amenhotep-ii

Pharaoh Akhenaten: Eccentric, Philosopher, Artist, Living God and Prophet

The Amarna period was marked by the inauguration of Akhenaten, the prince formerly known as Amenhotep IV. Succeeding his father Amenhotep III, Akhenaten then reigned for 17 years married to the famously beautiful Nefertiti. In those 17 years he revolutionised Egyptian culture, enacting great changes in religion, art, and politics. Akhenaten also created a new capital city from which he ruled which we refer to as Amarna because of the Beni Amran tribe that lived in the area but in its time it was called Akhetaten, or Horizon of Aten by the ancient Egyptians. Amarna is located on the East Bank of the Nile, roughly 200 miles south of Cairo and 250 miles north of Luxor. The short duration of its occupancy combined with the fact the site was built on virgin soil and the large Amarna Letter collection that was discovered allow us to “reconstruct an unusually accurate picture” of life in the city (Encyclopedia Britannica 2016).

From this accurate picture of the city, we can reconstruct a comparison of life in Ancient Egypt before, during and after, Akhenaten. The most marked difference was seen in Akhenaten’s religious revolution which replaced the traditional polytheistic religion centred on Amun-Ra with a new semi-monotheistic religion that worshipped Aten above all over gods (David 1998, 125). Amun-Ra had been the customary cult of choice for the royal family and a great many temples were located in Thebes, which may have been one of the motivations for the construction of Akhetaten. Unlike the other traditional Egyptian’s Gods who took on anthropomorphic forms, Aten was seen as a solar deity above mere Gods and whose form was represented by the sun whose rays extended downwards ending in hands reaching down from the heavens.

Figure 1: Akhenaten, Nefertiti, and their daughters under Aten (Kemp 1992, 282)

It was not unusual for a pharaoh to associate himself with a certain God, however, Akhenaten was the first to proclaim himself the living embodiment of a God proclaiming himself as “the dazzling Aten” (Van Dijk 2004, 276). Some scholars have even compared Akhenaten’s relationship to Aten to Jesus Christ’s relationship to God supporting their argument with Akhenaten’s self-descriptions of being “Thine only son that came forth from thy body” and “the eternal son that came forth from the Sun-Disc” (Redford 1987). I would reject these notions as leaping to conclusions, as Redford concludes “there is little or no evidence to support the notion that Akhenaten was a progenitor of the full-blown monotheism that we find in the Bible” (1996). Perhaps there is a possibility in the speculations of Sigmund Freud that Akhenaten, like Moses, was striving to for a completely monotheistic religion but ultimately the Egyptian people rejected the cult of Aten unlike Judaism (112, 1939). Despite the full measure’s Akhenaten took to distance the Egyptian people from the old religion, it was a mere four years after his death that his son Tutankhaten took the throne and moved the capital back to Thebes and took the name Tutankhamun to reinforce the restoration of the cult of Amun and rejection of Aten. And so the worship of Aten disappeared as quickly as it had appeared.

As with Akhenaten’s other sudden changes the Amarna art style was also a swift break from the established style and was revolved around the new worship of Aten. Before the Amarna period, the style of Egyptian art changed very little and at a slow rate. The way Akhenaten is depicted in illustration and sculpture differed greatly from past pharaohs, portraying himself as an almost androgynous figure with “an elongated neck, almost feminine breasts, a round protruding belly, wide hips, and fat thighs” (Van Dijk 2004, 281). Some theories have suggested that Akhenaten may have suffered from genetic abnormality due to incestuous parentage, but I would agree with Montserrat’s dissertation of that theory and that Akhenaten’s exaggerated physical portrayal “is not to be read literally” (2000, 36). Most speculation points towards Akhenaten wanting to portray male as well as female elements in his images,  posing as “the mother and father of the Egyptian state emphasising his close affinity with Aten” (McArthur 2011, 33). However, Akhenaton’s symbolic mother and father position did not extend to foreign nations.
Figure 2: Akhenaten’s androgynous figure
(http://www.ancient-egypt.co.uk/cairo%20museum/cm,%20akhenaten/ accessed 02/05/2016.)

Foreign relations deteriorated greatly as of a result of the religious reforms in which Egypt’s concerns stopped at their own borders. Even despite Egypt’s relatively wealth and prosperity, Akhenaton simply ignored requests from neighbouring nations for assistance in their various affairs choosing to remain inwardly occupied in only affairs within Egypt’s borders (Mark 2014). Even 50 letters for military assistance sent by Rib-Haddi, the king of Byblos, which was one of Egypt’s closest allies at the time were largely ignored (Watterson 112). Akhenaton’s neglect of foreign politics even took the form of annoyance demanding from Rib-Haddi “why do you alone keep writing to me?” as quoted in Amarna Letter EA 117 (Moran 193). This relationship heavily contrasts from his father and precursor Amenhotep III whose approach to foreign policy resulted in a significant peace treaty with the Mitanni leading to a period of unprecedented prosperity and artistic flourishing for Egypt.

 

Akhenaten’s legacy is a difficult topic to discuss. On one hand, the heretic king’s memory was “scorned as that of a felon”, his religion and city were abandoned after his death (Freud 1939, 26). However, more than 3000 years after his death and Akhenaton still attracts fascination as well as inspiring many artists, writers, and musicians from Agatha Christie to Philip Glass. Whether his reign was an ultimately positive influence on religion and politics in Ancient Egypt could be debated endlessly with no clear answer. Though what is clear is that Akhenaten is truly deserving of the title of “the first individual in history” (Breasted 1933, 301). Although he failed as to manage proper relations with many neighbouring empires I reason that he eclipsed this small pitfall with the freedom he gave to the artists, sculptures and musicians of his era. For he was a man that challenged the ordinary and accepted norms of his time, to which he deserves only respect for having the daring to bring a dangerous dream into reality.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Ancient Sources

Amenhotep IV/ Akhenaten

1350BCs – 1330BCs                                          Amarna Letter EA 117

 


Modern Sources

Breasted, J.H.

1933.                     The Dawn of Conscience (edit), p.301.

 
Encyclopedia Britannica.

2016.                     Tell el-Amarna.

Available at: http://www.britannica.com/place/Tell-el-Amarna, accessed 07 May 2016.
 

Frankfurter, D.

1998.                     Religion in Roman Egypt. 1st Edition. Princeton University Press.
 

Freud, S.

1939.                     Moses and Monotheism: Three Essays. Knopf.
 

Kemp B.

1992.                     Ancient Egypt: Anatomy of a Civilization. Reprint Edition. Routledge.
 

Mark, J.

2014.                     Akhenaten – Ancient History Encyclopedia.

Available at: http://www.ancient.eu/Akhenaten/, accessed 08 May 2016.

 

McArthur, R.

2011.                     Egyptian Art: The Amarna Revolution

Available at: http://www.academia.edu/5657544/Egyptian_Art_The_Amarna_Revolution, accessed 08 May 2016.
 

Montserrat, D.

2000.                     Akhenaten: History, Fantasy and Ancient Egypt. Routledge.
 

Moran, W.

2000.                     The Amarna Letters. Johns Hopkins University Press.
 

Project Amarna.

2016.                     Location – Amarna Project.

Available at: http://www.amarnaproject.com/pages/accessing_the_site/index.shtml, accessed 07 May 2016.
 

Redford, D.

1987.                     The Monotheism of the Heretic Pharaoh. Biblical Archaeology Review.

Available at: http://members.bib-arch.org/publication.asp?PubID=BSBA&Volume=13&Issue=3&ArticleID=1&UserID=0, accessed 09 May 2016.

 

Redford, D.

1996.                     Aspects of Monotheism. Biblical Archeology Review.
 

Rosalie D.

1998.                     Handbook to Life in Ancient Egypt. Facts on File Inc.
 

Van Dijk, J.

2004.                     The Amarna Period And The Later New Kingdom. The Oxford History Of Ancient

Egypt. Ian Shaw. 1st ed. Oxford University Press, 2004. Pg. 272-287.
 

Watterson, B.

1997.                     The Egyptians (Peoples of Africa). 1st Edition. Wiley-Blackwell.

 

 

 

The vulture and the little girl

Photojournalism Scandal: The power of a thousand words

The visual medium has always been more striking at first glance than text. Likewise extra attention is given more to scandals compared to the daily reported stories which make up the nightly news. With that in mind, it’s no surprise that scandal and photojournalism have developed a deeply intertwined relationship. Photographs of scandals have the power to capture the attentions of thousands, which is why they have often been used as blackmail. This audience attracting power is not only used by tabloid publications but also by most forms of mainstream media. A common example is a celebrity who is held in high regard and the scandal comes as a shock (although we are often filled with glee at their downfall) because it is a massive contradiction to what we thought we knew about the individual. The subject doesn’t have to exclusively be a person however; the important point is the information is a new contradiction with a shock factor attached. Scandals spread like gossip, when you receive information that goes against the commonly held notions of the gals at the hairdressers/bros at the gym, you are prompted to inform them of their fresh ignorance (probably with considerable glee as well). This in turn spreads the story further without the media spending another cent. Brilliant.

Only it’s not so brilliant when the scandal is focused on the media itself, as seen from Adnan Hajj Controversy or “Reutersgate” in which a photo of an airstrike on Beirut during the 2006 Israel-Lebanon Conflict was found to have been digitally altered as exposed by watchdog blogger Charles Johnson (2006). Johnson pointed out the smoke billowing out of city in the photo had clearly been enlarged and manipulated to appear darker and several buildings were cloned using Photoshop “in an obvious manner” (2006). The image of the sky polluted of dark smoke bellowing out of the airstrike site is eerily reminiscent of iconic and World Press Awarded pictures taken of the 9/11 terror attacks by Robert Clark (2011).

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Whether this resemblance was intentional or not, the altered photograph paints a significantly more devastated looking scene when compared to the true original. This is not the first time a photograph has been digitally altered to present a darker version of reality. In the aftermath of O.J Simpson’s 1994 arrest TIME Magazine infamously published a doctored mug shot that had been darkened to appear more menacing and to arguably emphasis Simpson’s race (Carmody 1994).

In cases like these, it appears the desire for a ‘new contradiction’ has overcome the integrity of an opportunistic photojournalist. The advent of Photoshop and digital photographing technology has opened many doors for photography but also provided greater temptation and ease for those wanting to tamper their photos. Plenty of photographers use Photoshop to change colouring and lighting in slight ways in order to improve their photos. However here Adnan went further than just enhancing aesthetic qualities and had ventured into changing the meaning of the photograph. Consequently, an apology was made and freelance photographer Adnan Hajj’s employment at Reuters was terminated (NBC News 2006).

