Wednesday, December 29, 2004

How dangerous a "blog" can be?

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Here is the English translation of what the Iranian ex-vice president, Mohammad Abtahi, has reported on his weblog about the interrogation and torture of several Iranian blogers for what they said in their blogs.

This is what governments do when when the "national security" is in danger, and they should defend the "homeland", or "religion", "values", or any other sacred shit.
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More on the tortured bloggers here.

Susan Sontag (1933-2004)



Susan Sontag died at 71 (News: 1, 2). Thinking about her reminded me of myself at age 19, writing down the Persian translation of In Plato's Cave narrated to me and a few others by Bahman Jalali in the Iranian School of Radio and Television. In those years (mid 1980s) there was no book published on the theory of photography in Iran, neither there was any photography magazine. I had not read anything like that before. Reading that essay while I was writing it was a shocking experience.
It was winter. I used to go to Jalali's classes in Thursday afternoons. We wrote down that essay and two others ("Melancholy Objects" and "America, Seen Through the Glass Darkly") in two or three weeks. Those winter afternoons were a turning point in my life. Sontag's essays changed the meaning of images for me forever. Maybe the same way the pictures of Auschwitz changed every thing for her.
____________________________________
* For reading Sontag's last article in New York Times magazine click here.
* Read "Looking at War" in "The New Yorker" here.
* Also listen to Remembering Susan Sontag at Radio Nation.
* Quicksilver by John Berger.

The Photograph by Peter Hujar.

Wednesday, December 15, 2004

Girlfriend-Lap / Boyfriend arm, for Sale

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After the boyfriend's arm pillow now the girlfriend lap pillow is in the market.
I think We should read these articles (1 and 2) again. The writers had seen something in the 1800s that we are still blind to it.

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Thursday, December 09, 2004

The Israel of Our Time

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This qutation from Herman Melville explains about many things that happenned years after him, both in America and in the world. I can not read it without thinking about Superman and G. W. Bush.
And we Americans are peculiar, chosen people -- the Israel of our time; we bear the ark of the liberties of the world ... Long enough have we been skeptics with regard to ourselves, and doubted whether, indeed, the political Messiah had come. But he has come in us, if we would but give utterance to his promptings."
--Herman Melville, White-Jacket (1850)

Friday, November 19, 2004

Superheroes, Saving the World from Democracy

Incredible Logo swastika Hammer & Sickle
[Political propaganda] is aimed at the broad masses. It speaks the language of the people because it wants to be understood by the people. Its task is the highest creative art of putting sometimes complicated events and facts in a way simple enough to be understood by the man on the street. [...] Political propaganda, the art of anchoring the things of the state in the broad masses so that the whole nation will feel a part of them, cannot therefore remain merely a means to the goal of winning power. It must become a means of building and keeping power.
Joseph Goebbels, Nuremberg, 1934, from Der Kongress zur Nürnberg 1934 (Munich: Zentralverlag der NSDAP., Frz. Eher Nachf., 1934)

The Incredibles claims to be a parody of Superhero genre in American cinema, but what the movie does is nothing but re-validating the anti-democratic ideology behind what it is mocking. The story pictures a world threatened by an 'evil' character who plans to attack a New-York-city-like metropolis from a far island. The only people who can stop the danger are the superheroes, a minority who are born to save others by using their extra-ordinary abilities. Unfortunately the democratic society they live in does not appreciate them and treats them like any other citizen and expects them to behave as any other citizen too. The system doesn't let them to work outside the framework of law and democratic values, and believes ''everyone is special, so no one is,'' and is a place where ''everybody will be super, which means no one will be.''
The movie proves that all these are wrong. That superheroes exist, and they should be treated differently from other citizens. That the 'evil' exists and attacks New York city, and the 'superheroes' are the ones who have the right to do whatever they want to save the world, even if it needs to let them work outside the law...
Does the story sounds familiar? I am not surprised.

***
Superman was created in 1933 -the same year Hitler came to power in Germany. The first Superman comic book was published in 1938 by DC comics and its immediate success began a new genre in comic books, movies, cartoons, and other pop culture media that was different in its mythological style of storytelling and the messianic character it portrayed for the masses.
The word Superman, or “Der Übermensch” was the title Hitler used to describe himself. Superman’s other title, “Man of Steel,” reminds me of the other dictator of the '30s, Joseph Stalin, because it is what the word 'Stalin' means in Russian.
These hints leads me to some questions: What did Superman and the homonymous dictators have in common that make them all to chose the same names? What were the reasons for the invention of Superman in the thirties? Why both Superheroes and dictators have their own easy-to-remember logos? What makes them so popular among the masses?

Superheroes and dictators create a world for their audience that defines their position as being ‘absolutely right’ on every issue and ‘absolutely good’ in every circumstance. They all fight against self-defined ‘forces of darkness’ and in their battles they all have self-proclaimed quasi-religious ‘blessing’. They are all committed to a self-defined concept of justice that puts them above the law. The law itself is not an issue for them. But what they are concerned about is justice. In this regard they all see themselves as a perfect embodiment of law enforcement and do their job by whatever means necessary. In all these cases it is the power of the superheroes’ fists that at the end of the story brings the world back to its “edenic” order. Superheroes and dictators share the same worldview, although with seemingly different value systems. They create a world that is easily understandable for masses.
In such a world there is no responsibility for the regular citizens in taking care of their problems or 'dangers' threatening them. They have nothing to do but supporting their superheroes. Superheroes who not only fight the evil but also are the only ones who define it.

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* Photo: Courtesy of Walt Disney Pictures/Pixar Animation Studios
* The Quote from Joseph Goebbels from here. copyright © 2000 by Randall Bytwerk.

