Ποιειν Και Πραττειν - create and do

Some thoughts by Hatto Fischer



What strikes me most about water is that it can  be 'talkative'!

Here an unusual question exists, namely if water (again singular) can talk to itself? Water to water?

Since liquid elements have it in them, they are similar to what Katerina's poem suggests: both static and at the same time a flow of things. Interestingly enough she formulates it as if a paradox due to being at one and the same time something absolute and therefore capable to determine things while still ongoing, changing forms of existences with man's reflections trailing as always behind these ongoing changes. Philosophically speaking, there is the difference between content and form with the latter only existing for us when we say river instead of lake or sea.

But how can we come to the more secretive aspects? Here I would allow usual as unusual associations set free when, for example, water talks differently at noon compared to other times, at night or during a sturm.

Silent water


the silver lining of the moon

shines along the shore

to bleach the stones

till they remain

where they are

for the moment

untouched by further waves

coming in and receding thereafter

to leave a calm moment waiting for the next sturm.

I grew up beside the Starnberg Lake located in the foothills of the Alps. Whenever waves went up the shores, they took with them the pebbles and when they receded they took these pebbles back into the depth of the sea. This constant running or rather tumbling up and down by the pebbles along the shore made a sound as if it would rain. That became a most powerful association when standing with the back to the water.

Yet in anticipation of the action on Rhodes, I would seek another kind of silence. It would be a silence due to an absence of a viable linkage between poetry and philosophy. But that would be like water without land and vice versa. I have great difficulties, I must confess, of imagining a practical discourse being possible if this silence cannot be found before a lyrical protest would seek to cover it up (M. Foucault). But maybe the wetlands promise to be such locations where a dialogue with silence can alter our understanding of nature, language and human relationships. It would give still further meaning to them aside from being already like an oasis capable of sustaining life.

In other words, we will have to come to terms with this kind of silence and create a discourse which links the poetic with the philosophical level. That means the interpretation of being an artistic action shall be itself a tremendous task. It is, therefore, good that there is the poem by Katerina Anghelaki Rooke at the beginning as it retains a powerful metaphorical description for sustainability, namely by naming the flow of things and ideas an "imperishable water". That is a great description of water but due to the paradox at the end I begin to miss the land, the footage, the place. The latter are needed in order to know where you can stand to listen to the water. That listening requires the silence nature knows when no other sounds can be heard but the wind brushing through the branches of the trees beside the river or lake.

I suppose stepping out of silence is like the voice of opposition which becomes audible once civil courage has been found as the case most recently in Tunesia and Egypt. This new courage to govern themselves is a sign of people who have found their own voice. Since governance would be similar to what reigns over water, stepping out of silence is like coming up for fresh air. It reflects the fact that people have been under water, in complete silence, for quite some time.

Of course 'talkative water' can also be associated as to what James Joyce describes in Anna Livea and how Kurt Kreiler performed it on the tracks of railway station no longer used as it had become a dead end when West Berlin was surrounded by a wall. Interestingly enough James Joyce relates this talkative element to the kind of gossip women practice when washing clothes in the river. The women want to find out how Anna Livea managed to have so many children. Insofar as the women compare that to a river being fed by many side tributes, it becomes apparent that they still need to go up the river to trace the main spring. From hear-say they believe this has not been found as of yet. It is a way to circumscribe the origin of things but also a way of understanding sexuality as entailing many side springs while still staying on a main course insofar as having children means also to continue going downwards like the river towards the sea.

Beautiful is the text by the curator Haroula Hadijnicolaou especially when she makes the epistemological clarification of the word 'nero' as something refreshing. Different meanings can be associated with that as well. For instance, water can be refreshing provided one does not mistake sea water for drinking water. Refreshing can be both the swim in the sea and the drinking of clean, fresh water but that difference counts when the word 'water' is used in reference to the Aegean island of Rhodes. It shall be important for making experience based on realizing differences. It began ever since man started to realize the difference between drinkable and non drinkable water.

To that can be added ancient narratives for what did Odyssey experience when he nearly drowned in the sea and the salt dried out his lips to the point of exhaustion?

As to practical wisdom when it comes to safeguard drinking water, for this purpose people would put out buckets and all kinds of other containers to catch the rain water in the knowledge that it is drinkable. For instance, people construct on the island of Spetses houses with tile roofs and in such a way that they can collect rain water from the roof in a reservoir. Often the latter is located underneath the kitchen in order to keep the water cool and fresh during the hot summer months.

