Sunday, 15 May 2022

Extreme rightwing nostalgia

Rightwing objection to cosmopolitanism / globalisation, to immigration, to multiculturalism, to diversity, and a nostalgia for separation, national racial purity, and especially the complete failure to understand that culture (in the widest sense) is not a racial product but accessible to anyone with enough perceptive capacities, has led to the current waves of hostilities towards ‘the Other’, in any form – minorities, fugitives, economic immigration – anything that is not ‘from here’ or does not seem to conform to a narrow concept of ‘identity’. It is a primitive reaction born from fear and misconception of the modern world. It is a degrading trend, undermining civilisational values, and it has the face of evil.

Such extremists hide their racism behind the term ‘identitarianism’, which sounds less openly reactionary than ‘white suprematism’. But:

“Identitarianism is a lament against change made by people fortunate enough to have been granted, through the arbitrary circumstance of birth, citizenship in a wealthy liberal democracy.

Especially distasteful is the annexation of the term ‘European Renaissance’ to cover a racist agenda, abusing a cultural term representing humanism and cultural florishing to disguise something that deserves the deepest contempt. These are crackpot ‘thinkers’, poisoning the minds of people with even lesser understanding of their own civilisation.

“Faye’s work helps to explain the rupture that has emerged in many Western democracies between the mainstream right, which may support strict enforcement of immigration limits but does not inherently object to the presence of Muslims, and the alt-right, which portrays Muslim immigration as an existential threat. In this light, the growing admiration by Western conservatives for the President of Russia, Vladimir Putin, is easier to comprehend.” Something that has, nowadays, an alarming ring about it.

Interesting article, from 2017, in the New Yorker, which explores the sources of this deplorable wave of reactionary ‘thinking’ especially in France – where philosopher Alain Finkielkraut makes a very disappointing bow to a despiccable writer who fuels the destructive hysteria of the far right:

The Enlightenment has not at all reached its apogee and is still in the process of trying to find a solution for humanity’s enduring ills.

In this context the problems of cultural identity as described in this article may be helpful:


More woke


The nonprofit Friends of the DaPonte String Quartet has fired the four musicians in the 30-year-old ensemble and is changing its name and mission to diversify its programming, a move that left the group stunned and angered.

But it is perfectly logical. In the wake of woke, players who are not diverse, i.e. who are non-black, non-genderly-challenged or otherwise not conforming to new ideals of social justice, will have to be cancelled because they create – through their ‘privilege’ – a stumble block to a more just society. It is the usual zero sum thinking: you being in the position to reap rewards of all of your hard work and talent, could only get that far because of me being excluded and thus, sunk into misery. So, you have to pay for your stealing of my rights, you caused my misery.

What kind of society will we get if such ‘thinking’ becomes paramount? It will result in a new form of voluntary fascism, of collective hysteria, of organized envy, hatred and spite, and numerous innocent victims. Not to mention the damage done to talent and achievement. It would mean a cultural suicide of immense proportions.

If people want certain fields of endeavor be more rightfully accessible, which is a laudable idea, they should look for the real causes of exclusion. Opening doors by shutting others is merely relocating the problem and fuelling injustice, social and otherwise.


Saturday, 7 May 2022

Ordering life experience


Music – art music - is stylized psychology, in the sense of offering an experience in sound of life experience, in terms of metaphor. It is not about the ‘what’, but about the ‘how’, and not merely as a reflection of experience, but organised, structured according to organising laws which are absent in the pure processing of direct emotional stimuli. This is the reason why music, written long ago, is still accessible to contemporary listeners, from different times and different places and cultures. Music addresses a perceptive framework deeply embedded in the human psyche, on a level where emotional stimuli are ordered and thus given meaning, even if this meaning is impossible to pin down.

But how does this work in practice? Let us take an example, and why not a very popular and great work: the Second Piano Concerto of Brahms – and have a look to the impressive first movement.

The material consists of two different types: the first one in major, announced by the horn theme with which the piece begins, with the character of a positive, welcoming question, vaguely invoking ‘nature’, as a tender voice from afar beckoning the listener into its sphere. The theme is worked-out in a way which suggests some trouble to come, like a positive, optimistic mood sometimes being undermined by something like premonition. The second type, following the first, is different: an intense, stormy group of themes and motives depicting conflict and downright despair in its wandering harmonies and insistent phrasing - darkness has descended. What follows, is an extensive ‘discourse’ of conflict and worry, and when the tumult dies down in a cloud of shimmering vagueness, the horn theme from the beginning rises above the mist, as a sun after a bad night. The return of the first material after the turmoil solves the conflicts and shows the overcoming of despair. But after that, the second material returns as well, as if the music wants to make sure it is not forgotten. But now, this material appears in the context of solution, which gives it a different meaning: yes, the darkness is still there, but it has been integrated within a context of meaning and overcoming. Again, the music dissolves in a desintegrating cloud and the first theme rises again, as a reassurance. And the rest is an insistent confirmation of the overcoming of darkness and despair, concluding in the major.

It is in this way that music orders emotional experience, without suppressing negative emotions, but overcoming their destructive effects and giving them a meaningful place in the context of the whole. It is a psychological process of integration. This reflects a development of inner growth, a way of coping with negativity, without denying its impacts, but offering a way of dealing with them in a constructive way.

This is a quite Jungian way of looking at classical music, but has the composer meant it as such? After all, the return of the second material is also simply a requirement of classical form: first, an exposition with two contrasting material types, followed by a develoment section, followed by a recapitulation with again the two types of material. So, the ‘overcoming’ is also determined by an aesthetic formula. But the original classical structure of this form (the ‘sonata allegro’) is defined by the relationships of keys: in the exposition two different keys are established, and after the development section, both material types of the exposition return, but now all in the original key of the beginning. So, this ‘overcoming’, this symbolic synthesis, is already embedded in the key structure of the original aesthetic idea. This way of exploring difference and, at the end, harmonizing the differences, is a deeply psychological feature, stemming from the idea that in life experience and human development, harmony and balance should be the goal. Hence the term ‘classicism’, with deep cultural roots in the culture of the ancient Greeks.

Of course there are many different ways to achieve such harmony in form and meaning, but the idea of an ordering balance of forces and expressions remains an inexhaustable source of inspiration and psychological meaning. Brahms, who had a profound relationship with classicism – taking as his examples the icons of classical music: Bach, Mozart, Haydn, Beethoven, Schubert, plus more contemporary sources like Schumann and Chopin – struggled to get different life experiences synthesized in his music, and the rightfully famous Second Piano Concerto is one of the greatest testimonies of his power to achieve such synthesis.