Workshop on Translation and Classical Reception

At the three-day workshop below, I am speaking on Phoebe Giannisi’s performative “somatic philology” as applied to Archilochus.

Translation & Classical Reception Studies: Workshop 2 (by invitation)

Richard Armstrong & Alexandra Lianeri:  Organizers’ Introduction

Our first workshop took place in Athens in January 2020, hosted in the historic Academy of Athens with support from the Academy of Athens and the Center for Hellenic Studies-Greece. Our second was to take place at the Herzog August Bibliothek, but the pandemic made this impossible. We gratefully acknowledge the continued support and interest of both the Herzog August Bibliothek and the Center for Hellenic Studies (Washington, DC) for this ongoing research project.

The field of classical reception studies has advanced considerably in recent years, often thanks to edited volumes by scholars coming from a variety of different approaches commenting on the state of research. Our project is geared toward a similar end, with a focus on integrating translation studies better into classical receptions, tackling some of the theoretical problems such integration presents. The papers offered in this second workshop range widely from the history of translations of canonical authors, to larger questions in transmedial and cultural translation, agency, materiality, performance, and the reception of Foucault in translation.


Tuesday 29 September 2020

Richard Armstrong, University of Houston
“The Untranslatable and the Unreceivable: Thoughts on the Imbrication of Translation and Reception Studies”                 Respondent: Simon Goldhill, University of Cambridge

Lorna Hardwick, The Open University
“Agencies in Translation: Theories, Practices and Further Questions”

Karin Littau, University of Essex
“Materialities of Reception: Anne Carson’s Catullus”

Vassilis Lambropoulos, University of Michigan                                                               “Classical Reception as Embodied Transformance”


Wednesday 30 September 2020

Michelle Zerba, Louisiana State University
“Translation and Mystery: The Eleusinian Mysteria at the intersection of Antiquity, Modernity, and Cultural Translatio”

Benjamin Stevens, Trinity University (San Antonio, TX)
“The medium had me read it first: Interlingual Translation as Metaphysical Transgression in Film Horror”

John Hamilton, Harvard University
“Parentheses of Reception, or What are Philologists for in a Destitute Time?”
Respondent: Martin Vöhler, Aristotle University of Thessaloniki


Friday 2 October 2020

Daniel Selden, University of California, Santa Cruz                                                   “Translation Literature

Allen Miller, University of South Carolina
“Foucault’s History of Sexuality: An Accurate Translation that Gives a Distorted Picture”
Respondent: Daniel Orrells, King’s College London

Alexandra Lianeri, Aristotle University of Thessaloniki                                            “Concluding Remarks”

General Concluding Discussion

28 September 2020

Posted in Uncategorized

Trivia games at the Times Literary Supplement

Who reads the TLS?  Who bothers with a weekly edited by the Stig Abells of British publishing?*

I do not refer to the small minority of people from the periphery, like me, who are interested in ways in which a lost empire is lamented and defended.  I mean the majority of readers, who enjoy reading a middle-brow publication with little respect for original literature, challenging thought, and innovative scholarship.

The TLS certainly cultivates provincial learning and mediocre taste.  But I always thought that there must be some desirable cultural capital that its followers earn.  I used to look for it in the depressingly insular Letters page, where people debate the merit of middle-brow writers like George Steiner and Isaiah Berlin, until I began to pay some attention to the back page, signed by one J.C.  Normally I would not even glance at its preposterous pedantry.  But then I wondered why the estimable publication wants this column to be the last message each week to its readers.  At that point it dawned on me that the business of the TLS is not evaluation, let alone judgment.  The business of the TLS is puzzle solving.  Literally cover to cover, its readers derive the satisfaction of solving puzzles in the counter-intellectual domain of memorizing names, dates, origins, places, and quotes – what Fleet Street considers “education” and “learning.”

