Playwright, poet and activist LeRoi Jones on June 30, 1964. Jones later changed his name to Amiri Baraka.

Amiri Baraka & Andrea Hiott: Decide

Decide for Yourself

Pulse: I’d like to talk to you about the relationship between truth and creativity. How important do you think truth is to the experience of writing?

Amiri Baraka: If you don’t think about what’s true when you’re writing, then it’s just some kind of propaganda. If you’re not trying to find the truth, and if you’re not at the same time communicating that truth, then you’re actually a very negative force. There’s nothing more dangerous, according to Mao, than a skilled artist who represents bad things. Skilled artists who represent evil are the most dangerous forces in the world because they can make you believe it. We’re constantly perceiving things, like we have antenna, we’re always learning, but the big question is: how are we going to use it?

You talk about process and movement a lot in your writing and I’m interested in how those things relate to truth. Because it seems you’ve been through many different stages, often going from one extreme to the other. Has the truth been different for you at different times?

Yes. In the same way that what you know when you are 9, you might reverse when you are 12.

But your changes have been quite radical. You’ve shocked people. You’ve been inconsistent.

And I don’t see anything wrong with that. I think people should understand that if you think the same things when you’re 60 that you thought when you were 30 then something must be wrong with you. What have you been learning? What have you been waking up to? It’s not about always being right. You’ve got to be strong enough to be critical of yourself and then move on. To say this is why I thought this and this is why I don’t think it now. Self-criticism is a good thing. It’s like going to the bathroom: if you don’t go, then you’re going to be full of shit. You have to get rid of the waste material and that’s a process that goes on all the time. That doesn’t mean it’s easy: sometimes it’s very hard to get rid of things, even when you know they’re negative.

Because of fear?

Fear is a big part of it. People are afraid of losing what they have. It’s also hard to say what you think when you know it’s going to be opposed, or when you think people are going to jump on you for what you’re feeling.

So why go through all this effort in the first place? Why is saying what you feel worth taking risks and making mistakes?

Because you want to have a healthy mind, a healthy spirit. Because you know your mistakes might make something clear. As much as people might jump on you or taunt you, they can’t really hurt you if you’re clear with yourself, if you know you did something because you believed in it; whether it’s taken as wrong or right, it’s what you had to say. That kind of strength is the thing you should never deprive yourself of. People become cowed by society, prostituted by society, suicided by society. I read an article once where Van Gogh was described as “the man suicided by society’. People couldn’t handle the way he saw things. A lot of stuff happens and we just don’t want to handle it.

But isn’t what you’re describing more on the side of life than death? Isn’t it about dealing with truth as something alive and dynamic rather than static or fixed?

Yes. But a lot of people aren’t conscious enough to go that far, they aren’t aware at all. They lack true self-consciousness, and they aren’t even looking for it. To be aware of who you are essentially, to be aware of where you come from and of what you want, that’s a strong quality and it has to be sought; you have to work for it.

But are people who aren’t consciously dealing with their truth living worse lives than those who are? Are they unhappy?

It’s not always a matter of happiness.

But is there a reason to be more aware? Do you think this is something we should feel responsible for or try and change?

Of course it’s something we should want to change. If people weren’t so unconscious they wouldn’t allow themselves to be abused. The more conscious a society is then the more that society will develop. Everybody’s got to know enough to walk down the street without falling down. To live in a world where the ignorant outnumber those who are aware is a very dangerous thing. Whether the ignorant mean you harm or not, it’s still dangerous. They can’t protect themselves or anyone around them. Just like the current ignorance with global warming. By the time everyone becomes aware of what’s really happening,we might already be floating down the river.

We might. But its funny how quickly the awareness of something can spread once it begins. It’s like dominoes falling.

That’s why you learn so much during periods of revolution. When there’s revolutionary turmoil, people learn in two or three days what it would otherwise take them years to learn. They’re shocked into awareness because things are so immediate and society is turning over so rapidly. People aren’t generally encouraged to think. They’re encouraged to eat and copulate and work. They aren’t encouraged to do research and learn. Mao said ‘be good at learning’. Take the time to understand that you don’t understand. There are a lot of things you don’t understand. They are a lot of things you might never understand. But you should always be trying. You’ve always got to try and find out what’s out there because you have to know what the other paths are before you can reject them. You have to learn, and then you have to clear away what you’ve learned and find your own answers.

I learned your poems in school before I knew anything of your autobiography. I identified with your poems as they related to my own life, not understanding the context from which they came. Do you think it’s strange that a young, white girl would connect with a poem like Return of the Native, a poem you wrote in a time when you were considered a Black Nationalist?

It’s not a question of who wrote it or when; it’s a question of sensibility. It’s a question of what’s immediate, not what’s on all the sides of that. If you can sense what’s human in it, then you’re at its essence.

There’s a Guatemalan poet named Otto Rene Castillo who writes “If you can feel the man beneath these words; if you can feel the human being beneath these words; if you feel real life beyond what I am describing, then we are brothers and sisters” and that’s what art is supposed to do. Even if you think you hate people, you still want them to understand what you’re saying; you want them to get the emotion, the feeling. You communicate with people at all kinds of levels. It’s about human beings. They come from diverse places, sizes, shapes, colors, wants, needs, but there’s always a need for recognition. Recognition is what helps us understand each other. The question now is: when will we advance enough to create societies based on our ultimate humanity rather than all the other bullshit that separates us and makes us enemies?

Do you think we can do that?

I think we’ll either do that or we’ll perish. We’ll either find the way or we’ll disappear. It’s another epic: either we perfect this society in a way that allows us to live together or we’re all dead. Global warming makes it obvious that it’s not in any one person’s hands. We’re part of nature, and we have to be in tune with it, with the body of it, or it will get rid of us. There are levels of agreement that we must ultimately come together and see. At a certain point it’s just abstract to think about individualism. Individualism is an abstraction in the face of this. The same thing goes for social relations, for international relations: keep fooling around in Iraq and it’s going to be the same thing. Are we going to keep putting
the whole world in jeopardy so a little group of us can steal? That’s insanity.

Do you think that kind of understanding starts on a smaller scale? With our friends and lovers? You and your wife Amina have been married for over 40 years now. I imagine that has also required a similar process of learning.

People ask me how me how we’ve stayed married so long and I say ‘Because we want to be married’. It’s a question of need, what does another person have that you need. A relationship is also about finding yourself there, because if you don’t find yourself there then you’ll leave. Marriage is a completion, this half and that half, and it’s the real stuff, not the bullshit. The life of a single individual is limited no matter how smart or how brilliant or how rich you are. Human beings are social animals. There’s no such thing as a society of one. Sometimes people think they’ve got to create the ideal world when really what they’ve got to do first is just learn to live with another person.

So it’s about being open or true, even if just with only one person, letting them see you as the monster or the angel or the good guy or the bad guy or whatever?


Do you think people are able to consistently let go and feel that?

Well people aren’t taught to be like that, to express themselves like that, or to be that comfortable with their own truth. Being open is very difficult. Saying ‘I need you’ or ‘I love you’ and really feeling it is very difficult, much more difficult than just using the words. Anyone can use the words because they’ve heard them said in the movies; they’re just going through the motions. To actually express that at the utmost level of sincerity is a hard thing because none of us wants to be that naked.

Do you think that same idea is related to being creative? Getting to that same place?

I think ultimately that’s the only place you can go to or feel when you’re creating something. I don’t know what you’re being creative about, unless it’s about going there.

interview at Amiri and Amina Baraka’s home,
Newark, New Jersey, 2007

Splace, 2010

Adam Raymont: A Splace in Berlin

Splace was an eleven part series of experimental art exhibitions in Berlin during the Summer of 2010. The shows each took place for one night only in the Fernseherturm pavilion, a unique space located at the base of the television tower in Alexanderplatz. Organized by Magdalena Magiera, Antje Majewski, Dirk Peuker, and Juliane Solmsdorf, Splace allowed an international group of artists  the freedom to experiment and exhibit work outside of a standard gallery context.

Due to the television tower’s unusual architecture and complex history, the location proved to be an attractive yet equally challenging venue. Though the artists each created individual shows, they were also participants in the whole- each creating or installing work in the same unusual environment. The threads that ran through the series were evident in the way the artists responded to the space itself, whether by using the location as inspiration or directly interacting with the architecture and its environment. The Basso Bar was a recurring part of the series. They designed a mobile ‘pop-up’’ bar which unfolded from an art shipping crate. Members of the Berlin artist collective, Basso, manned the bar at every opening, helping to create an informal social environment to compliment the vernissage each week. The hand-made bar at Splace also stood in contrast to the neighboring franchise café’s with their branded prefab décor.

The project began when Majewski and Peuker, who teach at Weissensee Hochschule fur Kunst, were invited by the current owners of the pavilion to use a commercial space in the base of the tower for student exhibitions while it stood unoccupied. When summer came they enlisted  Magiera and Solmsdorf to develop a broader project., “I had already been thinking about finding a place to hold a series of exhibitions” Majeswki  said, “a place for artists to make work that is immaterial or conceptual or fleeting… “. Majewski had thought of calling the project Blind Spot, “…coming from the place where the nerve of the eye meets the background of the eye; the only part of the eye not sensitive to light. The Fernseherturm is a transmitter of information… it’s one of the main knots of traffic in the city and yet it’s still so unknown.” Majewski had hoped to teach a course on Berlin Alexanderplatz. The course, in her words, was to be about, “The relationship of art to the city in general, and our relationship to our past, which is also a blind spot in [contemporary German] art. If you take Poland, for example, artists there talk about Polish history all the time. In Germany it seems that the past doesn’t appear in art. Here no one seems to be interested the fact that this city was divided 20 years ago. It doesn’t appear- it’s like a blind spot.”

Although Alexanderplatz is not known as one of Berlin’s cultural hotspots, it is still the historical center of the fractured city and a prime example of the unfinished quality one finds here. Berlin is a work in progress and the landscape of Alexanderplatz reflects the confused remains of its dreams, destruction, restoration, division and re-unification. The architecture surrounding the train station, for example, spans a century of the city’s history– two dense, closely set buildings designed by Peter Behrens in 1929 as part of a plan for a ‘big city plaza’ stand apart from later Soviet era buildings in the outlying plaza; leftover landmarks like the Haus der Lehrers and Haus der Reisen, with their classic 60’s modern design and striking Social Realist friezes and murals. Beyond them, rows of former East German housing blocks in various states of decay stretching out towards the stately Karl-Marx-Allee. Today Alexanderplatz feels more like a series of compromises, or settlement, rather any unified development. Recently, several prefab movie theaters and shopping malls have been built in the plaza, adding to the visible time-line. There is no easy place to rest the eye, with the exception of the famous television tower, the Fernseherturm, perhaps the most recognizable structure in Berlin.

When it was built, the television tower was a key part of the German Democratic Republic’s effort to rebuild Alexanderplatz as the center of East Berlin. Under the direction of Walter Ulbricht, the leader of the Socialist Unity Party which governed East Germany at the time, the construction of the tower began in 1964. The design was intended to symbolize the GDR’s strength and modernity and it also, probably not coincidentally, imposed on views from the West. In the years since the fall of the Berlin Wall, however, the tower has become a more welcoming symbol of Berlin, figuring prominently in the city’s skyline and commonly found as a graphic on souvenirs.

Having access to this unique location for the summer, the organizers of Splace invited artists to use the empty commercial space in the base of this iconic landmark, a structure which sits like a modernist crab beneath the shaft of the tower itself. At the time, this large, open room, with floor-to-ceiling windows looking out onto Alexanderplatz, had been left completely raw, with cement floor, load bearing columns, and unfinished walls exposing the core structure. The architecture of the room continues the angles and sweeping lines of the retro-futuristic exterior. The ceiling is an accordion-like series of folded planes broken by ventilation shafts and pipes which follow the irregular path of necessity rather than design. The raw condition of the space provided an intriguing setting, but in typical Berlin DIY spirit, the artists had to supply any extra lighting beyond the bare minimum available and work around the limited utilities, even having to bring water up in buckets from the fountain in the park below. The solid cement flooring tiles became a recurring raw material for the different artists as they were transformed and repositioned, turned into stages and stairs and other uses from one show to the next.

