Ποιειν Και Πραττειν - create and do

Fishes in the water (Athens 2013)




People are like fishes in the water: they swim in schools, follow trends, but try to turn around especially when a bigger one appears and they hush up, especially if the noise of a motorboat drowns out any other sound or noise.

Immersion in noise differs, however, from dipping into crowds of people. Traffic flows differ at times; sometimes all cars seem to go rather fast, but then, around the next corner, everything comes suddenly to a halt. For people stare up to two window cleaners who hang as if from a thread from their safety belts after the platform they had been working on, broke in half. A mixture of curiousity and sensationalism seems to confirm how Kant defined an accident, namely when the expected collides with the unexpected. And soon thereafter everything resumes to the normal flow of things and lets the appearance of things reflect a seeming order based on stable jobs but also houses not shaken by earthquakes.

Some skyscrapers reveal what some architects do not understand. For all buildings should be man-made not higher than trees grow, for everything is hostile to nature, and especially to those who have to do that job of cleaning the windows from the outside even if on the 120th floor.

What can be said about the term 'people'? It is not hard to imagine the counter pole when reference is made to those who do all the decisions, including the wrong ones. 'They' occupy wall street and along with that the streets paved with money to make the route be open strictly for business! Nothing else is available, not even a bench to sit down when tired and thirsty. 

Naturally some would claim paranoia is what links the people to the 'omnipotent power brokers', otherwise known as 'them' or the billionaires! And even if their real wealth is an exaggeration in the eyes of those who have nothing, there will be in any explanation as to why society tends to be unjust an element of a conspiracy theory. As this kind of paranoia would require further explanations as to what is meant by the rich soaking constantly the 99% or 95% left out, it is wiser to leave it at that.

People need orientation, says the poet! No, money, would be immediately the counter argument. And what do the people in the street say? They see limousines passing by but the ones sitting inside cannot to be seen due to the windows having been darkened. Indeed, some seem well protected from all kinds of glances, while others love that exposure. They parade not only in public, but assert themselves in private as well. Spouses and children suffer under this tyranny of Egocentrism. But self assertion works in ways quite comical once perceived in an endless field of associations as to what designs dictate as being the most desirable. Since that replaces public taste in the guise of clever marketing strategies, it all depends as to who communicates first of all the earnest of the situation, and then does not let things go public without having been checked before hand what goes, what not at this time?!

Labour away, would the midwife say to the woman delivering her first child. But today the term 'work' has lost its meaning. Still, in pockets of resistance, people do retain some of its original sense and do work which is being paid. Over time a pattern emerges. Policemen have their low salaries, but they are better off than the ones scrambling from rubbish can to rubbish can in search for some food. Work, my child, says already at an early age the mother, but rarely does the youth listen. They merge with the people and go hungry for lack of work and meaning.

Otherwise the system rumbles along. And money trickles down. Unfortunatley some roots seem never to get water. It is used up already half way down the echelon of power as marked by those who manage to dip into their own swimming pools despite the lower part of the town not having sufficient clean water.

In this age of privatization, public baths are far and in between, if not seldom closed down, once the municipality cannot afford them any longer. Costly is the guard who has to watch the pool. It is left to those remaining in hot streets to break open the fire hydrant. Scenes of young and old frolicking in this unexpected gush of water coming down like a fountain of plenty of water makes them again into fishes imagining to be in a whirlpool. The dizziness of success to get some cooling means being refreshed durings these moments of sheer pleasure. It is like when children sit atop gushes of water coming out of the ground as part of a fountain in the middle of the city.


        Scene with children and water in Valletta, May 17, 2013

But once the day dips and everything outside, in the streets, becomes so still as if there is no longer any real life around, then there can be experienced something else when the lamps go on. Twilight zone! In that transition from day into night people watch out for one another. You can never know what will take shape at this hour of the day.

Albert Camus had placed 'ambivalence of perception' at high noon, that is when the sun can blend the eyes and a stranger walking along the shores not identifiable whether foe or friend! Decide, was the outcry, and so he did by pulling the gun.

Nervous tensions can easily unload themselves especially against innocent people. There shall follow denouncement and once the night comes, all what can be still heard are footsteps of someone running through the hidden alleys to escape the police.

