There’s some stuff we need to talk about

You’re right!

I started this blog with promises of life-changing posts. I disappointed you, fellow bloggers and generous readers.

Why did I stop?

Well, I started writing a novel about a parallel world (still at it), and I worked for this great organisation, called VVOB, for a while, which aims at improving education in several partner countries in the South. Time management-wise, the first thing to cut was this blog. Moreover, I didn’t have much to say. I could come up with a few subjects to write about academic style: pondering about the world, flicking my pen in my hand, and brainstorm into a subject which might interest me – and, with any luck, would interest others as well.

Things need to be mentioned.

The job with VVOB has ended, and maybe I’ll write something about soon. The future shows promise of a job abroad. I’m not going into detail about this just yet, as this is still very unsure. All you need to know is that I have the luxury to fill the next two months with anything I want to do. Seeing as it’s really bad for my mental health to do nothing at all, I decided to spend my time learning.

So I decided to volunteer at an emergency refugee centre, run by the Red Cross Flanders. It seems to be an interesting experience! A big second wave of refugees will enter the EU soon, and since I have my opinions on this turning point of Europe’s society, like most others in our society, it would do good to involve myself with these (temporary or not) residents and travellers. Who are they? What does life in the refugee centre look like? What is my role in this, as someone who is a legal inhabitant of Belgium? As someone who is a bit concerned, yes, but mainly as someone who wants to gain experience in life and work within society. What does this demographic change really mean for Europe, and in which way will refugees actually actively change things?

The bombings in Brussels are shaking up things as well. My generation is getting a voice, more often than not conflicting, but at least it’s shaking off the shackles of the political left vs right, and starting to think straight about what to do. Stuff needs to be said about decision making, jobs, refugees, communities, religion, Europe, maybe even the meaning of life (not talking about this one, or this one).

Oh, by the way, the featured image of the boat under that red sun is by Yannis Behrakis of Reuters. You can find other pictures by him on the refugee crisis here.

Advertisements

Evil Guys With Disabilities

Captain Hook,
The Gestapo agent in Raiders of the Lost Ark,
Sir Leigh Teabing,
Azog The Defiler,
Darth Vader,
Voldemort,
Long John Silver,
Batman’s Bane,
Most of the bad guys opposing James Bond,

Scar is even called SCAR, to affirm the obvious! Now, a scar is by definition a mark left by something. This lies in line with this theory I read on the “Evil Cripple“, saying that being evil is a reaction to the hurt inflicted on them for being different.

There are a variety of reasons this trope (on disabled villains) exists. In some stories, especially those featuring superheroes, the contrast between a hero with super strength and a villain who is physically handicapped and instead relies on his brainpower plays on the archetype of brain vs. brawn. It also provides a buffer against the standard “solution” of punching the bad guy out since the hero would look pretty low hitting a cripple compared to an able-bodied villain. These stories also tend to feature a Freudian Excuse in the background of the villain that’s often based around his disability and is the cause of his hatred for the world.

WHY?
So the general explanation is that disabilities cause a hatred for the world, because these people are less or even just not accepted. From this perspective, villains are angry at the world because they, as disabled characters, are not respected.
I do not completely accept this explanation, as this idea carries a lot of baggage.
Some interpret the fact that many villains are disabled through a victimisation of disabled people in general, arguing that the representation of disabilities in this way can create negative stereotypes and stigmatise people with disabilities. It even creates an image of disabled people having grudges against the world.

I believe — perhaps with a rather debatable argument — that this is less the case than generally assumed. We need to turn this disability thing around to understand the reason why the writer would chose to characterise his antagonist with a scar of sorts.

If I’d write a novel featuring a protagonist, probably coming from a humble but honourable background, and a pissed off antagonist, I’d have quite a difficult time trying to create the latter’s persona, giving it a place in our society and why it would distort that current reality.
An easy trick then presents itself. Bad guys have a tendency to live on the brink of society. They live outside the norm, and want to change the order of the world.
Portraying someone with a disability puts them on that brink of society, exactly because this happens in our daily life as well. I’m not saying we fear or loathe people with disabilities, but that societies stigmatise and exclude to a certain extent. Disabling villains symbolises symptoms of our society, wherein the acceptance of people physically or mentally deviating from the norm is still problematic.

