‘I saw the best minds of my generation destroyed by madness, starving hysterical naked….’ This line of poetry written by Allen Ginsberg in the early fifties was one of my first introductions to the world of poetry. The world of living words. Of words that matter. Words that change society. Words that can cause madness and violence. The quote is the first line of the long and epicpoem HOWL. The poem was (and still is) mind blowing.
Yesterday we mused on the word HUILEN which is related to ‘howling’. When we shed tears, so scientists discovered, we exude a substance which reduces the levels of testosterone and this causes the violent wrongdoer to be less inclined to give way to aggression. Tears of the victim send the message: I am afraid, please do not hurt me anymore, please, please!
Violence and aggression hold victorious sway over the ‘blind streets of shuddering cloud and lightning in the mind’. The Dutch word GEWELD can be read or heard time and again in today’s news. If we were to believe the media we live in an extremely violent world. Wrong! According to cognitive scientist Steven Pinker brutal practices of violence have declined in history:
‘Tribal warfare was nine times as deadly as war and genocide in the 20th century. The murder rate in medieval Europe was more than thirty times what it is today. Slavery, sadistic punishments, and frivolous executions were unexceptionable features of life for millennia, then were suddenly abolished. Wars between developed countries have vanished, and even in the developing world, wars kill a fraction of the numbers they did a few decades ago. Rape, hate crimes, deadly riots, child abuse — all substantially down’. (‘The Better Angels of Our Nature: Why Violence Has Declined’, Penguin, 2012)
Even so… violence and GEWELD continue to be damaging forces all over the world and it will take a while for Justice to be able to deal with the many perpetrators. Since the foundation of the International Criminal Court in 2002 violent and aggressive leaders of nations all over the world can be held accountable for their actions. In March 2012, the ICC’s first trial – the Lubanga trial for using children to fight wars in Congo – came to an end. The judges sentenced him to 14 years in prison. These achievements in international jurisdiction have established The Hague as the legal capital of the world.
Originally the word GEWELD did not mean violence in Dutch. In the tenth century it meant power (MACHT). ‘Koninklijk’ GEWELD did not mean ‘royal violence’ but ‘royal power’. The word comes from the verb ‘waldan’) in Old English ‘wealdan’, meaning ‘to reign’. In modern English this verb has survived as ‘to wield’ (exercise power).
This week film director Nicholas Winding Refn’s new film ‘Only God Forgives’ was released. When asked why this provocative film had to be so extremely GEWELDDADIG (violent), he answered: ‘Art is an act of violence. I am not a violent man, but I have a fetish for violent emotions and images. People used violence in the past to survive. Nowadays violence isn’t necessary anymore, but the need is still in our bodies. Watching my films, the audience is given the opportunity to deal with this need.’