Some artists explicitly included the television tower in their work, like the first show by Jim Skuldt. Skuldt flew a customized, remote-controlled model airplane fitted with a camera up to the top of the tower, sending a live video feed of the birds-eye view of the plaza and observation deck down to a small monitor in the space below, thus evoking political protest flights of the past involving small planes flying over Soviet lines.

In one of the larger group shows at Splace, artist Yusuf Eitman presented a live performance and video of his interaction with the architecture. Wrapped in bright knit layers like an exaggerated 80’s aerobics instructor, he stretched and danced irreverently around the pavillion, mocking the tower’s imposing shape.

Taking an allegorical approach with her installation, Juliane Solmsdorf used a Xenon spotlight taken from an East German tank as both a light source and sculptural element: the bright beam of white light acted as a fallen tower across the floor, illuminating the assemblage of other found objects, including a poetic description of the dome as metal tea-eggs, slowly turning in the middle of the room.

Several other exhibitions explored the relationship between history and mythology. Ulrike Kuschel referenced the story of “St. Walter” which was the ironic moniker given to Walter Ulbricht because of the unintended cross that appears at the top of the Fernseherturm as the sun reflects off of the faceted dome, The tower was rendered less potent as a symbol of Socialist omnipotence by the cross, also known as “The Pope’s Revenge”. Kuschel created an audio guide telling a story of “St. Walter” and depicted him as an ironic icon, drawn in a Social Realist style on catholic prayer cards. Continuing with a similar sense of narrative in “It All Belongs to You”  Joanna Warsza used a selection of art sources and found media to address facts and urban legends about the Fernseherturm, presenting a silent “time-based lecture” which referred to the loss of 30 minutes when the rotation of the revolving restaurant at the top of the tower was sped up from one revolution an hour to two in 1989.

Dealing further with the architectural history of Berlin, Johannes Paul Raether presented a provocative case for rebuilding Hitler’s Reichkanslei by following the logic of the current debate over restoring historical sites from Berlin’s past, like the controversial proposed reconstruction of the Schloss on Unter den Linden. Raether’s presentation pointed out the importance of the Reichskanslei to Berlin’s history and it’s influence on architecture in the city, showing that it was the Reichskanslei that set the standard height, or ‘Traufhöhe’,  and proportions for buildings which are still used as the standards for building in Berlin today.

The Filmprogramm at Splace was an evening dedicated to the screening  of short films and video revolving around the theme of location and space. Curated by  Bettina Nürnberg and Dirk Peuker, the films ranged from Mattias Müller’s reworking of archival footage showing the construction of architect Oskar Niemeier’s sprawling, futuristic vision of Brasilia, built around the same time as the Fernseherturm and echoing it’s architecture, to Karl Kels’ black and white meditation on a Hippopotamus habitat at a zoo. In it, Kels cut from alternating views of workers earnestly cleaning and painting the enclosure to the animals living in it with savage disregard for their newly white-washed surroundings.

The otherworldly, cinematic quality of the space was accentuated by several of the artists on other evenings as well. Hendrick Weber’s site-specific sound installation, for example, consisted of water dripping from the air-conditioning ducts along the ceiling into bowls filled with charcoal, a material that was once the main source of heating in Berlin. The sound was amplified, and in the darkness, the piece became an ambient soundtrack for the rain-soaked city glittering through the plate glass windows, texturing the distance between outside and in and expanding the industrial feeling of the room.

In “A Tribute to Cass Elliot”, Delia Gonzalez and Jaro Straub collaborated by pairing projections of Straub’s melancholic, black and white photographs of an ageing hotel in California with Gonzalez and a guest performing “Mamma” Cass Elliot songs. Gonzalez says the music evokes a particular combination of psychedelic pop with darker visions of decaying glamour specific to Hollywood in the late 60’s, a time when the early film stars were first seen aging, losing that soft-focus haze of immortality. The dark, cinematic atmosphere this created seemed like a Weimar-era cabaret mixed with Karaoke as if envisioned by Fassbinder or David Lynch.

With their show “Freisler”, Antje Majewska and Agnieszka Polska’s fantasy was an homage to the Polish conceptual artist Pawel Freisler, referencing an enigmatic metal egg that Freisler once used as an object of departure. Furthering the story of Freisler’s  earlier work, Majewski and Polska imagined the space as a garden, constructing a story around the location using paintings, video, sculpture and performance. Freisler, making the kind of conceptual work that inspired Splace to begin with, was an early practitioner of Actions, immaterial art, and conceptual art as a form of political and cultural critique, rejecting what he perceived as the materialism of art and freeing it from institutional and physical boundaries.

The Splace series ended with Dirk Peuker and Amy Patton’s show titled “Fade to Black”, an exhibition which featured a minimal reordering of the room and spare, dramatic lighting, bringing much of the attention back to the original space as an artificial, theatrical set-piece. Patton’s wall-drawing incorporated a hand-written excerpt of text from a pulp novel lit by an empty  16 mm film projector. The deconstructed condition of the space was echoed in Peuker’s silkscreen prints depicting details of a deserted Asian pavilion in the outskirts of Berlin, with traces of ornament and decorative objects left behind in the otherwise forgotten space.

As with most of the exhibits at Splace, there was an attention to the history, both real and imagined, of places, drawing a connection between the individual and collective memory of spaces we inhabit and how memory itself can be viewed as a kind of place.

Splace existed as a DIY laboratory below the tower of the Fernseherturm, where art in its many forms took on special roles. Photography became a way of recording temporary structural interventions on the space, like evidence of creative vandalism. Drawings and paintings became further marks in concert with the sheetrock on the huge unpainted  walls. The space was like an avant-garde stage for performances and site-specific installations. And the architecture added another dimension to projected images and films. There was a give and take between the room as it stood and the artists’ efforts to engage it in dynamic dialogue, like retrofitting the soul of the raw space – but , by extension, also the soul of the tower. In a space that, in GDR times, was used as a television studio and again as a state sanctioned gallery, these playful and often absurd happenings gave new life to the dormant space and added another chapter to the tower’s multi-layered history.

Participating Artists include (in chronological order):

Jim Skuldt

Luis Berrios-Negron

Juliane Solmsdorf

Hendrick Weber

Delia Gonzalez, Jaro Straub

Leopold Kessler

Olaf Nicolai

Bettina Nuurnberg & Dirk Peuker

Matthias Müller

Salla Tykkä

Karl Kels

Mathilde Rosier

Agnieszka Polska

Antje Majewski

Yusuf Eitman

Thomas Kilpper

Thomas Nösler

Johannes Paul Raether

Joanna Warsza

Lena Inken Schaefer

Ulrike Kuschel

Thomas Bayrle

Dani Jakob

Sunah Choi

Amy Patton

Dirk Peuker

Special guests: Momus, Adam Raymont

For more information, see the project blog at: (<a href=““>


Lisa Fitzhugh

Money and Me

Interview by Jagged Mirror.

This conversation was recorded on a full moon in December during a pause from exchanging energy for money with the outside world.

Jagged Mirror: Do you remember what cash felt like in your hands when you were a kid? Wasn’t it thicker then, like dollar bills were actually heavier than they are now? Twenty-five dollars was a lot of money then, remember? You came home with that much every Sunday making omelets at the Sunday Times in the heart of south Baltimore.

Lisa Fitzhugh: I worked hard for that cash. Always “under the table.” Hard cash. I was a short-order cook when I was twelve.  Seasoning omelet pans with pounds of salt.  My skin slippery with the smell of eggs, butter, bacon, heat. And the burns on my arms from the stove….I was earning my keep, don’t ya know. But most of the time I gave my mom the money because we were broke, and that way I had some say about what we bought at the store. Our groceries for the week. On twenty-five dollars, all.

Were you just working for the money? What motivated you?

I never worked just for the money. My mom’s photography studio was above the restaurant, and I was always hanging out doing homework, or just passing time waiting for my mom to finish up in the darkroom. The cook was an interesting woman, an artist like my mom, and she asked me to help her out on Sundays when the restaurant was open for brunch. I guess I wanted to help. I liked to cook, and she inspired me.

So you were inspired and the money was just a bonus?

Let’s be real. The work was hard. People were always pissed off because their orders weren’t what they asked for, or we took too long. I was greasy and tired by the afternoon and then I usually still had schoolwork to do. I wouldn’t have done it for free. But what moved me in her direction, into her kitchen, was inspiration. I had no leverage about how much money I could make. I took whatever she offered me. But it was an exchange. My time, my attention, my energy in her kitchen. And for all of that on Sundays, I got twenty-five dollars. Seemed fair then. Still does.

Do you always work from inspiration? And then the money follows?

Are you serious? Definitely not. I got lost many times in the quest for title, position. But even then, even when I was fueled by ambition, I wasn’t working for the money. I was working for the challenge of it. I knew I’d always have to work to survive, and that money was the currency of exchange for my blood, sweat and tears, but what I really wanted was intangible, unquantifiable. I wanted purpose. I wanted to be of use. I wanted to express my gifts. I wanted to participate in this larger world where everyone seemed to be engaged in something. So I headed in, just at the dawn of my own adolescence, to be part of the dance of progress with the world.

Isn’t that what everyone wants? To be of use? To show up and offer ourselves to the places or the people who need us, who need our gifts, and then offer us some kind of currency in exchange?

I don’t know. I think many of us want to be “invited” to the dance. I think the invitation matters. The desperation of looking for a job, anything to pay the bills, and finding no reception is a kind of hell. Think of all the people in America right now who are living in that kind of hell. But we all have these gifts, and I think it’s universal that we want to share them with the world. I think our survival depends on it. So we offer ourselves up. We step into the arena, and we’re paid to contribute. But all too often, it’s not for our gifts. It’s for our purely mechanical or cognitive labors. So our gifts remain hidden, even to ourselves.

The cook at the restaurant invited me into her kitchen and inspired me with her own love of cooking, and her invitation revealed to me that I had an innate sense of how to make food delicious. I didn’t go on to become a cook, at least not for money, but there was her acknowledgement of the gifts I did bring, even then.

Can we dig around in this idea of “gifts?” What do you mean? Gifts imply something innate, something we came in with.

Gifts to me are like sensitivities, a heightened attunement to something outside of us that makes us “gifted” at seeing the nuances, the opportunities, or the solutions in a particular realm. We can be more sensitive to the body, or to fabrics, to movement or to the soil. When we’re sensitive, we seem to be paying even more attention to these spaces or things, and then we can change them, heal them or create within them with a gift that sets us apart. I think it’s related to our intuitive sense.

I think we can develop our sensitivities, our intuitive senses. But it’s not by building cognitive skills or mastering techniques, but by getting rid of the clutter that clogs our sensory airwaves, that blunts our nervous system. So much of what we ingest is numbing our receptors to the world. We ingest oceanfuls of dogma, media, technology, processed food, pharmaceuticals, video games, pornography, and distraction aplenty. It’s a large-scale suppression of our sensory receptors and their natural capacities to tune in to something subtler inside us and offer it back to the world as a gift.

Is this what’s causing such a spiritual wasteland on the planet? Is it about the suppression of our gifts?

I’m starting to think this is the root of it. My experience more and more with people is they are becoming robotic. All of us following the unwritten instructions to show up for a job someone else designed, buy the stuff someone else envisioned and created, eat the food someone else grew, and watch the movies someone else imagined. And our own gifts to create, heal, grow, or innovate in any realm whatsoever are not seen, not by us or by others, which explains why we aren’t invited in for our gifts.

So what are your gifts? Are you “invited” to share them? Are you getting paid for them?

Great question. If you’d asked me last month, I would have described my gifts as abilities. All my training in school was based on learning the left-brain’s rational skills–the language, more like a code, of productivity, competition, achievement, and positioning. The narrative goes like this: learn the code and the world will invite you to the dance and pay you accordingly. So I showed up, and used the code to make things happen in a conventionally successful way. I could always make good money if I promised to use those tools–the code.

But I got confused and thought that these abilities of reason and rationality were my gifts. Don’t get me wrong, these left-brain tools are powerful, they keep all our systems running and in place. But they cannot create something new; they don’t expand perception, because they are focused on what we already know.

Only recently has a deeper truth emerged for me about what my gifts really are. I think my gift–my sensitivity–is my heightened awareness of other people’s needs, my intuitive sense of other people’s energy, feelings, hopes, potential.