Thursday, November 04, 2004

Monday, November 01, 2004

History of The Night

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It is a long time I haven't blogged. Let me begin again with a poem by Borges:

History of The Night

Throughout the course of the generations
men constructed the night.
At first she was blindness;
thorns raking bare feet,
fear of wolves.
We shall never know who forged the word
for the interval of shadow
dividing the two twilights;
we shall never know in what age it came to mean
the starry hours.
Others created the myth.
They made her the mother of the unruffled Fates
that spin our destiny,
they sacrificed black ewes to her, and the cock
who crows his own death.
The Chaldeans assigned to her twelve houses;
to Zeno, infinite words.
She took shape from Latin hexameters
and the terror of Pascal.
Luis de Leon saw in her the homeland
of his stricken soul.
Now we feel her to be inexhaustible
like an ancient wine
and no one can gaze on her without vertigo
and time has charged her with eternity.

And to think that she wouldn't exist
except for those fragile instruments, the eyes.

Photo: UPI/Bettmann.
1984. Borges in his mother's old room at calle Maipú.

Sunday, October 03, 2004

Richard Avedon

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All photographs are accurate. None of them is the truth. --Richard Avedon
Richard Avedon passed away three days ago (news here). Despite the fact that he worked his whole life as a fashion photographer and his portraits were mostly the pictures of celebrities, I consider him a true revolutionary. He changed the way photographs are seen and understood, and established a new style of imaging -so powerful that can not be surpassed easily by any other fashion or portrait photographer.
My favorite, among all his books, is In the American West. I never forget how shocked I was when I saw it for the first time in the late '80s. It changed the meaning of portraiture for me, and I am sure for many others. In another post, I mentioned his influence on the works of the Iranian photographer, Mohsen Rastani.
I hope Rastani continues working on his Avedonian project. His photographs do not give us 'the' truth, but at least they give us a few accurate pictures of parts of the culture haven't been noticed for years.
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* Some of Avedon's older works can be seen here and here. The recent works for The New Yorker can be found here.
* The New Yorker's article about Avedon by Adam Gopnik here.

Monday, September 27, 2004

Andy Kershaw in Iran

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Click here (part 1, part 2) to listen to Andy Kershaw's fascinating report on different types of music in the contemporary Iran. It is a very vivid and realistic image of what is happening there.
The BBC 3 page can be found here.

Sunday, September 26, 2004

Elecrtic Lamp, Electric Chair, and Camera

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What is the relationship between Thomas Edison, electric lamp, electric chair, and camera?

In this early documentary film (MPEG), produced by Thomas Alva Edison in 1901, a cold and distant performance of a murder is carried out by a new scientific invention called 'the electric chair.' The performance is documented by another newly invented scientific device called Kinetoscope camera. The neutral eye of camera tries to prevent the emotions to get involved here. Nothing is supposed to be present but the absolute dominance of scientific precision.
That is how the civilization began its 20th century.

* Chronology
1879- Thomas Alva Edison invents a reliable, long-lasting Electric lamp.
1886-The New York State Government established a legislative commission  to study humane forms of capitol punishment.
1887 - Edison conducts demonstration in West Orange, New Jersey, to show how perfect the "Electric Chair" works. He kills large numbers of cats and dogs by luring the animals onto a metal plate wired to a 1,000 volt AC generator.
1988- Thomas Edison invents his Kinetoscope camera.
1888- Edison uses dogs, horses and cows to demonstrate how AC electricity kills 'swiftly.'
1890 - The first execution by electric chair.

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The Photo:
Sing Sing prison, New York, circa 1900. An African American prisoner strapped into the electric chair is observed by white American witnesses and guards before the moment of electrocution.
Source: Hulton Archive, another picture here (from the collection of George Eastman House.)

Thursday, September 23, 2004

Hakha in English

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The Eyeranian has translated a piece of Hakha's daily show into English. It gives you an idea what I was talking about when in one of previous posts I wrote about the surrealism of my country's politics.

Here I re-write my comment to The Eyeranian's post:
It is true that just a small number of people have believed what he says, but the fact that he EXISTS as a political figure says something about the Iranian culture. You don't see such a phenomenon in Chile, Burma, Vietnam, or Ivory Coast. The only place in the world that such a caricature of a 'savior' can appear in the political scene is our great country, Iran. After all 'we' are the ones who invented the concept of "savior" for the world. (what a shame,... the world could be a better place without it.)
* For seeing Hakha's TV show on September 17, click here.

Friday, September 17, 2004

Hugo Crosthwaite at Tropico de Nopal

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Hugo Crosthwaite has an exhibition at Tropico de Nopal Gallery, begining from today till October 16.
Go and visit it, if you ive in Los Angeles. You will not regret it.

The Music Box

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One of the advantages of living under a religious dictatorship is watching a lot of Laurel and Hardy, since many of their movies have nothing ‘unethical’ according to the strict moral codes of the Islamic regime.
Watching those movies helps you recognize a stairway in Silver Lake, Los Angeles, when you walk through Vendome Street near the intersection of Del Monte. This is the stairway used in the Laurel & Hardy movie, The Music Box, in 1931.
Excited from seeing the real stairway, you walk up its 133 steps like a pilgrim visiting a shrine. It is like paying homage to an unseen friend who has brought smiles to your face many times during your teenage years. The years one couldn’t see anything but death on the Iranian TV.
The stairway’s meaning for you goes beyond the meaning of the Laurel & Hardy movie. Your experience of the movie includes the daily news of the Iran-Iraq war ‘martyrs,’ the dreadful face of Khomeini, and all the propaganda shown before and after the movie.
* * *
Keeping a smile on your face back then was like holding that music box and taking it up to the top of the stairway. In the years the majority of the population didn’t have the illegal item called VCR, and the only movie you could watch on TV was shown once a week (on Friday afternoons), watching the Sisyphus type of work Laurel and Hardy performed in The Music Box made you think of your own life, made you laugh at it, and made that life bearable in its unusual way.
Coming down from the stairway you think all these might be the reason you never forget the stairway.

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- You can see parts of the movie here: 1, 2.
- A picture of the satairway can be seen here.

