Twelve Ten is a first step
It’s a space to look at
write and talk about
the world we live in
in all its myriad forms.
Twelve Ten ist ein Experiment
in Wort und Schrift
in der für Beobachtungen
wie es denn um uns bestellt ist
in dieser Welt in der wir leben
ein Platz gegeben wird.
What a year that was.
2017 is 12 days old, but we’re still smarting from our last turn round the sun.
Really, what a year.
2016 was definitely one for the history books.
There is still too much Aftermath happening to come to any verdict, which is why this Twelve Ten edition will be one of a few thoughtful words and quiet pictures: so much has been said, written, blogged and tweeted about 2016, a few moments of peace might be a good thing.
The following is two-part: a reflection on how to go forward after last year, (Thank you, Georg), and photographs of Nepal from a local travel-enthusiast Sonja Rachelski.
Take your time to read, look, and ponder.
Was war das für ein Jahr.
2017 ist 12 Tage alt aber wir spüren immer noch die Nachwirkungen unserer letzten Sonnenumrundung.
Wirklich, was für ein Jahr.
2016 war in jeder Hinsicht geschichtsträchtiges.
Es gibt noch zu viele Reaktionen und Gegenreaktionen um jetzt schon klar Stellung nehmen zu können, weshalb diese Twelve Ten Ausgabe eine mit wenigen Worten sein wird: es wurde das ganze letzte Jahr hindurch schon so viel gesagt, geschrieben, gebloggt und getweetet, dass es vielleicht ganz gut ist, etwas nachzudenken und ein wenig Ruhe zu genießen.
Diese Edition is zweiteilig: zum ersten eine kurze Reflection darüber wie man auf die Ereignisse des vergangenen Jahres reagieren könnte, (Danke, Georg), gefolgt von den Nepalbildern der Reisebegeisterten Regensburgerin Sonja Rachelski.
Lasst euch Zeit, genießt es, und viel Spaß dabei.
The Light Shining through the Cracks
The shittiness of 2016 seems to be pretty much agreed upon. It turned into the year when at least two generations realized that both they themselves and their icons were mortal beyond the occasional glorified rockstar death; the year when said generations learned to use social media to share that epiphany. For many of us, especially those privileged enough to feel that things were going well, it also meant the end of political certainties. Death was, of course, a whole lot more tangible and real to the victims of ongoing or even increasing violence elsewhere. Yet such a global awareness made the year even worse, as does the realization that 2016 may have been a high water mark for the social progress of many marginalized groups. Then again, our filter bubbles may not let us in on the fact that for electoral majorities in both the U.S. and the U.K., 2016 probably felt like a good year — what a horrifying thought that is. And whoever we are and what this word “we” means precisely — me and you readers, us potential readers of this magazine, people who thought 2016 absolutely blew — I’d be surprised if anybody thinks we, as humans on this planet, have come closer together as a whole.
And yet, maybe the sense of loss at the deaths of David Bowie, Prince, and George Michael — to name but a few, select, musicians — is also telling in the way it shows that we do manage to collectively give a shit about art, no matter how ad-hoc the collective. That it wasn’t just celebrity, but beauty in a deep sense that touched us, as the many magnificent tributes to those who left the stage showed. This, to me, explains the reaction to the death of Leonard Cohen, an old man who was more than prepared and ready for whatever awaited him. In his case, I like to think we thought more about the beauty of his creation than about how we had lost yet another icon of our own innocence, not that this meant any less of a sense of loss.
It is, however, the story of another death months before, one inextricably tied to Cohen’s, that touched me more than all the others together. As his former lover* and partner, and then friend, Marianne Ihlen lay dying, Cohen wrote her one last letter. It is not the answer to the many things that made 2016 so awful. No single thing can be, but like some of the best art, it does contain the means by which we can maybe, hopefully, drag ourselves out of this dungeon of division and discontent that all of us are in.
Now, Leonard Cohen was one of those musicians I felt you simply had to own an album of, back when buying CDs was still a thing. When a circle of friends during my exchange semester got together for one last time, we listened to Hallelujah, and in my memory it is the song we talked about before we all went to our temporary homes, and then back to our home countries. As I dabbled in Canadian Studies, Cohen was always present in discussions about Montréal and Canadian artists, and I had some vague idea of his life and its twists and turns. In many ways, Cohen was always there, in some posh, leafy, inner suburb of my cultural awareness. But he was only an occasional visitor to, and never really at home in my own emotional downtown. In other words, I wasn’t enough of a fan to know about the real Marianne that inspired the song, but sufficiently intrigued when I saw that a friend had liked an article on Facebook that was titled “So Long, Marianne.”
What we know of his letter is short:
Well Marianne it’s come to this time when we are really so old and our bodies are falling apart and I think I will follow you very soon. Know that I am so close behind you that if you stretch out your hand, I think you can reach mine. And you know that I’ve always loved you for your beauty and your wisdom, but I don’t need to say anything more about that because you know all about that. But now, I just want to wish you a very good journey. Goodbye old friend. Endless love, see you down the road.
On his Facebook page, Cohen then published the reply Ihlen’s friend Jan Christian Mollestad had written, a letter he also asked to be used in his memorial:
Marianne slept slowly out of this life yesterday evening. Totally at ease, surrounded by close friends.
Your letter came when she still could talk and laugh in full consciousness. When we read it aloud, she smiled as only Marianne can. She lifted her hand, when you said you were right behind, close enough to reach her.
It gave her deep peace of mind that you knew her condition. And your blessing for the journey gave her extra strength. Jan and her friends who saw what this message meant for her, will all thank you in deep gratitude for replying so fast and with such love and compassion.
In her last hour I held her hand and hummed Bird on a Wire, while she was breathing so lightly. And when we left he room, after her soul had flown out of the window for new adventures, we kissed her head and whispered your everlasting words
So long, Marianne
It is a beautiful story in and of itself, wonderful and touching bookends to a complicated relationship. Ihlen and Cohen had met and fallen in love on the Greek island of Hydra in 1960. He was a fledgling writer of fiction and poetry who’d looked for an escape from London and ended up in a small artists’ colony. She had moved there with her husband, a Norwegian writer, only to find herself abandoned and a single mother. Their relationship then moved between Hydra, Montréal, and New York, becoming increasingly tumultuous over the years, as Ihlen refused to play the passively suffering victim to Cohen’s womanizing and drug use. After Cohen’s career had shifted primarily to songwriting, and Songs of Leonard Cohen came out in December 1967, one of the album’s main songs was a goodbye to Ihlen. When she saw So Long, Marianne in his notebook, she was not yet sure that it was written for her.
The story of Cohen and Ihlen therefore is one in which two people hurt each other into art, and through it. But more than that, it speaks of Cohen’s ability to soothe and it speaks of so much forgiveness — from all we know, Ihlen’s even more so than Cohen’s — and grace, as they managed to become friends, as well as allowing for such an end to their relationship as human beings. It teaches us, on the most personal and private level, how to go, how to let go, and how to be there for somebody at the very end, even when you’re not physically present. That is, indeed, the way to say goodbye.
Yet, considering the general awfulness 2016 has left “us” with outside of our private sensibilities, and in what will become of 2017, isn’t there some danger of focusing on the small private gesture, the personal and apolitical? Doesn’t the retreat into the beauty of how two people can make amends constitute the inner emigration that, collectively, gets us nowhere? I’m convinced there is so much to learn from the long, painful and twisting way Cohen and Ihlen learned to treat each other as human beings, but isn’t this the ultimate personal lesson for each of us to consider in our most private affairs? Yet if it is, does it have to be?
As touching as Cohen’s goodbye to Marianne may feel on a personal level, maybe there is, indeed, a way it can put some cracks into the walls of that larger and dark dungeon we’re in. There is a light in the story of Cohen and Ihlen that can get through and go further than is at first obvious. No doubt, we need art and beauty to stay sane these days. But we shouldn’t always use them for escape, nor to tell us easy truths we already agree with and leave it at that. Leonard’s final goodbye to Marianne and her making it possible for him to write it is an implicit instruction. It offers us to go and do likewise and, so I’d argue, not just in our personal relationships. Forgiveness and grace can only come from previous hurt, from a previous fall and deplorable state of affairs.
2016 has created a lot of opportunity for this, then. As euphemistic as that may sound, it’s still a sad truth. As our political camps are sequestered in their hate for and disgust of each other, and the sad state of public debate is a disgrace, ever more so on social media. . .what choice is there? We can use art and beauty to scream and rage and rebel, both against the dying of the light, against the end of the world as we know it and those who are bringing it about, as well we should. But if we want to build bridges over the abyss that has opened between us all, it won’t be possible without grace and forgiveness. I’m not optimistic, to say the least, about ending political and social polarization through achieving some sort of ultimate victory. Every other scenario, however, relies on somebody being forgiving. The question of deserving or fairness doesn’t play into this. If we want to salvage some measure of grace from what we have said and done to each other — and again, this equation cannot ever be a balanced one — then we need to find ways to heal. If this seems hard to envision right now then what is called for is creativity. Artists are again learning — more so now than in a long time — how to use art to oppose in creative and hopefully unknown ways. The challenge, thus, is to become creative in healing. If beauty can heal the single soul then let’s make it work for, and towards, the whole of us.
*Many of the articles about her use the word “Muse”. As much as the word describes a possibly noble tradition, it’s also an unhappy mixture of archaic ideas about art and the role of women. Ihlen was a complex individual; muse is a lazy shorthand.
We hope you enjoyed our sixth edition. Twelve Ten, No. 7 will be published in 12 April 2017. If you are interested in contributing to No. 7, don’t hesitate to send us your suggestions (English or German, we really are interested in both!) by 12 March 2017 at:
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We look forward to hearing from you!
Your von reuth Team
We look forward to hearing from you!
Your von reuth Team
Wir hoffen Twelve Ten No. 6 hat euch gefallen. Twelve Ten, No. 7 wird am 12. April 2017 herausgegeben. Falls ihr gerne zu No. 5 beitragen möchtet schickt uns eure Vorschläge bis zum 12. März 2017, (Englisch oder Deutsch, wir sind wirklich an beide Sprachen interessiert!) an folgende Emailadresse:
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Traut euch, wir freuen uns!
Euer von reuth Team.