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Category: philosophy

Beethoven / Schubert piano trios

newborn-baby-on-hands.jpg!Large.jpg

     Newborn Baby on Hands (1927) 

             Otto Dix

             _________

once I learned to read music, which  
is to say, to pay attention when I was 
listening – the line of the melody, its
development, the counter melody,
its development, the recapitulation,
of either, or both, the changes in 
volume, tonality, the changes in 
pace, rhythm – the grammar of 
composition began to make itself
evident, felt, like the work of verbs, 
nouns, adjectives in sentences

the particularities of the composer 
then, much like the colours on a 
painter’s palette, made themselves 
manifest, the trick is there are no 
words in either of these arts, one  
must understand them with the
senses

two stories

I’d had an aneurysm, my sister 
was there each day to hold my 
hand, as I lay silently, patiently, 
recovering, any noise was 
painful, even excruciating

years later, all I could do, she said, 
was hold your hand

all you could do, I retorted, 
utterly confounded, there was 
everything in your hand, your 
love, your prayers, your attention
and devotion, all of those things,
I said, are what kept me alive

later, extrapolated that that must 
be how a newborn baby understands,  
through the senses, like we do music 
and paintings 

another

when many years later I was 
volunteering at the local palliative 
care unit, I was asked to sit with 
a mother whose family would 
meanwhile take their lunch
together, the mother, incoherent 
and distraught, was all ajitter
in her bed

I sat by her, put a hand on her 
arm, gently, and began to chant 
a mantra I’d recently taken up in 
meditation, something repetitive 
and calming

little by little her tremors slowed,
stopped, and then she began to
sing, to mumble, to murmur, to 
intonerow, row, row your boat, 
over and over again, in a 
corroborating rhythm
acknowledging, mystically, 
magically, our transcendent 
connection

here’s some Beethoven

here’s some Schubert

try to tell them apart


R ! chard

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merry C***mas

don-quixote-1955.jpg!Large

       Don Quixote (1955) 

             Pablo Picasso

                 _________

last year, my mom and I spent C***mas 
in Munich, attended mass at the
Heiliggeistkirche there, the Church of 
the Holy Spirit, a blessed event, this 
year, we’re spending it here in Vancouver,
she’s just down the street from where I
live, has just come back from three weeks  
in Argentina, with back to back stopovers 
in Montreal to visit the rest of our family 
there, me, I’m happy with my sedentary 
life, in this enchanted placeputzing and
writing poems

but this year, rather than shopping for 
gifts, I’ve determined to look for good
actions, volunteering is out, but little
acts of kindness, everywhere, are in
even big ones

a friend who’d been considering 
coming over for C***mas, from 
Victoria on nearby Vancouver 
Island, alone now after the demise 
of his wife last winter, compounded 
by the death of his only two kids, 
twins, many years ago, is now ill,  
my mom and I ‘ve determined to
visit him there should he not 
make it here

this seems to me to be more 
important, significant, than 
gifts


the moneylenders have now taken 
over the temple, it’s time to take 
back, put the C***mas back into, 
C***mas

find someone to be good to


and all the very, very best

R ! chard

psst: Don Quixote, see above, was 
          perhaps a dreamer, attacking 
          windmills he thought were 
          maleficent, but his vision, his 
          however impossible dream,  
          has lasted as an inspiration  
          for over 500 years  

           it’s never not time to pursue 
           one’s noble ideas

Symphony no 10 in E minor, op 93 – Dmitri Shostakovich

self-portrait-with-stalin-1954.jpg!Large.jpg

     “Self Portrait with Stalin (1954) 

