BOULEZ EST MORT (1925-2016)

I found out about Boulez after a 12 hour day at work, which led to going to the gym afterwards, and then, an ill-advised decision to get some local takeaway. At that local takeaway the news happened to be on, and I found out that the great tower of classical music (or art music or modern classical or whatever its called now), had died.

 

Boulez was quite a notable composer. Dancing between the modernism of the serialists and the aleatronic avant-gardists. Boulez was a conductor as well as composer, which seems to be increasingly rare. Boulez was a classical composer in an increasingly changing world. Boulez represented for me that ever so receding (like a mature man’s hairline) link to the old classical (17th/18th century) past of the great composers.

 

I think the circumstances in which I found out about Boulez says a lot about the time we live in. But I am convinced that Boulez’s life is one of those accounts that will be remembered for centuries.

 

I thought I’d link to a few articles about Boulez while I have your attention.

  • Mark Brown from The Guardian has an obit here [its basically the law for me to refer to anything from the Guardian now]
  • Tim Page from the Washington post refers to a wonderful anecdote from Darius Milhaud (of les six)
  • Justin Davidson from Vulture notes how Boulez navigated through the conservatively musical trends of his time.
  • Andrew Clark from the FT hints at how Boulez may serve as a visionary for the future in a tradition of music obsessed with the past.
  • Paul Griffiths of the New Yorker highlights how Boulez seemed to be part of the very fabric of art music in the mid-century, name-checking the greats of Messiaen and Bernstein as if it were some superhero team up movie or Forrest Gump of music.
  • The BBC’s Front Row remember Boulez’s life with George Benjamin and Nicholas Kenyon.

The book as a work of art

I recently had the opportunity to read Roberto Calasso’s ‘The Art of the Publisher’ recently released by Penguin Books. It was quite nice to read something in a single sitting, instead of taking years to go from cover to cover (i.e. Aquinas, Gibbon).

There were two things that particularly jumped at me at a book that otherwise didn’t especially meet my general oeuvre of interests.

The first and main point. Calasso’s main thesis in his series of essays was that a Publisher’s opus should be considered as a unified artistic whole. That is to say, looking at the range of everything a publisher has put out. A good publisher, according to Calasso, is not necessarily a financially successful one. It’s probably more middling, just about breaking even, according to Calasso. The suggestion (this will lead to my second point) to me was that unsuccessful publishing houses can be the greatest of them all.

Why should a publisher be considered as a singular aesthetic unity? Well, it can be on the basis of the output of titles they have. We might consider if there is anything common between them, or contrasting between them. We can also consider the factors about a book that are unique to physical books (and not to e-books or newer forms of publishing through PDFs etc). The feeling of the paper, the cover art, the way in which we have a tactile and visual experience of a book.

I have a Cambridge Edition of Kant’s Critique of Pure Reason and the footnotes can sometimes be longer than the page, which is immensely useful for scholarly purposes compared to having endnotes. Likewise, the typesetting of the Antinomies of Pure Reason of having the thesis and antithesis displayed on the same page parallel to each other is an exciting masterful decision as a reading and exegetical experience. I am slightly convinced of the idea that a publishing house can be considered as an aesthetic unity. However I’m a little bit cautious of the cynicism that Calasso had on the issue of e-publishing.

My second point is a little one. In one of the most amazing throwaway comments, Calasso gives an example of Suhrkamp Verlag. A little German publishing house which has been liquidated recently in 2013. Suhrkamp apparently is considered as visionary to Calasso and (apparently) his contemporaries for their decision to publish the works of certain people who have inspired a whole genre of literature that we might now call: Critical Theory. They made a pittance but they committed themselves to publishing the works of those none other than Walter Benjamin and Theodor Adorno.

Despite the fact that most of my European literature comes from translations or audiobooks or even PDFs – I am convinced of Calasso’s point that we owe a great deal to the publisher as a gatekeeper of literature. Today I think of the likes of Verso or Zer0 books as a publishers today making bold decisions on works that should have a wider distribution.

Hello All,

So its been a long time since I’ve posted on here. Due to life being very busy and work being more prominent – I have been focussing on things other than philosophy. I am expressing myself these days through the more accessible and ‘easier’ medium of instagramming and tumblring.

I have an upcoming book review on O’Connor’s Adorno title from the Routledge Philosophers series (headed by B. Leiter, which also contains the very excellent ‘Kant’ by Paul Guyer in the series).

I have also gone into a small foray of reviewing music – particularly albums of the ‘extreme metal’ genres. I feel that writing about music and reading about music has taken more of my attention intellectually lately. I would hope that I can have the attention and intelligence to write about Kant and the sciences someday in the future.

Regards to any of you still reading this blog. I’m not dead yet.

M

The sweet life of social media (On modern Authenticity)

Lately I have found, in addition to using notebooks to express myself, I have found that words aren’t my preferred medium of expression right now. I don’t particularly have any deep thoughts about Kant or philosophy or culture but that is far from saying I’m not engaged in mental matters.. I’ve lately been really interested in Khanacademy’s maths courses and I am doing a few coding and API pet projects. Some of which I am interested in seeing the consequences or implications/applications of. I guess you can say I’m just tinkering a lot lately.

 

I’ve said in the past that I’m not a fan of social media, or I try to understand the new platforms around but not indulge in them so much. The blog is soo 2000s, and it reminds me a little bit of Barney Stinson’s character who used to say ‘haven’t you read my blog?’. Interestingly as the show How I Met Your Mother moved away from the 2000s, that recurring gag had less usage. Blogging is as established (and thus passe) as Facebook was once edgy and for cool insiders. I also have less and less time to blog anything particularly interesting, or anything I’m willing to air as an interesting thought.

I used to believe that platforms like twitter and tumblr were facile means of self expression to communicate things of very little depth. I still think that to a large extent. However I am tweeting a bit more and instagramming prolifically despite it. Perhaps this is my ‘kool aid moment’, or (to mix the metaphors) – joining the crowd cos I can’t beat ’em.

I try to communicate myself through instagram and twitter by capturing aspects of my life or things I am interested in or things that just capture what life is like in the present moment. For example, I share my interest in the comedic actor Matt Berry with an occaisional #mattberry accompanying a silly picture of his. I am cautious of the way that media platforms put forward a selective or aspirational version of self, which I consider a bit cynical or inauthentic. The way that I like to post things on instagram are to show things in the real world that I find funny. An example of this was that I was in a department store this week and I saw a brand of condoms which had a picture of a chicken (cock) with a helmet on, the allusion to protecting one’s cock being obvious. I also sometimes like to capture things that I see in my local community. Adverts for missing kittens is commonplace, another thing I sometimes capture is if I see a lot of cans of alcohol on a street corner, which I feel has an emotive impact on nearby residents about the state of the area they live in.

There are other things that I like to capture just as repeating motifs, I like to capture pictures of cows whenever I see it, which is an affectionate joke with a friend of mine. I like to take pictures of whenever I have some of my favourite foods or watch my favourite films. I’ve found that when I tweet or post something on facebook that I see people having different perceptions of me. I am portrayed as a unified individual to all people through twitter or IG, because anyone with internet connections can see who I am on those platforms. However the things that people may like or dislike on them reflect their perspectives of who I am. To illustrate, I find that a certain clique of my friends (intellectual liberal types) often ‘like’ whenever I post an article on some political topic that has their overarching point of view, while another group of friends really like when I post pictures of cats and/or yetis. The people that I follow and like to follow on social media reflect who I am as a person and my ‘brand identity’ – I am seemingly a cliched Guardian reader but I also like The Spectator and New Statesman; I like following fitness inspiration and body-positive people. I also really like following some of my former teachers and lecturers to see what kind of work they are doing. I am also a fan of Pusheen the Cat, who brings joy and happiness to all.

There is an odd kind of personhood and extension of mind that goes on with this odd social life. In meatspace it is expressed by a person constantly with their face to a phone screen, which I must unfortunately say is ubiquitous in today’s age. I’m not sure if I’m possibly portraying myself as more intereesting than I really am in social media. My aim through my blogging and instagramming is to show that I am in fact, very dull and boring in what I post and am interested in. That would be a very odd criterion of success, but a signifier of my actual social experience.Maybe I should post pictures of me playing about on my phone, which would acccurately depict my life through a mirror.

What I’ve been up to (Nov 2014)

So I haven’t blogged much lately.

Life’s been busy. I’ve been active in a non-philosophical capacity of late. Simultaneously, I have been involved in some really engaging discussions at the Philosophy Club. The last discussion was on Freewill and the one before it asked: ‘are there things that you believe which you have no proof for?’

I have also been involved (minimally) with a Kant reading Group based in London Metropolitan University led by one Dr. Adam Beck – reading the Third Critique.

I’ve also been busy with interviews and moderately occupied with work.

As such the content of my blogging during this coming period of months will probably be less about philosophy simpliciter as I’ve not much attention to do quality philosophising.

Which individual do they remember?

Hitchens, in an address of the notion of death, appeals to Shakespeare’s ‘seven ages of man’ notion. Throughout our life, we have transitions to different kinds of people. The person we were as a child may be unrecognisable to our selves of today. We are always going through different phases of life, and as one new phase begins, another dies. In that sense, many people have died many times over before our ultimate demise. Why is the physical death so ultimate and conclusive when we have died many times before? So the thought goes…

We have a habit of immortalising a single kind of person when an individual dies. Although we acknowledge their growth and change, we alays remember them in some singular, unitary kind of way. Michael Jackson escaped his negative press by his death, and became remembered for his career highs. Some, by contrast, will always be remembered for their death. This year, the actor David Carradine had died, few people remember him for his circumstances of his death (autoerotic asphyxiation), but more toward whatever production they remember him most fondly. Kill Bill, for example, or Kung Fu.

Sometimes people can be remembered as their youthful selves, perhaps those to whom it would benefit seeing them as the eternal young. Others, by contrast, may be seen in a moer sagely light as the elder. I recall a discussion about which picture of Brahms one should remember. While Brahms is most often remembered as the mature, bearded man; his career the highlights of his career span throughout his younger years as well. When we consider David Hume, we imagine his empiricist philosophy, and the man sporting a turban. It was a twenty-three year old Hume, however, who had written his Magnum Opus, the Treatise on Human Nature. Why should we not remember Hume in his glorious youth and at his most intellectually fierce.

The person we remember may tell us something of when we may talk of the ‘peak’ of their career. For many composers, we remember them for great works of music but ignore the horrid circumstances of their twilight years. Stephen Foster, composer of great American Folk tunes like Beautiful Dreamer died penilless. It may be seen as an appeal to remember those who had died young, considering how much more they could have done in their lives. The likes of Kurt Cobain, Buddy Holly, Janis Joplin may have been saved of a life of mediocrity. There are many who age well, some who died agelessly young, and those who, by manner of their own poor dispositions, age terribly. Ironically, it is those who try to hark back to a past self.

Michael

Education Today

I’ve been pondering about making some posts about the recent changes in UK education, but I think I shall give pass that over for the time being. There seems to be a change in the landscape regarding education.

Let us go into the current situation to set out the ideologue:

1. The standards of post-16 qualification, AGCE’s (‘A’ levels), are being undermined by the increased numbers of pupils getting A grades.
2. The standards of ‘A’ levels are being undermined by the percieved lowered standards, and the teaching methods that undermine independence in favour of memorising a syllabus and learning to answer exams in the fashion that they know it will be asked. In other words, there is less surprise, or test of skill and creativity in exams and more strategy involved.
3. Universities have for a long time been concerned with funding deficits: this is due to a whole variety of factors, some are general  and some are specific to the university and their research culture.
4. For the past few decades, many have pointed out the ‘professionalisation’ of academia; this includes the many buzzwords like ‘business model’, ‘schoolification’, interdisciplinary network initiatives, public engagement, ‘research’ and so on. While some aspects of the contemporary academy are positive (increased contact with the public; commissions for documentaries and television series and other wider media), there are some aspects in which academia has lost something of a better past.

i. The ‘lone-scholar’ archetype: academia, particularly the arts and humanities, used to be less ‘research’ based and less interdisciplinary, but engaged with more hard hitting and in-depth systematic studies, this is not to say that this kind of study does not occur, but is becoming more epheemeral in departments and less the norm.

ii. The ‘old’ notion of interdisciplinarity. Interdisciplinarity is inherently a weak idea; it is like, how, I consider the concept of someone calling themselves eclectic: Jack of all trades, master of none. There used to be a time when people were masters of many things. Physicists like Descartes and Newton have particular resonances to many fields beyond physics because of the way in which their philosophical thinking engaged and melded with their mathematics and natural philosophy.

Few physicists from the mid-20th Century really know much about philosophy beyond basic philosophy of science (or skeptics 101, if one were to be American about the whole thing). A similar thing should be said of philosophers today; many, excepting those few on the real cutting edge of philosophy of psychology and mathematics, are not themselves scientists or mathematicians. Interdisciplinarity is a response in a way, to the death of the polymath, and the increasingly ‘professsional’ status of academia. In a sense, a certain kind of concession should be made to the ‘dryness’ objection of the continental philosopher to analytic philosophy today.

I’ve a bit of time before I can elicit some more responses in terms of the underlying political responses. For now I shall just sketch out the landscape

Sinistre