Tales of the world episode 71 – I saw a documentary

In this episode Tales of the world takes an experimental route to make a point. Enjoy a multi-track and polyvocal creation taking a stab at the fact that we are so well informed on just about everything, and yet, somehow, we can’t or won’t go beyond that.

The singing bowls of Kathmandu

On a sunny day in January 2015, while taking a break from very serious interviews in Kathmandu, we went for a visit at the Swayambhunath temple (the monkey temple). Amidst many playful and warring monkeys we also found a singing bowls shop, owned by Saran Sahi, a real artist, who very gracefully shared some of his musical art with us. Here are some of his sounds, found, recorded, edited, photographed and enabled by our Nepal production team.

Rahel Kunz ; Lekh Nath Paudel; Ruxandra Stoicescu

If you plan to go to Kathmandu and get a bowl of your own or at least a sound massage you can contact Saran Shahi at DSC_0259

Tales of the world episode 56 – Shortcuts

Acronyms, abbreviations and hashtags. Credit cards, smart phone apps and bookmarks. Promises, repression and lies, our lives are full of shortcuts to knowledge, information, power, wealth and entertainment. Everyday, whether we need them or not, we take them, every day, whether we like it or not, someone else takes them, too.

Growing up in Romania – the country of all possibilities, as bitter-sweet Romanians affectionately call her – one learns everything there is to know about shortcuts. And really quickly too, for one simple reason: Romanians have perfected the art of the shortcut, like none other. Some cynical ones even use a shortcut in their terminology, by bundling all type of shortcuts present in Romania under only one term: theft. Unfortunately, the inordinately high levels of corruption exhibited by the country – with 20% more people than the EU’s 76% average of the population believing corruption to be a widespread phenomenon – seem to support the somewhat fatalistic idea, held by many Romanians, that theirs is a people of thieves. 

Tempting as that might be, I’ll leave the theorizing on this topic to specialists, because, what interests me in the Romanian case is not whether we are, or not, more inclined than others towards thievery and corruption. Rather, I’d like to go behind the curtains of these apparently despicable acts and understand in what spirit they happen. Whether it’s paying an official in order to be able to exempt you from queuing for paying your taxes, embezzling EU funds to get a house and an SUV faster than you can say “European Commission”, or bribing the policeman so that they do not take your driving license, even if you did cross on red at 20km over the speed limit, all these acts are reminiscent of the communist times, when people living in one reality needed to pretend to live in another. So they took shortcuts, as the ones mentioned above, in order to escape the constraints of their lives. Shortcuts to riches and titles, shortcuts to health and power, shortcuts which, more that material thefts, were really, thefts of time. The whole communist system, based on scientific socialism, which claimed it had reached the highest stage of peace and human development merely through its existence, was predicated on a fundamental theft of time. We were already there, you see, not sure though, how we had gotten so far. To hold this idea one needed to perpetrate the system, in order to cover up what came short, each time, of authentic accomplishment.

How are we different today from such a system? Us, post-modern individuals caught in the race for speedy conclusions and speedy results, wonder kids of the age of technology, who seem to know an answer before we know the question?

The shortcuts of our everyday lives make us powerless thieves of time, lost in the lull of a moment when nothing and no one seems to have noticed the deception, leading us to expect that maybe, just maybe, there is a shortcut to life.

This podcast can be listened in combination with Tales of the world episode 52 – Life fragments, fragments of life, March 2014, and episode 10, April 2012.

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Tales of the world episode 52 – Life fragments, fragments of life

Buying furniture in an IKEA shop is perhaps one of the most uncontroversially universal experiences of modern life. We know that even Syrian refugees and Indian fakirs are not spared the trials and tribulations of the products of the IKEA imperium. Much as I wanted to avoid it, I was not spared, either. To make the experience a little more bearable, and quite frankly, trying to understand what makes it so pervasive and seemingly unavoidable, I went to the store armed with the sharpest version of my sense of observation and inquiry.  I will spare you, my dear friends, the details, which it is likely, you know quite well. All details but one. It caught my imagination as I was heading towards the exit of the shop. We had stocked almost all the pieces we went to acquire, except for one which had to be paid for at the cashiers, and recuperated after that. We received a slip of paper to give to the person in charge, who recorded it on a computer. And plop, on the computer screen split into 3 colours, red-for ordering, blue – for “in process” and green – for delivery, I could follow the five minutes procedure. I knew Ikea was the epithom of labour division, but somehow, this whole operation felt wrong. Why is there a need to split a gesture in its modular components, as if it were one of the furniture pieces the store itself sells? What could be the sense and consequence of that? Of time exploded into the tiny atoms of its passing.

Later that day, in a twist of coincidence, I heard another IKEA story, from another country. A couch acquired from the store promptly returned to it, simply because those in charge of delivery did not want to make the effort to put it through the door of the residence where it was meant to be. It required a little bending of practical sense, which, seemingly, was not on the menu for the carriers. IKEA accepted the return of the couch, and its refund, saying that it outsourced its delivery service, which practically, could not care less about whether the products were actually delivered, or not. Such an attitude flying in the face of everything we consider normal commercial logic, is quite frankly, staggering. My mind flew instantly to Karl Marx and his theory of alienation. He was clever enough to predict that the endless division and fragmentation of labour would provoke in the long run, the spiritual and physical alienation of labourers, which thusly, could be easier to control. He did not insist, however, on the effects this would have in the very long run: alienation stops serving the interests of capitalism and, inadvertently, turns on it. Not because it plans to, not because it can, but rather because the shortsightedness of its condition only allows it a very limited scope of action and little or no perspective. Without a semblance of sense and identification with the aim of the operation individuals participate in, individual work becomes fragmented gestures, and fragmented gestures eventually become a series of disconnected, senseless actions, with, paradoxically, all encompassing effects: the implosion of the global articulation through the bankruptcy of individual pieces. 

Much the same happens in politics. Fragmentation causes a vacuum of responsibility and in the long run, a vacuum of autonomy. Without a certain degree of autonomy of its members, the system stops being able to adapt to changes and crumbles.  He might not have insisted on it in the very long run, but Marx did quote Ferguson, a master of Adam Smith, referring to the increasing fragmentation and specialisation of work: we make a nation of healots and have no free citizens. The problem is, most intellectuals seem to think that the loss of freedom is the end of the story. It takes poets and writers to show that is just the beginning. Of a brave new world…


Tales of the world episode 49 – De la liberté et de son prix

Dans cet épisode, une histoire se raconte à propos de dette et de liberté. En compagnie du Lullaby de Johannes Brahms et d’une recénte couverture de The Economist…