The imagination does not pull down curtains but does see what is happening in Istanbul. There, in June 2013, people tried to save a tree! And find a voice in the city! Instead they were attacked by the police.

Cities never sleep. Even late at night, there are still people who do not rush home, but search for life as if a reflection of what happened during the day, so to speak.

It is no luxury when trying to find a place to sit in a crowded subway train. People are tired and in a hurry. They are pushed around and shoved on to the next stop. On the go all the time, there is no time to wait for the other. But life does come around the corner, and this often unexpectedly. This is because a city lives out of the anticipation of the new.

When sitting in the subway, everything passes by, one station after the other. Sometimes one little nap and then again the brighter lights rekindle the light in the eyes. It is a sequence of time that seems to pull everyone over to one side. Strangers remain alone on the other side. Often they do not know at which station to get off. Hence they cannot afford to fall asleep or to day dream. Others have their ear phones. That they are listening to music is revealed by the rhythm of their feet. Like trains everything is pushed forward and the preceeding day just put behind soon out of sight.

It is not a dream world which awaits them at home. Only there might be a little child which will begin to imagine butterflies. Yet hunger has another dream. And then there is the fear of being all alone. This is why if still in the street as if a stream a stillness will rule, but feelings say nothing will stay calm. Like the storm before the calm, the news that day has been bad. More people shall be laid off. The fear makes the round if it will be possible to make it. 

Put simply, still stronger fears remain in the shadows of the night. Nowhere are they to be seen, even the imagination has turned off the light. Still, the presence of that uncertainty about existence in a brutal way makes itself felt. Invisible violence covers the city at night like a cold breath putting a frozen coat over all things. The metaphor of 'clouded minds' is not enough to describe what this state of affixation to fear entails. Short of breath, heavy sleep, no good dreams. Unfinished business seems to return at impossible hours. Knocks at all doors. Drives out of the homes the sense of security and into the street where invisible shoots are fired to make illusions of a decent life sink into their knees.

It is a marginal happening.

No sound or music accompanies it. Just the whimpering tale of the one who got away and learned to live with his inner most fears. Since then there are big red circles on his door. Neighbors throw glances at it but they do not knock to find out more.

Significant is only the other side of the equation when it comes to understand people. Once having gone to school and to university, if lucky, that was really the other end of the equation. Fathers levelled the criticism by fathers at their sons that they were out of touch with the reality of the people. Some responded and left the university to join the workers at the belts set up to produce one car after another. At the end of the line, however, all draw the same conclusion, namely all workers have the wish to be respected at work. Dignity is a world wide demand but it starts at work. 

Yet the fishes at factory belts or in all kinds of work organization seem unable to stop managers talking down to them.

It is not the art of fishes to counter those who wish to downgrade every worker or woman to be if not a jerk, a stupid guy, a good for nothing, one to be fired if not careful or able to work fast enough. In the fish school that message is passed around: you have to move fast and silently, and best not to upset anyone. It means in fish language not to create any waves: a special art.

The drama is played out every day, the one made out of fear with no other script but to lose the job. Contrary to Becket, there is no waiting around. The call from the legal department can come swift and fast. Anytime, any day! On the work plan is, therefore, this need to be constantly prepared.

Working all day makes it all the harder to keep up with what else goes on in the world. Still fishes pass by and pass on messages, only how truthful they are, no one can counter any invalid claim. Looking up to the surface of the water they see shadows of big ships crossing over their heads. Some are giants. These are the luxury liners or aircraft carriers. From below it is at times difficult to make out which is which.

It seems the responsiveness of the fishes compares to the robot who reacts to the push of certain bottons. Swift movement to the left, then to the right, and then straight ahead. There is some elegance to this movement when an entire school of fishes sets into motion like dancers on stage with choreography prescribing now the head has to nod to the left, now to the right! Yet to set into motion a pre-configured program, there has to be made sure that nothing else can and does happen. As such the links to the outside world are out of tune.

Outside, in the streets, Detroit has changed dramatically over the years. It can be compared to a city having been ditched like a used car. There it lies almost like a bug on its back, still strampling a bit but unable to get back on its feet. Even the scramble of the legs in the air comes after a while to a stillstand. Like a fish out of water. Last movements. The world holds its breath and watches in silence. Till nothing moves. Life has gone out of the bug and car and fish.

