Ποιειν Και Πραττειν - create and do

Paris after the attack in Jan. 2015 - in memory of Paul Klee's " Angelus Novus"

Paris in these days, that is after that attack starting January 7, 2015, is no longer the romantic place where writers and poets intermingle in cafes while their movements are being followed closely from a safe distance by young and beautiful women.


    Prise de Bastille

A city has sustained itself out of a combination of myth and history in the making. Taking the metro the station at Bastille is, for instance, emblematic alone when looking at the mosaic in the station. It depicts a peculiar angle viewing history as linked to people staging the French revolution. Many things have evolved since then, but central since then has been the word 'citoyen'.


     Source of photo:

That it is still relevant today was underlined by the 'March for Unity' which took place on Sunday, January 11, 2015. The march with over 3 million people in the streets of Paris all convering on the 'Place du Republique' followed the attack by two brothers on the editors of Charlie Hebdo and by their lone companion on a Jewish supermarket. Regardless of background, it was astonishing to hear the many being interviewed by the BBC that all referred either directly or indirectly to this notion of open citizenship, and this regardless whether Jewish, Muslim or Christian. However, it was articulated within the French and not European reference system even though France is not 'exceptional' compared to other EU member states when it comes to being in Europe.

As it usually happens when unfiltered news - opinions being expressed by citizens who are witnessing history in the making - comes across, newscasters and reporters respond by asking typical questions. Repeatedly they turned their attention to one dominant theme, namely if those who belong to the Jewish community feel still safe to be in Paris or in France. It has been recorded that a record number had left during the last year for Israel as they fear a growing anti Semitism is making their lives unbearable.

Whether exaggerated or not, these fears exist. For they are linked to past memories evoked every time when something like this attack on the Kosher supermarket happens. The painter Roger Servais depicted once an Israeli woman who had come for a visit to Berlin as being so afraid to go out into the streets for fear of being taken away as had been the case of so many Jews during the Holocaust. He painted her standing on top of her bed and looking down onto the floor upon which she was afraid to step as if some mouse was there. Fear has many dimensions some of which are not founded in reality but the fear of persecution lives on even a thousand years.

All this reminds of Walter Benjamin who had on his desk the image of Paul Klee's Angelus Novus. At that time, in the thirties, with Jews already fleeing Germany to America, so also Adorno and Horkheimer, Benjamin sought refuge in Paris. Finally he realized that even Paris was no longer safe as the German occupation neared. He had to flee for his life like all the others, but he did not make it. At the Spanish border he was turned back due to not having the proper papers. Rather than fall into the hands of the Gestapo and be taken away to the concentration camp, he committed suicide.

To no longer feel safe in an urban environment which means so much to writers, philosophers, visitors and inhabitants alike and which was the birthplace of the Enlightenment, it does evoke first of all memories of the past. It is as if a "deja vu" flashes up in the mind and due to memories something seen before re-appears on the mental screen. Yet we know that in the present nothing can be similar to the past. It is the inadequacy of our intuitive models that we make analogies and generalize out of a wish to impose an order. Foucault called it "les mots et les choses", in English "the order of things".

Something overpowers and becomes the predominant representative of a structure which will determine almost in a single stroke the subsquent behaviour of everyone. In this case it is a specific structure of violence which imposed itself as events unfolded since the morning of January 7th. Displayed on the television screen due to a broadcaster like BBC being immediately at location where the drama was unfolding, it revealed a combination of terror and police force. It is the combination of the two which makes the entire day into a dramatic event. Shown is more the response by the police to this situation but there are also less noticed but still there dramas. A mother would send a sms message that she was rushing home to see to it that her children are safe. Something vital occurs and transforms thereby human drama into breaking news. Still, there is a need for cultural reflections linked to how we remember the good times, in order to make out where lies the true nature of the new danger.

In that sense, it helps to be reminded by the image Paul Klee painted what happens when the future and the past conspire together to blend out or to destroy the present? It is a calamity approaching like a storm but which children no longer cherish so much. For the intensity of the storm blows much further than an ordinary wind the autumn leaves. It is as if a big broom made out of air lets nothing stand in the way.

Likewise in such a situation sweeping statements make themselves be felt but will not help in such a situation. That is the case when the response to an attack by terrorists is to take recourse to the caricature and therefore reaffirms in a self contradictory way precisely what was one of the reasons for such an attack. The cartoons of Charlie Hebdo have to be understood independently from the question whether or not they insult the Muslim community and the believers of the Islam religion. For a cartoon is a form of expression which needs to be perceived critically as another kind of escape from the responsibility to make differentiated and not merely over exaggered single statements about common affairs. For to typify a situation or a person or an attitude is like wishing to evoke responses from those who wish an unified image does exist so that they can still perceive the world being in order, even though they already antagonized due to a lack of 'unity' due to all the diversity they experience in their lives.

The Polish philosopher Kolakowski describes this search for 'unity of apperception' (Kant) and therefore to retain certainty of the senses (unity in sense perception) as a search for the 'lost paradise'. It leads to making a mere caricature thereof rather than finding a real unity. A caricature intends to fill that void but it is only seemingly concrete and in reality much more abstract than what the believers of this kind of sign language are perhaps ready to admit. Again this underlines what Klee has said, namely when some expression is done out of memory to counter something having been lost in the present, then the expression thereof is by necessity abstract.

To recall Paul Klee went through WWI and experienced it as a destruction of all sense of beauty. Consequently any expression of beauty thereafter will have to be done out of memory, that is when beauty could still be experienced in real life, in the present. It would make by necessity, so Paul Klee, the expression "abstract". 



Michel Foucault added another dimension to this loss of unity in the present. Given all the diversity and therefore not only different ways of living and practicing things due to prevailing differences in values, there is no longer a common law prevailing. Foucault goes on to say if people see exemptions and exceptions are made with the law becoming increasingly arbitrary since it applies in one case, but not in another, they get frightened and wish to restore an order based on a law which applies to everyone in the same way. If modern discourse does not succeed in bringing about a new constitution as a source of consensus about values to be followed by everyone, Foucault predicted that people will wish to return to 'orginal texts' like the Koran since then, so they think and believe, existed such a consensus in values linked, for example, to one God. It is, therefore, not by accident that this Sunday March in Paris exemplified the wish for unity as underlined by a need to be 'together' when responding to one specific kind of terror. That it meant being silent about other kinds of terror, including state terror, escaped many. 

Repression through silence is simply a way not to face the new challenges head on. As such it is a double task of the present to clarify needs for a social and political order which stands up to both the past and the future. That contradiction of not fulfilling the need for a wise response was noticable in what signs people carried. For example, those who went into the street that Sunday in Paris carried signs saying not only "je suis Charlie", but they added as well out of a sudden solidarity or acknowledgement of what the Police did to face those three attackers, "je suis Flic." This word "flic" had another connotation during the May 1968 revolt in Paris for "flic" imitates the sound the baton of the policeman makes when he strikes down a demonstrator. This reverse in meaning has to be noticed since citizens who are usually highly critical of the police force during any other demonstration reconciled suddenly that Sunday in the aftermath of the attack their differences with the police and embraced in one stroke a concept of security to be imposed by the state in response to these attacks. Yet it is the same state which has joined the "war against terrorism" and just recently joined the bombing of Libya to oust Gaddafi as it is now letting missions be flown in Mali and more recently against the IS state in Iraq and Syria.

There was also the controversial presence of Netanyahu, controversial not only due to being engaged right now in an election campaign but for another reason. While inviting French Jews to come to Israel, it should not be forgotten that the attack may well have also something to do with a kind of delayed revenge for what happens to the Palestinians. In short, the Jewish question was not resolved after 1945 by creating the state of Israel. Instead it has only aggrevated world wide their situation by antagonizing many more by asserting Israel's existence in a way that ignores almost entirely the Rights of the others to exist as well.

For Europeans the crisis in the Middle East was followed as if at a far distance. Life in Paris continued with its thrills and forms of distractions almost no other city can offer in such a variety of forms. Countless exceptional exhibitions are among the key factors to allow for aesthetical experiences not made easily elsewere. Hence Paris cultivated as well a kind of illusion without admitting violence exists not only in the Middle East or elsewhere in the world, but also in Paris. It was all too easy to get involved in some wrong fight even when merely an innocent by-stander. That should have been taken already as a warning when the EU Constitutional Treaty was not ratified in 2005, and suddenly the deprived youth in the poor Northern Suburbs exploded after two of them were killed while trying to escape the police which was chasing them.

However Europe has changed as well. Already last year a crucial message was brought home when Israeli Defense Forces started their incursion into Gaza, and which left 2000 dead, and this on the same day when the Malaysian plane came down in Eastern Ukraine, namely the 17th July. It was realized especially in Holland that the war has been brought to Europe, and as the artist Boudewijn Payens would put into "our homes". He said it after watching the crowds which lined the streets through which the coffins of the dead passengers from the Malaysian flight were brought.

It poses the question, if such a painting as the "Angelus Novus" by Paul Klee can serve the purpose of recalling what this painter realized during First World War? A world without a sense of beauty risks to have imposed upon itself an order based on violence which perpetuates even more violence. Long it was sought "revenge" was the cause of this perpetuation, but in view of this attack in Paris something else needs to be taken into consideration. 


         "Heroin land" Jad Salman

In modern terms, the painter Paul Jadman links guns to drugs. He shows the combination of the two as if in a row like soldiers or people having become anonymous, likewise confirmists to a certain pattern of subdued identification with something greater than themselves. It is interrupted by signs similar to seals balancing a ball on their nose to please the onlookers at the zoo. Animal entertainment? Perhaps the view is more about not knowing why aspire to be as great as the greatest of all who is admired? The painting shows that many are unaware to where this admiration of greatness leads to. They do it as naively as children are perceived by adults to be like all naive believers who are unable to perceive what is going on in reality. By following this path of distortion, they risk to loose all sense of proportionality. 

The painting "Heroin Land" conveys the notion the loss does not lead to a hightened drama, but to a repetition of a certain pattern. For there re-enters after the experience of loss something like awe of an imagined greatness while at the same time the negation of the senses leaves human proportionality in silence, in the shade, in a turbulence. Only certain is the fall like those leaves blown away by the wind. The turbulence caused in the emotional self is countered by the rational insanity evoked in the mind by taking drugs. It amounts to an over exposure to a fixed point of reference out of a wish to negate both the inner and the outer world at the same time. For both have become unbearable. Something has to change but how if the winds blow now from all sides and at the same time in different directions. That causes more than doubt and confusion taken together. Like a dangerous cocktail, too much and the mind is blown literally away. It is then no longer a coming and going of people interrelated in life of a city, but rather everyone is seemingly on an auto-pilot. The others have become a threat since the self is now in a state of uincontrollable restlessness. Hunted by an uncertain future and increasingly cut off from a positive past, the existence on earth is perceived more and more in this "heroin land' as a need to face and to enter a new kind of war. It is fake human drama all over again.


                                                  "Angelus Novus" - Paul Klee

"Angelus Novus" reminds of what it means to be no longer able to experience beauty in the presence while the past pushes one out of the presence, therefore leaving one unable to anticipate future development. The latter is replaced by a paradise into which one comes if one succeeds of doing an outstanding deed in conformity to this war.

Interestingly enough, Sartre said only when people know their future goals, then they can return to the present and go on with some certainty in the self. A prime basis for human self consciousness is to realize this cannot be found in a caricature of unity. To find the present together with others is a far greater challenge, but it has to be done in a much more differentiated way if the link between past, present and future is to be imagined by attempting to live according to a sense of freedom. The latter may not be solely an existential expression and, therefore, not to be derived all by oneself. It was admitted after all, historically speaking, that the freedom of the others is a precondition for my own freedom. Only when the dynamics of life is being sustained by a true sense of freedom, can the imagination become free of the national narrative and therefore of the need to have something to be held in awe to bring about a sense of unity. To silence any criticism of such a fake unity means to let the unconscious fear drive everyone into the darkest possible corners of modernity.

