An Unavoidable Part of Nature and Existence
“I imagine a world, that is my definition of society, in which most human beings are aware of their acts and confidently can say: I think it is a good thing what I am doing and I wouldn’t feel bad, if I were in the situation the other person is in as a consequence of my acts.”
Introduction by Adria Leeper-Sullivan
Interview by Theo Constantinou
Photograph by Mick Morley
Well versed in world literature, talented in music, and writing, Jean Jacques is full of inspiring ideas. Jean uses his energy to encourage action in others. He believes engaging in activities to elevate one’s cares to a spotlight in order to interact with the world is of utmost importance if done considerately. Life is a full of varying circumstances, but fulfilling one’s desires while helping others to increase global cooperation, or to spread truth is admirable. Jean Jacques is such an individual who not only needs to express himself creatively, but who must contribute to his causes. For Jean it isn’t enough to simply have knowledge of worldly issues, and talk about them, he must utilize his mind and body and facilitate actual change.
Jacques, I recently revisited Apocalypse Now by Francis Ford Copolla and this quote by General Corman (G.D. Spradling) really struck me:
“Well, you see Willard … In this war, things get confused out there, power, ideals, the old morality, practical military necessity. But out there with these natives it must be a temptation to be god. Because there’s a conflict in every human heart, between the rational and the irrational, between good and evil. And good does not always triumph. Sometimes the dark side overcomes what Lincoln called the better angels of our nature. Every man has got a breaking point. You and I have one. Walter Kurtz has reached his. And very obviously, he has gone insane.”
Have you seen this in man, there breaking point that is? And do you feel that more times than not the dark side overcomes the ‘better angels of our nature’?
I would like to answer these two questions in detail with an excerpt of a story I once wrote where at a certain point a traveller constantly blames himself for not following God but Satan in the form of Asian prostitutes. One morning after another night at Satan’s, he happens to have a conversation with a backpacker (the protagonist) he met the night before. I have never been in circumstances described in Apocalypse Now, but there have been one or two times, where I believe to have seen this in man or at least man on the brink of it. And no, I don’t feel that more times than not the dark side overcomes:
James was a guy I met the evening before, hanging around with some backpackers in Kaos San Road, Bangkok. He started talking about his relation to women and how he found Jesus as his savior from the evil, that is, women, or his definition: Asian prostitutes represented. After listening to his 30 minutes monologue, spiced with bible quotes we left him when he jumped on to the street, shouting: “I was abusing women, I had happy eyes, yes, I was a sex tourist and Jesus showed me the way out!” The next morning he appeared at my hotel’s door. “Hey Dude, I just wanted to say goodbye, just in case I´m leaving soon, I mean, I decided to leave Bangkok soon. It´s just no good place for me. Last night I went to this bar, after I left you guys and I had Happy Eyes again.” He gives a very confused impression. I tell him, not to push himself that hard, it wouldn’t be abnormal a man liking girls. He’s a man, I am one, so what? He doesn’t seem to be impressed by what I said, instead he gets into his monologue mode, shooting verbally here and there in order to get to his main subject: The snake Satan in shape of women and the only rescue the hand of Jesus, both fighting permanently for his soul. “Listen man, what do you think about some breakfast? I´ll put on some clothes and we´ll have a chat accompanied by a cup of coffee and some food?”, I interrupt him. He agrees and we find a café. James starts, begins again about last night. He was strolling around, suddenly this gorgeous Asian passed him, sexy to make him wanna die. She enters in to a club, he can’t stop from following her. He’s got his Happy Eyes, enters the club, searches her, without success. He stays a while, hoping to see her again, which doesn’t happen, leaves the club. His appetite has awakened, so he enters Gulliver’s, a pub, where he knows to find a lot of amazingly looking prostitutes, stares at them, his temptation is huge. Satan has armed himself, the bad looks breathtaking and very inviting tonight, again. Jesus is also here, revealing chains and whips, the broad carries under her skirt. This skirt however is so tight and short, the representation of Satan so perfect and beautiful, Jesus surely doesn’t have a good stand this evening. His story leaves the bar at this point and I don’t know what happened further. His confused appearance makes me assume though, he did what he now considers as a sin. He changes back to his more general description of the fight between the good and the bad, starts with quotations from the bible. Well, well, enough, it’s my turn. “James”, I interrupt him, “hold it man, hold it! I don’t get why you’re permanently trying to hand over the responsibility for your deeds to external powers. My point of view is another. I’ve thought a lot about today’s men and their tendency of being lost, especially about young people on this regard. I thought about how decadent we are living, mainly in the west, but basically worldwide. Our whole life is based on exploiting others. We’re permanently blocking out this fact and we deliver the fault and responsibility by saying “What can I do? Others decide!”, etc. My point of view is: Everyone is fucking responsible, man! Every man decides himself, whether he wants to fuck that prostitute or not. Accordingly he himself as well is responsible for the consequences this will have for him or the others. It’s about time to take that call and the responsibility for our acts!”
