Again on rejoicing in the present

13 12 2010

I have begun to move away from Neoplatonic thought, mostly because I have concluded that my affinity to it is based on nostalgia and wishful thinking. In a real sense, the core of what I have always believed has been defined by dialectical materialism as a method of understanding the world. The “purely spiritual” for me is wishful thinking and a childish dream.

That being the case, I still think there is much that I take away from the period of Neoplatonic studies. I still admire Ficino, for example, if not for his metaphysics, at least for his “syncretic” approach to Christian monotheism that proves that it is, in Lacanian terms, a signifier without a signified. On the other hand, I can still rehabilitate his counsel, passed on from the ancient Academy, to “rejoice in the present”.

I am beginning to conclude that the main cause of nostalgia is not what we had, but what we lacked at any given moment. The only reason we can appreciate certain things now is because we have now what we once lacked: family, economic security, personal self-determination, and so forth. Those things for which we are nostalgic meant little to us then because we had no regard for them. It was almost as if they weren’t there. But since their meaning has shifted in our lives, we forget how much pain and suffering we have left behind, only concerned with the pain and suffering we face now. It is an absurd shell game; we are constantly picking the piece that has nothing under it.

In that sense, the ancient counsel to “rejoice in the present” should not be seen as saying that “this is the best time in your life”, just as Hegel’s “the real is rational, etc.” should not be read as an ipso facto justification of the current social and moral regime. It is, rather, a recognition of the unsettled nature of human desire. We are not happy because we are constantly looking somewhere else, when we should just realize that the nature of joy lies precisely in lack, or the threat of lack. It is because we clung to certain things in the face of lack that those things meant so much to us, at least in our current memory.

On “modern” classical music

9 12 2010

Really, I have very little patience for people who say I hate modern classical music. To tell the truth, “difficult music” comes in all genres, and challenging pieces can offer unexpected rewards. I do not expect Bach’s Musical Offering to be on easy listening classical CD’s, nor do I expect people to use the late Beethoven string quartets in television commericals. Arguably, some of the most difficult music to listen to are some of the scholarly reconstructions of medieval music: Perotin, Machaut, and so on. So to unnecessarily dump on Schoenberg, Webern, Stockhausen, Feldman and Co. seems to be an exercise for weak minds who want to score cheap points at being erudite.

[I realize that the critic may share my sentiments. I am more targeting my ire at those who mindlessly attack composers after a certain year.]

I think I have learned to appreciate “atonal” music after seeing a composer like George Balanchine choreograph to it. It has really helped me “see” the music. Other than that, I may not want to listen to the complete works of Anton Webern (all three hours of it), but in the right setting, I can see myself enjoying some of it. One of the best concertos of the 20th century was Berg’s Violin Concerto. Stravinsky after his neoclassical period did some interesting works that flirted with serialism (like the score for Balanchine’s ballet, Agon, heard above). There are moments of beauty in many other “modern: composers who I could cite: John Cage, Luciano Berio, John Adams, Frederic Rzewski, La Monte Young, and so on. The fact that people don’t want to listen to them is beside the point. Often the world of classical music is all about hype and names. You are probably not going to sell out a concert of Hildegard von Bingen’s chant, or even a ballet by Lully. People tend to like crap. I rejoice when popular taste and aesthetic quality meet, but such instances are all too rare.

Thoughts on a baptism

8 12 2010

Recently I had a child baptized, so I offer the following thoughts regarding Bugnini’s ceremonial and other matters:

In seminary I had been educated concerning the changes that Bugnini and Co. sought in the ritual of infant baptism. Having seen both versions, it is evident that in the old ceremonial, the parents were non-entities. This is because one was to pretend that the child is already a fully rational adult who is making the choice herself to be baptized. The modern ritual refuses to playact in that sense: it addresses the questions primarily to the parents, with only a vague concession towards the role of the godparents as a sort of cultural accretion. Even in the ritual, it is the parents who are called the first teachers of the child in terms of religious instruction.
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The body in ballet

7 12 2010

Here is a pretty good summary of a recent controversy regarding ballet dancers and weight. Apparently, a critic from the New York Times stated the following about a recent performance of that ballet cash cow (pun entirely intended), The Nutcracker:

Jenifer Ringer, as the Sugar Plum Fairy, looked as if she’d eaten one sugar plum too many; and Jared Angle, as the Cavalier, seems to have been sampling half the Sweet realm.

One wonders what such critics would think if they saw the original Czarist ballerinas dance when they judge such svelte dancers to be too plump. Margot Fonteyn might as well be called obese.

Personally, I think the modern idea of womanhood is emaciated to the point of being androgynous. Modern ballet and dance are certainly choreographed that way in many performances. The masculine and the feminine are indistiguishable, and are often deconstructed in inartful and superficial ways.

If I am not an idealist in daily life, I am at least so in art. But the spectacle of an emaciated ballerina for me is a broken ideal.

St. Tweety

6 12 2010

Someone sent me this article about the saints venerated by Mexican drug smugglers. This one was a little out of the ordinary:

Traffickers also rely on good-luck charms, such as Scarface posters and pictures of Tweety, the yellow bird from Looney Tunes. Apparently traffickers find comfort in the idea that although Sylvester chases Tweety, he never catches the wily bird, Almonte said.

Next to their pictures of St. Jude and Santa Muerte can also be found pictures of a cartoon character. This is not surprising, as even back in Mexico, people would carry and “pray to” sea beans and heads of garlic for luck in such things as games of chance.

This perhaps is another chapter in the phenomenology of the divine: how does something go from being popular image or inanimate object, to being a saint, a demi-god, or a god itself. What is the difference between luck and Providence; a local manifestation of the preternatural and the metaphysical ens causa sui of philosophy?

Perhaps the “god of philosophy” or the “god of ethics” is just as much an “idol” as Tweety, and serves almost the same purpose.


3 12 2010

Notes on the divine contingent

2 12 2010

The common expectation of the religious person in the face of a secular critique is that only the divine can save humanity from the universal threat of contingency. Even Heidegger said: “Only a god can save us”. My main contention over the past few years is that the divine itself includes contingency; one could even say that it is contingent par excellence. In principio erat Verbum does not somehow mean that things are ordered perfectly according to human understanding. It may mean that they are ordered according to another that we do not understand, but to say such a thing is ridiculous in itself.
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What Would Jesus Buy?

1 12 2010

I also recommend this film.