This realization sent me back more than fifty years, when I began reading regularly the TLS, and was surprised by the anonymity of its reviews.  I now realize that the point of reading them was less to be enlightened than to match your wit against the publication by guessing the reviewer (something gratifyingly easy when he was Steiner).  Guessing correctly (and having access to verification!) gave readers a sense of much-needed validation:  They felt they belonged to a cultural community, even though one of puzzle solvers, not interpreters.

Now that the pretentious practice of anonymous reviewing has been abolished, J.C.’s column satisfies antiquarian narcissism by bolstering the self-esteem of those who do well at implicit or explicit trivia games.  It has confirmed to me that each TLS issue is essentially a collection of identify-the-source and catch-the-reference (pre-internet) puzzles which have something for every solver, especially those anxious to place themselves above Arnoldian Philistines and social justice advocates.

It was therefore fitting that the recent announcement about the new TLS Editor was published not prominently in the second page but at the very bottom of the last page of the July 3, 2020, issue:  It is nothing more than material for another TLS trivia game.

11 September 2020

* Just a few days after I posted this, the TLS published the last column of J.C., who “came out” as one James Campbell.  In it he confessed that “the secret of writing a weekly column is not so much having something to say as having a space to fill and a deadline to meet.”  Those of us who, for more than twenty years, endured his weekly delirium of disdain and derision have known all along that he never had anything to say, he was just trying to make a living by policing the English language.  Now he will no doubt mobilize his sycophants to lament the decline of the West.  Kudos to those who dismissed him.  Let us hope they will endeavor to turn their publication from middle-brow trivia to responsible book reviewing, and start by abolishing N.B. altogether.

18 September 2020

Posted in Culture, Literature | Tagged

Piano recitals (2)

Some recitals offer an anthology of great autonomous works from the canonical repertoire.  Others place works in a sequence to narrate the grand story of a composer, genre, or tradition.  A more recent kind of recital assembles a variety of works not in any particular order but in an experimental constellation that encourages their interaction.  The listener of such a recital has a lot of flexibility to rearrange the program, invent juxtapositions, add connections, and in general contribute to the performance.  This  participatory music making entails an entirely new mode of collaborative listening.

P.S. (9/11/20)  ‘After decades of respectful, even beatific enshrinement, classical repertoire is being challenged, tested, and “tough loved” by its fondest champions.  Among the smartest recording labels, one-composer programs — the norm since the arrival of the LP record in the early 1950s — are giving way to conceptual collections of music that juxtapose the ancient and modern, progressive and retrogressive, as well as the familiar and the obscure.’

1 September 2020

Posted in Listening, Piano

Piano recitals (1)

Traditional piano recitals, both live and recorded, consisted in precocious and neurotic virtuosos performing anthologies of canonical compositions by precocious and neurotic geniuses.  This interpretive tradition has recently come to an end, together with its supportive critical and scholarly discourses as well as the marketing of the compilation album and the concert series.  Today’s recital is more likely to consist in learned and sophisticated musicians performing thoughtful assemblages of standard and rare pieces by interesting and inspiring composers.

One of the many productive outcomes of the new practice is that now listeners pay more attention to the probing program than to individual works, appreciating the juxtaposition of periods, styles, and techniques.  Pianists today invite their audience to participatory music makingDoorways:  Half-Remembered Music by Chinese-American Susan Yang (a Michigan D.M.A.) is this year’s outstanding example.  I am grateful to my other self, Dr. Pantelis Polychronidis (another Michigan D.M.A.), who has taught me to listen collaboratively by assembling my own programs.







25 August 2020

Posted in Classical Music, Listening, Piano

The Wandering Musician

Perhaps no other genre in classical music is as intensely Romantic as the Wanderlieder cycle, the song cycle depicting the adventurous peregrinations of a young wayfarer.*    Such cycles represent the epitome of 19th century male subject position as poet, composer, performer, and listener – just read male critics on Ian Bostridge’s Winterreise!  I thought of this genre as soon as I started listening to a wonderful new work, This Land Sings:  Inspired by the Life and Times of Woody Guthrie (2016), by my friend and colleague at Michigan, Michael Daugherty (1954), released earlier this year.

