Friday, September 08, 2006

Reviving the art of letter writing

Our thanks should go to the 14 year old student, Hind al Hashimi, who recently had a letter placed first in an international competition. (Gulf News - Sept 9 06 p.6)

Hind asserts that although emails have their place in our fast paced world, it is in the writing of a letter that you find your creativity inspired and your true personality represented.

Letter writing use to be an art form - with the famous and the literate having letters published for us, their future readers.

T. E. Lawrence, later to become better known as Lawrence of Arabia, wrote prodigiously on all sorts of topics, from his archealogical/anthropological travels in the Levant of his day, to the 'dog fights' in 10, Downing Street and his own government's treatment of the Arabs and of his efforts to emancipate them from Ottoman influence and control.

His letters really represent what amount to what would be as valid as 'lab reports' to scientists; they are a truthful, sometimes subjective, account of the times in which he lived.

I mentioned the word 'subjective', in the knowledge that the word often makes people turn away, as if a truly personal account were something to shy away from. Yet, it is in a personal account, as opposed to, let us say, in an official one, that the real situation comes alive - in which feelings not normally portrayed in print come to the fore and bring life to what might otherwise be a lifeless account.

Hind is spot on when she says that the ways of expression and style are reduced to icons and rather simple words.

I would go one step further, and say that there is something in the pen that is not available in the keyboard - it is something akin to helping the continuity of thought. Whereas the technology of the keyboard, and the screen in front of you, gets in the way of real communication; it is as if this concentration on form comes in the way of one's ability to concentrate on content.

With a pen (full of ink) and a piece of blank paper, it can feel as if there is something embryonic about to occur.

In the famous film 'Doctor Zhivago' starring Oman Sharif in the title role, you may recall the blank page before him as he returns to writing his poetry, symbolising his return to a happier, more ordered life with his family out of pre-revolutionary Moscow.

The blank page can be intimidating for someone with nothing to say, but for the happy majority of us, it is a lawn upon which flowers will spring at the touch of our pen.
Robert Leslie Fielding

Sunday, September 03, 2006

To admire greatness and rejoice in beauty

Daniel Bell, writing in the 1990s, said that whereas former ages had been characterized by man’s struggle with the world of nature, and then the struggle with manufactured nature, this age of ours is characterized by man’s struggle against man.

There is something in man that needs to struggle, that seems clear. Barnes Wallace, the innovator responsible for the ‘bouncing bomb’ during the struggles of the 2nd World War, said that ‘life is a battle, and when the battle is over, so too is life.’

Man has conquered to achieve, and in his conquests found his greatest achievements. The ability to create machines that can fly, or till the soil, or kill has been his keenest, most developed ability.

To admire greatness, man has either had to conquer it, in its natural form, or produce it through innovation. Kipling urged us, though, not to be overtaken in our admiration of the machine; he said that ‘they are only the children of our mind’, putting them firmly subordinate to us, which is right and proper.

Now that we seem to have entered this final phase of Bell’s; one characterized by man’s struggle against himself, we have come to lack the greatness to admire. We no longer have Newton, da Vinci or Darwin to look up to and aspire to. In the West, in particular, the decline of our greatness in manufacturing has brought with it our obsession with the new, disparaging the obsolete as though it never existed or had its uses.

The geological map of Britain, and Dubai's Burj al Arab, signify, to me at any rate, all that should be admired and all that has beauty. True, neither has the beauty of a symphony, or the majesty of the stag in its highland haunts, but look beneath the surface, as you must with both artifacts, and you will learn of the vast amount of knowledge and expertise, the skill and the diligence necessary to produce both.

We can stand and admire a painting by Van Gogh, a statue by Michelangelo, or a dome by Brunelesci, as simple onlookers, marveling at their beauty, but it is only in the understanding of genius, partial though this may be, that true greatness and real beauty come to be apparent. And that is probably what we are losing, may have lost already, but it is in understanding that one comes to admire greatness and rejoice in beauty, from the hand of man, or his creator.

Robert L. Fielding