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FILTERED RECOLLECTIONS - October 2018 Max Muller

Remembering Your Identity

Written by Max Muller:

Some imagine our memory merely as a tool to retrieve past events or thoughts. That it operates as a purely mechanistic, objective tool that passively stores information. As such, it enables us to learn things and allows people to function properly in their daily lives.

However, this conception of human memory is rather limited. Although it does perform the above-mentioned tasks, it is not confined to purely practical matters. A person’s memory is not merely concerned with what he or she does or can do – it also determines who and what the person is.

Human beings are necessarily finite, both in terms of space and in terms of time. We live within a particular time frame and grow up under some set of historical particularities. Thus, to a large extent, our circumstances and experiences determine who we are.

In order to understand ourselves, we look back upon past events. We aim to come to an understanding of our role within them. In doing so, we continuously re-visit our memories to re-interpret them, casting light on the way we are situated in the present.

By selectively choosing to focus on certain memories and at the same time discarding others, people actively and subjectively construct themselves by means of narratives. Human beings are therefore not mere processors of information, they invent and re-work it as stories. Memory comes alive in the act of narration, allowing individuals to form a coherent identity. Human life has, therefore, both biological and biographical origins.

In that sense, it is not surprising that psychologists sometimes encourage their patients to share their life story with them. It allows patients to understand themselves. Their confusion is healed when the re-visitation of their memories results in a more thorough understanding of the way they acted in (perceived) past events. This enables them to act with deeper understanding during the present. Concurrently, their sense of identity is emboldened throughout the process, allowing them to be more at ease with who they are.

Crowdsourcing therapy

Therapists are expensive. In addition, the whole therapeutic process is quite time-consuming, cumbersome and confrontational. Why not engage you, our readers, with my past?

At the risk of seeming exceedingly self-centered, I will take this opportunity to describe some memories of my own. During the writing process, I aim to gain a more thorough understanding of myself. In addition, I am curious as to what you think about my experiences. What do they tell you about me? Do you have any insights as to how I ought to interpret these events? Let us make sense of my life together.

One memory that sometimes resurfaces dates back from more than 17 years ago. At the time, my family and I would visit a place called Cap-d’Agde in the South of France every summer. We would stay in a resort filled with bungalows and spent our carefree days at the beach or near the pools.

Sometimes, however, something out of the ordinary would happen. The owners of the resort would invite a potter to teach kids (and, occasionally, adults too) how to make pots the traditional way. He put a wet blob of clay on a horizontally spinning wheel. With his hands, he would manipulate its shape in a clever way, slowly but steadily creating a pot.

To me, being an eight-year-old, the whole process must have seemed like magic. He barely moved his hands at all, yet sure enough, the spinning clot would always turn into a pot. His precisely applied, manual pressure ensured it.

Another day, the potter maker would take us to his home outside the resort. Upon arriving there, I realized that pottery making represented just a fraction of his artistic inclinations. He had made his whole home himself. Some walls were riddled with minutely illustrated paintings. Others were littered with spontaneously arranged tiles, forming splendid mosaics.

Nothing in the house had sharp hooks or rigid lines. It was a fluid arrangement with bows and curved lines. Looking back on it now, it seemed like an artistic, Mediterranean version of a hobbit home. His house was a Gaudi-esque constellation of furious creativity. The potter had shown a level of dedication that could only be matched by Ryan Gosling in The Notebook. It was a unique anachronism, both temporally as well as spatially.

Its uniqueness was punctuated by the banality of Cap-d’Agde in general. It was a beach town past its former glory, overflowed by foreign tourists who were bored of their mundane lives back home. They were in search of a red-tanned chest and hedonistic escape. The town’s most famous nightclub was aptly called Amnesia. The nudist beaches and swingers clubs were phenomena – famously described by Michel Houellebecq in his book Les Particules Elementaires – that embodied the town’s indulgence.  

Photo by Oscar Nord


So what does this memory tell about me? What does the fact that it resurfaces every now and again mean? What insights can it give me with regards to my current phase in life?

One theme of the memory seems to be the contrast between sloth and sacrifice, between laziness and dedication. The potter had gone to great lengths to build a perfect house for himself. Viewed from this point of view, the memory perhaps tells me I have a choice: put in the effort and succeed, or be idle and fail.

By extension, the story reveals the importance of a goal worth fighting for. It is not possible to put in a lot of effort into something that’s not worthwhile. Whatever the potter’s motives were, they were important enough to him to put up a Herculean effort. Maybe it was indeed a romantic act, akin to Gosling’s efforts. Whatever the case may have been, it reminds me of seeking purpose in the things that I do.

The potter’s dedication had an almost ascetic quality. His efforts stood out amid the lazy tourists. Viewed from this perspective, his architectural work represented a kind of purity amid a degenerated desert. Maybe this represents my childhood innocence, which can be contrasted with adulthood.

Another aspect of importance is the dichotomy between the ordinary and the extraordinary. Although I liked spending time at the beach or playing games on my Gameboy Color, the experiences with the potter were something else entirely. They fueled my sense of wonder and stimulated my imagination.

I guess nowadays I look back upon these events with a sense of nostalgia, perhaps even melancholy. I’m not as easily impressed as I was back then. Even so, I currently probably miss having such experiences. Maybe my life has become as mundane as all of those other adults who aimed to escape their lives in the French coastal town.

Your Turn

Anyhow, I am an amateur psychologist at best, and a self-deluding charlatan at worst. You may have a much deeper understanding of this memory in particular. You possibly know how to put my experiences within a Freudian framework, or recall how the potter’s activities relate to Jung’s theory of psychosocial archetypes.

Please tell me! I’m eager to find out more about myself.

However, this isn’t just about me. You have just seen a glimpse of my past. Hopefully, it has inspired you to probe into the depths of your own mind, too. What are your most important memories? What do they signify to you? I invite you to take a step back and analyze your past. I suspect that — in the end — it could prove to be highly rewarding.

Chloe Gregg POLITICAL UTOPIAS - March 2018

Another Choice

Written by Chloé Gregg, Staff Writer

It’s the middle of January and champagne is flowing across the swampy fields of Notre-Dame-des-Landes, an agricultural commune outside the city of Nantes, France. The government’s project to construct a new airport on the West coast of France has been abandoned, putting an end to over 50 years of heated debate. Environmentalists and local farmers cheer and welcome the announcement as a new victory over the exploitative force of current-day globalization. Amongst them, a group of anarchists who have illegally occupied the land in protest against the airport. The ‘Zadistes’ (activists for the ZAD, Zone to Defend) see this as an opportunity to introduce a new project – a social, environmental and agricultural experiment for people who wish to stay on the Notre-Dame-des-Landes or NDL.

The demand for new forms of communal life is no revolutionary phenomenon. Since the first peace movements of the 1970s swept across Western societies, a growing number of people have involved themselves in a variety of projects seeking to re-build eroded social ties by living in small, close-knit groups.

Some groups have established what is called ‘egalitarian’ or ‘intended’ communities, such as ‘Twin Oaks’ in rural Virginia, USA, where land, labor, and income is shared equally between all members of the community. Working tasks are structured, but in no way imposed. Instead, it is the sense of common responsibility and belonging that encourages members to carry out their duties.

Another expression of collective living that is flourishing today, in response to housing shortages and expensive accomodation; is co-housing. With private rooms and houses arranged around common spaces and facilities, these small networks offer closer ties between neighbors, while maintaining a larger degree of individual agency and privacy. Unlike the former example, its members aren’t pressured to share a common ideology or philosophy.

With the principles of sustainability and cooperation at their core, these alternative communities can take on many forms. They may reject any sign of organizational hierarchy out of due consideration for social equality. They may prefer a semi-autonomous status in order to maintain bonds with the wider economy, e.g. by selling the surplus of their production on local markets to finance agricultural equipment or land rental costs. Whatever their structure they aim to show an example of a functioning and fruitful life outside the current societal paradigm. They can lead us to a shift.  

Despite these trends, most political authorities and media outlets try to downsize these movements by depicting their adherents as ‘marginals’ or ‘rebels’. A defensive response to their centralized governments is being questioned, to a hint that their nation-state architecture is nearing its expiry date. For now, the status quo is protected by their longer history and the pluralistic ignorance of those who still conform to the idea that the current model is the will of the majority. Yet as shown in the case of Notre-Dame-des-Landes, where about 300 people were living on the occupied grounds, a longing for true social reconnection is present across many societal groups. The experience of loneliness is in fact so wide-spread, with 72% of Americans having reported it as occurring at least once a week, that medical doctors and physicians are calling it an “invisible epidemic”. This solitude has exacerbated the feeling of disenchantment within the system. A feeling that echoes across all levels of the social strata.

From freshly-graduated urban university students to third generation farmers, the opportunity to test a lifestyle outside the current neoliberal structure has attracted people from all walks of life. From emotional isolation emerges a desire to re-instigate new links with others. A desire to put an end to all the great evils of unregulated capitalism and prevent them from leading to further individual disillusionment and social alienation.

Photo by Elizabeth Lies

It might be decades-long exposure to capitalist propaganda that has convinced the vast majority of us that the return to a simpler life, with a less wide array of consumer choices, is too difficult to achieve or is simply undesirable. Not even Piketty’s bestselling Capital in the 21st Century managed to move us beyond the social destruction we have created in the pursuit of the current economic model. Whatever the reason for our stubbornness, it is time to think and act differently.

We must fight the system’s resistance to change by setting examples. We must grant the 300 adults and children demanding the right to remain on the Notre-Dame-des-Landes the opportunity to show us the worth of an alternative life. We must let them demonstrate its benefits and encourage them in their innovative attempts to happiness. Through examples, the so-called ‘outsiders’ may be able to convince even the most hardcore Black Friday shoppers that the simpler things in life do leave us feeling happier and complete. Through experience, they stand a chance of convincing us that their minimalist lifestyle is desirable.  

Amongst the residents of the ZAD that celebrated the cancellation of the airport that foggy winter morning, few had imagined they’d be surrounded by such a large crowd of supporters. For many, their presence in Notre-Dame-des-Landes was intended as a mere visit. A brief glimpse at life without the constant soundtrack of YouTube advertisements and the endless queues of mass-distribution supermarkets. Yet quite rapidly, these visits became part of the permanent resettlement within a wind-powered self-sufficient community.

If the facts on youth unemployment, urban crowding, the soaring use of prescription medication and rapid environmental destruction are not enough to weaken your belief in the neoliberal dream, then let the alternative communities show us what we’re missing out on.

There’s a diverse set of sustainable community models out there, so take a look at some examples listed below (maybe you’ll find inspiration towards building your own):

Below you can find a gallery of photos from an Emmaus community in Lescar, France, taken by our Head Editor: