Negative Capability

I'm not a big fan of Bob Dylan, but I'm grateful for him being sort of responsible for me learning about Keats' concept of Negative Capability. Apparently, Bob Dylan with his elusive character is a good example of the concept, at least if you are to believe Anthony Decurtis (in The Cambridge Companion to Bob Dylan) and others.

According to Wikipedia, Keats introduced this concept in 1817

"to characterise the capacity of the greatest writers (particularly Shakespeare) to pursue a vision of artistic beauty even when it leads them into intellectual confusion and uncertainty, as opposed to a preference for philosophical certainty over artistic beauty. The term has been used by poets and philosophers to describe the ability of the individual to perceive, think, and operate beyond any presupposition of a predetermined capacity of the human being."

Keats' Kingdom points out that Negative Capability "is a sublime expression of supreme empathy". By using it we can become better at understand different points of views or different cultures so that we might be able to express them.
Known to be a keen reader of the classics, Barack Obama has also been recognised as a person applying Negative Capability by for example by Santi Tafarella and George Packer. When he received the Nobel Peace Prize, Obama said in his speech: “We can acknowledge that oppression will always be with us, and still strive for justice. ... We can understand that there will be war, and still strive for peace.”

I think my former boss Lena Blomberg also can be considered to practice Negative Capability. She always emphasises to consider if reconciliation can be achieved, to find a way to choose both alternatives instead of only one.

I also like the notion of the possibility of something being completely logical and still magical.

Darkness at the break of noon
Shadows even the silver spoon
The handmade blade, the child's balloon
Eclipses both the sun and the moon
To understand you know too soon
There is no sense in trying

Bob Dylan, It's Alright Ma


History Lesson

We had a discussion, my friend and I, about an article saying that it was not more than fair that history books for schools covered mostly prominent men since they were the ones that had had the most impact on the development of the world. Of course, I didn't agree but at the time I felt that my words fell flat to the ground. I'm not used to having to defend something I feel is so obvious, but I realise that I have to become much better at stating my perspective.

What I believe young people should know about history (and thus make up the text book) is a number of things. History is a matter of perspective. No historic description is neutral. The winners write the history. Most history textbook writers focus on your own country (quite naturally) and the areas or cultures closest to you, often disregarding whole continents and cultures. It's not enough to only learn about Sweden, the Nordic countries, Europe and the US.

We need to learn history because it tells us things we need to know today. If we don't learn from history, we are doomed to repeat it. This is especially true when it comes to the development in Europe and the US today, where we can see fascism grow.

Many different people and situations have had an impact on the development of the world. To believe that only powerful individuals such as presidents, kings, generals and so on are the ones worthy our attention because of their decisions or actions is too narrow. Many individual from all walks of life have had key roles in making history, but their names have been lost. Also, many significant changes have been rather slow and the result of groups acting over time, rather than just one single person doing one thing at a specific moment.
I also think it is important for people to learn about that women many times have been made invisible throughout history. They have made scientific discoveries that their husbands or co-workers have claimed as their own. They have been managers of companies and estates, but been not allowed to own them. Although perfectly able, women have been stopped from entering many professions. There have been societies where women and men have been more equal than most are today. Even though sometimes their role and impact was acknowledged at the time, a deliberate censorship has erased women from the history books.

Just because it is, doesn't mean it should be. Lady Sarah Ashley in the movie Australia

Everybody is responsible for creating the history of tomorrow. The choices we make, the actions we take, the votes we cast. We are all accountable for both creating our society and the story we tell about it.

This is the way I would go about teaching history. And I would never ever say something like the article mentioned above, because I can't see that such a statement would bring me any closer to us having and using history textbooks that embodies those ideas.


Up Close and Personal

The first time I saw an Anton Corbijn photograph was when I bought the U2 album "All that you can't leave behind" in 2000. I very much liked the photos although at that time I had no idea who the photographer was. I tried to convince my boss at the IT University in Gothenburg that we should use a similar style when shooting pictures for the marketing material, but she went for something more colourful which was probably wise.

Having accompanying the members of U2 for several years, Corbijn has been able to take a number of very relaxed and unexpected photos, some of them on display lately at the Museum of Photography in Stockholm
I suppose that it's quite a different situation when you take pictures of people you've just met and will probably never see again. This was likely the case for Pieter ten Hoopen’s who took pictures of Indian entrepreneurs in the area of sustainable environmental work, who are involved in self-help projects initiated by the organisation Hand in Hand in collaboration with the local population. The exhibition is called Spirit of Change.
When I was working at Chalmers, we started to look into what we called "Impact Photography", that is pictures illustrating change as the result of scientific knowledge. It turned out that the database of photos at the university consisted mostly of pictures of university buildings, students or researchers in white lab coats or standing in front of a bookcase. Unfortunately, I didn't manage to set things in motion before I left.

Change is difficult to describe in one photo, since it's a process. But I think we need to try harder. With the access of rather good cameras in smartphones many more people can take pictures, capturing processes. Getting more up close and personal. Because change is personal, not only for people in India. Or Burma for that matter.

The only baggage you can bring
Is all that you can't leave behind
U2, Walk On



It's a bit annoying although perhaps not that surprising that searching for "sportswashing" provides you with lots of links to information about washing machines. The concept seems to have peaked in association with the so-called European Games in 2015. It will probably take a while before it shows up in Google's Ngram Viewer.

I must admit that I hadn't heard of this event before I saw the huge signs still visible in Baku in September 2015. However, since I prefer doing sports instead of watching it this was not so strange.
The Danish initiative Play The Game claims that it's unsure whether Azerbaijan was successful in its sportswashing since it has resulted in at least some relationships gone sour although apparently not with Britain.

"The supposed ideal of the Olympics – and by extension the European Games – is to unite people through sport. With this in mind, a regime that relentlessly proves itself to be an autocratic oppressor of civil liberties is not the sort of partner the International Olympic Committee should be aligning themselves with, let alone actively supporting." Vice Sports

According to The Guardian, Azerbaijan continues its sportswashing, holding the European Grand Prix recently. However, according to Sport for Rights, their luck might be changing since the UN Human Rights Committee has published its findings on the civil and political rights record of Azerbaijan which it examined during its latest session.

I only whish they had used a bit stronger language than that they are "concerned" about the state of affairs...