Nationalism by Rabindranath TagoreAs Nobel Laureates go, Rabindranath Tagore ranges among my absolute favourites. I have loved his fiction for many, many years, and his nonfiction turns out to be equally intriguing.
When I first read Tagores essays on nationalism, I kept checking the publication date. It cant be, I thought, it really cant be that this was written in 1917, when other people practiced their polemic sarcasm and propaganda prose style, yelling out their conviction that nationalism, us against them, was what made a country successful, when a world war was prolonged despite immeasurable suffering for the individual citizens of all those nationalistic states.
Tagore saw it clearly:
The political civilization which has sprung up from the soil of Europe and is overrunning the whole world, like some prolific weed, is based upon exclusiveness. It is always watchful to keep the aliens at bay or to exterminate them.
There is not that much change in attitude yet, around the world, despite humane voices like Tagores, calling for people to embrace true progress:
True modernism is freedom of mind, not slavery of taste.
Tagore points out that a life lived entirely in the worship of political and scientific mechanisms reduces humanity to sportsmen superficially pursuing a prize without any true value, as ethical aspects are overruled. What he describes is reminiscent of the ruthless scientist in The Island of Dr. Moreau or the political leaders in World War I shifting armies back and forth over European soil as a kind of deadly board game.
What scared me was his crystal clear view of our consumer society which is dominated by the goods we are supposed to buy to keep it going and prospering. I would not have imagined the strong impact it had already made a hundred years ago:
But the tidal wave of falsehood has swept over your land from that part of the world where business is business, and honesty is followed merely as best policy. Have you never felt shame when you see the trade advertisements, not only plastering the whole town with lies and exaggerations, but invading the green fields, ...
What would Tagore have made of our present life of advertisement on our phones, computers, trains, buses, etc...?
Tagore sees one of the main menaces to humanity in the idea of the nation, as a mechanical construction to put up borders between human beings and to build animosities, stimulated by the idea of belonging to a specific group rather than humanity as a whole, and measured in a competition on the scientific, political, social, economic and military stage.
So far, so sadly true. But what I really admired was his capacity to step out of the depressing situation (which is scarily familiar still), and see hope at the horizon.
He keeps his belief in the perfectibility of humanity despite all odds, as long as we can see that we are responsible towards ourselves and the rest of the world to make ethical choices based on respect for all, not pride in our tribe!
To sum it up:
Tagore delivers an immensely intelligent account of the problematic dichotomy between individual human beings and the nation-states they are part of. Scary to see that this knowledge was available long before World War II.
Very much recommended!
Oliver Sacks: On Robin Williams and the Brain (Feb 23, 1995) - Charlie Rose
Insomniac City: New York, Oliver, and Me by Bill Hayes review – loving Oliver Sacks
This life-expanding recompense of embracing otherness graces every meaningful relationship, be it the love of a person or the love of a place, and it comes alive with uncommon splendor in Insomniac City: New York, Oliver, and Me public library — the poetic and profound more-than-memoir by the writer and photographer Bill Hayes. After the sudden death of his partner of sixteen years, Hayes — a lifelong insomniac — leaves San Francisco for New York in search of a fresh start. He learns that New York, like love, is demanding and difficult but rewards those who surrender to it unguardedly. Both can break your heart, and both can break it open if you embrace their irregular edges. What emerges from this dual love letter is a lyrical reminder that happiness and heartache are inseparably entwined, and that without the tragic, the beautiful would be just a frayed strand of half-being. I moved to New York eight years ago and felt at once at home. In the haggard buildings and bloodshot skies, in trains that never stopped running like my racing mind at night, I recognized my insomniac self.
Buy from other retailers. Amazon's Best Biographies and Memoirs of List A moving celebration of what Bill Hayes calls "the evanescent, the eavesdropped, the unexpected" of life in New York City, and an intimate glimpse of his relationship with the late Oliver Sacks. But, at forty-eight years old, having spent decades in San Francisco, he craved change. Grieving over the death of his partner, he quickly discovered the profound consolations of the city's incessant rhythms, the sight of the Empire State Building against the night sky, and New Yorkers themselves, kindred souls that Hayes, a lifelong insomniac, encountered on late-night strolls with his camera. And he unexpectedly fell in love again, with his friend and neighbor, the writer and neurologist Oliver Sacks, whose exuberance--"I don't so much fear death as I do wasting life," he tells Hayes early on--is captured in funny and touching vignettes throughout. What emerges is a portrait of Sacks at his most personal and endearing, from falling in love for the first time at age seventy-five to facing illness and death Sacks died of cancer in August
In , following the sudden death of his partner of sixteen years, Hayes rented out his San Francisco apartment and moved to New York City. Hayes had had a passing social relationship with the neurologist Oliver Sacks, who had written him in to praise his book The Anatomist. When Hayes moved to New York, his relationship with Sacks — a fellow insomniac , and at 75 nearly thirty years his senior — soon turned romantic. Sacks had hidden his homosexuality from most people, and had lived a largely celibate life; at the start of his relationship with Hayes, it had been three and a half decades since his last romantic encounter. In Insomniac City , Hayes reverently describes Sacks' unique and curious mind. The two would use marijuana together Sacks preferred edibles , and always called it "cannabis" , and Sacks would report on vivid visual hallucinations, partly owing to his significantly impaired eyesight. They would often visit botanical gardens, and the mineralogy collection at the American Museum of Natural History.
Hayes, a gifted writer from California, shared Sacks's final decade and grew to love the always surprising city they lived in.
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Dates with O, as Hayes refers to Sacks in this engaging, poignant memoir, were completely different. Instead of movies or new restaurants or Broadway shows, they visited the Museum of Natural History, where Sacks told him the stories behind the discovery of every single element. During long walks in the botanical garden in the Bronx, he would expatiate on every species of fern.
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If you believe in sublimation, that he stayed celibate for three and a half decades may account for his productivity. Late in life, in his 70s, he entered the first sustained romantic relationship in his life with Bill Hayes, an American writer in his early 50s. Sacks seemed eccentric but in a harmless, charming way. But they both relished the noise and filth and energy of New York and Hayes liked to roam the city at night, taking pictures of strangers and talking to them. The two men were together for five or six years until Sacks died of cancer in