Ποιειν Και Πραττειν - create and do

Poetry and Planning between Myth and Enlightenment by Hatto Fischer

First of all, my thanks on behalf of all of us to Kamilari, to its Municipal Council, and in particular to Yannis Papdaki, for having surprises us yet again with a hardly to be measured hospitality. IN full appreciation of what the community of Kamilari is offering us, in order to hold these workshops, it seems most appropriate to outline their theme.

“Poetry and Planning between Myth and Enlightenment” as a theme reflects an apparent need to chart news paths into the future. Recent developments have shown that while technology can bring with its advantages, there is still the difficult challenge to know how to preserve a certain way of life. The latter may mean indeed resistance against changes or rather attempts to realize another way of living, one which does not necessarily go conform with everything else that goes in the world. This resistance is vital for the understanding of life. May many developments look as enticing as a filled shoppisng window on Fifth Avenue in New York, it still does not free us from the responsibility to evaluate every model of living prior to adapting to it. For there is no need to reproduce mistakes which the others have made and only realize that when too late, and hence unable to correct them. But as can be gathered already by this small hint, only certain models lead to success. Therefore, it seems most natural to apply the criterion as to whether or not we are convinced in what we are doing! After all that determines whether or not our language which we speak does really relate to the world of lived through experiences. Sartre called it 'le vecu'! If so, it stands for an open force which allows us to create over time meaningful and vital human relationships. In other words, a world reigned by confusion as much as by modernization pressures will be a challenge we haves to meet by setting the highest possible standard of wishing that even the latest developments retain human relationships. This balance is not easily found at all times. I will come back to that concept of 'balance' at the end of my speech.

Let me briefly explain the history behind the activities leading up to these workshops. It is not the first time that we come to Kamilari, but by now it is the third time. In 1994 thirty European poets came to this “Old School” to hold under the singing trees even when there is hardly any time, a symposium around the topic “Mythology and Poetry”. Greece appears to a natural place to reflect upon this, Kamilari with Phaistos nearby perhaps even more so.

There are also some special flavours to be encountered when in Crete having a nature which is powerful, strong. Sometimes rocks seem do look down canyons as if they are goats which have been transformed into stone. That uniqueness creates a certain toughness which when combined with human aspiration can add to wisdom and allows thereby a living within a dimension poets would describe as a mythical world. For not everything can be explained rationally as to what happens at this meeting ground between human beings and Gods.

Of course, this remark about wisdom could take us already to the question, but what is the centre of man's universe? For at the outset of man's thoughts, if there is not 'wisdom of the heart', there is a language which is as much concrete as it includes mythical elements. Words touch upon the skies whose blueness is reflected in the water while white washed churches stand in the landscape as if leaning against olive trees.

Someone like our great poetess Katerina Anghelaki Rooke has developed already ideas about this subject and will continue to do so during these workshops. While she does not wish to refer to the ancient past and therefore to the myth, other poets do, Elytis but one example since his poetry does entail many mythical references. Another illustration could be made on hand of Ritsos who would include this reference without any hesitation. In one of his poems, he describes an old woman stepping out of her hut and going towards the well to fetch water, and in so dong shows “ancient movements.”

The poetry symposium of 1994 focused on letting poets write their own reflections on how they see the role of mythology nowadays. One red thread ran through all the discussions, namely there there is a difference between a myth being created and a myth being abused by power. That difference is not self understood. The German speaking but in Belgium living poet Bruno Kartheuser made the distinction between the free spirit of Homer and the confined one of the Roman poet Virgil. The latter stood under contractual obligations to the state. He created myths so that the state could remind people at certain times what tasks lie ahead e.g. now would be the time to harvest. This is based on Vergil's insight that the moment people would no longer know when to cut the trees and tame wild horses, the empire would crumble and fall. Thus we discussed very much a difference between a myth being developed out of a 'friendly attitude towards the world' (to borrow a phrase from Cassirer) and a myth becoming a state ideology by which also tutelage of people is implied. The latter would destroy the very power of myth aiming usually to give man and woman a concept of self which goes beyond life and death. Once that myth is destroyed, then life appears as something meaningless.