Following the logic of ‘where there’s smoke, there’s fire’ the rest of Hajj’s Israel-Lebanon photos were then placed under scrutiny. It was revealed he had used Photoshop to manipulate another photograph of an Israeli fighter jet which he manipulated into appearing as if it was firing “missiles during an airstrike” when it was in fact deploying a defensive flare (Malkin 2006). Further controversy erupted surrounding Adnan’s photos of the “Green Helmet Man” posing as a rescue worker parading around dead children for the press. Once again the blogosphere cut through Reuter’s statement that “[we] have rejected all allegations that the photographs were staged” (ABC 2006) with video evidence revealing him as Salam Daher, an actor and director of gruesome Hezbollah propaganda whom had been operating since 1996 (ZT 2006).  And although it’s unclear whether Adnan or Reuters were aware of this or simply willing dupes they cannot excused for participating in the creation of pro-jihadist propaganda.

In grim irony, Adnan’s photos would be attractive to Hezbollah for the same shock factor that got them published by Reuters in the first place. And so it appears the common scaremongering which modern audiences have come to expect from the media was hiding Reuter’s darker secret; warmongering. Fanning the flames of war is immoral in any context but is especially despicable when it is done for profit. Images are powerful tools: from Che Guevara to Uncle Sam, pictures have influenced vast amounts of people to violence. Reuters are equally contemptible as the arms dealers who sell weapons to radical groups such as Hezbollah. The pen may be mightier than the sword, but a camera’s power rivals both of them and this is not a power to be meddled with. Absolute objectivity and ethical standards need to be upheld by photojournalists. Bloggers and citizen journalists can only do so much, serious action needs to be taken to extinguish this exploitation, especially when the stakes are life or death.

Over 1400 civilians were killed in the 2006 Lebanon-Israel conflict (Frisk 2006). Will the next Middle Eastern conflict be exacerbated by the media due to exploitive voyeurism and scaremongering? And if so how many more people will die as a result? Questions of exploitation have always surrounded photojournalism that focuses on war and humanitarian disasters. For some the accusations were too much, Kevin Carter who won “the Pulitzer prize for his disturbing photograph of a Sudanese child being stalked by a vulture” (Neal 2016) and then killed himself that same year. Many were angered that he didn’t help the starving child himself and questioned if the real vulture was actually behind the lens.

The vulture and the little girl

This view is far too cynical. We could say the same of doctors who make their living off the suffering of others despite them being revered in our culture. And like doctors, photojournalists have a commitment to maintaining the health, not of the body, but of society’s conscious. There is no point denying that life has its shocks and scandals, however from the overwhelming evidence it is clear that Reuters and Adnan Hajj have truly broken their own Hippocratic Oaths. Photojournalism does have the potential to inform, inspire, and influence the world in a positive manner. That is, as long as it resists the disease of sensationalism and fabrication of scandals.

References:

ABC.. 2006. Reuters drops freelance Lebanese photographer over image. [ONLINE] Available at: http://www.abc.net.au/news/2006-08-07/reuters-drops-freelance-lebanese-photographer-over/1232104. [Accessed 20 April 2016].

Carmody, Deirdre. 1994. Time Responds to Criticism Over Simpson Cover. [ONLINE] Available at: http://www.nytimes.com/1994/06/25/us/time-responds-to-criticism-over-simpson-cover.html [Accessed 22 April 2016].

Clark, Rob. 2011. From my roof on 9-11. [ONLINE] Available at: http://www.burnmagazine.org/in-the-spotlight/2011/09/from-my-roof-by-rob-clarkinstitute/. [Accessed 22 April 2016].

Estrin, James. 2014. Truth and Consequences for a War Photographer . [ONLINE] Available at: http://lens.blogs.nytimes.com/2014/01/24/truth-and-consequences-for-a-war-photographer/. [Accessed 18 April 2016].

Frisk, Robert.2006. Lebanon Death Toll Hits 1,300. (August 17, 2006) The Independent. [Accessed 19 April 2016].

Johnson, Charles. 2016. Reuters Doctoring Photos from Beirut? – Little Green Footballs. [ONLINE] Available at: http://littlegreenfootballs.com/article/21956_Reuters_Doctoring_Photos_from_Beirut. [Accessed 21 April 2016].

Malkin, Michelle. 2006. Photographer’s Exposure: Just the tip of pro-jihadist iceberg. (August 11, 2006). The Free Lance-Star.  [Accessed 20 April 2016].

NBC News. 2006. Photographer fired over altered images. [ONLINE] Available at: http://www.nbcnews.com/id/13165165/ns/world_news-mideast_n_africa/t/altered-images-prompt-photographers-firing/#.Vxw8MPl97IU. [Accessed 22 April 2016].

Neal, Leslie. 2016. How Photojournalism Killed Kevin Carter. [ONLINE] Available at: http://all-that-is-interesting.com/kevin-carter. [Accessed 16 April 2016].

Strauss, David. 2016. Doctored Photos – The Art of the Altered Image | TIME. [ONLINE] Available at: http://time.com/3778075/doctored-photos-the-art-of-the-altered-image/. [Accessed 15 April 2016].

  1. 2016. Reuters Photo Fraud. [ONLINE] Available at: http://www.zombietime.com/reuters_photo_fraud/. [Accessed 22 April 2016].
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Journalism: You won’t believe what happens next!

The greatest challenge facing contemporary journalism isn’t a ‘what’ but a ‘how’.  How to deliver news that will satisfy a modern audience’s hunger for informative news and entertainment. My personal introduction to the world of infotainment was in the form of list articles.

I used to hate ‘listicles.’ And not just because of the word’s resemblance to a certain male organ. The hatred was directed towards the editors and authors who had the balls to publish useless trivial list articles among real articles of significance.

While I’m trying to stay informed on the news surrounding the Brussels’ terrorist attacks I’m similarly being bombarded with “15 ways to lose weight fast” from the sidebar. Now I have both articles open and am reading each of them interchangeably for as long as my Gen-Y attention span can handle.  By the time I’ve finished skimming over each one it is as if I haven’t read either. I couldn’t confirm any facts from either article. All I have floating around in my scattered brain is the phrase “loss of limbs” and I’m not even sure which article that’s from.

i-took-the-internet-addiction-quiz-and-i-won-371-body-image-1421884358

This story is nothing new to people use the web as a news source.  It’s time we had a second look at this phenomenon analysed and what it means to journalism because it’s clear this isn’t a passing fad.

List articles are primarily known to become especially popular on the Buzzfeed website, self-described as “a cross-platform, global network for news and entertainment” [1]. However the New York Times has coloured them in a negative light as a network composed of “algorithms sift[ing] the Web in search of viral articles elsewhere” [2]. The Times has opposed many radical changes to journalism which it has seen as threatening. Even crosswords weren’t spared when first introduced in the 1920’s with the Times publishing their thoughts on the popular word game as a passing fad which they saw as “sinful waste in the utterly futile finding of words.”[3]. Although it would be easy to say The Times needs to get with the times Buzzfeed isn’t entirely brilliant either, the number of things that annoy me about the site probably couldn’t even be contained in one of their lists.

Entertainment does have an established place in journalism. The news/entertainment segment The Project (Formerly The 7pm Project) rose the average audiences “in the 7pm to 7.30pm slot… 23 per cent of almost 700,000 metro viewers after averaging 567,000” [4]. A similar style has developed with political shows heralded by Jon Stewart and Steven Colbert which are complimented on their biting satirical analysis. There is also a demographic in Australian audiences which aren’t satisfied with receiving their news in a bland fashion and would prefer Hughesy to make a gag comparing the desecration of ancient Syrian town Palmyra by ISIS to Collingwood’s devastation on the weekend. Regardless the 6 o’clock slot and 7pm Project don’t have a combined audience bigger than the digitally connected audience. When Australian’s were asked how they receive their news, digitally lead by a massive margin of 44 per cent while TV, radio and print lagged behind. [5]

A further underlining reason why there has been ill reasoned hostility towards this Gen-Y fuelled trend is a type of anti-nostalgia. I suspect a lot of more seasoned consumers of the news may wish for a modern equivalent to Brian Naylor or Eric Pierce, in other words a trustworthy anchor who gives you the news straight. If only Eric Pierce had lived to see the internet with all its flaws and wonders, he predicted the huge impact television would have as ” the most potent force for good or evil that’s ever been discovered in the communications field of entertainment”[6] Luckily death throes of print media have forcefully flung the rose tinted glasses off those longing for the good ol’ days, now is the time for the old guard to bring to an old twist to a new flavour of journalism… We are at a journalistic crossroads where both sides of the argument are dissatisfied with the current state of news. On one side we those dissatisfied with the purely entertainment type articles and other with the bland nature of nightly report. Sensationalism isn’t the answer as it leaves both sides wanting more like a cheap high. The solution is to compromise the two, and it is something Australia has had tangles with before. Satire: coming from the word Satyr, “a Greek mythological creatures with the upper half of a man and the bottom half of a goat or horse” usually involved in comedic events. [7] Contemporary journalism precisely needs a mixed creature in terms of delivery, a chimera that can meet multiple needs at once. This may seem like demanding a lot but that is what modern audiences crave. The closest thing we had to the Daily Show or Colbert Report was the infamous Chaser’s War on Everything a show so relentless that it was taken off the air for two weeks for airing the controversial Make-a-Wish sketch. [8]  It seems almost insane that we don’t have a major political satire show considering our parliament’s reputation for prolific betrayal and backstabbing could only be surpassed by a Shakespearean tragedy.

We are at a journalistic crossroads where both sides of the argument are dissatisfied with the current state of news. On one side we those dissatisfied with the purely entertainment type articles and other with the bland nature of nightly report. Sensationalism isn’t the answer as it leaves both sides wanting more like a cheap high. The solution is to compromise the two, and it is something Australia has had tangles with before. Satire: coming from the word Satyr, “a Greek mythological creatures with the upper half of a man and the bottom half of a goat or horse” usually involved in comedic events. [7] Contemporary journalism precisely needs a mixed creature in terms of delivery, a chimera that can meet multiple needs at once. This may seem like demanding a lot but that is what modern audiences crave. The closest thing we had to the Daily Show or Colbert Report was the infamous Chaser’s War on Everything a show so relentless that it was taken off the air for two weeks for airing the controversial Make-a-Wish sketch. [8].  It seems almost insane that we don’t have a major political satire show considering our parliament’s reputation for prolific betrayal and backstabbing could only be surpassed by a Shakespearean tragedy.

Posing Julie Bishop as Lady Macbeth works on a personal level because it brings events down from emotionless and endless policy/party changes into a story with tangible characters. This also brings a level of entertainment, which is still remaining objectively true to the story that Bishop betrayed Abbott during our most recent political spill. [9] Human’s naturally make sense of events with narratives.

Contemporary journalism is changing as fast as our developments in technology. Simultaneously our expectations as audiences are also increasing with this new change, which is also bringing a new risk of alienating audiences. At the same time, there’s the prospect of a new paradigm glimmering on the horizon, infotainment which has the power to inform hold attention and retain integrity, and to get a glimpse that’s a risk we’re going to have to take.

 

References:

[1] About BuzzFeed. 2016. About BuzzFeed. [ONLINE] Available at: http://www.buzzfeed.com/about. [Accessed 24 March 2016].

[2] MEDIA DECODER – BuzzFeed Adds Politico Writer – NYTimes.com. 2016. MEDIA DECODER – BuzzFeed Adds Politico Writer – NYTimes.com. [ONLINE] Available at:http://query.nytimes.com/gst/fullpage.html?res=9A05EFD9163BF931A25751C1A9679D8B63. [Accessed 25 March 2016].

[3]  “Topics of the Times.” The New York Times, November 17, 1924, p. 18 [Accessed 25 March 2016]

[4] The Project Delivers on the Ratings Front for Ten| The Australian. 2016. Nocookies | The Australian. [ONLINE] Available at:http://www.theaustralian.com.au/business/media/the-project-delivers-on-the-ratings-front-for-ten/story-fna045gd-1226699486979. [Accessed  25 March 2016]

[5] Australians don’t trust the news – except when it comes from their favourite sources – ABC News (Australian Broadcasting Corporation). 2016. Australians don’t trust the news – except when it comes from their favourite sources – ABC News (Australian Broadcasting Corporation). [ONLINE] Available at:http://www.abc.net.au/news/2015-06-16/australians-digital-news-trust/6548232. [Accessed 25 March 2016]

[6] 21 Aug 1954 – Mr ADELAIDE’S Diary – Trove. 2016. 21 Aug 1954 – Mr ADELAIDE’S Diary – Trove. [ONLINE] Available at: http://trove.nla.gov.au/newspaper/article/58103769 [Accessed 01 April 2016].

[7] history of satire, greek, roman satire, satire history and use of humor historically. 2016. history of satire, greek, roman satire, satire history and use of humor historically. [ONLINE] Available at: http://www.nottheonion.com/history.cfm [Accessed 01 April 2016].

[8] War is over. Chaser calls it quits. – TV Tonight. 2016. War is over. Chaser calls it quits. – TV Tonight. [ONLINE] Available at: http://www.tvtonight.com.au/2009/07/war-is-over-chaser-calls-it-quits.html [Accessed 28 March 2016].

[9] No Cookies | Daily Telegraph. 2016. No Cookies | Daily Telegraph. [ONLINE] Available at: http://www.dailytelegraph.com.au/news/liberal-leadership-is-julie-bishop-the-lady-macbeth-of-parliament/news-story/139297f9dedbfe4cfa80f20e651cf74d [Accessed march 28 2016].

 

 

A boy sent to war

“Your son is too sensitive to go to war, ” the recruiter said solemnly. His hair-thin mustache twitched and seemed to crawl like a sickly caterpillar, it moved in its strange way half a centimeter across his face so that it was now off center. I blinked and rubbed my eyes, perhaps it had been off center from the start. My mind has funny ways of rationalizing the peculiarities I see.

“Oh okay,” I manage to squeeze out of my blushing cheeks (although you couldn’t tell my cheeks were permanently an angry red from a rare cystic acne). The greasy crust cracked as I let out a sigh, yellow ooze already pouring out the fissures.

I wasn’t filled with any sort of surprise, I expected disaster around every corner and in every roll of the perpetually jouncing dice of cruel Fortuna.

“He can fight and die like everyone else!” my mother burst out. Her words crashed with a violence against both me and the solemn recruiter. Silent tears ran down my face and began reacting with recently exposed pus, a misty gas take began taking form and started filling the room. Little did I know at the time but the chemical reaction was releasing hydrogen cyanide identical to the process used to create Zyklon B being used on jews, cripples and homosexuals as all this was happening.

However a deadlier smoke was erupting from my mother’s fiery mouth as she raged on.
“He’s as able as every other boy out in Yurope!” she spat through sulfurous flames. A bulging vein exploded on her forehead splattering hot red lava across the recruiter’s face and ruining his mustache.
“Alright, fine, yeah, okay, he can go to war.” he finally surrendered.

“Goodbye,” someone whispered without emotion.

And so I was lead into a room where they shaved my head into a square shape and proceeded to shove a square helmet on my head after which I was contorted into a rectangular cannon with which I was going to be fired off to Yurope. As I looked back a final time I saw my mother walking away meekly after her outburst and the recruiter was reapplying his mustache with a black felt pen. He sketched a small butterfly on his cheek which landed on his upper lip and laid an egg which hatched to become another equally pathetic mustache.

I sat back in the chamber– its oily walls saturated my body– and closed the hatch. The sounds echoed around; the sound of fizzling ignition and impossibly loud boom.
All of a sudden everything had turned into sky.

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Memory, nature’s gift or curse?

From the time we are born, our understanding of world is shaped and reshaped. Jean Piaget, a Swiss development psychologist and philosopher, once observed that “what we see changes what we know. What we know changes what we see”.  We each have unique experiences, and it is our individual responses to experiences that mould the lenses through which we perceive reality over time. Think back to the time when you were a schoolkid, the way you perceived the world, and how memory now provides you with a sense of who you are and your current view of the world.  At the same time, consider how your perception of the past has shifted. Do you still view childhood activities such as finger painting and playing in treehouses as fun now that you’ve experience so much else? Piaget’s comment reflects how the past influences you’re current and you’re current influences your past. If this is the case, can we live in a world where we can come to a complete understanding of someone else’s surroundings and view the world from their eyes? Nonetheless, the demands of life certainly necessitate that we need to have some form of comprehension in order to avoid conflict. Whilst the disparities in our view of various circumstances will always exists and cannot be overcome, through interpretation and exposure to multiple realities as well as ability to empathise and express humility, we are able to gather glimpses of truth.

