Wednesday, August 23, 2006

I woke up in a Salvador Dali Painting

Kafka – The Castle

The basic idea with this book is that there is a land surveyor who was commissioned to measure the inside of the castle, but try as he might he can not get in to do his work.  His efforts to secure entrance to the castle are rebuffed at every turn by villagers and bureaucrats.  This is K.’s (the land surveyor) life quest.  He eventually dies of exhaustion and never completes the survey of the interior of the castle, and he never meets the count who rules the castle.  This can be an analogy for many things, religion (The elusiveness of God), psychology (never being able to understand our interior life), man’s quest to understand what makes up the universe.  

This summer I am working for one of my professors and he is overseas doing work in rural villages.  He came across a boy who was dying of dehydration because he has diarrhea.  He did what he could for him, but didn’t think he was going to make it.  It seems absurd that preventable diseases kill millions of people.  Ie. Malaria, it is the number one killer, and the medicine exists.  Forget aids, why not fight a disease that we have the cure for already?  Oh yeah, I forgot, aids kills North Americans, and one North American is worth a hundred Africans.  Silly me.  And besides, once we find the cure for aids will it be accessible to Africans?  (Scary stat: if you’re a child whose mother had aids while she was pregnant you have a 50% chance of not having aids, but if your mother is African it is more around the 4% mark, from the Steven Lewis book)

Which leads me back to Kafka, perhaps The Castle deserves a rewrite.  K. should show up in the village and begin his work as land surveyor in the village.  At every turn the measurements won’t add up though.  He will go back and measure everything a second time.  The measurements are all correct, but one street is one hundred kilometers and has three store fronts and looks the same as the next block up that is thirty meters.  Both streets look the same, have the same 3 shops and hold the same number of people.  

Back to malaria and diarrhea, at first I just thought that is the way it is, you know.  But then I took a step back and asked why.  It makes sense in the context, I can understand the mechanisms, but those mechanisms (colonialism, corruption, civil and regular war etc) don’t make moral sense.  

Ethiopia has problems with food security because of political conflict (read burning crops and killing livestock as a method of control).  This is a moral problem.  But where did they learn those tactics?  Didn’t Europeans come to North America and run a campaign of biological warfare against the native population?  Weren’t they in Africa too?  The only distinction between Hutus and Tutsis was tone of skin that was decided by their European warlords.  An even more direct link is the estimated ten trillion dollars worth of labour that was stolen from Africa and exported to North America and the Caribbean during the slave trade.  Maybe the current dictators of Africa learned it from somewhere.  

What I am saying is that the mechanisms that have created the context for Africa are the same mechanisms that have created North America.  What happens when we accept moral responsibility for our collective history?  All of a sudden it seems wrong to be thankful for our security and health because it is stolen.  

Overseas Development Assistance (ODA) isn’t charity and goodwill, it is debt repayment.  

Should people die of malaria in North America?  Then why is it alright in Africa?  Why does a rural African have to walk a hundred kilometers to get as to the same place a North American only has to walk thirty meters to get to?  This goes beyond the analogy… the boys family took him for a fourteen hour round trip to visit a clinic that couldn’t help him because they didn’t have any supplies.  That is a round trip it would take me thirty five minutes.  And I wouldn’t even have to go to the hospital because I have everything I need right in my medicine cabinet.  

A matter of discomfort for me becomes a matter of life and death in another country.  
This is what is absurd.  

I would illustrate K.’s world with Surrealist art, because all of a sudden Salvador Dali makes a lot more sense.  It is the way the world is.  If you look at his art rationally (with a standard unit of measure) it seems absurd.

I woke up in a Salvidor Dali Painting

No comments: