Ποιειν Και Πραττειν - create and do

Poetry and Planning between Myth and Enlightenment by Hatto Fischer

First of all, on behalf of all of us I wish to thank Kamilari, its Municipal Council and, in particular, Yannis Papadaki for having surprises us yet again with a hardly to be measured hospitality. In full appreciation as to what the community of Kamilari is offering us, so that these workshops can be held, it seems most appropriate to outline its theme.

'Poetry and Planning between Myth and Enlightenment' as a theme reflects an apparent need to chart new paths into the future. Recent developments have shown that while technology can bring with it advantages, there is still the difficult challenge on how to preserve a certain way of life. The latter many mean indeed resistance against change or rather an attempt to realise another way of living, one which does not necessarily go conform with everything else that goes on in the world. Resistance is vital for the understanding of life. May many developments look as enticing as filled shopping windows on Fifth Avenue in New York, it still does not free us of the responsibility to evaluate every model of living prior to adapting to it. For there is no need to reproduce the same mistakes others have made and only realize them when too late to correct them. But as can be gathered from this small hint, only certain models lead to success, our own certainty in such a success already one measure to evaluate things. Hence it seems most natural to apply the criterion whether or not we are convinced in what we are doing! After all that determines whether or not our languages, the languages which we speak, are really related to the world of lived through experiences and hence an open force field 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. How then to fulfil at the same time the highest possible standards of the latest developments while still retaining human relationships. This balance is not always easily found. I will come back to that concept '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 these pine trees, still singing even when there is no wind, a symposium around the topic 'Mythology and Poetry'. Greece appears to be a natural place to reflect upon this, Kamilari with Phaistos nearby perhaps even more so. There are the special flavours of Crete: powerful, strong, with sometimes rocks looking down canyons as if goats which have been transformed into stone. That uniqueness is a certain toughness combined with a human aspiration to add to the wisdom of living a dimension of the mythical world, in order to locate the 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 the universe, if not the 'wisdom of the heart' and, therefore, a language which is as much concrete as it includes mythical elements touching upon the skies, the blueness of the water and the whitewashed houses in a landscape filled with olive trees? In this regard someone like our great poetess Katerina Anghelaki Rooke has developed already some ideas about this subject and shall continue to reflect upon this topic during these workshops. Of interest is that not not every poet wishes to include references to these mythical elements as did the recently deceased Elytis. Naturally a confusion is created when mythical elements are identified with the Ancient Greek past. It might explain why Ritsos does not hesitate, for instance, to describe an old woman as she steps out of the hut and goes to the well as making 'ancient movements'.

The poetry symposium in 1994 focused on papers written by the poets as to how they see the role of mythology nowadays. One common thread ran through all of the discussions, namely that there is a difference between a freely created myth and one abused by power. This is not self understood but reminds of Freud's saying how one man can seize upon a poem and make it into a myth so as to attain power over others. Interestingly enough, Bruno Kartheuser, a German speaking poet but living in Belgium, distinguished between the free spirit of Homer and the Roman poet Vergil who stood under contractual obligations to the state. The difference between the two become apparent the moment myth will not be perceived as expression of a friendly attitude towards the world, but used instead as a state ideology. The latter destroys the very power of the myth, makes it meaningless in the end. Indeed, the 'free human spirit' is not subject to abuse, but does require respect and recognition. Elytis refers to it in 'To Axion Esti'.

Given this interpretation of 'myth', it meant for the participants of that symposium of 1994 quite a different approach to mythology. This is all the more necessary since the Western world, in particular after the period of the Enlightenment, has labelled myth as a source of irrationality, as something blocking progress and as something outdated. If so, then this 'irrationality' retained within the mythical fold would mean but one thing, namely the risk of man to destroy himself.

Ginette Verstraete from the University of Maastricht and lecturer in the field of cultural studies concerned with the impact of technology upon modern societies will take up this juxtaposition rationality-irrationality in just a moment. She will make an outline of the questions which can create a framework for our discussions in the workshops. It will underline how important it is to resolve this dispute between myth and enlightenment. The dispute stems from the perception as if they are really two opposite poles in man's capacity to conceive and to relate to the world.

