Richibi’s Weblog

Just another WordPress.com weblog

Category: positions to ponder

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

Advertisements

Symphony no 11 in G minor, opus 103 (The Year 1905) – Dmitri Shostakovich

bloody-sunday-shooting-workers-near-the-winter-palace-january-9-1905-1  Bloody Sunday. Shooting workers near the Winter Palace January 9, 1905” 

       Ivan Vladimirov

            ________

if you don’t find a lot to hang on to in
Shostakovich’s 11th Symphony, as I
didn’t, apart from his everywhere
ravishing instrumentation, it’s that 
the piece is a commemoration of a 
particular event in Russian history, 
Bloody Sunday, when the Tsar’s 
Imperial Guard opened fire on a 
crowd of unarmed protestors who 
had come to petition Nicolas ll for 
better work conditions, akinindeed, 
to slavery then, there, January 22, 
1905, the first stirrings, thus, of the 
1917 Russian Revolution, which 
installed the Bolsheviks, Leninism, 
then Stalinism, and so forth

Bloody Sunday can be compared to 
China’s Tiananmen Square, June 4, 
1989it seems totalitarian states will 
blithely resort to such dire measures

Shostakovich had been commissioned 
to write a symphony for the 50th 
anniversary of the event, January 22, 
1955

he’d been reinstated by Khrushchev  
after the death of Stalin, who’d 
excused the tyrant’s condemnation 
of Shostakovich by saying the despot 
had been too subjective, and rescinded 
the law which that earlier ruler had 
imposed requiring all artists to  
conform to party ideology, see Hitler 
again on that one, his proscribed
entartete Kunsthis interdicted
degenerate art

but for personal reasons, Shostakovich 
was unable to compose this new work 
until 1957, the year after the Soviets had 
quashed the Hungarian uprising of 1956
with tanks and ammunition, an event 
too reminiscent of, to the composer, the
earlier tsarist massacre, and horrifying

furthermore, his father had been there,
and spoke of children having been shot 
out of the trees as they merely watched
the proceedings, felled too suddenly, 
apparently, to wipe the smiles off their 
innocent still faces 

the Symphony is called The Year 1905“,
it is mighty, but is too local to effect any
universal understanding, I think, the 
program is too specifically Russian to 
evoke more than historical attention to
an unacquainted observer, listener

I’d visited a church in Rome, Sant’Agnese
fuori le mura, St Agnes Outside the Walls,
once, a place I would not miss were I ever
to return to that illustrious city, before even 
the Vatican, the Coliseum, et cetera, the 
church was built in the 4th Century and 
has weathered the ages, the vicissitudes 
of time, with all their impositions 

the mass was in Italian, however, not the 
Latin that had once united all Catholics
in a common set of sounds that had been
internalized to represent the message of 
the service

but now I could only recognize the form,
no longer the content, something like the 
response a person without the history
of Russia would have here, I would 
contend

this is the dilemma of this, however 
significant, composition, I find

you might also imagine that a tribute to
Canadian soldiers who’d died at, say,
Vimy Ridge, or Passchendaele, might 
not be as moving to someone who    
wasn’t Canadian 


Shostakovich received the Lenin Prize
for his achievement, one of the Soviet 
Union’s most prestigious accolades


R ! chard

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

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

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