Adonis Diaries

What is “The Book of Knowledge”? By Constantin von Barloewen

Posted on: October 24, 2008

“Le livre des saviors” edited by Constantin von Barloewen, (December 22, 2007)

This manuscript is a series of interviews of thinkers that Barloewen considers as representative of this century such as, the Syrian poet Adonis, the Egyptian diplomat Butros Butros Ghali, the biochemist Erwin Chargaff, the French politician Regis Debray, the Latin American writer Carlos Fuentes, Nadine Gordimer, Stephen Jay Gould, Samuel Hutington, Philip Johnson, Leszek Kolakowski, Julia Kristeva, Federico Mayor, Yehudi Menuhin, Czeslaw Milosz, Oscar Niemeyer, The Israeli writer Amoz Oz, Raimon Panikkar, Cardinal Paul Poupard, Ilya Prigogine, Arthur Schlesinger, Michel Serres, Wole Soyinka, Edward Teller, Tu Wei-Ming, Paul Virilio,, and Elie Wiesel.

Adonis said: “I was born in the Koran”.  Adonis is the pseudonym of the Syrian poet Ali Ahmad Said Esber; he published his first poems at the age of 17.  Adonis collection “The chants of Mihyar of Damascus” started his career in 1961.  He founded the magazine Poems “Chi3r” with Yousef Al Khal and then “Mawakif” and translated many French poetry manuscripts.  He published “The time of cities”, “Memory of the wind”, “Prayer and sword”, and “Grave for New York”.

Adonis says that there are two texts for the Koran; the first text is the compilation of the revelations proper of the Prophet Mohammad, and the second text is a compilation of what the prophet said or alluded to and the interpretations of the ulamas called” Hadith”.  The jurists, the philosophers, the politicians and Caliphates favored the second text “Hadith”, which has eclipsed the main text in matter of daily rules and obligations.  The reliance on Hadith mainly transformed Islam into an ideology. The present problem is related to this dualism of the two texts.

Religious fundamentalism is a form of anti-modernity but we need to define and differentiate the meaning of modernity among regions.  Fundamentalism is anti-liberty, anti-change and anti-openness to other cultures but Moslem fundamentalism was encouraged by the Western Nations to counter communism. The Moslem mystics interpret the notions of hell and paradise symbolically.  Islam had been a culture opened to other religions and adopted the mixing among various cultures and Israel has to realize that it existence is linked to her intermingling with the culture of the neighbors.

Many believe that identity is pre-set and that the citizens have to find their identity at the source but identity is related to the future and is formed by perpetual openness to other cultures. My tradition is not just Arab but go al the way to over five thousand years before the Arab conquests.

The late Erwin Chargaff said: “No scientist knows what is life”.  Chargaff  is a renowned biochemist who contributed in the understanding of the DNA and taught at Columbia University for 40 years.  He considers the USA as a big waste disposal State with no culture: the melting pot or the lowest common denominator among the various ethic groups revolves around money.   It would take a miracle for the USA to acquire a homogeneous culture.

There is a mechanism in place that paralyses spiritual thoughts and sensibility: any form of pure poetry is viewed as grotesque in the US culture. The lyrical thinking of the 18th century was replaced by natural sciences; thus, instead of explaining what is life, the scientist analyze the components of life and try to colonize nature.  Chargaff states that what we comprehend is far remote from what we can do with science: the irreversible genetically altered genes in human and vegetables are very dangerous, scary and criminal.

The scientist of previous centuries used to dabble in the spiritual but the little scientists of this century have no idea of the general context and are very indifferent. Chargaff claims that science is interesting but should not be given too much importance: there should be no time limit imposed on any scientific discovery and thus, the less scientific institutions receive in grants the better for science and societies.

In the essential of progress we might still be as developed as the Neanderthal. We do not need to have more superior musicians or philosophers in order to claim progress. The history of the world is a catalogue of violent acts and accidents, and beauty has no place in that history. Nobody can teach us in the domain of literature and human sciences and we are on our own to conquer these fields.

Chargaff has religious sensibilities but he has no religion; he said that everyone should build his own chapel in order to defend his internal forces against the ambient impiety. It is dangerous that the sacred is vanishing from our culture and traditions.

Regis Debray said: “The Futurists are always wrong”.  Debray is a French writer, philosopher, and political activist.  He was President Francois Mitterrand’s third world foreign affairs. He was a war correspondent in Venezuella and Bolivia and served three years prison term in Bolivia in the 60’s. He published articles in “Les temps modernes” of Sartre and is the founder of the “mediology” and is more oriented toward the effects of religions in the secular domain.

He says that religion is linked to the idea of institutions and personified divinities but the religious has no need of a God or of confession; communism, fascism and Nazism were religious secular atheist ideologies.  Debray has coined this maxim “The less the secular authorities are spiritual the more the spiritual power is secular” and he gives as an example of the extensive secular meddling of the Russian Orthodox Church.

The source of cohesiveness in any community is founded on the sacred or faith in a final objective that guarantee its continuation; the sacred cannot be manipulated because it is not controlled by man.  A community has to open up to transcendental values such as lost paradise, myths, or even a Constitution in order to keep its internal unity and has to set boundaries too.  Thus, what attaches a group together is a certain faith, unlike individuals who may know but not necessarily have faith.  The group or community may be specialized organizations that set up rules and regulations and programs as sacred rituals.

The marketing tendencies of setting political programs in the Western States, which are supposed to satisfy peoples’ wants and wishes, do not enhance the political will or rationality, but purely the cult of emotion; and thus, the social and humanitarian aspects are replacing diplomacy at the expense of the ideal.  Communication used by the media propagate information in the dimension of space, while transmission of knowledge and traditions propagate information along the time dimension; and thus, the transmission vehicles, which characterize human development, such as family, school, university, and organization for educating and preserving the heritage of our ancestors are losing ground.

Carlos Fuentes talked about “the Creole or mixed offspring or the Latin American drama and the future myths”. Fuentes was born in Panama and is a Mexican writer, academic, politician and diplomat; he served a term at the UN in the section of international work and founded several literary magazines with Octavio Paz. His publications are “Days of carnival”, “The most limpid region”, “The death of Artemio Cruz”, “The songs of the blinds”, “New skin”, “Terra nostra”, “The old gringo”, and “The century of the eagle”.

Fuentes thinks that the 21st century will be marked by mass immigration from the South and East to Europe and the USA and poor Latin America will have no choice but to invade the USA, unless mass investment are allocated to that impoverished continent.  He is saddened that the Greek tragic dramas have been replaced by Hollywood melodramas, where one party is right and the other is the bad:  tragical dramas are not necessarily unhappy and pathetic stories because the two protagonists are both right in their positions depending on your philosophy and focus in values.

He described Don Quixote as the book of uncertainty; the name, locations and even the author are not clearly defined.  The locus of novels should be the media of the doubt, of re-questioning the dogmas and the uncertainties in the world.

During the revolutions for independence from Spain in 1820, the Latin American States decided that they had enough of Spanish culture but they had to seek education and culture from Europe and France because the indigent Indian and black minorities could not be of any substitute.  At that year, the USA issued the “Monroe doctrine” which stated that the USA reserve the right to intervene in Latin America and consequently, the population get their distance from acquiring knowledge and culture from this Calvinist and utilitarian State.

The Cuban Alejo Carpenter explained the Negro traditions, the Guatemalan Miguel Angel Asturias explained the Indian traditions, and the Argentinean Borges explained the Islamic and Jewish traditions; thus, the identity of Latin American took form in the 20th century.

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adonis49

adonis49

adonis49

October 2008
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