The world into which we are born is brutal and cruel, and at the same time of divine beauty. Which element we think outweighs the other, whether meaninglessness or meaning, is a matter of temperament. If meaninglessness were absolutely preponderant, the meaningfulness of life would vanish to an increasing degree with each step in our development. But that is – or seems to me – not the case. Probably, as in all metaphysical questions, both are true: Life is – or has – meaning and meaninglessness. I cherish the anxious hope that meaning will preponderate and win the battle.
When Lao-tzu says: “All are clear, I alone am clouded,” he is expressing what I now feel in advanced old age. Lao-tzu is the example of a man with superior insight who has seen and experienced worth and worthlessness, and who at the end of his life desires to return to his own being, into the eternal unknowable meaning. The archetype of the old man who has seen enough is eternally true. At every level of intelligence this type appears, and its lineaments are always the same, whether it be an old peasant or a great philosopher like Lao-tzu. This is old age, and a limitation. Yet there is so much that fills me: plants, animals, clouds, day and night, and the eternal in man. The more uncertain I have felt about myself, the more there has grown up in me a feeling of kinship with all things. In fact it seems to me as if that alienation which so long separated me from the world has become transferred into my own inner world, and has revealed to me an unexpected unfamiliarity with myself.

Carl Gustav Jung, “Memories, Dreams, Reflections”. London: Fontana Press, 1995, p. 392-393.


Love Poem

We have plenty of matches in our house
We keep them on hand always
Currently our favourite brand
Is Ohio Blue Tip
Though we used to prefer Diamond Brand
That was before we discovered
Ohio Blue Tip matches
They are excellently packaged
Sturdy little boxes
With dark and light blue and white labels
With words lettered
In the shape of a megaphone
As if to say even louder to the world
Here is the most beautiful match in the world
It’s one-and-a-half-inch soft pine stem
Capped by a grainy dark purple head
So sober and furious and stubbornly ready
To burst into flame
Lighting, perhaps the cigarette of the woman you love
For the first time
And it was never really the same after that

All this will we give you
That is what you gave me
I become the cigarette and you the match
Or I the match and you the cigarette
Blazing with kisses that smoulder towards heaven

Ron Padgett. In “Paterson”, by Jim Jarmusch, 2016.
This and other poems can be found at Poetry School

The Tower

I sat and listened, fascinated. For far more than an hour I listened to the concert, to this natural melody. It was soft music, containing, as well, all the discords of nature. And that was right, for nature is not only harmonious; she is also dreadfully contradictory and chaotic. The music was that way too: an outpouring of sounds, having the quality of water and of wind – so strange that it is simply impossible to describe it.
When I was working on the stone tablets I became aware of the fateful links between me and my ancestors. I feel very strongly that I am under the influence of things or questions which were left incomplete and unanswered by my parents and grandparents and more distant ancestors. It often seems as if there were an impersonal karma within a family, which is passed on from parents to children. It has always seemed to me that I had to answer questions which fate had posed to my forefathers, and which had not yet been answered, or as if I had to complete, or perhaps continue, things which previous ages had left unfinished. It is difficult to determine whether these questions are more of a personal or more of a general (collective) nature.
Our souls as well as our bodies are composed of individual elements which were already present in the ranks of our ancestors. The “newness” in the individual psyche is an endlessly varied recombination of age-old components. Body and soul therefore have an intensely historical character and find no proper place in what is new, in things that have just come into being. That is to say, our ancestral components are only partly at home in such things. We are very far from having finished completely  with the Middle Ages, classical antiquity, and primitivity, as our modern psyches pretend. Nevertheless, we have plunged down a cataract of progress which sweeps us on into the future with ever wilder violence the farther it takes us from our roots. Once the past has been breached, it is usually annihilated, and there is no stopping the forward motion. But it is precisely the loss of connection with the past, our uprootedness, which has given rise to the “discontents” of civilisation and to such a flurry and haste that we live more in the future and its chimerical promises of a golden age than in the present, with which our whole evolutionary background has not yet caught up. We rush impetuously into novelty, driven by a mounting sense of insufficiency, dissatisfaction, and restlessness. We no longer live on what we have, but on promises, no longer in the light of the present day, but in the darkness of the future, which, we expect, will at last bring the proper sunrise. We refuse to recognize that everything better is purchased at the price of something worse; that, for example, the hope of greater freedom is cancelled out by increased enslavement to the state, not to speak of the terrible perils to which the most brilliant discoveries of science expose us. The less we understand of what our fathers and forefathers sought, the less we understand ourselves, and thus we help with all our might to rob the individual of his roots and his guiding instincts, so that he becomes a particle in the mass, ruled only by what Nietzsche called the spirit of gravity.
Reforms by advances, that is, by new methods or gadgets, are of course impressive at first, but in the long run they are dubious and in any case dearly paid for. They by no means increase the contentment or happiness of people on the whole. Mostly, they are deceptive sweetenings of existence, like speedier communications which unpleasantly accelerate the tempo of live and leave us with less time than ever before. Omnis festinatio ex parte diaboli est – all haste is of the devil, as the old masters used to say.