Wednesday, September 15, 2004

Klingon Language in Deutsche Welle Radio

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The German international broadcaster Deutsche Welle (DW) has added an online service in Klingon. According to BBC, this is what is happening in DW director's brain: "We should celebrate our 10-year presence in the online universe with a cross-border language. This should help users from other galaxies get an impression of Germany."
After centuries of building 'reality' based on illusions in the form of religions, it seems now humans have began to get inspirations from scince fictions. Crazy species!

_____________________________
The Klingon language is an artificial language created for the TV series Star Trek. To know more about Klingon language click here.

Tuesday, September 14, 2004

Song of Childhood

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This is the first part of the poem "Song of Childhood" By Peter Handke. It reminds me of the day I asked my mother who "I" am. She didn't understand what I meant, and I didn't find more words to explain my thoughts. I was a little kid. I guess "language" itself was too new for me to handle this type of question, or maybe language was an irrelevant factor since I still have the same problem when I ask the same question.

Read the complete poem here.
When the child was a child
It walked with its arms swinging,
wanted the brook to be a river,
the river to be a torrent,
and this puddle to be the sea.

When the child was a child,
it didn’t know that it was a child,
everything was soulful,
and all souls were one.

When the child was a child,
it had no opinion about anything,
had no habits,
it often sat cross-legged,
took off running,
had a cowlick in its hair,
and made no faces when photographed.

When the child was a child,
It was the time for these questions:
Why am I me, and why not you?
Why am I here, and why not there?
When did time begin, and where does space end?
Is life under the sun not just a dream?
Is what I see and hear and smell
not just an illusion of a world before the world?
Given the facts of evil and people.
does evil really exist?
How can it be that I, who I am,
didn’t exist before I came to be,
and that, someday, I, who I am,
will no longer be who I am?
[...]

Originally translated by Gabriel, revised by Doug Rosebrock.

Sunday, September 12, 2004

The American Left

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Last Friday I went to an event in Glendale Public Library, organized by KPFK and Union of Progressive Iranians. It was titled "1953 US Military Coup in Iran and US Empire Strategy in the Region," and promised to show a documentary. Documentaries on this subject are rare to find, so I went there to watch it.

The event was a disaster. Nothing was organized and every thing began late. We were packed in a small amphitheater, way behind its capacity (despite the fire safty regulations,) and we had to wait for the speaker an hour later than what was announced. During this one hour a bunch of people -mostly old people from the '60 and '70s generation- came to the podium, rased their fist in the air and shouted leftist slogans. The microphone was disconnected several times, and the speakers were intruppted repeatedly for technical problems. Worst of all, no documentary was shown and the subject of the speech was not the Coup but the US forign policy. It contained no deep insight into the subject, and we heard nothing but slogans, slogans, and slogans. Seeing all these I thought there is no wonder the Republicans and the Right are so popular in this country. The Palestinian flags and Hugo Chavez poters were not forgotten on the walls, but the microphone and the documentary were forgotten.

I left the place in the middle of the speech. There were so many people attending the event. It was a pity to see how the event was wasted like that. I wish the American left could grow up and do something that makes sense, instead of wasting its energy for selling books from dinousors like Mao or Lenin (yes, Lenin is a dinousur too) on the doorway, and wearing Che Guevara t-shirts and Red Star beret.
The extreme Left in the US reminds me of a 10 years old child, still playing with songs, raising fists, and slogans. To be Leftist here is the US is following a fashion more than a way of thinking that tries to critisize and analyse the subjects. To be a leftist here is having tatoos, shop organic and fair trade stuff in Trader Joe's, sign online pettitions, praise the dictator of Cuba (yes, I mean the dictator known as Fidel Castro,) and every now and then participate an event like what I saw on Friday. That is it. "Being a Leftist" is defined before being one. Like everything else here, it is a ready-made package to buy as it is. Despite all the criticism against the chains like McDonald and Berger King, to be a leftist in America is very much like going to a Mc Donald and choosing between Combo 1, 2, or 3. The Green Party, Anarchists, and a few other oprtions are your choices, and for being one of them you have to follow a certain pre-defined set of rules. Everything about them is so predictable. They don't do any action, but just reactions to what is set for them by the Republicans... and it is always in ways set up in a Combo 1-2-3 fashion: Don't drink Starbucks, don't shop from Gap, listen to certain bands and singers (mostly with psudo-revolutionary lyrics with no real "revolution" in the way they play their music,) and criticize the big corporations (but follow the fashion they set up for you.) Doing these all helps your conscience and makes you a 'leftist.'

All these shows why the American Left is such a loser. It has completely seperated itself from the reality. In Iran, the reality of the 1978 revolution and the massacre of the leftists in 1980-87 was like a slap in the face that waked up the leftists. The American Left lacks that experience, and I hope the experience never comes to America the way it came to the Iranians. But I think the American Left needs to find a way to touch what is going on in the world instead of palying with Che t-shirts and 19th century anarchist books. Praising a human disaster like Cuba, or selling Mao's books shows nothing but lack of ability to think, and being out of touch with the world.

Isaac Deutscher once said "The Right is evil, the left is idiot." (I translated it from Persian the way I read it in an article. It says "Raast-haa palidand va chap-haa ahmagh.") The Friday event reminded me of Isaac Deutscher, and how right he was when he talked about the left.
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* For Elvis T-shirts click here, for Che click here.
* For seeing the comercials for "revolutionary Taco" click here

Saturday, September 11, 2004

9/11

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It is September 11,
Let's remember all those who died during the American coup in September 11, 1973, in Chile, and all those who died during the 1953 American coup in Iran against the democratically ellected government of Mossadeq, and all those who died in 1954 during the American/Chiquita coup in Guatemala, and all those who were tortured in Indonesia, and thousands of people who were killed after the American coup in 1965 there, and all those who were tortured and executed after the pro-American military coup in Pakistan in 1977 that changed the country into the first Islamic Republic in the Middle East,
... and also all those who died in September 11, 2001, in World Trade Center, New York city. All those innocent people who paid (and are still paying) for the hate that is created during all these years.
Let's remember them all.
There is no way to the peace, the peace is the way.
--Mahatma Gandhi
Ted Rall's cartoon here.

Monday, September 06, 2004

Bomb the Living Daylights

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A message from the Minister of Propaganda, Herr O' Reilly, at FoxNews. I took it from a blog I read regularly. Read the complete text here.
I don't have any respect by and large for the Iraqi people at all. I have no respect for them. I think that they're a prehistoric group that is -- yeah, there's excuses. Sure, they're terrorized, they've never known freedom, all of that. There's excuses. I understand. But I don't have to respect them, because you know, when you have Americans dying trying to, you know, institute some kind of democracy there, and two percent of the people appreciate it, you know, it's time to -- time to wise up. The big lesson is that we cannot intervene using ground troops in the Muslim world ever again. What we can do, is bomb the living daylights out of them, just like we did in the Balkans. Bomb the living daylights out of them. But no more ground troops, no more hearts and minds ... ain't going to work. They're just people who are primitive.
-- William 'Bill' O' Reilly, 8/7/2004, Tim Russert (CNBC)

Tired of Deadends? Join Hakhaa!

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Ahura Khaleghi Yazdi is the new cultural product of my surreal country. In his daily 4 hours programs from Rangarang TV (one of the numerous 'opposition' Iranian TV stations, located in Washington DC) he asks the Iranian people to put faith on his revival of a supposedly old Iranian religion of Achaemenid (shortened as Hakhaa) as the only way of freeing Iran from its Islamic dictatorship. He asks people to close their eyes, believe in him as the representative of "the real world," and gives them an exact definite date (October 1st) for his victorious return to Iran, and overthrowing the Islamic regime. In his strange speeches in Rangarang TV, he promises "to dance with the Iranian people in the streets of Tehran" on October 1st, and tells them their liberation would be not only a political triumph but also a spritual recovery from years of 'mental corruption.' "We all go to the real world together." A countdown clock on his website and on the TV screen shows the numbers of days, minutes, and seconds remaning from Islamic regime's life, visually showing how near the victory is. "Look at this clock," he says, "when I began to open your eyes to the reality there were many days you had to wait... now it is just 26 days."

Watching his programs on TV, makes me wonder if I have to laugh or cry. As an Iranian, one has to develop an ability to cope with unexpected social behaviors, and strange and surreal forms of political actions. To name a few of these type of actions I can mention Khomeini's Fatwa about Salman Rushdie in 1988, people seeing Khomeini's face in the moon in 1978, and Shah's talk with Cyrus the Great in 1970 assuring him that 'the Empire' is in good hands. But the craziness of Ahura Khaleghi Yazdi gives every thing a new dimension. By using the Internet and satellite TV he has added new abilities to the old Iranian business of inventing religions and Messiahs. Interestingly the spiritual leader of the new religion is also into some businesses in Iraq's reconstruction programs: he is a U.S. contractor for rebuilding Iraqi Airways. His glorious resume says a lot about the kind of political connections he has with the Iranian Monarchists and the countries who plan to bombard the beloved motherland he has inherited from 'Achaemenid.'

What makes me sad here is not the idiot I see on TV speaking about his insane religion and that exact day of 'liberation' by "Hakhaa" forces. What disgusts me is hearing the telephone call he gets from Iran, from people who have faithfully believed in his secret Achaemenid "knowledge" as the only way to liberation. People who say they are ready "to kiss his feet and become his slave" as soon as the prophet of Hakhaa goes back to Iran. According to e-mails I get from friends the number of Hakhaa beleivers in Iran is not that low, or at least way higher than what I expected.

The area which is now called Iraq, Iran, and Afghanistan, is the birthplace of many important ideas in philosophy and religion: the dichotomy between good and evil, the notion of punishment day, the idea of paradise and hell, and the invention of Messiah as a liberating force. These ideas are repeated throughout the history in the forms of different religions. The latest one was Baha'i Faith, in mid-19th century which reinvented all these concepts and applied them to the Modern life. Many thought this would be the last religion there, since the myth of Modernity itself was supposed to replace all those old systems, but it proved to be a naive idea. The cases of Khomeini, Iranian Mojahedin, and Dr. Ahura Khaleghi Yazdi show how the root of the problem is grown deeply far into the culture. The disaster is happening beyond what is expected to be the boundaries of this craziness. "Religionizing" every thing in Iran has nothing to do with Islam. It is Islam that is a part of 'the religion' the Iranians believe: a religion that can change its colors and names, easily replace turban with suite and tie and change the look, but it always is there to respond to any question in any period, with the same repeating answers.

Friday, September 03, 2004

Sovereigntities

bush

I have no comments on this video.
Whatever this man does or says is beyond anybody's words.

Audio here. (MP3)

Thursday, September 02, 2004

Watch Her Disappear

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During my three hours trip to San Jacinto Mountains, and on the way back to Los Angeles I listened to a song from Tom Waits' Alice over and over: Watch Her Disappear.

