Saturday, July 26, 2008

Some Thoughts on Privacy 2

It may be contended that while mostly every government has laws to protect an individual's privacy they also need to have information about their citizens and what they do and even what they think so that the country can run properly.  After all we have to fill in tax forms and "tell the truth" in as far as possible about our financial status.  Also a lot of us fill in surveys and indeed a lot of people are paid to do surveys to find out what people think and feel.  While privacy is a value there are also limits to it.  I remember when two former pupils contracted TB in our school a number of years ago the Community Health Doctor came in with a team of nurses and "took control" of the school to a certain extent.  Our plight even made the papers.  Again, while one paper sensationalized the whole thing, one can see that the public had a right to know as the public health is at stake.  There are always limits to every right.

Types of Privacy:

(a) Physical - We all erect screens, walls and such like between one another to protect our privacy.  Most families attempt to give each of their children when they enter their adolescent years their own room.  As the poet said about physical boundaries - I think it was Robert Frost - "Good walls make good neighbours."  Likewise there has always been the fear of intruders into one's property.  We all remember the signs from our youth: "trespassers will be prosecuted."  Unfortunately some trespassers have been shot dead as we have seen in the news over the past few years. Also, we wear towels over us when we are changing in public pools while there is no problem with the accepted public nakedness of say a Spenser Tunick Installation as we witnessed here in Cork and Dublin in June. The context indeed does condition the notion of privacy.

(b) Informational Privacy

In these days when we are simply surrounded by masses and masses of information we can become so easily swamped and confused.  Some people even pay people to filter this information for them.  The normal means of communication like the print media and the broadcast media do this for us to a large extent.  Then, those of us who are Internet savvy can access any information we want from cyberspace.  No one does the censorship for us.  It's up to ourselves to access any information we like.  However, here's where the rub is - is what we are reading the whole truth, half the truth, a fraction of the truth or even total lies?  Added to this there is the phenomenon or rather phenomena of social network sites like Bebo, Myspace and Facebook to name the more common ones.   Most adults who are on these sites are very selective as to the personal information they put up on their profile pages as they have learned certain boundaries between privacy and information they feel comfortable with having "out there" for all to access or see.  However, teenagers and youngsters are not as worldly-wise or savvy.  They often reveal things about themselves and their friends which could be used against them by others who resent either their success or who harbour petty grudges against them. 

Likewise, we have modern problems such as identity theft where ruthless people can rob personal information about people and use it to their advantage.  About a year ago my Hotmail account was literally stolen from under my eyes when I was sent a bogus but very authentic looking e-mail from the people at MSN and needless to say I rather stupidly entered my password to find that my account password was changed and I could no longer access this account.  Luckily enough I have two or three other e-mail accounts with most of my addresses.  Nevertheless it caused great inconvenience.  Indeed, my brother informs me that some employers now do an Internet search on their prospective candidates. How widespread this practice is I just do not know.  I could well imagine young graduates sweating about some more thoughtless things they might have up on their profile pages.  Obviously, all of these social network sites have options to make one's profile page private or for friend's eyes only.  However, there is much information available on all of us in any country in the world.  I can readily see how a more fearful type of person might feel the Big Brother alla George Orwell is watching us!  However, as one who has four blogs on the go plus a profile page on Facebook for a number of years I've long gotten over any paranoia in this respect.  As I have said in my previous post the demarcation lines of privacy are quite legitimately set by the person himself or herself - according to how comfortable they are with themselves and in themselves.  Some people are more open than others - some people are more private than others.  In a democratic society it's important that we defend people's rights to be and to feel different.

Anyway, my eye way captured yesterday by reading an interesting article in The Irish Times Business This Week section on the founder of Facebook Mark Zuckerberg.  Like Bill Gates the young  Zuckerberg is a dropout from Harvard .  Undoubtedly social networking sites are allowing us to re-define privacy in many ways today.  Here is what this young twenty four year old billionaire (at a conservative estimate he's worth 1.5 billion dollars: Source; another source gives his personal fortune at $3 billion Source 2 ) had to say at his company's annual conference recently:

"I want to be able to build a product that allows you to be able to see a person and feel their presence, to have people have more open connections by helping them to share more." (ITBTW page 7)

Mark Zuckerberg has obviously hit on the right ingredients.  Set up in 2004, when Mark was only 20, as a socialising site for students at Harvard, Facebook has grown to some 90 million members (June 2008) from from 24 million just over a year ago.  Again I'm taking these figures from the Reuters article in the ITBTW.  Look at the above quotation from Zuckerberg.  Look at the words used:  "see", "feel" a person's "presence," "more open connections" and "share more."  These are all user-friendly, soft and cosy words that invite a person into a new intimacy as it were.  As a would-be psychotherapist, psychologist and teacher I'm all for the promotion of intimacy and I commend this young man for his entrepreneurial instincts and vision.  I'd drop out of Harvard, too, if I came up with such a brilliant idea and such a marvellous way of presenting it to the whole world.

