Monthly Archives: September 2009

Doer vs critic

Do you know the story about Socrates and a sports event? According to this story, Socrates divides the people in an (ancient) sports event into four categories: (1) the athletes who want to push their limits and win, (2) the audience watching strangers sweat and enjoying the day with friends, (3) the vendors profiting from the event and finally, (4) the philosophers, who observe everyone and everybody and analyze what’s going on.

In today’s world with advanced technology, we can add another category to the story, (5) the sports commentator. He knows all the stats, he remembers how the athletes performed last year. He stands right next to the action but does not participate himself. He is good at criticizing how a ball is being kicked but cannot kick the ball himself.

In the agrarian society of yesteryear, the people were doers. The fields needed trimming, the sheep herding and the harvest collecting. If somebody stood next to a man ploughing a field, himself not doing anything yet busy letting everybody know how the job could be done better, I don’t believe he would have been much appreciated. The doer to critic ratio was healthier.

In today’s world, however, more and more people have gone over from being a doer to being a commentator. How much easier is it not to be a critic instead of producing something yourself? Also, in many ways, the critics are more appreciated than the doers. Just look at how much money an artist makes a month and compare that with your local newspaper’s art critic salary.

The net is filled with all sorts of critics. Just look at hanba, in my posts I have criticized the contemporary designer for copying the 50’s, postmodern artists for still being critical of the modern project, neoclassical architects for copying the ancient Greeks. Have I tried to design a contemporary chair or give suggestions to tomorrow’s architectural trends? -No.

Yet, I believe more detrimental than all the hobby bloggers combined is the output of the contemporary media business. I don’t even need to give an example. The media loves to tell how a country could be run better, how a military operation could have been run more successfully, what the policemen should have done in a given incident. A doctor should never have given his patient this or that  medicine, the actress should never have dyed her hair a particular color etc.

It has always, since the ancient times, been easier to sit next to a doer and whine than to actually do something yourself. What is new is the skewed doer to critic ratio.

ps1:  If anybody remembers how this story with socrates and the sports events actually goes, I’d love  a recap… 🙂

ps2:  This post is dedicated to my uncle who encourages me to keep writing this blog. 🙂

ps3: In my next post, I promise to do something, not just whine.

I really need to …

… have a serious look at my blogging strategies. Nobody ever reads this blog. Gotta roll up my sleeves and start advertising. I need to work  on my search engine optimization. Participate more in discussions. Become hip. Engage myself with cool topics. Gotta write about current hot stuff. Be the vigilante hothead star reporter.

How to do this? I’ll just tag this text with Patrick Swayze’s name and people will flock to the hanbablog. That way I become famous and influential. I become somebody. Hanba the famous blogger! I will take over the world buhaahahahahahhaa

Did you think it is insensitive to bring a dead person up just to get more readers?

Any publicity is good publicity. There are no tricks nasty enough. Contemporary journalism. The time of gentlemen is out.  I satisfy your very basic human need of tearing things apart.

“Good design”

My second-latest post was dedicated to a certain modern architect and designer, Alvar Aalto, whose work has become iconic or dogmatic for a whole country. Actually, the problem of modernism turned into dogma is much bigger than one single person in one single country. Take design, for instance – take a moment to think about what is considered good design in contemporary Western society. Perhaps some of the following items pop out of your neural circuits:

Eero Saarinen's Tulip chair photo:wikimedia commons Barcelona chair (1929) by Ludwig Mies van der RoheArne Jacobsen's Egg chair (1958)

The latest edition of Icon Magazine allows you to participate in a contest called The Ultimate Living Room where you can win items labeled good design. Here’s what came up. Many of the items presented by Icon Magazine, as well as the three chairs above, are widely accepted as iconic pieces of modern design.