For years I have been addicted to Tom Waits. I discovered him sometime in 1990, or 1991. I listened to Frank's Wild Years at a friend’s house, where we used to listen to music and drink alcohol, both being offenses punishable under Iranian law.
I remember I discovered Tom Waits the same night I drank Stolichnaya vodka for the first time. In a country where you didn’t have a CD store, in a country where you couldn’t find any drink other than terrible homemade raisin vodkas, “TomWaits/Stolichnaya” was a great mixture, a heavenly pleasure.
Tom Waits reminds me of Tehran, the city I hate and the city I love, both for the same reasons: for all the pleasures and sufferings that makes its character, and all the sorrows it carries on its shoulders.
Watch Her Disappear
(Tom Waits/Kathleen Brennan 1992)

Last night I dreamed that I was dreaming of you
And from a window across the lawn I watched you undress
Wearing your sunset of purple tightly woven around your hair
That rose in strangled ebony curls
Moving in a yellow bedroom light
The air is wet with sound
The faraway yelping of a wounded dog
And the ground is drinking a slow faucet leak
Your house is so soft and fading as it soaks the black summer heat
A light goes on and the door opens
And a yellow cat runs out on the stream of hall light and into the yard

A wooden cherry scent is faintly breathing the air
I hear your champagne laugh
You wear two lavender orchids
One in your hair and one on your hip
A string of yellow carnival lights comes on with the dusk
Circling the lake with a slowly dipping halo
And I hear a banjo tango

And you dance into the shadow of a black poplar tree
And I watched you as you disappeared
I watched you as you disappeared
I watched you as you disappeared
I watched you as you disappeared

Wednesday, September 01, 2004

Untitled

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It is not necessary to accept everything as true, one must only accept it as necessary.
Franz Kafka, The Trial.

Wednesday, August 25, 2004

Yaa AbolFazl!

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Recently I have written a lot (1, 2, 3, ...) about how in many cases I interprete the process of 'meaning-making' for social and cultural issues as an act of putting the subject in a mythologic system, whose meanings are already created, and are ready to be used.
The more I think about this idea the more I find it useful for explaining what I see. Take this one:
Rezazadeh of Iran lifts 441 pounds (200 kg) in the snatch during the men's over 231 lb (+105 kg) event at the Nikaia Olympic Weightlifting Hall during the 2004 Summer Olympics in Athens, Wednesday Aug. 25, 2004 [News]. (AP Photo/Koji Sasahara)

Just look at the word on the shirt: it says "O' Abolfazl, help me."
- Abolfazl?
- Yes, Abolfazl, ... The hero of the Shiite story of the sacred battle of Karbala
- The battle of Karbala?
- Yes, ... It is a war which hapenned in 680 in support of Hussain
- Hussain?
- Yes, Hussain, but it's a long story.
There is a long mythologic story behind those two words there. The only thing I can say about it now is that Abolfazl -the hero of battle of Karbala in 680- is still alive, lifting weights in Athens of 2004.

Monday, August 23, 2004

Is Democracy Still Democratic?

Arhundati Roy

Arundhati Roy, speaking in San Francisco, California on August 16th, 2004.
>>> The audio, video, and text here.
... If you think about it, the logic that underlies the war on terrorism and the logic that underlies terrorism is exactly the same. Both make ordinary citizens pay for the actions of their government. Al-Qaeda made the people of the United States pay with their lives for the actions of their government in Palestine, Saudi Arabia, Iraq, and Afghanistan. The U.S government has made the people of Afghanistan pay in their thousands for the actions of the Taliban and the people of Iraq pay in their hundreds of thousands for the actions of Saddam Hussein.

The crucial difference is that nobody really elected al-Qaeda, the Taliban, or Saddam Hussein. But the president of the United States was elected (well ... in a manner of speaking).

The prime ministers of Italy, Spain, and the United Kingdom were elected. Could it then be argued that citizens of these countries are more responsible for the actions of their government than Iraqis are for the actions of Saddam Hussein or Afghans for the Taliban?

Whose God decides which is a "just war" and which isn't? George Bush senior once said: "I will never apologize for the United States. I don't care what the facts are." When the president of the most powerful country in the world doesn't need to care what the facts are, then we can at least be sure we have entered the Age of Empire.

So what does public power mean in the Age of Empire? Does it mean anything at all? Does it actually exist?

>>> Complete text here

Sunday, August 22, 2004

The Exorcist, A Samuel Huntington Movie

The Exorcist
"The power of the christ compels you!" (QuickTime movie)

As the only Hollywood movie that begins with Islamic call to worship Allah, The Exorcist (1973) is a unique film and worthy to watch, even after 31 years. It is even more interesting to see it now, when you know that the story begins in Iraq, shown as the birthplace of Evil, and ends in Washington DC, as the battlefield of Christianity and Evil -who is resurrected in the Islamic world. The last shot of the movie ends with the Evil still alive inside a seemingly innocent girl, passing through the beautiful George Town streets. The final shot is accompanied with the Islamic Azaan again, in the middle of George Town, reminding the viewer about the presence of the Evil, and relating it to the 'false religion.'
Written by William Peter Blatty(a Catholic) and directed by William Friedkin(a Jewish filmmaker), the movie is a good example of how a political ideology can be created by a seemingly neutral entertainment industry. What is unbelievable to me is that during all these 31 years no film critic has ever mentioned the anti-Islamic connotations of the movie. To realize how strange it is just imagine if there was any reference to anything Jewish in the scene presenting the demon. Such a thing not only couldn't be ignored for a minute (not for thirty one years), but the movie probably would have been immediately listed as a dreadful anti-semitic propaganda.

The Exorcist

The Exorcist

The ten minutes opening to the movie is shot in the city Mosul, Iraq. Beginning with an Islamic Azaan, the movie shows an old priest (played by one of my favorite actors, Max Von Sydow) unearthing a demon-like statue, representing a creature whose comeback to the world is accompanied by the unnerving sounds of snarling dogs: the Evil comes to the world again in this exotic far land that doesn't have anything to do with pre-evil happy life we see in the "Christian" Washington DC. In a series of preceding shots we see the priest passing praying muslims. Later on, we see him confronting the demon statue, symbolizing the battle between Christianity and the unearthed Evil. The Exorcist story, the fight between Christianity and the Evil begins here, in Iraq.
To me, The Exorcist is not a simple horror story of a little girl possessed by a demon, but a nightmarish part of a bigger mythology created by Hollywood cinema. This ready-to-digest mythologic system describes the world as a place for the confrontation of God and Satan. According to this mythology (which can be seen in any major horror, science fiction, adventure, or disaster movie) America is the main battlefield between these two, and American people have a pre-defined duty to save the world by supporting a superhero whose power comes from a divine force (yes,... no democratic institution is involved in this process). In all these 'good-fights-evil' movies the hero himself has never decided to be a hero. He is always chosen by the devine to carry a 'mission' for eradicating the Evil, and saving the world. As you see, we have a lot of sprituality here, a mixture of religion and imperialism to describe everyone's role in the New World Order.

