Sunday, December 18, 2011

Vaclav Havel

Vaclav Havel has died. I always had an odd sort of affinity for him, perhaps because he looked a bit like my father, who was also a native of Prague. Here's some of his writing that seems very apropos of the events of the day:
... That week was an experience I’ll never forget. I saw Soviet tanks smash down arcades on the main square and bury several people in the rubble. I saw a tank commander start shooting wildly into the crowd. I saw and experienced many things, but what affected me most powerfully was that special phenomenon of solidarity and community which was so typical of that time. People would bring food and flowers and medicine to the radio station, regardless of whether we needed them or not. When Tríska didn’t broadcast for a couple of hours, the station was bombarded with telephone calls asking if we were all right. ... I have no intention of romanticizing that period either. I only think that, taken all together, it made for a unique phenomenon which to this day, as far as I know, has never been analyzed in any depth sociologically, philosophically, psychologically, or politically. But some things were so obvious you could understand them immediately, without any scientific analysis. For example, that society is a very mysterious animal with many faces and hidden potentialities, and that it’s extremely shortsighted to believe that the face society happens to be presenting to you at a given moment is its only true face...None of us knows all the potentialities that slumber in the spirit of the population, or all the ways in which that population can surprise us when there is the right interplay of events, both visible and invisible.
And more:
Or the question about socialism and capitalism! I have to admit that it gives me a sense of emerging from the depths of the last century. It seems to me that these thoroughly ideological and often semantically confused categories have long since been beside the point. The question is wholly other, deeper and equally relevant to all: whether we shall, by whatever means, succeed in reconstituting the natural world as the true terrain of politics, rehabilitating the personal experience of human beings as the initial measure of things, placing morality above politics and responsibility above our desires, in making human community meaningful, in returning content to human speech, in reconstituting, as the focus of all social action, Ihe autonomous, integral, and dignified human "I," responsible for ourselves because we are bound to something higher, and capable of sacrificing something, in extreme cases even everything, of his banal, prosperous private life-that "rule of everydayness," as Jan Patočka used to say-for the sake of that which gives life meaning. It really is not all that important whether, by accident of domicile, we confront a Western manager or an Eastern bureaucrat in this very modest and yet globally crucial struggle against the momentum of impersonal power.

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