onsdag 6. mai 2015

Five poems in five days, day 3

Childlessness, by Henri Cole

For many years I wanted a child
though I knew it would only illuminate life
for a time, like a star on a tree; I believed
that happiness would at last assert itself,
like a bird in a dirty cage, calling me,
ambassador of flesh, out of the rough
locked ward of sex.

Outstretched on my spool-bed,
I am like a groom, alternately seeking fusion
with another and resisting engulfment by it.
A son's love for his mother is like a river
dividing the continent to reach the sea:
I believed that once. When you died, Mother,
I was alone at last. And then you came back,
dismal and greedy like the sea, to reclaim me. 

tirsdag 5. mai 2015

Five poems in five days, day 2

Possibly my favourite living poet, Jane Hirshfield.

One day in that room, a small rat.
Two days later, a snake.

Who, seeing me enter,
whipped the long stripe of his
body under the bed,
then curled like a docile house-pet.

I don't know how either came or left.
Later, the flashlight found nothing.

For a year I watched
as something – terror? happiness? grief? –
entered and then left my body.

No knowing how it came in.
Not knowing how it went out.

It hung where words could not reach it.
It slept where light could not go.
Its scent was neither snake nor rat,
neither sensualist nor ascetic.

There are openings in our lives
of which we know nothing.

Through them
the belled herds travel at will,
long-legged and thirsty, covered with foreign dust.

mandag 4. mai 2015

Five poems in five days, day 1

I've been tagged on Facebook and asked to publish five poems in five days. Might as well publish them here too. First out is one of the, if not the, greatest of Japanese poets, the haiku master Kobayashi Issa, in Robert Hass' (possibly a bit too) free translation:

Don't worry, spiders
I keep house

tirsdag 28. april 2015

Death meets his maker

Today is Creator's day, the birthday of Terry Pratchett, who would have turned 67, had Death not led him away on March 12. It seems like a good time to republish the English translation of my obituary, originally written for Fri tanke, the web magazine of my employer.  

Death meets his maker
In memory of Sir Terry Pratchett

A quarter of a century ago a friend introduced me to a fantastic and fascinating world. He also recruited me to take over his job in the Norwegian skeptics organization. Which meant that I got to work in the same house as the Norwegian Humanist Association. And in ways that still amaze me, I stumbled into the job as editor of their membership magazine – the start of a life as a professional humanist.

The fantastic and fascinating world I have in mind isn’t the hallways of the Humanist House, though. It is one where I met a librarian that by accident became an orangutan – and refuses to become human again. (It is quite practical to be able to climb all the way up to the top shelf. And it’s rather nice to have traded the existential dread of humans for a craving for bananas.) And I met Rincewind, the world’s most useless wizard; who in spite of that (or perhaps because of it), ends up solving problems created by far more competent wizards. And Lord Vetinari, whose pragmatic approach to power and its uses doesn’t quite live up to our democratic ideals. But who still, somehow, makes Ankh Morpork, the biggest city on the Discworld, work.

This is the literary world of Terry Pratchett. It is disc shaped, and travels through space on the back of four elephants standing of the back of the giant turtle A'tuin. (Sex still uncertain.)

A core of steel

The first Discworld book, The Colour of Magic, was published in 1983, and is first and foremost a good hearted parody of fantasy literature. When Pratchett died a week ago at the age of sixty six, the counter stood at forty. The forty-first, The Shepherd’s Crown, is due this summer. With other books, collaborations and spin-offs included, the number is somewhere around seventy.

Over the years the books moved away from the parodic, towards novels standing securely on their own narrative feet. Though still with a large serving of the humorous – Pratchett rarely let a chance for a bad pun get away. He had an endless supply of the fantastic. His book are full to the brim of ideas, witticisms and absurdities.

But despite their humorous and fantastical exterior, the books have a core of cold and sometimes merciless steel. Because more than anything, Pratchett was a man that saw the human animal in all its remarkable foolishness. It could have gone wrong. He was at times dangerously close to misanthropy; though a merry misanthropy, where humans are more ridiculous than despicable. What saved him was the same thing that over the years made him a better and better depicter of the humanity of humans: His humanism.

Stories about us

For a couple of decades Pratchett was a dedicated member of the British Humanist Association, who in 2013 named him Humanist of the year. He was a keen promoter of humanism in schools and a profiled campaigner for the right to die. For the last years of his life this went hand in hand with spreading knowledge about and promoting research into the disease that finally took his life: Alzheimer’s.

Pratchett wrote unashamed fantasy books – populated to the brim with vampires, werewolves, dwarves, trolls, golems, witches and wizards. The magic flows through his universe – it even has its own colour: octarine. But everything he wrote is at heart about us, about humans; about our weaknesses, our problems, our vanity and our self-deception. The heart of Pratchett’s humanism was that he saw all this, and still liked us. He appreciated our humanity, not in spite of our weaknesses, but because of them.

Strength, courage, shrewdness and wisdom are great stuff, but they are exceptions, rather than the rule. And that is OK. We are strange, storytelling animals, who continuously create stories to make sense of the maelstrom of impressions that is the world. It has to be like that. It is what it is to be human.

The astonishing fantasy

Pratchett’s books differ fundamentally from many of the cornerstones of fantasy literature, in that the logic of his stories is rooted in our oh, so human world. In 2001 he was awarded the prestigious Carnegie medal for The Amazing Maurice and his Educated Rodents, a children’s book that culminates in a tribute to the long-winded democratic strife, with people (and rats) that work together, day by day, to make the world a slightly better place.