It is an absorbing musico-theatrical tribute to the legendary American singer, song writer, and activist which consists of 11 songs, based on poems by the composer and others, and 6 instrumental interludes, performed by soprano, baritone, and a seven-piece ensemble.  It chronicles the wanderings of the “Dust Bowl troubadour,” Woody Guthrie (1912-67), from coast to coast during the Great Depression and World War II as he travels with his guitar and harmonica for some twenty years, performing his self as consummate protest musician and singing about personal, social, and political issues.  This restless Woody is a man always ready to hitch a ride, a “Perpetual Motion Man” (#3), a man constantly on the go, a “Wayfaring Stranger” (#17).  We follow him as he is wandering across times, places, communities, jobs, and above all across numerous musical genres – hymns, folk, country, blues, jazz, rock, mariachi, klezmer, and more.

The seventy-minute work is structured like a Grand Ole Opry radio broadcast with optional announcer.  However, instead of a radio stage show, I hear a classical song cycle, like the one invented and cultivated in German-speaking lands in the early 19th century.  Following in the footsteps of Goethe’s Wilhelm Meister, this Romantic wanderer too leaves home in a personal, artistic, and intellectual quest for wholeness, unity, recognition, and reconciliation.  What makes his journey exceptionally fascinating is that he traverses most idioms of the American musical vernacular.  Thus, he is constantly looking not only for another town, lady, drink, venue, and audience but also for the kind of musical style that is right for the topic and the occasion.  Daugherty’s magisterial command of compositional and performative codes surveys the landscape of American tradition, offering both a codification and a concise introduction to it.  His wayfarer leaves behind the natural world of Schubert, Mahler, and Krenek to travel “through this world of woe” (poverty, exploitation, racism, pollution, guns), seeking each time the right political and musical idiom to lament and denounce it.

Daugherty’s Woody Guthrie reminded me of another iconic American wandering musician, the inimitable Harry Partch (1901-74), who also spent his life traveling from coast to coast looking for another love, drink, venue, instrument, and his own vision of total music.  Above everything else, the work that comes to mind is U.S. Highball:  A Musical Account of Slim’s Transcontinental Hobo Trip, composed in 1943 for voice and adapted guitar, and revised for various ensembles of Partch’s own microtonal instruments over the years until 1955.  It chronicles the two-week freight journey from California to Chicago of Mac, a young hobo, through a polyphonic soundscape of economic depression created around snatches of conversation, comments, signs, and inscriptions at a time when the composer believed that music should match the musicality of speech.   Scored for two speakers and seven instrumentalists, the composition became part of The Wayward (1941-55), a cycle of four autobiographical works based on Partch’s hobo years.

It would be interesting to compare the intense interest in American linguistic and musical idioms shared by Guthrie and Partch, and further explored by Michael Daugherty throughout his distinguished career, which has been promoting civic awareness and hope for over three decades.  Note that all three composers early on left behind the home of the European musical tradition to experiment with American techniques of composition and comportment.  Since my focus here is the wanderer song cycle, I should conclude by emphasizing that Daugherty himself is an inveterate wayfarer as evidenced not only in compositions such as Route 66 (1998) and Sunset Strip (1999) but also in the notes accompanying many of his recordings, where he talks about the several trips he takes to research a work and find out how “this land sings.”  To compose, he too needs to wander, both physically and culturally, across styles, discourses, domains, and soundscapes.  At some point the journeys of the song cycle and the life cycle begin to overlap.

P.S. On another occasion I may write on the wanderer in the Greek tradition, a figure that can be traced in ancient literature and philosophy (Silvia Montiglio:  Wandering in Ancient Greek Culture, Chicago UP, 2005), Baroque poetry as well as modern drama (Παναγιώτης Σούτσος:  Ο οδοιπόρος, «δραματικόν ποίημα», 1831), song cycle (Μάνος Χατζιδάκις:  Ο οδοιπόρος, το μεθυσμένο κορίτσι και ο Αλκιβιάδης, op. 31, 1973), and photography (Χρήστος Χρυσόπουλος:  Η συνείδηση του πλάνητα:  Disjunction-Απορρύθμιση, Οκτώ, 2015).  This material could be part of a collaborative course.