Indeed, the 'free human spirit' living infinitely in affinity to the blue sky, cannot be subject to abuse. Rather to live such a spirit needs recognition and respect. Elytis refers to this kind of spirit in 'Axion Esti' - “be praised”. For when the German officer shots Manolis for not obeying the order to step forward and give his name, the life of that officer ends right there, while that of Manolis, so Elytis, has just began. For Crete and its resistance against Geman occupation during Second World War that has been most significant.

Once the participants of the symposium started to recognize the significance of this difference, they developed quite a different approach to mythology. Especially in the Western world, in particular after the historical period of the Enlightenment, mythology has been wrongly labelled as a source of 'irrationality', as something blocking rational thought and therefore progress. If it is something outdated, then this 'irrationality' would be retained within one fold of thought and mean man's own 'self-destruction'.

Ginette Verstraete from the University of Maastricht and lecturer in the field of cultural studies concerned with the impact of technology upon modern societies, she will take up this juxtaposition between rationality and irrationality in just a moment. She will give an outline of the questions we would like to explore and thereby it would give the workshops a framework of references. Crucial shall be to clarify in the process this dispute between myth and enlightenment. Right now these two appear to be two opposite poles of man's capacity but also ways to conceive and to relate to the world. Lest it be forgotten, Hegel followed up Kant's dictum that concepts are blind if there is no perception (Anschauung) accompanying them, by putting it squarely into the ideological fold of politics by declaring 'people without myth are blind!'

Having made already these experiences back then, in 1994, other activities took place which determined the follow-up event last September when 15 poets and 15 planners, architects, philosophers, came to Crete for one week to discuss living conditions in cities. The conference had the theme: “Myth of the City”. That conference itself was an outcome of the Fifth Seminar, “Cultural Actions for Europe” held after the Cretan conference in 1994 in Athens. For the poets then joined the ten different workshops, and in particular the one about “regional/urban planning and culture” had far reaching implications as you can begin to see if you follow these developments.

In “Myth of the City” the very concept of myth was applied as it related to our versions of human settlements. It was examined out of various and different perspectives, and conveyed especially by a hardly known dialogue between planners and poets.

The purpose of the conference was aptly perceived by Voula Mega, Research Manager at the European Institute for Living and Working Conditions. She said that poets can 'enlighten' the planners on how to involve the creativity of people in shaping cities and the future of our lives in cities.

In short, how to enlighten the capacity of planners, that was and is really at stake. This includes architects, urban and regional planners, administrators, constructors, engineers, etc. for their influence upon our lives is tremendous. They can shape the conditions both positively and negatively. To give but one outstanding but very negative example, the Mexican writer Carlos Fuentos describes Theresienstadt as having been designed and build with the sole purpose to collect, isolate and crush the individuals by exposing them to the 'vision of loneliness'. They were forced to walk down narrow corridors with low ceilings and thereby made it impossible to walk side by side with another person and this in an upright way. Everything which is man-made, inlcuding the biggest palaces but also the smallest huts, they convey whether or not the forms created and used have been thought through in respect of mankind, and this with all the implications for human behaviour and relationships. As the famous children's doctor and director of orphanages, Janusz Korczak said, even the best teacher cannot correct the mistakes an architect can make when designing a school.

Hence most telling is what Brendan Kennelly who was with us one year ago wrote what the discussions during the 'Myth of the City' conference gave him to think about: “What really emerged...is that the city is a threatened dream and a struggling reality, a place (or places) from which people must escape, towards which they must travel, and in which they must work and live. We have created a repulsive-magnetic phenomenon: defining the sources and nature of both the revulsion and the magnetism got a good start then...” (Brendan Kennelly, 6.10.1995)