             Frida Kahlo

                 ______

Shostakovich’s 10th Symphony was a
success from the moment I heard it, 
it resolved issues for me I found 
difficult in his earlier showpieces, for
that’s what symphonies are, indeed
blockbusters

from the very beginning, Shostakovich
gives a musical theme, a few notes 
played by a solo oboe, an obbligato
that is then repeated with variations by
other instruments, if not by the entire
orchestra, this is an old trick of 
Beethoven

later movements do the same thing 
with flute, piccolo, or bassoon
obbligati, a particular device of
Shostakovich to indicate a lone,
individual voice amidst the clamour 
of military brass and proletarian
violins

but the tactic of repeating a theme, 
like rhyming in poetry, gives one a 
sense of position, which is lost if 
there’s no reiteration, no reference 
point, it’s like wandering off into a 
forest instead of into a park you 
could safely be enjoying, that had 
trails at least to let you know you 
weren’t far from civilization, 
signposts pointing out directions, 
whereas a forest could be a tundra, 
vast for miles, one could walk for 
days without being found, that’s 
the role of repetition, rhyme, a 
refrain, in music, getting one’s 
bearings

and incidentally, one could be 
walking around in circles in that 
forest and atonality wouldn’t be 
any help at all 


the Tenth has, however, all the 
guideposts throughout, one can 
tell where the music ‘s going at 
each and every movement, it was 
like finding my way home, the, long  
even at nearly an hour, soundscape 
whipped by leaving me breathless, 
awestruck, Shostakovich has hit 
here, I thought, my big time, it took 
him long enough


it was first performed just after the 
death of Stalin, March, 1953, was 
thus probably composed somewhat 
earlier, belying the supposition that 
Stalin‘s demise had affected the 
spirit of his composition, which is 
uncharacteristically cheery for him, 
to my mind, seems to have unleashed 
in him the dogs not of war and 
disillusion, but of fun, something that 
was happening to the entire 20th 
Century, for that matter, especially 
after the Second World War, even, it 
appears, however grimly, in Russia, 
oops, in the U.S.S.R


an aside – Mrs Premise had said of 
Jean-Paul Sartre, the expositor of 
Existentialism in the Twentieth Century, 
implications of which he related to us,
of living in world without God, in his
magnum opusBeing and Nothingness“,
to her Monty Python counterpart, Mrs 
Conclusion, in a hilarious skit of theirs, 
that Sartre wasn’t receiving that day, he 
was, according to his housekeeper, 
especially moody

is he free, asks Mrs Premise, he’s been 
investigating that one for years, the 
woman at the door replies, the kind of 
joke – in musical terminology, a scherzo – 
utterly cherishwitty, pithy, trenchant, 
if you’ll pardon my giddy digression

but I sense Russian counterpart in the
dour Shostakovich

 
it should be noted here, that the 
orchestra in the link I provide, is
the Simon Bolivar Youth Orchestra
of Venezuela, a country with its 
own political history of oppression, 
under the direction of the deservedly 
celebrated conductor, Gustavo 
Dudamelhimself a Venezuelan 

the struggle doesn’t stop, the oracular 
hits must keep on coming, go, Gustavo
Dudamel, go, Simon Bolivar Youth
Orchestra, go, Shostakovich


 R ! chard

on courage

aristotle-jpglarge

     “Socrates” 

            Luca Giordano

                    __________

  

following in the footsteps of Socrates,
who, I agree with the Oracle, has been 
ever the wisest man, one whose example 
I’ve followed since first hearing of him, let 
me query, what is courage 

a tentative definition would have one 
stating that courage is a determination
to overcome danger

but to use my own example, being called
courageous for surviving an aneurysm,
would this instance have qualified

where was my determination, apart from
waiting, submissively, for the axe to fall,
or to not fall, I felt no fear, merely time 
passing, not an ounce of determination

but what of those others who endure 
the pain often associated with dying,
agony, is that not a kind of enforced 
courage

so did I qualify

an aneurysm swells the blood vessels 
to the brain as the brain heals, but 
meanwhile the heart pumps a rhythmic
tattoo on those passages rendered 
more tenderso that a throbbing 
anguish is ever drumming its drill 
upon the cerebrum of the sufferer 

perhaps I did qualify

but Socrates brings up an interesting 
objection, can animals be brave, it 
would seem not, therefore courage 
requires self-consciousness, whether 
or not it is defiant or compliant 

and what about defiance before a lost 
cause, is that courage or doomed 
bombast

Aristotle adds to the mix the notion 
of a noble cause, not merely an 
instinctive, however, in the event, 
morally prompted, position

so what is courage, you tell me

I say that you know it when you see
it, the courageous act defines the 
word, not the other way around,

much like flowers are the result of 
their own efflorescence, not the 
manifestation of a preset Ideal

you are the measure of your own 
words

for better or for worse

Richard

psst: it is interesting to note that 
          according to the Bible, in the 
          beginning was the Word
          John 1:1, a convenient  tool  
          to impose order

