On the “Ode to Joy”

Igor Levit played Liszt’s transcription of the Ode to Joy at the opening night of the Proms.

“Classical music” is the music of the burgeoning nation, opulence, slavery, colonialism, of profit-riven Europe; the Europe of slums, prisons, madhouses; of sickening poverty, vulgarity and the highest refinement of the arts.

The EU’s seemingly noble project of surpassing the nation state has no aim other than the perpetuation of the European superiority: culturally, politically, economically, ‘morally’, technologically. Does any good European not believe his culture to be superior to all those cultures Europe has ravaged – not least the Jewish? Would any European throw in his lot with any other culture?

Well then, in what does the European joy consist? What is the joy of the Ode to Joy? It is the triumph of ‘the human spirit’; of ‘European man’.




The aesthetics of shock and awe, pt.2

Beauty exists supremely in that which points away from man. Just as he does not find judgment in himself, nor does he find beauty. He only finds a beauty in himself when he finds something that points away from himself… this can be the unfathomable genius of his own personality, which is not his creation, or in any other created thing to which he is related. Art can create the link between man’s own beauty, the beauty of his creation, and any other created thing, and the very beauty of the creation which does not originate in his work.

A film of Baghdad being bombed is not beautiful, it’s ugly and attractive to deformed sensibility.

The aesthetics of shock and awe, pt.1

Die Menschheit, die einst bei Homer ein Schauobjekt für die Olympischen Götter war,
ist es nun für sich selbst geworden. Ihre Selbstentfremdung hat jenen Grad erreicht, 
der sie ihre eigene Vernichtung als ästhetischen Genuß ersten Ranges erleben läßt. 
So steht es um die Ästhetisierung der Politik, welche der Faschismus treibt. 
Der Kommunismus antwortet ihm mit der Politisierung der Kunst. 

Walter Benjamin, Nachwort zu Das Kunstwerk im Zeitalter seiner technischen Reproduzierbarkeit.


The US shock and awe strategy - that is to say, spectacle - began daily at 7pm. 
The bombing would last about 30 minutes. 
There would then follow a post-attack press conference,
featuring expert commentary and analysis with the US Secretary of State for Defence, Donald Rumsfeld. 
The viewing captivated me; for the real-time explosions in Baghdad, 
Rumsfeld's quips and for the intellectual pleasure of the thought of the manner of entertainment 
with which I was being presented. 

The ensuing known known decade-long sectarian wars in the Middle East have not been made a spectacle to us. 
I suppose video-footage of ISIS beheadings, for example, lack technological sophistication for our taste,
Both for real-time enjoyment and for intellectual savour; 
but the launching from Mediterranean warships of US cruise missiles into Syria at the dead of night… 

What aesthetic criteria exist for the critique of films concerning technological warfare 
and its promise of annihilation?



Trump, Graceland

In the song Graceland, Paul Simon starts his journey at the “cradle of the civil war” and ends up at the place where we “all will be received”. It would have been a good song for an inauguration. It’s a beautiful song for the counter-inauguration in any case, and hopefully there are many more to come over the next few years.


Tom’s Midnight Garden

Through the preceding chapters Tom’s plan of spending eternity in the garden with Hatty has grown more and more fanciful, and then urgent, as the Saturday of his departure approaches: winter had set in, and the garden would not return to summer; Hatty was getting older, Tom was becoming less perceptible to her, she is with another; and there were Biblical warnings of ‘time no longer’. Tom’s sense that his dream is slipping away accelerates and his fancy and urgency bring him to a frantic final attempt to return to the garden. But the garden has gone for ever and with it Hatty. Tom runs in again, chaotically, and desperately calls out “Hatty! Hatty!” – waking the whole house. Quickly, his uncle came downstairs, “and caught Tom in his arms. The boy sobbed and fought as if being taken prisoner. Then his uncle felt his body go limp, and he began weeping softly now, but as though he would never stop.”

He goes to bed dreaming nothing and when he wakes up the next morning, “the horror and grief of yesterday were already there”… “he had lost his last chance; he had lost the garden. The tears fell from his eyes and he could not stop them falling…”


They have taken away my Lord and I do not know where they have laid him.

Confession: Antonio Salieri

As a child I was quite overwhelmed by the film Amadeus. When I see it now I am still transfixed and empassioned by the score and the ardour of Salieri’s narrative!

The film is about Salieri’s ecstatic musical sensuality. Salieri is given to music, with all his heart and all his soul and all his mind. He yearns to create the most beautiful music, and he can accept no value in his life other than in this.

His jealousy of Mozart was one of purest love, of ardour for G-d alone. Salieri, who has wealth and status, only wants to be as near to divine beauty as Mozart’s compositions are. He prays and sacrifices to G-d to participate in the creation of this divine beauty. But G-d denies him, cruelly; G-d gave him the desire – Salieri can feel, almost uniquely, the beauty of Mozart’s music; he recognises G-d in it – but G-d does not fulfil the desire he creates. This is illustrated in a scene in which Salieri is composing; G-d’s music does not come to him. So the spurned lover Salieri throws his crucifix into the fire and vows to destroy Mozart, the one G-d chooses.

Salieri’s confession is elicited by a compassionate priest, the narrative is Salieri’s confession of his hatred of G-d, for G-d’s wooing him but chosing another. Salieri offered his life and all his love to G-d, like a saint, and this is the movement the film’s score, above all the Requiem, describes.


Philip Larkin: Almost

“Time has transfigured them into/ Untruth. The stone fidelity/ They hardly meant has come to be/ Their final blazon. And to prove/ Our almost-instinct almost true:/ What will survive of us is love.” (An Arundel Tomb)

“The trees are coming into leaf/ Like something almost being said…” (The Trees)

Larkin almost loved and almost wrote love poetry. He wrote almost-love poetry. In An Arundel Tomb love is something said about the dead. The living on the other hand only almost love(d). Larkin’s poems articulate instances of not quite loving, of almost loving (The Trees).

Secondly, Larkin is a poet for whom the universe does not point to transcendent glory, to Dante’s love: life/nature/the universe does not point to anything other than mortality. But it almost does! He looks in the traditional places – human love (An Arudel Tomb); religion (Church Going: “Which he once heard was proper to grow wise in,/ If only that so many dead lay around.”); nature (The Trees: “Is it that they are born again/ And we grow old? No they die too./ Their yearly trick of looking new/ Is written down in rings of grain.”) Yet love is an “untruth”; religion, “compulsions robed as destinies”; Spring, a trick.

Yet he does see and feel something like love, but is always somehow mournful, as if Larkin is a poet grieving the death of God, his own ability quite to love.