However, one sees immediately from the quoted article that information shared on Facebook will be shared with other sites.  We read, in the same article, that

Facebook Connect will transform the social network from a private site where activity occurs entirely within a "walled garden" to a web-wide phenomenon where software makers, with user's permission, can tap member's data for use on their sites.  (Ibid.,  page 7)

However, not being paranoid, and having my own clearly wide demarcation as to what I regard my privacy as being, I am not too worried.  In the above quotation, I've highlighted the important words, "with the user's permission" and this is important for me.  I am very happy with this caveat.

Part of Facebook's popularity is that it has become an easy way to find lost friends.  See this link: Source 2

However, Mark Zuckerberg does not appear to be squeaky clean, mind you.  For a young man who aims at getting the world to share more, be open, friendly and cuddly presences to one another, he has a few skeletons in the cupboard.  "Who hasn't?" I hear you ask.  "You're dead right, " I reply.  Nothing in this life is clear cut, and it certainly never is in the business world.  Mark Zuckerberg seems to wish to protect his own privacy beyond the limits that he seems to suggest appropriate for his own users of his technology. Here is the beginning of a recent article from the New York Times.  It makes interesting reading:

Social networking Web sites can seem dedicated to the idea that nobody’s personal life is worth keeping private, but when it comes to Mark Zuckerberg — the founder of Facebook, one of the largest networks — Facebook disagrees. Facebook tried last week to force the magazine 02138 to remove some unflattering documents about Mr. Zuckerberg from its Web site. But a federal judge turned down the company’s request for a court order to take down the material, according to the magazine’s lawyers.  (See this link for the rest of the article - Source 3!)

There are also suggestions, and I hasten to add suggestions, that Zuckerberg may have stolen ideas from fellow students.  What's new?  Indeed, business cut and thrust, slinging mud and dirty tricks were always par for the course in High Finance and even Low Finance. Stealing ideas was always a source of contention at universities even in my day, especially in the realms of business, sciences and technologies. We Arts graduates called it plagiarism

Above I have uploaded a public domain picture of Mark Zuckerberg, the Toddler CEO, founder of Facebook and billionaire entrepreneur at only 24.

Some Thoughts on Privacy 1

I've got to say that I'm in total agreement with the ruling of the judge in the recent case taken by Max Mosley, the Motor Racing Chief, against the press (in this case the tabloid The News of The World) for invading his privacy.  Whatever consenting adults get up to in private, provided they are doing no physical or mental harm to another, is absolutely no one's business.  To Mr Mosley's credit, he did not deny taking part in the sex session with five prostitutes, but he said his privacy was violated by The News of the World's reporting of it.  I remember our own esteemed historian and now long retired Irish politician the venerable Conor Cruise O' Brien pointing out what being a liberal in any modern democracy means:  "I may not agree with you or with what you do, but I strongly defend your right to have these beliefs."  Again the caveat is, of course, provided no harm is being done to anyone.  Obviously, this is the case with Mr. Mosley.  Max's claim to fame is, of course, that he is son of the famous fascist and Nazi sympathizer Oswald Mosley. The News of The World apparently mentioned that the act engaged in showed "true depravity" involving Nazi-style role playing.  Well, quite obviously the reporters felt that Mr Mosley was fair game because he after all "guilty by association.  What else could one expect from the son of a Nazi!" No true liberal or democrat could stand by such a gross perversion of justice.  He admitted to the court that he liked to indulge his sado-masochistic fetish which involved getting naked ladies to whip him.  Whatever turns Mr Mosley on is indeed his business.  The rest of us should indeed care less as to his sexual proclivities and peccadilloes. As the New Testament reports Jesus as saying: "Let him who is without sin cast the first stone!"

According to the Irish Times, the judge in the case lost no opportunity to criticise and berate the tabloid press.  No wonder one often hears the epithet "gutter" being used in tandem with tabloid.  This is how the article, originally from Reuters, finishes in The Irish Times and I think it is a worthy conclusion which is worth reflecting on in any civilized society:

In his ruling, Judge Eady said that the law in breach of privacy was concerned to protect such matters as personal dignity, autonomy and integrity - rather than injury to reputation as in libel.

