Block1 : Verken de Toekomst
Westerkerk, Vrijdag 24 maart 2017
Rupert Sheldrake, Jan Zielonka, Evgeny Morozov
Gemodereerd door Aviva Boissevain & Boudewijn Richel
Q&A met de publiek
Westerkerk, Vrijdag 24 maart 2017
**Peter Sloterdijk will no longer be present due to a sudden accident in the mountains in France and is currently in the hospital.
Spirituality, mysticism, and Christianity have played a prominent role in your life. From your writings, one gets the sense that you are on a pilgrimage or quest. Could you elaborate on this aspect of your life? Was there a point in your life where you experienced what might be called a “religious conversion” (or perhaps several)?
With regard to your Christian faith, how would you characterize it? Is it broadly orthodox—do you, for instance, accept the Virgin Birth and bodily Resurrection of Christ? Can you forthrightly affirm the Apostle’s or Nicene Creed? Where might fundamentalists and evangelicals part company with you?
During the course of my scientific education at school, and then at Cambridge, I quickly realized that several of my science teachers were atheists, and that they regarded atheism as the normal position to have if you’re a scientist. It was just part of the standard scientific worldview; at least in Britain, science and atheism went together. I wanted to be a scientist, so it was part of a package deal, which I simply accepted.
I was the only boy in my school who refused to get confirmed at the age of 14, and when I went to Cambridge as an undergraduate I joined the Cambridge Humanist Association. However, after going to a few meetings I began to find it all a bit dull. Although I wanted to believe that there was no God and impersonal laws and blind chance had given rise to everything, I found it a strain.
When I received a grant in 1968 from the Royal Society to go and study tropical plants in Malaysia, at the University of Malaya, I traveled through India on the way there. I found India a very exciting place to be, and as I traveled through that country I encountered gurus and ashrams and temples, which opened my eyes to a range of phenomena I was completely unfamiliar with.
When I got back to England I got interested in exploring consciousness, and I had various psychedelic experiences, which convinced me that the mind was vastly greater than anything I’d been told about in my scientific education.
Then, I got interested in transcendental meditation because I wanted to be able to explore consciousness without drugs. I was increasingly intrigued by India, by yoga, and by meditation, and in 1974 I had a chance to go and work in India as Principal Plant Physiologist at the International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics (ICRISAT) in Hyderabad.
I was thrilled by the idea of immersing myself in this exotic and fascinating culture. While I was in India, I visited temples and ashrams and I attended discourses by gurus and holy men. I also took up Sufism, and had a Sufi teacher in Hyderabad, who was the grandfather of a friend of mine. He gave me a Sufi mantra, a wazifa, which for about a year I practiced in a Sufi form of meditation. But I didn’t want to become a Sufi because in India to become a Sufi, you have to be a Muslim first and foremost, and that would have been too much of a stretch.
Then, an original idea crossed my mind: What about the Christian tradition? I hadn’t given it a thought. I spoke to a Hindu guru, and he said, “All paths lead to God. You come from a Christian family so you should follow a Christian path.”
The more I thought about it, the more sense it made, and I began to pray with the Lord’s Prayer, and I started going to church at the Anglican Church, St. John’s, Secunderabad. After a while I was confirmed, at the age of 34, by an Indian bishop in the Church of South India (an ecumenical church formed by the coming together of Anglicans and Methodists). I felt very happy to be reconnected with the Christian tradition.
I still felt a huge tension between the Hindu wisdom, which I felt was so deep, and the Christian tradition that seemed a bit shallow on the spirituality side. I then discovered a wonderful teacher, Father Bede Griffiths, who had a Christian ashram in South India. He was an English Benedictine monk who had lived there for 25 years when I met him. His ashram combined many aspects of Indian culture with Christian tradition. I wrote my first book, A New Science of Life, in his ashram.
When I got back to England, after a long period in India, I had a wonderful time rediscovering the English tradition. I rediscovered sacred places—England is full of them, great cathedrals and churches—and I started going to my local parish church in Newark-on-Trent and to cathedrals, where there is marvelous singing.
Instead of just seeing it as an aesthetic experience as I had done before, I now felt part of it and was very, very moved by it and felt privileged to be part of this tradition. So, since then it’s been my practice to go to church on Sundays whenever I can. I see the creeds first and foremost as statements of belief in God’s threefold nature. The doctrine of the Holy Trinity makes great sense to me. No doubt I differ from some people in my interpretation of the details. But probably even the most unbending literalists do not accept every part of it without some qualifications. For example, in the Apostle’s Creed when it says of Jesus Christ that “he sitteth on the right hand of God the Father Almighty,” is he really sitting? And are God the Father and Jesus located in a particular place, a celestial throne-room? And does God the Father have right and left hands?
To what extent do you think the maverick path you ended up taking was forced on you by the empirical data themselves, and to what extent was it contingent on your being exposed to alternative ways of thinking in India and elsewhere? In other words, do you think you would have become the Rupert Sheldrake of today without the experience of living and working in a radically different cultural environment?
Read full interview
Pankaj Mishra :
THE LIFE OF THE WRITER AS A LIFE OF READING
THE BELIEVER: When you were twenty-three, you went to live in the Himalayan mountains to read and write in the hope of someday becoming a writer. Did you have a clear idea about what you were doing?