This sensitivity inclined me towards a career in politics for a while, an arena in which we’re required to effectively understand public needs. This same sensitivity inspired me to create a non-profit organization to support young people to find their gifts through learning in the arts. Arts Corps, as the organization is known, might have been an expression of my desire to know my own intuitive gifts. But I ended up playing the role of an administrator and spent my time supporting others to surface and express theirs.

It took me several more years of working with others, always serving as the rational mind expert, inviting others in for their gifts, to realize what was happening. I had become like Cinderella, just a servant, sometimes paid sometimes not, supporting the expression of other people’s gifts.

Wow, that’s a big realization. How are you feeling about that?

Some amount of grief. But I’m writing a piece here for this magazine and there’s more to unearth before I let those feelings take over.

I’m pulling in a narrative brought forward by a brain researcher, Ian McGilchrist, who wrote quite a tome on the right and left hemispheres of the brain. The Master and His Emissary. Gleaned from his 800- page book is a core idea that the functions of the left hemisphere are all about scrutiny, details, language, calculus (the thinking kind) and rationality while the functions of the right hemisphere are about meaning making, seeing the forest for the trees, symbology, seeing the new, and intuition. He says Einstein presaged this split in roles within our brains when he said the rational mind is a faithful servant and the intuitive mind is a sacred gift. So here’s that idea of gift again, coming up for us to look at.

You talk about your education, that it was mostly a training of your rational mind. Is this still what’s happening? Are we training a world of mostly servants to support the gifts of the few?

Sure as hell feels like it. Public education, and most of private education, is a left-brain training ground almost exclusively. The trends in public education have been to strip the arts from the core curriculum, eliminate playtime, expand the school day, the school year, and drill us to death. It’s a left brain’s tyranny, exclaiming with increasing urgency that we must learn its code to keep our failing systems alive, to create the new generation of servants to hold the systems intact, even as everywhere we look these same systems are collapsing under their own weight. No one wins within this tyranny, even those very few who appear to have all the money resources.

Ok, I’m going back to the feel of money on your skin, the weight of it when you first started working, and how that changed. For a long time after, didn’t you notice that money slipped through your fingers like confetti. What’s the relationship between the way money feels to you now and the kind of exchange it represents?

Maybe when I’m paid to share my gifts more explicitly, money will become more of an anchor in my life. It will represent the value the world holds for the whole of me- -my rational mind and my intuitive gifts. I can imagine tending to this money with more conscientiousness of where it goes after it comes to me, how do I exchange it yet again for someone else’s gifts, locally-grown food, hand-sewn sweaters, a cell phone made by a technology company that houses its workers safely and pays them wages to grow on. I wonder if the money I make when I’m invited to share my gifts might actually reflect a greater consciousness, and seek out its own reciprocal exchange, again and again and again.

That’s deep. Money with a consciousness.

Why not? Money is just energy. It represents an exchange. And energy, which is life, has consciousness. Even more radical than this possibility of money with a consciousness is money exchanged without seduction.

Can’t imagine that really. We’re wired for seduction. Especially in the marketplace. Advertising is embedded; it’s pretty much a mandate. We must be seduced into making choices with our money.

So we’re wired for: “Seduce me first, then I’ll give you my money (energy).” Yet seduction is “to lead astray.” So living in a system of choice making dependent on seduction, we’re forever giving ourselves over to someone else’s desires rather than our own. That’s a lot of power to be giving away that we could claim for ourselves.

When you say it that way, it becomes history’s greatest heist. Seduction embedded into commerce, relationships, all of it, and those with the greatest seduction skills take all. What’s the antidote?

Just looking at it, I guess. Seeing the heist and calling it for what it is. Make it conscious. Make different choices.

Does that mean you’re not going to do any marketing to “sell” your newly discovered gifts?

Maybe not in a conventional way. What I want to do is finally be precise and clear about what I know and have confidence about. No window dressing, just the facts. And see who comes. It seems to be working already.

I’ve noticed. So it’s a brand new world for you. You nervous?

Honestly, I feel like I have nothing left to lose. And really, at this moment in history, isn’t that true for all of us?

Interview conducted in Seattle, 2011.

Lisa Fitzhugh is a writer, speaker and facilitator on creativity and creative practice. She lives in Seattle, Washington with her son Jack.


Alistair Noon: Guerillistan

Far from the regions in ruins,

the retreats and fire-fights,

the sentries under bare lights

draped by urgent spiders,

the rails run on to the horizon.

My breath stays shallow,

my tendons don’t tighten

when a low-floored, noise-reduced tram

gleams round a corner on time.

The nocturnal documentaries

repeat their routes, like flies,

but the reports are defused mines:

I never dream of a truck in flames.

Bassan, the cirrus looks

like a ceiling for an airbus,

for its midrib and veins.

The cumuli march, the backs

of their heads in shadow,

a bright light on their faces.

Did you fly to Amman,

to bump eastwards by coach?

Is your wife extracting wisdom teeth?

Have they published your research

into water at high altitudes?

The door is slow as it slides

to the outside. What comments

do you have on the weather events,

the peanut butter sandwiches

snowing onto peasants?

Mohammed, the glass is thick

that makes a city into sky.

For ten months, you laughed

from the upper circle

at the faces of the Lost

in the delta of arrivals.

Outside, the upward throttle

of leaves. You played chess

in a transnational mall, cadged

phrases from the language

beyond passport control.

Can you see the Armed Men?

Where’s your sleeping bag unrolled?

Are you listening in Freetown

to night gunfire again?

I was thinking of Thebes.

No place to debate with friends

what justice might mean

then pass your wives and workers

as you climb to the vote,

nor order with informants

and a deficit of consumer goods,

but where travellers die for their name,

and frenzy dismembers the young.

The Chinooks flock across it.

An evolutionary advantage not to pause

on plane surfaces, but rest in corners,

of the Atlas of World History, say.

Once, the wings of a wasp

struck up billows of dust

on my wardrobe-top,

a helicopter landing on the Kush.

Wherever I moved, it found

no windows I opened.

This is my stop.


Rolf Mehnert: Design and Authenticity

Interview by Nora Circosta, 2009.

How important of a role does authenticity play in Corporate Design? Is an authentic presentation necessary for success in the global market?

It’s a paradox: The more artificial the world gets, the higher the demand is for something real. The boom of virtual worlds like Second Lives is happening at the same time that others are successfully investing in traditional firms such as Manufactum where “the good old things” and “quality” still matter. The world has become so commercialized that the customer now demands personalized, reliable, memorable goods and services. Authenticity, which comes from the Greek word authentikós, indicates this idea of realness and reliability. Being perceived as inauthentic has an immediate, negative impact on a company’s success. Corporate identity and brands are ultimately about standing out in a world full of attractions and impulses. You can pretend to be someone you’re not, and build up a Potemkin village . Or you can go to the outside world and present values that really exist in your core. A lot has changed in the last decade and because of new technology such as the Internet, companies now face customers who are well informed and who actively exchange information. It’s no longer so easy to get away with being inauthentic. Many people understand this, but others are still resting on past success, thinking: “It’s worked so far, so why should I change?”

What exactly defines a company? Does the company’s mission statement give you values that you then translate into the language of graphics? This is the question every company has to ask itself: What defines my company, my organization, my brand?

They have to ask what values are offered to the customer, and how these values are generated. Is it about the product or service itself, or is it about the experience offered by the product or service? It’s the business model – this configuration that generates value – which determines the differences from one company to the next. Each company determines these values for itself, and I find a way to present those values to the outside world.

Authenticity is a benchmark for stakeholders (i.e. customers, cooperating partners, everyone related to the company) under which any presentation and communication of the company is checked based on content and consistency. In order to achieve the authentic presentation of a corporate identity, it’s useful to regard the company as the “sender” and the stakeholder as the “receiver”. Authentic communication works on the basis of self-perceptions and individual means of expression, which are differentiated by meaning. Communication must be traced back to these attitudes. These attitudes should be assignable to the “sender” and clearly related to the sender’s “core”. As long as this relation to the core persists, the company will be authentic in its expressions and presentations. The difficulty lies in the fact that it’s impossible, and the attempt inadvisable, to dictate the perception of a “receiver”. One can only make one’s appearance as authentic as possible while in the midst of any “contamination” from the density of information. There is no golden rule for communicating the attitudes of a company. One must choose a path and stringently follow that path (as perceptions are also formed by penetration) in order to be equally perceived and accepted by the majority of receivers. Through an iterative process, authentic presentation and communication also modify the identity of the sender.

What makes an authentic presentation successful? And how do you know where to draw the line between an authentic presentation and a falsified image?

This all comes back to the existence of a “core”, a true value. For instance, last week in Zurich, I noticed a café that was closed. It was a kind of “smokers’ café” and I liked the idea of it. I’m not a smoker myself but I could imagine that a café only for smokers (who are now “homeless” due to the prohibition of smoking in public areas) was likely to represent a value, thus I began wondering why this café was not open. I found out that the owner of the bar had made a peculiar invention: a gadget as big as a mobile phone that held cigarettes that could burn without fire; the nicotine was inhaled through a filter. Though this gadget was available in lots of trendy designs – space themes, bears, flowers, imitation wood — it’s still clear why the bar closed down so quickly: No smoker would ever be satisfied by sitting down in front of a plastic box to have a cigarette. This invention also represents an inconsistency or inauthentic idea, because authentically the place would either not allow smoking or else be a place where people can really smoke. This is a simple example showing that no value, even if it has been nicely packaged and praised, will be successful for long if it is not embodied.

In my own work, I rarely encounter companies that don’t generate this value. About 90% of the companies are changing their appearance because they’ve produced a new value and have to approach a new target group, or because they’re asking themselves: “We have such a great product, so why isn’t it successful?” In such situations, we’ve specialized in moving past the limited insider view and getting an outsider view, so that we can then identify, present and communicate the core values of the company in an adequate way. There’s a clear line between authentic presentation and a falsified image, and the customer realizes quickly if his or her trust has been betrayed. Of course there’s a difference between a company passing itself off as what it’s not, and a company promising what it is unable to maintain in regard of service and production. Both are fatal. As the Czech writer Karel Capek once wrote: “A value is not a value for promising something but for meeting it.” And he’s right.

Rolf Mehnert is board member of Fuenfwerken Design AG and active in the field of Corporate Design, Brandi ng and Business Design. In this role he is intensely confronted wi th the issues of authenticity, scenery and communication. 1) Potemkin villages were, purportedly, fake settlements erected at the direction by the Russian minister Potemkin to fool Catherine II during her visit to the Crimea in 1787. According to the story, he erected facades of villages all along the Dnieper River in order to impress her with evidence of new conquests.


Stephen Post: Benefits to giving?

Is it really of benefit to give to others? A discussion with the bioethics professor of Case Western School of Medicine and director of The Institute for Research on Unlimiited Love.  Dr. Stephen Post is also the author of the book Why Good Things Happen to Good People.

Pulse: What is the main goal of the Institute for Research on Unlimited Love?

Dr. Stephen Post: The main goal is simple: to bring scientific attention to generous forms of behavior and emotion that are incredibly important to a well-lived life but that generally don’t get the scientific attention they deserve. The goal is also to create a dialogue between sciences, humanities and the spiritual traditions that challenges us to abide by the ideal of a common humanity.

The basic point of your book seems to be: The more we give, the better our lives will be. Is that true?

Well that’s a generalization of course, but it is true that when you’re generous and good to people, you’re going to find acceptance and more opportunities to create things with your life. Cultivating the emotional state of love is helpful to the internal self as well. It’s like saying ‘virtue is its own reward’. Unselfish giving is a good way to live; people who stumble upon that joy tend to lead happier and healthier lives.

How big a role does intention play in this? For instance, would it be inauthentic to give because of a desire for personal gain?

I don’t think any action in life is completely pure. I think everything is of mixed motive. What we’re talking about here are actions that are predominantly genuine – there’s a sense in the person that he or she wants to give. So intention does matter. If people set about doing good things in the world just for self-benefit, it probably wouldn’t be very beneficial to them in the end. There’s a kind of paradox here, and yet the appeal is not to selfishness, the appeal is to the better side of human nature. When that better part is expressed, we flourish. It’s an appeal to the human essence and to the possibilities of love versus the possibilities of hatred, anger and fear.

Your book seems to promote action, but how does that apply to things such as race and class? For instance, if you are in a community that sees you as inferior for some reason, how can you still interact with that community with the intention to give?

I think resiliency is the key. Some of the most successful and influential people are those who are known to be helpful and kind even in the midst of very difficult circumstances. Living a creative, giving life can help people get beyond those kinds of noxious environments. Even so, there is a very real stress that people feel when they perceive themselves as disrespected by a society or a community because of race or class. It’s a response to the universal need we have for acceptance, the need to know that our lives have meaning and value. When you look around yourself and cannot see that reflected, it’s very hurtful.

In your book, you say very blatantly that there are innate differences. You say that status and rank matter. You say that nothing is neutral. Could you talk about that?

Well, everyone is different. Everyone has a unique experience of life. To some extent we all come with a set-point personality, which means people are born and hardwired to be the way they are: Most of positive psychology says that about 50% of our personality is set at birth. For instance, some babies are happy and some aren’t. It could be argued that another 25 percent of happiness is environmental; it has to do with relationships and circumstances that you’re thrown into in life. But that leaves another 25 percent or so that becomes what you make of it. We all start out at different places but whoever we are, whatever our genome type, whatever our environment, there’s still this area of control where it’s up to us.

But if we see these hardwired differences in one another, what makes us want to help one another rather than fight and compete?

I think that game theory is very relevant to answering that question: what seems to be clear from most mathematical modeling is that when we compete in ways that are respectful and compassionate towards others, we do better. In game theory the rule is that on the first move you should be trusting and kind. As the game proceeds the golden rule becomes ‘do unto others as they have done unto you’, so you begin to respond according to how you are treated. Your reaction to someone who is harsh and mean is pedagogical. You almost have a responsibility to react in a certain way.

In the same sense that I discuss courage in the book, each of us has a responsibility to have some kind of constructive confrontation with people whose behavior is really aberrant. When they realize they can’t treat you like a doormat, then good, come back to that relationship and move forward. In game theory, competitors follow these same rules of engagement: on the first move, trust, if the other reciprocates, step back and reengage. People who compete in that positive and cooperative fashion are the ones who actually win the game. Not to pretend that there aren’t some really obnoxious niches in life where things are so fear-laden and destructive that you can’t function in this way. But the problem of evil is not so much that we are wolves but that we are sheep. We tend to prefer the hierarchical virtues of obedience, which is why people have to be strong. They have to be able to buck the system if they need to, rather than go along with what they are told.

Do you think dealing with problems such as this through science is a way of trying to create a better world?

Yes. But it’s just a step. Science can only do so much. In the end I firmly believe that a better world comes when people live good lives and transmit or pass the torch of kindness to others. So it’s really a matter of transmission and modeling. There are three legs to the stool and you need to have all three of them in place to get any use from it.


Joel Schalit: Fighting Purity

Pulse: In your book, Jerusalem Calling, you make the claim that “Truth is always partisan”. This suggests that no political or ideological belief is ever pure. Do you think this purity is something people still strive for?

Joel Schalit: I don’t think anything is pure, but people do have an unhealthy desire for such things. Purity has horrible aesthetic and moral connotations. We see these in the war on terror and we saw them resolutely manifest in the 19th and 20th centuries as well. I’m particularly allergic to the notion of purity because I think to be pure is to be without contact, and no one single individual mind or opinion is formed independent of what surrounds it. The part of me that remains a committed, orthodox socialist, still believes in the absolute necessity of dialectics when it comes to talking about truth or knowledge.

If the world works dialectically, why do you think so many people cling to the notion of an absolute ‘right way’ or ‘wrong way’ of doing things?

Because they want to be free. It’s a symptom of the illness of being oppressed. People want to escape — they want transcendence. There’s nothing wrong with desiring transcendence, but it’s important that people remind themselves of its impossibility. The problem isn’t so much that we want to be pure, it’s that we believe being pure is possible.

Do you think this leads to the fundamentalist views that have been so destructive in the past few years?

Exactly. Particularly in the United States. What European progressives don’t always understand about the American left is how much American politics as a whole are conditioned by a Protestant heritage and a sense of religious purity. To talk about political freedom and social equality in this country is usually to speak about it in almost messianic terms because our language has been molded and informed by religious definitions of equality. In addition, because the political situation in the U.S. has been bad for so many years now, what is considered left is actually quite conservative: You never have anything in American left politics that hasn’t been manicured. There has always been an extreme desire for liberation from this conservatism in the United States, but the attempts at that liberation have consistently failed.

Couldn’t one make a strong claim for the history of resistance in the United States as well?

It’s true that resistance is a constant feature in American life. But because we have such an inconsequential history of progressive breakthroughs, the intellectual left tends to excoriate itself and go along with the European criticism that the U.S. left has been permanently neutered. If you look at the post-war period, between say 1948 and now, you do see periods of liberal-inspired social upheaval and breakthroughs in things like civil rights legislation and gender equality. The problem is that as soon as people resist and things change, the results get rolled back again.

I’m not sure that liberal ideas regress any more than conservative ideas. It’s like what we were talking about in terms of purity; nothing is purely liberal or purely conservative, at least not consistently so. In Jerusalem Calling, you write about the language of the 1960’s leftist movements being taken or coopted by conservatives and then used to accomplish rightwing agendas. One might say that Bush does this as well, using leftist language to sell the rightwing war on terror. Why is it that the left seems to always manufacture the language of the right?

One thing that has always conditioned my argument that you can never push for progressive politics from places of purity is that the left’s victories are frequently obscured by rightwing power. Cynically, one could say that the left manufactures the political language of the right because the left is the chief ideologist for the right: the left manufactures the right’s ideologies. Realistically, I think it’s more of a reflection of the fact that the left and the right, at least in the United States, are not as separate as one would like them to be. They tend to come from the same community and their members tend to travel back and forth between camps. A lot of the Bush people were former Trotskyites and 1960s radicals, for instance, so it makes sense that they would traffic Bush in the language of the Cold War left.

It then becomes difficult to say who is right and who is wrong.

I’m very sympathetic to postmodernist-inspired notions that politics itself is problematic, and that you can’t necessarily explain political differences rationally because politics itself, as a metacategory, may subscribe to a kind of conservative morality that does not distinguish between right and left and always pushes for conservative social and ideological solutions to problems that people face in their everyday life. Clearly postmodernism of that cynical disposition is largely attributed to derivations of Michel Foucault, but nevertheless I think on the left we’ve largely forgotten the ideological warning that such a reading can provide. These nebulous but necessary political traditions like postmodernism can serve as a reminder not to be absolutist in our convictions or in our deliberations about the progressive character of our own politics. Regardless of the side, it’s always good to introduce a level of skepticism.

Your work suggests that it’s possible to create a better present through understanding the ways we use what we’ve learned in the past.

My friends and I love to quote Karl Marx about how the first time something happens, it’s tragedy, but the second time it happens, it’s farce.

I actually think it’s more beneficial to go into the nuance though, because no thing really ever happens twice, at least not in the same way.

And yet it’s particularly important to understand the nuances of repetition itself, because we do remain trapped in the dialectics between religion and secularism. We can’t understand that social progress and social justice remain inhibited in the same ways they were inhibited 1000 years ago. It’s the same struggle between culture and capitalism.

Do you think people in power are aware of the ways they use this system? 

I think Bush and his team are aware that religion is a means of helping them culturally advance other kinds of more concrete political objectives, but it’s also fascinating to look at the degree to which members of that very same establishment also really do believe in such religious notions of equality and freedom. Bush is a great example: there is nobody more capable of articulating the anti-democratic objectives of the political elite than he is while at the same time actually believing in the ideologies they’re invoking to convince people to support their claims to power. It’s crazy. Bush is one of the more psychotic characters in that regard; he’s a fascinating study because he almost believes his own hype.

It’s almost like the better you can handle being a paradox, the more successful you’re going to be.

That’s right. The problem that a lot of folks outside of the US have is that they don’t understand what kind of spell that paradox holds for most Americans. Americans are enthralled by it because it appeals to the economic side of the equation. Americans like being a hegemonic political power on the world stage, and yet on the other hand it also appeals to their most heartfelt cultural identity, which is being a good Christian who has a sense of purpose in the world, a reason for existence.

What would you like to see happen in the states?

I would like to see some kind of renewal of progressive ideology within American popular culture and within non-institutional realms of American culture at large. Americans have very profound needs and desires for a better state of affairs that approximate a progressive political agenda; there just aren’t any cultural or institutional forces pushing them in that direction right now. There is a lot of anger about the war, and anger about poverty and anger about the state of the economy, but I don’t see people organizing or helping folks at large thematize those feelings into the kinds of real political discussions and goals that could actually influence the direction of this system. Americans don’t feel empowered to make decisions that would be best for their own self-interest in the long term. Religion plays an enormously negative role in that regard because it’s very hard to think about political freedom in an environment where people’s conceptions of freedom are already so wholly overconditioned by religious commitments. The kinds of faith Americans are taught to have don’t inspire the kind of radical negotiation of faith and politics that is necessary right now. In an ideal world, that would be one of the first things that would have to change


Interview by Andrea Hiott, from early 2008.

Joel Schalit is a writer and editor based in San Francisco. An Israeli-American pundit noted for his unique views on Middle Eastern politics and US culture, over the past thirteen years, Schalit has produced four books and contributed to numerous periodicals. The former managing editor of Berkeley’s Tikkun magazine and associate editor of Chicago’s Punk Planet, Schalit served two terms as the co-director of the world’s longest running online publication, Bad Subjects: Political Education for Everyday Life. His latest book, Israel vs. Utopia, will be out in Autumn of 2009.


Pakistani Filmmaker Feryal Ali Gauhar

Interview by Anna Rohleder

Do our thoughts create our world? Gauhar wants us to look inside to understand our images.

Feryal Ali Gauhar’s professional life has encompassed many different activities: acting, writing, filmmaking and teaching, as well as serving as a diplomatic representative. She was a UN Goodwill Ambassador from 1999 to 2004, and she continues to be a sought-after participant for international panels and workshops, particularly on women’s issues. Her first novel, The Scent of Wet Earth in August (2002) made the New York Times best seller list. Her second novel, No Space for Further Burials, was published in March 2007. She regularly writes op-ed pieces for Dawn, Pakistan’s leading English-language newspaper, and teaches film at the National College of Arts while also lecturing on women and development at other universities and institutes. Feryal Ali Gauhar lives in Lahore.

Pulse: The narrator of your most recent novel, No Space for Further Burials, is an American man imprisoned in Afghanistan. What did you feel you could say or explore from his perspective that you couldn’t say from the perspective of a narrator who had a personal biography more like your own?

Ferial Ali Gauhar: I wanted to juxtapose two worlds which have been pitted against each other in the current global climate, both refusing to reveal their common humanity to each other, and both therefore perpetuating the myth that their nations are essentially opposed in terms of belief systems and behavior.

My American character is not the stereotype with which people in this part of the world are familiar – he is not the gun toting, swaggering cowboy who spits his disgust at all that is unfamiliar. Instead, he is at the edge of the mainstream, the son of a Native American farmer and a white woman, a young man who spends his time in libraries instead of chugging beer at the local football game. He is a man who dreams of being able to write, and who finds himself in a situation beyond his control. I felt it was important to explore my world from the perspective of those men and women who find themselves in the midst of a war which seems to have no purpose. I wanted to draw out the human dimension of the “enemy” or the “victor” and the “vanquished”. I felt I could do so by giving a voice to the American who comes with his own tale of sorrow, who is not always so sure of the agenda of his country, who is as vulnerable to violence and treachery and boredom and betrayal as anyone else, anywhere else.

At one point your narrator says, “I have come to understand what it means to live inside the landscape of one’s own mind, where one can create an entire new world, keeping it secret from others.” That seems true of this book in general, which is very much an interior narrative and not very visual in its language. This is surprising given that you are also a filmmaker. Is this something you were aware of as you were writing?

Yes, of course. My first novel, The Scent of Wet Earth in August, was highly visual in its language, based as it was on the script of a film I wrote and directed. This one, No Space for Further Burials, was written in the isolation of a California suburb where my only contact with the world was the bits and pieces of news I would get over the Internet. I was spending much of the day on my own, with no conversation, except that which my characters had with me. I built the asylum in my own head, I saw the characters playing out their lives, I smelt the decaying flesh and the overflowing urine, I felt the wounds and the cold and the hunger. All of this is hard to describe, but it was such an intensely real experience for me that the words just came, as much as the stories told themselves and the characters acted upon their own will. I did no drafts of the book – what was published was really the original manuscript. I never spoke to anyone at all about the book, and
I was quite surprised when a publisher asked for anything I had written recently. I still don’t know how the book was written, or whether I was just the instrument for the stories of these people who may have existed and who found me to tell their stories.

What does it mean to tell the truth of someone’s story? Is it different for an artist than for anyone else?

I don’t know what you mean by “artist”. Is a writer an artist? Is a journalist an artist when he or she puts their life on the line to “seek the truth”? I have never considered myself to be anything other than an ordinary human being, though I do have a deep compulsion to “tell the truth”… I am never conscious of the risks that I may be taking in the process; in fact, I am not even conscious of the process itself. Truth is something which manifests itself in ways which are unexpected, in the choices one makes, in the stories one tells, the songs one sings, the friends one keeps.

But what is it you feel compelled to say?

Simply that I believe it is time we were introspective about everything we seem to hold sacred: our cultural behavior, the ideologies which give rise to the policies we formulate. It is time to reach out and to understand that beneath the differences and despite the differences, there is the supreme commonality of a love of life, the love of family, country, and all things that are familiar to us in our own, separate worlds. It is time to consider that unless we reach out, unless we are willing to see the “enemy” as nothing but a reflection of our own selves, we are doomed to destroy everything we have built and learnt to love. It is time to pay tribute to the spirit of human resilience, time to resist tyranny of all sorts, in all places, amongst all people


Charity Scribner: Requiem for Communism

Interview by Andrea Hiott.

Charity Scribner’s Requiem for Communism is the first book to address the role of nostalgia and mourning in European art and writing after the fall of communism. The book is a delicate illumination of the ways we sometimes reach truth through our experiences of loss. German philosopher Oskar Negt credits Scribner with successfully combining “sober judgment on communism’s downfall with compassion, leaving room for inconsistent feelings within our collective memory.” From her flat in New York City, Scribner talks with Pulse about losses both personal and professional, the years she spent living in Berlin, and the way mourning might sometimes lead to creativity.

Pulse: How did you begin writing about memory, loss and nostalgia?

Charity Scribner: It started when I was in graduate school taking courses on psychoanalysis. I was interested in gender and identity, and specifically in the idea that a person assumes his or her gender-identity based on some form of loss. I’d started reading Lacan, perhaps looking for a more feminist rethinking of loss and identity, but no one was talking of such things at the time. I remember asking one of my professors at Columbia in the early 90s if she knew about Lacan’s writings: She was very dismissive of my question, very discouraging. I went to Berlin after the fall of the Wall and found these same themes of loss and identity also prevalent there. I kept trying to find a way of discussing them and finally I had the opportunity to talk with the Slovenian sociologist Slavoj Zizek. He found my questions interesting and referred me to some people in Paris who were working on similar approaches. That’s the theoretical part; the other side of it is emphatically personal. I’d actually come to Berlin in 1993 with my boyfriend. We’d been together for more than 6 years at that point and he’d planned to go on a long research trip traveling by motorcycle while I was studying. Just as he started out though, he was in a terrible motorcycle accident which he did not survive. So on a personal level I was also experiencing a great feeling of loss then; in fact I was racked with grief. And I was in Berlin when all of this was happening…

Adjusting to another country already comes with such a grainy feeling of being alone, the vertigo where one realizes how impossible it is to relate to the world in habitual ways. In that sense, I imagine your experience of grief must have felt especially violent in a foreign environment. Though you never mention anything personal in the book, the writing somehow remains very tender. After what you’ve just said, I understand that tenderness better now: the impetus behind it is so raw, so intense.

It was very intense for me, yes. I thought about loss often and I thought about it deeply. In some ways writing that book was a work of mourning for me; it was a way of trying to understand how it is that one is able to part with something, especially something that one has idealized, for better or for worse.

Which leads me to another idea I wanted to talk with you about, and that is the way in which loss and melancholy might relate to creativity. In your writing, memory feels like a very active thing, an activity, as though it were creating something rather than remaining static.

The first thing that comes to mind when I hear you say that is the work of the Bulgarian- French philosopher Julia Kristeva. I studied with her at Columbia, and her writings have been a guiding light in my attempt to understand melancholia. She wrote a book called Black Sun that’s about depression and melancholia in the artistic personality. She talks about how any true art always comes out of some loss or painful experience. Loss causes a person to question and critique everything: there’s something in the displacement of pain which forces one to rethink and recreate oneself and there’s also something about that kind of questioning that can lead to creativity. So in that sense, as I was writing the book, as I was trying to understand the pall of melancholia and nostalgia I saw falling over Berlin in the early 1990s, I guess I was also trying to find some kind of transformative force in there as well.

It makes me think of gaps. In your book, you discuss Christa Wolf and how a lot of her message is in the words or thoughts that she skips or fails to mention –

Right. Up until the late 90s, for instance, she never mentions the Berlin Wall in her writing at all, and yet it remains a kind of architecture around the work she’s done.

That also relates to how creativity can come from loss: one creates new things to fill vacated spaces. It reminds one of the creative energy that’s now associated with East Berlin.

It’s interesting to think of Berlin, or East Berlin especially, as a gap or a space that’s being filled and reanimated, with so many people from other places relocating there. This was also something that came up a lot when I was working on the book: although there were a lot of Germans who took on these themes of loss and melancholia, their interest in this subject was always matched by non-Berliners, people from France or England or the United States who wanted to move into that territory and make something out of it. This kind of rush to fill the gaps also caused some tension: Some of the Germans I knew resented it or saw it as a kind of colonization.

There are still a lot of questions like that in Berlin – questions about the east and the west, about the European Union – questions about the Turkish population, about the Americans. At the same time, this unresolved discussion is one of the things that keeps Berlin dynamic and open to interpretation.

Exactly. You never really know how to define Berlin. Which maybe brings us back to this same idea of truth again. It’s like what Michel Foucault talked about when he said that truth is always an effect of something; truth is always a matter of interpretation. So there’s always more than one perspective from which any one thing can be seen …


Felipe Fernandez-Armesto: On Truth


It would be disastrous, but it would never happen. Thank God, agreement is elusive, even on commonsense matters of fact. ‘There’s no absolute truth’ is an absolute statement – all statements about nothing are necessarily absolute – and therefore self-falsifying. Anyone – Cretan or cretin – who denies the existence of truth, invites disbelief. By denying absolute truth, the proposition we confront in the present exercise implicitly endorses contingent truths. But even contingent propositions can only be true if one of the conditions is that there is such a thing as truth.

Absolute truth is ineluctable. Even a truth that implies contingency, such as ‘Swans are black in Australia’ involves the absolutely true adumbration that ‘The proposition that swans are black in Australia is true.’ People who say, ‘It’s true for me’ are either gilding falsehoods or misrepresenting matters of opinion.

If we abandon the search for truth, we shall fall victim to two evils. First, we shall be hobbled in the fight against falsehood. People who deny that Nazis killed Jews, or who justify war by telling us that such-and-such an enemy has weapons of mass destruction, or who ascribe literal truth to poetic texts or self-interested dogmas will get away with their lies and evasions. Secondly, we shall make agreement depend on some other criterion, such as whether a proposition hurts anyone’s feelings, or causes offense, or transgresses political correctness, or subverts society, or challenges the state, or infringes consensus. Some campuses and some seminars are already close to being relativistic Disneylands, in which the nearest you can get to expressing outrage or denouncing lies is to say, ‘I know where you’re coming from.’ Some countries are already realms of newspeak.

To adhere to the search for truth does not mean the abandonment of skepticism. On the contrary: relativism makes us slip our guard. This does not mean that relativism is a useless doctrine. It can be a useful source of inspiration for thought experiments, such as the one we are engaged on in this exercise. In my book on the history of truth, I tried to show that different cultures, at different times, have favored, on balance, different techniques for telling truth from falsehood, and therefore may be said to have had, to that extent, different concepts of truth. In that sense, the predictions of relativism have proved valid. And it is important to remember that truth is elusive. It takes hard work, discipline, and time to approach it. Although the truth is out there we shall not grasp it quickly or easily embrace it whole. Relativism, indeed, can teach us a vital form of wisdom. The same truths look different when viewed from different viewpoints. Truth, as I am always telling my students, is like a nymph glimpsed bathing between leaves. The more you shift perspective, the more is revealed.

– Felipe Armesto

Felipe Fernandez-Armesto is Professor of Global Environmental Hi story at Queen Mary, University of London. He is the author of Truth: A Hi story as well as several popular works on history including Ideas That Changed the World (2003). Pathfinders: a Global Hi story of Exploration (2006). Fernandex Armesto is also the Principe de Asturias Chair in Spanish Culture and Civilization at Tufts University.

Felipe Fernandez-Armesto ist Dozent für Global Environmental Hi story an der Queen Mary University, London. Er ist der Autor des buches „Wahrheit. Die Geschichte. Die Feinde. Die Chancen.“, sowi e anderer erfolgreicher Werke zum thema Geschichte, u.a. „Ideas That Changed the World“ (2003) und „Pathfinders: a Global History of Exploration“ (2006). Fernandez- Armesto ist ausserdem der Principe de Asturias Chair für Spanische Kultur und Zivilisation an der Tufts University, Boston.

Es wäre ein Desaster, aber es wird nie dazu kommen. Zum Glück ist so ein
Einvernehmen schwer zu erzielen, auch bei Tatsachen, die die Allgemeinheit
anerkennt. ‚Es gibt keine absolute Wahrheit‘ ist an sich eine absolute
Aussage – alle gegenstandslosen Aussagen sind notwendigerweise
absolut – und widerlegt sich somit selbst. Jeder, egal ob Kreter oder
Kretin, der die Existenz von Wahrheit bestreitet, ruft Zweifel auf den Plan.
Indem die These, auf der diese Gedankenübung beruht, die Existenz einer
absoluten Wahrheit abstreitet, geht sie implizit von bedingten Wahrheiten
aus. Doch auch bedingte Thesen können nur dann wahr sein, wenn
zutrifft, dass es so etwas wie Wahrheit gibt. Absolute Wahrheit ist unvermeidlich.
Selbst Wahrheit, die Bedingtheit einbezieht, wie ‚In Australien
sind Schwäne schwarz‘, geht mit dem absolut wahren Gedankenentwurf
einher: ‚Die These, dass in Australien Schwäne schwarz sind, ist wahr‘.
Wer sagt: ‚Für mich ist das wahr‘, der verbrämt entweder eine Unwahrheit
oder stellt Dinge, die Ansichtssache sind, ungenau dar.
Gäben wir die Suche nach Wahrheit auf, so fielen wir zwei Übeln anheim.
Erstens würden wir bei unserem Kampf gegen Falschheit beeinträchtigt.
Menschen, die leugnen, dass die Nazis Juden umgebracht haben, oder die
Krieg damit rechtfertigen, dass sie uns sagen, dieser oder jene Feind habe
Massenvernichtungswaffen, oder die poetischen Texten eine wortwörtliche
Wahrheit oder eigennützige Dogmen zuschreiben, kämen mit ihren Lügen
und Ausflüchten davon. Zweitens würden wir unser Einvernehmen von anderen
Kriterien abhängig machen, wie der Frage, ob eine These jemandes
Gefühle verletzt oder jemandem Anlass zum Ärger bietet oder politisch
unkorrekt ist oder die Gesellschaft untergräbt oder sich gegen den Staat
richtet oder gegen allgemeinen Konsens verstößt. Einige Universitäten und
Seminare stehen kurz davor, sich in ein relativistisches Disneyland zu verwandeln,
in dem ‚Ich weiß, wo du herkommst.‘ das Äußerste ist, was man
sagen darf, um seinem Zorn Ausdruck zu verschaffen oder Lügen zu denunzieren.
Mancherorts ist Orwells „Neusprech“ bereits die Landessprache.