*  A few representative compositions that may be considered wanderer song cycles:

Carl Maria von Weber (1786-1826):  Leyer und Schwert, op. 42 (1814), 6 songs for male chorus based on poems by Theodor Körne.

Conradin Kreutzer (1780-1949): Neun Wanderlieder von Uhland, op. 34 (1818), 9 songs for baritone and piano based on poems by Ludwig Uhland (1813).

Schubert (1797-1828): Winterreise, D. 911 (1827), 24 songs based on poems by Wilhelm Müller (1824).

Schumann (1810-56): Zwölf Gedichte von Justinus Kerner: Eine Liederreihe, op. 35 (1841), 12 songs for baritone and piano.

Gustav Mahler:  Lieder eines fahrenden Gesellen (1884-85), 4 songs for medium voice and piano on the composer’s own words.

Ralph Vaughan Williams (1872-1958): Songs of Travel (1901-4), 9 songs for baritone and piano on poems from Robert Louis Stevenson’s collection of the same name (1896).

John Ireland (1879-1962): Songs of a Wayfarer (1903-11), 5 songs for baritone and piano by various poets.

Ernst Krenek (1900-91):  Reisebuch aus den österreichischen Alpen, op. 62 (1929), 20 songs for baritone and piano on the composer’s own words.

Harry Partch (1901-74): U.S. Highball:  A Musical Account of Slim’s Transcontinental Hobo Trip (1943-55) for voice and custom-made instruments.

Ridion Shchedrin (1932): The Enchanted Wanderer (2002), a “concert opera” on the composer’s libretto based on Nikolai Leskov’s novel by the same name (1873).

30 July 2020

Posted in Classical Music, Culture | Tagged , , , , ,

Heine & Schubert’s “Der Doppelgänger”

Franz Schubert’s seminal song “Der Doppelgänger” (1828) is suspended in a unique historical and stylistic moment of classical music, with its ostinato piano part looking back to Bach’s passacaglia and its declamatory vocal part looking forward to Wagner’s Sprechgesang.  It also affords a unique cultural perspective:  Standing next to the narrator and his double in the desolate tableau, which recalls Caspar Friedrich’s paintings, we may also trace questions of identity in the literary, artistic, philosophical, and psychological horizon from early Romanticism to the present.  Listening to the song, I hear a rhizomatic configuration of several themes, motifs, ideas, and works which I am always inspired to explore in many directions without seeking to solve any of its enigmas.

Heinrich Heine (1797-1856) included his untitled poem which opens “Still ist die Nacht…” for the first time in one of his poetry collections in 1824, and then again in other collections in 1827 and 1828.  Schubert, who was of the same age, probably discovered it in the third collection, in a section called “The Homecoming.”  He set it to music three months before his death from syphilis in November 1828.  He lifted from its third stanza a word created by the Romantic novelist Jean Paul in 1796 and called his song “Der Doppelgänger.”  It became one of the six Heine songs included in his posthumous collection Schwanengesang, D957, no. 13.

The song is written in B minor, the key of the “Unfinished” Symphony and the original version of “Der Leiermann,” which concludes the song cycle Winterreise (1827).   The opening of the song seems to be taken from the Agnus Dei of Schubert’s Mass No. 6, D. 950, in E flat major, and the first theme of the Andantino movement of the Piano Sonata in A major, D. 959, both works written two months before “Der Doppelgänger.”  In one form or another, material from the song resonates across much of Schubert’s work from his last two years.  It works much like the motif of the double itself: “The Doppelgänger returns compulsively both within its host texts and intertextually from one to the other.  Its performances repeat both its host subject and its own previous appearances.  It therefore plays a constitutive role in the structuring of its texts, by doubling them upon themselves” (Andrew J. Webber:  The Doppelgänger:  Double Visions in German Literature.  Oxford:  Clarendon Press, 1996, 4).

Schubert’s song is based on an ostinato that works as a passacaglia on the theme of the first four piano bars and “appears to be based on … J. S. Bach’s stile antico C sharp minor fugue from the Well-tempered clavier vol. 1, which in its day would have been thought old-fashioned” (David Bretherton: “In Search of Schubert’s Doppelgänger,” The Musical Times 144: 1884, 2003, p. 48).  Scholars are often puzzled by the major role of the passacaglia (ground bass) in the song.  What is a 17th-century form doing in a highly Romantic song?  For example, Benjamin Binder asks why Schubert would “resort to this antiquated Baroque procedure” and “desiccated old motive” (“Disability, Self Critique and Failure in Schubert’s Der Doppelgänger,” in Bodley & Horton, eds.:  Rethinking Schubert, Oxford University Press, 2016, 423).  His answer is that Schubert was “living under the constant threat of failure” (421) since he had been “compositionally disabled” (424) having “lost the suppleness of his repetition technique” (424).  No longer able to draw on repetition, on which he used to rely heavily, he resorted to a traditional musical form. “It is the protagonist’s conspicuous failure at repetition that ultimately undermines his precarious present identity and puts him back in touch with a painfully irretrievable past” (428-29).

If repetition is to Binder “one of Schubert’s trademark” (424) strengths, to Adorno it was exactly the opposite.  Adorno had a single point to make about Schubert, and once he made it in an essay he published when he was twenty-five, he never returned to this composer again.  As was his standard rhetorical strategy, he set a polar opposition of good vs. bad, this time Beethoven (movement and development) vs. Schubert (landscape and repetition). Schubert’s perfect melody has the imaginary beauty of a natural landscape which cannot be elaborated, only repeated.  Writing on Schubert’s piano works, Adorno commented: “It is not only the functional negation of all thematic, dialectical development that sets them apart from Beethoven’s sonatas, but the repeatability of unaltered truth-characters” (“Schubert” [1928], 19th-Century Music 29:1, 2005, 11).  Since they are not amenable to development, Schubert’s works just stand there, being perfectly self-contained and doing nothing.  Richard Leppert summarizes Adorno’s point: “If Beethoven constructs themes ripe for their own reworking, Schubert’s are close to freestanding.  Their truth emerges in the composer’s ‘failure’ to do more with them” (“On Reading Adorno Hearing Schubert,” 19th-Century Music 29:1, 2005, 60).

Yet Leppert astutely observes that this essay is itself Schubertian, rather than Beethovenian, in that it relies on crystalline thought and its repetition: “The trick Adorno manages here, and honed throughout his writing life, is that the essay textually reenacts what it recognizes in Schubert’s music.  Like the music, the essay repeats itself but with subtle differences … And what’s ‘there,’ in Adorno and in Schubert, bears repeating; indeed, it begs for it.  Adorno’s ideas about this music, like so many things in Schubert’s music, are less developed than juxtaposed, often paratactically” (57).  The philosopher cannot use in his writing Beethoven’s techniques of development.  As Beate Perrey puts it, “Adorno actualizes Schubert’s music in words.  As he listens and dwells in its hollow spaces, he comes to perform it as a poet” (“Exposed:  Adorno and Schubert in 1928,” 19th-Century Music 29:1, 2005, 18).

Thus, criticizing Schubert for drawing too little or too much on modes of repetition is not helpful.  “The real problem then – what we might call the ‘Schubertian moment’ – is whether or not it is possible to take repetition seriously on its own terms, in other words, to respect its absolute need for constancy.  Can we, then, as listeners and critics, follow repetition in its single-minded quest, can we tolerate its absolute need to know what will be coming next, without becoming ourselves, as we follow Schubert along this path, frozen in its hypnotizing effect?” (23).  But what does it entail to take repetition seriously on its own terms and follow its quest?  Let us listen one more time to the “Doppelgänger.”

Heine’s poem stages a crisis of identity.  A solitary journeyman returns to his hometown after many years.  He arrives at night and goes to the place where the house where his sweetheart used to live survives.  There he sees a figure afflicted by pain whom he recognizes as his double.  The poem is full of images of doubles and doublings: “every element in the text seeks the double of itself that will give it meaning, but the encounter with which always fails fully to satisfy this quest” (Robert Samuels: “The Double Articulation of Schubert:  Reflections on Der Doppelgänger,” The Musical Quarterly 93:2, Summer 2010, 196).  Homecoming is presented as an ordeal of repetition:  It is impossible to escape the impulse to return and equally impossible to satisfy it.  Return defers, repetition differs.  Heine’s poem represents “the homelessness at the origin of the itinerant poetic subject and the compulsive repetition of the return to that evacuated origin. [] The Doppelgänger poem subverts the return and the reconstruction by redoubling it, repeating the repetition and putting the subject on show to himself as a grotesque, melodramatic spectacle” (Webber 14-5).

Schubert adds to the poem his own series of doubles, making the Doppelgänger appear in his song at once as a recurring multiple visual, linguistic, literary (16), and musical doubling.  “In the Lied [music and poetry] are doubles – supplements – mutually writing and also writing over their own presence and the presence of the other.  They defer, displace, and erase one another, but they also write one another even as they write themselves” (Richard Kurth: “Music and Poetry, a Wilderness of Doubles:  Heine, Nietzsche-Schubert-Derrida,” 19th-Century Music 21:1, Summer 1997, 31).  The piano line consists in a series of haunting repetitions and variations on the opening four tolling block chords before the entry of the voice.  Drawing, as I have done elsewhere, on the section “Becoming-Music,” which concludes the plateau no. 10, “1730:  Becoming-Intense, Becoming-Animal, Becoming-Imperceptible,” in Deleuze & Guattari’s One Thousand Plateaus (1980), I suggest that the piano launches into a refrain and, by doing so, it stakes out a territory, the “landscape” (Adorno) identified in the first stanza.  Claiming a territory involves beating a pulsed time, the refrain of the austere passacaglia.  Next comes the dialectical response to this refrain by the voice which “uproots the refrain from its territoriality” (300) and introduces a “tension between the pull towards territory, on the one hand, and the urge towards pure self-differentiation, … on the other” (Catherine Pickstock: “Messiaen and Deleuze:  The Musico-theological critique of Modernism and Postmodernism,” Theory, Culture & Society 25:7-8, 2008, p. 190).  This tension is the rhythm of the composition.  According to the principles of Deleuzian repetition, “every refrain entails the making of a productive difference. [] Now a rhythm allows us to affirm the genuine production of difference in the refrain, keeping us from the mechanism of vulgar repetition” (Michael Gallope: “The Sound of Repeating Life:  Ethics and Metaphysics in Deleuze’s Philosophy of Music,” in Hulse and Nesbitt, eds.:  Sounding the Virtual:  Gilles Deleuze and the Theory and Philosophy of Music, New York:  Routledge, 2010, 87).  Composition rhythms the refrain by differing its repetition.

Composers deterritorialize the refrain by questioning conventions, as does Schubert at the beginning of the third stanza, when he interrupts the passacaglia in the words “Du Doppelgänger.”  This jarring interruption illustrates Dimitris Vardoulakis’ insightful argument that “the doppelgänger is an interrogation of the limit and on the limit – its interruptive power consists in the necessity of the limit as well as its equally necessary delimitation or transgression” (Der Doppelgänger:  Literature’s Philosophy (New York:  Fordham University Press, 2010, 10).  Deleuze interrogated the limit by working with multiple variations on what is repeated (the refrain that territorializes, the dogmatic meter) and what differs from the repeated (the different that decenters, the critical rhythm).  “What repeats is not identity, but difference, pure difference. [] In each situation, repetition puts into play novel effects and dynamisms.  It draws difference into a body, form, or line, while selectively expressing certain elements and forgetting others.  It affirms difference, attributing to difference all movement and production, restoring form and wholeness to the flux and flow of ‘non-exchangeable and non-substitutable singularities’ [Deleuze, Difference and Repetition, p. 1]” (Brian Hulse: “Thinking Musical Difference:  Music Theory as Minor Science,” in Hulse and Nesbitt, eds.:  Sounding the Virtual:  Gilles Deleuze and the Theory and Philosophy of Music, New York:  Routledge, 2010, 32).