With these experiences having been made already back then, in 1994, other activities took place which determined the follow-up event when 15 poets and 15 planners / architects / philosophers came to Crete and to Kamilari for one week to discuss living conditions in cities. That conference had the theme 'Myth of the City'. Yes, the very concept of myth was used to examine our versions of human settlements. It was examined out of various and different perspectives as conveyed by a 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 when giving shape to cities as their future lives in cities is at stake. To give but one outstanding although negative example, the Mexican writer Carlos Fuentos describes Therasienstadt as the fulfilment of an architect's 'vision of loneliness'. The city was designed to collect and to isolate people and thereby crush their individuality. It was done by forcing them to walk alone through corridors all having narrow walls and low ceilings, so it was made impossible to walk side by side with someone, and this in an upright manner, in order to allow for a pleasant conversation with a fellow man while walking through the corridors. This was not the case in Therasienstadt. Indeed, everything man-made, from the biggest palaces to the smallest huts, conveys through its chosen form something which expresses man's thoughts and intentions and which has far reaching implications for both human behaviour and relationships. Janusz Korczak, the famous children's doctor and director of orphanages before he too vanished in the concentration camp, said in a most telling way that even the best teacher cannot correct the mistakes an architect made when designing that school.

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. In 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 possible way to realize these workshops. I have come to appreciate the work of the Council through our joint application to the ERDF European programme under Article 10. Together with Phil Cooke and Jürgen Eckhardt – the latter is as well present at these workshops – we conceived the idea to initiate something under the title 'Cultural Innovation and Economic Development', or CIED for short. The text of Kamilari as part of the project proposal refers to the 'Old School' with the aim to make it into a 'light house' for Kamilari and the region, so as to guide developments in future. It is a deeply enlightening thought while at the same time this beautiful metaphor entails a mythical component. It is linked to many planned for activities with a deeply rational character such as improving water management methods, or re-learning the art of bee keeping. Not left out is the need to provide for driving lessons on agricultural and other vehicles, in order to improve upon safety in the rural countryside. These are needs in need to be recognized and even more to be dealt with. Societies define themselves through which needs are recognized and what is done about them to ensure they are fulfilled. It means not always are needs recognized or responded to in a good way. In addition, the Municipal Council recognizes that measurements should not be of a temporary nature, but be sustainable, and therefore the aim should be to fill the 'old School' with a new life. We shall see whether or not our joint application involving five urban regions of Europe – aside from Kamilari, they are Galway in Ireland, Cardiff in Wales, Agrigento in Sicily / Italy and Vetschau in Germany – will be successful or not, but already the efforts and investments made to bring about such an application indicate that a very positive spirit is at work. This spirit is really a unique combination of 'rational belief' as part of the myth of Europe and enlightenment made possible by entering modern forms of communication, so that people and political authorities at local level can work together and this despite being at home in different parts of Europe. Here I would want to come back as well to what I referred to at the beginning, namely the need for a 'balance of things'. It does touch upon the need to balance the needs of local entities with the overall need for Europe to come together, and this can only be done on the basis of a clear moral commitment to Europe based on the recognition that its cultural diversity is what makes a real difference in life.

Every time when we came to Kamilari, you, the people of this village, did not only receive us as your honoured guests, but you showed us something very rare and unique in these times and kind of world we live in, namely you showed patience and an ability to listen. Who can forget that poetry reading which we did here, on this hill, last year, when about 500 people gathered and 15 poets read till after midnight after which the food came and the dance started. Those are unforgettable moments.

About the ability to listen, my mother has always said 'that the world needs artists, but artists people who can listen!'

Thus it is an honour to be here again, tonight, amongst you once more, and this time with a much more practical perspective in mind than ever before. For we want to develop through these workshops terms of references for future joint activities.

While economic development, including the safeguarding and provision of jobs has become recently a higher priority than even safeguarding culture within Europe, this does not mean we can afford to neglect those true cultural dimensions as it includes dialogue and and personal interactions.

Indeed, there is a lot of cultural work in need to be done in this world having neglected too many human aspects and therefore at risk to lose the human perspective. Basically this world is out of balance. It leaves the possibility of mutual recognition empty handed, thereby continues to throw things even more out of balance. The consequences of such imbalances need not to be spelled out here, but I think all of you recognize the danger of one factor, for if money is allowed to overrule everything else, and it means to set priorities in such a way that everything begins to stand in the way as to your wish on how to live, then we are compelled to do things merely by sheer power dictating an apparent logic of necessity. Of course, the constraints are inherent in any system, but these ones are really of our own making. That is where self responsibility and self critical evaluation begins.