By looking at this “old School” of Kamilari, we come to the heart of the matter as to why we are here. Moral commitment, and nothing else, has brought us here as much as together with you. Om searching for ways to find answers for the future, it is already significant that the Municipal Council of Kamilari has after our visit last September made the decision to assist us in every way possible to realize these workshops. Above all, I have come to appreciate the work of the Council through our joint application to the European Programme dealing with “Cultural Cooperation and Economic Development” under Article 10. The text of Kamilari as one of the five partners speaks about the “Old School” in its project proposal, for it should become in future a 'light house' for the region. That is a deeply enlightening thought but as well a beautiful metaphor insofar its mythical component is linked to many activities which can be as much envisioned as planned for. All this takes on the shape of a deeply rational character such as improving water management methods, re-learning the art of bee keeping, while giving driving lessons on agricultural and other vehicles in order to improve upon safety on rural roads. These are needs which have to be recognized in order to be dealt with in a proper way. Needless to say not all needs are responded to properly, and therefore much of the development tends to go astray. All the more is it of importance that the Municipal Council recognizes that all these measurements should not be of temporary nature, but be sustainable. If this is realized it would fill the “old school” with new life.

We shall see if our joint CIED (Cultural Innovation and Economic Development) application involving five different rural-urban regions in Europe – aside from Kamilari partners are Galway in Ireland, Cardiff in Wales, Agrigento region in Sicily/Italy and Vetschau in Germany – shall be successful or not, but already the efforts and investments made to bring about the application is an indication that here a positive spirit is at work. This spirit is really a unique combination of 'rational belief' as part of the myth of Europe and an expression of enlightenment made possible by entering modern forms of communication, so that people in different parts of Europe can work together. Here then I return to what I referred to at the beginning, for the 'balance of things' relies as much upon 'moral commitments' between different parts of Europe and their respective cultures.

Every time we come to Kamilari, you, the people of this village, surprise us. Not only do you receive us as your honoured guests, but you show us something which has become quite rare in these times. For you have great patience with us and you are willing to listen to what we have to say. My mother had always said that the world is in need of artists, but they need people who can listen. It is an honour to be here again, tonight, amongst you but this time with many more practical perspectives in mind than ever before. We wish to develop in the workshops concrete references for future activities. While economic development, including the safeguarding and provision of jobs has become most recently a higher priority than even safeguarding the cultures of Europe, this does not mean we can afford to neglect those true cultural dimensions of dialogue and personal interactions.

Indeed, there is a lot of cultural work in need to be done as this has been neglected by a world due to having lost the human dimension and therefore has been out of 'balance' for quite some time now. This loss of balance is crucial to understand. Relationships between people as much as between countries can easily be upset by one or the other factor once something starts to dominate out of proportion and therefore throwing everything else out of balance. Wise policy measures retain after all a sense of proportionality and therefore do not neglect as well the human scale. If mutual recognition goes empty handed, then we are without mutual understanding and fail to the recognize the needs of the other(s). The consequences of such imbalances need not to be spelled out here, but I think all of you recognize the inherent danger if but one factor is allowed to overrule everything else. This is especially the case if money becomes the sole determining factor of everything else. If so it would lead to the wrong setting of priorities and not correspond any more to our wish to live as human beings on this earth. Rather we would be compelled by sheer power and the logic of necessity to follow those who have given up everything but the greed for more money. Against that single drive some constraints have to be set in order not to let the system become like a plane flown by an auto pilot and independently from us, the passengers. By learning to set constraints, and getting out of the system in a creative, that is not self destructive way, we would be creating a world of our own making. That is where self responsibility and self critical evaluation of our practices begins. We learn only out of our mistakes, if we are open to admit them and draw consequences in time so that we correct them before it is too late.

We have a moral commitment due to this human concern. As said already, I feel honoured to have this opportunity to discuss our ideas related to poetry and planning in Kamilari. Let me emphasize that a moral commitment is never the same as a contractual obligation. Rather it is an unexpected response to something being truthful to life; as an impulse, it makes possible the explanation of actions like these being created by bringing certain people together at a place where we know you as a village a receptive. Your personal and cultural affinity makes, therefore, something possible and which shall help us shape our ideas more clearly in reference to this human dimension and human scale.