But the main reason why the writer would chose to disable the villain is mainly because it enables the reader to categorise the villain as an outsider. And that’s it!

Anyway…

While exploring a villain’s characterisation, a new thought popped up in my head. Why is it that our storylines are wired like this? Why does there always have to be a ‘good’ versus ‘evil’, and therefore the need to ‘abnormalise’ the evil.

GOOD VS EVIL
This conflict knows its origins millennia ago – in Zoroastrian faith, I read on Wikipedia (I love the fact that I can quote Wikipedia in blog-posts). As far as my knowledge on the matter goes, the classic conflict has only set firm root within the Western canon in the Old Testament, perhaps influenced by Persian culture. Abrahamic religions form a historical core in the development of our culture, and therefore in the development of the way we represent history, the structure of the world, and stories.
Anyway, that’s origin of our basic struggle with evil.

If you’re still sceptical about this whole theory of mine, just think about Egyptian or Hindu mythology! Relatively well known (so you can do an elaborate Wikipedia research), these tales about the world don’t revolve around our classic fight.

Oh and one last thing, Egyptians also created mythological characters outside their norm by characterising them with abnormal bodies (Anubis, for example, is portrayed half human/half jackal), something outside our world, and named them their gods.
But that’s food for another day’s thought.

Anubis, the Jackal-headed weirdo

On Humanity, Language and Creativity

Humanity is quite exceptional —

Howard mutters a few indicative growls and grunts at a hedgehog crossing his path. He’s not aware that he is called Howard of course, since he hasn’t talked with anybody else his entire life. He hasn’t been able to reflect on himself and communicate in opposition to another mind like his. Humans don’t really convey ideas in his world. He is alone. This is how it always has been. Humans don’t live in packs, they roam around on their own, and only when crossing paths with a specimen of the fairer sex, new life is created, but he will be going his own way again afterwards, he knows, before the little one enters the world – just like his father (and probably his father’s father) did.
Howard lives in a nice forest. There aren’t too many predators, it’s got lots of edible roots, nuts and berries to eat. However, he can’t talk, and without elaborate communicative opportunities and the construction of ideas and thoughts through words, conceptual thinking is several bridges too far for him. Also, he’s afraid of fire. He saw it once, after lighting struck a tree quiet close to him. Fire had the power to destroy his world, he realised, and he ran away from it.

Once, he met another human. Sadly enough it wasn’t one of the fairer sex, he had thought back then. They looked at each other for a while, grunted, and then they parted ways again. They didn’t consider that working together would be a smart move. No, they each had their own thoughts and did not communicate except for acknowledging each other’s presence. This was too bad, because Howard was often very cold at nights, and the other human had, by coincidence, learned to master fire. The other human would light a fire at dusk, and when the fire died but its embers kept their heat, he would spread them out, pour some sand on them and slept on that warm patch at night.

I’m sure you’re thinking that Howard’s species are doomed. Over the course of time, some power of nature will inevitably push this physically weak collection of individuals out of its way. I read this interesting article by history professor Yuval Noah Harari, who explains in a clear and entertaining way why humans run the world.

We often look for the difference between us and other animals on the individual level,” he says. “We want to believe that there is something special about the human body or human brain that makes each individual human vastly superior to a dog, or a pig, or a chimpanzee. But the fact is that one-on-one, humans are embarrassingly similar to chimpanzees. If you place me and a chimpanzee together on a lone island, to see who survives better, I would definitely place my bets on the chimp.

The greatest strength of humanity is our collectivity. You might point out that ants and bees have the same strength of collectivity, but you mustn’t forget that humanity’s arsenal shelters an additional strong asset: our collectivity is flexible. We can react when opportunities are recognised. When threats to society threaten our existence, we can do more than fight. Of course, history teaches us that fighting has been a relatively easy solution humanity has often resorted to. But societal change has taken place without violence as well, if not more, through adaptation of ideas and lived reality.
Language creates the development of concepts, a mould of ideas and emotions. Imagination consequently explodes after which individual particles of ideas and questions spread out like a starry cloud in our minds. Communication henceforth enable us to connect the dots we individually share, and ideas that surpass the individual are created, usually for the benefit of society.

Change and progress is a collective process, connecting and articulating your imagination to your surroundings.