Our past experiences where we formulate own personal views and opinions shape and filter the way we view the world. As the path that we walk is unique to each and every one of us, our perception is so too exclusive to our personal individual.  In Spies we become aware of how Stephen’s initially believes and follows Keith’s lead to the point that without Keith “telling him what to think, he’d stopped thinking about it at all”.  Isn’t this us all as children, naively believing whatever out parents or other authoritarian figures tell us to be true and what to and not to do? We hold our parents hand as we cross at the intersection and only when the green man appears, believing that if we don’t it is an “enormous crime”. This is only so, until some of us brave ones decide to take the lead and cross in the middle of street.  Stephen does exactly this and undergoes a transformation that leads him to emerge from the confinements of Keith’s sphere. Instead of conforming to Keith’s control on the various activities they undertake, he does what most children at his age start to do, which is to challenge and “[emerge] from the old dark world of tunnels”. As such, he starts to take initiative like many of us do, going out alone without Keith in the middle of the night on his own little “great exploit”.  From his own exploration, culminating in his eventual visit to the man in the “darkness”, he realises that their spying game-something the young boys saw as just a game, “simple and straightforward” could actually become “infinitely complex and painful”. No single person shares the same journey in life, the lenses in which we each come to view this world with is constantly being mouldered. As you and I go through life, we constantly draw on these past experiences to explain what is going on around us.

Furthermore, the accumulation of personal experiences means that on another level, our individual understanding of particular situations can change over time and as we mature. If say two people we to share the same pair of eyes but have two different functional brains, would their view of the world be the same? Unless your one of the few people with a photographic memory, chances are you’ll forget most of even your most memorable moments. Our recollection of the past is inherently unreliable and fallible as gaps are constantly being formed and filled with stories. Our current scenarios and state of mind influences the way we unconsciously chose to remember certain events.  Elizabeth Loftus a pioneer in Reconstructive Memory states how “people come to believe that things that never really happened”. As a guest of a documentary conducted by the National Geographic Channel, she demonstrates how by planting two people with false statements in a group of witnesses of a crime, new memories are able to be easily embedded and existing ones altered. Michael Frayn in his novel Spies, similarly recognises how our current selves and experiences can manipulate the events of past and as such he creates two characters that is of the same person- a younger ignorant Stephen and an older wiser Stephen. The older Stephen who is trying to “piece” everything “together half a century later” acknowledges how difficult it is to maintain an objective view of what happened, “remembering the order things occurred in” and ensuring that it is not being “over-written by hindsight”.  The malleability of memories often means that our awareness or interpretation of our past is constantly undergoing alterations, unable to provide an accurate representation of reality.

However, despite our inability to overcome the alterations that memory has on our past and present, our life revolves around the desire and need to have an understanding and a grounding of the views of other people. Humans are social creatures; we interact with each other, communicate and share ideas and stories. Whilst a true insight cannot be attainment, through the combination of careful contemplation, self-examination and empathy we are able to eclipsing a state of ignorance. People come together and share their extensive perceptual experiences and this enables us to learn of certain historical events. Through memoirs such as Night by Elie Wiesel and raw footages, we are constantly reminded of the horrors that transpired during the Holocaust, how he described it as being “everyone lived and died for himself alone”. We are inspired to feel deep sorrow and grief, giving us a discernment of such actions.  Consequently, we as a society come to accept that the Holocaust was an event that had widespread repercussions and invaded on the lives of countless victims and acknowledge that we collectively need learn from this harsh reality so it is not repeated. Feigning ignorance to these widely accepted realities can cause one to recede into insanity.

In its totality, society cannot hope to grasp a reality where everyone is able to comprehend and view the world with the same lenses as we have different experiences that result in different beliefs and attitude. Our conscience is constantly leaving out information that may be crucial. In order for individuals to perceive in an identical manner, this quality of life would have to be mitigated, thus destroying individuality. This does not mean that we are unable to perceive what other perceive, but rather we are offered glimpses of it that can only be observed through the arduous process of careful scrutiny.  Subjectivity arises because rarely do we spend the time of the effort, contemplating every step of our life, something that philosophers Plato, Socrates and Aristotle spend their entire lives doing.

 

 

 

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Our Own Puppeteer

It begins the time we are born, the time we emerge into the bright light of this world; fear becomes our puppet masters, forcing us to recede into an illusionary world to protect ourselves. It controls us, constantly manipulating the strings of our lives preventing us from truly ever coming to terms with an understanding of our surroundings. It is the fear of the harshness of reality that forces us to constantly wear a mask, to create an illusionary world of our own construct as we try to deny the existence of this fear. Whilst in the short term this may be harmless and even beneficial at times, but there are numerous examples in literature that warn us of the dire repercussions of maintaining this distorted reality.  We see this warning constantly paralleled in society as the fear of accepting the truth grips the community as a whole, shielding them from a perpetuating problem but at the same times allowing this problem to grow such heights that eventually it overrides and overwhelms us.

