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Category: positions to ponder

patience

community

      Community 

             Vicente Manansala

                         _________

in the regular line at the market today, 
not the express line, the man ahead of 
me turned towards me and looked at 
my basket quizzically

are you after my crackers, I said,
jovially, I’ve been stocking up on 
a favourite brand on sale 

no, he said, but you could be in 
the express line with your only 
five articles

I don’t mind the wait, I replied, and I 
didn’t take the time to count

I hate waiting in line, he said, I want 
to get out of here as quickly as 
possible

I’ve slowed everything down to a 
snail’s pace, I said, it makes you, 
I think, a nicer person, plus you 
get to smell the basil and the 
raspberries

I guess I’m not a nice person, he 
countered, not at all, I replied, you 
are evidently friendly, you addressed 
me, you were concerned, put forth a 
desire to help

he glistened, blushed, was manifestly 
nonplussed, speechless, then his turn 
came up at the check-out counter

at the cash he glowered at some
empty baskets that had been left
there unattended, discombobulating 
his station, I refrained from  
instinctively moving them myself, 
since I would’ve lost my place in line 
in the process, and though I might 
sometimes be gracious, I am mostly 
not subservient, though that’s up still 
for some metaphysical consideration

I made it home with my five items,
the sky was blue, but again there’s 
smoke above the mountains 
shrouding the eastern horizon, 
from forest fires burning inexorably 
in our Interior

the sky is falling, we need to take 
care of each other, ourselves

R ! chard

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threnodies: to the victims of Hiroshima, of the Holocaust, and to the Canadian North

The Scream, 1893 - Edvard Munch

       The Scream (1893) 

             Edvard Munch

                    ____________

before we leave too far behind the 
anniversary of the annihilation of
Hiroshima, August 6, 1945, let me 
introduce you to a piece that 
purports to pay it homage

if I didn’t bring it up before, it’s 
because the date was wrong, but
especially because the work 
offends me, the only thing I like
about it is the title, a thing of 
beauty, poetry – Threnody to the
Victims of Hiroshima – a threnody
is a song of lamentation for the 
dead, which worked for me, this 
one, no further than its title

there is nothing remotely 
reminiscent of the tragedy
throughout the piece, it is a 
collection of academic exercises,
pretensions, I think, without a 
heartbeat 

let me compare Steve Reich’s 
threnody to the victims of the 
Holocaust, the other signature 
Twentieth Century atrocity, his 
Different Trains“, a work in three 
movements, America – Before the 
War”, “Europe – During the War”, 
and After the War”, for string 
quartet and tape, upon which 
Reich has recorded interviews 
with people relating impressions 
from before the warduring, and 
after, according to the movements

the quartet, you’ll note, must keep 
time with the tape, and in this 
production visuals have been 
effectively added 

Glenn Gould had done something 
like this several years earlier,
incidentally, in his The Idea of 
North“, a threnody itself to that 
very idea, a masterpiece, a
groundbreaking transcendental
work of the imagination, with 
overlapping voices, which is to 
say human counterpointthough 
without string quartet

you’ll note that distressing tonalities
affect throughout this other, much 
more successful however, tribute
but the different rhythms of the 
recurrent, which is to say minimalist, 
rails keep you emotionally, as it were, 
on track

Different Trains is appropriately,
and profoundly, commemorative, 
not to mention unforgettable 

Richard

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

“Cairo Time”

street-in-cairo.jpg!Large

     “Street In Cairo (1873)  

             Konstantin Makovsky

                         ____________

many years ago, when I was in my 
skittish twenties, and the world had 
opened up to me as I’d started work 
at an international airline, I opted 
to go to Tunisia, less harried than 
Morocco, I thought, and probably
less expensive 

a friend had asked to come along,
who worked for the same company 

Judy was my age, honey blond, lithe,
curvaceous, voluptuous, though
ever entirely unassuming, we made  
a lovely pair

but soon the locals had our number,
understood that I was merely her
friend, no challenger for her 
affections, somehow

from our seaside hotel in nearby
Hammamet, a coastal resort, we set 
out our first day for the nearby capital, 
Tunis, a dusty town, I remember, a 
cowtown, or a camel town, north of 
the Sahara Desert, with shoddy 
buildings and not much else, I was 
young

we found ourselves on the Boulevard 
Habib Bourguiba, the name of the first
President of the Republic of Tunisia,
not paved then, or with what we used  
to call soft shoulders, when the 
pavement doesn’t reach the sidewalks, 
where we looked for a restaurant or a 
coffee house to get our bearings 

inside a nondescript place we found
for lack of anything else, we sat down,
had a coffee, looked around

it didn’t take long for us to realize that
Judy was the only girl in the place, so
we finished our fare and took off

when all the men in the place followed

we found a cab to take us back to the 
hotel and didn’t return to Tunis apart  
from accompanied 

but that’s another story

it’s seemed so hard for me to explain
this to people who haven’t experienced 
this discomfort cause this kind of
indignity is so foreign to us, offensive
and hard to imagine

but a film I just saw about Cairo, 
Cairo Time“, gives a good impression 
of the differences in our cultures

were it only for this insight, I wouldn’t
suggest this movie, but because it is
a wonderful travelogue through this
remarkable city, with views of bazaars,
pyramids in the distance, and all of it 
in splendid cinemascope and colour, 
the film is a marvel 

Patricia Clarkson, an actress I greatly
admire, plays the role Katharine 
Hepburn played in Summertime“, 
one of my all-time favourite movies,
of a woman alone in a city, needing
to trust in the kindness of strangers 