Science Fiction History, It Says

I found a reference to this drawing on another blog, and it NEEDS to be shared with you:

Source: Science Fiction History

Okay, let’s just say what we’re all thinking here: this diagram is ridiculous! I mean, it hasn’t even got anything by Homeros! (And if it does, it’s too small anyway) It’s a joke, obviously, I cannot comment negatively on this oeuvre.
But is is true, however, that Homeros basically paved the way for the development of the basic storylines in the Western canon. Oh and by the way, there are several theories on Homeros being blind (ignoring the pending question on wether or not he actually existed… Like Jesus or Robin Hood, in a way). I like the thought! I choose to accept it, Homeros being blind that is, just because it’s cooler. When the answer to a theory is not empirically sound within history, you can choose what to do with it. I can hear the critically minded murmuring, but it’s true! People have done it in the past, and will do it in the future. The bad guys in Orwell’s 1984 illustrate this perfectly. It might be fiction, but it conveys the message clearly: history is just a representation of collective memory.
I’m guessing most of you still think that people in the middle ages thought the earth was flat? Well, they didn’t, you’re welcome.

Anyway, a wanderer, legendary like the characters he created in the minds of his audience, who spent a lifetime collecting tales and moulding every bit of his narrative skill into perfect stories, sounds epic in itself. The white-bearded sage which would not only encapsulate the norm for human morality during that age, but even explain the world in its totality. That’s quite an impressive legacy to leave behind on the world.

Nonetheless, leaving aside Homeros, this ridiculously well drawn diagram is wonderful. I just keep staring at it, occasionally uttering short sounds of recognition and approval, grinning slightly.

Well done, unknown artist!

Chekhov’s Guns in Kafka On The Shore (no spoilers)

Russian physician and writer Anton Pavlovich Chekhov is firing rifles at a fast pace in Kafka On The Shore, an amazing novel by Haruki Murakami I just finished reading. Now, the deal with Chekhov is that he once claimed that when writing a story, you have to remove everything that has no relevance to the story. Let’s say that if you mention in the first chapter a rifle hanging on the wall, it HAS to go off in the second or the third one. Hence the principle called “Chekhov’s gun”, which requires that every element in a given narrative has to be relevant to the story.
And Murakami was bombarding me the entire read. He even mentioned Chekhov’s gun once, as if to make sure I was aware of the guns blazing around me.
The peculiar thing, however, is that throughout the narrative you can hear thumps of targets being hit, but you can’t see them. In other words, I got the sense that there’s a perfect logical system in the story, clues are being handed to me in order to understand what’s actually taking place. But the plot provides no clear answers, and it was up to me personally to figure out what it’s all about.

Yeah, personally, that’s what the book’s about! To reflect on the connections between the guns. In it’s imperfection lies it’s perfection, as Murakami created a piece of work that can be understood in a different way by every reader. He alludes to this during a passage where Oshima tells Kafka about the Austrian composer Schubert’s imperfect piano sonatas.

Works that have a certain imperfection to them have an appeal for that very reason (…) you discover something about that work that tugs at your heart – or maybe we should say the work discovers you.

I believe that there’s a parallel reason coming from this understanding as to why he shifts between different points of view. Nagato’s storyline is told in the third person perspective, corresponding to his character being led by fate. Kafka’s storyline, on the other hand, is told in the first person perspective, as he’s is avidly searching for his fate, in complete control of himself and more detached from the world surrounding him. Not only is the storyline imperfect, but the world created is imperfect as well, it tugs at Kafka, and it does the same to me, as the reader, who’s trying to figure out – by using the tools of my own conceptual understanding of the world – why I understand Kafka’s motives. The work adapts to my thinking in a way. It’s a brilliant novel.

There’s just one general lesson it teaches us. It says that the only consistencies in life are time and fate; the first cannot be harmed but can indeed be tricked by relativity, while the latter can be opposed but only by accepting alternative realities.

First Order of Business: WRITE!

There’s a huge mushroom on the forest floor, marking the first days of the fall. The wind is gently plucking coloured leaves from swaying trees, who, as tree-dom faith commands, have to prepare themselves for wintertime and shed their weaker extensions. Rather unsympathetic, I’d say, but hey, I’ve been indoctrinated that way. At the same time I’m silently shouting “LEAVE THE WEAKLINGS BEHIND AND PREPARE FOR WINTER AND THE HARSH FATE OF LIFE.” I assume that in the first half of the 20th century many would have felt sympathetic with tree-dom faith’s commands. Now, I’m sure, everyone must be glad that the notion to draw lessons from single large organisms as an analogy for a demarcated societies has been pushed out of our array of accepted ideologies.

Now, it’s weird that, after a few weeks of inactivity, I should open with this notion of the life of trees and nazism. The point is that I am sharing a random perception of the world, and that this probably is the least interesting one that I could have told you about. So much is happening in the world, and I decide to talk about trees. I’m not saying I shouldn’t do this, I like those characters of the wooden sorts. I’m just saying I should do more. Luckily, the people reading my blog remain to barely be a crowd. For now this is great, of course, as I still have to figure this blogging thing out. But in this project of mine I should share more with the world, for one thing because I want to, but also because I have an obligation to myself to do so (yes, there’s a difference).

The first lesson I’m learning about the blogging thing is an obvious one, and although everyone knows about it, it still remains the biggest obstacle to me, and this little guy who looks a lot like horned me, dressed in a red cape and sitting on my right shoulder sounds the answer: JUST WRITE, DAMNIT. Well, here I am, doing just that! There! Now bugger off.
I don’t even know what the guy dressed in a white toga, sitting on my left shoulder, has been talking about. He mainly concerns himself with avoiding large grammatical errors and brushing my teeth. He tends to avoid these kinds of important issues.

I’ll have you know, red guy, that I’ve had hundreds of ideas and thoughts by now which I would have liked to imprint on internet’s memory, but, every time they occurred to me, I ended up placing them in some corner of my mind (after exclaiming them to the person coincidentally standing next to me) and after a while they buried themselves among their memorial colleagues and I can’t remember what it was that I decided to write about.

Anyway. First lesson learned! And the first order of business is to keep track of my thoughts. I’m going to write down my ideas so that I can find them back more easily afterwards.

Second order of business is that I’m going to write a lot, so that I get used to the routine. A one-week challenge is what I’ll take on, in which I will write something every day! This should get me going.
I think I might write about creativity, the wonders of Kafka On The Shore, and the mystery of Sherlock, to start with, but other things might pop up.

Joachim out!

Wasteland Shadows

“I can barely make sense of it all. The only sound carried across these vast red plains is the wind, hitting us like waves hit cliffs. It carries a smell of burned land, which is worse than any other smell; its message reads that where we tread only death has trod before. The message is a lie of course. We see signs. Others rove this land, co-dependently in a way, I imagine, living with it. We see these phantoms outlined at nighttime. Don’t be mistaken, they are no nomads roaming in search of pasture, moving in a singular direction; distance seems arbitrary to these others, as they are spotted in all directions, and they are not a friendly sight. But as we’re almost out of food and water, the Company’s main concern should lie with finding signs of life. This may seem like a paradox, since we try to avoid these others at all costs, but priorities matter. Without defeating hunger, we cannot hope to survive secondary danger. But I think food and water will only lengthen our ordeal. I do not think we will survive. The others promise the end of life, waiting for us, and every now and then when we think we spot them at the horizon of this desert, fear grinds our bones.

At first we were a hundred soldiers, confident, even arrogant, in search of the Land of Life. It’s written that eternal life can be found there. It’s only a slightest notion to go on, but enough for an adventurer to set as a goal. All of us were disciplined brawlers, adventurers in search for the unknown, just for the sake of it. We cared for nothing but glory. We wanted to be the first. Very soon we found out we were not – no one ever is.

The lands stretch out far and wide before us, with only an old manuscript to lead us on. The parchment had come to us by chance, in a way. A private investor, an art smuggler of sorts, came across it in an expedition of his own. The manuscript talks in riddles and symbols, and has lead us to these lands. But there is no certainty in our quest.

We don’t know how much time we need to sacrifice on this quest. We have discarded this concern early on, when our unease was caused by the first sights of the others who were outlined now and then, like parapets on the horizon. We knew we were being watched. They never seemed to make a move, though, and were gone in the blink of an eye. The Company sent out a search party to take care of this threat. But only foul smells signalled a previous presence of other beings, they say, who some believed are not to be of human nature, and it was presumed that these beings were never far off, watching them.