Carl Gustav Jung, “Memories, Dreams, Reflections”. London: Fontana Press, 1995, p. 256-264.

For Alberto Giacometti

I was overjoyed to learn that Alberto had the same three passions that I have: Cézanne, Van Eyck, Uccello. He has said things that are so right about photography and the attitude one needs to have, and also about color photography.
Of Cézanne and the other two, he once said admiringly: “They are monsters.” His face has the look of a sculpture – not one of his own – except for that furrow of wrinkles. His gait, the way he moves, is very distinct: one heel set far ahead – perhaps he’s had some accident, I don’t know. But the movement of his thinking is even more particular: his answer goes far beyond what you have said; he draws a line, adds everything up and starts another equation altogether. Such vibrancy of spirit: the least conventional, the most honest.
Alberto has once told me that he used to get bored, and would try to do too much at one time – apples, landscapes, portraits – and that he had to concentrate on just two subjects. It’s marvelous, such a sense of economy, which is the measure of taste.
The openings for his exhibitions are grand events, but for him they are a sore subject. He says: “I should just bring out everything I have at a given date and show it, and say, ‘This is where I am right now.'” Again, such honesty. But no matter what he says, his work comes off as being hand-in-glove with beauty itself.
For Alberto, intellect is an instrument at the service of sensitivity. In certain areas, however, his sensitivity takes odd forms; for example, his deep scorn for all emotional sloppiness.
But enough: he’s my friend.

Henri Cartier-Bresson, “For Alberto Giacometti”. In “The Mind’s Eye”. New York: Aperture, 1999, p. 81-83.

Ainda não acabei

Eu desta vez vou conseguir
Desta vez vou largar
Eu não estou farto, eu cansei-me
De que apenas parece
Eu não sei se eu sou forte
Só que tenho este grito
Não contem comigo
Para ser Sol na Terra
Eu vivi sempre em guerra
Ao lamber pés de puta
Não percebo as razões
Estou perdido na mata
De cabeça madura
Sempre dando na fruta
Desta vez eu desisto
De lutar contra a merda
Eu sou feito de perda
É mais do que um desabafo
É uma voz que desperta
Um consolo de abutre
No direito à vivência
Do pacote completo
Não lamento palavras
São o meu alimento
Nem o amor que reservo
A quem o vê fora dela
Trago a bomba no peito
Não a trago no saco
Tira-me o teu retrato
Sem remorsos do assalto
Quando não se tem alma
Não se corre esse risco
Tu não sonhas quem sou
Tu não vês nem metade
Só queria cantar
Já não sei bem porquê
E perguntas então
Porque não pões um fim
Nessa vida sofrida
A resposta tem graça
É que eu adoro esta vida
Ainda não acabei
Vamos embora chorar
Vamos embora sorrir
Vamos embora sair
Vamos embora ficar
Vamos embora cair
Vamos embora voltar
Vamos embora ou não
São tudo coisas do chão
Ainda não acabei
Ainda não acabei
Ainda não acabei
Ainda não acabei

Manel Cruz, “Ainda não acabei”. 2017.

