I am an ordinary man. ‘Mine is a most peaceable disposition. My wishes are: a humble cottage with a thatched roof, but a good bed, good food, the freshest milk and butter, flowers before my window, and a few fine trees before my door; and if God wants to make my happiness complete, he will grant me the joy of seeing some six or seven of my enemies hanging from those trees. Before their death I shall, moved in my heart, forgive them all the wrong they did me in their lifetime. One must, it is true, forgive one’s enemies—but not before they have been hanged.’1
Hello, fish-eaters and those who don’t eat fish. (I think that covers everyone.) Welcome.
In the dark times
Will there also be singing?
Yes, there will also be singing
About the dark times.
~Bertolt Brecht, Motto (fragment)
My name is Tomasz Goetel. I write about what bothers me—I air my grievances.
If you would like to contact me, please send an email.
In my writing, may the Good Lord please not allow me to become one who a philosopher ironically called a “beautiful soul”—the one who denounces chaos present in the world while forgetting to include himself in it. (Wretched man that I am! Who will save me from this body of death? For that which I do I allow not: for what I would, that do I not; but what I hate, that do I.)
I intend to write in “The Flying Fish”, because, for me, writing has been necessary for thinking things through. And thinking has been a way of breathing (or to put it less enigmatically, thinking has been as necessary as breathing). I can either think or I can drown myself.
Even though at the core of my being I might be what Paul Valéry said the poet must be: “un homme très ancien”, the truth is that a poet I am not, getting old I am. And that I write in order to fulfill the necessities of my own personal hygiene and philosophical gymnastics—but a few years ago, I wrote a book for yoga teachers. I also published, from the public domain, several books among which the bestseller has been Joyce’s Ulysses.
I was born in a country that ceased to be. Known in Polish vernacular as “PRL” (Polska Rzeczpospolita Ludowa), the communist Polish Peoples’ Republic was the predecessor of today’s Republic of Poland.
I grew up in the loving arms of the Polish Roman Catholic Church and Stanisław Lem.
At fourteen years of age, I was the principal subject in the reproduction of the Asch experiment, which premise and result, when all was done and dusted, were explained to me. I had “tested negative”. I can see today, in retrospect, that I was at that very time shaped for years to come to become and remain a person who is sensitive to both conformity and authority even more than is a slave to his natural endowment with a disagreeable personality.
In high school, I was no longer willing to put my hand up to be allowed to go to the bathroom. I decided I had no choice but to become my own teacher.
Having had left my parents’ home as soon as I reached legal drinking age, I left my home country as soon as the obligatory-at-the-time military service started knocking on my door. Leaving Poland was not the only option. Two other possible ways of avoiding the military two-step included putting myself in front of a commission and falsely declaring myself a homosexual, or going to university. Both were equally unthinkable to me as they belonged to the “I’d rather die” category. My guarding angel had me pack a suitcase and run away instead, at first I found a hiding place in Moscow where I worked in some colorful casinos run by gangsters. I never returned to live in Poland again—an emigrant for life, a drifter whose wife is a drifter’s life.
For fifteen years, table games on casino floors were my university. (I went to work in casinos the same way other young men go to work on oil rigs. And just as they did, I made small fortunes and never learned to keep them.)
For twenty years, yoga mats and yoga studios were the places of my postgraduate studies.
For a decade, Thailand’s girlie bars and go-go clubs were secret gardens where, in a hashish Rausch, I’d bend spacetime, temporarily escape gravity, and smell the flowers of life.
For several winter months, I got lost among Switzerland’s masterpiece collections of religious icons—those were the vineyards where I tasted the grapes planted by little genial angels of metanoia and anamnesis—only to find myself at the feet of The One From Nazareth, where I laid as a boy, who now at his fiftieth birthday wants to get up and stand with the Christian Faith.
Where I am
My fate has something to do with the sea and islands; I’ve been partial to Hvar, Hawaii, Bermuda, The Bahamas, Bali, and Phuket—today, I live on the Mediterranean island of Ibiza. I work as a farmer in privately-owned experimental cultivation of a certain magnificent herb. I’ve been told that the herb was very much enjoyed by Walter Benjamin when he visited Ibiza in 1933 in order to undertake a review of his life while he lowered his necessities of existence to a “minimum that could hardly be lowered any further”—both of which, seemingly, I am busy with at the moment. “I pluck flowers on the brink of subsistence”, Benjamin said when he was here. I find it funny that Benjamin stayed in San Antonio, not far from where our plantation has been. If you’re on the island, and would like to meet up with me, via email hit me up.
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Comment on my posts, or not (I hope you would). Or, like me, read quietly, read alone, become a flying fish.
Why the “flying fish”?
A flying fish is an ancient symbol of a simultaneously of-this-world and out-of-this-world creature.
“Exponents of yoga and Indian alchemists fly in the air, they can at will cover vast distances in a few moments. To be able to fly, to have wings, becomes a symbolic formula for transcending human status; the ability to rise into the air indicates access to the ultimate realities. Obviously, there is still a radical distinction, even in the phenomenology of ascents, between religious experience and the technique of the magician; a saint is “rapt” to heaven; yogis, ascetics, magicians, “fly” by their own efforts. But in either case, it is their ascent that sets them apart from the mass of ordinary and uninitiated souls: they can enter the heavens which are impregnated with holiness, and become like gods. Their contact with the starry spaces makes them divine.”2 A yogin must die to this life (submerged in the waters, let’s say) in order to be re-born into liberation (flying, over the waters).
The mystical nature of the flying fish implies a rebirth to a non-conditioned, non-technical being. Or, as my teacher Jacques Ellul put it, “If the Christian is necessarily in the world, he is not of it. This means that his thought, his life, and his heart are not controlled by the world, and do not depend on the world, for they belong to another Master.”3
From Heine, H., Thoughts and Ideas (Gedanken und Einfälle), that is my favorite quote. For you German lovers out there, here’s the original: ‘Ich habe die friedlichste Gesinnung. Meine Wünsche sind: eine bescheidene Hütte, ein Strohdach, aber ein gutes Beet, gutes Essen, Milch und Butter, sehr frisch, vor dem Fenster Blumen, vor der Tür einige schöne Bäume, und wenn der liebe Gott mich ganz glücklich machen will, läßt er mich die Freude erleben, daß an diesen Bäumen etwa sechs bis sieben meiner Feinde aufgehängt werden. Mit gerührtem Herzen werde ich ihnen vor ihrem Tode alle Unbill verzeihen, die sie mir im Leben zugefügt — Ja, man muß seinen Feinden verzeihen, aber nicht früher, als bis sie gehenkt worden.’
Alas, the making of that Heine quotation as my favorite is nothing but an attempt at wit. In seriousness, I must say that I found Vladimir Jankélévitch’s writing on forgiveness to be enlightening. To him, and now me, too, the topic of forgiveness is important because it concerns the broader problem of how to respond to injustice and evil. Jankélévitch holds that true forgiveness must involve a real relation with another person and that forgiveness is a spontaneous, supernatural, and gracious act. “The will can do all—except one thing: undo that which it has done. The power of undoing is of another order: of the order of grace, if you will. It is a miracle.” (…) “Forgiveness itself forgives in one fell swoop and in a single, indivisible elan, and it pardons undividedly; in a single, radical, and incomprehensible movement, forgiveness effaces all, sweeps away all, and forgets all. In one blink of an eye, forgiveness makes a tabula rasa of the past, and this miracle is for forgiveness as simple as saying hello and good evening.” I’ve learned to admire Jankélévitch’s work very, very much.
Eliade, M., Patterns in Comparative Religion, (1958).
Ellul, J., The Presence of the Kingdom, (1989).