Aristotle, an objection

school-of-athens-detail-from-right-hand-side-showing-diogenes-on-the-steps-and-euclid-1511.jpg!Large

      “The School Of Athens (1510 – 1511) 

               Raphael

_______

upon reviewing my Socrates, Plato, and
Aristotle from a series of university  
lectures I’ve been following, I came upon 
a discovery so egregious, I couldn’t
believe I hadn’t seen it before, the old
story of the forest and the trees, I guess

upon hearing that the Oracle at Delphi
had replied that it was Socrates to those 
who’d wondered who the wisest man
was, Socrates, abashed, began to seek 
out wise men to disprove the Oracle, 
but whenever Socrates asked of them
what is virtue, what is justice, what is 
knowledge, for instance, the answers 
were always inconclusive, they always 
seemed to depend on perspective –
virtue, justice, knowledge were in the 
eye of the beholder – though Plato 
later putting in his own definitions
called them Ideals, a chair partook,
for instance, of an overarching 
chairness somewhere, as did indeed 
virtue, knowledge and justice, which 
inferred another ideal universe 
contiguously, of which our own 
universe supplied only imperfect 
renditions

you can hear the seeds of Heaven and 
God already in all of that, way before 
Christianity, not to mention Original 
Sin

it also suggests an implacable order

Socrates wouldn’t’ve liked that

but Aristotle, with a much more critical 
mind than Plato’s, less speculative, more 
akin to Socrates’, less autocratic, more 
inquisitive, begins to try to define,
nevertheless, abstractions, virtue, 
knowledge, justice, as though they
indeed existed as ideals

this is putting the cart before the horse,
I thought, in the form of a revelation

an instance exists in the act of creation,
a physical transformation produces a 
flower, the flower doesn’t happen 
because of the word

a human example

for surviving an aneurysm once, someone, 
to my astonishment, had called me 
courageous, I’d been, I thought, only
surviving, not an inch of courage, not 
even a millimetre

courage, I surmised, is in the eye of the 
beholder, it is not at all a template, an 
absolute, in my experience 

Aristotle goes on to define a host of
Virtues, indeed 11, which come out as 
essentially his Eleven Commandments,
on, in fact, courage, among others, all 
essentially, and appropriately, moral, 
thereby creating the moral realm of 
our Western world

Jesus followed

and of course God and Heaven

which, of course, still prevail despite 
sound, sober objections

as though we could know

why is this important

because, I think, we must remember 
that our assumptions are only that,
and often they’re based on only what 
we’ve been told, which is already a 
step away from incorrect 
interpretation 

in the world of false news, check 
your references, check your very 
words, our lives, it isn’t too much 
to say, I believe, depend on it

not to mention our own personal 
moral code, our soul, our purpose 
for being, which every wo/man 
must oversee for hirself

if one has the courage 

Richard

on truth

the-blank-signature-1965(1).jpg!Large

        La carte blanche” (“The Blank Signature”) (1965) 

              René Magritte

                 _________

being part of the truth, or Truth, we can’t 
see the forest for the trees, ever

Richard

 

 

“Is Art Truth?”

paradise-jpglarge

  “Paradise” 

