Hi, I’m Rudiger Meyer and this is my monthly newsletter covering what I’ve been up to and what’s been catching my attention.
The war in Ukraine is what’s been filling my attention these past weeks. I’ve had a difficult time keeping some space open for anything else. It’s always there in the background. That’s also my own doing – I’ve been very plugged in to the stream of news via The Guardian, The New York Times, Danmarks Radio. And of course Twitter, my fifteen minute daily limit thrown to the wind… Some have remarked on how the public response to this war is partly to do with it being so directly mediated through platforms like Twitter. All the gruesome details, almost in real time. The shock of the brutality and extent of the destruction brought home. Not someone else’s conflict far way, but suddenly something very close to home, with global implications.
For some reason I’ve felt very compelled to keep looking. To ‘bear witness’ in some way. Realising of course that I have no direct part in it. Other than giving money to help organisations, there’s not much that I can do. The feeling that someone is being beaten up in front of you and there’s nothing that you can do to stop it. The top decisions regarding it all aren’t mine to make.
Alongside the wonderfully rapid unity of the European/Global response, I’ve been shocked by South Africa’s – first abstaining from the UN vote, and then with president Cyril Ramaphosa placing the blame on NATO for provoking Putin.
The war could have been avoided if NATO had heeded the warnings from among its own leaders and officials over the years that its eastward expansion would lead to greater instability in the region.
It is important to understand and articulate the causes of the conflict, and advocate for peace building measures, we cannot condone the use of force or violation of international law.
Sounds like China.
As with domestic violence, placing the blame on the one being beaten for the ‘provocation’.
I can understand it all to some extent given the aid that the Soviet Union provided the ANC back in the apartheid days of the struggle. And learning that Russia provides South Africa with over 30% of its wheat (with Ukraine providing a further 5%)! Nevertheless…
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The New York Times has published another of their wonderful interactive features: A Poem (and a Painting) About the Suffering That Hides in Plain Sight – this time around W.H Auden’s poem Musée des Beaux Arts which centers around Pieter Bruegel the Elder’s “Landscape With the Fall of Icarus”.
“But for him it was not an important failure” — this, I think, is the crux of the poem; disaster’s in the eye of the beholder, and if the eye does not behold, it’s not disaster at all.
The New York Times also published An Urgent Mission for Literary Translators: Bringing Ukrainian Voices to the West. Via Craig Mod pointing to an interview on the Japan Time’s Deep Dive podcast, I came across the following episode with Noah Sneider covering Japan’s perspective on the war in Ukraine, and through that discovered Noah’s War in Translation project, basically a Twitter account that “aims to amplify the voices of Ukrainians, Russians and others affected by Putin’s war against Ukraine, by translating texts & clips into English”.
Lene Henningsen had already embarked on some translations of the Ukrainian poets Anna Akhmatova and Taras Shevchenko a little over a decade ago. She shared some of the results of that project in last month’s Poetisk Podcast newsletter (in Danish).
( I read somewhere recently that translation might be considered the amongst the most important work that can be undertaken for the benefit of mankind… )
Translations of another kind have been undertaken by Ukrainian born former race car driver (with a career in Japan) Igor Sushko. He’s been publishing long tweet threads of his translations of the #WindofChange #FSBletters from inside the Russian Federal Security Service (FSB) leaked to Vladimir Osechkin, a human rights activist and FSB whistleblower now living in France.
There are two critical constants relayed in #FSBletters from #WindofChange to the West:
- Putin is convinced the West won’t respond militarily. So he will do anything he wants militarily.
- Nuclear sabre-rattling is just that - Kremlin will not start/respond with nuclear war
So, interpret all of Putin’s actions through the prism of 1) above. Then everything he is doing makes complete sense. He’s achieved this in part because he is holding the West hostage & frozen by fear from 2) above.
The group is now taking dramatic steps to try to get the West to listen to the #FSBletters, which describe in detail Kremlin’s plan & assumptions. West must act.
I’m not sure what to make of it all. But there’s definitely a feeling of needing to make sense of the sitation, to the extent that one can. On that track I’ve found Kamil Galeev’s extensive tweet threads around Russia’s ‘historical sociology’ particularly useful. He also points to some possible ways out that don’t involve firing missiles at each other.
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Being able to hold onto some sense of the poetic takes on a different character in the face of so much destruction, so much focus on metal and explosives. Here’s John Sweeney (who’s been tweeting a daily Kyiv video diary, including when the members of the Kyiv symphony gave an open air concert in Kyiv’s Maidan Square) reciting Seamus Heaney’s Doubletake from somewhere in Kyiv under bombardment.
There’s something a little weird about news getting blurred with art and entertainment when its gets too polished. I was thinking of this when listening to the the Battle for Kyiv episode of the New York Times extremely well-produced podcast The Daily – almost like a piece of sound-art. How our experience of sound and music is being subtly changed through experiencing it in these contexts.
Another episode of The Daily covered the requirement that all Ukrainian men enlist to fight in the Territorial Defence Forces. Telling for example how one individual, working in I.T, never having killed an animal, couldn’t imagine killing another human being, but joining nevertheless – not being able to face not doing anything to defend his country.
I — from the start, I told you that it is uneasy to comprehend for myself. I don’t — obviously, I never killed a man or an animal, even, for this matters. I don’t know how I’m going to feel. I pretty much believe that if I should to do it, I will have some heavy psychological circumstances after that. But what other choice do I have?
A few days later they interview another computer programmer in a similar situation after his first few days of service and after having been involved in a skirmish:
It was not emotion, I think. It was something from inside. It was like something — animal stuff. I haven’t feel anything like that before.
Even from afar there’s something of those base emotions that I recognise in myself, and can only imagine what it’s like in a combat situation. I wish for humanity that we could be a little closer to transcending those animal instincts. At the same time respect for the defending they’ve been doing.
Thinking of myself as essentially pacifist, the question of defence has been on my mind – grappling with the extent to which one needs to embrace actively defending oneself when faced with violence. The question of whether the strategy of non-escalation only makes the situation worse, delaying the unavoidable confrontation.
This is how you beat Putin. https://twitter.com/grimcultzero/status/1500511083471249409
And unarmed resistance truly works. Maybe it needed cellphones to be fully “weaponized”. These regular people, grandmothers, uncles, teenagers confronting fully armed soldiers, tanks, majors holding unsecured grenades are so much stronger than the remote cowards bombing civilians
From all the horrible and inspiring imagery I have seen, the unarmed resistance was by far the most powerful and I am thinking that I have been mislead to believe that unarmed and armed resistance against an aggressor are mutually exclusive or even contradictory.
Unfortunately, peaceful resistance doesn’t seem possible without the armed resistance giving them time to form. I think showing armed resistance is needed, too to get the message across to the enemy that they are not welcome and that they are meeting decisive resistance.
— Oliver Reichenstein @reichenstein
I’ve been asked several times on shows “Should we put US/NATO pilots into possible combat with Russians?” My reply is, please finish the sentence. “… in order to stop the slaughter of innocents on the ground in Ukraine?” This isn’t an academic exercise. —Garry Kasparov @Kasparov63
I vaguely remember reading a passage from the Bhagavad Gita many years ago, about the general on the battlefield wanting to avoid the death and destruction that’s ahead of him, but being told that he now stands on that battlefield and has to go through with it. Should it have been avoided there were many steps before it that should have been changed. Or something like that…
A nice change from the Twitter threads and newspaper reports has been the War Diary of Yevgenia Belorusets. A wonderfully human perspective on it all.
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And on the topic of managing predatory actions, I was very dismayed to learn that my beloved Bandcamp was bought – by Epic of all companies! Cristian Vogel shared a link to the following: Dude, you broke the Future!.
What history is good for is enabling us to spot recurring patterns that repeat across time scales and outside our personal experience.
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In between all the war stuff I’ve been making some progress on Atomar, a collection of 40 poems by Lene Henningsen that we’re planning to release in podcast form. Originally the idea was to perhaps release them as 40 episodes over 40 weeks, but now I’m wondering if it might be better to group them into four larger sections.
We had the good fortune of the well-known Danish actors Marina Bouras and Jens Albinus agreeing to record the texts for us. And they’ve done a wonderful job. After editing and getting the recordings into shape there’s around 50 minutes of voice material that I’m now figuring out exactly how to present. Since the readings of the poems are so strong within themselves, there’s far less to do than I’d originally anticipated. It’s looking like it’s going to be some fairly straightforward piano music, both as interludes and accompanying/simultaneously with some of the readings. Field recordings as a background for some of the poems, and some of them simply presented on their own. So quite straightforward in a way. No overly complex sound-design. Somewhat along the lines of my recent Battiato inspirations, I guess.
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Peter Conradin Zumthor, the percussionist the Felix Profos worked with to create Grund, which I linked to in the newsletter last year, sent me a link to Things Are Going Down, a 46′ piece for piano player and piano tuner created in collaboration with René Waldhauser. “Tuning down a piano while a drummer is playing it”, as they describe it. Anselm Cybinski’s liner notes can be found here.
All the best