Hatto Fischer




IX Paul Klee's image

My wing is poised to beat
but I would gladly return home
were I to stay to the end of days
I would still be this forlorn
-- Gershom Scholem, “Greetings from Angelus" [tr. Richard Sieburth]

There is a painting by Klee called Angelus Novus. It shows an angel who seems about to move away from something he stares at. His eyes are wide, his mouth is open, his wings are spread. This is how the angel of history must look. His face is turned toward the past. Where a chain of events appears before us, he sees on single catastrophe, which keeps piling wreckage upon wreckage and hurls it at his feet. The angel would like to stay, awaken the dead, and make whole what has been smashed. But a storm is blowing from Paradise and has got caught in his wings; it is so strong that the angel can no longer close them. This storm drives him irresistibly into the future to which his back is turned, while the pile of debris before him grows toward the sky. What we call progress is this storm.

--from Walter Benjamin 1940 work, "On the Concept of History," Gesammelte Schriften I, 691-704. SuhrkampVerlag. Frankfurt am Main, 1974. Translation: Harry Zohn, from Walter Benjamin, Selected Writings, Vol. 4: 1938-1940 (Cambridge: Harvard University Pres, 2003), 392-93. Sholem's poem on the Klee painting was written for Benjamin's twenty-ninth birthday -- July 15, 1921. Sieburth's translation is from Gershon Scholem, The Fulnness of Time: Poems (Jerusalem: Ibis Editions, 2003).



Other sources:

The Charlie Hebdo Attack And What It Reveals About Society

13/01/2015 by Zygmunt Bauman



Josh Healey
January 13, 2015
Common Dreams

I Will Grieve. I Will Laugh. But I Am Not Charlie.


Why My Freedom Of Speech Counts More Than Yours

13/01/2015 by Roderick Parkes



Slavoj Žižek über „Charlie Hebdo“


„Der Liberalismus braucht die Linke“


Letter to the community of Kids' Guernica - Guernica Youth:

Athens 7.1.2015

Dear all,

The sadness due to what happened today in Paris should be reason enough to think more clearly how to respond, in order to undo this vicious cycle of violence.

When I was preparing the Fifth Seminar 'Culture Action for Europe' in 1993/1994, one professor for comparative literature in Antwerp drew my attention to Brendan Kennelly and his essay 'Poetry and Violence'. This made me read more of his poetry, in particular his epic poem called 'Judas'. What struck me in particular is one key sentence he wrote in the introduction:

                       "most difficult is to unlearn learned hatred."

The work of hatred has been best analysed by Jean Pierre Faye in Paris, see his book 'Totalitarian Language'. In it he describes how people can be driven to self hatred by being totally manipulated. It is like loading a gun. All what it takes is to identify a suitable object on which to unload this hatred. That was the case in Nazi Germany with regards to the Jew, and is repeated in the 21st century with regards to the migrant.

More important is what Brendan Kennelly describes as being a part of education from an early age on and what affects the cultural identity of a person growing up in our contemporary society. And I write this while listening to BBC with reporters constantly referring to the possible cause being that the cartoons of the prophet of Mohammed by the cartoonists of the magazine Charlie were offensive. Brendan Kennelly explains the following process of conversion once children are taught to hate the traitor, for they learn to convert their initial prejudices into convictions, and if these convictions are challenged, it is taken as a threat to one's belief and therefore considered to be an insult. As if this justifies a lashing out!

In the West, we believe in the freedom of the press, even though the philosopher Habermas has attested there exists as well a 'pathology of communication' in the way things are distorted and undermined even though of crucial value to the other.  In the Islamic world, there is another kind of understanding of publicness. It includes stipulating what should not be said and not be an insult, in order to uphold another order of religious observance. There are some things we take for granted in the West and this more or less without being self critical. On the other hand, the observance of Islam religious law has also many more nuances than what we in the West can understand. In short, it would be best to be more sensitive towards each other's beliefs and find a way to reconcile especially the differences of opinion, and this without giving either side the Right to kill or to use violence to intimitate. Unfortunately the question of war re-enters once this hatred fuels even more violent acts.