Yet with Boudewijn Payens coming to Rhodes, he may remind us that after the nuclear accident in Tschernobly rain was artificially induced to bring down the radiation. That meant this rain water was no longer drinkable water, but instead heavily contaminated water. In Berlin we created in response to this 'invisible' threat observatories where people could go to have their food, clothes and other belongings be measured as to the amount of radiation they would contain and therefore best to be kept outside of the house. For the most terrible thing Boudewijn Payens told us in Gent is that radiation cannot be detected by the sense of smelling, tasting, hearing, touching or seeing but only one sense the danger by a different knowledge. This 'invisible knowledge' is a puzzling configuration which has transformed our planet into at times a dangerous prison. When people scream in silence, it is because they know there is no escape and only certain death awaits them if they cannot counter this invisible danger.

By extension this could lead anthropologically and ethnologically to water burials giving back life to where it apparently came from. In some burials before the corpse is put out on a boat or raft it is set aflame. Life devoured by the flames means death is like awaiting till they are extinguished by the water. Life made possible by fire ends in this element for fire cannot survive once drowned by water. It is a strange way to end and more so a strange thing to remind oneself that not all elements go together. And when the water cannot extinguish fire because it has been lost over time, then this happens whenever man has lost control of himself and wasted this scarce and essential resource. Important is to note as well this ancient wisdom for water as the determining burial grounds means to end the distinction between the surface of things and the depths which no one can phantom. Once a stone is thrown into the water, then the stone will sink deeper and deeper till darkness shall surround it. It foretells down that there is no more life to tell man what is still possible to sustain life.

Jules Verne ventured into the earth and did not come out at the other end. There are many stories by those who love to go into caves. I knew one such philosopher in Heidelberg, his name is Thomas Kesselring, who compared reading a philosophical text to these cave excursions. He said that you have to remember the way you entered in order to find a way out again. That metaphor does not hold for the water.

Indeed there is a disturbing aspect in the poem by Katerina Anghelaki Rooke. For the paradox in the end reminds about change even though there is something unchanging. Goethe once wrote a poem to express his pan-romantic feeling when wishing to express his reverance of nature and therefore describes it as something not in need to be changed to stay beautiful and even talkative:

the nightingale was gone

spring time entices it to return

nothing new the nightingale has learned

sings still the same old but beautiful songs

If sustainability is equated to this notion of nothing has changed in a sea of change then this inherent conservative root is like an electrical shock administered to anyone attempting to read or more precisely to phantom nature, including the nature of man. In terms of taste such unchanging element can become as revulsive as the food which does not stay in the stomach but makes for a rapid exit however in the wrong direction. To vomit is also a kind of surprise that something did not go down well but which was not noticed at the time when eating and drinking. Only through the reaction of the body and more specifically by the stomach something which did not go down well becomes noticable.

Thus we may discuss development as a paradox between what should change in order not to change our relationship to what we assume to be nature, namely the same over centuries. The question is if this is a true perception of nature and the environment we live in? I would furthermore follow the waterways to seek a link between water and land. The Danish philosopher Oleg Koefoed speaks, for instance, about the need of people to reconnect with the sea. In the past they had this connection but in today's world they have lost that. It is one of the losses of industrialisation and has not been recovered as of yet in post industrial times.

Such thoughts may provoke important changes in how we view strategies of development. By beginning to think as well how the local people on Rhodes can become involved in our action, so that they can give us materials for the performance to be enacted out in the end, we might overcome some initial disadvantages of not having grown up on that island. It will require a special way of communication amongst ourselves in order to listen to these other, indeed local voices. This is of great importance as it will affect the overall flow of ideas when we wish to relate to 'water' as wetlands on Rhodes.

One more thing I would like to add to this reflection as to the difference between symbolic and analytical expressions related to water. We can take as departure point the findings by the psychologist Piaget who describes the difference between childhood and maturity. While a child uses the word only in a symbolic way when saying simply 'water' to indicate it is thirsty, adults know water must be sought and preserved for water is not self understood when it comes to fulfill that basic need but needs rain, fertile earth, underground reservoirs etc. before we can drink the water from the tap. Here then we touch upon achievements of civilisations in the past and how they disappeared once the water receded. Kapucinsky, the Polish journalist, describes one of these civilizations which had sprung up besides a huge river but which over time was tapped by so many that it dried up. There was no more water going into the sea and thus the entire civilization disappeared.

I suppose all this can lend some air of drama to the performance. It may mean also the need to confront apocalyptical phrophecies from which man has to emanicipate himself, if life is to continue. It does when the talkative water is listened to and the brook can still run freely past the house and through all kinds of curvatures in the earth, past roots and rocks of different flavors and which environmentalists call the niches of diversity.

Hatto Fischer


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