Sunday, December 18, 2011

The Velvet Underground Revolution: Václav Havel, RIP

As of this post, news is rolling in of the death of Kim Jong-il, North Korea's "Supreme Leader" -- a time of peril and, we can hope, opportunity. Time will tell soon enough. Earlier came word of the death of writer Václav Havel, first president of the Czech Republic.

When I was in graduate school at Temple University in Philadelphia, Havel, 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 a huge fan of Lou Reed and The Velvet Underground, Frank Zappa, and others. From Velvet Underground to Velvet Revolution to Philadelphia Freedom.

We must hope that something as good as Havel's way develops on the Korean penninsula, now or soon.

Today's Rune: The Self.    


the walking man said...

Havel, a modern man who saw the world with open eye and understanding heart, the new kid from Korea will be the same as the old kid from Korea. One can not remain in an insular society and see nothing but that society and then conceive change.

Johnny Yen said...

When I heard the news of Jong's death, coming right after Havel's death, I thought "Wow-- could you have had two more opposite guys?"

An old, old friend of mine, who served out his ROTC obligation in Europe in the late eighties, met Havel in a pub in 1990 or so. After things settled down after the Wall came down, even US service members were able to visit Prague. My friend was out in a pub and came across Havel, accompanied by a sole bodyguard, sitting in the pub, sipping a beer and reading a newspaper. My friend approached Havel and chatted with him for a while. My friend thanked him-- told him that thanks to people like Havel, he was there in Prague on a friendly visit, rather than fighting a war. We need more Havels and fewer Kim Song-Il's in our history.

Charles Gramlich said...

Death is the equalizer, I guess. Scary wondering what North Korea will be like now, but it seems it could hardly be worse.

jodi said...

Erik, I have a niece from Korea and will soon hear what her family back home thinks of these events. Should be interesting...