The work of Schubertian repetition is most pronounced in “the recognition and recovered self-identity of the narrator and the doppelgänger.  They are both dissonant and fully consonant” (Samuels 223).  But who is who?  Where do we draw the line between the two figures?  “This is the question on which the doppelgänger plays:  is the figure who stands silently by my side, my companion, united with me in aesthetic contemplation, or is he part of my own self, forever divided and fissured?  This dilemma … is central to over a hundred years of artistic expression in German culture” (202).  An intriguing answer has been given from a performative angle: “the Doppelgänger is an inveterate performer of identity, indeed it could be said to represent the performative character of subject.  Selfhood as a metaphysical given is abandoned here to a process of enactments of identity always mediated by the other self” (Webber 3).

Friedrich:  Evening Landscape with Two Men (1830-35)

Encounters with the Doppelgänger are dramatizations of doubling rather than iterations of otherness.  “Divided between person and persona, the figure [of the Doppelgänger] creates scenes which may be parodic play or in deadly earnest.  Its melodramas have tragic potential” (8).  Arguably the most popular protagonist of such melodramas has been the figure of a demonic artist who over the last two centuries has been playing the role of the pianist, violinist, or composer.  This modern individual performs a musician who is performing music. “Indeed, [Schubert’s] ‘Der Doppelgänger’ is close to a scena without an aria to follow; there is no ‘melody’ in the song, only a recitation that hovers monotonously and insistently, as if not to lose grounding, on F# (a vocal style reminiscent of psalmody)” (Jürgen Thym: “Invocations of Memory in Schubert’s Last songs” in Bodley and Horton, eds.:  Schubert’s Late Music:  History, Theory, Style, Cambridge University Press, 2016, 401).  I am reminded of another musician’s vision of his double.  In 1830, two years after the composition of “Der Doppelgänger” and Schubert’s death, Hector Berlioz would compose An Episode in the Life of an Artist, in Five Parts: Symphonie Fantastique whose protagonist is a musician seeking the woman of his dreams.  The fourth movement of the Symphony, “March to the Scaffold,” depicts a procession that is taking the musician’s double to the scaffold for the murder of his beloved.  Furthermore, the notion of the scene of artistic interpretation has been expanded to include the critic himself: “The compulsive desire to return to a scene that demands, and has always already demanded, interpretation, is a fair description of the psychological needs of the narrator of Heine’s poem.  It is no less a fair description of those, myself included, who have attempted to analyze this text” (Samuels 223).  Thus, reading and listening may also be seen as encounters with the Doppelgänger in melodramas of repetition.

Ultimately, according to Deleuze’s logic of repetition, “this is what life does – it repeats.  But it never repeats according to the logic of the same, the identical, or the similar.  Instead it repeats only the production of difference. [] The result is, like the eternal return, an unconditional affirmation of a singular becoming – what life immanently is” (Gallope 80).  In this strong sense, “repeating means self-differentiation, creativity, and innovation as much as cyclic reproductivity” (85).  I do not know why Schubert used a passacaglia, how he composed, or what he felt during the last weeks of his life.  But I do know that “Der Doppelgänger” remains suspended between poetry and music, absence and presence, person and persona, “displacement and deferral” (Kurth 32), and I would like to keep it that way every time I return to the song and feel as if Dr. Pantelis Polychronidis, my “other self,” is playing the opening chords.  Often, he too senses his Doppelgänger standing silently by his side, stares, and wonders whether I am his companion or part of his own self.