A prequel to the original story, Exorcist: The Beginning was released two days ago and it became an immediate box office success. I haven't seen the movie yet, but according to what I have read in the news, similar to Exorcist II, the origin of the Evil in the recent movie has been moved to somewhere in the North Africa. What is not changed though, is the main pattern in the story: God fighting against Evil, America fighting against the unknown world.
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P.S. Evidently, marketing Hollywood mythology to the world has been very successful. It has been even sold to the land of mythologies, Mesopotamia. Read the news here:
American troops launch 'Exorcist' tour at ancient temple

Saturday, August 21, 2004

Ahmad

My cousin, Ahmad, is dead. This morning I got a call from my brother telling me about his death in Iran. He has been dead in his apartment for three days, before the neighbors smell the decaying corpse and call the police.
***
Death never had such a tangible apearance to me.
Ahmad is dead forever.

Thursday, August 19, 2004

The Library of Babel

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Reading Borges' short story The Library of Babel again reminded me of Nietzsche's fascinating essay On truth and lie in an extra-moral sense. They both question the ways the "unique truth" is manufactured through inventing systems of meanings out of an ambiguous scripture -our chaotic world.
"What then is truth? A mobile army of metaphors, metonyms, and anthropomorphisms — in short, a sum of human relations, which have been enhanced, transposed, and embellished poetically and rhetorically, and which after long use seem firm, canonical, and obligatory to a people: truths are illusions about which one has forgotten that is what they are; metaphors which are worn out and without sensuous power; coins which have lost their pictures and now matter only as metal, no longer as coins.
We still do not know where the urge for truth comes from; for as yet we have heard only of the obligation imposed by society that it should exist: to be truthful means using the customary metaphors - in moral terms, the obligation to lie according to fixed convention, to lie herd-like in a style obligatory for all..." (—' The Viking Portable Nietzsche, p.46-7, Kaufmann transl.)
Illustration: A Man with A Cube, by Maurits Cornelis Escher (1898-1972).

Tuesday, August 17, 2004

Start your own church!

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Among all the junkmails I get every day, occasionally there are a few that take my attention, like the one I got today titled "Our church will ordain anyone who asks":
Become a legally ordained minister within 48 hours
As a minister, you will be authorized to perform the rites and ceremonies of the church!
Perform Weddings, Funerals, Perform Baptisms, Forgiveness of Sins
Visit Correctional Facilities
Want to start your own church?
Press here to find out how
After reading it, I thought probably I don't need them for begining my "own church". What it needs is an XX-Large robe and a talent in performing arts --to make me able to cry in public if necessary, and prevent me from laughing at people when they look at me with tears in their eyes.
It also needs a bunch of dedicated believers for starting the business. They have to worship me, see me in their dreams, try to understand what I say, and get "healed" when I touch them. Their job might seem difficult at the beginning, but there are good opportunities for them in the future to begin the first denominations of the religion, based on their interpretations of the sacred words I recite.
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The picture: Guru Nanak Jayant.

Saturday, August 14, 2004

LA, Summer 2004

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To me this is the real LA.
Photography by Vinny Pacheco.
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Thanks to eyeranian.

Friday, August 06, 2004

Liberty

Gandhi
"The cause of liberty becomes a mockery, if the price to be paid is wholesale destruction of those who are to enjoy liberty. It then becomes an inglorious satiation of ambition."
--M.K. Gandhi, 1940

Tuesday, August 03, 2004

Homosexuality and the Tradional Iranian Culture

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Reading this article about the ways the sexual concepts were transformed in Iran during the last 200 years made me thinking about my own memories of the older generations talking about sexuality. It seems generation after generation people became more conservative and less comfortable talking about sexual practices and homosexuality.
During the 19th century Iran imported the Victorian moral value system as an integral part of the Modernization process, and consequently homosexuality was not tolerated anymore. Historically, homosexuality was never considered a symptom of the decadence of society, the way it is considered now. It was very much accepted as a part of the real life, and even "Ulama" (the clergy) had their own rules of "halaal" and "haraam" for the act of homosexual sex between men for helping the beleivers to do it according to God's rulles! There is a big contradiction between what Quran says and the clergy "rules", but I think back then the clergy were smart enough to tolerate these types of issues. Homosexuality, like drinking, was a 'sin' that could be neglected. One can see that clearly in the Persian Classic literature.
Redefining gender in Islamic societies according to Modern values imported from Europe, and the relationship between Islamic foundamentalism and these ethical values is something worthy to research. There are not that many books and articles on this subject.

Friday, July 30, 2004

Matrix, Simulated

Matrix
I saw this flash animation a few days ago. When I was watching it I noticed the word 'Matrix' mentioned on the bottom of the page and thought it is referring to the movie Matrix. Seeing the Flash movie again today, I noticed the link is not referring to the movie, but to a real data mining program called MATRIX (Multistate Anti-TeRrorism Information eXchange).
As ACLU website explains:
[This] surveillance system combines information about individuals from government databases and private-sector data companies.  It then makes those dossiers available for search by government officials and combs through the millions of files in a search for “anomalies” that may be indicative of terrorist or other criminal activity...
It amazes me how many metaphors created by Hollywood movies (The Star Wras, the spaceship Enterprise, or the Evil Empire) are used by American political language, and how much the reality formed in the minds of people depends on the simulated reality previously manufactured by the media. But it is even more surprising to see that nobody notices something so obvious. It is a system of manipulation of minds based on a modern-age mythology which has replaced the reality.