He said: “One should be careful not to dismiss matters going counter to personal dignity because a particular sexual activity or inclination itself may seem undignified.

“After all, sexual activity is rarely dignified.”  See this link: Mosley wins Case

There were two other issues regarding privacy which came to my notice these past few days.  The first is the question of how we define privacy in a counselling context.  This morning I attended an interview for a counselling-psychotherapy course - at the end of which one is fully qualified as a therapist.  As is the norm with such interviews in the therapeutic area there was the usual group sharing during which candidates were called out one by one for interview with two psychotherapists.  Because I and indeed the other candidates were used to such group activities and indeed group therapy we began to share at a deep level.  A lot of private material was exchanged.  Boundaries to privacy in such a therapeutic group are indeed very flexible.  A lot of painful stuff is revealed and listened to.  All of us would know that what we learn in such groups is for our ears only - just like at an AA meeting.

Everyone is entitled to their privacy.  Period.  No one's privacy can be infringed.  It's one of the more sacred values of our so-called civilized society.  In counselling and psychotherapy consequently confidentiality which is essentially the protection of a person's privacy is one of the ultimate values.  No counsellor or psychotherapist will discuss private material about clients in public.  It is also obvious that practically all counsellors or psychotherapists will not be moving in the same social circles as their clients anyway.  Confidentiality is one of the central planks of counselling or psychotherapy. The only cases where confidentiality can be breached are where there is a likelihood of harm to the patient or client or to another.

What is Privacy?

The boundaries and content of what is considered private differ among cultures and individuals, but share basic common themes.  Even within a particular culture some of us are less private than others.  For instance, I myself tend to be less private than many.  I am honest and open about my medical complaints, e.g., hypertension, high cholesterol and what was once a taboo namely endogenous unipolar depression.  I see no reason to hide these facts from the people with whom I work.  It makes for a healthier workplace anyway.  I am also quite open about my feelings about things.  Perhaps, I express my feelings too much.  Still, I don't think any human being can overdo on the feeling side unless you're what's called a "dumper" who likes to dump all your "shit" onto others.  The poor individual who is dumped upon is called a "skip" in common parlance in counselling circles. Obviously such people are to be avoided like the plague.

Privacy means different things in different cultures and even within subcultures within societies.  For instance the hippie subculture had/has more open attitudes to sex, to numbers of partners and to drugs than would say church-goers in that society.  Privacy for them would not be interpreted in such rigid and delimiting ways as say with a prayer group in the local church.  Likewise attitudes to privacy would differ between naturists who simply like being naked together on certain beaches and say a fundamentalist or evangelical church outing to a public beach. 

Some people value their privacy so much that they just like being anonymous.  They shun any public recognition of their talents even and just do not like to attract attention to themselves in any manner whatsoever.  I know quite a number of such individuals and I would never compromise their privacy because that is an invasion of their rights.  I certainly would not agree with their notion of anonymity but I strongly defend their rights to their beliefs.

Another thing that can be mentioned here is that privacy has a considerable link with the feeling of security and we all like to feel secure.  If we do not feel secure in ourselves well then any exposure of perceived weaknesses can be seen as a frightening attack on one's very self.  I think of a fellow teacher who has changed the number of his mobile a few times because he lives in fear of pupils or past-pupils finding out his number.  Privacy then has much to do with security.  Hence, as a psychologist and would-be therapist I would argue that the more secure we become in ourselves the less "private" we need to be. 

I have mentioned above how privacy and anonymity are also closely linked.  These two concepts can also be closely linked with that most fundamental of human values namely freedom.  As free human beings we can go anywhere we wish - within limits of course.  We can go "down town" or indeed anywhere in the world  and remain anonymous.  One might argue that this is a good illustration of human freedom.  However, the plight of so-called famous people delimits their freedom fundamentally in this respect.   Think for a moment about the unfortunate plight of the late Princess Diana, hounded everywhere by the press and by the paparazzi. How many times that poor creature's privacy was infringed or invaded must be huge indeed.  Her sad death was surely a consequence of a flight to preserve her privacy. Indeed, any individuals in the mass media or any politicians or any people whose jobs require them to be public figures have to pay a high price for their "fame" and that is the very price of their anonymity or privacy.  However, all who choose to have such a high public profile know this price.  Hence, those "lesser" mortals who choose not to go into these areas can enjoy their anonymity - the price they pay is that they will never be famous or "important" in the world's eyes.

Picture I took of a stome wall Doolin County Clare, June 2008. "Good walls make good neighbours." So said the poet Robert Frost. And wasn't he right?