To some extent, we need to recede into illusions as a short term way of ameliorating some of the brutality that reality throws at us. The strings of our masters: fear, can at times lend a helping hand to put on a mask and guide us through harsh times. The world around us can be cruel and punishing, and the pain of the sudden loss of someone can overwhelm us and fill us with loneliness and despair. Creating illusions may be a necessary way of dealing with tragic circumstances. This idea is explored in Arthur Miller’s play Death of a Salesman through the character Linda Loman and Charley, who at the end of the play are attending Willy Loman’s funeral, receding temporarily into an illusionary world to deal with the sudden loss of someone close to them. Charley speaks of Willy Loman in a manner unseen before in the play, that nobody should “blame” Willy a man out there “riding on a smile and a shoeshine”, trying to achieve a dream that consumed him. This contrasts to the way Charley speaks directly to Willy reminding him to “grow up” and come to terms that with the fact he isn’t going to achieve the success that he so desired. Similarly Linda Loman deals with the loss of Willy by speaking to him as if he is still present, sharing that they are finally “free” making the last repayment on the house, a symbol of achieving the American Dream that Willy so desired.  Within certain parameters, literature shows that illusions as a form of escapism are a necessary tool to protect and suspend ourselves from the cruelty of reality momentarily, to deal with the repercussion of facing the truth.

However this release from reality is only temporary as the consequences of sustaining illusions to such an extent that it governs our life is often devastating. Instead of coping with reality, allowing fear of reality to manifest itself into an illusion or delusion and only seeks to delay and worsen the inevitable. Arthur Miller exemplifies this in Death of a Salesman through the character of Willy Loman who is stuck in a dangerous world of prestige and grandeur imposed by the American Dream. Willy Loman’s interpretation of the American Dream is that success will naturally come to you if you’re “well liked”, that this quality is held in higher regard than being “honest” or making an “effort”.  Living in such a distorted world due does not ultimately make him a person who is content with the life he lived. The fabrication of his own mind of being “vital” and having “friends” whilst at the beginning may have at the start helped him cope with the harshness of his life, but eventually became a symbol and reminder of his own failure leading to his eventual downfall as he is unable to “walk away”.  His situation is exacerbated through his overly supportive wife, Linda, who seems to also maintain her own illusion to help deal with the desperation and fear of Willy’s situation. She is constantly playing the supportive role, under the impression that Willy Loman is only a “little boat looking for a harbour”, giving him a soothing “pill” to help his stress which adds to Willy’s eventual demise. The danger of trying living in illusions is also depicted by Scott Fitzgerald in his novel The Great Gatsby. Jay Gatsby, a fabulously wealthy young man, and the embodiment of the American Dream is infatuated with “[repeating] the past” and “[fixing] everything just the way it was before”.  His blind pursuit of Daisy, the girls he fell in love at first sight, causes him to lose sight of reality, lost in a world of decadent fantasy construct, which ultimately leads to be downfall. As such, one can only evade the fear of facing reality for a short period of time, as the eventually the power of reality crushes the paltry barriers we try to build.

The most frightening form of illusion is when it grips society as a whole where the strings of control attach onto each and every individual and blind them to the encroaching problems of world.  As society, we often help each other to evade reality through the construction of societal misconceptions which can have a lasting impact for the wider community and future generations. Despite criticisms by Arthur Miller and fellow writer Scott Fitzgerald in their works Death of a Salesman and The Great Gatsby, drawing attention to the impact of a national ethos comprised of a materialistic drive to acquire more and more, the rest of us chose to turn a blind eye and continue on our pursuit of wealth to shattering consequences. This was most recently illustrated in the 2006-2007 Global Financial Crisis, an upheaval that put hundreds of millions of people across the globe out of jobs. Governments and the financial institutions repeatedly chose to ignore the warning signs that they received, of an imminent catastrophe, instead fixated on continued “higher profits and higher shareholder returns”, gambling with money that were the life savings of pensioners, families and naïve investors. The refusal by government regulators and financial institutions to believe that the “sound” world economic system could fail is captured in the docudrama “Inside Job”. Instead of responding to the signs impending GFC catastrophe, the film explores how the government around the world continue to relax laws, allowing banks to issue an unprecedented amount of debt, unwilling to accept that this would eventually collapse.  Riding the waves of this boom, society was under the impression that this couldn’t come to an end, an illusion that only sought to seek and intensify the inevitable.

Illusions which are a product of fear may initially help us come to terms with our reality, but sustaining it for long periods of time only seeks to delay what is unavoidable as when illusion and reality do eventually collide, only reality will emerge unscathed.  By this time, the harsh reality that we are faced is likely to have mutated into a more grotesque form. Thus, the right course of action is to relinquish the strings of fear that we are so often bound by and become the masters of our own life, accepting reality for what it is. By taking control, we are able to utilise something far more powerful than illusion to cope with reality, which imagination, a conjuration of the mind not controlled by fear, allowing us not only to deal but to solve and see the light in many of the harsh reality that both individuals and society are faced with.

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The Endless Cycle of Change

Individuals are like vases forever spinning on a potter’s wheel, constantly shaped and reshaped as time goes on. The unique shape and size of these creative artefacts can be compared to the way individuality is formed.  Both experience and imagination, in a range of creative ways, bring about our personal views of life, our own unique insight.  We see these occurrences particularly with writers of literary works, who often allude to significance of the way experiences and imagination combine, similar to a set of potter’s hands to trace out the way they come to see and view the world.  The way their clay has been shaped is often reflected in their works and serves as an interpretation of their views and values. The messages in their works additionally serve as a way of guiding and building other people’s vases, displaying individual’s ability to extend some creative assistance to help mould the vases of people around us. Yet, with each spin of the wheel, we run into the chance that our smooth symmetrical face may be cracked.

In spite of life’s difficulties, fragments of the past continuously provide a framework for the way individuals perceive the world, laying the foundations to the current shape of our vase. It is through our experiences and our fallible recollections of these occurrences that we are provided with a sense of who we are and what is important to us. The works of many writers illustrate the way they have been influenced by memories of their experiences. Arthur Miller, arguably one of the world’s most famous playwright delves into his own lifetime experiences, especially as child, to serve as inspiration and creative energy to imaginatively redefine his interpretation of society and the “American Dream”, explored through his play “Death of a Salesman.” His resentment of the materialistic and mythical American Dream and social pressures it puts on people’s lives is profoundly explicit in the play. Miller himself is quite open about his childhood experiences of having a father whose business failed as a result of the 1929 stock market crash and having a “salesman” uncle who persistently tried to invigorate competition between him and his cousin.  It would seem that these childhood memories created Miller’s reality in the 1950s, paralleled through the play that people cannot simply  as Willy Loman persistently refrains walk  “into the jungle and… walk out” expecting it to be “full of diamonds”. Miller disparages and characterises Willy Loman’s insistence that success is just right around the corner and can be attained by being “well-liked” instead of being diligent or showing initiative, echoing Millers view at the time. Miller tragically draws readers into the destructive blinding effect of the mythical “American Dream” through Willy, who is perilously lost is world of pursuing better cars, better refrigerators-a form of consumerism that eventually consumes him. When we consider our own lives, we might similarly see that with each spin and each turn, the events and circumstances that we encounter in life distinctively crafts us to come to a comprehension of our outlook of the world around us.

The world is complex and mysterious and we cannot hope to comprehend everything in it. Equally important and in addition to the way our past experiences shape who we are, is the need for our using imagination and creativity to also play their role. As such, just like children, adults continue to imagine and visualise to help them make sense of their surroundings to define who they uniquely are. To illustrate, writers often use imaginary works as a means to provide themselves with an interpretation of current social and political circumstances. Russian science fiction writer, Yevgeny Zamyatin, who penned the 1921 dystopian novel “We”, depicting a world in the distant future where an oppressive government has creates a society where all the buildings are made out of glass and people are known only as numbers, serves as an essential catalyst for Zamyatin to come to terms with the sweeping political changes taking place in Russia during the early 20th century. His imaginative prowess provided him with a means to draw certain parallels and conclusions between the fictional world and the real world. The novel expresses how the 1917 Russian revolution suppressed human thought is similarly compared to Zamyatin’s fictional government that is designed for ‘ridding man of crime’ that as a result also perpetrated the ridding of  “freedom”. The way the characters, such as D-503 and R-013 in the novel is referred to only by their letter and numbers, forebodes Zamyatin’s view that the establishment of a communist ideology will result in the annihilation of one’s identity. The reality presented to the author disturbed him, similar to the way our realities often deeply perplexes and confound us.

The hands in which we are constructed by do not have to be our own as other people’s imagination and past experience also influence our views, allowing us to expand the amount of clay we have access to, creating vases that are more complex in nature. Through past experiences of other’s around us, we learn and expand our knowledge shaping the part of our perception that is shared. Even when many of us weren’t there when the Germany committed genocide against Jewish people, the information that we get through memoirs and autobiographies left behind by survivors and the various heartbreaking footages become a part of us. Thus we learn of the harsh reality of history, and respect the consequence of our actions if history is to be repeated, through the constant reminders of those who have experienced atrocities.  Elie Wiesel’s famous novel Night which recounts his experience with his father in a Nazi Germany concentration camp, brings personal stories that would otherwise be lost. How else could we know the suffering experienced by the Jewish people in the concentration camps, if we aren’t reminded of the past as Wiesel puts it “everyone lives and dies for himself along” in those camps.  Similarly, other people’s imagination spurs on change, which inevitably alters our own perception as these imaginations become acknowledged and become a part of our shared reality. Advancements in society begin as nothing more than a thought or an idea, a seed planted in the minds of some brilliant people. In his publication “On the Origin of Species”, what Charles Darwin proposed was merely a thought. However, his imagination would eventually capture the attention and focus of many generations to come.   We establish a reality that is based not only on our own experiences and imaginations, but that of those around us.

If we apply too much pressure and allow our dreams and hopes or our past reality to become intertwined and dominant so that we no longer have control over them, then we risk of creating a vase that is disfigured. We can easily lose our control of our imagination and our past so that it manifests into an illusion that rampantly impedes and distorts our perception   Arthur Miller’s play Death of a Salesman, epitomises this notion through the character of Willy Lowman, as he becomes both terribly lost in a past in which he fictitiously creates. Willy Loman reinvents the past to help him cope with the harshness of the way his life has ended up, trying to convince himself that the situation was better before when he supposable “averaged a hundred and seventy dollars a week in commissions”. In tough times, he constantly reverts to created image of his sons admiring him, constantly there to carry his bags, wash his cars and seek his guidance, telling him that they will “retire [him] for life”. In order to create the reality that we desire, one must take ownership of the hands that shape us and ensure that they do not control the vase that we create.

As we age, the soft and malleable clay of our childhood eventually starts to become hard as the final shape starts to take form. The form that eventuates cannot be anticipated until the very end as our experiences combined imagination provide the two crafting hands that takes individuals on a variety of possibilities. Alone the way, we are helped by those around us, with their memories and mental creations shaping our own.  However it is quintessential that to some extent that we remain in control as without guidance, the vases will turn out to be nothing more than a pile of unrecognisable messy dirt.