Thursday, October 16, 2008

A Falcon, A Storm or a Great Song?

I live my life in growing rings
which move out over the things around me.
Perhaps I'll never complete the last,
but that's what I mean to try.

I'm circling around God, around the ancient tower,
and I've been circling thousands [of] years;
and I still don't know: am I a falcon, a storm
or a great song.

... Ich lebe mein leben, Rainer Maria Rilke

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Bach's Trio Sonata

Everyday Fear

Society's prospectivity has shifted modes. What society looks forward is no longer a return to the promised land but a general disaster that is already upon us, woven into the fabric of day-to-day life. The content of the disaster is unimportant. Its particulars are annulled by its pluralicity of possible agents and times here and to come. What registers is its magnitude. In its most compelling and characteristic incarnations, the now unspecified enemy is infinite. Infinitely small of infinitely large: viral or environmental. The communist as the quintessential enemy has been superseded by the double figure of AIDS and global warming. These faceless, unseeable enemies operate on an inhuman scale. The enemy is not simply indefinite (masked, or at a hidden location). In the infinity of here-and-to-come, it is elsewhere, by nature. It is humanly ungraspable. It exists in a different dimension of space from the human "here," and in a different dimension of time: neither the "now" of progress, nor the cultural past as we traditionally knew it, nor a utopian future in which we will know that past again. Elsewhere and elsewhen. Beyond the pale of our accustomed causal laws and classification grids. The theory of HIV is the direct "cause" of AIDS is increasingly under attack. More recent speculators suggest multiple factors and emphasize variability of symptoms. AIDS, like global warming, is a syndrome: a complex of effects coming from no single, isolatable place, without a linear history, and exhibiting no invariant characteristics.

The pertinent enemy question is not who, where, when, or even what. The enemy is a whatnot - an unspecifiable may-come-to-pass, in another dimension. In a word, the enemy is the virtual.

Challenger was scary. Explosively so. But the faultless Discovery liftoff? Nothing happened! Precisely the point.

Not only have the specific qualities of the threat been superseded by the strange perpetuity of its elsewhere and the elsewhereness of its ubiquity; whether or not the event even happens is in a strange way a matter of indifference. The accident and its avoidance have come to be interchangeable. It makes little difference if the rocket goes up or comes crashing down. Not throwing a bomb will get the Palestinian nowhere. The event is by definition "scary," just as the political opponent is by definition a "terrorist."

"Scary" does not denote an emotion any more than "terrorist" denotes an ideological position or moral value. The words are not predicates expressing a property of the substantive to which they apply. What they express is a mode, the same mode: the imm(a)(i)nence of the accident. The future anterior with its anteriority bracketed: "will [have (fallen)]." Fear is not fundamentally an emotion. It is the objectivity of the subjective under late capitalism. It is the mode of being of every image and commodity and of the groundless self-effects their circulation generates. The terms "objectivity" and "being" are used advisedly. "Condition of possibility" would be better. Fear is the translation into "human" terms and onto the "human" scale of the double infinity of the figure of the possible. It is the most economical expression of the accident-form as subject-form of capital: being as being-virtual, virtuality reduced to the possibility of disaster, disaster commodified, commodification as spectral continuity in the place of threat. When we buy, we are buying off fear and falling, filling the gap with presence-effects. When we consume, we are consuming our own possibility. In possessing, we are possessed, by marketable forces beyond our control. In complicity with capital, a body becomes its own worst enemy.

... The Politics of Everyday Fear, Brian Massumi

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Between Heaven And Earth

Thinking of religion as relationships between heaven and earth with the specific shapes that relationships take in particular times and places - the history of love in a certain part of the world at a certain time, or the nature of parenting, for example - frees us from any notion of religious practices as either good or bad. Religions are as ambiguous and ambivalent as the bonds that constitute them, and their effects cannot be generally anticipated but known in practice and experience. One challenge of writing about religion is to figure out how to include figures of special power as agents in history and actors of consequence in historical persons' lives and experiences...

My emphasis on religion as relationship does not preclude attention to the realities of power, the complexities of society, or the impress of history (nor is it meant to mask the intricacies of the relationships of a researcher in religion and the people he or she studies). "Relationship" is a friendly word, but this is not how I use it throughout this book, not am I focused on relationships as intimate realities apart from the arrangements of the social world in which they exist...

Once religion is understood as a web not of meanings but of relationships between heaven and earth, then scholars of religion take their places as participants in these networks too, together with the saints and in the company of practitioners. We get caught up in these bonds, whether we want to or not. Scholars of religion become preoccupied with themselves as interpreters of meanings, and so they forget that we do our work of interpretation with the network of relationship between heaven and earth, in the company of those among whom we have gone to study, in the field or in the archives. Again this is not innocent and I accord no special heuristic power to the notion of research as "relationship." To be in relationship with someone, as we all know, is not necessarily to understand him or her; but the relationship which arises always on a particular social field and is invariably inflected by needs, desires, and feelings, conscious and not, that draw on both parties' histories and experiences, becomes the context for understanding. Scholars get implicated in the socially structured struggles among people on earth into which the saints are drawn too; we are asked to take sides at the intersection of heaven and earth and within sight of the saints...

Of all aspects of religion, the one that has been clearly most out of place in the modernizing world - the one that has proven least tolerable to modern societies - has been the radical presence of the gods to practitioners. The modern world has assiduously and systematically disciplined the senses not to experience sacred presence; the imaginations of moderns are trained toward sacred absence. So while it is true that religious faith has not gone away, sacred presences have acquired an unsavory and disreputable aura, and this clings to practices and practitioners of presence alike... The tense dynamics of this encounter of modern life with inherited religious idioms of presence is one of the major topics of the book.

I am also concerned throughout with developing social psychological and social historical frames for examining presence: how can historians and scholars of culture talk about the realness of presence within particular social worlds at particular times but always within the limits of our modern disciplines? And how does serious engagement with the cultural realities of presence allow us to push against the limits of modern scholarship in religion? My hope is that by asking critical, analytical questions about presence (which, I have to admit, religious practitioners usually do not like to hear) I can contribute to grinding a shaper critical lens on the constraints and disavowals of modern scholarly methods in the study of religion (which, I have to recognize, modern scholars may not like).

... Between Heaven And Earth: The Religious Worlds People Make And The Scholars Who Study Them, Robert A. Orsi

Mama Lola

The methods used in researching and writing this book have roots in the work of other scholars. I think of myself as working within a tradition of interpretive anthropology. According to Clifford Geertz, human are "suspended in webs of significance" they themselves created. We can speak of culture in a general sense (that is, I can talk about Haitian culture) because human beings in relation, over time, tend to evolve shared styles of web-spinning. The individual life - Alourdes's life, for instance - while open to infinite variation, is nevetherless recognizable as a version of one or more of these traditional web-spinning styles we call cultures. Even more to the point, such a view makes interpretation both the subject matter and the end product of ethnographic work. What the ethnographer studies is how people create meaning or significance in their lives, how they interpret objects and events. An ethnographic study such as Mama Lola is thus an exercise in bridge building. It is an interpretation within one web-spinning tradition (in this case, my own) of the interpretations of people who follow a largely different aesthetic in their pinning (in this case, Haitians).

A corollary of this position is that the people who are being studied should be allowed to speak for themselves whenever possible, for they are the only true experts on themselves. That is why I quote Alourdes frequently, and often, at length. In passing her stories along, I also reproduce her way of speaking - English, wedded to the structure, rhythm, and cadence of Haitian Creole - to bring the reader a fuller sense of her and of the creative cultural mix in which she lives.

In Mama Lola, I am most interested in telling rich, textured stories that bring Alourdes and her religion alone. Rather than simply trying to refute the negative stereotypes often associated with Vodou, I have chosen to enter the public discussion of Vodou by another route: constructing a portrait of this religion as it is lived by Alourdes and the people closest to her. My aim is to create an intimate portrait of three-dimensional people who are not stand-ins for an abstraction such as "The Haitian people" but rather are deeply religious individuals with particular histories and rich interior lives, individuals who do not live out their religion in unreflective, formulaic ways but instead struggle with it, become confused, and sometimes even contradict themselves. In other words, my aim is to create a portrait of Vodou embedded in the vicissitudes of particular lives.

... Mama Lola: A Vodou Priestess In Brooklyn, Karen McCarthy Brown

Who Is My Nearest?