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Review - The Speckled People

What are holidays, I ask you, without reading and writing, that very comfortable pair of bedfellows?  I have just returned from a week in Sicily - one of my most favourite destinations.  I holiday very few other places apart from the "Bel Paese" because I love its weather, its food and above all its wonderful people.  I also love its language which I get to practise when I travel there.  Anyway, over the course of three or so days I read Hugo Hamilton's wonderful memoir The Speckled People under the shade of the wonderful trees at Letojanni, a seaside resort just ten kilometres from Taormina


I have always loved reading autobiographies, biographies and memoirs because they captivate me personally, bring me into the world of the author, almost into their very head and heart.  I believe that such biographies are a marvellous way into understanding history, albeit a very biased one as it is told from the perspective of only one person.  Hence, it is far from objective and is, indeed, extremely imprecise history.  Nonetheless, it does give a certain perspective and that's all.  Oral history is not objective either, obviously - however, it does give another perspective on history, also very biased - but, in the end, all truths are coloured by the experiences of the subjects thereof.  If I wanted objective history I'd read an historian like Joseph Lee.  Obviously, a straight-forward biography say of De Valera would trace his life from birth to death in chronological order.  An equally straight-forward autobiography would do likewise while a memoir is rather like a short story insofar as it distills the very essence of the life of its author.  It presents us with a world view, with a philosophical take on life, with a distillation of meaning which the author has wrung from his interactions with all his surroundings.  It is rather like a snapshot or rather a sequence of snapshots or better still a short documentary film highlighting seminal events with the author's or director's understanding of the events related intertwined with the whole.  (If we sustain our metaphor we could say that biography and autobiography are more akin to novels as they tell a chronological story over a longer period of time.)  However, maybe I'm forcing these metaphors a bit, but I rather fancy the reader will get my meaning.

The Speckled People:

The Speckled People has been translated into many languages and has sold widely.  No wonder because it is brilliant and I shall outline why in this post.  However, before I start I want to draw the attention of readers to the titles in various languages as each translation brings a little extra meaning to it so that the readers of that particular language will make sense of the title. Gescheckte Menschen (Germany, 2004); Sang impur (France, 2004); Il cane che abbaiava alle onde (Italy, 2004); El perro que ladraba a las olas (Spain, 2005) - The first is a direct translation namely The Spotted or Checkered People while the French means Impure Blood and both the Italian and Spanish translations are beautiful renditions of the heart of the memoir namely: The Dog who Used Bark at The Waves.  Both the Spanish and Italian translators have really read their book and have made it their own.

A memoir is a well structured and well crafted form - a form shaped by the author to suit his or her own personality, his or her take on life, his or her pattern of meaning which they throw like a net over the chaos which often life is for us.  Or to use another metaphor a memoir is an individual map lovingly drawn by the author to trace their journey through life.   Angela's Ashes, a memoir which won the Pulitzer Prize for Biography or Autobiography, while gripping is far too sentimental and far too self-pityingly self-obsessed for me. It lacks the artist's touch or the touch of brilliance or the very light touch of the very soul of the author.  Hugo Hamilton's book has all this in abundance.  It is a brilliant artistic achievement.  As Nick Hornby puts it on the dust jacket: "The Speckled People is a terrific achievement, thoughtful and compelling, smart and original, beautifully written." 

What can I say about this wonderful memoir?  Firstly, it brought me on a roller coaster ride of emotions - from laughter to anger to pain to sadness to joy to pleasure to the sheer enthusiasm and energy of youth - and then I experienced the sheer physicality of youth, the pain of growing up, the dawning on the youngster that his dad and mam, and especially his dad, are far from perfect.  The young boy's encounters with his mam are mostly loving and life-enhancing while those with his father are more often than not disciplinary solely where the young lad meets his father's innate anger and frustration with life itself.  As the boy grows up he learns to fight against his father's will not physically but mentally, and consequently more powerfully.  However, there are a few redeeming encounters where the father admits defeat to the son and there is a beautifully rendered account of his visiting the Drachenfelz or mountain-top castle with his father where he and his mother had stayed shortly after they were married.  In a moment of truth and disarmed honesty the father says to his two sons: "He said it was not true that he had rescued my mother because it was the other way around.  If it wasn't for her he would have joined the priesthood like his brother Ted... Then my mother came to Ireland and rescued him from the priesthood."  (Op.cit., 216)

As I have said somewhere above if one could take one's first 15 years of life as is the case in this memoir and distill and re-distill many times over all one's experiences of that period one might come up with something akin to Hamilton's achievement.  However, I think not.  The author writes from the point of view of a little boy growing up - from his earliest years until he is about fifteen, I guess.  His style is a marvellous achievement indeed.  It is precise, succinct, crisp and direct.  It manages to put across a child's eye view of things and later an adolescent's eye view on the world.  This is a particularly wonderful feat to bring off.  I loved the sentence:  "When you're small you know nothing" which is repeated about five or six times I imagine (I did not count the number of times as I was so engrossed in my reading) and it acts as a wonderful chorus which works at first at a preconscious level and then after several times met more consciously.  However, this refrain is in itself a distillation of a child's take on the world.  It is both subjectively and indeed objectively true.  Adults after all have all the power in the world!

