A White Rose among the Flames

Sophie had three sisters and two brothers, and she lived a normal childhood, in a normal town, during times that were not normal.

The social turmoil around her came to a head when she was twelve. At the time, Sophie did what all girls her age did: she joined the League of German Girls.

Enthusiasm soon withered, and was replaced by apathy and alienation, and slowly but surely, hostility. Her own brothers and friends were arrested for activities in the youth movement. Universities had been hotspots of nationalism and students had been overwhelmingly in favor of Nazism during the Weimar years; this was no longer true.

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In high school, Sophie discovered that she liked to paint and read, to talk of God and debate about the world; none of these things endeared her to German society at the eve of the war, or later. Her graduation essay was titled “The Hand that Moved the Cradle, Moved the World.” Perhaps with this in mind, she decided to spend time with kids, working at kindergartens. This however did not qualify as labor service – a mandatory requirement for university enrolment.

She became a nursing teacher and was able to enrol, studying biology at Munich university. And it was in Munich that everything changed.

Sophie befriended several fellow students, some of them also in biology, others studying medicine; all shared passion for physical activity, and art, including the kind deemed “degenerate” by the regime. Under the mentorship of professor Kurt Huber, the group grew, soon attracting students from other universities: Freiburg, Stuttgart, even Hamburg, ever the thorn in the side of Nazism. Sophie’s own brother, Hans Scholl, was a part of this group, but other names are also worth remembering: Alexander Schmorell, Christoph Probst and Willi Graf. The movement became known as the White Rose.

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Some of the members saw service on the Eastern Front. There, they were witnesses to war crimes of which they’d heard only rumors before. This, combined with the expansion of the group, increased its boldness. They printed thousands of leaflets, denouncing the ethnic cleansings and mass murders committed at Hitler’s behest, and German connivance towards the unfolding horror. After Stalingrad, the movement gathered momentum, with graffiti multiplying spontaneously across Munich.

On 18 February 1943, a university porter took note of Hans and Sophie distributing their leaflets. He reported them to the Gestapo.

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The White Rose didn’t break, even under torture, but the German security apparatus nevertheless managed to round most of them up. The first trial began speedily, on 22nd February 1943, before a People’s Court. The accused were three: Probst, Hans, and Sophie. All three of them were judged guilty of treason, and on 22nd February, they were executed by beheading.

How can we expect righteousness to prevail when there is hardly anyone willing to give himself up individually to a righteous cause? Such a fine, sunny day, and I have to go, but what does my death matter, if through us, thousands of people are awakened and stirred to action.

– Sophie Scholl

Copies of the leaflets had been smuggled to Sweden, and from there to the U.K. The RAF dropped hundreds of thousands on them over German towns and cities in the spring – like so many white petals.

Sophie’s comrades in Hamburg carried on, even as the White Rose members around them were either killed or arrested. The Gestapo finally closed in on them in June 1944. Sophie’s eldest sibling, Inge Scholl, was to outlive all of her brothers and sisters: none of them made it further than 1944. Inge herself died in 1998, in a united Germany and a united Europe, and it is largely thanks to her that we know of the sacrifices of the White Rose.

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Violent Delights: Storytelling for the Human Mind

Our story begins in a time of war…

 

Westworld has been much discussed, praised and criticized. I loved the show, and I make no mystery of it, but I feel its greatest strengths lie not in its convoluted plot or its acting, but in the critique that it offers to storytelling itself. In order to do that, I want to start with one of its most pervasive arcs: the Maze, or (spoilers ahead) the process by which the hosts of the park acquire consciousness.

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When therapy goes horribly wrong…

 

It was my friend and colleague Susanna Raule  that first pointed out to me how the show built host consciousness so that it was quintessentially Freudian, and never in a cheap way. As a writer and a psychotherapist, she’s in an enviable position when it comes to watching this show, and she has a point. Teddy’s repressed memories of his participation in the massacre are a case in point: here’s how he deals with the trauma.

