Leo, your quote from The Idiot reminds me of a man I met long ago when I was raising money for some murals I once did at the Long Street Baths in Cape Town. He was a businessman who liked going to the turkish baths on Sunday mornings, who took an interest in helping to pay for the murals. He always looked very unassuming, but he was the owner of many large and small companies, and at the time was also busy going back and forth to Angola on some mining project. I later found out that a lot of things he did were quite improper. Noseweek, the magazine which follows corrupt business activities, began to follow him. He was the type of businessman who had no qualms about buying up a longstanding business and selling off all its different parts until there was nothing left. Shareholders were left with worthless bits of paper. Nothing was ever pinned on him however and his unscrupulous behaviour had a paradoxical effect on people, inspiring both horror and admiration, that someone could stop at absolutely nothing.

Your quote from Dostoyevsky, reminded me of visits to his office (he was unreachable to me by phone and to speak of anything I had to take an appointment with his secretary and come to his office on the top floor of one of the smaller skyscrapers in the city). He has always charming, showing me the views from the roof, or some strange cigars which were in the form of a spiral due to their preparation method of being twisted together in bundles of three to hold in the flavor – a friend had found these for him in Cuba. Now and then he briefly took a phone call.  I was aware that I occupied only a small part of his attention and his brain ceaselessly moving at a calm and steady pace from one thing to the next. On one occasion, I arrived and he asked me if I minded stepping out with him to do some shopping while we talked. We descended by lift to the parking, got into his SAAB, drove to the Waterfront where he purchased a rain jacket from Cape Union Mart for a hiking trip he was doing with his daughter on the weekend, we drove back to his office, concluded our business and he said goodbye. On my way out of the building I realized that the whole meeting had lasted 25 minutes and that this short period had been effortlessly carved into a complex and purely functional form with no fluff or hesitations. I found this very refreshing. At the time I was 24 and capable of spending large amounts of time dreaming, or allowing subjective thoughts to come in the way of actions, and so I tried to hold onto his kind of energy for a while after our meetings. I found out that he generally arrived in his office at 6am and at the end of the day drank quite a lot to slow down again (or maybe blot out something from his conscience), and this led to some bad car accidents. His idea for funding the second series of murals, was that a number of the wealthy clients, including himself, at the Baths would make an equal contribution of X amount. When he found out that the other men were only willing to make much lesser donations he started slipping out of his office every time I arrived for one of the meetings I had set up with his secretary.

Lately, when teaching I’ve experimented with creating a dense sequence of activities in during the period of a day, in an effort to collide different ways of thinking and functioning together in a way which might create some kind of acceleration in the students heads.

I can see what Kianoosh is saying and I find the elastic bands and cameras an interesting analogy and I like his questioning, ‘I wonder what role coming here has and what really changes? Should I expect change or simply accept the fact that things remain the same?’

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The shifting identity of Mr Motallebi

The cameras stuck back-to-back influencing each other’s movement – gyrating ceaselessly according the faultless laws of physics – seem to answer his question very nicely. I think this is what’s happening all the time in whatever place one finds one’s self in, one is bouncing in a web of elastic connections between one’s self and one’s surroundings, one’s movements and behaviors affect what is going on around one and this affects the way we perceive and behave in this place. We’re bound in. Our movement through space and time is not just a straight line; it also involves the evolution of our sense of self. Kianoosh may have similar preoccupations to those that he had in Amsterdam a month previously, but I find it unlikely that he still has exactly the same sense of who he is now as he did a month earlier. I have no doubt that something shifted in his head when he started hanging out with Jean and his friends, for example, I think something in his sharp analytical brain softened and became receptive to strange and not completely unpleasant things. In a different way, I’m sure there was some kind of change in Jean as well. Daniel Dennet has written and interesting text called ‘The Self as a Centre of narrative gravity’, in which he describes the self as a ‘convenient fiction’ which is constantly reinventing itself in each new social context as the brain seeks to create a vague sense of coherence to both itself and those around one.

Every movement has its repercussions for us and I think its pointless to try to decide at what point one’s actions are relevant, right, good art…rather the object is to try to find a degree of confidence in this web of relations and circumstances. Finding this confidence on a human or existential level is invariably the problem we face.

Gregg Smith


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