Indeed, the sentence quoted in the last paragraph opens this memoir and it is an explosive opening - it grabs our attention.  Chapter two opens with an equally short clipped sentence which reads:  "I know they don't want us here."  This also grabs our attention and is so clear that we feel the fear felt by a young boy who was an outsider where he was reared - somewhere around Sandycove and The Forty Foot bathing area.  Why was he an outsider?  Well, his mother was German and his father and Irish-speaking Irishman or dyed-in-the-wool Gaeilgóir who hated English and England and who banned the use of English from the house.  Hugo and his brother and two sisters were brought up in German and Irish and forbidden to speak English at home.  The local youths used to call the Lederhosen and Aran Sweater wearing children "Nazis" and used taunt and torment them.  Why?  Simply because they were different.  Their father did not allow them to mix with children who were English speakers to make matters worst.  Hence the title - they were different.  They were the "speckled people" or "na daoine breaca" in Irish.  Like all memoirs this book is the search by a young boy or indeed by the grown up Hamilton for his own identity.  If one has three languages and you're forced to speak two and to dismiss the third, I'd say anyone would be confused as to who one is.  As a search for identity by the young lad Hugo it is a tour de force.

The sentence opening chapter three is also loaded:  "My mother's name is Imgard and she was in a big film once with lots of war and killing and trains on fire." (Ibid.,  16)  This is also a masterfully succinct yet loaded sentence.  The young boy is trying to make sense of the snippets his mother tells them about her experience in war-torn Germany.  What makes this memoir masterly is that it is only gradually that we get information on the mother's experiences - they are fed to us in stages.  This has the effect of allowing the child's view of his mother to be partial and unique and authentic and to grow as it were as he grows in understanding.  The case is the same for the way our author reveals his father to us.  Hugo Hamilton's appreciation of how a child grows in understanding is superb to say the least.  He reveals himself as a wonderful child psychologist.  His mother's frightfully awful experiences had to be akin to a film from Hollywood where one could only see trains on fire and people being killed.

Rural Ireland in the early fifties and indeed later is wonderfully rendered.  I loved his account of his mother looking for lodgings in Ireland on a very wet night before she was married.  She ended up sleeping beside the landlady because the guest house was crowded out and the man of the house volunteered to sleep by the fireside.  This is a story obviously which his mother had told him.  I'll quote this wonderful piece in full:

My mother says you can't complain if you're a pilgrim escaping from Germany.  She says you have to offer things up.  For people who are less fortunate and for all the awful things that happened.  So she just got into the bed with the woman of the house.  She could hear the whole room breathing, until the woman started speaking in the dark.  She listened to the woman talking for a while, and then she began to talk as well, as if there were things that could only be said in the dark.  (Ibid., 23)

I also loved the sheer simplicity of this description of his father, again from a child's eye view of the world:

My father is different to other men. He has no moustache, but he has glasses and he has a limp, too.  He swings his briefcase and his leg goes down on one side as if the ground is soft under one foot.  It's the same as when you walk with one foot on and one foot off the pavement.  My mother kisses him and puts her arm around him.  he looks into the pram at Maria to see if she has her eyes open.  Franz tries to carry the briefcase and I try to walk like my father, but that's not allowed... (Ibid., 27)

His mother is forever telling stories.  The ones she could not tell she wrote up as a diary with her typewriter.  What wonderful therapy for herself and what a wonderfully healing way of rearing children - by telling stories.  See my many entries on stories.  Here's a wonderfully beautiful sentence on the power of stories to captivate a child's mind: "I wanted to go down and tell him [his father] that my mother fixed Franz's nose with a story."

Again the opening sentence of chapter 5 is equally succinct and loaded:  "My father's name is Jack and he's in a song, a long ballad with lots of verses about leaving Ireland and emigrating."  In one sentence he has managed to give a wonderful pen picture of his father - a nationalist who loved song and story and the history of the Irish people.

I also feel this book would make a wonderful study for those who wish to rear their children in Irish. It is better by far to rear them bilingually or trilingually.  However, that's a topic for another post - perhaps over in my Irish blog.

