scratch again
On her precious child hand

It was a cruel sorrow.

Sadder than any funeral.
Sadder than any parting.

* * *

Olinka Herzová

Chcel som jej iba pomôcť do kabátka,
spoluprváčke Olinke.

Chcel, ale čo to bolo platné:
práčikovsky neobratne
vyryl som nechtom škrabanec,
šrám na jej detskej rúčke.

Jej otec, obchodník, nemútil čistú vodu.
A keď som prišiel k nemu do obchodu,
prichystanými nožničkami
poľudštil mojich desať pazúrikov
bez výčitiek a bez zbytočných krikov,
priam láskavo a pokojne.

Tak išli roky krásnokruté.

A potom bolo po vojne,
čas ako živá riečka tiekol,
všecičko bolo o inom.

Jedného dňa mi ktosi riekol:
„Olinku tu už nenájdeme.
Do svojej zasľúbenej zeme
šla osvienčimským komínom…“

A ja som znova uvidel
svoj škrabanec na detskej rúčke.

A bolo mi tak kruto smutno.
Smutnejšie, ako ľuďom býva
na pohrebe
či pri rozlúčke.



Allan Stevo writes on Slovak culture at www.52inSk.com. He is from Chicago and spends most of his time traveling Europe and writing. You can find more of his writing at www.AllanStevo.com. If you enjoyed this post, please use the buttons below to like it on Facebook or to share it with your friends by email. You can sign up for emails on Slovak culture from 52 Weeks in Slovakia by clicking here.

Milan Rufus (December 10, 1928 – January 11, 2009) was the unofficial poet laureate of Slovakia. This Nobel Prize nominee has the uncommon distinction of being a poet who has regularly outsold trade paper and mass market fiction. A collection of Rufus poems translated by Stevo entitled “In Poems” is now available.

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What is the Essence of Western Spirituality?

Photo: elephantjournal.com

Photo: elephantjournal.com


Western Spirituality

September 19, 2016

Allan Stevo

I came across an interview between Michael Toms and Joseph Campbell recently in the book (“An Open Life”) that had such powerful distillations of Campbell’s life philosophy and observations from a life spent studying world culture. In this excerpt, Campbell dismisses the idea of a westerner following a guru and points to a story from the series of legends known as the Quest for the Holy Grail. In one particular story, Campbell sees “the essence of what I’d call the European or Western spirituality.” I’d love to hear what you think of this in the comments section? Or perhaps you have a finding of your own that is more essential to Western spirituality.

Toms: “What about the desire to follow a guru? We see religions and cults based on the teacher-disciple relationship flourishing everywhere.”

Campbell: “I think that is bad news. I really do think you can take clues from teachers – I know you can. But, you see, the traditional Oriental idea is that the student should submit absolutely to the teacher. The guru actually assumes responsibility for the student’s moral life, and this is total giving. I don’t think that’s quite proper for a Western person. One of the big spiritual truths for the West is that each of us is a unique creature, and consequently has a unique path.

There’s one quotation I run into in La Queste del Saint Graal which hit me as being the essence of what I’d call the European or Western spirituality. The knights of King Arthur’s court were seated at table and Arthur would not let the meal be served until an adventure had occurred. And, indeed, an adventure did occur. The Grail itself appeared, carried by angelic miracle, covered, however, by a cloth. Everyone was in rapture and then it withdrew. Arthur’s nephew Gawain stood up and said, “I propose a vow. I propose that we should all go in pursuit of this Grail to behold it unveiled.” And it was determined that that was what they would do. And then occur these lines which seem to me so wonderful: “They thought it would be a disgrace to go forth in a group. Each entered the forest that he had chosen where there was no path and where it was darkest.” Now, if there’s a way or path, it’s someone else’s way; and the guru has a path for you. He knows where you are on it. He knows where he is on it, namely, way ahead. And all you can do is get to be as great as he is. This is a continuation of the dependency of childhood; maturity consists in outgrowing that and becoming your own authority for your life. And this quest for the unknown seems so romantic to Oriental people. What is unknown is the fulfillment of you own unique life, the likes of which has never existed on the earth. And you are the only one who can do it. People can give you clues how to fall down and how to stand up; but when to fall and when to stand, and when you are falling, and when you are standing, this only you can know. And in the way of your own talents is the only way to do it.

If you go out for athletics, the coach doesn’t tell you exactly how to hold your arms; he watches you run, estimates your form, and tunes you up a little bit. It’s your way and that’s the way of the whole life, it seems to me. This is why I don’t think the guru thing is as great as it’s supposed to be. It’s an Oriental idea where the uniqueness of the individual is utterly disregarded, I think I’m right there. I’ve spent a long time with Oriental studies, and I see nothing that does not say each has the law of his caste or his tradition or his church to follow.

Yeats, in A Vision, speaks of the two masks that life wears. The first is the primary mask that the society has put upon you – the technique of life. But in adolescence the individual has a sense of a potentiality within himself that has to throw off that mask and find what Yeats calls “the antithetical mask” – the mask contrary to that of society. And then comes that struggle so characteristic of youth in our society. In the traditional society, you are not allowed to follow the antithetical; the primary is there like a cookie-mold on you. But here comes this struggle. Now, if the family or society opposes that, it becomes rather fierce. But with a gradual yielding and attention, the young person can learn his own possibilities and what they can do for him. This is the proper way.”

Michael Toms (1941-2013) known by some as “the Socrates of radio, Toms was the longtime host of the radio program “New Dimensions,” which explores issues of faith, science, social change and healing.

Joseph John Campbell (March 26, 1904 – October 30, 1987) was an American mythologist, writer and lecturer, best known for his work in comparative mythology and comparative religion. His work covers many aspects of the human experience. His philosophy is often summarized by his phrase: “Follow your bliss.”

Allan Stevo writes on Slovak culture at www.52inSk.com. He is from Chicago and spends most of his time traveling Europe and writing. You can find more of his writing at www.AllanStevo.com. If you enjoyed this post, please use the buttons below to like it on Facebook or to share it with your friends by email. You can sign up for emails on Slovak culture from 52 Weeks in Slovakia by clicking here.

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