PANKAJ MISHRA: Well, I had a basic idea that I would go to the mountains, where it would be cheap to live and there would be lots of silence, lots of solitude. In retrospect, this was a completely romantic idea. I wasn’t making a living at that point—only a few hundred rupees from writing reviews and articles for different magazines and newspapers in India—but this was in 1992 and the economy in rural India was on a different scale altogether. It only cost me two thousand rupees a month to live, with my rent included—that’s forty-five or fifty dollars. I could live very comfortably on that. The day began at five o’clock when the sun hit my windows. The whole day was there ahead of me with nothing to do except read and write. I wrote reviews— I loved reading books anyway, and I was happy to write a few words about them and get paid. There was no television, no telephone. I started on various drafts of a novel, which eventually became The Romantics, but I mostly read, about a book a day. I was able to finish a medium-size, 350-page book in five or six hours.
BLVR: What did your family think?
PM: I’m sure they thought that I was doing something extremely risky, but to their everlasting credit, they supported me. At least, they never raised any objections, which in the Indian context is especially unusual. It would be unusual here too, but in India people like my parents are anxious, generally, about what their children are going to do. My relatives often told my parents that I was not doing the right thing and that I was going to end up badly. The fear is that if you don’t do certain things at a certain point in your life—if you don’t sit for certain exams, if you don’t apply to certain colleges—you’ll be left with nothing. In my case, there were no safety nets, no family money. But if my parents felt those anxieties, they never expressed them to me directly. I think my father may have had some literary ambitions of his own, which were reflected in the books he had around the house, and may have had sympathy for me. Otherwise I can’t explain why they were so tolerant.
BLVR: Did you tell them that you were going to become a writer?
PM: At that stage, making a career as a writer in English wasn’t the most absurd, unimaginable thing in the world. By the mid-’80s, Vikram Seth’s The Golden Gate had come out and soon after, Amitav Ghosh’s first novel came out. I had no idea what I would write about, but I really didn’t think too long about that. Initially, I saw the life of the writer as a life of reading, which for me was really an extension of the life of idleness that I’d been living as an undergraduate at university. Reading gave me so much pleasure that I felt that maybe I could continue that life indefinitely. I basically went from day to day, reading a lot, loving most books I read and making notes about them. I was just hoping that nothing would happen—like having to apply for a job or think seriously about a career—that would put a stop to the wonderful life I was leading. And, miraculously, nothing stopped me.
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Interview met Eva Rovers
De Comédie Büchienne. ‘Het leven van Büch was kunst en vliegwerk’.
11 november 2016
De biografie Boud, het verzameld leven van Boudewijn Büch, van Eva Rovers wordt, geheel terecht, ondersteund met een eigen soundtrack. Büch (1948 – 2002) was minstens zo begeistert van muziek als van de dood en de literatuur. In de epiloog geeft de biografe aan dat ze beoogt heeft om een wat genuanceerder beeld te scheppen van de dichter, schrijver, presentator en verzamelaar, van het totaalfenomeen Büch. Daarin is ze wel geslaagd, binnen de lastige grenzen die haar onderwerp zelf heeft opgeworpen.
Na het overlijden van Boudewijn Büch lag de nadruk namelijk vooral op het fantastische karakter van zijn schrijverij, op het waarheidsgehalte van de gedichten en romans. Was zijn moeder van Joodse afkomst, had zijn vader zelfmoord gepleegd, was er daadwerkelijk een jonggestorven kind geweest? De verontwaardiging was groot toen dit, en vele andere zaken, verzinsels bleken te zijn. Maar wat zou het? De schrijver liegt zijn eigen waarheid en in dit geval bespeelde Büch de media met verve. Journalisten willen nu eenmaal een ‘doorleefd’ verhaal vertellen, aanhaken bij de actualiteit of in ieder geval bij een ingrijpende gebeurtenis in het leven van een mens. Het tonen van de ware emoties. Ja, ja. In feite nam hij de domheid, de goedgelovigheid van de mediamensen constant op de hak. Het is het abusievelijk totaal identificeren van de schrijver en zijn tekst.
Wat heeft je doen besluiten om deze caleidoscopische figuur te kiezen als onderwerp voor een biografie?
‘Ik zat op de middelbare school toen Büch regelmatig op de tv was te zien en artikelen van zijn hand in allerlei kranten en bladen verschenen. Een aantal van zijn romans heb ik toen gelezen, maar ik verslond niet alles. Ik vond hem een interessante figuur, maar was geen fan.
Zijn persoon en zijn verhaal begonnen mij pas echt te fascineren toen na zijn dood de verontwaardiging uitbrak. Ik vroeg me af waarom iemand die zo geliefd was opeens zo werd verguisd.’
Hoe ben je vervolgens te werk gegaan?
‘Büchs persoonlijke archief was overgedragen aan het Literatuurmuseum te Den Haag en wordt pas in 2030 openbaar. Ik kreeg toestemming van de nabestaanden om daarin research te doen. Allereerst heb ik dat archief geïnventariseerd. Om het overzicht te houden in de massa aan informatie heb ik een groot Excel sheet gemaakt waarin ik zoveel mogelijk heb proberen onder te brengen. Daarna ben ik begonnen met het lezen van de dagboeken en de correspondentie. Vervolgens heb ik zoveel als mogelijk chronologisch gesproken met de mensen uit zijn leven. Eerst met zijn moeder en zijn broers, daarna met jeugdvrienden en tenslotte met vrienden en mensen waarmee hij zakelijk te maken had. In totaal heb ik met honderdvijftig mensen gesproken uit alle periodes van zijn leven. De laatste tweeëneenhalf jaar heb ik gewijd aan het schrijven. Muziek speelde een grote rol in zijn leven, dat wilde ik ook prominent in het boek hebben, maar niet door afzonderlijke beschouwingen daarover te schrijven. Daarom heb ik songteksten opgenomen en een soundtrack gemaakt, zodat mensen onder het lezen kunnen horen waar hij van hield.’
Eva Rovers, full interview