In his acceptance speech he declared, with a fairly obvious reference to Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings:

«Fantasy is more than wizards. For instance, this book is about rats that are intelligent. But it is also about the even more fantastic idea that humans are capable of intelligence as well. Far more beguiling than the idea that evil can be destroyed by throwing a piece of expensive jewellery into a volcano is the possibility that evil can be defused by talking. The fantasy of justice is more interesting that the fantasy of fairies, and more truly fantastic. In the book the rats go to war, which is, I hope, gripping. But then they make peace, which is astonishing.»

We’re only humans, Pratchett told us, fallible, silly and self-absorbed. But we have no-one else to help us out. There are gods in his universe, but they are so hopeless, incompetent and volatile (they are, after all, created in our image) that you can’t leave things to them. If anything is to be done, it’s up to us. As scary as that thought may be.

A serious humorist

Pratchett was a humorous writer, in the tradition from PG Wodehouse and Douglas Adams. He used humour as a literary device, but also took pleasure in being funny simply for the fun of it. (“Give a man a fire and he’s warm for a day, but set fire to him and he’s warm for the rest of his life.”) We have a tendency to belittle humorous writers as simply humorous, as we have a tendency to belittle fantasy literature as simply a game. As Pratchett said in his Carnegie speech:

«The problem is that we think the opposite of funny is serious. It is not. In fact, as GK Chesterton pointed out, the opposite of funny is not funny, and the opposite of serious is not serious. Benny Hill was funny and not serious; Rory Bremner is funny and serious; most politicians are serious but, unfortunately, not funny. Humour has its uses. Laughter can get through the keyhole while seriousness is still hammering on the door. New ideas can ride in on the back of a joke, old ideas can be given an added edge.»

Meeting Death

From the time he got his diagnosis back in 2007, Pratchett was open about what it was and where it was going. But then again he never was one to suppress death. Death – Death that is, with a capital D – is the character that shows up in the most Discworld books. He is a nice, thorough and quite meticulous gentleman, with as stiff a smile as is to be expected from a skeleton. He likes cats, and has a strong wish to make his realm cozy, with flowers and knick-knacks.

He doesn’t quite make it work. He is, for instance, not that good at colours, so it’s all in black and white. But he tries. He might not be human, but he is something that was just at important for Pratchett. He is humane.

Pratchett’s Death spoke in capital letters. And he had the honour of being the one to announce the death of his maker. The three last tweets on Pratchett’s Twitter account was a literary farewell to the master. And a story in itself.


Terry took Death’s arm and followed him through the doors and on to the black desert under the endless night.

The End.»


Thanks to Oda, Nina and James for help with the translation. The turtle moves forever.

tirsdag 14. april 2015

The abandoned

They sit on the inside of a railway fence. Someone clarly climbed that fence to position them.

torsdag 9. april 2015

Tariq Ramadan

Stuff I did at work today: Shot Tariq Ramadan.

onsdag 8. april 2015

Identitarianisme. En kort innføring

Identitarianismen er nasjonalistisk, etnoseparatistisk og essensialistisk.

Den ser for seg den enkelte nasjon – det enkelte etnos – som en klart avgrenset enhet, med en felles identitet som alle medlemmer tar del i. Denne identiteten formidles gjennom en felles kultur, som, for å bevare sin styrke og enhet, må vernes mot å bli utvannet gjennom påvirkning utenfra.

Løsningen på dette er at hvert folk må bo for seg selv, slik at kulturen, som er en skjør plante, ikke utsettes for unødig påvirkning. Hver etnos må holdes separat, derav betegnelsen etnoseparatisme.

Identiarianismen har adoptert deler av multikulturalismens kulturforståelse, blant annet en forståelse av kulturer som klart avgrensede størrelser. I sine festtaler understreker de identitære at alle kulturer er like mye verd, men for å hindre utvanning må disse kulturene holdes fra hverandre.

Grunnen til at dette er så viktig, er at vår kulturelle identitet ses som en avgjørende og grunnleggende – en essensiell – del av hver enkelt av oss. Uten den er vi rotløse og forvirrede. Kulturen er vårt anker i tilværelsen. Uten å være forankret i vår essensielle kultur, er vi halve mennesker.

Derfor oppfatter de identitære liberalismen, med sitt fokus på individets ønsker og behov, som en særlig trussel, fordi den fornekter at vi først og fremst er vår kulturelle identitet, dernest individer. Identitarianismen er i egne øyne liberalismens rake motsetning. Den har rett i det.

Med sin essensialistiske nasjonalisme er identitarianismen trygt plantet på ytre høyre. Den er ikke nødvendigvis høyreekstrem, men hvis man ser nærmere på hvem de identitære er, har påtagelig mange en fortid i fascistiske og/eller nazistiske miljøer.

Identitarianismen er ikke rasistisk i klassisk forstand, men dens essensialistiske nasjonalisme og etnoseparatisme ender i den samme type politiske konsekvenser som vi kjenner fra rasistisk hold. I beste fall ville resultatet av å sette den ut i live være et slags apartheid med menneskelig ansikt. I verste fall ville det være veldig mye kjipere.

De som måtte ønske seg en lengre introduksjon til fenomenet, anbefales Kristian Bjørkelos artikkel "Identitærane kjem".