        Hieronymus Bosch

                   __________

Is Art Truth?“, a friend asks after speaking of 
its benefits, “Art accepts and tells the truth-Is
that it ?“, she inquires, wonders

art, like truth itself and beauty, is in the eye 
of the beholder, I submit, and therefore my 
definition is, once again, entirely personal, 
though I’ve rigorously plumbed it

it requires background

art died for a thousand years, it was 
essentially unrecorded, dormant from 
the fall of Rome to the Renaissance, nor 
promoted but for Catholic purposes, 
hence the majestic cathedrals and the 
magisterial altarpieces, works produced 
by, however, communities until eventually 
certain artisans were recognized as more 
inspired than others, and given autonomy

enter Duccio, for instance

in time these new, necessarily idiosyncratic
perspectives – see Hieronymus BoschDante
Alighieri – dominated, veering in their search 
for truth in their art and beauty – selling points,
incidentally – towards less strictly orthodox 
utterances

see above

art, and its contemporary science, were 
chipping away at ecclesiastical dogma

till God died, and artists continued their 
prescient march forward, shaping our 
zeitgeist, our spirit of the times, with 
their pronouncements for lack of any 
other guides

but the voices grew personal, see Mozart
often profound and prophetic, see 
Beethoven, till the confluence of disparate 
realities gave us secularism, each soul for 
itself as a tenet, a credo, a belief, a truth

what did they have in common

I believe it was their quest for beauty 
through truth, their quest for truth 
through beauty, with a nod here to 
the salient Keats 

art is prayer, a search for, as well as a 
manifestation of, one’s personal 
identification with the sacred

it is not truth, it is not beauty, it is the 
fervent intention itself, linked with a 
correspondent workmanship, craft, 
which inspires 

see for instance van Gogh for this, who, 
remember, nevertheless shot himself, 
artists are mortal, merely, messengers, 
ever, therefore, fallible, unsure, fearful 
even, often, of their, perhaps 
Promethean, fire

for consolation, or even maybe 
transcendence, see again,
pertinently here, Beethoven  

listen

Richard

psst: thanks, Joan

what, me worry

philosophy-final-state-1907-jpglarge

    “Philosophy (Final State) (1899-1907) 

         Gustav Klimt

              ______

at lunch recently, a friend was telling 
me about taking her family, kids,
grandkids, to Hawaii

I hope we have a good time, she said

what do you mean, I hope, I asked 

I’ve been worrying a lot lately, I wake 
up in the middle of the night, I worry
about sharks, for instance, off the 
coast of Maui

I know what you mean, I answered, I
worry about an earthquake hitting 
while I’m asleep, the whole city does 
in fact, I confirmed, those here who 
worry

when I was going to Munich in December 
and January with my mother, I continued, 
and people were saying it’d be cold, 
determined that we’d have a wonderful 
time despite whatever obstacles we might 
encounter, I meant it as a gift to my mother, 
after all it was for the magic of the C***mas 
and New Year’s Eve festivities there we 
were going, kind of like your Hawaiian 
beaches, I pointed out

there was the uncomfortable flight over,
the usual stomach upsets, cold and 
snow, which I hadn’t experienced in 
several years, an unruly Internet 
connection, but they were the price of 
admission to the wonderland I’d 
determined to fashion out of the 
elements that we’d find there, and did  

there were neither sharks nor earthquakes 
eventually, nor even the terrorist attacks 
that had threatened, but that no amount of 
worrying anyway could’ve done anything 
about 

and I just read something out of the New 
Yorker, I continued, that put me back on 
track, put everything back together again 
before any great existential fall

it’s all in your head, it said, or rather it
quoted EpictetusEpictetus, the Stoic 
philosopher I’ve always profoundly 
admired, I said, I’ll send it to you, the 
articleStoicism was a way of facing 
the world bravely and seeing it as a 
condition of your worth

is still a way, I extrapolated

also I’ve found that focussing on what
you’ve been worrying about, and 
thinking about what you can do about 
it, helps

about sharks, for instance, what would 
you do – don’t go in the water – after 
which there isn’t much else to think 
about but go on to the next problem 

meanwhile, you’re not worrying, but 
actually being productive, and reducing 
everything to what you can indeed do,
which ends up being most often not 
much

pray for grace, I’ve been telling myself
for the longest while, and make sure 
your tie ‘s on right, that’s all you 
can ever do, I repeat to myself, and to 
anyone who’ll listen, like an incantation, 
a refrain

