Tales of the world episode 44 – On the contours of our future humanity

We live in a time when all the epochs blend: it’s the axial age of global social and political transformations, it is the middle ages, with their fragmentarium of beliefs in wonders and aberrations, the Renaissance of humanist tendencies, and the industrial age, all at once. A time of abject material and spiritual poverty and luxuriant growth.

In no age have differences lived closer to each other and never has the violence of making them disappear been exercised with more intensity. Some analysts show this to be done in the name of harmony, coherence and seeming logic. Take for example Alexandra Ourousoff and her brilliant book, Wall Street at War. It is an anthropologist’s analysis of the encounter between big business managers and the analysts employed by credit rating agencies, which in fact, is a conflict between two kinds of logic: one, in line with traditional capitalism, which says that in order to have profits, it is necessary to take risks, and the other one, in line with sanitized but, paradoxically, ruthless, capitalism, which holds that risks can be fully controlled, unpredictability equals loss, and profits are about sticking to carefully planned strategies. 

The most interesting point made by this book is that the arrogance stemming from this encounter lies in the fact that each side, – although, in truth, it seems to be more often the analysts, and more seldom the managers – believes to be the holder of the right reading and vision of things, to the point of invalidating the other’s. The end result is one hiding away from the other, the mangers tricking the analysts into believing they respect them, at the same time getting entangled in a web of lies and practices meant to keep appearances, which eventually lead to collapse and crisis.  For more juicy details, read the book. For my part, what I find telling is the apparent divergence between social and political developments – throughout the world – and the homogenizing and standardizing drives which are still being forcefully pushed worldwide by big business and financial institutions, as illustrated by this book and by the news.  As people are gradually starting to react and organise themselves against abuses, as protests testify to an explosion of diversity and willingness to take charge of our own lives, many governments yield even further to capitalist drives: for an example, there are talks about a Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership between Europe and the US which would eventually let big corporations overrule national laws and interests, as well as mechanisms to protect citizens, while servicing their profits. This is already happening in many parts of the world, do we need to institutionalize instead of resisting it?

Let us not be fooled, however: the battle is not between capitalists and the antis, between the rich and the poor. The battle is for gaining the power to define people’s lives. In these times of crisis, when, on the one hand, the sense of words and concepts is destabilised, and on the other, we have not yet new definitions and understandings found, the victor will be the one who most convincingly supplies their reading of the world to a majority of people. It is, therefore, up to us to explore, if we wish to define ourselves as homogeneous, contradiction-free and profit-yielding robots or incongruent, multi-dimensional and vibrant human beings.

Tales of the world episode 42 – “Life between inverted commas”

A peculiar feature of BBC news draws attention because of the use of numerous quotation marks in its titles, prompting the question: “do we live life between inverted commas?”

After intense research, including the reading of a book on the practice, Why do we quote, by Ruth Finnegan, here is what Tales of the world has surmised:

Inverted commas have a long and quite surprising history: from marginal notes in ancient Greek and Roman texts, meant to attract attention to parts within a text, the diplés, the original quotation marks composed of two oblique lines meeting in the shape of an arrow came a long way to our days.

Their role changed with the appearance of printing and the evolution of authorship ant its intellectual property rights. During the Renaissance, up to the century 19th, quotation marks were used in literary works on and off, as authors liked to borrow and build upon each other, with no ill intentions. In a way, their gesture reminded of the fact that texts used in the olden times to be voiced aloud, recited or proclaimed, and not silently read. One does not stop in the middle of fiery speech to say, oh, and now, I am going to cite Chaucer, father of English literature, lest they want to miss their mark and finish with a whimper what started with a bang.

But all this change and transformation sends us straight to the heart of the matter: voice. Voice of an author, of the one who uses his words, in the particular case of this story, of the journalists and newsreels that take words and phrases in between quote marks to communicate…what exactly?  Here I am going to do a bit of my own quoting, from author Ruth Finnegan who wrote an entire book on the history of this practice:Quoting is used for originality or routine; for challenging authority or for lauding it; to control or to rebel; for excluding or including; for passive memorising or for brilliant extemporisation and creatively applied insight. As an act of speech quoting can achieve many things, from affirming or subverting or manipulating tradition to uplifting in sermon or imposing rigours on the young. Others’ words and voices can be called on to convey irony or humour, to situate writer, speaker and character in narrative, to carry the voice of the divine, to bond within a group or to distance from it”.Which of these happen when newsreels use their quote marks to report on current affairs, big and small, nowadays? When they title “Super rich looking for bling bling”, where Looking for bling bling is in between quotation marks and in an article on Lampedusa’s latest tragic delivery of migrants: “It’s horrific, like a cemetery, they are still bringing them out,” all of it between inverted commas. Are we supposed to smirk at the first one and get serious, maybe weep, at the second one? I feel like weeping about both. The choice is, of course, ours, because, from the newscaster’s point of view it’s all, neutrally and objectively quoted … reality.

As we continue to make use of citation marks sometimes to signify what’s real and sometimes to question it, how will we know when our journey down the rabbit whole is done?

With music from Leroy Anderson



Tales of the world episode 36 – Of (political) ideas, their history and their uses

As any self-respecting chronicle, Tales of the world is taking a break during July and August during which it will explore new sources of inspiration.

And so, it invites you to meditate on the uses of ideas in politics and on their history. To do so, a rather unsettling musical background, just as the times we are living.

Rabih Abou-Khalil – Arabian Waltz

P.S. Do not miss the concluding podcast in French, coming up soon!!!!


Tales of the world episode 32 – Errare humanum est, perseverare diabolicum

When a coding error in an oft-quoted economic paper supporting austerity turns out to be more of a thinking habit than a random slip of research, it is time to reflect on a latin proverb taken right out of my secondary school classes: errare humanum est, perseverare diabolicum…et tertium non datur.

Find out what it means by listening to the podcast, in the company of

Boris Vian’s La complainte du progrès.

and enjoy yet another anglo-french immersion experience,



Tales of the world episode 30 – Carnival and tragedy – international affairs in the 21st century

History repeats itself first as tragedy, then as farce, said Marx in his 18th of Brumaire of Louis Napoleon.

With contradictions and paradoxes as the daily lot of countries and relations between them, carnival and tragedy are frequently encountered in international affairs.

Tales of the World invites you to a series of podcasts exploring the different images and situations they give rise to.

Enjoy, Ruxandra