I think Bart Verschaffel has made the crucial point in his essay 'Public Truth and Public Space' that it takes a long cultural development to let people not only express their opinions freely in public, but also that they allow others to question and even challenge their opinions without taking this to be equal to an insult.

Already in July 17th when the Malaysian plane was shot down over Eastern Ukraine, a good friend in Amsterdam said the war was brought home, into our houses. We have the mural recently painted in Tripoli, Lebanon to commerate the people killed when bombs went off in two mosques. Everywhere we suffer losses. Yet the murals of Lebanon started with this outcry: "Enough. We want to live!" in peace.

It is time to be sober in response and strong in the conviction that we can still turn around this constant escalation to ever more violence and killing.

Indeed, we are all Charlie.



Le 9 janv. 2015 à 14:08, Hatto Fischer a écrit :


Athens 9.1.2015

Dear friends in Paris,

naturally our thoughts are with you since the situation you face is marked by uncertainty, fear and frustration.

Since 'je suis Charlie' has become a common rally cry, there is a need to reflect in a sober way what lessons to draw out of this still developing situation.

After 911 I spoke in Detroit about the vulnerability being the strength of us as human beings. We are vulnerable because we need to trust the busdriver and the one waiting beside us at the bus stop that he is not motivated by some else and therefore willing to rupture with public trust.

I am reminded of the discussion we had in Jad's atelier about not only violence prevailing in the Middle East but also in Paris and other urban centres. That discussion touched upon one crucial topic, namely Madness of Humanity

Such madness prevails in the world. Just today we received as well news out of Nigeria where Boko Haram has destroyed a town and in the process it is believed that 2000 people have been killed.

This senseless killing to send a chilling message can mean only 'nothing' and therefore all the harder to answer, in order to bring everyone back everyone to a sober truth. That requires a human sense for justice, but also an awareness so that those who play these games with human lives are questioned. In memory of what was done during the Vietnam war, most important is to plant seeds of doubt even in the mind of a pilot ready to fly still another bombing mission. Today this doubt is needed in those who steer drones far away. By analogy the remote steering is not really covered by the images the media brings across. For news is still limited to what is visible. 

Not visible is how you have now to move through Paris. I trust all of you will be safe and alright. Since I consider Paris something like a second home and you as part of a bigger family, my thoughts are with you.

Take care


One response:

By the way there is a lot of « unclear » in the « Je suis Charlie » one-voicing.
As says one of my friends: What if it were the Le Pen family in place of Charlie’s team?
And what are we doing with the attack against the HyperCasher Market at Vincennes this morning?
One of my friends asked me: Are we going to launch the « Je suis casher «  movement?
A twofold story: obscurantism and fanaticism on the one side, and on the other side ordinary Muslims caught as hostages both by fanatics and ordinary European people asking them to answer for fanatics.
Sad story and kept confusion to lobotomize critical capability. 
Is any one interested in why we are in the present situation?

Athens 9.1.2015

Dear Eric,

let us begin with your last question: is anyone interested in how we got into this situation?

Some might want to link it with 911 and what followed: first Afghanistan, then Iraq. But about the Talibans, they were financed by the Americans to fight the Russians when they had occupied Afghanistan. It might look like an instrumentalization have gone badly wrong in the long run.

I recall a crucial turning point in Europe: Chomeiny's return from France to Iran to spark a revolution which Naipaul has described as something going beyond belief, insofar it involves a conversion logic. That logic works against any memory of the past which would differ from what is being installed as a total rule and only interpreted by a non secural authority. Friends of mine made an interview with Chomeiny prior to his return in 1979. We predicted after having taken a close look at the interview everything what was to come in Iran.

There is a need to look more closer at this conversion logic. Naipaul means anyone coming under the law of this belief has to eradicate in his personal past any signs of another belief. Once you begin to manipulate your past, your identity is lost in a permanent present which becomes nebulous and indifferent to all other changes going on.

