Archive for the ‘Arts & Cultures & Societies’ Category


Rolf Strom-Olsen

The famous US film-maker Ken Burns, whose name is familiar to North American audiences thanks mostly to his ground-breaking 1990 film on the US Civil War, has perpetrated another epic documentary. Burns latest subject is more war, this time "The War"  (as the documentary is called, a depressingly ambiguous title for a European audience). But for Americans, "The War" is World War Two, a conflict that has produced a seemingly never-ending spate of nostalgic and sentimental homages to what is modestly coined (in US collective memory) as the "greatest generation." Among the more recent grandiose offerings, we have had director Steven Spielberg’s film, "Saving Private Ryan," US broadcaster Tom Brokaw’s book "The Greatest Generation" and a wildly popular television adaptation of historian Stephen Ambrose’s "Band of Brothers". Burns’ film follows in the same vein, insofar as it is an unapologetically US-centred examination of World War Two (there is not a single non-US voice in the film). But the film avoids the theatrical triumphalism of these other efforts and achieves a degree of nuance and dignity by focusing on individuals remembering what they experienced. This parochialism might turn off a non-US audience (I was watching in Canada), but in its depiction of war as a remembered event, Burns is asking a subtle question about history that lifts the film above its narrow national focus: what is the value of memory to our understanding of history?

"Beautiful that war and all its deeds of carnage, must in time be utterly lost" wrote Walt Whitman, not counting on modern filmmakers to prove the sentiment wrong. Burns’ apparently decided to make a film about The War in 1999 when he discovered that upwards of a thousand US veterans were dying every day.  That’s an impressively large number, and a sombre reminder not only of how many people actually fought in the conflict, but just how many lives were intimately affected by it. Indeed, the scope and impact of the conflict is hard for us to fathom, wherever we are. As one interviewee commented: "it was like our lives were suspended for the duration". Burns is a historian of a peculiar sort – he describes himself as an archaeologist of emotion.  As such, he asks:  how does that happen? More importantly, how does that feel?

Emotion, not cold historical analysis, is the central theme in this 15-hour outpouring. But these are not the yellow-patina memories of old snapshots, or whitewashed celebrations of heroism. I can rUs_tank_crew_tunisia_1942emember one of Burn’s interviewees, Paul Fussell, a noted historian, author and himself an infantryman in The War, commenting that when people die in war, they usually don’t die well: they die in a fusillade of agony, of mutilation and disfigurement. For Fussell, this is an important point: war is gruesome. Burns follows him lockstep; he wrenches from his subjects the horrifying carnage they witnessed. It is a mighty thing to see a kindly grandfather figure reminisce about shooting down a fellow twenty-year old, still agonising fifty years later over what he has done. War dehumanises; the philosophy of war strives to offer a simple choice to the young men and women who are called to prosecute it: them or us. But, we learn through the uneasy recollections of the now-elderly men who actually pulled the triggers and threw the grenades, not completely, nor forever and, for many, not at all. That’s an important point that most histories of conflict are not comfortable, or perhaps even capable of making.

Americans have memorialised The War as Their War. Despite the savagery unleashed by the conflict, The War is still seen in American eyes as a virtuous, even noble, enterprise. Even fifty years later, the enemy are still easy to loathe, and still comfortably fit the stereotypes which made that "us/them" trigger-impulse possible. The War earns its definitive article because, even with the passage of time, it is still imbued with an aura of epic righteousness. In American memory, liberation is pitted against Buchenwald, freedom against the Bataan Death March. Lest we fail to get the point, the film’s narration helpfully frames the question for us: anger, arrogance, bigotry, victimhood and the lust for power on one side; courage, perseverance, selflessness, faith, leadership and the hunger for freedom on the other. No points for guessing which side the Americans were on.

Clarity, particularly ideological clarity, makes an uneasy bedfellow with historical fact. But this is a different specie altogether: memory-fact. The War exists as a set of specific events and geopolitical forces. But it is also how a society remembers, or wants to remember, the conflict. It is how that conflict was (and still is being) shaped, and how it in turn shaped people’s lives. Some critics have noted the inevitable distortions (errors really) of a historical narrative that coalesce around individual memories. Pre-war America is recalled by many of the film’s subjects in idyllic terms: all sunny afternoons and cherry blossoms. Given the extraordinary deprivations of the Great Depression, this is factually absurd.

However, from a historical view that gives the curious entropy of memory its due, such recollections are a fascinating and deeply-moving testament to how cataclysmic The War must have been for a generation looking back, even for those far-removed from the theatre of war. The breadlines, unemployment, dust bowls and general misery of the 1930s were shaded by the events that follow into an American Pastoral. Accurate? Of course not, but no less true for it and, for a historian, well worth noting.

The War exists as a collective memorial in varied ways: urgently, as an epic struggle of Good against Evil, but parochially as sons sent off to fight leaving behind their families, narrowly, as small groups of men who fought more to save each other than for any greater purpose, and tragically, as lives cut short and friendships savagely ended. For the tens and tens of millions of people caught up in the immediate events, such a revelation is hardly surprising. But for those who were thousands of miles away, the fact that the War had a similarly monumental, intimate and profound impact is well-worth considering.

"The War" is not a rejoinder to the current imbroglio in Iraq and Afghanistan – its origins predate both. But it makes an implicit point about current events. Even if the triumphalism of the Allied victory in 1945 can be overstated, the larger contours of that struggle highlight the lack of focus and intent in America’s current missions. Clarity of purpose matters: its absence does not just undermine the present; it promises to despoil the memory of events for generations to come and will be an important part of how we write its history.


Susan Sontag (1933-2004): Regarding The Pain of Others

Written on October 9, 2007 by Santiago Iñiguez in Arts & Cultures & Societies

Santiago Iniguez

It is an honour to be invited to participate in this blog, which will be the showcase for many of the intitiatives of the new Department of Humanities here at IE Business School lead by Arantza de Areila.

Susan Sontag (1933-2004): Regarding The Pain of Others

In today’s Western World, most of us are lucky to live distant from
external violence. Although our chances of suffering a violent attack
or an accident may vary, depending on countries, lifestyle or jobs,
they are not comparable to the defencelessness experienced by our
ancestors, centuries ago. The evolution of institutions, the rule of
law and moral progress achieved in our societies make the experience of
external violence an improbable event. However, we can still regularly
see violent phenomena through TV and other media, watching news on
wars, terrorist attacks, murders, natural disasters and similar
horrible events.

In a post I wrote in BizDeansTalk, I referred to Simone de Beauvoir’s splendid novel "Les Belles Images",
where the French café-philosopher and novelist describes a situation
which could be transferable to present days. The protagonist, a
conscientious mother, wonders why her daughter is worried about some
inevitable evils that exist in the world but occur far from home
–hunger, epidemics, natural disasters- and cause devastating effects
among huge numbers of poor people of the third world, although these
problems can not be solved solely by one person (if at all). This
impotence of the single individual to solve a given evil produces a
natural, defensive reaction in many humans. People like "belle images"
–beautiful images- and are not prepared to be constantly exposed to the
image of horror or suffering. The natural reaction of the mother is,
then, to change the TV channel or the subject in order to avoid the
exposure of her beloved daughter to the cruellest aspects of life. The
extreme version of the "belle image" syndrome is just to avoid talking
or showing pictures of some particular disaster. I am sure you identify
the syndrome I am talking about.

Sometimes I hear that managers should avoid being sensitive or
compassionate, since they should take hard decisions that may affect
thousands of people while keeping themselves calm and unaffected at the
same time. Imagine that you have to fire half of your team as a
consequence of a merger or a company downsizing. How could you cope
with the personal tensions derived from such measure without detaching
yourself enough to avoid suffering personally. Indeed, some managers,
and humans in general, develop some sort of defence mechanisms to
protect themselves from mental disruptions in times of crisis.

Read more…


Julián Montaño


La zona de la tribu de los Conejos es de matorral bajo, plana y extensa, no muy seca en verano. Es la envidia de todo el valle. Cerca de un arroyo vive la tribu de los Conejos. La tribu de los Conejos –como así se denominan ellos- se dedica a la caza, pero tienen prohibido cazar conejos. Los conejos pueden acercarse con tranquilidad a la aldea y nadie los captura ni les hace nada, campean a sus anchas en los alrededores de la aldea o cerca de los patios de las casas. Una vez al año el Conejo Magnífico, que es el título del jefe de la tribu, sale en solemne procesión fuera del recinto de la aldea acompañado de los varones adultos. Una vez fuera grita “¡Al conejo!” y los varones adultos tienen permiso hasta el mediodía para cazar un conejo. El que lo cace será el jefe hasta el próximo verano. Este conejo lo comen los varones adultos en una fiesta formidable y muy divertida donde se danza el Baile del Conejo. Con esta fiesta se celebra el día en que el fundador de la aldea –el Gran Primer Conejo- huyendo de la tribu vecina de los Zorros consiguió no morir de hambre al dar caza a un conejo –el primero que veía en su vida- que es llamado en la aldea el Gran Conejo Primordial. Todo en la aldea de la tribu de los Conejos gira alrededor de los conejos. Los niños que nacen con labio leporino no tienen que trabajar y son mantenidos por sus familias. El saludo entre los miembros de la tribu de los Conejos consiste en fruncir el labio superior y olisquear desde lejos al vecino imitando la actitud de buena voluntad que tienen todos los conejos hacia las personas. Los ancianos piadosos cultivan zanahorias para dárselas a los conejos que se acercan a las lindes de la aldea.

Ahora bien el centro de la vida de la tribu de los Conejos, aquello que configura la forma de la aldea y es el lugar de reunión de todos, es la cueva que está en medio. En esta cueva el Gran Primer Conejo, en agradecimiento por haber sobrevivido había pintado la imagen del Gran Conejo Primordial (vid. imagen). Esta imagen es lo que mantiene en pie el mundo de la tribu de los Conejos, pues siendo la imagen verdadera del Gran Conejo Primordial bendice las cosechas de melones y proporciona la caza abundante (perdices, por supuesto, jamás conejos). Además asegura el buen parto de las mujeres que normalmente es muy numeroso, consecuencia de juguetear con el marido sólo cuando la constelación Conejo aparece en el cielo. Por lo demás el magnánimo Gran Conejo Primordial mantiene alejados de la aldea a los astutos y malolientes vecinos, los Zorros.

Read more…



Arantza de Areilza

This blog forms part of an initiative by IE Business School designed to bring humanities and social sciences closer to the world of business and law, and born of the conviction that humanistic disciplines such as art, history, literature, philosophy or music form an integral part of mankind’s intellectual development. Knowledge moulds the way we perceive and understand the world and ourselves, and enables us to participate in the creation of new values that serve as a catalyst for the change and development that are essential in all modern societies.

The different faces of culture foster the development of the imagination, the appreciation of humanistic values, aesthetic perception and critical reasoning, all of which play a key role in the human capacity for self-betterment and perfectionism. It is a permanent, liberating challenge in everyone’s life, which is the reason it forms a core part of our training programs.

This blog is an invitation to extend the vision of all those who are always curious to know more, and who want to share with us their ideas and experiences in the broad range of fields that comprise our environment.

I would like to take this opportunity to extend my thanks to the blog authors for their enthusiasm for this idea and their generous collaboration. And now, without further ado, it’s my pleasure to invite you to reflect and comment on the first subject, lost paradises, that someone once described like this:

A Frayburu en despedida

¿Oyes como los murmullos de relatos resbalan en el verdín de tus rocas?

¿Las estelas de chalupas nocturnas en contrabando,

el chapoteo alegre de las pozas marinas escondidas, los laberintos de sirenas,

Y el nido de búho en la arboleda?

¿El gorgojeo de la llegada del agua de mar a la piscina probática,

la canción del viento del norte en el cañaveral?

¿Recuerdas la pita en flor envuelta en la rosaleda indomable,

El ancla de galeón en la entrada del zaguán,

Las dunas hechas de tiempo y las  higueras de tentación?

¿Los muros de piedra y las vigas que anuncian tormenta?

Viejo caserío de mirada atávica al mar,

playa de ánimas donde hoy mora una más.

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