Infinity is really hard to experience. Math works with it – in fact, math works with all sorts of different infinities – but everything we actually see has boundaries. We don’t even know if space is infinite – most probably it isn’t because we haven’t seen anything beyond twenty-nine billion light-years or so. From this, science actually estimates the size of the observable universe around 93 billion light-years.
On the other hand, physics tells us that these very distant objects are moving away very fast, and there’s no telling if and where they will stop. Math has a term for that, too: finite but unbounded.
A person has boundaries. They don’t necessarily start at our skin. If a stranger moves too close (to our taste), we feel violated. When we feel possessive about our belongings, we like putting them within our boundaries. Right now I’m sitting in a café, with my bag and coat on another chair across the table. If someone came and took – touched – them, I would feel violated. Does this make them part of me – do my boundaries extend to them across the table?
January 27 marks the anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz – and the death of Hungarian writer Antal Szerb. It’s the dark irony of fate that on the same day Allied troops entered the death camp, Szerb was beaten to death by Hungarian Nazis (calling themselves ‘Hungarists’ or those of the ‘Arrow-Cross’) in a forced-labor camp in Balf, Hungary.
Szerb was of Jewish descent, but at the same time he was a Hungarian literary scholar through and through. The blackguards who did the beating were not men of culture – how could they know that the man they killed had done more than anyone else to spread and promote Hungarian literature?
There’s a general tendency to forget bad things. We need reminders. I need reminders. One of those reminders is Stanley Milgram’s famous book – Obedience to Authority.
Milgram conducted an experiment in 1961, where he tested the nature of obedience. One of the motives of this study was the efficiency of the Nazi state in handing out millions of deaths. Officers were made to obey sinister commands not by force but by authority, and many of them didn’t even think they shared the responsibility for what they had done.
‘Dafke’ is a word in Hungarian to say ‘stubbornly in spite of better judgment’. The meaning of the Hebrew original is much more colorful.
Over the last couple of days, I’ve read several articles that explained why it was a mistake to display the ‘#JeSuisCharlie’ tag to identify with the victims of the Charlie Hebdo attack. In this post, I will dafke stand by my original stance and insist that I am still Charlie. And Ahmed. And a victim of Anders Breivik. And the Hungarian Roma who were ruthlessly killed by racist extremists in 2009. And the untold hundreds and thousands who are humiliated, persecuted and killed every day for not submitting to a violent ideology – or just for who they are. Continue reading
My fear of losing my freedom might just be a fear of completely different things. I love being free to go where I want, choose where I live, what I work, and decide on how I educate my kids. And I fear the loss of these.
This looks like a freedom of wealth. I never knew hunger, I never was bodily or mentally disabled, I always had a place to sleep, and things to wear. I was never imprisoned. I had company when I wanted it. I can’t begin to imagine what fears and anguishes those people have who don’t have all this. You don’t have to tell me there are many.
Amazon was kind enough to deliver The Book (aka The Third Tower — Journeys in Italy by Antal Szerb) on the first working day of 2015. Here’s proof:
The Third Tower the English book, finally in!
In the first post, I promised I would update the text I quoted once I receive this book. Then I thought that, instead of simply changing the original post, the text would stand out better in a separate article — and readers have the benefit of better understanding from two different translations.
“The tower stands apart, at the far corner of the mountain top, on an inaccessible cliff, very steep on both sides. The town doesn’t extend this far, and as you pick your way to the end of the crest you are made giddy by the height. […] There, at the foot of the Third Tower, I understood everything. My restlessness — […] during the entire journey I had been forced into contact with that collectivity of the lonely, the euphoric Italian collectivity. I shielded my solitariness from them, and from the European future that they represented for me. I felt my solitary happiness threatened by their happiness of the herd because they were stronger than I was. […] The happiness I feel here at the foot of the Third Tower is something I must not give up for anyone: for anyone, or anything. I cannot surrender my soul to any nation state, or to any set of beliefs.”
(Translated by Len Rix, 2014. Pushkin Press: London.)
Freedom is one of those important things that we don’t usually notice until we lose it. There are numerous examples in both history and fiction to support that. So, if I think freedom is one of the few very fundamental values, it can’t hurt to be mindful of it first.
Thinking of times when I feel the freest, it’s when I walk the streets or the woods, alone, nothing to come between my thoughts and my consciousness. Times when I can do this are very precious.
But when you start thinking hard about things, all manner of doubts come up inevitably. Is this really it? I mean, freedom? In a way, yes. Spending time on my own, thinking, is when I rejoice in my consciousness, which is, they say, a prerequisite to free will, having worlds to do with freedom. As it is, I’m frightened of losing all or part of my consciousness.
This blog is my refuge – an intellectual refuge, so to speak. The title comes from Hungarian writer Antal Szerb, who wrote about his Italian travels in 1936 under this title. Szerb’s literal third tower is in San Marino, where you can see three towers (ubiquitous in Italy) on the mountain just above the city. (The towers shown at the header of this blog are in San Gimignano, Tuscany.)
Why a refuge, and why the Third Tower? Let me quote Szerb here:
“The third tower stands at a distance, in a remote corner of one of those mountains, on top of steep, insurmountable rocks on both sides. The city doesn’t reach up here, and as you walk along the ridge, you get dizzy by the height. […] There, right below the Third Tower, I came to understand my notorious anxiety: […] everywhere, through the entire journey, I had to deal with the happy Italian collectivism. I felt I had to protect my solitude from that, and the common European future it represented. I felt that my solitary happiness was threatened by their herd-like happiness, because they were stronger than me. […] I cannot share this happiness that I feel here at the foot of the Third Tower. Likewise, I’m unable to give myself up to anyone and anything, not to any government or any idea.”