Nighttime attacks first occurred after a few weeks. They didn’t occur as often as they do now, then just enough to start and make us fear sleep itself. They come into camp with growling sounds, like monstrous shadows. They don’t take many lives, as if they don’t care about that. They want to hit us in the heart of our confidence. They are the land and the land is evil. The fear paralyses and chains us, and we do nothing more than scream in desperation.

This paradox, the search for life but the continuous fear of the only other animated beings out here, is not completely without logic. They are the embodiment of the opposite of life, which is not death, of course. Death is the end of the line, unravelled into nothing, but not separate from it, never that. These others are taking away the will and choice our lives by reigning over our deaths. They bring fear and make us go mad. Some of the Company have already lost control and are no longer agents of their own being. They just are, passive and distorted. We let them walk between us still, while we keep walking in ranks, but they are unnerving; they cry and laugh and shout at the winds. The structure of the world is gone to them. It’s as if fear has pulled them though a threshold, a place unknowable from where there is no going back, because the will to assemble the pieces of the world has gone. The will… It is a word which I did not give much thought to before, but it is, together with logics, that which keeps me from being yanked through that threshold. I know the pull would come suddenly, in a moment of fear, as if I were losing my balance; this evil arm would come from the darkness and, with fingers buried deep into my skin, would pull with overwhelming force, and I would be unable to resist and I would be bursted through the wall of sanity and life into the other side. Sometimes I want to kill those lost ones. They forebode our own faiths, should we succumb.

Two days ago, one of our lost souls attacked one of us. The lost one was screaming for hours and suddenly stopped and turned away from the group. When one of his old mates turned for him to put him on our path the lost one turned, wide eyed and with grinding teeth, and buried his blade in his old friend. He took off after that. We chased him and killed him with many strikes, as if killing him would kill the others out there. That night many of the Company were killed. It was the worst night we’ve had so far. The camp was a pandemonium, and I kept my tent closed from the demons outside and waited while grasping my sword so firmly my fingers hurt, listening to otherworldly growls in our mids. With dawn moonlight gave way for the sun, and pandemonium for silence.

Today there are thirty-three of us left. Seventy-four if you count the soulless. We fear them now alongside the others. They are part of this hellish land, which takes away life. I can’t remember why I would risk everything for glory. Only now I realise what my life means to me, and I am considering to take my own. This act they cannot take from me. I will save it for the end. If the land won’t cannot be reached and when my mind will fall and I will be pulled out of sanity, the last card I will play is cutting my own thread.

To whoever finds this letter: do not venture further into this land. It is a trap. The Land of Life may promise eternity, but I tell you know, the price you pay is your will. I will be long lost when you read this.

T. E.
754 Age of Exploration”

A horrifying grin stretches across the demon’s face, as he puts the letter back in the bottle and places it back at the last signpost. He examines the fearless, conquered faces of the last of the Company. They stand in silence, capes flapping in the wind, opposing the shadows. Some dark spectres sneer and grin and laugh at the conquered Company. Warm blood on the blades of the Company’s swords glister red in the moonlight, some of it dripping on the red sand. It belonged to the last of the living men. They will follow the demon and in time darkness will fill their empty hearts, and they will grow to understand the essence of life and take it like the shadows did.

“Collect the bodies,” the demon said in harsh language. The lost ones dragged their old friends onto a pile. “They will wither and the land will feed of them. But we must leave them now, there still remains one. We will find him and break his soul.”

Startled, Terrence Elliot presses his back against the bank of a dried up river, deep into the pitch-black shadow cast by an overhead rock. The rough land’s rocks and ridges cast long dancing and twirling shadows under the silvery light of the moon, which is full tonight. ‘I’m breathing too damn loudly,’ he thinks, and tries to control his breath, inhaling deeply and slowly, eyes widened with fear. How do they know he still lives? Did they spot him? No – he had made sure of that. He is out of sight and hasn’t made a sound. They must have counted the bodies and realised that one is missing… Oh hell, it doesn’t matter how they know. He must move and find a way out of this land.

He musters all of his courage and with greatest care peers over the overhanging rock. About a stone throw away from him the shadows are gathered, among them his old friends. But they are lost, he can tell there’s no more life in their eyes. They look at the shadows without confusion and fear, with submission. Never before in his life has he seen something so terrifying as these dark shadows. Great, rough dark creatures they are, looking more like demonic beasts than men. They must be demons, an entrapment of the land, maybe protecting the so-called Land of Immortality, and what lies within.

As Terrence Elliot slowly crawls away from the group, taking care not to place his feet on rocks or dried branches, he thinks about the meaning of this immortality. Do his lost friends still live, with their souls broken, until their bodies abandon them as well? To them life without an end would mean nothing at all. Time means nothing, he now realises. At least he still has his will and with it he can fight. The only thing to defeat are the demons that are hunting him. He must be careful and stay smart, because they will appear more often now – he’s certain of this for reasons he doesn’t understand himself. Most importantly he must not loose control of his sense. Every time he spots the shadows he can feel the threshold of fear and needs to jerk away from it, he cannot allow himself to be pulled into insanity.

Several days he walks, paralleling the route the Company came before, but not in its foot-tracks. The shadows must realise the tracks are his only orientation and therefore his way of of the land. They might set traps. So he keeps a distance. Sometimes, most often at night, he thinks he can hear them talk; sometimes they whisper and moan, sometimes they howl with deep grunting terrifying sounds. And whenever he notices their presence, he wanders off a bit further from his planned way.

His keeps mind set on not giving in to fear and avoiding the shadows. Fear and the shadows are connected, Terrence Elliot knows. Clues are spread out in front of him, like pieces of a puzzle, wherein the connection lies, and how he can put this to his advantage. The one thing he is certain of is that the demons appear to be attracted to his fear. At first he was apprehensive of every far-cast shadow, and every time he was barely able to stay out of sight as they suddenly appeared. So he decided to counter this, to train his mind to see nothing more than the absence of light in shadows. The presence of demons has grown less since he has been doing this. In this way he heads onward, every day until his legs give out, and occupies his mind with questioning the logic shadow demons.

At first he thought the demons were from an other world; they don’t appear to belong in the world he knows. They are out of place. But his perception and understanding has changed.

From the onset of the Company’s quest, shadows started to form living shapes – this occurred less in the beginning than it did at the end, after they had progressed on their route and had experienced more encounters. These demons must have hid from them at first, but as the land had brought fear upon them the shadows must have started to feel strong enough to harm them. The question is why the demons had waited so long to strike. Were they waiting until the Company had reached the heart of the land, to be sure none could escape? Or did they require fear in some way? Maybe they are not as strong as they appear. After all, as far as Terrence Elliot knows, most of the dead have had their life ended by their comrades, who had lost their minds.

More days pass, and he guesses that the end of the way must not be far now, where he will reach known land. But he is out of food, and the lack of it seems to drain his defiance. It is night again, and thick clouds cover the moon and a dark fog drapes the land. Terrence Elliot spreads out his right hand in front of him. He can’t see it, which terrifies him, as he could well be surrounded by lurking danger, just waiting to strike. He closes his eyes and tries to shun his fears, while feeling almost choked by the darkness. ‘If I close my eyes, nothing will happen,’ he whispers to himself, over and over again. Suddenly, a crack startles him like a splash of cold water, and his eyes are wide open now, his chest heaves rapidly. He looks at the direction of the sound – he can’t help himself. Out of the thick blur a dark spectre appears.

“Terrence Elliot,” the demon rasps. He approaches him, and looms over Terrence Elliot with a demonic maliciousness. He grins, showing rows of sharp yellow teeth. Terrence Elliot takes a few steps back, but then stops, taking a last stand, holding on the last of his will. At least he can do this.

“How did you know that I still lived?” He decided to ask.

“We are the land and only exist because of it. You see shadows and here we are. Without a creation of reality, we wouldn’t be part of it.”

“I don’t understand.”

“If you would understand I would not be here. I am here because you chose to see me. You and your lost comrades.”

“Are you saying you are not real?” Terrence Elliot tried. Something dawned on him, an idea of fear and reality.

“Do you doubt my existence? I stand here before you like a rock or a tree or a river. Would you deny their presence?” The demon took a step closer and was now almost touching Terrence Elliot.

“No.”

“Then I am real as well.”

“I will not surrender, you know. I will take my own life before I loose my mind.” Terrence Elliot pulls a knife out of his sleeve and waits…

“Why do you not attack me with your knife?”

“I don’t think I need to. You are just a shadow.”