but still I take my anti-depressants just 
in case, I said

we drank to Stoicism

afterwards we saw a new play about 
Queen Elizabeth

Richard

psst: the New Yorker article 

    How To Be a Stoic

The Stoic philosopher Epictetus was born a slave, around 55 A.D., in the Greco-Roman spa town of Hierapolis—present-day Pamukkale, Turkey. I first encountered his teachings in 2011, shortly after moving from San Francisco to Istanbul. I lived alone on a university campus in a forest. In the midst of a troubled long-distance relationship, I sometimes went days without talking to anyone but my boyfriend’s disembodied head on Skype. I was demoralized by Turkish politics, which made both secularists and religious people feel like victims. If you were a woman, no matter what you were wearing—décolleté or a head scarf—someone would give you a dirty look.

The first line of Epictetus’ manual of ethical advice, the Enchiridion—“Some things are in our control and others not”—made me feel that a weight was being lifted off my chest. For Epictetus, the only thing we can totally control, and therefore the only thing we should ever worry about, is our own judgment about what is good. If we desire money, health, sex, or reputation, we will inevitably be unhappy. If we genuinely wish to avoid poverty, sickness, loneliness, and obscurity, we will live in constant anxiety and frustration. Of course, fear and desire are unavoidable. Everyone feels those flashes of dread or anticipation. Being a Stoic means interrogating those flashes: asking whether they apply to things outside your control and, if they do, being “ready with the reaction ‘Then it’s none of my concern.’ ”

Reading Epictetus, I realized that most of the pain in my life came not from any actual privations or insults but, rather, from the shame of thinking that they could have been avoided. Wasn’t it my fault that I lived in such isolation, that meaning continued to elude me, that my love life was a shambles? When I read that nobody should ever feel ashamed to be alone or to be in a crowd, I realized that I often felt ashamed of both of those things. Epictetus’ advice: when alone, “call it peace and liberty, and consider yourself the gods’ equal”; in a crowd, think of yourself as a guest at an enormous party, and celebrate the best you can.

Epictetus also won me over with his tone, which was that of an enraged athletics coach. If you want to become a Stoic, he said, “you will dislocate your wrist, sprain your ankle, swallow quantities of sand,” and you will still suffer losses and humiliations. And yet, for you, every setback is an advantage, an opportunity for learning and glory. When a difficulty comes your way, you should feel proud and excited, like “a wrestler whom God, like a trainer, has paired with a tough young buck.” In other words, think of every unreasonable asshole you have to deal with as part of God’s attempt to “turn you into Olympic-class material.” This is a very powerful trick.

Much of Epictetus’ advice is about not getting angry at slaves. At first, I thought I could skip those parts. But I soon realized that I had the same self-recriminatory and illogical thoughts in my interactions with small-business owners and service professionals. When a cabdriver lied about a route, or a shopkeeper shortchanged me, I felt that it was my fault, for speaking Turkish with an accent, or for being part of an élite. And, if I pretended not to notice these slights, wasn’t I proving that I really was a disengaged, privileged oppressor? Epictetus shook me from these thoughts with this simple exercise: “Starting with things of little value—a bit of spilled oil, a little stolen wine—repeat to yourself: ‘For such a small price, I buy tranquillity.’ ”

Born nearly two thousand years before Darwin and Freud, Epictetus seems to have anticipated a way out of their prisons. The sense of doom and delight that is programmed into the human body? It can be overridden by the mind. The eternal war between subconscious desires and the demands of civilization? It can be won. In the nineteen-fifties, the American psychotherapist Albert Ellis came up with an early form of cognitive-behavioral therapy, based largely on Epictetus’ claim that “it is not events that disturb people, it is their judgments concerning them.” If you practice Stoic philosophy long enough, Epictetus says, you stop being mistaken about what’s good even in your dreams. 