I believe without a doubt that Christianity has already deconstructed itself, that it has opened up a space to let us see something which was always present in it but unseen and unseeable until now. Among those things that perhaps remain from Christianity, belonging to it as a precondition that Christianity itself doesn’t know but at the same time is recovered by the repressive power of religion, is, of course, love. This is the famous Christian love, which is nothing but impossible love. Because, first and foremost Christian love is a command, a command to love everybody, which is obviously impossible. I simply ask myself about that — would not precisely the impossibility of this love be the very thing that produces the very concept, content and reality of this love? As every construction deconstructs itself in a certain way, so the command of love as impossible is one of those things on which Western thinking as Christian is structured, organized, and derived from. This is for me a reflection which started a long time ago, when reading "Civilization and its Discontents". There Freud writes about how civilization is sick, and how to cure it, because of course psychoanalysis can’t be used to cure the collective. In one place he writes that of course the anwer of Christian love seems to be the best answer, but I’m afraid, he writes with irony, that it is not practiceable. I thought that precisely this is the point: The fact that it is impossible is why it is the answer.

Now if you think about it, this is precisely the definition of love that Lacan gives. Lacan’s definition is that love consists in giving what one does not have. Of course this is a definition by impossibility, because how can you give what you don’t have? We don’t need to be Christian or to have a Christian faith to agree that Lacan’s definition is a Christian one. To give what I don’t have is precisely not to give something I would have, so it must mean not to give anything of the order of anything that could be given. No, to give something that doesn’t belong to the realm of give-able things, neither that nor to give myself, because one could be seduced by the idea "yes this means to give myself." If myself is once again something I could give, then this myself is only the myself which I have. Then this definition means that love consists in giving something which is nothing. Nothing has to do with what is not a thing, not at all a thing — then what is not a thing, what is not an object? If you want, this is a subject. But this doesn’t really mean to give the subject, as the subject would be once again some thing that I would be. Love consists in my giving from me what is not mine in any sense of a possible possession of mine, not even my person. So to love means to give what is behind or beyond any subject, any self. It is precisely a giving of nothing, a giving of the fact that I cannot possess myself. This is to abandon, because in that case I would say that to give is the same as to abandon. In French I would say donner is the same as abandonner

To give is to give up. So, yes, perhaps that could be meaning of "shattered", and thus of the title to this ancient text you refer to – that is to love means in one way to give the self as possession, the self as present to itself, and in another way to give and to abandon to the other something that the other himself has, to say that it is in the same way for himself because he is as well a self. In other words, love is to share the impossibility of being a self. I think that in that way this is perhaps a means to understand Christian love with all its impossibility, with all its absurdities, contradictions and denials, within the context of the church but outside of the church as well. So with all that has been done against this idea of love, this idea still did organize something in Western thinking and it is the point where we are today. I think that we all share something of this idea, even if we share nothing else with Christianity, and then I could say that for me it gives two further possibilities. One is to think of the community not as a totality in which the people would have to share a common being, that is, a common possession, a common body if you want, "body" taken in the sense of an organized whole, organized entity. We think the body of political thought not as an organicity, but of community as the living to share precisely an impossibility of being–in–common. I would say the community of love is a community living to share the absence of common being. Not the absence of being–in–common, but the absence of common being. There is no common property, and that is what we have to share. That’s the first extension of this idea of love. The second is that there is then a way from this idea to understand what Christianity meant by "loving one’s neighbor"...

"Who is my nearest, or my neighbor?"... The nearest is everybody, to the extent that everybody shares with me the same impossibility of being or becoming the fixed enunciation of a certain position. Of course everyone is different: the woman, the man, the blonde, this one is brown, is tall, is small, is… I don’t know, is French, is American, is intelligent, is stupid, is strong, is weak, etc. However, all those properties are precisely only properties, and if love consists in giving what is not a property, then it consists precisely in this common unproperty. Which means then that this love doesn’t say anything against love in the ordinary sense, but perhaps we should refer to ordinary love as predilection. One could say that the ordinary love of lovers is a predilection, a preference, which is based on distinction. This is this one I love and not the other one — but then we could analyse how even in this predilection the love as impossible is present. Or how predilection very quickly becomes a kind of possession. For now I would say that it makes understandable how impossible love consists in loving without any predilection, and that explains how it can become the idea "to love one’s enemy", which is the top of absurdity. To love my enemy does not mean that I should have a predilection for my enemy — as he is my enemy I hate him and I fight him. Instead, I should think of the enemy as my enemy but also as a subject who has no more or less properties than me, because he or she has no properties. I would just perhaps add a footnote regarding Lacan. Everywhere in Lacan’s system you have this haunting nothingness, which here gives perhaps a certain pessimistic or ironic sound to his definition of love, "to give what you don’t have", but perhaps this is not the only side of Lacan’s thinking here. Although there is so much in Lacan about an originary lack and so on, I just want to insist that I would underline that the impossibility of love should not be interpreted as a lack, as an originary lack, because every lack is to be filled if possible. Love means precisely to fill the emptiness with emptiness, and thus to share it.

