Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Gleaming Death

We were reading in article in Der Spiegel about how the BRIC countries were overtaking the West in just about everything and about how no city in Europe was on the cutting edge of anything.

This news has been in the wings, as it were, for several years now and we have taken note of the sparkling space-age cities rising up in the vast flat-lands of Asia.  Next to those examples of futuristic modernity, U.S. cities appear hokey if not downright shabby.

It is important not to loose sight of what is really going on here.  It is somewhat off the mark to think of Brazil, Russia, India and China as solely national sources of a new vitality. Their prosperity is equally due to capital flows from the West.  European and U.S. companies are investing in these countries.

Bill's Bullshit was that by exporting the dirty jobs to backwater, cheap-labour places like China, India, Pakistan and Malaysia, the United States would be become the gleaming headquarters of the future, full of hi-tech, hi-skill,  hi-paperpushing jobs.  Instead all the gleam and clean fingernails followed the grime.  The paper titles may be parked here (USA) but not much else anymore.

But we are overcome by other, sadder thoughts, when we sit and stare at pictures of these Futurama Cities.  There are no trees.... no chirping birds... no tigers on the prowl... no elephants bathing in pools.  They are vast expanses of gleaming DEATH.

These are cities planned for millions, and for millions with hundred of thousands of cars, driving on grass-killing concrete.  The cities are fed, not by milk from cows grazing on a hill -- as in old backwater Europe or parts of Cascadia -- but from cows debased into milk producing things and "sources" of meat.

All the metal and gleam bespeak an exciting future full of artificial "growth" and the death of Creation as we know it.  Very few people are open to  the necessity  of mandated non-reproduction. The money makers and their beholden policy whores are downright against it.  Close to twenty years ago we sent letters to editors noting the need for a reduction in the number of humans on the planet.  Not one got printed.

What is actually anathema has become orthodoxy. The insane pursuit of endless market growth coupled with unrestrained population growth is an evolutionary derangement which obviously has no cure except its own self-destructive consummation.  Chipsters hope it comes sooner than later.  Humans are simply a blight on the world.   That is an objective fact whether your ego likes it or not.

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Suffering Beauty

We had some thoughts about beauty when we read that,

“A man sat at a metro station in Washington DC and started to play the violin; it was a cold January morning. He played six Bach pieces for about 45 minutes. During that time, since it was rush hour, it was calculated that 1,100 people went through the station, most of them on their way to work.

Three minutes went by, and a middle aged man noticed there was musician playing. He slowed his pace, and stopped for a few seconds, and then hurried up to meet his schedule.

A minute later, the violinist received his first dollar tip: a woman threw the money in the till and without stopping, and continued to walk.

A few minutes later, someone leaned against the wall to listen to him, but the man looked at his watch and started to walk again. Clearly he was late for work.

The one who paid the most attention was a 3 year old boy. His mother tagged him along, hurried, but the kid stopped to look at the violinist. Finally, the mother pushed hard, and the child continued to walk, turning his head all the time. This action was repeated by several other children. All the parents, without exception, forced them to move on.

In the 45 minutes the musician played, only 6 people stopped and stayed for a while. About 20 gave him money, but continued to walk their normal pace. He collected $32. When he finished playing and silence took over, no one noticed it. No one applauded, nor was there any recognition.

No one knew this, but the violinist was Joshua Bell, one of the most talented musicians in the world. He had just played one of the most intricate pieces ever written, on a violin worth $3.5 million dollars.

Two days before his playing in the subway, Joshua Bell sold out at a theater in Boston where the seats averaged $100.

This is a real story. Joshua Bell playing incognito in the metro station was organized by the Washington Post as part of a social experiment about perception, taste, and priorities of people.

The outlines were: in a commonplace environment at an inappropriate hour: Do we perceive beauty? Do we stop to appreciate it? Do we recognize the talent in an unexpected context?

One of the possible conclusions from this experience could be: If we do not have a moment to stop and listen to one of the best musicians in the world playing the best music ever written, how many other things are we missing?”

It was a stunning, if not altogether unknown, reflection of our civilisation and it made us think of Hans Urs von Balthasar, the 20th Century Catholic theologian who wrote.

"We no longer dare to believe in beauty and we make of it a mere appearance in order the more easily to dispose of it. Our situation today shows that beauty demands for itself at least as much courage and decision as do truth and goodness, and she will not allow herself to be separated and banned from her two sisters without taking them along with herself in an act of mysterious vengeance. We can be sure that whoever sneers at her name as if she were the ornament of a bourgeois past — whether he admits it or not — can no longer pray and soon will no longer be able to love"

But this in turn stirred a question in my mind for Mr. Bell.  It is a near certainty that among those who disposed of his music by rushing past it were members of the very same bourgeoisie who would or had paid $100.00 a seat to hear the same piece in a proper setting.  Why would Mr. Bell want to play for them?  

Of course, we understand that Mr. Bell needs to make a living; we all do.  However, anyone who has worked at Bach comes to understand the intimate relationship between player and listener, between (as Bach would certainly put it) score and soul. Once again, von Balthasar,

"Seeing is the organ with which the world is possessed and dominated.  [Perception] denotes distance, separateness and subordination to our perspective.  Hearing is a wholly different, almost an opposite mode of the revelation of reality. ... The basic relationship between the one who hears and that which is heard is thus one of defencelessness on the one side and of communication on the other. The hearer belongs to the other and obeys him."
We cannot pass judgement on every concert goer; but we are confident that those who did not stop to listen were refusing to obey.  Were those same people in one hundred dollar seats hearing music or listening to the mask of technique.  If they were deaf in the Metro are they not also deaf at the Met?  Just how much are we going to surrender to the rationalisations of prioritising?

The surrender involved in listening to Bach seems to explain why the children alone were the only ones who were uncontrolled enough to stop and submit.

Were all these children moved by the sublime profundity of Bach?  Perhaps we ought not to make more of innocence than is wont.  Certainly the music arrested them which is more than it did for their parents.  Once arrested,were the children moved by the sounds or fascinated by box that emitted the sounds or entranced by the gesticulations and motions of the violinist?

In our view it does not make any difference because all these elements were of a piece.  It seems rather to miss the point to fuss over which component was prevalent in any child's awareness. Isn't the point that they were open, defenceless and trusting enough to suffer experience?  Which brought us back again to von Balthasar,

"Whenever the relationship between nature and grace is severed (as happens... where 'faith' and 'knowledge' are constructed as opposites), then the whole of worldly being falls under the dominion of 'knowledge', and the springs and forces of love immanent in the world are overpowered and finally suffocated by science, technology and cybernetics. The result is a world without women, without children, without reverence for love in poverty and humiliation — a world in which power and the profit-margin are the sole criteria, where the disinterested, the useless, the purposeless is despised, persecuted and in the end exterminated — a world in which art itself is forced to wear the mask and features of technique"

Mr. Bell is certainly a "technician" and the whole point of article was that the exquisite features of his technique were ignored by a stampede of humans except for the children whom, we have just said, might not have been all that attuned to his technique.  So was the beauty which Mr. Bell produced, in the end, wasted on all or was the beauty of the matter somewhere else?

Street musicians are a relatively new and still rare  phenomenon in the United States.  Our cities are without centres, have few useless spaces and have been handed over to the stampede of cars.  But there was a place and a time when we grew up where street musicians were commonplace.

Every other or third day, the organ grinder would come onto our street in the late afternoon just before dusk and start cranking out his flutey toones.  "Ayyyyy" the maids would cry as they ran to front windows to throw coins at the music maker.  Coins, i will add, taken from very meagre earnings.  But nothing got done -- for we all stopped whatever we were doing --  until everyone had got their fill of the music. 

And maybe once a month, a band of village peasants would amble onto our block with their cracked violins, battered horns and leaky tubas or patched drums. With an uneven, barely coordinated start they would then crank out their missed beat, out of tune, rasping, flubbering music which was beautiful in its sheer awfulness.  It was never clear that they were not paid to go away but their semblance of music did make us smile and isn't that too the point of music?

And then there was music which made one cry, made perhaps by a grizzled old violinist making a free gift of his rasping melody to the Blessed Virgin, at the foot of the altar.  If the image is paradigmatic it is because it was prevalent; and here i have to say, with no disrespect to Mr. Bell and certainly not to Bach, that there was more beauty in that poverty than in all the mask of technique in the world.

©WCG 2013