The father has his secrets like his mother as Hugo discovers when he and his brother discover the picture of the sailor - his father's father who had died while serving in the British navy - hidden in the wardrobe.  This was something the father wished to forget or at least to blot out of his everyday world by hiding these memorabilia.

Gradually we are introduced both to the father's and mother's extended family.  Again stories here are centre stage.  They again are told skilfully from a child's eye view of the world. Against the background of both the Nazi holocaust and the Irish famine the young boy Hugo learns to grasp the rather heavy and sad history of both Germany and Ireland.  He also learns to stand up for himself because as he says:  "I am the boy who slapped the teacher in the face [his first day in school].  I'm the boy who's not afraid of anything, my mother says." (Ibid., 75)

For those of us with an interest in World War II we get wonderful little insights into that period of history with succinct sayings like: "Onkel Gerd said people thought Goebbels and Hitler had rabies because they were always foaming at the mouth." (Ibid., 79) 

We get his father's views on the Irish language throughout the book, on Irish and poverty (102); on too much drinking of alcohol in Ireland (102) and much else.  We read about his mother's rape many times by a seemingly upright Nazi business man for whom she worked as a girl.  If she were to complain she would be sent to a concentration camp.  

Once when little Hugo was sick from asthma and his mother was nursing him he remembers the following.  You will get a sense of the way the history of Germany during the Second World War is distilled and intertwined carefully and resourcefully in this memoir:

My mother says I'm a dreamer and it's true what they say about me at school.  I'm the boy who lives a million miles away in outer space.  She smiles at me with all her new teeth and says goodnight.  But she's the one who is dreaming and still hoping that some things didn't happen at all, because she stays in the room after she's switched off the light, just to stand at the window for a while before she goes down stairs again.  The light from the street outside makes the branches of the trees blow across her face.  It's very quiet and she doesn't say a word for a long time.

"Nobody can force you to smile," she says.

"What?" I ask.  But I know she's not even talking to me, only to herself, as if she's the last person left in the room.

"They can make you show your teeth, but what good is that?  Nobody can make you smile against your will."

It's hard to find out what she means sometimes, but I know that she's talking about the bad film in Germany when the houses and trains were on fire.  She's standing there with the black and white branches moving across her face and across the wall behind her, as if she's stuck on the screen, standing under the light waiting for somebody. (Ibid., 145-6)

All through the book we get a sense of Hugo's being an outsider, of having to establish an identity because he was so different from the other boys at school.  We also get a sense of his strength and that of his brother who were told not to fight back with their fists.  Rather, they were to fight back with the strength of their words.  This was no mean task.  In fact it was often a humiliating and bloody one for them.  However, he learned great strength of character from standing his ground, albeit in a pacifist way.  He tells us over and over again in different ways that his mother and father were not afraid to be different.  We feel instinctively that neither are Hugo and his siblings.  When Franz came home with blood on his shirt and face here is what his mother did: she brought Franz into the kitchen and began to clean up the blood on his face.  She got some chocolate out of the press to make things better.  She said it was good that we didn't fight back because we are not the fist peopleWe are the word people and one day we will win them over.  One day the silent negative will win them all over. (ibid., 223)

Ah yes here we have the power of the mighty word over the power of the sword or over the power of violence.  It is the very thesis of pacifism.  However, methinks it did not work against Hitler or Stalin or any of their ilk.  But it is a simple and pure truth even if Utopian.  Both Hugo's parents were romantic Utopians at heart.

Now, I'll finish with the story of the dog who used bark at the waves and explain why this is a wonderful rendering of the title of the book in Italian and Spanish because it gets to its very heart.  Hugo, when he grows into adolescence, begins to fight his father and to become very stubborn.  "Didn't we all ad infinitum back in human history?" I hear you question.  Very true indeed.  He becomes an angry young man.  He is not allowed stand up for himself with his fists.  He has to take all the insults as well as the punches on the chin and not fight back.  Anyway, like all children he loved dogs.  Around his area there was a placid old dog who used love fighting and barking at the waves.  This was a dog of exceptional spirit and kindness.  One day when Hugo was very angry he ended up kicking the dog into the sea off the pier and now allowing him to come back onto the land.  Hugo eventually fled from the scene and was sure the dog had drowned.  He now felt guilty and deeply ashamed of his pointless anger against an innocent animal.  After all, his tormentors had always called him a Nazi or Eichmann.  Now Eichmann in Hugo's persons had murdered an innocent dog.  The book ends with the young adolescent Hugo having gone for a swim in The Forty Foot.  He was the best swimmer of his age group in the area.  Having come out of the water, he is attacked by bullies:

Then they started the execution.  One of them kicked me so hard I had to bend over.  There was a black pain spreading up into my stomach and I thought I was going to get sick...One of them punched me in the face and I saw blood on my towel.  I knew they were learning to hate and that you're allowed to hate Germans.  They wanted me to surrender.

I looked up to show that I was not afraid to be silent.  And then I saw the dog.  I nearly forgot about the execution when I saw the dog behind them, the dog that barks all day until he's hoarse.  I couldn't believe it at first and I had to wipe my eyes to make sure.  The dog with no name was coming down to bark at the sea as if nothing was wrong and he had never drowned.

"Jaysus, what the Jaysus," I said. "It's the dog."

They looked around at me as if I was trying to play a trick on them and get away.  They said all the Germans were gone mad because I was calling the dog over to save my life.

"It's the dog with no name," I said again.

(Ibid., 294-295).

After this Hugo learns that he is afraid of no one anymore.  He has learned to find a new strength from the wonderfully kind and stupid dog who only knew how to bark at the waves. 

(I might add here that animals, especially domesticated ones, are very close to humankind.  Also, in dreams they represent our inner or gut feelings.  If you are starving a little dog in a dream, you are starving your emotions.  If there is a fierce dog there in your dreams, you are not expressing your anger etc.  I remember once being asked to play whatever animal we wished at group therapy some ten years ago.  I remember a whole room of adults going around acting as if they were cats, dogs, pigs, cows, sheep, butterflies, bees etc.  It truly was a liberating experience.  Also children who are reared with animals learn a lot about unconditional love.  Who says animals have not got emotions?  Yes they have, and many of them make wonderful friends!)

I have always loved dogs. This is Max - the community dog at St Augustine's Ballyboden, 1985/6.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

My New Creative Writing Blog

For anyone who may be interested I decided to set up a new blog devoted solely to stream of consciousness creative writing. This is a technique garnered over years of reading and writing. Its influences may be traced directly back to a creative writing course I did uder the fine tutelage of the poet and writer Pat Boran. It's over ten years, probably nearer to 15 yearts since then. He taught his students to write their thoughts and feelings without censorship and without any thought at all given to punctuation. This exercise was a revelation to me as I then found that I could collect a whole series of such spontaneous writings which would act as a quarry from which I might gain nuggets of precious metals, if I be permitted the obvious sustained metaphor, to be used either in poems or in essays. However, I have long come to believe, through practising these exercises, that they have a certain brilliant truth in their very randomness and spontaneity and natural flow. Also the influence of my readings in both Freudian and Jungian studies have helped me abundantly in appreciating the importance of the activity in self-development and indeed the profundity of the results. See the first entry for a more fulsome and comprehensive introduction.
My new blog can be found at this link here Stream

Above I have uploaded a picture of my shelves containing my philosophy books. They are in the corner of my attic study.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Bibliophily 2

Some other reviews to be found in this blog are as follows:

(These are continued directly from last post.  Hence I'll begin with number 11.)

11. The Picture of Dorian Gray (Novel) - Oscar Wilde at this link Review

12  The Prophet (Spirituality/Mysticism) - Khalil Gibran at this link Review

13.  Humanity: A Moral History of The Twentieth Century (History/Ethics) - Jonathan Glover at this link Review

14. Long Way Round (Travel/Memoir) - Ewan McGregor and Charley Boorman at this link Review

15. Henderson The Rain King (Novel) - Saul Bellow at this link Review

16. Some Time With Feynman (A Physicist's Memoir) - Dr Eric Mlodinow at this link Review and at the immediately preceding posts.

17. The Homeless Mind - Arthur Koestler (Biography)  - David Cesarini at this link Review

18. The Unquiet Mind (Psychiatry/Psychology/Memoir) - Kay Jamison at this link Review and here Review

19.  The Drama of Being a Child (Child Psychiatry/Psychoanalysis) - Dr Alice Miller at this link Review

20. The Divided Self (Psychiatry/Psychology) - Dr R.D. Laing at this link Review

21. Myths To Live By (Mythology) - Dr. Joseph Campbell at this link Review

22. Jung and The Human Psyche (Psychology) - Dr Mary Ann Mattoon at this link Review 

23. On Stories (Philosophy) - Dr. Richard Kearney at this link Review

24. The Integrity of The Personality (Psychology/Psychiatry) - Dr Anthony Storr at this link Review

25. Tents in the Clouds (Mountaineering/Exploration) - Jackson and Clarke at this link Review

26. Touching The Void and Dark Shadows falling (Mountaineering/Memoirs) - Joe Simpson at this link Review

27. Malignant Sadness: The Anatomy of Depression (Mental Illness) - Dr Lewis Wolpert at this link Review

28. Dreamtime and Invoking Ireland (Mysticism/Philosophy/Spirituality) - John Moriarty at this link Review

29.The Catcher in the Rye (Novel) - Jerome David Salinger at this link -Review

30. Portofino (Novel) - Frank Schaeffer at this link - Review

31. The Human Condition: Contemplation and Transformation (Meditation/Spirituality) - Thomas Keating, OCSO at this link Review