... transcript from Love and Community - A Roundtable Discussion, Nancy Jean-Luc

Thinking Of...

The thinking of love, so ancient, so abundant and diverse in its forms and in its modulations, asks for an extreme reticence as soon as it is solicited. It is a question of modesty, perhaps, but it is also a question of exhaustion: has not everything been said on the subject of love? Every excess and every exactitude? Has not the impossibility of speaking about love been as violently recognized as has been the experience of love itself as the true source of the possibility of speaking in general? We know the words of love to be inexhaustible, but as to speaking about love, could we perhaps be exhausted?...

The thinking of love - if it is necessary to solicit it, or if it is necessary that it be proposed anew, as a theme to be discussed or as a question to be posed - does not therefore lay claim to a particular register of thinking: it invites us to thinking as such. Love does not call for a certain kind of thinking, or for a thinking of love, but for thinking in essence and in its totality. And this is because thinking, most properly speaking, is love. It is the love for that which reaches experience; that is to say, for that aspect of being that gives itself to be welcomed. In the movement across discourse, proof, and concept, nothing but this love is at stake for thought. Without this love, the exercise of the intellect or of reason would be utterly worthless.

This intimate connivance between love and thinking is present in our origins: the word "philosophy" betrays it. Whatever its legendary inventor might have meant by it, "philosophy," in spite of everything - and perhaps in spite of all philosophies - means this: love of thinking, since thinking is love...

One single time, however, the first philosopher expressly authenticated an identity of love and of philosophy. Plato's Symposium does not represent a particular treatise that this author set aside for love at the heart of his work, as others will do later (and often by relating to this same Plato: Ficino, among others, or Leon the Hebrew, as though Plato were the unique or at least necessary philosophical reference, de amore, always present, beyond the epoch of treatises, in Hegel or in Nietzsche - "philosophy in the manner of Plato is an erotic duel" - in Freud or in Lacan). But the Symposium signifies first that for Plato the exposition of philosophy, as such, is not possible without the presentation of philosophic love. The commentary on the text gives innumerable confirmations of this, from the portrait of Eros to the role of Socrates and to the figure - who appeared here once and for all on the philosophical scene - of Diotima. 

Although the Symposium speaks of love, it also does more than that; it opens thought to love as to its own essence. This is why this dialogue is more than any other the dialogue of Plato's generosity: here he invites orators or thinkers and offers them a speech tempered altogether differently from the speech of the interlocutors of Socrates. The scene itself, the gaiety of the joy that traverses it, attests to a consideration that is unique in Plato (to such a degree, at least) - consideration for others, as well as for the object of the discourse. All the different types of loves are welcomed in the Symposium; there is this discussion, but there is no exclusion. And the love that is finally exhibited as true love, philosophical Eros, does not only present itself with the mastery of a triumphant doctrine; it also appears in a state of deprivation and weakness, which allows the experience of the limit, where thought takes place, to be recognized.

... Shattered Love, Nancy Jean-Luc

The Politics Of Love

In a volume entitled, L'Imaginaire arabo-musulman, published in 1993 in Paris, France, Malek Chebel asked, 'How do Arabs love?... Are they as romantic and tender a people as other peoples...?' To pose the question of whether love exists in Islam might seem banal... 

Chebel's answer was a resounding 'Yes, Arabs love passionately!' that lifted what he called the 'thick veil... of embarrassed silence', Chebel has dedicated his career to filling the 'silence' with an effervescent 'excess of love'. His study of love in the Islamic traditions of the Middle East, and of the Maghreb more specifically, has been an attempt to cure a 'love sickness' that he claimed resulted from the fact that there was an absence of normal love relations amongst Arab/Berber Muslims whose sexuality was 'imbibed with ignorance'...

This study of 'love' has considered the potential that romantic and passionate love (as an ultimate value fundamental to the concept of self-fulfillment) holds for the study of 'Islam' and 'Europe'. The value of Chebel's formulations of love lies in its links with difference and identity because the promise that such an engagement holds for the future of the place of Islam in Europe lies in its decentring of essentialistic constructions of both 'Islam' and 'Europe'. The examination of Chebel's work evokes the very intricacy of the problems that Islam encounters in its relocation in Europe. The possibilities that Europe holds for Islam are indeed the possibilities for Europe's own future: to temper the hegemony of European power over the cultural and religious formations and the sense of identity of European Muslims so that the boundaries of agency and identity for subjugated peoples can be rethought.