It is my wish that your expectations in us are fulfilled in the same way as we wish to communicate through the workshops to you some of our thoughts. The problems of life in cities are complex, and therefore solutions are not easy to find. However, if they can be discussed in a friendly atmosphere, and this with the support of all you people, then the solutions will be observe much more the lessons of proportionality humanity needs to observe, if options for future development are understood and therefore can be thought through in their consequences before being implemented. By weighing the odds and advantages before deciding upon a certain path, it means also to let the creativity residing in everyone unfold.

Foresight shall always be needed if we are to reap the gifts of our imagination. It takes time to understand that. If any balance is to be brought about, and who does not know of how difficult it is to maintain open diplomatic relationships between countries when factors like economic disasters, military threats, political upheavals can easily upset everything, then by mutual understanding. It allows us to stay true to our moral commitment towards the freedom to work together, and this in order to understand each other.

Your understanding and support makes possible these workshops, an event which brings people together who do not wish to spend only holidays in your village, but as your guests work with with you, in order to refine together our designs for the future. It means that the workshops want to contribute to the conceptual as much as to the architectural design of the future Cultural Centre of Kamilari, the 'lighthouse' as your Council has called it so poetically. The architectural design will be presented to you at the end of the workshops by architect Jürgen Eckhardt and his team which has brought with him especially for this purpose from Berlin. This is to say, when a different approach to planning is taken by including the poetic voices, the reasons of life is included. For myth is like 'the unusual song heard in the morning' when we wake up, and which allows us to face the day in a different, indeed more optimistic way since we know what future design we wish to realize. Sartre said once we know our future goals, then we can live in the present.

Myth is linked to that friendly attitude helping man to create a world of trust and mutual understanding. Once a given, people have the courage to follow their own understanding of things rather than depend upon foreign guidance (Kant). At the same time, the beginning of the Enlightenment was already described by Homer when he described through the adventures of Odyssey how work and pleasure were separated to make way for new organisation principles. Sinc then a dichotomy governs apparently our world: here the rational order to things, and there pleasure as something irrational. The deep seated wish to overcome this schism explains really our efforts to bring together poets and planners, so that quite a different understanding can emerge, an understanding which may guide us in search for reason and for the answers which we need in order to face the future.

In that sense Kamilari has become over the past three years for us a crucial reference point. As if a small scale model can make things in a much better way visible than an abstract model. Moreover by coming in direct contact with you, it strengthens our belief that we can cope while being responsible for what we are about to undertake. In recognition of this 'rationality' – Katerina Anghelaki Rooke calls it poetically speaking 'enlightened information' – what matters most is what makes possible a human world. Our children should grow up in freedom and yet they have to face a world in which much of the natural environment is in a process of being destroyed. We need to find a way to counter these forces of destruction best done by creating cohesive centres of activities which encourage a balance of things. The latter lies within the scope of our self understanding and can make our dreams become real.

When I look at this “old School”, I am reminded of my first school year in Baveria. It consisted also of merely two rooms housing all primary grades. Sometimes we return to where we had started off in our brief lives, but if we truly live, there enters something into our consciousness which makes a real difference.

If there is something I want to convey to you then this: your attitude as people of Kamilari has made all the difference in our search for meaningful activities and by making possible the workshops, there can be reflected upon what connects myth and enlightenment, and therefore can contribute to also Europe finding its way. After all, our small and insignificant activities can take on meaning once these other dimensions are realized. It is then when a real contribution is being made. It makes sense because it contributes to a balance of things. Given the need to survive, economically but also socially and culturally speaking, it is also a matter of enjoying life both individually and together.

'The Myth of the Enlightenment' was to bring about a common shared knowledge which can determine as coordinates our activities on a collective scale. Its very failure has forced us to find new ways of coming to a common agreement about our goals and the best means to realize them. By finding ways in between myth and enlightenment, it may help us ascertain the reason to live, or 'la raison d'etre' as the reason to be amongst you.


Hatto Fischer

Opening Speech given at the Easter '96 workshops in Kamilari, 6. April 1996





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