Er kann als hilfreiche Inspirationsquelle für Gedankenexperimente
dienen, wie bei dem, das wir hier gerade durchführen. In meinem Buch
über die Geschichte der Wahrheit habe ich darzustellen versucht, wie
verschiedene Kulturen zu bestimmten Zeiten letztendlich ganz unterschiedliche
Verfahrensweisen guthießen, um Wahrheit von Falschheit
zu unterscheiden, und wie man davon ausgehend sagen kann, dass sie
in diesem Maße auch unterschiedliche Wahrheitskonzepte besaßen.
Diesbezüglich haben sich die Vorhersagen des Relativismus als zutreffend
erwiesen. Und es ist wichtig, sich in Erinnerung zu rufen, dass
Wahrheit schwer zu erzielen ist. Es bedarf harter Arbeit, Disziplin und
viel Zeit, um sich ihr anzunähern. Obwohl es die Wahrheit gibt, sollten
wir nicht voreilig danach greifen oder sie gänzlich an uns ziehen. Der
Relativismus kann uns in der Tat eine grundlegende Form der Weisheit
lehren. Dieselben Wahrheiten sehen von unterschiedlichen Blickwinkeln
betrachtet ganz anders aus. Wahrheit ist, wie ich meinen Studenten
auch immer sage, wie eine badende Nymphe hinter Bäumen
und Sträuchern. Je öfter man die Blickrichtung wechselt, um so mehr
kann man sehen.
– Felipe Armesto


Homi Bhabha, Moving Gun

Is truth a matter of interpretation? 

A discussion about ambivalence with Harvard’s controversial intellectual Homi Bhabha.

Pulse: Is there a way to understand truth without thinking of it as part of a story?

Homi Bhabha: I think it’s very difficult to understand the question of truth without some form of narrative because even if you assume that truth is an innate quality of something, in the same spirit that Keats said ‘Truth is beauty, beauty truth’, then truth is still going to be a form of judgment,and judgment assumes some kind of temporality in which you balance various things, and you need language to communicate that.

In what way is truth always a form of judgment?

In that truth is always a claim. You make a claim when you call something true; you are addressing something. So there is always some medium for our perception, which is a kind of judgment, which is a kind of story we tell? Well, truth always has to be mediated in some way, and narrative is a convenient way of doing that. It takes time for a person to get at the essence of something, to grasp the tree-ness of the tree or the trueness of the tree’s tree-ness, and the time it takes to do that would itself be some form of narrative.

Lately people seem more concerned with truth; at the same time, truth seems more difficult to find. For years we’ve been focused on the claims made about weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, and yet even now it’s hard to determine who knew what and when. Is truth contingent on whether or not the person speaking believes what he or she is saying?

First let’s go back to narrative: Did people say there were weapons of mass destruction? Yes, they did. Did they find weapons of mass destruction? No, they didn’t. So based on that, you might want to say that people were, as one famous Englishman put it, ‘economical with the truth’, i.e. they didn’t tell the truth. On the other hand, people say that in the moments leading up to the war the intelligence was not good and the evidence was enough to persuade the Blair and Bush governments to believe in it.

So they could have believed it was true?

They could have persuaded themselves of the need for war in just the same way people can persuade themselves that another person is in love with them. They could have believed in it because their desire for it was so strong. But either way, alongside the question of whether people were honest or dishonest about those things, narrative becomes very important. And whether they believed it or not, genuinely, is an issue that is left even more open because of what actually happened.

That’s what I was trying to raise by using the word ‘inertia’ I think. It’s like we relinquish truth to some movement for which we don’t want to take responsibility, and yet we’re still there moving right along with it.

But I think it’s more than just inertia. It’s a particular way of thinking, a particular style of American foreign policy that has had a long history, hundreds of years old, which is the history of pre-emptive action. It’s the idea that you must somehow take control of things before they happen, but when you take action before something has happened,you don’t know if you are hitting the right target.

But depending on whether you destroy that target, the truth might go in various ways

It’s like Michel Foucault’s idea that there is no Truth with a capital T, no transcendent quality. There is always a battle around what is the true, and it’s the function of discourse to stabilize something as true for a certain period of time, whether it’s a particular laboratory method, whether it’s a particular form of medical diagnosis, whether it’s a particular law relating to behavior or a particular norm. Truth is always a negotiation, and it always has a certain authority.

Well in other areas of society, not only politics, it doesn’t seem to be as much of a negotiation. When someone claims to be writing a memoir for instance, we read it in a different way. The meaning becomes questionable if we learn that something the writer presented to us was actually false. This usually leads to controversy, as has happened with writers such as J.T. Leroy, who claimed to be a homosexual, boy prostitute but turned out to be a 40-year-old woman instead. What is it about writing that changes people’s reaction depending on whether the author claims his or her story is true?

That’s a problem concerning different conventions of reading. Conventions of reading are always based on certain structures or conditions of credibility. If you’re looking at a science fiction piece, you expect one thing. If you were reading an allegory where animals stand for human beings, then you’d expect another. And if you’re reading a memoir that’s been presented to you as something true, then likewise you’re relating to a particular convention from the very beginning. Each piece is a different convention. And each convention has a different kind of identification, a different set of codifications.

But doesn’t it come down to interpretation? Does the writer really control it all?

Well no, one can’t control it all, but there is a difference. There is a difference between the levels of interpretation that you establish. When you are writing something that you claim actually happened to you, it’s perfectly possible to describe events truthfully, and it’s also perfectly possible that at some point later your perception of those events might change. This type of change is completely different than saying that you were raped, or that you were a drug addict, when in fact those things never really happened to you. For example, I just read a book by Elie Wiesel about his devastating experiences as a young man during the Holocaust. I hope I’m remembering the story correctly — it would be ironic in the context if I weren’t — but I think that in an early book of his which was published in French, he said that during the Nazi transport of the Jewish people to the concentration camps, there was a lot of sex going on in the wagons.

Then, in the version that I was reading, he says that he’s not so sure that what he’d written about the sex then was really true after all, that perhaps it was only his projection that perhaps he was at a point in his life where he needed some deep, physical comfort and so he may have actually invented it all. Such a situation belongs to what I meant by reinterpretation. You see he WAS in the wagon, and in that wagon bodies were probably very close to one another, lurching around; there were probably all kinds of sounds in that darkness and desperation and loneliness that might have stimulated different interpretations, one of which might have been that the people were indeed having sex. But that kind of interpretation is very different from questioning whether or not Eli Wiesel was actually in those trains and in that situation.

Do you think we create morality by what we write?

Sure. Sure we do. But how else would you create it? I mean, when you talk about writing I assume you mean écriture – you mean inscription — which includes speech, which includes visual signs; it’s not simply what you put down on a piece of paper.

Yes. All of that. Writing a book, writing a film, drawing, creating.

Exactly. Visual signs, visual culture. It’s about a system of meaning. It could be advertising. It could be the Advent calendar. It’s all of this. And how else would morality be articulated?

Articulated or generated? Because I’m talking about generation.

Well, articulated in the sense of made known, made visible, entering into the lives and thinking and speech of people, but also articulated in the sense of an articulated lorry, where what is moral has to be linked, like an articulated vehicle, to a number of other things or vehicles. Language and meaning are the ways one does that.

So being creative can be thought of as being truthful?

Well that’s a very broad thing to state but yes, of course, being creative to some extent is about being truthful to something, truthful to your fantasy, truthful to your desire, truthful to your love of language…

But there are other things to consider too, like the play of power and the desire to please.

Well, what do you mean?

If one wants to create something, he or she then has a basic impetus, but that original ‘truth’ will have to come into contact with everything external as well. There’s always the option that one might become false as a way of fitting in with what is already explicit, isn’t there?

Well, of course you’d be conscious in such a way when you were making something. You’d decide the audience you wanted to approach; you’d decide the theme; you’d decide the form; you’d decide the funding; and you’d decide the institution where you would locate the work and so on. What you would not be able to define is the way in which that work over time, or even in its own time, was interpreted or institutionalized. In different places and in different situations there are things which function as truths, but in each of these situations there is always a place from which those ideas or concepts or norms can be questioned.

There’s seems to be an ambivalence here though, in terms of the tension between what one might feel as his or her truth and how that feeling might change as they interact with the world.

Those two things are certainly at play, but there’s also something else at play and that is that as soon as you write a sentence, as soon as you invest a part of yourself in a work, you cannot be fully aware of how you are transcribing your own psychic state into it. The work is always open to interpretation, even against the grain of the author’s intentions.

In that sense, what do you think of the way your own work has been interpreted? Many of your peers, as you know, often criticize you for writing obscurely. I suppose obscurity can also mean ambiguity, and deliberate ambiguity might be a way of leaving something open to as many interpretations as possible. Do you think your writing is obscure? Do you do that on purpose?

Well I can see how certain things that I write could be difficult. When I’m working on something, there might be a time when I haven’t quite worked out the thought but I know that this gray area is crucial to the argument. In those times, I will still try my best to keep this thought in the text, even if it creates a kind of uncertainty in some way.

So it becomes more poetry than prose, leaving this space open for interpretation.

So it becomes more poetry than prose, leaving this space open for interpretation. Right. I don’t close off the space and say I’m going to stop there just because I’m on stable ground. When I’m writing it’s very often a high-wire act; it isn’t certain.

There are people who would say that the only way to find new answers is to be able to deal with uncertainty but…

Well. Well, I’m sure that’s true.


Interview by Andrea Hiott, 2007


Michele Sala: Entropy

As the mathematician Claude Elwood Shannon once suggested to his colleague, “if you’re having trouble naming a concept call it entropy, as nobody knows what entropy really is and therefore in every discussion you will start ahead.”

Experts have striven for years to find the correct definition of entropy but with poor results. Fortunately, instead of delimiting the problem they are continuously providing us with new and bizarre themes for debate. It is this difficult delimitation of the semantic boundary that induces us to continue committing ourselves to interdisciplinary discussions of the nature of evolutionary direction and its application to art, science and simple daily life.

Entropy first originated with the notorious second principle of thermodynamics, a principle that asserts that a machine, in order to produce work (or energy usable for practical purposes), has to spend a quantity of energy higher than that eventually produced. So it produces less than it takes in because during the machine’s evolution, as in any thermodynamic system, it loses something: a part of its energy turns into a useless form. Entropy has thus been defined as the quantity of life lived by a system (or the quantity of death created by a system during its existence). Entropy is deterioration. It is the heat given off “in chaos” or outside of a system’s understood limitations. It is a term used for the measurement of disorder “produced” as well as a marker of the “absolute zero” or “rest” state. Conceptually, entropy represents the direction towards which a thing evolves. It is the developmental grade of a system, yet it also quantifies that developmental grade by the measure of energy dissipated during a system’s evolution: it represents a loss of order and potential. Entropy, while inseparable from evolution, is simultaneously the disorder created by its process.

Such scientific theories of disorder left many believing that all things were headed for an unavoidable extinction. To put it in simple terms, people thought that if a system (such as the universe) loses a little energy with every action, then soon its energy would dwindle to zero, absolute rest and nothingness. What they couldn’t quite see at that point was the possibility that the ‘wasted’ energy of a system might not entirely disappear but a part of it could be useful in forming and preserving other systems. Evolution, by definition, does not “end”.

We usually think of disorder as something negative. Disorder may, in fact, be negative (harmful, destructive) but its effect does not end there. Often times it is by creating more disorder that we find another order. For instance, if you are having trouble with your lover, you have a situation of disorder in your life. But it may be the case that only by leaving your lover – therefore creating more disorder – are you able to find a new direction. In this sense, it becomes interesting to look at the entropy of a system in a wider context. Perhaps then we can find an understanding of entropy that is relative to the direction and evolution of a (our) life.

Evolution of life is generated by the exchange of genetic information, information that tells how a living system will develop and in what direction it must head to stay alive. A more elegant definition by Gatlin asserts that ‘life may be defined operationally as an information processing system – a structural hierarchy of functioning units – that has acquired through evolution the ability to store and process the information necessary for its own reproduction’.

So information, or in-formation, means to order a configuration that is not yet ordered, to give something an identity or a shape, to provide direction for the directionless mass. This definition of information leaves us with the concept of order. Information, in a sense, is order. We define or recognize structures because of this sense of order. It is the same process by which we make something familiar out of the confused visuals of a cloud in the sky. After a moment spent observing the cloud, we often distinguish the shape of an animal or some other object. We see a structure by mentally ordering the “prior” blob we’ve named cloud. We put the situation in order, in-forming the animal or object we now recognize in the cloud. Information is the essence of the connection: its energy is taken from an aim that holds the structure together. Life is information producing a significant configuration. We tend to place importance – whether consciously or not – on making the order appear in things, finding the pattern or organization we assume is inherent. The aim is where the significance is found. The aim is the process, the energy, the information, the meaning inside the mass.