A tiny light

About this time I had a dream which both frightened and encouraged me. It was night in some unknown place, and I was making slow and painful headway against a mighty wind. Dense fog was flying along everywhere. I had my hands cupped around a tiny light which threatened to go out at any moment. Everything depended on my keeping this little light alive. Suddenly I had the feeling that something was coming up behind me. I looked back, and saw a gigantic black figure following me. But at the same moment I was conscious, in spite of my terror, that I must keep my little light going through night and wind, regardless of all dangers. When I awoke I realised at once that the figure was a “spectre of the Brocken”, my own shadow on the swirling mists, brought into being by the little light I was carrying. I knew, too, that this little light was my consciousness, the only light I have. My own understanding is the sole treasure I possess, and the greatest. Though infinitely small and fragile in comparison with the powers of darkness, it is still a light, my only light.

Carl Gustav Jung, “Memories, Dreams, Reflections”. London: Fontana Press, 1995, p. 107-108.

Memories, Dreams, Reflections

What we are to our inward vision, and what man appears to be sub specie aeternitatis, can only be expressed by way of myth. Myth is more individual and expresses life more precisely than does science. Science works with concepts of averages which are far too general to do justice to the subjective variety of an individual life.
Thus it is that I have now undertaken, in my eighty-third year, to tell my personal myth. I can only make direct statements, only “tell stories”. Whether or not the stories are “true” is not the problem. The only question is whether what I tell is my fable, my truth.
An autobiography is so difficult to write because we possess no standards, no objective foundation, from which to judge ourselves. There are really no proper bases for comparison. I know that in many things I am not like others, but I do not know what I really am like. Man cannot compare himself with any other creature; he is not a monkey, not a cow, not a tree. I am a man. But what is it to be that? Like every other being, I am a splinter of the infinite deity, but I cannot contrast myself with any animal, any plant or any stone. Only a mythical being has a range greater than man’s. How then can a man form any definite opinions about himself?
Life has always seemed to me like a plant that lives on its rhizome. Its true life is invisible, hidden in the rhizome. The part that appears above ground lasts only a single summer. Then it withers away – an ephemeral apparition. When we think of the unending growth and decay of life and civilisations, we cannot escape the impression of absolute nullity. Yet I have never lost a sense of something that lives and endures beneath the eternal flux. What we see is blossom, which passes. The rhizome remains.
In the end the only events in my life worth telling are those when the imperishable world erupted into this transitory one. That is why I speak chiefly of inner experiences, amongst which I include my dreams and visions. These form the prima materia of my scientific work. They were the fiery magma out of which the stone that had to be worked was crystallised.
Inner experiences also set their seal on the outward events that came my way and assumed importance to me in my youth or later on. I early arrived at the insight that when no answer comes from within to the problems and complexities of life, they ultimately mean very little. Outward circumstances are no substitute for inner experience. Therefore my life has been singularly poor in outward happenings. I cannot tell much about them, for it would strike me as hollow and insubstantial. I can understand myself only in the light of inner happenings. It is these that make up the singularity of my life, and with these my autobiography deals.

Carl Gustav Jung, “Memories, Dreams, Reflections”. London: Fontana Press, 1995, p. 17-19.

To Live

He turns a page over, stamps it, and then places it on a pile along with others he has already processed. He then picks up the next document and gives it a cursory look, but he already knows it’s not important enough to read. He picks up his chop and again affixes his stamp. The pile of documents behind him grows even larger. The screen is suffused with shadows, but we see the movements of a man carefully and precisely performing his sad task, over and over. The scene is filled with a painfully beautiful tension and sense of presence.
And I keep asking myself, “Why was I so moved by this or that image? What is the secret power of a single image?”
I wondered what it meant and after meditating on the question for a long time finally arrived at a conclusion. If you consider the scene to be meaningless, you have to consider how much difference there is between a life spent stacking up a mountain of documents and a life spent stacking up film cans.
If the scene represents nothing but wasted time, then that’s all there is to it. The man’s dutiful, sad performance of his work is the sadness that we have in our own lives. Our lives do not take meaning because of something we have accomplished. If there are both sunlight and shadows in the world, we are constantly suffering in the cruelty of shadows. The sense of presence that the mountain of documents provides is not simply the result of the clever use of props or lighting; we are moved because the gloomy shadows of the scene pierce the pall hiding in our own souls. To repeat, life does not have meaning because of something we have accomplished. In Ikiru, seeing the man’s life enables us to see something far more profound.

Hayao Miyazaki, “The power of the single shot”. In “Starting Point: 1979-1996”. San Francisco: VIZ Media, 2009, p. 159-160.


Inspiration is the unforeseen quantity, the muse that assails at the hidden hour. The arrows fly and one is unaware of being struck, and that a host of unrelated catalysts have joined clandestinely to form a system of its own, rendering one with the vibrations of an incurable disease – a burning imagination – at once unholy and divine.
What is to be done with the resulting impulses, these nerve endings flickering like an illuminated map of thieving constellations? The stars pulse. The muse seeks to be vivified. But the mind is also the muse. It seeks to outsmart its glorious opponents, to rewire such sources of inspiration. A crystal stream suddenly dried. A thing of beauty joyless, defiled. Why does the creative spirit turn on itself? Why does the maker twist all drama? The pen is lifted, guided by the shattered muse. Without discord, it marks, harmony passes unnoticed, without discord, it continues, Abel is rendered no more than a forgotten shepherd.

Patti Smith, “Devotion”. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2017, p. 1.

History repeats itself

– Is the post 1945 order imposed on the world by the US and their allies unraveling?
– The post-1945 “order” has been irretrievably unraveled with the fall of the Berlin Wall. Since then, the US tried repeatedly to replace it with a new order of pax americana. It failed abominably. At the moment, we all live on a multi-centered globe with no forces in sight that are alone or together capable or earnestly trying to “order” it. As Ulrich Beck, one of greatest thinkers of the past century prominent for his unique insight into the shape of things to come put it, we are already cast in a cosmopolitan condition but thus far we have not yet started to develop a cosmopolitan awareness (not to mention, as I would add, the institutions adequate to dealing with that cosmopolitan condition).
It is human, all too human, habit to blame and punish the messengers for the hateful contents of the message they carry from those baffling, inscrutable, frightening and rightly resented global forces which we (for a sound reason) suspect to bear responsibility for the agonizing and humiliating sense of existential uncertainty, which wrecks and grinds down our confidence as well as plays havoc with our ambitions, dreams and life plans. And while we can do next to nothing to bridle the elusive and faraway forces of globalization, we can at least divert the anger they caused us and which they go on causing, and unload our anger, vicariously, on their close to hand and within reach products. This won’t, of course, reach anywhere near the roots of the problems, but might relieve at least for some time the humiliation of our haplessness and our incapacity to resist the disabling precariousness of our own place in the world.
That twisted logic, the mindset it generates and the emotions it lets lose, provide highly fertile and nourishing meadows tempting many a political vote-gatherer to graze on. This is a chance, which a growing number of politicians would loathe to miss. Capitalizing on the anxiety caused by the influx of strangers, who are feared to push further down the wages and the salaries already refusing to grow and to lengthen yet more the already abominably long queues of people lining up (to no effect) for the stubbornly scarce jobs, is a temptation to which very few politicians already in office or aspiring to an office would be able to resist.

Zygmunt Bauman, interviewed by Helena Celestino. “Bauman: History repeats itself. We are coming back to the small, tribal states.” In Eutopia Institute: