Cultural Revolutions: Libya

The civil war in Libya seems to be a distant memory to most of us, particularly in the wake of the Syrian uprisings; to the unaffected Western spectator, the Middle East and Africa is just one long civil war. The location may change, however the results remain the same. However, at present, Libya is experiencing a change of such magnitude that it will influence the course of the country, irrevocably. The situation after the war is the one that matters to the Foreign Office; we depend on a country’s stability and post-war success to shape our own policies.

Libya is currently being controlled by the interim government, the NTC (National Transitional Council), who took de facto control in the aftermath of the governmental collapse. The transitional council is formed of anti-Gaddafi revolutionaries, who are currently aiming to restore democratic function to the country, including planning for elections of an official government by the middle of the year.

The man himself. (1)

The presence of this government seems to be merely a formality, however to the people of Libya, it represents freedom that they had previously been without; under Gaddafi’s rule, political parties, and anti-governmental publications were banned, and monitored by the “wishwasha”, or secret police. Today, hundreds of new magazines, pressure groups and welfare organisations have sprung up across the capital. Gaddafi’s slogans and portraits have been removed; the process of “de-nazification” seems to have occurred in Libya, practically overnight.

In situations of massive coup d’états, little consideration is given to the positive elements of a dictatorship; in Gaddafi’s case, it seems only prudent to mention his contribution, to this cultural liberation that Libya seems to be experiencing. Under Gaddafi’s rule, literacy in Libya rose to 82% of the population, which remains to be the highest in Africa. The life expectancy of the average Libyan rose from 57 to 77, as a result of the free healthcare system. These investments were made possible by the exploitation of Libyan oil reserves; in the 1980s, at the height of Gaddafi’s rule, the GDP of the nation was greater than that of Italy.

At this point then, it is possible to argue that although Libya is currently in a state of political disarray, and economically has been severely limited as a result of administrative failure in recent years, Gaddafi did provide his populace with skills that inevitably contributed to their ability to rise against their dictator, and displace him, beginning a cultural revolution and subsequently, a new period in Libyan history. Mass literacy means that people are able to begin writing magazines; the manmade river ensures that they will be alive and healthy enough to be able to protest against their leader. It is impossible to condone Gaddafi’s actions whilst he was in power; the most heinous of which was perhaps mass indoctrination by propaganda. However, despite these misgivings, the people of Libya now have education, which is something that can never be sanctioned by the United Nations, or removed under new political systems.

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(1) http://blog.yaaree.com/wp-content/2011/08/gaddafi3.jpg

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On Decadence and Aesthetics

English students are renouned for being fussy, sometimes pretentious students; we are the fussy eaters of the academic world. We tend to know our tastes very early on, purely because my the time we reach undergraduate level, we’ve been forced into reading something from every movement, whether we were aware of it or not. And the impressions that these types of literature make on us as children, tend to remain with us forever.

Personally, I have little patience with Greek and Roman literature, with the exception of Tales From Ovid. Mythology does not tickle my fancy very often, and instead, I’m rather enamoured with modernism, aestheticism, and nineteenth century Russian literature. I occasionally dip into the pond of Victorian certainty, when I fancy something rather more tame; occasionally into a little satire, when I’m feeling sceptical. But when I’m bored, I’ll venture to look at Virginia Woolf, and if I’m feeling particularly adventurous, I’ll look into James Joyce too. When I’m in need of comfort, I’ll read some Wilde, and feel much, much better about almost everything. If I had to choose  a favourite period, I’d be hanging somewhere between aesthetics and modernism. I dare say I’d attempt to look at both of them.

An excellent quotation of Oscar Wilde (1)

The sublime was a concept present in the late Romantic period; an idea that succeeded the concept of the picturesque, but came before aestheticism. The sublime essentially meant something of overwhelming natural beauty, something that was difficult to process intellectually. Wordsworth writes of the sublime in one of his most famous poems, Lines Written A Few Miles Above Tintern Abbey (1798). This revolutionary piece of writing marked a progression in the field of aesthetics, being a truly sublime piece of writing, however is not quite a fully formed aesthetic work, still considering issues of the deity, which can be considered political. Aestheticism fundamentally leans against the inclusion of political and social themes within art.

Arguably however, Samuel Coleridge, a lover of science and geology, but also a lover of literature and poetry, wrote the first widely appreciated work in the field of aesthetics, in his Rime of the Ancient Mariner. Whilst many can argue that the poem condemns a certain number of practices, for example the shooting of the albatross, which can be considered a metaphor for wasting life, he also writes seemingly “on the surface”, and for pleasure. This kind of writing seems connected to Oscar Wilde, and The Picture of Dorian Gray. Two of the biggest Romantic poets formed the basis of aestheticism; Keats, Byron, and Shelley went on to build on this very scarce foundation, left by the two famous writers.

Dante's Lady Lilith; an excellent example of the aesthetic period (2)

To my mind at least, the picturesque, the sublime, and the aesthetic seem to be progressions of one another; in picturesque artwork, a frame is used, to either include or exclude a concept or image, and the painter has final control over the scene; the imagination and the reality of a location or concept amalgamate to create something that is picturesque, but fundamentally, it is not purely realistic. Aestheticism takes this concept further by widening where the ‘picture’ can come from, and what frame can be used, and there is absolutely no requirement for the inclusion of sociopolitical themes.

Aestheticism emerged partly as a reaction to the Enlightenment as a later extension of Romanticism; instead of looking at science, and factual things, the idea of art being created because it is beautiful emerged. Oscar Wilde is probably the most prominent of the aesthetic writers, alongside people such as Dante Gabriel Rossetti. The concept of ‘art for art’s sake’ overrode any social concerns, or political agendas. This was really a period of decadence and beauty.

I’m something of a fan of decadence and beauty in literature; I love things that will fascinate my mind, blow it backwards, and take me to something of a utopia whereby there are no deep social issues. Sometimes, it is nice to be immersed in such a beautiful world, and to escape darker, more imposing literature such as Dostoevsky’s Crime and Punishment, or Devils. Literature provides a point of escape for so many people; the decadent writers lived in a world that preceded world wars, common invasion, and a plethora of other genocides; a practice that ran rampant throughout the 20th century. In many ways, their world was something far more innocent; the British Empire covered a quarter of the globe, and nothing ever truly threatened the innately British superiority complex. In many ways, it was a world so supremely different from ours that it could be considered a whole other culture, an almost untainted one.

I wonder what everyone else finds fascinating…

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(1) http://files.myopera.com/tatora/blog/4878_PRO_sample_01.gif

(2) http://gypsyscarlett.files.wordpress.com/2010/01/art-dante-gabriel-rossetti-lady-lilith-18681.jpg

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On Exploring Budapest

Eastern Europe holds a certain allure, because it is essentially on the same continent as France, or Germany. However Hungary, Poland, and Czechoslovakia are rather alien in terms of culture and social convention, although less so in terms of religion. We, who call ourselves European, are in fact rather sheltered from the essence of Europe, and so this summer I’m hoping to rectify the situation by visiting Budapest with a friend. I’ve always been curious about the history of Hungary, and the history of the Hungarian Jews, ever since looking at the impact of World War Two on the country.

I rarely go on holiday to cities; as a family tradition, we tend to sit by swimming pools or on the beach; anything to avoid the appearance of money belts and explorer shorts, and the taboo socks and sandals combination. We sit by the pool and complain that we are hot; we are typical British people on holiday when it comes to discussions on the weather. We don’t often visit cities; we’ve seen New York and Boston, and had a day in Pisa; but on average, city breaks are not a family venture, especially when you have younger children; pulling them through blistering heat with a plethora of other tourists is an organisational mission, as well as requiring the patience of  a saint.

File:Saint Stephen's Basilica Budapest.jpg

St. Stephen's Basilica (1)

However, cities have a vast number of opportunities for cultural exploration; museums and access to authentic cuisine is one of the highlights for me in exploring cities. I have found that eating at the same restaurants as the locals improve’s one’s understanding of the local food and local traditions, especially further afield. However, if you’ve been touched by the cruel hand of food poisoning, there’s really nothing wrong with a McDonald’s. Our Western digestive system isn’t always trained for layered cabbage dishes, or in more extreme cases, stuffed lamb heads, or stewed insects. You do become accustomed to things assuming you are prepared to try them however.

I’m thoroughly looking forwards to having a look round the Hungarian National Museum, and visiting the shopping centres and markets. The Saint Basilica has a certain appeal too, venturing into the Roman Catholicism world and the history thereof. The architecture of the building also has roots in Greek architecture and Roman history and therefore we’ll be exposed to neo-classical elements of Budapest too. I’m hoping to look around the city and night, eat some Hungarian food and go to the Hungarian opera.

The only challenge is to make the trip as cost-effective as possible; stay in a hotel in the centre of the city so that we save money on transport costs, and hopefully, somewhere where breakfast is included. As Michael McIntyre says, on holiday, we convince ourselves that we won’t need lunch, because we never want to eat when we’re hot. I’m rather hoping that we’ll be sufficiently busy that we won’t need to be thinking about food all the time; four days isn’t very long to look around such a beautiful city, but I think if we fill all moments of consciousness with interesting activities, we should be able to maximise the time we’re there for.

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(1) http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/thumb/e/e8/Saint_Stephen%27s_Basilica_Budapest.jpg/800px-Saint_Stephen%27s_Basilica_Budapest.jpg

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