Lifeliness is something unknown to fishes outside their element, the water. Only some raindrop hitting the now hollow body may move something but it is an illusion this would count still as a sign of life.

Swayed opinions are similar to that image. Splashed onto the front page of some cheap newspapers and hung from a string like just washed laundry in front of a kiosk at the corner, there where people wait for the change of the traffic light, it is interesting to observe what counts as news. Prince Charles seeks a new divorce! Forgotten is that he is the recipient of a lot of EU funds for agriculture. The old system perpetuates itself in the form of favoring land owners like in the South. But this is a northern climate and often it is over looked that headlines next to predictions about the weather are preferred. After that come sport news. The fishes wish to know who has been caught as well. Thieves are meant to be the big fishes compared to themselves as the little ones. And rarely the big fishes seem to be caught. It is a devilish cycle out of which there seems no chance of an escape. 

So some gather in front of the kiosk and study with such concentration as if they are not reading a headline but an entire book. They study and study what is written there, but it is in reality the result of being stupefied what stands there: the closure of ERT! Or else, Bin Laden killed! Or, Bush re-elected. Taken as headlines, they differ from the texts that follow since the latter are made superfluous. Everything depends on how things are framed. It is possible to steal money but if done in the name of the public good, then it is okay! It is not whens omeone claims to be Robin Hood and steals from the supermarket in order to distribute some of the things to the poor fishes in the whirlpool! Compensation is the rule for the big fishes, rationalization and punishment for the small ones for not getting away with it. Man hunts are consequently transformed into fishing expeditions. The net haul is called only several years later over fishing. It negates the sense of abundance of fishes in the sea.

What else is written, that remains at the margin. It is the real news pushed aside. Everything else not mentioned falls back into silence. That is how mass consciousness is being formed insofar as no information is given except what is already known. News is since Hegel related to making something familiar but not recognized be known by giving it recognition so as to underline that it is already known. There is nothing new added. The fishes nod in agreement. Collectively speaking, that is the school which fishes never leave since it is a part of their daily lessons when going no longer to school but to work or when out of work to the employment office and when not there, then to the Red Cross Station or Church for some food. Way stations point the way. The art of survival is, therefore, linked to the knowledge most important of all is to keep moving. Standing still makes no sense.

Only a rolling stone, so the popular wisdom, does not gather moos.

The art of spreading news goes on like this: round and round it goes, round and round till it is known, for everything going out comes back to show what is already known. There needs only to be added the political strategy behind all of this: things are changed in order to stay the same. That is why no reform means progress is made in terms of upholding a stillstand to expose the going round and round as a silly movement.

As fishes move through a crowded square, it leaves the mathematician without a chance to alter the equation. 1+ 1 = 2. It is not refutable. Normally speaking, heads count or rather how many people fill the square, but if the government decides this is an uprising and the gathering of so many people, then they no longer count. They count only if they cast their vote for the one party which seeks to keep everybody outside of power. First Cairo, then other places in the Middle East, till Athens had its short bout of people gathering on Syntagma Square, and now, in 2013, it is the turn of Istanbul. Sadly enough on the eighteenth day the prime minister Erdogen declared he had enough and thus police were sent in to clear the grounds. Opposition is not allowed. In German the state is only then a valid state if it retains the power to impose the law: Durchsetzungsgewalt - has retained the power and readiness to use violent means in order to push through and impose a decision taken without consent of the people.

Again people seems to legitimize so much and yet is a most abused term.

Scribbling along, amidst a country confused as to what it should believe, means not being able to follow exactly how people adjust. There are many unknowns about the true state of affairs, and besides, theatrical play in public is also a given. The political actors proclaim things according to which arguments suit them best. In case they do not want to undertake anything, they just sit it out or confuse the situation with one further interpretation which sabotages everything said and agreed upon in previous rounds of negotiations. Here then becomes explicit the law as creating a kind of negative freedom. It means a wish to act contrary or despite of the law. The bill has to be paid anyhow by someone else i.e. the tax payer while a closer look at what is available on the handcart will reveal still further counter moments to the law. This is made explicit in a poem by Vinod Das from India:


The World on a Handcart


It was an unusual time

It was a usual scene


Bananas were piled on a handcart


bright and healthy

on one end



a bit-rotten

on the other


Even on this handcart

The world is divided into



I was aghast


Picking out a few good ones

from the cheaper lot

even as I moved on

I heard the banana seller's

remark from behind

'I knew from this man's face

He could buy bananas,

only from the cheaper lot'.


I flinched

Did the banana-seller know magic

or did my face resemble

those dry


half-rotten handcart bananas



He wasn't wrong


I turned around

and looked at him

with silent appreciation

that suddenly dawned on me

It just wasn't me

but even his wretched face

too resembled

the bananas of the cheaper lot


And a train of those similar faces

rushed to my mind


In the first flash

came the smeared faces

who toil along the roads

with pickaxe in their hands

bridging the distances

of our lives

round the clock


Then my memory swelled up with

those dhoti - wrapped women

seen at twilight

broom and basket in their hands

silently creating the planet

clean and beautiful


I remembered even those

who at the crack of dawn

move towards the factories

every morning

for transforming the primate

into gentlemen

like a blue surging tide


And they return

like a trail of smoke

from the chimney afterwards


Then suddenly

my uncle' scorched face

flashed into my mind


It is they

who makes the earth

so soft and fertile

like the beasts of burden toiling

to keep the pots simmering

on the hearths of our houses


The more I thought

a myriad of new faces

keep thronging at my mind

every time


In spite of my efforts

I could not explain

why their skin

became discoloured

and untimely black


why their bones and bodies were

shrivelled up

and uneven


why black boats appeared below their eyes

why their faces

became mobile pouches of wrinkle


I could not tell them

who were those

in this world

different from





and healthy

like the beautiful bananas

arranged on one end of the handcart


The law of the market seems to be the kind of regulation which governs the establishment of fair prizes. But at the same time, goods are purchased with money expressing in terms of purchasing power something as to what everyone should believe in. No wonder when some poets believe money has become the supreme God and nothing else counts. It is both abstract and concrete. Yet what Vinod Das introduces through his poem is this dialogue in the looks of both the one wishing to buy bananas and the one who sells them. Belief is replaced by disbelief this one would be just like the others and fall into that simple category. He will try to select only the good bananas while still hoping to get them at the same price as the bad bananas. It is a beautiful example of a dialogue more precisely called negotiation as to which price is the just one. Since prices are set relative to others, it reflects the purchasing power which in turn is linked still more to other forms of power. It includes the police which makes sure that people do not simply take what is available on the handcart.

Even here, in the street, some rule prevails. Or at least that is the appearance in which everything plays out while making mockery of any real dialogue. Here they are reduced to mere looks. An exchange thereof can lead to the conclusion to which category you wish to belong to, you shall get what you deserve. Ready made answers are those who out of political consciousness enter the lower classes and evoke class consciousness by making themselves poorer than what they are. That then is another dimension of the same political equation seeking to link the poor with the rich. As the poem shows that does not come by easy.

In another case of no law prevailing except for the need to earn money in a way which amounts to cheating the system seeking to be just to the poor, is what happens to subsidized flour in Egypt. Intended to make sure the poor are fed, and have at least bread, the flower made available by the government ends up being misused. Friedman, in the International Herald Tribune, describes what happens in reality:

"MARSA ALAM, Egypt — ON Tuesday, I visited a bakery in Cairo’s dirt-poor Imbaba neighborhood, where I watched a scrum of men, women and children jostling to get bread. You have to get there early, because the baker makes only so many subsidized pita loaves; he sells the rest of his government-subsidized flour on the black market to private bakers who charge five times the official price. He has no choice, he says, because his fuel costs are spiking. You can watch the subsidized-flour bags being carried on shoulders out the side door. “This is the hardest job in Egypt,” the bakery owner told me. Everyone is always mad at him, especially those who line up early and still leave with no bread." 1

If fishes would learn not to discriminate against each other, they might upset the handcart and bring another law into force: the search for a law which expresses their wish for truth. Scratching themselves on their backs, they might figure out why is this so. Insofar as this is not yet the whole story of people as fishes in the water, it means the stakes are a bit higher the next time anyone tries to tell people they are not fishes.


Hatto Fischer

Athens 19.6.2013


1. Thomas L. Friedman, "Egypt's Perilous Drift", NY Times June 15, 2013 http://www.nytimes.com/2013/06/16/opinion/sunday/friedman-egypts-perilous-drift.html?pagewanted=all&_r=0)



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