In the movie Matrix, the book in which the 'drug-programs' are hidden is Baudrillard's Simulacra and Simulation.

simulacra_matrix

Apparently the movie wants to make a parallel between Baudrillard ideas about reality and what the movie was trying to say, but as one expects from a Hollywood product it completely misses the point. While Baudrillard talks about the actual life and the ways media and the whole system functions as the Borgesian "Empror's Map" to create a reality for us, Matrix tries to remake a Christian drama with a Modern-Age savior, based on a beautifully done commercial interpretation of Berkeley's philosophy (esse is percipi, to be is to be perceived). The eventual result has nothing to do with Baudrillard.

Ironically -as we can see now- the real Baudrillardian Matrix is made somewhere else: in the Department of .. you know what. What they do under the name 'Matrix' is so much in line with the map Borges talks about: the Baudrillardian image of a reality that doesn't exist anymore. In the late '90s Wachowski Brothers asked Baudrillard to get involved in writing the script and making the movie Matrix. He never accepted. I wonder if he has ever wrote anything on the re-make, the real Matrix. That is something I love to read.

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Thursday, July 08, 2004

Untitled



It's not a certain society that seems ridiculous to me, it's mankind.
--Eugene Ionesco (1912-1994)

Sunday, July 04, 2004

The Bridge of Knowledge

The Bridge of Knowledge

Crawling on a self-invented bridge,
and writing the history of one's own shaky movements as if it is the only path to truth.

This is how the mankind defines 'progress.'

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Photograph: Passage.
Photogravure with chine-colle coating by Robert & Shana ParkeHarrison.

Thursday, July 01, 2004

Fahrenheit 9/11

Fahrenheit 9/11
Did Fahrenheit 9/11 deserve the Cannes Film Festival award? Probably not.

The movie is a great piece of TV style documentary with a certain political agenda. It is made to inform the American public about the mafia who runs the government, and more than that it is made to change their mind about the ones they choose in the next election. In its rhetoric the movie uses the same devices the Right-extremists have used for years to manipulate the public mind. Fahrenheit 9/11 is a great political pamphlet, informing people in great numbers about what is going on in their 'democracy,' but at the same time bringing itself down to the level of the least intelligent TV shows. Is it the weak point for the movie or its stregth?

The fact is that the movie can convince many people not to vote for Bush in the next election, and makes them think about the criminals in power. But at the same time this kind of argument, the kind of over-simplification of the reality (like showing pre-war Iraq as a paradise for happy children and smiling people) that we see in the movie is something that the other side of the battle is expert in it. They can easily use the same technics against the movie.

There are certain beautiful moments in the work, like when Moore reads the Patriotic Act to the members of the Congress using a loudspeaker, while he is driving a Ice-cream truck, or when he asks the Congress members to sign up their children in the Army, but a big part of the movie is playing with viewer's emotions. Listening to a mother who reads the last letter of his son, killed in Iraq, who asks people not to vote for Bush is nothing but propaganda. The son could have written something in favor of Bush, and the crying mother could be shown on Fox. So what is the difference here between these two? When I think about it I don't see that much difference in the 'languge' used in both of these cases. The truth is to be politically effective, one can't do anything but what Micheal Moore does in this move: for a nation so addicted to fast-paced TV programs, simplified reality, and fast food (not only for stomack but for brain as well,) what else can be done to convince the nation not to vote for an idiot?
I call Fahrenheit 9/11 a political 'pamphlet' because despite its claims it still works on the surface, it plays with emotions and cry scenes rather than bringing up important issues such as WMD or the fact that the new wave of American imperialism began when Clinton was in power. It emphasizes on removing certain people from power, instead of talking about the mentality that is behind American foreign policy for decades. It doesn't show the roots of what is going on behind the scene. There are a lot of information on Saudis (which at certain points, in my view, becomes somehow anti-Arab rather than anti-terrorist), but there is no mention of the gang whose policies has brought the world to such a disastrous situation.

The fact that I politically agree with Michael Moore doesn't make his movie a good film, the same way my praise for cinematic beauty of movies such as Triumph of the Will or Battleship Potemkin, or my enjoyment of listening to Israel's national anthem does not make me a pro-Nazi, pro-Communist, or pro-Zionist. I think we need to separate art from its political agenda. The works which are made for attaining certain political goals all have political expiration dates. The question is if they are deep enough and artistically rich enough to survive the oblivion of history, when their political goals are a part of a forgotten past.

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Picture: "Fahrenheit 9/11" in Asr-e Jadid (meaning "Modern World") Movie Theater in Tehran. from cappuccino.

Wednesday, June 30, 2004

The Lovers' Wind

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Tonight I watched Albert Lamorisse's The Red Balloon on KCET. In many ways the movie is very much similar to The Little Prince: it is made for children but goes beyond that, it is extremely poetic, and it can be understood in a very mystic way. If somebody wants to know where the first movies of Abbas Kiarostami are coming from, Lamorisse is the answer.

Lamorisse had a very rich and short life. He made several short feature films and documentaries between the late 1940s and 1970, the year he died in a helicopter crash. He died while he was making a movie, Le Vent des amoureux (Baade Sabaa in Persian, or The Lovers' Wind in English.) The documentary was commissioned by the pre-revolutionary Iranian regime, to be used as a professionally made propaganda movie about the process of modernization in Iran. Instead, as it could be expected, Lamorisse made a lyrical movie narrated by a wind, Sabaa, traveling around the country and telling the viewer about the history and culture of Iran. The movie is mostly aerial shots implying a wind's view.

In 1970 when Shah saw the movie, he didn't liked it. He asked Lamorisse to add new scenes to the movie talking about him as the great leader of the country and the modernized of face Iran, meaning the newly build dams, neon lights in the streets of Tehran, and the newly build Hilton Hotel. One can imagine how Lamorisse would have felt about this. Since the shooting of the movie was finished by that time Lamorisse couldn't use the special Helicopter and features needed for the new aerial shots, they were not available any more. So instead he used the helicopter and the pilot that was provided by the Iranian Army. That proved to be a wrong choice. The helicopter and the pilot probably were not able to do the same kind of movements he expected them to do. In june 1970 Lamorisse and the crew of the helicopter died in a Helicopter crash in the Karaj's dam lake. The movie was re-edited and released 8 years later in 1978, when a revolution made all those talks about neon lights and dams unnecessary.