Clarkson‘s kind stranger is no slouch 
either

watch

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

“Symphonie espagnole” – Édouard Lalo

the-treachery-of-images-this-is-not-a-pipe-19482-jpglarge

          La Trahison des images (Ceci n’est pas une pipe)
           / “The Treachery Of Images (This Is Not A Pipe) – (1948) 

                    René Magritte

                     ___________

                                                     paintings don’t lie,
                                                          music doesn’t either,
                                                              only words do 

                                                                                me

in this age of fake news, maybe the 
following piece of musicological 
misinformation shouldn’t be so 
surprising, yet there it is, flagrant,
disturbing and disorienting, and 
apparently irreversible

Édouard Lalo‘s Symphonie espagnole“, 
however acclaimed as such, is still to my
mind, and to several others concerned, a
misnomer, the Symphonie is actually a 
concerto, and can’t think for moment 
why Lalo would’ve called it otherwise

a symphony is an aggregation of sounds
to produce melodies and harmonies, a 
concerto spotlights a soloist, who 
generally determines the direction the 
music will follow

or soloists

once you have a concerto, you can no 
longer call it a symphony, it would be 
to disregard a defining element, like 
calling someone a girl once she’s 
become princessfor instance, 
complete with glass slippers and a 
tiara, it would be at the very least 
disrespectful, if not out and out 
dishonest

Lalo here is, however, magisterial, all 
five movements glitter with, for the 
violin, utterly magical moments, the 
violinist weaving wizardry minute by 
electrifying minute

after such a turn, one must allow 
Lalo to call his opus what he will,
I guess, forgive him his linguistic
trespasses

listen

Richard

psst: I have not accorded Bartók the same leniency
        for his Concerto for Orchestra, 
        however – the Lalo dilemma but in reverse,  
       an orchestra is by definition not a soloist 
         – for I’ve always found Bartók inscrutable, 
         sound and fury, here specifically, though 
         uncharacteristically scrutable in this 
         particular instance, signifying nevertheless,  
         I’m afraid, still nothing, no underlying animus, 
         philosophical, or existential, underpinning 
         but to kill time, a tragic and disqualifying, 
         flaw, unfortunately, in my, however humble  
         everopinion 

         but you be the judge

“When You Come” – Daniel Goodwin

800px-Accolade_by_Edmund_Blair_Leighton.jpg

            “The Accolade (1901) 

           Edmund Blair Leighton

                     ___________

When You Come

When you come to greet me, shyly, 
wearing nothing but your love for me
I will come to meet you halfway
like a falcon returning to your wrist.

And when you raise your arm,
trembling ever so slightly,
I will alight and let you pull
the velvet shroud over my eyes. 

 Daniel Goodwin

                  —————–

courtly love, an idea of love that took 
shape in the 12th Century in what would
become France eventually, though its 
development soon touched all the 
countries, or kingdoms then, of Europe,
became the primary subject of poetry
and literature especially through the 
influence  of Eleanor of Acquitaine
without a doubt the most powerful
woman in Europe during her reign as 
Queen of France after her marriage to 
Louis Vll, which was annulled after a 
time for her having not borne Louis  
any sons, then with Henry, Duke of 
Normandy, who then became Henry ll
of England, with whom she had 
Richard l, the Lionheart, as well as the 
later King John – the wonderful film, 
The Lion in Winter” with Katherine
Hepburn as Eleanor is a brilliant 
account of her later life with Henry 
and their fractious sons, featuring 
as well Peter O’Toole as Henry, and a
young Anthony Hopkins as Richard

her patronage of the arts in general 
then, from her position of power, 
allowed, much as it would today any
potentate, the dissemination of 
courtly love as a cultural ideal that
ultimately led to some of the greatest 
works of our Western cultures, notably
Dante‘s The Divine Comedy“, where 
Dante courts chastely the married 
Beatrice, who becomes indeed even 
an intermediary for him during his 
passage through Paradise

the idea, through the interpolation of
the Catholic Church, was that courtly 
love should be pure, unconsummated,
a noble admiration and reverence of 
an object of adulation within the strict 
constraints of an impossible physical 
conjunction, the model being, of course, 
the emulation of the worship of the 
Virgin Mary

Cervantes‘ Don Quixote is a later 
example of this same disposition,
though by this time, 1605 to 1615,
the practice of courtly love had 
been sullied by too many evidently 
corrupt practitioners, and a more 
cynical therefore culture, so that 
Don Quixote despite his blameless
pursuit of Dulcinea, his unwitting
muse, is made out to be a fool 
given the context of his more 
contentious times, albeit a benign, 
and somewhat heroic, fool

but my very favourite such story is
that of Edmond Rostand‘s “Cyrano
de Bergerac“, whose long nose 
makes him disparage his own 
chances of ever achieving the love 
of his beloved, Roxane

José Ferrer got an Oscar for his 
superb performance of Cyrano in 
1950, but my ideal remains that of
Gérard Dépardieu, a complete 
wonder, in 1990, both very much, 
however, worth your time

all this as a preface to the poem 
above, When You Come, which 
seems to me of that tradition,
despite having been written in 
2014 according to its inclusion 
then in the Literary Review of 
Canada, perhaps because of the 
introduction of the falcon, not at 
all a contemporary image, but 
fraught with the impression of a
love that is all devotion instead 
of conquest, a kind of love that
in my particular circumstances 
I’ve come to reach for rather 
than anything less refined

true love, in other words, can  
never not love, as I’ve said earlier 

Richard

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