Its 9pm on a Sunday and I can feel the first of the rain as its droplets catch on my outstretched palms. There’s something very humbling about the rain. It’s one of nature’s great forces, and completely escapes our control. When the rain comes, it doesn’t account for petty human drama, politics and cultural divisions. I ponder this thought as I round the bend and turn down the next street. The rain is a reminder that above all else, we are at the whim of mother nature.
Beyond our constructed realities and perception of modern society lies a force mar more powerful than humanity. This is a somewhat overwhelming thought, and instantly I long for togetherness and company, but I must remind myself that I am a stranger here. Through the windows of the houses lining this street, people go about their lives to the sound of the rain on their rooftops. Perhaps some of them are experiencing similar thoughts to my own? Raindrops slide down my forehead and drip from my brow onto my eyelids- the water blurs my vision.
In this dreamlike state, I wander forwards, the lights around me shifting, darting and sliding in the darkness. At this bizarre moment in time I feel a sudden and uncontainable urge to peer through the windows of the houses that surround me, to catch an insight into the lives of these strangers. Through each window lies a different truth, and I am suddenly all too eager to explore these realities- lives that occur in spite of the rain. Amidst the lights and darkness a flash of white catches my eye.
Peering closer, I inspect the man with striking white hair. He is not the man I though he was- though does bear a startling resemblance to WikiLeaks founder, Julian Assange. As the man with the white hair types furiously at his laptop, I imagine he is emailing Braddley Manning, the US intelligence analyst who is responsible for the largest leak of US military secrets in human history. The rain is more persistent now, but my thoughts turn to my current perceptions of the war on terror, and the ability of information to alter our accepted realities.
The military cables that Assange distributed revealed the true number of civilian casualties in Iraq and Afghanistan, figures that appear to have been falsified by the authorities, and similarly appalling information which exposed the horrors of experienced realities in wartime. They dismantled the glorious myth of ‘ethical’ modern warfare, and destroyed the carefully constructed reputations of military personnel and the US army. Though Assange’s methods are questionable, the idea behind WikiLeaks is simple and alluring.
WikiLeaks aims for greater transparency and true freedom of speech, ‘to create a better society for everybody. ’ It is certainly true that information sharing is the key greater democracy and better government. As citizens of a nation, we are constantly manipulated by our government and other establishments, who bombard us with deception and withhold information crucial to our perception. Without the whole picture it’s impossible for an individual or a nation to make an informed decision.
How could America truly decide its stance on the war in Iraq and Afghanistan with so much amiss? Information allows us to explore multiple realities, thus broadening our insight and expanding our awareness of the truth. Information is crucial to our growth and understanding of the world around us. It was John Lennon who once said, ‘the more I see, the less I know for sure. ’ With this I can relate- reality is a complex subject that we may never fully grasp, but a narrow and closed mind sees pitifully little of the big picture.
Up above thunder rumbles, it pulls me from my thoughts. In the next house, a Salvador Dali forgery hangs above the fireplace. This is familiar to me; it is Galatea of the Spheres, and depicts Dali’s wife a series of atoms which do not touch. It was Dali’s interest in nuclear physics which led him to convey the multiple realities of his wife: as a human being, and as a product of atoms which are independent of one another. Art by nature is intellectually challenging, as it is a product of perception.
Thus art is often confronting, as it is the artists role to question reality, and challenge our assumptions. Picasso’s Geurnica is an example of confronting art, depicting the Spanish civil war in all its atrocities. It’s also an example of art used for political purposes. But while Geurnica may have a cultural purpose, artists such as Michael Leunig have questioned the legitimacy of Picasso as a great artist. This begs the question- who decides what is art? Across the street, one woman is pondering the same thought.
Through the window of redbrick home a woman sits in front of her television screen. She is a mother and an art enthusiast. On the screen Bill Henson’s ‘art’ is flashed before her eyes. The woman doesn’t know what to think. On one hand, she sees the young girl, and knows that she is too young to really consent to having her picture taken in the nude. She knows that this girl may one day wake up and be ashamed and embarrassed by the photographs. On the other hand, the woman recognizes Bill Henson as a successful photographer and artist.
She hears the voices of art lovers as they dismiss the critics. She doesn’t wish to be labeled as ignorant and old fashioned. Most disturbing of all though, she hears the Prime Minister comment on the photographs…’utterly revolting. ’ She condemns this. What sort of impact will this have on the girls who are pictured, or even young girls in general? What sort of cultural reality do these sort of comments elude to? Whether art or exploitation, the photographs depict girls on the brink of womanhood, naked and vulnerable. She wonders when it was that art became politics.
Everything is as it was, and everything has changed. My name is Stephan Weitzler, or perhaps you may know me as Stephen Wheatley. Here I am, the undersized pensioner with teapot ears, an echo of the boy I once was. I am standing on the footpath in my sopping wet clothes, as the rain splashes over me, peering into the lives of others. In the decades since I last set foot in the Close I’ve lived a life of richness, and grown considerably from the boy who once thought a game of spies to be the most exciting and honorable escapade of his life.
I realize now, that of the half understood truths of childhood, it was my perception of war that was the most distorted. I saw heroes in ordinary men, and enemies where there were none. It was only when I escaped from the warped awareness of my childhood that I was able to explore the multiple realities of war, as an experienced truth, as a constructed reality, and as cultural propaganda. Ultimately, this is what allowed me to better grasp the concept of war, and admittedly, of life in general.
It is of my belief that all realities provide value and substance to our views. Clearly, the existence of multiple realities demands the existence of multiple truths. A German playwright and poet once said, ‘there is nothing more frightful than ignorance in action. ’ Ignorance can be described as a lack of understanding of reality, or rather, the abundance of multiple realities which encompass a concept. At this point, I’m starting to realize that I must look quite silly- like a peeping tom or an old senile escapee from the retirement home.
My thoughts are confirmed when the porch lights of an old white house flicker on, and a young woman emerges, grasping a towel with a telephone to her ear, and an umbrella over her head. Above the rain I hear a police car pull up behind me. Still I do not move. I’m thinking again about the white haired man, and the woman who doesn’t know what to think. I’m shivering now, quivering uncontrollably, but I don’t care. While the rain plummets from the sky, slapping at my clothes incessantly, I’m thinking about the realities that occur in spite of the rain.