Esperanto Visual Culture?

Posted on 29. Jan, 2016 by in Uncategorized

Back when I was being taught Spanish in high school, I remember that one of the major topics in our curriculum was a discussion of famous master painters from Spain. My teachers steeped me in the works of El Greco, Velázquez, Goya, Picasso, and others. And while I loved seeing all those beautiful, intricate canvases, at the time I was puzzled as to why I had to learn about them. Wasn’t I studying Spanish in order to speak the language? How could looking at pictures possibly advance that, since they never had any words in them?

What I didn’t realize back then was that my teachers were working to make me fluent in Spanish culture, as well as the Spanish language. To learn Spanish was not merely to memorize a bunch of vocabulary and grammar. It was also to understand why the language came to be what it was, to give me the wherewithal to grasp the cultural undercurrents of the prose and poetry I would be reading. No language occurs in a vacuum, after all, so there is much to be gained from studying the cultural touchstones that surround any given language.

I bring up this anecdote as a way to begin thinking about another aspect of Esperanto that has baffled me lately. Is there such a thing as Esperanto visual culture? To put it differently, is there an aesthetic tradition within Esperanto that is not literary? I honestly can’t think of any famous Esperanto pentraĵoj [paintings], but that doesn’t mean they don’t exist.

The closest thing to an example I can come up with is the Today series by the Japanese expatriate artist On Kawara. The Today paintings were a long succession of single canvases that were painted in a single color, with the date of its creation then painted over it with near-mechanical precision. Kawara never used stencils, which makes the otherwise plain text pretty darn impressive! Kawara would write out the date of each painting in the language of the country where he composed it, but in the event that the country did not use a Latin character set, Kawara would default to writing the date in Esperanto instead.

(Note: Kawara’s Today series is not in the public domain, so I can’t post any images of it here. I can, however, link you to some! Take a look at what the Dia Art Foundation and the Walker Art Gallery have on display.)

Now, I only tentatively say these qualify as “Esperanto paintings,” because I’m not quite sure whether Kawara’s paintings constitute an “Esperanto” way of viewing things. They feature Esperanto text, but does that make the painting any different from a work of Esperanto literary art? What might an Esperanto painting look like, anyway?

Nominations for potential Esperanto holidays?

Posted on 23. Jan, 2016 by in Uncategorized

Hello everyone! Let me wish you a heavily belated Happy New Year! Better yet, let me do it in Esperanto: Feliĉan novjaron! What were your decidecoj this year? Have you done a good job sticking to them so far? (My major resolution for 2016 was to learn to cook using tofu at long last – a relatively unsuccessful pursuit at the moment!)

January is a pretty eventful month for civic-minded people in la Usono, as it features both New Year’s Day and Martin Luther King, Jr. Day (which occurred on the 18th this year). In my opinion, the two holidays make for a terrific pairing. I’ve always seen New Year’s Day as a celebration of the hope and potential a new calendar year brings, and MLK Day as both a day to honor a civil rights hero and contemplate how much farther we have to go until we achieve his dream of universal justice. Taken together, the two holidays encourage us to hope, to dream, and to work toward building a better world.

In thinking about the two holidays this year, I’ve come to realize they would both make excellent candidates for possible Esperanto holidays, too. The two holidays celebrate values that seem to me to align with what most Esperantists hold dear. I think they’d fit quite nicely within Esperanto culture, consequently.

Consider how Esperanto’s biggest holiday at the moment is Zamenhof Day, which rolls around every 15th of December. Alas, I neglected to post about it when it happened this past year! Coinciding with Dr. Zamenhof’s birthday, Zamenhof Day commemorates the inception of Esperanto, pays respect to its creator, and celebrates the spread of Esperanto and its mission. In that vein, you might also see the day called “Esperanto Literature Day” or “Esperanto Book Day,” in an effort to broaden the celebration to encompass all those writers and artists who contribute to making Esperanto what it is.

If you compare both New Year’s Day and MLK Day to Zamenhof Day, it looks like the things they celebrate overlap nicely. Zamenhof’s overarching project was to bring about world peace and foster global understanding; MLK’s mission to bring about racial equality and justice is a major part of those goals. And if we’re thinking about global peace and understanding, well, New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day are practically the only holidays that the entire world celebrates together. One glance at a television during New Year’s Eve will show you all the world’s nations counting down to the new year, and taking as much joy in it as the next.

So, if we’re going to add any new holidays to the Esperanto calendar, I propose we take a good, long look at both New Year’s Day and MLK Day!

Raŭmismo and Civitanismo

Posted on 28. Nov, 2015 by in Uncategorized

In contrast to the concept of finvenkismo we discussed in the last blog entry, I’d like to turn our attentions toward another movement within Esperanto, with which you might be familiar: raŭmismo, and one of its offshoots, civitanismo. Don’t bother looking for an Esperanto root this time! The term “raŭmismo” comes from Rauma, the name of a town in Finland. Consequently, the word itself doesn’t reveal much about what the concept behind it means.

What is raŭmismo, then? Well, broadly construed, a raŭmisto is somebody who doesn’t necessarily think that propagation should be the foremost goal of an Esperantist. Where a finvenkisto is somebody who wants to spread the Esperanto language to all the corners of the world, and thereby allow the language to be a tool in the employ of all the world’s various cultures, a raŭmisto contends that Esperanto is its own culture. The raŭmistoj believe that Esperanto should be thought of as a diasporic language – that is, the language of a community that has been scattered across the globe, resulting in a culture that is tied to the spoken language rather than to a specific geographical area. (In this regard, Hebrew, at least up until the founding of Israel, would be an example of a diasporic language.) Looking at Esperanto as its own distinct culture thus gives the raŭmistoj a different mission than the finvenkistoj. The latter want to spread Esperanto as far as possible; the former want to cultivate the language and its literature, increasing its heft and influence as one of the world’s many cultures.

The notion of raŭmismo was first articulated in the 1980s, when the participants in the Youth Esperanto Conference (held in Rauma) composed and signed a manifesto, aptly called “The Manifest of Rauma.” (You can read the document in its original Esperanto here.) Over the years, the meaning of raŭmismo as articulated in the manifesto has become a bit cloudier. To some people, raŭmismo simply means the use of Esperanto without spreading it (not to be confused with krokodili, which has a negative connotation), and does not connote an ideological stance. To others, raŭmismo is the continued effort to grant cultural recognition to the Esperanto community. This second, ideologically-inflected version has come to be known as Civitanismo (from “civitano,” meaning “citizen”), the effort to make oneself an Esperanto citizen.

What is your take on raŭmismo? Do you think it’s a worthwhile stance? Do you think it’s inherently a part of Esperanto to begin with? Is the divide between finvenkismo and raŭmismo a false dichotomy? I’d love to hear your opinions in the comments!