32. The Peculiar memories of Thomas Penman (Novel) by Bruce Robinson at this link Review

33. The Kite Runner (Novel) - Khalid Hosseini at this link Review

34. The Devil’s Disciples: The Lives and Times of Hitler’s inner circle (History) - Anthony Reid at this link Review

35. Evil and the God of Love (Theology/Philosophy) - John Hick at this link Review

36. Healing Life's Hurts (Self-Help/Popular Psychology) - Dr Michael Hardiman at this link Review

37. Stephen Hawking - A Life in Science (Biography/Lay Physics) -  Drs White and Gribbin at this link Review

38. Tuesdays with Morrie and The Five People You Meet in Heaven (Popular Spirituality/Self-Help) - Mitch Albom at this link Review

39. Status Anxiety and The Consolations of Philosophy (General or Popular Philosophy) Alain de Botton - at this link Review

40. Return of the Brute (Novel) - Liam O' Flaherty at this link Review

41. All Quiet on the Western Front (Novel)  - Erich Maria Remarque at this link Review

44. The Shadow of the Wind (Novel) - Carlos Ruiz Zafón at this link Review

45. Survival at Auschwitz (Memoir/History) - Primo Levi at this link Review

46. The Art of Effortless Living (Self-Help/ Inspirational) - Dr. Ingrid Bacci at this link Review

47. The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying (Buddhism) - Sogyal Rinpoche at this link Review 

48. A Moment of War (Autobiography and war) - Laurie Lee at this link Review



There ends the book reviews in this blog.  I thought it might be interesting for me personally and perhaps for any deranged reader with my deranged interests to assemble the posts I have written on books over the past few years - the ones that I have reviewed in these pages at least.  Beannacht leat a Scríbhinn agus orthusan a léann thú!

The above photo shows another section of my library. These shelves contain all my books in Italian. As you can see they are in my attic study.

Bibliophilism or Bibliophily, definitely not Bibliophilia

Anyway the first two words of my title are correct according to my Penguin English Dictionary while the last word simply does not exist at all.  Ever since I was small I have been surrounded by books.  My mother and father were not great readers but they valued education and books.  Both were avid readers of the daily newspapers and my father loved biographies, autobiographies and local history.  They both bought me books for presents.  I read voraciously as a child and still do to this day.  I live alone in a house full of thousands of books.  I've lost count many years ago and sometimes end up buying a book I already have.  I usually buy 5 or possibly 6 books each week.  I know it's ridiculous - a certain type of addiction.  I am a number 5 on the Enneagram and that character type has a passion for knowledge - so that might explain my obsession with books.  Any readers of these entries will note that I refer to books all the time practically.  If you look at the post labels to the right of this entry you will see that some 100 entries refer to books.  However, while most posts might refer to books not all contain book reviews.  In this post I simply want to highlight the books I have reviewed in these pages.

1. A Thousand Splendid Suns (Novel) - Khalid Hosseini at this link Review

2.  Music and Madness (Memoir) - Ivor Browne at this link Review

3.  Games People Play (Psychology) - Eric Berne at this link Review

4. Night (Memoir/History/Holocaust) - Elie Wiesel at this link Review

5. The Passion of the Western Mind: Understanding the Ideas that have shaped our World View (Philosophy) - Dr Richard Tarnas at this link Review

6. The Interpretation of Dreams (Psychoanalysis) - Sigmund Freud at this link Review

7. Don't You Have Time To Think? (Collected Letters of a Brilliant Physicist) - Richard P. Feynman at this link Review

8. Freud  (Authoritative Biography) - Peter Gay at this link Review

9. To Have or To Be (Psychiatry/Psychology/Psychotherapy) - Erich Fromm at this link Review

10.  The Outsider and The Myth of Sisyphus (Novel and Philosophy) - Albert Camus at this link Review


I will add more to this list as I get the time.  Beannacht leat a Scríbhinn!!

Above I have uploaded a picture of a section of my library. These shelves contain my psychology books only! For the moment they at at the foot of my bed - for inspiration purposes only!