“Does this mean that I am harmless?”

“No. You have killed ninety-nine soldiers, you and your army. But now you’re alone. I wonder why.”

“Others wait in the shadows. Perhaps just can’t see them.”

“That’s a lie. You are the last one, weakened. You don’t scare me.”

The horror of the land played tricks on the minds of everyone who’d dare to wander in, Terrence Elliot realises. Shapes, shades and sounds took shape of shadows and demons. They are real in his mind, but he has the power to deny them and dissolve their existence. After all, he is alone and reality is his to forge.
He takes a step forward, towards the demon. Not so much to his surprise, the demon steps back. One more step, another step back. And slightly, with a sudden grace, the demon lowers his head, casts one last look into Terrence Elliot’s eyes, and retreats into the fog, entrusting him his life, eternally his until death.

Looking for a Hacienda

A very good morning, evening and night to all you lovely dwelling humans out there on the internet. Welcome to my first message. Just to give you an idea of the setting, I would like to share with you the fact that I’m sitting at a round table at a delightful coffee bar in Brussels called Or Coffee, staring at about five MacBooks accompanied by other millennials who are probably doing the exact same thing as I’m doing right now. Just to be clear, I’m writing a blog. But you don’t need me to tell you this, I’m using a free theme on WordPress. This means that I think I can write, have too much time on my hands, and most likely am unemployed. Now, you don’t know me very well yet, and I don’t know what it’s like for you, so this almost feels like a first date to me. I would like to share things with you. If you give me a chance, you might like me. In return, I will enjoy writing for you, and your voluptuous attention.

In light of this metaphor, it seems suitable for this post to be an introductory one. The question, however, imposed by this implicit predicament of the acquaintance-toleration duality, is what exactly it is that I should introduce. The blog? No, there’s an “about” section. (Don’t be lazy, have a look at it.)
 So, what should I write about then? I could tackle societal questions, cultural practices, ideologies, religion, actualities, any number of issues really. But, like on a first date, I’ll save the serious stuff for the future. Let’s keep it light for now, so you won’t get bored of my rambling already.
That being said, I have decided to start out with a reflexive and rather existential manifest. To be clear, understand manifest in the least serious way. When I say manifest I’m not talking about a social and political tantrum with which I lay out the foundations of my own Western Shangri La. There’s bound to be some residue of political opinions throughout the blog of course, seeing as I’m not a robot. But overall my aim is not to convince. Regard this particular manifest as a selected outline of absurdity of life, which brings me to the point of this post: reasons of writing.

First thing I think you should know about me, is that I consider myself to be a social and cultural anthropologist. I’ve been calling myself an anthropologist for almost two years now, from the moment I came back from a long term fieldwork in the South of India. This fieldwork resulted in a dissertation bearing the – in retrospect rather unnecessarily complicated – title ““Seeing is Believing” Experiencing Kathakali through a Ritual Mastery of Recognising Bhakti and the Act of Darshan.”

It’s a story about religion and rituals in Southern India, the road I took of personal transformation, and unraveling other ways of understanding and experiencing life. It’s the most personal thing that I have ever written. It’s one of those stories that starts with the sentence “It was early July in the summer of 2013, when I boarded the train in Bangalore, the famous Garden City of the state Karnataka in India, to travel to the district of Palakkad in the South Western state Kerala.”

And what my first great ethnographic experience had taught me – something which, I’m sure, many worn travellers can vouch for – is that reality is different for everyone, and that every reality is as real as any other. This is extremely important; it’s a seemingly trivial but life changing conception which remains to guide me through life. I am sure this will be apparent in future blog messages as well.
Anyway.
After my fieldwork I knew that I had earned the right to bear the title of anthropologist, and a few months later a piece of paper signed by my university in Belgium backed me up by making it official: “Master in Social and Cultural Anthropology.”

Unfortunately this diploma did not mean anything after leaving the academical tower. I started out spirited and optimistic – chin up, chest forward and ready to take on the world like a modern day anthropologist. I was ready to leave my mark. I decided not to fight for a doctoral position immediately, but to live everyday life for a few years. I imagined a young Indiana Jones detached from the University of Chicago. But my graduation had left me lost in a world where there was no place for the unexperienced, and the unexperienced had no way of gaining experience. You’ve heard this one before. A background within social sciences is not as much appreciated as I would like in society. Social institutions seem to function primarily through logics of administration, and if that isn’t bad enough, the rest of society is unable to conceive anything outside of the economic paradigm which does not look for support in parameters of social and cultural reciprocity. Of course this is a generalisation to which there are many exceptions. But when I look at day to day jobs, paid, so as to function as a sustainable profession, this is what I have encountered. I hope that people will point out to me that I’m wrong, because I don’t agree with this reality. It looks to me like an odd outcome of the history of the humanity to culminate in this dwelling of the young, who helplessly try to have a grip on their own life and place within the community. Like many I feel stuck, dwelling on the surface, stuck in the absence of possibilities and the sole offer of meaningless jobs.

This brings me to boredom, not just in an attempt to reel in teenage readers, but because it haunts me still in my twenties – the curse of a millennial, I’m sure.
I have to paraphrase Death in Discworld’s Hogfather (who, by the way, had the honour to guide his creator sir Terry Pratchett to his early demise in his last tweets). Death remarked – with the voice of James Earl Jones – that it’s interesting that in a universe so full of wonders, human beings have been able to invent boredom. Rather ironically we know boredom because of the amazing capabilities that our human mind has to offer. 
It boggles my mind when I think about people’s aspirations, which lie in the trade of time for money, a procedure which can be reversed once a year when they can trade in money for a few timeless days of lying on the beach.
I refuse to accept this logic! In a better world both parties – myself vs society – would have settled on an agreement of mutual tolerance. This agreement should have been a balance grown naturally throughout human history, but ever since my graduation I feel like I am being slapped in my face by that ubiquitous trickster called Contemporary Life.
But what can I do about it? Not much. I’m not an activist, nor do I aspire to be one. Like every other social scientist I moved to a big city and started working in a cafe, in wait for other opportunities. I’m sure that research on the average IQ of waiters in urban environments will astound the academic community.

My mind starts wondering every now and then. I dream that I might end up at one point in time in an old French villa in Cambodia, not much unlike the one Benjamin L. Willard encounters in Apocalypse Now, already far down the river but still part of the world. Don’t get me wrong, I know the post-colonial implications this idea presents. Know that I’m not looking to escape “civilisation” in search for the “barbaric,” or any such nonsense. I’m not looking for the heart of darkness, nor am I a Kiplingesk man aspiring to be king. The idea is much more plain and simple. I imagine myself sitting in a reed chair in the sun like Hemingway in a Cuban hacienda, on a roof terrace watching out over the jungle, a glass of Laphroaig next to me on an old chest, writing articles and stories.

What you do is what defines you, what makes you feel alive. Your identity, however, is never the result of being a solitary anthropoïd in the world. George Luis Borges says: “I am not sure that I exist, actually. I am all the writers that I have read, all the people that I have met, all the women that I have loved; all the cities I have visited.”
You have to live your life like it’s a novel. When writing a story, an author of fiction creates a world of absolute truth, as the world is composed entirely of his precisely chosen words. But a reader can only read within the boundaries the author has set. Where does this differ from the experience of our own reality? The question is whether your are a writer or a reader. Weberians will cheer and Marxists will frown, but I believe that you are not a reader but the author of your life, and only you have the last word and power to create your own world of absolute truth in which to live.

All anyone need’s a little nod out of the door (extra points for those who get this reference). Hence, the blog! Future me will experience things, and I will make sure to share them with you. I hope that you, on your behalf, will read and appreciate my writing. I also hope you will sometimes disagree and debate, and even decide to write your own thoughts on the world and your experiences. Unraveling fundamental understandings of what’s happening in the world will help to develop your own story.

First Words

You are reading the first words of – what is to be – the greatest blog in the history of the internet, journalism, humanity, and the universe!
“Why?” I can hear you think, in a slightly doubtful but likely curious way. Has it got any sports in it? Does it discuss important things, like food or community development or the history of the Ottoman empire or the genius found in the simplicity of Calvin and Hobbes?

Probably yes, at one point.

More than that, I will address news, events, realities, literature, movies, cultural practices, experiences, ideas, love, hate, passions, revenge, bad men, heroes, truths, lies, doubts, miracles, religions, and fart jokes.

Brought to you by a restless anthropologist and aspiring writer who goes by the name of Joachim Joris.