We have a moral commitment to this human concern. As I said we feel honoured to have this opportunity to discuss with you our ideas related to poetry and planning. 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 these actions of a group of people coming over and again to your village plausible, for it reflects a deep cultural affinity to what your own attitudes have conveyed to us so far. It is my wish that your expectations in us are fulfilled in the same way. We wish to communicate through these workshops our thoughts to you.

The problems of life in cities are complex, solutions are not easy to find, but if discussed in a friendly atmosphere with the support of people who have another understanding of life, then the solutions will be much closer to what is a proportional perception of human needs in need to be kept in mind when we seek future options. They have to be understood as not blocking developments, but as opportunities should be considered by weighing the odds and advantages before deciding upon a certain path of development. Foresight is always needed if we are to reap the gifts of our imagination. It takes time to understand that. If any balance is to come about, and that includes the need to resolve problems of international relationships with other countries when factors like economic disasters, military moves, political upheavals can easily upset them, we will have to work together on the basis of our moral commitment to freedom.

All this and more makes possible these workshops. They shall bring together people to design with you together a path into the future. It will include a contribution towards the conceptual as much as architectural design of the future 'lighthouse' of Kamilari, namely a new Cultural Centre. The architectural design shall be presented to you at the end of the workshops by Jürgen Eckhardt and his architectural team which he has brought with him specifically for this purpose. This is to say when a different approach to planning is taken into account, then because it includes listening to the poetic voices which have been heard on this ground where right now the old school still stands. And poetic voices give us much reason for life as they contain elements of the myths since 'unusual songs' to be heard in the morning or at night. They allow us to face the day in an optimistic manner and we go ahead certain about the future design which we wish to fulfil.

Myth is linked to that friendly attitude which helps man to create a world of trust and mutual understanding. Once that prevails, people have the courage to follow their self understanding of things rather than depend upon some foreign guidance. At the same time, it has to be recognized that the Enlightenment wrestles with a separation of work and pleasure which started already when Odyssey, as described by Homer, passes the Sirens, for only he could hear the beautiful songs while his crew had wax in their ears and therefore could not take pleasure by hearing those songs. Based on that separation, organizations since then have used similar principles to establish an order of things with here the rational side and there the irrational or artistic side. The wish to overcome this deep schism explains really our efforts to bring together poets and planners.

In anticipation that quite a different self understanding shall emerge out of his kind of working holiday, the hope is to find a more humane way to guide us in our search for reason and for the answers we need, in order to face the future. In that sense, Kamilari has become over the past three years a crucial reference point. As if a small scale model, things which are made visible here, they can strengthen our belief that we can cope with all challenges while responsible for what we undertake.

After all, it is this recognition of 'rational', equals humane thought, that matters. Katerina Anghelaki Rooke would put it poetically, by calling it 'enlightened information' which we need to make possible a humane world. Our children should grow up in freedom and be able to face in turn a world not as a destroyed or neglected nature, but as a cohesive centre of activities able to enhance life on earth. Thus the balance of things lies within the scope of our own self-understanding, in order to make this dream become real.

In short, there is much to be done, so that our lost 'selves' become again involved, active, and this in a responsible way to make sure that we can succeed in combining work with pleasure, in order to know how to truly live.

When I look at this 'old School' I am reminded of my own first school year in Baveria. My school consisted also of merely two rooms housing all primary grades. At times we return to where we started off in our brief lives, but if we have truly lived, then something enters our minds which makes a real difference in our attitudes towards each other.

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 therefore by making possible these workshops, there can be reflected upon what path lies ahead, one which goes in between myth and enlightenment and yet which allows us to take both into consideration. It may mean a chance to contribute to also Europe finding its way. After all, our small and insignificant activities can take on meaning once these other dimensions are realized, all while upholding the human proportions. It is then when a real contribution starts making sense because it does contribute towards a balancing out of things between the need to survive, economically speaking, and the need to enjoy life.

The 'Myth of the Enlightenment' was to bring about a common shared knowledge which could determine as set of coordinates our activities at collective scale, and even we should fail, it will let us find new ways to attain that goal. In this way we may find that 'la raison d'etre', or the reason to be will let us relate to both myth and enlightenment in a way that we become known to each other has having together other possibilities to realize something important for such a common future.


Hatto Fischer

Opening Speech of the Easter '96 workshops in Kamilari

6. April 1996

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