“Neomodernism” sure is back after postmodernism. This is reflected by how we today define “The Ultimate Living Room”.While I do appreciate the forms and beauty of the modern, simple aesthetics, I do wonder what it tells of a society when many of its icons come from the past. – Or am I just spoiled by the momentum of societal change since WW2, expecting change to be present all the time? I mean, look how long it took us to get rid of the classical views. A couple of thousand years.

Only, I feel a bit sad for the modernist movement. The language of design was that of breaking free from the past, breaking free from the classical ornaments. It is funny to see the rigidity around the definition of good design today. But I guess that’s the way it works. Ideas are first innovative, then they become dogma only to finally they fall to limbo. “All of this has happened before, and all of this will happen again.”

You might say society is not really through with modernism yet, so why should we change our icons? We still like the simple, industrially reproducable objects that emphasize the superiority of industry and technology. The three chairs above still reflect the society we live in, even though they were designed 50-70 years ago. Sure enough they do, but I still wouldn’t mind seeing some new ways to express the modern or neo-modern era we live in.

Hmm have this as a homework, try to find contemporary good design chairs. 🙂

photos: wikimedia commons (-hover over the photos to see who designed the chairs and when)

The glass house

In my second-latest post I mentioned Andre Breton’s Glass house.  The concept refers to a desire to take away the border between the public and the private. The glass house is a very contemporary concept,  being reflected among other things in popular culture and architecture.

Look around you, -what has been built in your city lately? Maybe you immediately think of a major glass box. The contemporary glass boxes are like giant Big brother houses. The border between inside and outside is becoming less clear, as is the border between public and private. Everybody can look into each others’ lives. We sacrifice our privacy but in return, we get fifteen minutes of fame. We feel the eyes of others on us.

Transparency can also be a positive concept, enabling “lies” and falsehoods to be exposed better. Sounds fine, but the trick is, who gets access to the exposed information? Transparency can act as a means for social control. The glass houses are not far from Jeremy Bentham’s Panopticon.

Alvar Aaltoland

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Typical Aalto light solution. The light comes from above; not directly but through a tunnel. photo:hanba.

Being a Finnish blogger interested in architecture,  a post about Alvar Aalto is bound to pop up at some point. I’ve been blogging since march and have managed to hold the post off for nearly seven months.

Alvar Aalto (1898-1976) is The iconic figure in Finnish architecture and design. Despite having passed away well over thirty years ago, his influence is still very imminent. Having  been a groundbreaking modernist he is still today widely admired to a point where this devotion may be called ‘worship’.

Don’t get me wrong. I think he was a genius and definitely a great architect.  I am very impressed with many of his works and find them very beautiful and intersting. Still one has to wonder, is it not time to move on?

This summer I joined a guided tour of a building drawn by Aalto called the kansaneläkelaitos (The Social Insurance Institution’s headquarters) – a governmental administration building. This building, completed 1956, is interesting yet definitely not one of Aalto’s most famous ones. I’ve spent much of my childhood near the building but had never before this day been inside it.

The main hall where the customers used to be served. The central hall is typical for Aalto and is seen also for instance in Helsinki's Academic Bookstore.

The main hall where the customers used to be served. The central hall is typical for Aalto and is seen also for instance in Helsinki's Academic Bookstore.

Ironically enough, Aalto designed this government office to be a place where the citizens could spend time and interact with the government. It was to be a “people’s living room”.  The leather couches in the waiting area are inviting and comfortable. The inner courtyard is peaceful. Yet only a decade later, in the 1960’s, the building had to be closed for the public, and access restricted, because of vandalism. The people did not want this living room. Today, I could not even go to the toilet without somebody helping me out with an electronic key card.

Wall ceramics

Wall ceramics

I believe these attempts at producing a good relationship between the state and the individual  are very interesting. I am sorry this one didn’t turn out. The place is nice and peaceful on the inside. I don’t know if I’d like to hang out at a government institution, but given the choice, I would not mind sitting on the inner courtyard lawn on a sunny day.

Here’s a view of Aalto’s much  more known design and architecture.