The place of Islam in Europe depends on the opportunity that Europe will take to re-envisage new ways in which affiliations between the two can enable Muslims to adhere to their traditions both individually and collectively. It is within this context that the examination of Chebel's reworking of love is necessary because it articulates questions of power, culture and ethnicity; but, in order to enhance the unitary dynamism of Islam, the challenge for Chebel is to formulate 'love' as a notion that addresses the driving and structuring force of France's laicite on the forms of being of Muslims. Looked at from the other perspective, l'unitas multiplex of Europe is dependent on its capacity to use its political weight to safeguard and to promote varying definitions and developments of Islam within Europe.

... Love As Difference: The Politics of Love In The Thought Of Malek Chebel, Ruth Mas


For someone who is now in University of Cambridge - nope, it is not Home, but Everything ... like it was in your car ... so sing along when you are stressed with studies and readings :)


Saturday, October 4, 2008

Patience And Forbearance

O You who have transmuted one clod of earth into gold,
and another into the Father of mankind,
Your generous work is the transmutation of essences;
my work is mostly forgetfulness and mistakes.
Transmute my mistakes and forgetfulness into knowledge:
With my imperfect nature, turn me into patience and forbearance.

... Mathnawi, Mevlana Jalalludin Rumi

Etude Op. 10 No. 12

Friday, October 3, 2008

Chopin - Fantaisie Impromptu

At the gathering of Singaporeans in Boulder last weekend, an interesting development occurred: I realized that all of us (alright, there were just about that 6-8 of us) are able to play one musical instrument or another, or have been in an orchestra or a band. So, after that oh-so-I-missed home-cooked Singaporean dinner (consisting of chicken rice (you heard it right), real spicy curry - not the American kinda curry at last, begedil, portuguese egg tart etc), we had a jamming session. That night, we only had the synthesizer and the drum set. It was really fun! I suggested that we should put up a concert sometime, somewhere, if anyone wants to hear us :)

One of the pieces that were playing again and again on that night, and since then has been haunting me is this beautiful piano score by Frederic Chopin of the Romantic period: Fantaisie Impromptu in C-sharp minor. Anyone who studies piano will remember the horror of playing this piece for the grade 8 practical examination - or at least I did. Frederic Chopin was born a Polish but emigrated to France following the suppression of the Polish November Uprising of 1830–31. He is widely regarded as the greatest Polish composer, and ranks as one of music's greatest tone poets.

The Fantasie Impromptu, Opus posthumous 66, is a solo piano composition and is one of his most well-known pieces. He uses many cross-rhythms (the right hand plays semiquavers against the left hand playing triplets) and a ceaselessly moving note figuration and is in cut time. The opening tempo is marked allegro agitato. The tempo changes to largo and later moderato cantabile when the key changes to D-flat major, the enharmonic equivalent of the more obscure tonic major key of C-sharp major. The piece then changes back to the original tempo where it continues in C-sharp minor as before. It ends off in an ambiguous fantasy-like ending, in a quiet and mysterious way, where the left hand repeats the first few notes of the moderato section theme, while the right hand continues playing sixteenth notes (semiquavers).

He wrote this piece when he was 24 years old ... but never liked it since, yet looked how it has been adored by classical musicians till now. It is a very demanding piece. Here, I wish to share my favourite classical pianist with you, the Russian Vladimir Horowitz and the famous American Leonard Bernstein - again, similar piece but rather different interpretations.

Vladimir Samoylovich Horowitz  was a Russian-American pianist. In his prime, he was considered one of the most distinguished pianists of any age. His technique, use of tone color and the excitement of his playing are legendary. He is widely considered one of the greatest pianists of the twentieth century. He has won various Grammys and even a Lifetime Achievement Award in 1990. This is rendition of Fantaisie Impromptu.

Leonard Bernstein  was a multi-Emmy-winning American conductor, composer, author, music lecturer and pianist. He was the first conductor born and educated in the United States of America to receive world-wide acclaim. He is perhaps best known for his long conducting relationship with the New York Philharmonic, which included the acclaimed Young People's Concerts series, and his compositions including West Side Story, Candide, and On the Town. He is known to baby boomers primarily as the first classical music conductor to make many television appearances, all between 1954 and 1989. Additionally he had a formidable piano technique and was a highly respected composer. He is one of the most influential figures in the history of American classical music, championing the works of American composers and inspiring the careers of a generation of American musicians. This is his version of Fantaisie Impromptu.

I Knew You Were Waiting (For Me)

i knew you were waiting for me george michael aretha franklin long version -

Things You Didn't Do

“Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn't do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. 
Explore. Dream. Discover.”

... Mark Twain

Crossing And Dwelling

Scholars in the humanities and social sciences have understood theory in a variety of ways ... But my understanding of theory departs from all five types, since I reject a presupposition they all share, even the constructivists' theory building and the critical theorists' power analysis - that the theorist and the theorized are static. To highlight the shifting position of the theorist, while also acknowledging the movements and relations I found among transnational migrants in Miami, I endorse James Clifford's suggestion that we turn to the metaphor of travel. More precisely, I reimagine theories as itineraries...

Theories, in the first sense of the word, are travels. Just as theorists walk the library stacks, shift from an idea to idea at their desks, or leap from citation to citation in online card catalogs, theories move too. They are journeys propelled by concepts ad tropes that follow lines of argument and narration. But there is too much linear progression. In the imagining and writing - and even in the reader's tracing of the argument on the printed page - there is crisscrossing, stepping down, and circling back...

It is helpful to understand theories as sightings, I suggest, but only if we keep in mind three cautions. First, as when motorists glance in the rearview mirror, the theorist always has blind spots... A second caution is necessary as we talk about theory's positioned representations as sightings: visual metaphors, like all others, have limitations, and the term sightings as I use it refers to multisensorial, culturally mediated embodied encounters... Those representations also are situated, and this is the final caution I want to urge as I propose that we understand theoretical reflections as sightings.

The locative approach, which I advocate, begins with the assumption that all theorists are situated and all theorists emerge from within categorical schemes and social contexts. It only makes sense to talk about reality-for-us, and questions about what's real or true make sense only within a socially constructed cluster of categories and an always-contested set of criteria for assessment.

In this locative approach there are more or less acceptable interpretations of those narratives, artifacts, and practices, where acceptable here means internally coherent and contextually useful. And it means more: a persuasive interpretation is one that would be found plausible by any fair and self-conscious interpreter who engaged in the same sort of research practices - listening, observing, reading, and so on. That, of course, is impossible, so the notion of an acceptable interpretation is always contested and contestable and is always a matter of offering a plausible account within an accepted categorical scheme and within a particular professional setting, with its scholarly idiom and role-specific obligations...

So however self-evident this claim might seem to some readers, it needs to be reaffirmed, because the authorial voice of most academic studies of religion fails to make it clear: as theorists make sense of narratives, artifacts, and practices they are always situated.

In this chapter, I meet my role-specific obligation to reflect on the field's constitutive term by offering a definition of religion, a positioned sighting that highlights movement and relation... Religions are confluences of organic-cultural flows that intensify joy and confront suffering by drawing on human and suprahuman forces to make homes and cross boundaries.

This definition, like most others, is hardly transparent. I doubt that, upon reading it, you thought to yourself: Well ,thanks for clearing that up. Offering a dense definition of this complex term doesn't end my professional obligations or settle the issue. There is much more to say, and I try to say it in these last three chapters. Attending to each word and phrase, here I explain my choice of tropes and lay out some of the theoretical commitments inscribed in this definition...

... Crossing And Dwelling: A Theory Of Religion, Thomas A Tweed

Thursday, October 2, 2008

Flowers In The Window

Vehement Passions

Breaking off the ordinary flow of experience, the passions create a state of exception. In their suddenness and intensity, they map a personal world, fix and qualify our attention, and impel our actions. Outraged anger drives us to write laws that will later be enforced by impersonal justice. Intense grief at the death of someone in our life discloses the contours of that life to us. Wonder spurs scientific inquiry.

The strong current of Western thought that idealizes a dispassionate world has ostracized the passions as quaint, even dangerous. Intense states have come to be seen as symptoms of pathology. A fondness for irony along with our civic ideal of tolerance lead us to prefer the diluted emotional life of feelings and moods. Demonstrating enormous intellectual originality and generosity, Philip Fisher meditates on whether this victory is permanent - and how it might diminish us.

From Aristotle to Hume to contemporary biology, Fisher finds evidence that the passions have defined a core of human nature no less important than reason or desire. Traversing the Iliad, King Lear, Moby Dick, and other great works, he discerns the properties of the high-spirited states we call the passions. Are vehement states compatible with a culture that values private, selectively shared experiences? How do passions differ from emotions? Does anger have an opposite? Do the passions give scale, shape, and significance to our experience of time? Is a person incapable of anger more dangerous than someone who is irascible?

In reintroducing us to our own vehemence, Fisher reminds us that it is only through our strongest passions that we feel the contours of injustice, mortality, loss, and knowledge. It is only through our personal worlds that we can know the world.

"Aristotle's inclusion of those close to us, our friends, family members, and certain others, in the structure of the passions themselves is one of the most important and accurate details of his work. It is also a detail neglected by all modern scientific work on passions, which seemingly establishes the egocentric role of the passions in advance by studying fear, anger, or delight only in relation to things happening to the subject himself. From Aristotle to Hume the philosophical account of the passions always included the idea that the passions are incited by what occurs within a world of care and concern - parents, children, friends, those loved or close to us - as well as by what happened directly to us.

After Kant and Rousseau we find a different division of the world, along with a new attention to sympathy and pity as the first and only passions that reach outside the freestanding self to exhibit concern with the sufferings of others. But pity, we need to stress, extends the passions to strangers. It universalizes a generosity within passion that, in the modern view, is otherwise self-interested and stops at the boundary of the ego. This extension to all others, to persons unknown to me, is a significant part of a modern analysis of feeling. It lies at the heart of sentimentality, as well as of the democratization and universalization of what came to be known as "feeling of humanity" after the eighteenth century. At the same time this extension to strangers in pity and sympathy had profound importance in explaining how in works of art we feel deeply the joys and sufferings of persons not known to us in our everyday life, in fact, fictitious persons.

But only in modernity do we contemplate a world made up of myself and what we call "others." The passions, as we find them described from Aristotle to Hume, are never universal in the Kantian sense. They do not concern my conserving for myself only what I will grant freely to all others. Still, the passions do concern a wider field of action than the isolated self. What happens to me and to mine, what happens within my world, is the subject of the passions, as Aristotle makes clear with his phrase "to me or to one of my friends." And it is in this same line that Aristotle claimed determined whether, when we see something terrifying about to happen to someone else, we feel pity (if the person is a stranger) or fear (if the other person is a friend or someone close to me)."

As I will argue later, it is by no means of the passions that we come to know the periphery and characteristics of what we call "my world," as opposed to "the world," and come to know precisely who makes up the set of "those close to me." The passions concern two quite different peripheries that they both mark and reveal: first, the radius of my will; and second, the census of my world along with the exact contour of the phrase "me and mine."

... The Vehement Passions, Philip Fischer

The Musketeers

"And a youth said, "Speak to us of Friendship."

Your friend is your needs answered.
He is your field which you sow with love and reap with thanksgiving.
And he is your board and your fireside.
For you come to him with your hunger, and you seek him for peace.

When your friend speaks his mind you fear not the "nay" in your own mind, nor do you withhold the "ay."
And when he is silent your heart ceases not to listen to his heart;
For without words, in friendship, all thoughts, all desires, all expectations are born and shared, with joy that is unacclaimed.

When you part from your friend, you grieve not;
For that which you love most in him may be clearer in his absence, as the mountain to the climber is clearer from the plain.

And let there be no purpose in friendship save the deepening of the spirit.
For love that seeks aught but the disclosure of its own mystery is not love but a net cast forth: and only the unprofitable is caught.

And let your best be for your friend.
If he must know the ebb of your tide, let him know its flood also.

For what is your friend that you should seek him with hours to kill?
Seek him always with hours to live.

For it is his to fill your need, but not your emptiness.

And in the sweetness of friendship let there be laughter, and sharing of pleasures.

For in the dew of little things the heart finds its morning and is refreshed."

... The Prophet, Kahlil Gibran

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

For Just A Drop

Shah Mahmoud, full of sorrow, went one night
To one who keeps the baths' huge fires alight;
The man made room among the ash and the grime
(Feeding the furnace-mouth from time to time),
Then brought the king some stale, unwholesome bread.
"When he knows who i am," Shah Mahmoud said,
"He'll beg to be allowed to keep his head!"

When, finally, the king prepared to go,
The poor man said: "i havent much to show-
You've seen my home and food (i brought the best;
You were rather unexpected guest);
But if in future you feel sorrow's pain
I hope you'll come and be my guest again.

If you weren't king you could be happy, sire;
I'm happy shovelling wood on this great fire -
So i'm not less than you or more, you see...
I'm nothing next to you, your majesty."

The king was so impressed that he returned,
And seven times saw how that furnace burned -
at last he said: "Stop stoking this great fire
And ask from me whatever you require"

"I am a beggar, lord," the man replied;
"And with a king all needs are satisfied"

Shah Mahmoud said: "Speak up, ask anything -
You can forget the furnace and be king!"

He said: "My hope is this, now and then
My king will visit me in this dark den -
The dust he treads on is a crown to me;
His presence here will be my monarchy.
Yours is the kingdom and the hand that gives,
but that's not how a bath attendant lives.
Better to sit with you in this foul place
Than reign in state and never see your face.
This spot has brought me luck, and i'd be wrong
To leave the furnace-mouth where i belong -
Besides, it's here i made friends with my king,
I wouldn't give this up for anything -
When you are here the bath-house shines anew;
What more could i desire from you than you?
May my perverse heart die if it should crave
Another fate than to remain your slave!
What's sovereignty to me? All i request
Is that from time to time you'll be my guest."

The bath attendant's love should teach you yours;
Learn from him all the loving heart endures -
And if this love has stirred in you, then cling
With passion to the garments of your king;
He too is moved; hold fast and do not stop -
He is a sea; He asks of you one drop.

... The Conference of the Birds, Farid ud-Din Attar

Swinging With Robbie Williams

In response to the bad cover of Robbie William's song Angel by Jessica Simpson recently, I wanna share with you some of my favourite swings by Robbie - who happens to be one of my favourite singers. One of the best thing he has done to the music industry was to leave the boyband Take That.

Robert Peter Maximilian Williams (born 13 February 1974) is a Grammy Award-nominated, 15-time BRIT Award-winning English singer-songwriter. His career started as a member of the pop band Take That in 1990. He left Take That in 1995 to begin his solo career, after selling 25 million records with the group.

His album sales stand at over 55 million, with singles sales over 17 million. Williams entered the The Guinness Book of World Records when in just one day he sold more than 1.6 million tickets for his 2006 world tour. He has been the recipient of many awards, including fifteen BRIT and six ECHO awards. In 2004, he was inducted into the UK Music Hall of Fame, after being voted as the Greatest artist of the 1990s.

One may remember him, amongst others, for the prolific personal lifestyle which he leads - but what amazes me most is the wide array of varieties of music genres he can cover - and covered them well. Apart from his pop music, my favourite album was his "Swing When You're Winning" - cover songs the swing genre. To me, that is probably one of his best albums - all the songs in there are marvelous, and some will be featured here. Enjoy... If you have not heard him much doing swings, you may not believe that this is Robbie :)

Mr. Bojangles

Beyond The Sea

The Road To Mandalay

I Will Talk And Hollywood Will Listen (incomplete)

Armstrong, Ella, Sinatra & Ekdhal

La Vie En Rose - Louis Armstrong

Georgia On My Mind - Ella Fitzgerald

Fly Me To The Moon - Frank Sinatra

Now Or Never - Lisa Ekdhal

Edith Piaf

Hymne à l´Amour



Pietro Mascagni (December 7, 1863 – August 2, 1945) was an Italian composer most noted for his operas. His 1890 masterpiece, Cavalleria Rusticana, caused one of the greatest sensations in opera history and singlehandedly ushered in the Verismo movement in Italian dramatic music.

That sensationally famous verismo opera was written in great haste, for submission to a competition - it was his first operatic work. It went on to win the first prize, Mascagni received forty curtain calls on that night, and the next morning the Intermezzo (the music is posted below) was being whistled in the streets. Cavalleria Rusticana went on to take the world by storm, and by the time Mascagni died it had been performed over fourteen thousand times in Italy alone.

This orchestral interlude, the most popular excerpt from the opera, is intensely dramatic and comes at a crucial point in the story. Played over the setting of an empty square, the villagers having gathered for a church service, it is itself a moment of quiet, a brief respite from the naked emotions of the drama. At the same time, however, it looks back over the mounting passion and betrayal that preceded it, and foreshadows the bloodshed and tragedy to come.

The Intermezzo also took me by storm when I first heard it played at the Victoria Concert Hall when I was a school boy - and when the orchestra played it a few other times when I was a member, I always lamented the absence of a wind instrument in the score - for the selfish reason that I wanna be a part of creating this magic. In any case, enjoy the Intermezzo.