If order is the presence of structural roots that define purpose for us – if it is a formal composition, a structural coherence formed as an ensemble of myriad parts – then disorder is the dissolution of familiarity, the inability of structural coherence, and the lack of coherent correlation between the parts and the whole. In other words, disorder is the dissolution of the functional contents that define a structure. But this does not necessarily mean that one structure’s disorder is the end of the entire system: disorder is also the most favourable condition for creating an entirely new order. We might see this process as one system dying and another appearing in its wake. Or we might see the entire process as a system with one order collapsing into the creation of a new order.

Let me give you an example . Imagine you want to give a gift to your nephew and you present him with a new wooden tricycle. Imagine also that your three-year-old nephew likes to take things apart as soon as he gets them, thus he will (with a scientifically provided finality) destroy the tricycle. But what does this mean exactly?

At first, the object is ordered. It is a system called the tricycle. Your nephew produces the first level of disorder when he breaks the toy into two separate parts. With just this one break, the toy has become two useless wooden pieces that are now unrelated to any common action. With his action, the tricycle is modified and looses its identity and function. The system is no longer ordered. “Tricycle” no longer exists.

But leave entropy to its course (and leave your nephew to enjoy himself) and soon the situation will reach an even higher level of disorder. Your nephew will continue his work on the system, breaking the toy into a multitude of molecular particles. Soon you will obtain an ensemble of parts with the potential of being arranged into an infinite number of toys, and thus we have a chaotic situation easing the birth of a new configuration, just as the cloud in the sky allowed for the visualization of numerous shapes.

Commonly, this would be seen as a system that became disordered, lost its status and then ended: there is no more evolution for the tricycle because the tricycle (the system) is dead. But what actually happened was that the system lost its old order and gained the potential for a new one. From this we can see that a disordered situation, one in which an ordered configuration of parts is lost, allows the creation of new structural information. We can also deduce that the continuance of this ‘in-forming of new significant structures’ is predictable, probable and desirable when considered through the lens of aim. Your nephew had fun destroying the system and created a new system that was just as productive. In this sense, if your aim was to give your nephew a toy, then the aim has been met. If your aim was that your nephew enjoy the mass as a tricycle, then your aim was not met. In this way, it is not a matter of a system dying but of a conversion of order. And it is the aim which carries the weight of success or failure. The system itself continues regardless of that aim but the aim carries the subjective judgement.

Just as with the tricycle, disorder does not mean the end of everything but rather an infinite set of new beginnings. This breaking down is as relative to evolution as any building up of order. It is the aim – or we could even venture to say the attitude – that sees this process as positive or negative. The process itself is neutral: it continues by way of entropy, disorder being the change of one order into another.

But how does this relate to our own lives? How do structure, order, and their connection to entropy relate to personal life and evolution?

Perhaps growth and personal evolution are more a matter of aim than of quantity-of-energy. Aim is the energy that informs new directions. Any particle of our world has its own potential energy, but it needs a “goal” to inform that energy and participate with other particles in a structure. We have our own potential energy, but that energy needs direction if it going to find an expression. Our life is a continuous system but it is not ‘of one order’. Life is made up of numerous fields of activity. Together these parts constitute the essential structure of a person: the duties, the pleasures, the emotions and interests. The loss of energy in a part of a system supports the birth and preservation of other parts of that system. Going for a run after a stressful day releases energy or converts it into a more workable form. Perhaps it helps us release tension and relax into another system of interaction within our life and social world. As we interact, we give and take energy from our environment, from one another, and from our own system as well. Systems overlap and blend. Systems change and connect. And when taken as a whole, all of these systems are only various orderings of one larger system: life.

Life is movement, a thread of changes and conversions. There is duration, but this duration is not of a closed system. There is the potential for chaos and there is also the potential for death or “an ultimate state of rest”. It is entropy that keeps this alive: we exist between disorder and a state of inert uniformity. This is life, this balance that is not a balance at all but a subjective view of the aim. With an aim, we feel our continuance in the movement. Entropy constitutes a developmental condition. It also constitutes the development itself. If the evolutionary system does not move with a direction guided by a balance eventually indicative of its own energetic ‘waste’, then that will be the last condition of that order. But there is always another order and so the system itself is both whole and lacking boundary. As the aim changes, so does the direction.


Seth Lloyd & Andrea Hiott: Crazy Molecules

Interview by Andrea Hiott.

It’s a mistake to say that science is true. 

According to quantum mechanic Seth Lloyd, we can trust what we cannot prove. Lloyd was the first person to discover how to build a quantum computer. He is a professor of mechanical engineering at MIT and the author of Programming the Universe, a book about quantum mechanics and how the universe is a giant computer.

Pulse: Science is something people reference these days regardless of their field or discipline. Does this popularization of science bother you?

Seth Lloyd: Not at all. I think it’s natural that this should happen because the thing that makes a piece of knowledge scientific in the first place is that it can be verified by anybody or anything. Science is a uniquely public form of knowledge, so it makes sense that it is popular. It also makes scientists responsible for trying to communicate in a way that others can understand, which I see as a good thing.

Is there any way in which it can be harmful for people to believe that anything associated with science is true?

I actually think it’s a mistake to say that science is true. The normal line that philosophers of science take on this, rather than saying that science is true, is to say that science is falsifiable. That basically means that we can figure out what is false but we cannot prove what is true. The scientific results that we have are actually the ones that have been tested again and again and not proven false.
In that sense, science itself is not dangerous; what can be dangerous is the way that science is used. Which is another reason why people should understand as much as they can about it, because the way science is used is really the responsibility of a society as a whole, not only of its scientists. The people who are commissioning bombs to be built and then dropping those bombs on others are not necessarily people who are scientists; they are people who are using science for bad aims, assuming those kinds of aims are bad ones, which I do.

In school we learn that science is solid, factual, and reliable, but when you really start looking at it you realize it’s not so solid: something can be both a particle and a wave; nothing is ‘true’ it’s only ‘falsifiable’….

Actually, I’d maintain that what you learned in school is correct: Science is solid, factual and reliable. But what people don’t learn in school, and what they really need to know, is that not only is science solid, factual and reliable but it’s also totally insane. Science is crazy and counterintuitive and bizarre at the very same time that it’s solid and factual and reliable.

We don’t usually believe something can be both reliable and counterintuitive. To really understand the way the universe works, do we have to accept more contradictions?

Yes. And that’s pretty mind-blowing isn’t it? Science is crazy and yet scientific knowledge is really the only reliable stuff we have. “If you cut your finger, it will bleed” is an example of scientific knowledge. It’s knowledge everybody possesses because it is falsifiable. But when you then take that same idea and apply it to photons and electrons and black holes and the universe, then you will find that the analogous statement to “If you cut your finger, it bleeds” is “An electron can be in two places at once, and it typically is in two places at once”. It’s profoundly difficult for people to accept such a thing.

You just gave some examples of scientific knowledge. In Programming the Universe, you make a case for how the universe is a giant computer running on information. In such a universe, what is the difference between knowledge and information?

That’s a difficult question, but first let’s just try and define information. Information can be thought of as bits. It represents distinctions between possibilities, like the distinction between “0” and “1” or “yes” and “no”; it doesn’t say anything whatsoever about meaning.

So information is more like food?  

Right. If the cable guy comes to your house and hooks up your cable, his job is to make sure you get 500,000 bits per second coming into your house. His job isn’t about determining whether that 500,000 bits is Masterpiece Theatre or whether it’s pornography. The content doesn’t matter to him; all that matters is that you’re getting your 500,000 bits. The quantity of information can be distinct from the content.

So information is what exists with or without our awareness of it, but knowledge is the interpretation of information, and so requires consciousness?

Our consciousness certainly has to do with how we interpret information, but I’m actually very suspicious of consciousness; I think it’s way overrated. Humans tend to take a lot of pride in ‘being conscious’ and I always want to ask ‘Well, what have we done with that consciousness recently?’
We tend to think we’re the center of the universe, but most of us go around unconscious for the majority of the time, even when we’re awake.

I guess what I mean by consciousness is the extent to which we are aware of the information we use to communicate with one another, because maybe that is connected to how things change. For instance, in your book you talk about how physical systems change their information. Can you explain this?

Since information represents distinctions between possibilities, a change from one possibility to another is what distinguishes change. An electron has a bit – it has a piece of information, or maybe it’s better to say that an electron is a piece of information – which means it can spin either clockwise or counterclockwise. And every time something happens to it, that bit flips. It goes from spinning clockwise to spinning counterclockwise, or vise versa, and when it does this we say that the information has changed.

Is this what you would call de-cohering?

De-coherence is a good example of one of those things that is counterintuitive. The idea that an electron has a bit – that it can spin either clockwise or counterclockwise – is part of a classical picture of the world which is digital at bottom. But the electron is also quantum mechanical, so in addition to having this discrete, digital quality it also has its own weird funky counterintuitive properties, because actually this electron can take on both these things at once: it can spin both clockwise and counterclockwise. It can be both “O” and “1” at the same time, before it de-coheres.

Is this happening in two separate places? Or is there one place and both things are happening simultaneously?

The electron is “0” and “1” simultaneously, but you’re on the right track…

Ok. So is it like feeling happy and sad at exactly the same moment? Or wanting something and not wanting it at exactly the same time?

That’s certainly only a metaphor, and we have to be careful, but let’s pursue that train of thought. De-coherence is a process from where the electron goes from being “0” and “1” at the same time, to being either 0 or 1. When it de-coheres, the world splits in two and “0” goes to one world and 1 goes to another, and those worlds continue but they are no longer the same world. We can think of this in other ways too, to get a better idea. For example, as I discuss in the book, there’s a passage from Kenzaburo Oe’s A Personal Matter where he talks about a woman whose husband has committed suicide and she spends a lot of her time imagining this other world where he’s still alive, to the extent where this other world is as real to her as the world where she is actually living. I don’t know if you’ve ever had anyone close to you die, but there really is this way where a part of your brain continues to still think that person is living. But this is only a kind a way of understanding the idea: I don’t think electrons actually feel this way. (laughing)

It’s magical thinking. But as you say in your book, according to the Many Worlds theory, for every situation that happens there are many other worlds in which it doesn’t. You also quote Oe’s statement that “You can’t make death relative, no matter what psychological tricks you use”. Those two statements seem to contradict one another. Even so, there’s something about taking the two of them together that is useful for dealing with grief. Perhaps contradictions open up possibilities by allowing more than one thing to be true. Is it this same idea that gives a quantum computer more power than a normal one?

In a way, yes. Because when we say that computers interpret information, what we really mean is they treat the information as instructions to do things, so “0” means to do one thing and “1” means to do another. That’s what happens when human beings interpret information as well. So if I take this bit that is both “0” and “1” at the same time and I put it into the computer, the computer treats is as an instruction – “0” tells the computer to do this, and “1” tells the computer to do that. A quantum computer can do both of those instructions at the same time, rather than only one of them. David Deutsch called this quantum parallelism: it’s a matter of doing two or more things in parallel. A classical computer can typically only follow one instruction at a time, but a quantum computer can do many things simultaneously.

So what role does uncertainty play when it comes to computers and computer programming?

Good question. In ordinary computer programming, there’s really only one type of uncertainty, and everybody experiences this kind of uncertainty everyday. It’s the reason why there are bugs in computer programs, or why your computer freezes at times or does all those other funny things you don’t want it to do. The reason there are always bugs in computer programs comes from a very deep expression in logic, Kurt Gödel’s Undecidability Theorem, which shows that if you have any sufficiently complicated logical or mathematical structure, it’s not closed; there’s no finite mathematical system in which everything can be answered. So when you translate that into computer programs, it becomes something called the Halting Problem, which was proven by Alan Turing. The Halting Problem says that the only way to know what will happen if you change the instructions of a computer is to give it those instructions and see what happens.
So you can’t really prove that it’s going to go one way or the other. The only way to know if a computer program is going to work is to try it. You don’t know what is going to happen until you hit “RETURN”. This is something nearly everyone who has a computer has experienced. On top of all that, you also have this other kind of uncertainty that we’ve been talking about, the quantum mechanical one. The cool thing about the universe is that it’s using both of these in a complimentary or parallel fashion. So somewhere everything happens. Which helps us understand why life happened: if the universe is exploring all these different structures, then it’s not surprising that it’s exploring a structure like this as well.

Life is intrinsically likely then, as you say.

And certain to occur somewhere.

So we can’t prove anything is true, and we can’t make any definite predictions?

No. But we can say what isn’t true, and that’s quite a lot already.


interview by Andrea Hiott, 2007

davidHow To Change the World

David Bornstein: On Social Entrepreneurs

and How to Change the World

David Bornstein specializes in writing about social innovation. He is the author of How to Change the World: Social Entrepreneurs and the Power of New Ideas (Oxford University Press) which was described by The New York Times as “must reading” for “anyone who cares about building a more equitable and stable world” and a “bible” in its field. The book, which has been published (or is in the process of being published) in 20 languages, chronicles and analyzes the work of social innovators who are successfully addressing social problems at scale in several countries. Bornstein’s first book, “The Price of a Dream: The Story of the Grameen Bank,” traces the history of the Nobel Peace Prize-winning Grameen Bank during its first 20 years and describes the global emergence of the now-famous anti-poverty strategy known as “micro-finance.” Bornstein grew up in Montreal, Canada and now lives in New York City with his wife and son. He is currently at work on a book exploring the growth and implications of social entrepreneurship in the United States and Canada, and is developing a website that will serve as a tool for the discovery of solutions to major social problems.

Pulse: What is a social entrepreneur?

Daniel Bornstein: A social entrepreneur is a person who has both a powerful idea to cause a positive social change and the creativity, skills, determination and drive to transform that idea into reality. Social entrepreneurs combine the savvy, opportunism, optimism and resourcefulness of business entrepreneurs, but they devote themselves to pursuing social change or “social profit,” rather than financial profit. Behind all innovative business, there are entrepreneurs–individuals who possess the foresight, belief and boldness to build something new. The same holds for social change. Behind almost all important social innovations are social entrepreneurs–people with new ideas for solving problems, who build new kinds of organizations to implement those ideas, who will not take ‘no’ for an answer, and who will not give up until they have spread their ideas as far as they possibly can.

Where did this new wave of social entrepreneurship come from? Why has it found a place in the 21st century?

In the United States and across the globe, individuals today are far more aware of social problems and have far more power to address them. At the same time, many have lost faith in governments. Social entrepreneurship allows people to align what they enjoy doing, what they are good at and what matters most to them and have a real impact. This is a very fulfilling and rewarding way to work and live. There are also major historical forces that have, for the first time in history, made social entrepreneurship feasible for many people in recent years. The growth of an educated middle class, the extension of basic rights to women and minorities and the spread of information technology have made it possible for hundreds of millions of people around the world to unleash their creativity in new directions. In recent decades, more than 80 countries that were formerly dictatorships, totalitarian societies or apartheid regimes have moved toward democracy. People today are better informed about social problems and they have both the desire and the ability to solve them.

Entrepreneurs love to be innovative. Contrary to assumption, they do not only seek to maximize profits. This is why so many innovators today are focusing on creating new solutions–new ways to do business, new ways to alleviate poverty, new ways to attack a host of social problems. (This trend seems to have accelerated since September 11th.) These people represent the second great wave of entrepreneurship, which I believe will become a major force in the 21st century. The first wave occurred in the business sector over the past three centuries and brought enormous wealth gains worldwide. The second wave aims at building upon the first wave to create a more humane and sustainable world.

Why are these ideas so successful? Are there commonalities between these social entrepreneurs despite their obvious differences?

When people hear about innovative businesses– think of eBay or Starbucks or Home Depot– they have an intuitive understanding about why the businesses were successful. In each case, you had a talented entrepreneur who saw an opportunity before others, who raised capital and built a high-performing organization capable of managing fast-paced growth. Social-change ideas that follow this pattern can and will be very successful. The problem is that, historically, this has not been the way social problems have been addressed. Society has not supported, financed or encouraged social entrepreneurs the way it has encouraged millions of business entrepreneurs. Rather, it has relied on top-down bureaucracies to handle the ‘non-business’ work of society. But that is changing today, with many more entrepreneurs starting social-change organizations and receiving support and encouragement.

Regardless of the field in which social entrepreneurs work–education, health, environment, disability, policy–the basic entrepreneurial process and temperament are the same. Entrepreneurs are obsessively driven to succeed; they are, therefore, good listeners; they build good teams; they pay close attention to what the ‘market’ tells them; they stay focused on long-term goals but continually adapt to changing environments; and they are always looking for new opportunities to grow and innovate. That is why their ideas are so successful.

So many governments are failing to implement change where social entrepreneurs are flourishing. How do you explain this phenomenon?

All too often, governments have attacked problems with a short-sighted, top-down approach that does not lead to innovative solutions. Governments have to respond to the demands of two- and four-year election cycles; entrepreneurs think in terms of building great companies or organizations over many decades. Additionally, rather than pursuing ideas through an organic, bottom-up ‘entrepreneurial’ process that encourages creativity and human initiative at each step of the way; governments are often organized for top-down bureaucratic processes that often dampen, or restrict, individual initiative. Finally, all ideas need “champions” to push them forward– people who are obsessed with making them work and will not give up until they succeed.

Many of these “champions” or entrepreneurs avoid working in government because they would rather not be constrained by political considerations and bureaucratic handcuffs; they prefer the freedom of building their own organizations. As a result, governments have difficulty attracting large numbers of entrepreneurs. However, there are examples when a “bureaucratic entrepreneur” within the government can have an enormous impact. One example is the case of Bill Drayton, who, as assistant administrator of the EPA, demonstrated the potential of “pollution trading” to cut pollution emissions–an idea that has since been adopted around the world. His story is detailed in the book.

How did you select the social entrepreneurs in How to Change the World? What were you aiming to profile?

The stories were selected, above all, because they are interesting and engaging, and because they span a range of countries and touch on a wide variety of issues–from education to health to environmental protection. The profiles capture all (humbly) and how they proceeded, step by step, over the years, to pursue their visions on an ever increasing scale. My goal was to demystify their success: to show how seemingly ordinary people and ordinary efforts, over time, can produce extraordinary results. I also wanted to draw on the entrepreneurs’ own words in explaining their decisions and actions, to make their methods and thinking easily understandable to others. When taken together, the profiles highlight many of the common factors that allow social entrepreneurs to succeed where others have failed.

Many of your social entrepreneurs are fellows of the organization Ashoka: Innovators for the Public. What was it about Ashoka that captured your interest?

Three things. First, it is very hard to find social entrepreneurs. There are no directories that list them. The newspapers don’t have sections that specialize in reporting on the most entrepreneurial social organizations. So in order to find them you need assistance from credible organizations. Ashoka pioneered the idea of searching for and channeling support to “pattern setting social entrepreneurs” more than 20 years ago. From what I have seen, it has developed the most rigorous search and selection process for identifying social entrepreneurs at relatively early stages in their careers. Using Ashoka’s network as a starting point made researching this book–which involved interviews with 100 social entrepreneurs in eight countries–a manageable job.

Second, the founder of Ashoka, Bill Drayton, is himself a social entrepreneur who has traveled around the world for two decades looking for other social entrepreneurs in order to support them. As such, Bill Drayton was a useful central character for the book–someone who could tie together many individual stories and add some key insights.

Third, Ashoka’s efforts to find social entrepreneurs have paralleled many of the changes that have occurred across the world in recent decades. Ashoka has generally begun working in countries shortly after those countries have experienced the democratic reforms that allow social entrepreneurs to flourish. The organization’s growth has, in effect, mirrored the spread of democracy and freedom over the past 20 years. So Bill Drayton’s efforts to expand Ashoka lends a natural narrative flow to the book that captures these global changes.

What do you see as the most important aspect of these social entrepreneurs?

The most important aspect of the social entrepreneurs is simply that one walks away after hearing their stories with the conviction that big problems can be solved. Their stories create a sense of possibility and hope and they encourage action because their ideas are practical and doable. We have become accustomed to low performance in the social arena. In the 1960s, for example, there was great optimism about what could be accomplished in the U.S. through government. Then came the Great Society, the war on poverty, and subsequent wars on crime and drugs, and countless failed development projects. Over the past four decades, expectations have plummeted.

Today, many people do not believe that we can alleviate poverty, or fix the education system, or improve government, or find better ways to deal with many social problems. Around the world, people are voting less and less. Amidst this disenchantment with government, the field of social entrepreneurship has emerged. Against the conventional wisdom, these leaders are demonstrating that problems can, in fact, be solved. But, in order to do so, society needs to think differently about the approach: It needs harness the wide-ranging talents of its best social entrepreneurs– encouraging them to innovate and pursue their visions. Just like in the business sector, there is no shortage of entrepreneurs, but there is not yet enough systematic support given to the social entrepreneurs.

How should budding social entrepreneurs go about implementing their ideas? Where should they begin?

Social entrepreneurs, like business entrepreneurs, should begin with what they know best and should focus on an idea or issue that resonates deeply in their lives. Entrepreneurs rarely come up with their ideas suddenly. Typically, they spend years thinking about them–often searching for the right moment in their lives to move forward. Sometimes their ideas can be traced all the way back to childhood interests. Before starting out on their own, they often work in jobs that teach them how a particular type of business or industry operates. Social entrepreneurs go through the same types of “apprenticeships.” They usually work for several years in a particular field, profession or organization, acquiring the knowledge, skills and contacts that enable them to branch out on their own and improve upon what is currently being done. Then they enter the “launch” phase–when they start preparing to build their own organizations. Again, like business entrepreneurs, social entrepreneurs usually begin by tapping their personal networks–friends, families, colleagues, teachers, mentors. They often start with a few well-selected tests of their ideas–to demonstrate early viability–and build credibility and momentum. They enlist advice from well-connected and experienced allies about how to raise funding, think through strategy, and build a team of supporters and advisors. There are many resources where social entrepreneurs can turn to for assistance during this launch phase. I list several of them in the Resource Guide in my book.

Do you envision social entrepreneurship reaching a saturation point?

No. Again, just like in the business sector, it is difficult to envision a time when there will be no more demand for new entrepreneurs. Society is ever-changing. Every day, people identify new opportunities and new needs. Business entrepreneurs build new businesses to satisfy those needs using a for-profit approach. Old companies go out of business; new ones open up. By the same token, there will always be new and different problems that social entrepreneurs will seek to address more effectively. Old organizations will stop functioning; new ones will have to be built to replace them. Consider some of the problems today that social entrepreneurs are addressing that were not major issues twenty years ago: global warming, AIDS, water shortages, providing better social and health services for an aging population, creating education systems that prepare people to succeed in the “information age.”

As social entrepreneurship grows and becomes recognized as a respectable and important line of work, society will begin to see a beneficial process in which new organizations with innovative solutions continually replace out-dated social organizations that have lost their performance edge or drifted from their original mission. This happens every day in the business sector. In the social sector, because the ‘social capital markets’ are not very efficient, the turnover is slower and less systematic. But today we are seeing more and more of the beneficial competition that leads to improvements and innovations. The social entrepreneurs are at the forefront of these changes.

Can anyone change the world?

There are two ways to answer this question. If ‘change the world’ means causing a major change that spreads across society and affects millions of people, the answer would have to be no. It takes a particular kind of person with a very deep need– someone who is totally obsessed with an idea — to bring about a social change on a major scale. These ‘leading’ or ‘ground-breaking’ social entrepreneurs are comparatively rare. (In fact, I’m not sure if society could tolerate large numbers of them.) On the other hand, if ‘change the world’ mean bringing a positive change to some corner of the globe– affecting the lives of one, ten, a hundred, or a thousand people, then, in my opinion, the answer is yes.

Researching this book has taught me that ordinary people have far more capacity and potential than they ever know or use. Many of the people I have interviewed who have done remarkable things are far from ‘extraordinary.’ The main quality they share is a belief that they can make a difference. They are not without self-doubts and they are not geniuses. But they have initiative, they listen to their instincts and they take action. Above all, they begin. I suspect that there are millions of people out there who could bring important changes to their corners of the world–and who would find great fulfillment doing so. If more parents and teachers and if society at large could encourage more people to try their hand at social entrepreneurship, I believe it would unleash enormous potential. It would also produce great benefits for society and much individual happiness.


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Dariusz Radtke

„Poles are actors and heavy drinkers“

Photo credit: Sandra Kühnapfel,
Without title or Spaces in-between, Foto 2008, Oslo *