The inner courtyard (not the best shot) Notice how the gate prevents people from coming in.

The inner courtyard (not the best shot) Notice how the gate prevents people from coming in.

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Miniature of the Social Insurance Institution headquarters

Miniature of the Social Insurance Institution headquarters

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Aalto vase. A bit different version from the one you might recognize.

Aalto vase. A bit different version from the one you might recognize.

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Words misunderstood

Sometimes it is very interesting to observe people having a conversation where they totally misunderstand each other. Sometimes, when a really juicy misunderstood situation presents itself, it feels like you’ve been handed a front row seat to a farce.

Observing the mimics, body language, intonations is fascinating. Perhaps the participants are benevolent towards each other despite not understanding anything. This is when awkward, sheeplike smiles come out. At other times, more hostile hand gestures or frowns may take place.

Recently, sitting in a train, I witnessed a conversation between a teenage boy and his mother. At the end, I could not help laughing out loud. It was so obvious that the chat I witnessed was merely a small minuet in a larger symphony or a small poem in an epic history. I had a feeling they had gone through this before.  The son was excited about a new hobby, and the mother did not want to hear anything about it. It sounded like the mother was heartless, but I could tell she misunderstood this new obsession as a way of asking for money. Hence, the mother came up with icy remarks. The mother was determined not to be “fooled” and shot down any of the son’s attempts to be cheerful. Those two spoke such a different language. At the end I didn’t know who to side with; the “all-knowing” mother or the arrogant youngster.

I believe misunderstandings are at the heart of many conflicts. I would really like to be better at understanding, to avoid misunderstandings. Still, I’ve surely been a part of these type of train chats, and had other people chuckle at my misunderstandings.

Milan Kundera’s Unbearable Lightness of Being has an entire section devoted to “words misunderstood”. This section is written like an encyclopedia, where words and concepts are presented from different characters’ points of view. One example being: “Living in truth”, a concept presented through Franz and Sabina, two characters having an extramarital fling.

…What does it mean to live in truth? Putting it negatively, it is easy enough: it means not lying, not hiding and not dissimulating. From the time he met Sabina, however, Franz had been living in lies. (TULoB, pp 111, Penguin Books 2003) Franz had told his wife lies about his whereabouts and enjoyed this game and his relationship with Sabina.

For Sabina, living in truth, lying neither to ourselves nor to others, was possible only away from the public: the moment someone keeps an eye on what we do, we involuntarily make allowances for that eye, and nothing we do is truthful. Having a public, keeping a public in mind, means living in lies. Sabina despised literature in which people gave away all kinds of intimate secrets about themselves and their friends. A man who loses his privacy loses everything, Sabina thought. … That was why Sabina did not suffer in the least from having to keep her love secret. On the contrary, only by doing so could she live in truth.

Franz, on the other hand, was certain that the division of life into private and public spheres is the source of all lies: a person is one thing in private and something quite different in public. For Franz, living in truth meant breaking down the barriers between the private and the public. He was fond of quoting Andre Breton on the desirability of living ‘in a glass house’, into which everyone can look and there are no secrets.

The mother and son combo had their own set of words, their own encyclopedia of words misunderstood, very different from this couple having a secret fling. I wonder what my own encyclopedias in my different relationships may be? If you see me get into a big misunderstanding in a train, please let me know. Jot down an encyclopedia entry for me.

Also, sitting in the front row of the mother/son misunderstandings farce, I felt uncomfortable with how close to their lives I had suddenly become. I wonder if the “Big brother” culture has changed the way we feel about hiding personal life from strangers. The train was a “glass house”, where the mother and son were living their lives without boundaries toward strangers. They were exposing their lives and relationship issues in return for fifteen minutes of the other passengers’ undivided attention.

Now, thinking back to the trainride with this particular mother and son, I think I personally agree with Sabina, I think it’s good to keep your thoughts to yourself. Living in truth is possible only away from the public. A man who loses his privacy loses everything.