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the very old one sings

After all these landscape odes, here is a Dutch poem that has acquired a distinctly urban connotation, Lucebert's 'the very old one sings' ('de zeer oude zingt', 1954), its reputation depending mainly on a single line.

In fact, most people probably won't be familiar with the source of its famous aphorism, so here is the full poem, in the translation by Diane Butterman:

there is not more in little
nor is there less
still is uncertain what was
what is to be will be will-less
first when it is it is serious
fruitless it recollects itself
and stays in great haste

everything of worth is defenceless
grows rich from touchability
and equal to everything

like the heart of time
like the heart of time

The line that has become immortal is "everything of worth is defenceless", or "alles van waarde is weerloos" in the original Dutch, which for decades has towered over the centre of Rotterdam in red neon. Along with Zadkine's statue 'The Destroyed City' ('De verwoeste stad', 1953), it has come to symbolize Rotterdam's World War II destruction and its postwar struggle to find a new heart. Acting as a kind of 'memento mori', the quote reminds the city of the transience of all things – including its own newly erected futuristic skyline.

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For a more fundamental view on technology and its discontents, what better source to turn to than French sociologist Jacques Ellul's classic work 'The Technological Society', which in the 1950s laid out what he termed "the stake of the century" with uncanny prescience.

The book's French title is 'La technique', translated into English after Aldous Huxley introduced it to the USA. But the English title is a bit confusing, as one of Ellul's central ideas is the distinction he makes between technology and technique. Technology denotes tools and machines, whereas technique encompasses the much larger sphere of methods and systems guiding the use of technology - what we today would call technocracy.

For instance, one of the great technologies that defined progress in the nineteenth century, the train, should be understood as embedded in a web of technique, including engineering, industry, economics, administration, propaganda, etc. The quintessential technique is not the train but the timetable.

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chemical redemption

Time is now a subjective matter. You decide in your mind when day breaks, or when the moon fades. After a while you probably lose the numeric calendar as we once knew it. New York is now a city of suspended gardens that reach the sky. The wild colors they strike you in full force, and the people are so beautiful, so young and radiant, exuding serenity and beauty and sexuality.

There is no more ego. Thanks to chemistry we've been redeemed. There's no ego, no competition, no violence, no war, no strong or weak, no secrets. Everyone is... what they are. Everyone is what they want to be.

From 'The Congress' (2013), Ari Folman's flawed but fascinating mix of animation and live-action. Very loosely adapted from Stanisław Lem's novel 'The Futurological Congress', it weaves into Lem's chemical science-fiction a whole extra (semi) autobiographical story about actress Robin Wright. The resulting plot is complex and full of loose ends, but contains many thought-provoking ideas.

And visually it's absolutely stunning, including one moment - the transition from its animated, hallucinated world where "everyone is what they want to be" back to grey old, inflexible reality - that not only defines the whole film but also sums up all of its critique of escapist entertainment and pharmaceutical delusion.

The Congress - 1

The Congress - 2

The Congress - 3

Here's an interview with Folman on the making of 'The Congress' and exploring "the boundaries of human identity" in a world of virtual reality.

And here are two music videos / extended trailers of Robin Wright performing 'Forever Young' and 'If It Be Your Will'.