Friday, July 04, 2008

Seventy-eight Revolutions per Minute

When I was in graduate school at Temple University in Philadelphia, writer Václav Havel, first president of the Czech Republic, upon receiving the Liberty Medal, gave an acceptance speech at Independence Hall, where the original American Declaration of Independence was signed in 1776. It was a warm day and I had to drag myself over from West Philadelphia in time to hear him speak. He was eloquent and "heavy." Here's a snippet from "The Need for Transcendence in the Postmodern World," which he delivered in English on July 4, 1994:

It logically follows that, in today's multicultural world, the truly reliable path to coexistence, to peaceful coexistence and creative cooperation, must start from what is at the root of all cultures and what lies infinitely deeper in human hearts and minds than political opinion, convictions, antipathies, or sympathies -- it must be rooted in self-transcendence:

Transcendence as a hand reached out to those close to us, to foreigners, to the human community, to all living creatures, to nature, to the universe.

Transcendence as a deeply and joyously experienced need to be in harmony even with what we ourselves are not, what we do not understand, what seems distant from us in time and space, but with which we are nevertheless mysteriously linked because, together with us, all this constitutes a single world.

Transcendence as the only real alternative to extinction. . .

This speech was given less than five years after Havel became President in the wake of the Velvet Revoluton of 1989. Havel, being an artist as well as politican, was and is a huge fan of Lou Reed and The Velvet Underground, Frank Zappa, and others. From Velvet Underground to Velvet Revolution to Philadelphia Freedom -- how wild and cool is that?

This year's winner: Mikhail Gorbachev.

Today's Rune: Harvest. Happy American Independence Day!


Charles Gramlich said...

Transendence is the only alternative to extinction. I think I need to think on this one for a while.

Lana Gramlich said...

Everything there was pretty cool except the Lou Reed part. Maybe it's just me, but gads, I can't stand him!

Johnny Yen said...

One of my oldest and closest friends served in the military after school-- he'd done ROTC to pay for college. He served in Germany in the late eighties, and was there when the Berlin Wall came down. One weekend, he and a buddy went to Prague and were in a bar and Vaclev Havel came in. He sat down with his cigarette and beer and started reading a newspaper. My friend went over to him and chatted him up. He thanked him-- it was people like him that led to the Cold War ending in a whimper and not a bang, and led to my friend quietly going home after his hitch was up rather than dead.

Of course, George W. Bush had other plans. My friend was called up out of the reserves and sent to Iraq for a year a couple of years ago.

Erik Donald France said...

Thank y'all for the comments!

Charles, agreed. Lana -- Lou Reed is New York City's voice! Or one of 'em anyway . . .

Johnny -- kewel (the meeting, not the redeployment)!