Conversion logic was described best in my opinion by Brendan Kennelly who wrote in the introduction his epic poem called 'Judas' that an education training children from an early age on to hate the traitor, that is Judas as symbolic figure, will do two things: they will convert prejudices into such absolute convictions that they will not allow them to be challenged. Anything questioning their beliefs will be taken as a threat and as an insult. This explains as well the strong reaction to the cartoonists if they make a caricature of Mohammed. The other aspect of this conversion logic is that they do not realize in the process of converion that they are betraying their own dreams. These dreams I would call the dreams of humanity to live together in peace. It may also be a dream to be a great musician or a good father. Whatever, if these dreams are driven out, then nothing is left to counter the negative forces of life all of us experience in more or less extreme forms as we attempt to grow up in a society having usually no regard for individual life.

There is another part to this explanation linking society becoming a ruthless place with hard rules and highly fragmented so that there is nothing but desolation. Durkheim linked suicidal tendencies to loneliness. There may be other factors contributing to a person becoming empty in terms of human lives and therefore thinking of him- or herself as being unable to sustain life. It leads straight to some form of desparation.

But we need to look at another level, namely where the exploitation of these self styled advocates of death becomes a systematic manipulation of those who seek again a position in society. Those who tend to join IS think by putting on an uniform, have a weapon in the hand and some money in the pocket, that they are better off than scrapping through the streets of Paris at night and not knowing where this dreadful emptiness will end.

To explain this motivation to join ranks meaning death being used to defeat death, but which is something impossible, a further look at the dilemma needs to be looked at especially as to what happens to the youth growing up in a society which offers no future except for conformity to methods to earn money which is often done in the most scrupelous way and without regard for human values. I think that Karl Jaspers put a finger on this problem in his lecture held in 1951 about the chances of a New Humanism to emerge out of the ashes of Second World War. We know the answer due to what happened once again in Paris during these past two days, but still I would recommend reading his lecture which I translated from German into English. See Karl Jaspers: About the conditions and possibilities of New Humanism

Humanism is frowned upon but it is linked to the search for human values to be shared, just as I would repeat what Michael D. Higgins, President of Ireland, would say about culture: it is a search for truth!

This search has to be coupled with doubt to be open to creating something new, something which is liveable and which does not bring still further destruction to life on earth.

It means the world has to listen to some silent appeals to stop this nonsense of making money at the expense of human lives. Whether human trafficing or exploiting workers in Bangladesh, we know that money itself is a terrible force which can easily corrupt the mind. It is also a sign of the crisis that civic society is so weak and therefore cannot articulate sufficiently the basic fact, that society should be driven not only by values linked to money. Even modern business practices have realized if everything is only reduced to money and profit making, then things will go wrong. When I was recently in the Greek city of Ioannina, some had written on the wall of a bank the slogan: "Vandalism is the culture of profit making!"

There is a collusion between hard nosed management methods which increase profits by firing people and the management of minds to drive especially young people into traps which constitute subtle and brutal methods to corrupt young minds. Karl Popper said once if you wish to ruin a young man's mind, give him Hegel to read. I wonder what he would say nowadays or also what Ulrich Beck had said but cannot anymore since he died on Jan. 1st but who claimed the risks society faces nowadays cannot be dealt with anymore adequately with traditional political methods.

So to come back to the situation in Paris, one lesson to learn is that all the police force cannot protect life. For only when there is an informal openness to learn on how to live together, then good questions shall be asked and not people stigmatized.

I appreciate fully the questions you raise how come Muslims have to justify themselves by fanatics when they were taken themselves hostage?

Warmest regards and good to have read your response


Thanks Hatto for your answer and the exploraton you develop.
If I certainly feel more comfortable with your second set of arguments, I understand all of your say and probably would need some time to reflect on it.
Dear Hatto and Hatto's friends
I totally agree with Eric about the situation in Paris.
In a certain way all this is a big trap...(as Robert Badinter said also)
we have to be very careful analyzing why all those thing happens now?
I mean nothing is by "hasard"...

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