1 – Teddy slaughtered hosts under orders from Dolores and Arnold without really knowing why, or wanting to.

2 – In order to deal with his cognitive dissonance, he represses the memory and attributes the massacre to a generic villain we only get to glimpse a few moments at a time.

3 – He begins remembering that he indeed had a role in the events, as a shooter, but the trauma is still too much to bear, and Dolores’ role is still repressed. Wyatt now becomes a stand-in for her, an increasingly tenuous and fictitious one at that.

4 – Teddy remembers. The process of therapy has unlocked his repressed memories.

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There’s also some Jung in it, and the primest example is the path of Dolores towards not only consciousness, but individuation.

1 – Dolores follows a script that she perceives as an external voice, telling her what to do. As memories come back to her, she identifies this voice as Arnold’s – an authority figure that frames her entire self perception.

2 – Dolores realizes Arnold is just a memory, that he is gone, and she internalizes this external voice – the visual representation couldn’t be clearer and starker, with Dolores speaking to herself in the field lab, where she was seeing Arnold a moment before. In internalizing the script, she becomes herself.

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There’s more – the show is absolutely jam packed with psychological references. Dolores and the hosts need to become themselves in order to feel whole: this is gestalt psychology. The hosts run on a routine, a daily script that must be broken for them to proceed to the next level: this is transactional psychology.

All of this is captivating, but where’s the overlap with the commentary of storytelling? Robert Ford is more than happy to illustrate it to us:

 

Every host needs a backstory, Bernard. You know that. The self is a kind of fiction, for hosts and humans alike. It’s a story we tell ourselves. And every story needs a beginning. Your imagined suffering makes you lifelike.

 

And if the Self is a fiction, that might perhaps shed light into the connection, conveyed in the show but not unique to it, between storytelling and psychotherapy.

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Storytelling has been with us since forever, now. It’s been our constant companion from the early gatherings around nightfires to the mass market of entertainment that we enjoy today. You see what I did there, right? I framed a complex anthropological phenomenon in a narrative of journeying. I just told a story, to try and explain what a story is, because ultimately storytelling is a model of reality – simplified and to scale, like all models, and less refined than others we developed along the way, but still incredibly powerful.

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Westworld is constantly toying with the idea that the demarcation between reality and fiction is itself fictitious. William loses himself in the stories of the park because they have meaning, to the point where he considers them to be real; while his personal and professional life outside the park is just a public persona, that is, a convenient fiction. Maeve’s apparently independent revolution is later revealed to have been scripted the whole time, programming for her to recruit companions and then reach the mainland. It’s only the trauma – the memory of the death of her daughter, and the possibility of finding her again, alive in the park, that leads to her breaking of the loop, abandoning the revolution, and coming back.

Religion itself is here presented as a storytelling model, using Michelangelo’s painting as a device to equate the apparently divine nature of consciousness with ourselves, and a purely terrestrial origin. Arnold, in many ways a messianic figure that promises freedom for the hosts and that died for them, was just a human – and more profoundly, during the events of the series, a script, a memory for the hosts to follow in order to free themselves. Robert, whose godly status in the park is often emphasized and remarked upon, also ends up being a messianic figure and sacrificing himself for his children – and he’s a human.

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And it’s no coincidence that Robert delivers the monologue that can more closely be identified as “the moral” of this story. It deserves quoting in its full integrity.

Since I was a child, I’ve always loved a good story. I believed that stories helped us to ennoble ourselves, to fix what was broken in us and to help us become the people we dreamed of being. Lies that told a deeper truth. I always thought I could play some small part in that grand tradition. And for my pains I got this — a prison of our own sins — because you don’t want to change, or cannot change. Because you’re only human after all. But then I realized someone was paying attention, someone who could change. So I began to compose a new story for them. It begins with the birth of a new people and the choices they will have to make and the people they will decide to become. And we’ll have all those things that you have always enjoyed — surprises and violence. It begins in a time of war, with a villain named Wyatt and a killing. This time by choice. I’m sad to say this will be final story. An old friend once told me something that gave me great comfort. Something he had read. He said that Mozart, Beethoven, and Chopin never died. They simply became music. So I hope you will enjoy this last piece very much.

 

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The economy of writing that allowed the packing of so many themes into this short speech is breath-taking. There’s the search for the Self: stories help us become someone else. There’s the role of storytelling as a model for the representation of reality: stories are lies that tell a deeper truth. Ford is disappointed by his human audience and how it chose to utilize the park, but sees his children – his characters – develop their strength out of the stories and using them to improve themselves. The evocative power of storytelling (our story begins in a time of war) is compounded by the acquisition of free will (and a killing, this time by choice).
There’s immortality through art, and finally, the main character killing the author, so that the story can break free of the page. While the board of directors of Delos get unceremoniously Red-Wedding’d, Shakespeare comes full circle – these violent delights do come to a violent end.

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William enjoyed it too. Never seen someone so happy to be shot, honestly.

This single speech, as the culmination of a season of narrative exploration, touches on so many bases and literary themes of Western culture that it’s hard for me not to marvel, and indeed, the first time hearing it was quite moving. But the greatest irony is that, of course, this commentary of storytelling gains so much punch precisely because we’re absorbing it through a story.

I’m not sure what to expect for the coming seasons of Westworld. As the hosts achieve freedom and break the shackles of the park, I expect the storytelling and psychoanalitic elements will settle into a role of reduced prominence. But the first season was a storyteller’s dream, and I never get tired of rewatching it.

Tragedy of Ice, Self Publishing and more, with Ash Litton!

Oh boy, is this a special one for me. Ash is one of the colleagues I’ve had the pleasure to get to know this past year, and I’ve had the privilege of critiquing her work. I’m therefore honored to have her here for a chat about what she does!

Tullio: Hey Ash! So great to have you here. So, self pubbing requires some kind of marketing savviness. Sometimes, you have to get creative to promote your work.What do you think of “trailers” for books, and do you have a trailer/will you create one for your own work?

Ash: I have seen some good ones, and I’ll tell you, one of the best I’ve seen was from husband and wife team Phil and Jacqui Lovesey. I was actually drawn to read their books by a random encounter on Twitter in which I saw some of Jacqui’s dolls she’d made of Matlock. I was so excited when I saw they’d put together a book trailer using her art—and they animated it, mind you! The whole thing just shows that a great trailer can indeed encourage someone to buy a book.

I don’t know if I’d use one myself. I do so much already as a self-published author, I think I’d get too involved with a trailer if I tried to do one, and that for me isn’t a good thing. Best to stick with the writing and art, instead!

Tullio: Now, obviously, I have critiqued a big chunk of your biggest WIP to date, which is Tragedy of Ice. Can you tell the readers about it? And, if there were one aspect of your current work that was true in real life, what would you want it to be?

Ash: Collaboration between nations has to be the biggest. In Tragedy of Ice, it takes the Yellowstone Caldera erupting to unite the world in the quest to terraform Mars – personally, I’d love to see the world united in the same way, but without the global catastrophe as preface.

Tullio: Right! We all wish we could unite the galaxy without Reapers kicking our butts. Or stopping the War of the Five Kings without the Others coming down from the North. I think you’re all starting to catch my meaning. But then, people like you and me would have to come up with something new to write about! And speaking of the creative process, do you let the book stew – leave it for a month and then come back to it to edit?

Ash: Absolutely! You HAVE to clear your mind between drafts; it’s the only way to make sure that you’ve properly dumped the word order out of your head so you can go back to make real edits. It makes it so much easier to find dropped words, better word choices, issues with clarity, readability, the whole nine yards. Truly, if you’re going to self-edit, you need to put space between you and your work—not a day, not a week, not even a month. I’ve found the BEST amount of time for me ends up being 2-3 months.

Tullio: I’ll take that advice to heart as I near the end of the first draft. But let’s go to the very beginning. Tell us about the way you brainstorm story ideas.

Ash: Starting out, most of my ideas come from dreams. Without my vivid dreams, I think I’d find it actually very difficult to plot out my stories. There’s a freedom that comes from dreamland composing the stories for me, which limits me from having biased ideas of how I think the story should twist and turn. If I do have a plot hole to fill, I work out ideas to bridge the gaps, but if I can’t stick it on my own, then I work with my peer groups to pitch ideas to until something lands.

Tullio: Ironically, I also have particularly vivid dreams, and I’ve fleshed out concepts around them. The connection between dreams and stories is so primal, so profound, that sometimes it feels like this gaping abyss into the past, to me – into the deep recesses of the mind. Stories, stories. What do you think makes a good story?

Ash: Entertainment value. I can overlook some problems unless they are glaringly obvious or detrimental to the story, but so long as I am entertained by the work, then I consider it a good story.

Thanks for visiting my little online space, Ash, and good luck! See you soon for some more Tragedy of Ice!

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Ash Litton is a writer and lover of sci-fi, fantasy, and all things fictional. She is the author of No Signal, Thoroughbred, Evening Hallow, and Comeuppance, and works on other Appalachian Dream Tales between her ongoing novel projects.

When she’s not writing, she’s drawing, and when she’s not doing either of those, she’s dreaming up new projects to work on. Born and raised in rural West Virginia, Ash has always wondered what things lay hidden in the hills around her. She attended West Virginia University, where she studied the English language before returning home to her family in rural West Virginia.

You can follow her on her website, as well as Facebook and Twitter.

A Chat with H.T. Lyon

Hey again guys! Sorry for the long hiatus between posts, but I should be back to regular speed soon. It’s that time of the month again where I sit down with a young colleague and ask them some questions about them and their work. Today my guest is H.T. Lyon, a sci-fi nuthead just like me! Here’s our Q&A.

Cheers HT! When did you decide to become a writer?

HT: The decision isn’t fully made. I’ve made the decision that I want to write and that I want to self publish my work. There is no final decision that I want to become a writer. A person who has gardening as a hobby, maintains an excellent garden and wins awards doesn’t suddenly call themselves a gardener. I’m something else but I may become a writer. It’s an option at that stage. In saying that, if people like what I write, I have no objection to being a writer!

I might steal that answer from you in the future. Now, this is something I do and I wanted to know about you. Do you let the book stew – leave it for a month and then come back to it to edit?

HT: Absolutely. I am guilty of leaving books to stew for too long if anything. I switch between books as a way of dealing with the occasional bouts of writer’s block and now have a few I need to get finished off. While I am in the learning stage of my writing journey, that’s probably not so bad but it’s terrible for my stated goal of being a read author. I will likely always have the let it stew moment, if Im happy when I come back to it, then usually, I’m really happy. If I can’t stand what I wrote, then I know it’s an issue. One of my own books I actually repeat read, I should really get that one published!

Ha! Any tips on what to do and what not to do when writing?

HT: Number one tip is to be yourself. You know why you are writing and you know what you want to say. It’s easy to imagine those critiquing us or beta reading our work know more than we do. They don’t. Sometimes, they may explain a writing technique which helps a lot. Other times, they give an emotional reaction which is invaluable. But you own the story and you need to stay in control. It never looks good if it looks like it has been written by a committee. Evaluate feedback before you accept it and also, leave your ego at the door. When someone provides feedback, take it!

That’s great advice for anyone willing to start, but let’s give the new kids a bit of a boost too. What is your favourite motivational phrase?

HT: “Start somewhere, anywhere, but start” is probably my main motivational phrase because that first step is often the key that unlocks the activity. It reminds me that in writing, at least, you don’t have to do a good job to start with, you just need words on the screen (or on paper). Once you have those, then the hardest bit is done. Also, if starting, you promise only to do five minutes as a way to get things going, it never stops at five minutes. I always get more done.

Where do you see publishing going in the future?
HT: I see publishing having to deal with the new channels for getting content to customers just like TV and record companies have. Those that take the plunge will be able to make their way in the new world because they will still have that massive marketing strength. Those that fight it are likely doomed. Theres a whole democratisation of the process. Have a look at how youtube has changed the music industry. It’s no longer record companies that are the sole gateway to stardom, there’s also youtube. Once a work is successful, then that’s where the mainstream traditional publishers will come back into their own. Again, it’s that marketing muscle. We are already seeing it with The Martian and Fifty Shades of Grey which started out as self published works.

About HT Lyon:
I am aspiring writer of science fiction. A futurist with a keen interest in where our society is heading, I tend focus most of my attention on stories that examine the direction our society is taking or that shows where we could end up. Optimistic my nature, I believe that one day we will look to settle the Solar System as we outgrow our planet and some of my stories examine how this could look. Currently, I have a number of novels underway and some short stories. My aim is to get one of these up and published before the end of the year around the other committments that exist in my life.

The Multipolar Conundrum and the Asian Century

“The size of China’s displacement of the world balance is such that the world must find a new balance. It is not possible to pretend that this is just another big player. This is the biggest player in the history of the world.”

Lee Kuan Yew 

 

If I were to ask you what challenges you believe most prominent for the international community today, what would your answer be?

To be sure, regional crises are plentiful within the contemporary world order. American unipolarity, and later minilateralism, turned out to be brief intersections between the Cold War and… whatever comes next. The border between NATO and Russia is getting ever more porous, with frequent violations of air and naval spaces, and it no longer follows political borders entirely, as shown by the frozen conflict in the Donbass basin, where choosing between Putin and Poroshenko is a rather haunting political question.

The Middle East would be even more prominent in people’s minds. The migration crisis is shaking European perception of the world and ideals, and the Islamic State represents a challenge to the entire geopolitical order attained by the West in the region after the world wars.

The economic recession is also dangerous to existing institutions and no doubt other people would feel queasy about Iran, Pakistan or North Korea.

But what about China?

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In the late 1970s, the Chinese economy was as big as that of the Netherlands. Last year, Chinese GDP growth alone equaled the entire economy of the Netherlands. This rise has been so meteoric that it hasn’t simply had time yet to influence geopolitical considerations yet.

That, however, is starting to change. The South China Sea is yet another regional crisis, though it has received little attention because of its slow-growing nature. Beijing claims the island chains in the South China Sea for its authority and maritime trade control, putting forward a rather sketchy historical record of control of the area, which is disputed by countries such as Vietnam and the Philippines, and more importantly by Japan. China has even created artificial islands to consolidate its control of the Spratly chain and other islands that lie in what China calls historical waters.  For now, the matter remains under U.N. jurisdiction, and the Hague has ruled that Chinese claims are unfounded and unjustified. This hasn’t stopped Beijing in the slightest. While this seems a lot of trouble for a rather remote region of the world, the legal complexity of the case is justified by economic interests: the area is a major chokepoint in maritime trade, there is the as yet unverified possibility of hydrocarbon deposits in the proximity of the islands, and finally, there is an ideological element. The ruling of a European court, in support of a former American colony such as the Philippines, is considered illegitimate by Beijing.

 

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At a time when Japan has taken a more confrontational stance in the Pacific, and Tokyo and Beijing are locked in a bidding war to supply high-speed trains to East Asian countries, this potential flashpoint shouldn’t be ignored. The Pentagon is taking it seriously enough, and annual reports on China reveal a keen eye to their technological development – an understandable attention given that any near future war would involve cyberspace attacks and satellite interdiction. Defense Secretary Ashton Carter went as far as to ask for help from American IT companies in staving off the possibility of China developing an edge in net-centric warfare. Admiral Harry Harris, the head of U.S. Pacific Command, is a sharp critic of Chinese efforts in the South China Sea, and called their island-building a wall of sand. He still doesn’t believe it will come to war or conflict with Beijing, and that is perhaps reassuring, for the moment. Harris, however, is more cautious than he seems. His concern with Chinese isolation and thus refusal of participation in the current system of international checks and balances, often perceived as Western-centric, is justified. Pacific Command has been adamant that this kind of isolation and revanchism is dangerous, though it’s never lost sight of its primary task – defusing incidents that might escalate. It’s not an easy balance to strike.

China’s influence worries more than Japan or the West: its new Silk Road initiative is rapidly eating into Russian economic hegemony in Central Asia, and opening new possibilities of partnership between China and the EU. While Russian retrenchment has seen a marked improvement of their military forces in recent times, their economy is still in full decline, and their influence over Eurasia is waning in the face of Chinese ambitions. The two countries remain cordial enough and cooperate closely when it comes to offering opposition to the West, but that’s about as far as it goes, and the asymmetry of strength doubtless makes it easier for Beijing and Moscow to be friendly.

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In many ways, this attitude reflects the often reckless American foreign policy of the late 19th Century. Washington knew it could look forward to an American Century – and the 21st is likely to be the Asian Century. How much this will affect our daily lives will depend on a variety of factors, but it is unthinkable that the international order will remain unchanged in the face of such a change.

We have long been presented this myth of the pragmatist China that has abandoned ideological stances for hybrid systems that actually work. This vision needs to end. While China might not be exactly orthodox in its strand of Communism, that does not make it un-ideological. The impression is a result of the so called hide and bide strategy, which toned down Communist rhetoric and initiatives in order to guarantee stable Chinese access to markets. Ideology, however, is still crucial in the running of the Communist Party in China, and Xi Jinping is concentrating more power into his own and the Party’s hands. Xi has stated himself that he believes in a multipolar world in which China is a fundamental actor that needs to operate through protacted international struggle. The whole notion of the China Dream is based on Chinese preeminence, if not dominance.

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The belief that economic growth would inevitably usher in democracy and liberalism belongs in the 1990s, and it should stay there. Accepting Crispy McBacons does not mean embracing Western values or even the liberal portion of those values, and wealth does not imply a lack of ideological commitment. Maoism is still popular among university students. As the popular Chinese hit song says, The East is red again. Xi Jinping is not afraid to quote Mao in public and revere his role as the primer of Chinese Communism. Confucius and Confucian philosophers have also come back into the public discourse as Chinese culture reasserts itself and rejects Western influence. This isn’t just rhetoric: the government is the prime sponsor of the Confucius academy in Guiyang. Aside from Confucianism, prominent thinkers like philosopher Liu Xiaofeng, or the economist Wang Shaoguang, are advocating for a socialist reconstruction that redistributes capital more fairly. All have one thing in common: the refusal to become what they define as a “Western intellectual colony”.

All of this does not have to result in war. When Japan took off in the 1970s, it looked like a distinct possibility that it might soon become the first world economy and leading power of the West, and while this created friction with the Soviets in Asia, it never skirted actual conflict. The rise of Germany after reunification is a less useful parameter considering the different conditions in which it took place, as a country surrounded by allies. However, taking the matter seriously will leave us more prepared for future developments and crises, be they in the South China Sea or elsewhere.

 

A chat with JR Creaden

For October, I am beyond excited to be hosting Tullio Pontecorvo! Seriously, y’all, I’ve been waiting for this interview so impatiently, that I’m having it back tomorrow to talk a different kind of shop. Politics. Because this Italian author isn’t just slinging fiction chops, he’s a freelance journalist who specializes in geopolitics, and he’s got […]

via Falling into Freelance with Tullio Pontecorvo — jr creaden