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For reading The Red Baloon go here.

Saturday, June 26, 2004

Two Labyrinths

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Putting what has happened to the world in the last few centuries in a "Huntington/Bin Ladanian" context reminds me of a short story by Borges: The Two Kings and the Two labyrinths.
Sometimes ambiguity of art brings more meaning to supposedly "clear" reality.

The Two Kings and the Two Labyrinths

It is said by men worthy of belief (though Allah's knowledge is greater) that in the first days there was a king of the isles of Babylonia who called together his architects and his priests and bade them build him a labyrinth so confused and so subtle that the most prudent men would not venture to enter it, and those who did would lose their way. Most unseemly was the edifice that resulted, for it is the prerogative of God, not man, to strike confusion and inspire wonder. In time there came to the court a king of Arabs, and the king of Babylonia (to muck the simplicity of his guest) bade him enter the labyrinth, where the king of Arabs wandered, humiliated and confused, until the coming of the evening, when he implored God's aid and found the door. His lips offered no complaint, though he said to the king of Babylonia that in his land he had another labyrinth, and Allah willing, he would see that someday the king of Babylonia made its acquaintance. Then he returned to Arabia with his captains and his wardens and he wreaked such havoc upon kingdoms of Babylonia, and with such great blessing by fortune, that he brought low his castles, crushed his people, and took the king of Babylonia himself captive. He tied him atop a swift-footed camel and led him into the desert. Three days they rode, and then he said to him, "O king of time and substance and cipher of the century! In Babylonia didst thou attempt to make me lose my way in a labyrinth of brass with many stairways, doors, and walls; now the Powerful One has seen fit to allow me to show thee mine, which has no stairways to climb, nor walls to impede thy passage."

Then he untied the bonds of the king of Babylonia and abandoned him in the middle of the desert, where he died of hunger and thirst. Glory to him who does not die.

________________________________
- Story:
From Collected Fictions by Jorge Luis Borges, translated by Andrew Hurley, Penguin Books, 1998, p. 263-264.
- Painting:
The Tower of Babel, by Pieter Bruegel, 1563.
Oil on oak panel, 114 x 155 cm, Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna.
- Photograph:
Chris Rainier, National Geographic Society.

Tuesday, June 22, 2004

Sir Alfred, the Iranian Zelig

Zelig The Iranian Zelig

Yesterday Christian Science Monitor published an article about Mehran Karimi Nasseri, the person whose bizarre story of being trapped in an airport for 15 years was the inspiration for the character of the protagonist in the movie The Terminal.

In this article like many others, Mahran karimi Nasseri (mostly known in Paris' Charles de Gaulle airport as "Sir Alfred") is presented as a victim of bureaucracy. The real story, however, is completely different. Sir Alfred has stayed there not because of a delay in processing his documents, but because those documents identify him as an "Iranian". What he insists the authorities to accept is recognizing him as a European,. He doesn't want them to know him an Iranian immigrant or political asylem-seeker. What he wants is documents to show the world that he is not from that loser third world country. He wants documents that officially announce him European with European "blood" in his veins.

The mental illness of Mehran Karimi Nasseri is not a personal issue of an individual. It is very much related to a post-colonial mental decease of "third world" nations like Iran who view themselves as degenerated creatures of a damned part of the world that they always need to escape from.

Dreaming about "khaarej" (in Persian meaning "the foreign lands", but basically a word being used just describing Europe and North America,) as dreamland of order, beauty, and happiness is something I have mentioned before in two other posts (1, 2). Dreaming about "khaarej" is our national mental decease. (Yes! if we have such a thing as "National car" why shouldn't we have a national mental disease!?) The case of Sir Alfred is not that special. It is the same decease the whole nation is suffering from, but in this case it has reached its ultimate level, a level of crisis.
When you think about Reza Shah period (the 1930s) when Iranian nation -the entire nation- was banned to wear its regular Iranian costumes, and was forced to wear Western style suit and a stupid hat imitated from the French police's uniforms, you can see were the story of Sir Alfred has began.

In the the movie, Zelig (1983), Woody Allen narrates the life-story of a character from the '20s and '30s, Leonard Zelig, who has a very strange personality: he can't be himself. He psychologically and physically reflects whatever surrounds him and whoever he is with. He transforms all the time, jumping from one personality to another. The only thing doesn't change in him is his eagerness to escape from being himself.

"I wanna be liked"... It's a statement by Leonard Zelig under a hypnosis session in the movie. I can hear the same thing from Sir Alfred Mehran talking about his dreams for his "future life" in "khaarej." I can hear the same thing from many other Iranians whose souls are trapped in an airport which is supposed to be their gate to the utopian heaven "the West" promises to be.

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For more on Mehran Karimi Nasseri see the documentary Sir Alfred of Charles de Gaulle Airport.

Peykan, the Iranian "National" Car

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The production of Peykan, the Iranian "national car" (whatever that means, specially when it is a Hillman made in England!) is finally discontunued after about 40 years. During this 40 years its design never changed. A fact that says a lot about a culture that finds pride in assembling such a piece of junk for 40 years, without even trying to improve it in any way.

Tuesday, June 15, 2004

The Act of Creation

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Einstein's space is no closer to reality than Van Gogh's sky. The glory of science is not in a truth more absolute than the truth of Bach or Tolstoy, but in the act of creation itself. The scientist's discoveries impose his own order on chaos, as the composer or painter imposes his; an order that always refers to limited aspects of reality, and is based on the observer's frame of reference, which differs from period to period as a Rembrant nude differs from a nude by Manet.

--Arthur Koestler (1905 - 1983), The Act of Creation, London, 1970, p. 253