                                                                                                 Elif Batuman

true love – an insight

love-s-scerets-1896-jpglarge

                          “Love’s Secrets (1896) 

                    William-Adolphe Bouguereau

                                     _________

the only way you can hate someone 
you’ve loved is if your love was selfish,
true love can never not love, ever

Richard

 

the judgment of richibi

the-judgment-of-paris-1.jpg!Large.jpg

        “The Judgment Of Paris (1625) 

                         Peter Paul Rubens

                                       ___________

at the end of a long overdue visit to 
friend’s home the other night, she 
asked me, did you notice their facial
skin, which of us do you think had 
the best complexion, you can be 
honest, she insisted

we had intended to watch the finals
of a voice competition we’d both 
been following, over a glass of 
wine, or two, each, when a friend 
called, from, essentially, the door,
with a second friend in tow on their
way to a concert in the city

the friend of the friend, a lovely,
effervescent woman, from Poland
originally, with a story to tell of
growing up behind the Iron 
Curtain, was also a beautician in 
spa she runs in a nearby resort
city

the first friend, equally effervescent, 
had been telling my own friend of the 
intervening events since last they’d  
met, while I lapped up, more or less  
by default, this other alternate Soviet 
reality, perfumed as it was irresistibly 
throughout with the friend’s  
friend’s mellifluous Polish accent

I hadn’t paid any attention whatsoever
to skin quality apart from accepting  
a spa courtesy card for my mother, who 
would, naturally, be interested 

my dearest dear, I answered, I am  
not going anywhere near that one
look what happened to Paris when
he fell into that trap

what happened, she asked

the Trojan War, I answered  

the Trojan War, she asked

Paris was the son of Priam and Hecuba
king and queen of Troy, explained, he, 
one of its princes, he’d been awarded 
Helenwife of Menelausking of Sparta, 
by Aphroditegoddess of lovehe’d 
chosen Aphrodite to be the most 
beautiful among the goddesses, that 
was her prize

but let me step back a little, I  
interrupted, you need more context

Eris, goddess of discord, had not been 
invited to the marriage of Peleus and 
Thetis, I recounted, he a Greek hero, 
she a sea nymph, parents both later to 
Achilleshero at Troy, slain, incidentally, 
by that very Paris, you can read all about 
it in the Iliad“, I highly recommended

during the festivities, Eris tosses a 
golden apple among the assembled 
divinities, which reads

            “to the fairest” 
 
you can hear the stirrings of the much 
later Sleeping Beautyincidentally, in 
this earliest of tellings, reconfigured 
from the original myth

AthenaAphrodite and Hera, all assume
they are meant to receive the apple, and 
ask Zeus, father and husband, to decide

you’ll have to get someone else to touch 
that one, he replies, much as I did

and delegates the task, with the help 
of Hermes, the messenger god, to the
the guileless Paris, son of Priam and 
Hecuba, Trojan king and queen, as I 
said, he, Parisprince

Paris was tending sheep on Mount Ida
when, fatefully, by a spring, the nubile 
goddesses appeared vaunting their 
unadorned splendours, stark, flagrant, 
manifest, to the musical accompaniment 
of the Graces, Faith, Hope and Charity, 
also the Horae, the Hoursgoddesses 
of the seasons, maidens all in complicit  
attendance

Paris, mere mortal, would never have 
stood a chance 

but to sweeten, nevertheless, the 
deal, were it not yet sufficiently sweet, 
Hera promises Paris Europe and Asia 
should he choose her, Athena
conquest in war, Aphroditegoddess 
of love, was set to give him the most
beautiful woman in the world

Paris opts for Aphrodite, and is 
awarded Helenthe face that
launched the thousand proverbial 
ships, the wife, not incidentally,  
and completely inconveniently, of 
the King of Sparta, Menelauswho 
attacks thereupon Troy with his 
brother, Agamemnon, and their 
allied legions, to reclaim 
Menelaus’, whether abducted, or 
indeed unfaithful, wife, no one 
has ever conclusively determined
Paris having been Paris

no one won 

no one survived but Odysseus
but that’s another story

I walked home shortly afterwards, 
crossed my own Aegean, ten or
eleven blocks back, red lights, 
nighttime traffic, watched the voice 
competition I’d taped in any case at 
homewhooped it up along with my
favourite contestants, drank to my
narrow miss, had gotten away, I
considered, with the equivalent of 
Europe and Asia, if only in my 
mind

beauty might be in the eye of the 
beholder, I surmised, but it can 
have its thorny indeed 
consequences

Richard