You, you can talk, you’re young, having friends, I’ve been alone all my life, a creep and weirdo, no one’s ever given me any respect nor love,” he responds. “Don’t be so harsh on yourself mate , I’m sure you could find someone. The last years I’ve been thinking about everyone and everything, turning each stone upside down, searching for a meaning, only to find emptiness and the awareness, I’m basically alone, alone with my existence. No friend in this world can save you from this. “He claims God is the only thing capable of filling this emptiness. “Dude, we as human beings should try to accept this emptiness”, I answer him, “I’m trying to achieve accepting it AND being totally happy. I’m settled to find out how it is possible to accept this total emptiness and, sorry, the absence of god or the absence of any clear good or bad and still being able to take clear moral decisions. With all due respect I never found god and I don’t give a shit about it.”
Epicurus said, “Against other things it is possible to obtain security, but when it comes to death we human beings all live in an unwalled city.” Do you find yourself thinking that you live in an unwalled city without security when it comes to death or have you freed yourself of that factual certainty?
The only moments I really notice I am a mortal person is when I actually risk my life in a stupid situation like hanging in a paraglider and noticing I misinterpreted the wind direction before landing or going for a dive session after years and finding out I’ve forgotten how to use the shit, after I jumped in the water with the bottle on my pack and high waves splashing over my head. Honestly I unfortunately tend to forget about my personal and always accompanying unwanted visitor while death itself seen in others dying makes me want to outrage under certain circumstances, while in general I regard it as an unavoidable part of nature and existence. In short: I can hardly grasp death, when not being confronted by it, by the death of a loved person or by being threatened by it myself.
I recently saw the new documentary about Ai WeiWei Never Sorry. There was a quote in which he said, “Your own acts tell the world who you are and what kind of society you think it should be.” So I ask you what actions of yours tell the world who you are and what kind of society you think it should be?
I think a lot about it in terms of responsibility. I principally don’t assume there is any specific good or bad human being. If you dig deep enough, it’s rather the acts that are good or bad unfortunately. Good and bad are definitions that exist through relationships. Most of us do certain good and certain bad at the same time and we can only increase the amount of good things for a higher amount of people by actually taking responsibility for our own acts. To start with that is understanding what we actually do to us, others, this world. I tell the world who I am by actions that intend to raise hidden, forgotten or blocked out issues, by bringing and holding them back on the table. The last ten years I spent a lot of my time in actions for Greenpeace, animal rights groups, human rights concerns. I imagine a world, that is my definition of society, in which most human beings are aware of their acts and confidently can say: I think it is a good thing what I am doing and I wouldn’t feel bad, if I were in the situation the other person is in as a consequence of my acts.
In a recent interview I did with a French film-maker I asked him about this same question but I wanted to hear your thoughts as well. In an interview Stanley Kubrick did with Playboy he said:
“I suppose it comes down to a rather awesome awareness of mortality. Our ability, unlike the other animals, to conceptualize our own end creates tremendous psychicstrains within us; whether we like to admit it or not, in each man’s chest a tiny ferret of fear at this ultimate knowledge gnaws away at his ego and his sense of purpose. We’re fortunate, in a way, that our body, and the fulfillment of its needs and functions, plays such an imperative role in our lives; this physical shell creates a buffer between us and the mind-paralyzing realization that only a few years of existence separate birth from death. If man really sat back and thought about his impending termination, and his terrifying insignificance and aloneness in the cosmos, he would surely go mad, or succumb to a numbing sense of futility. Why, he might ask himself, should he bother to write a great symphony, or strive to make a living, or even to love another, when he is no more than a momentary microbe on a dust mote whirling through the unimaginable immensity of space? …. Those of us who are forced by their own sensibilities to view their lives in this perspective — who recognize that there is no purpose they can comprehend and that amidst a countless myriad of stars their existence goes unknown and un-chronicled — can fall prey all too easily to the ultimate anomie …. But even for those who lack the sensitivity to more than vaguely comprehend their transience and their triviality, this inchoate awareness robs life of meaning and purpose; it’s why ‘the mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation,’ why so many of us find our lives as absent of meaning as our deaths.”
Do you ever think about your mortality and how insignificant you are and alone in the cosmos? Or are you more optimistic than that and if so can you talk about what Kubrick said further? Why, besides what Kubrick says, do you think the mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation?
I personally say: FUCK THAT SHIT. Man, what does it matter. If you’re grieving about the meaningless of life it doesn’t make your life or others any better. This world has too much to offer to be leading lives in quiet desperation. And generally I’m interested in individuals, not very much in „the mass of men“. I would like to refer to Bukowski’s “The Genius of the Crowd” here …
“Similarly, the impulse to keep to yourself what you have learned is not only shameful, it is destructive. Anything you do not give freely and abundantly becomes lost to you. You open your safe and find ashes,” is a quote from Annie Dillard’s The Writing Life. How do you feel about this quote in general? Can you relate it to both your activism and the mission of your music? Do you participate in both of these avenues of expression more for yourself or to guide others?
For answering the first question about Annie Dillard’s quote I would like to refer to the movie “Our idiot brother”. It describes the best way how I feel responding to this question. I think it’s worth it paying a second look to whom you’re sharing your wisdom with. There’s nothing destructive or shameful in that. But haven’t read “The Writing Life” I’d like to point out I’m only referring to that quote how you put it here. To relate it to my music and the mission of my music I find a bit tricky therefore, but as some of my own principles I count: Be abundant with Love, rather than grieve or hatred; being generous will make you happier than being greedy, although it doesn’t necessarily mean you get more friends through it; by showing others what you have in store, you’ll be able to reflect and learn a lot about what you call yourself; giving a smile will make your day and the others better more than a pisshead’s face; by sharing your knowledge with the people you count in as your people you create power, power to change.
“Agriculture is now a motorized food industry, the same thing in its essence as the production of corpses in the gas chambers and the extermination camps, the same thing as blockades and the reduction of countries to famine, the same thing as the manufacture of hydrogen bombs,” was said by German philosopher Martin Heidegger. Considering the power behind these timeless forces do you think the activism of our generation is more, or less prepared to overcome these powers or do you feel activism has become a fad?
If I thought activism was a fad I’d spent half of my life for a fad. No, I don’t think so. Although I see certain recurring problems. Let me give an example by asking the following questions: Is online activism real activism, does it represent the same courage as risking your life in an act of civil disobedience, is it the same to sign a petition than climbing in to laboratories where animal experiments are carried out in order to document circumstances here as part of a campaign against it? It comes down to awareness again and certain modern approaches to deal with problems we are facing and many are concerned about don’t help to overcome the cause for certain social evils. Activism needs constant development and adjustment to new challenges as opponents never sleep, be it our own laziness or outer entities.
Jacques, last night I was walking to my local corner store when I was attacked by four men for my money and material possessions I had on my person. The brief of the story is that I ended up in the ER and got some stitches above my eye. But while I was waiting to get done up there was a serious trauma. I asked the doctor who stitched me what happened to the guy. He said the guy died right in their hands about 20 feet away from me. Its crazy man, life and death and how fragile it all is but what I remembered in that moment is how lucky I am to be alive while remembering death. It was a real form of clarity, understanding that fragility. Anyway, when I was discharged I went and looked up a portion of Hermann Hesse’s Steppenwolf. There is this powerful quote … “Time and the world, money and power belong to the small people and the shallow people. To the rest, to the real men belongs nothing. Nothing but death.” Do you believe that the only real thing that belongs to real men is death? And moreso do you agree with my statement of living while dying?
Sorry to hear that Bruva, hope you’re well now! To answer your question: First of all, I am not a big fan of Hesse. I think he’s good for teenagers, but after a certain age not necessarily contributing much to problems that an adult in modern societies is facing. The definition of a real man I don’t have and I don’t expect Hesse to have it given. I think it is a kind of blurry expression, but anyway I’ll stick to it to answer your question the best I can. I currently came across Kurt Vonnegut. I found him showing how ‘real’ man (whatever exactly that is) own a lot which certainly isn’t necessarily material goods, but certainly is more than only death. I found him capable of leaving you with a good feeling in regard of men, strengthening your sense for non-material goods and enjoying them. The more ‘real’ you are, the more you learn to enjoy the nonmaterial goods life is offering you, I think. And before death there is Love, a lot of it.