20 July 2020

Posted in Classical Music, Friends, The Double | Tagged ,

The protesters’ raised hands

Today, as riot police dispersed the last protesters in Seattle’s Capitol Hill Organized Protest area, which became an “autonomous zone” for the past two weeks as part of nation-wide protests against police brutality, images of the zone’s creation and operation flashed on the screen.  The fists of the assembled brought to mind the multitude of raised hands in the famous opening of a major post-revolutionary movie.

The French multimedia artist and writer Chris Marker (1921-2012) released his four-hour film essay A Grin without a Cat (original French title:  “There is red in the air”) in 1976 and its abridged three-hour version in 1993.   The film, primarily a massive montage of documentary footage of radical struggles, traces the dissolution of the European Old Left and the rise and fall of the global New Left (1967-77).  It opens with a dazzling reconfiguration of Sergei Eisenstein’s Battleship Potemkin (1925) where snippets of the Soviet silent are mixed with snippets of demonstrations and funerals from other countries and eras.  The combination shows protests erupting and burying their dead throughout the 20th century.  A composition by Boccherini, reconfigured by Berio, sounds a march at once defiant and mournful.

This brief section introduces the first half of the film, “Fragile Hands,” and is populated by hundreds of hands rising, denouncing, proclaiming, arguing, joining, honoring.  These hands of the protesters are strong but fragile.  Their fists defeated oppression but were also brutally destroyed by the police, the army, as well as sectarianism.  The introductory section closes with a young guide sitting decades later on the Odessa steps monumentalized in Battleship Potemkin, which have become a popular tourist attraction.  While paying tribute to struggles and sacrifices, the introduction launches a melancholic elegy which culminates in the second part of the film, “Severed Hands.”  Around the world, argues Marker, the march of insurrection has been both vanguard and vanquished.

Is the revolution doomed to fail, surviving only as a historical memory, often of events that did not even take place, like the Odessa massacre of 1905?  This was also the central question of a contemporary three-hour film essay, Milestones (1975), by Marker’s collaborator Robert Kramer, one of the Grin’s voice overs.   The semiotic didacticism of the introduction to the “Fragile Hands” suggests that revolts like the recent one in Seattle may be too quickly celebrated.  Instead, enthusiasm and support for them should be combined with critical commemorations of the dissolution of earlier revolts, as is Marker’s film essay.  Before more hands are severed and utopias buried, it is important to understand how their fragility may be mobilized in autonomist projects that endure.

1 July 2020

Posted in Autonomy, Melancholy, Revolt, The Arts | Tagged ,

Antonio Negri’s catechism of the revolutionary militant

Inspired by “learning plays” by Brecht and Müller, Negri wrote a “morality play,” Swarm, structured as a Way of the Cross of a revolutionary militant on his way to the common of a Franciscan multitude.

20 May 2020

Posted in Left, Revolution | Tagged , , , , , ,

“Ο Μάρκος Μέσκος στον Μέλανα Δρυμό της ποιητικής”

Το τεύχος 86 (Μάρτιος 2020) των Σημειώσεων είναι αφιερωμένο στον Μάρκο Μέσκο.  Στη  συμμετοχή μου τονίζω πως ο Μέσκος και η υπόλοιπη παρέα του περιοδικού “κάνουν τη μεγάλη θεωρητική τομή στην ελληνική ποίηση στη δεκαετία του 1970 όταν με το ποιητικό και δοκιμιακό έργο τους βρίσκονται να συνομιλούν με τον Ντεριντά χωρίς να έχουν απαρνηθεί τις καταβολές τους στον Λούκατς, φτάνουν δηλαδή να στοχάζονται μεταμοντέρνα χωρίς να έχουν απορρίψει τον μοντερνισμό. Ενώ η πρώτη μεταπολεμική γενιά ποιητών έμεινε προσκολλημένη στη σχέση λογοτεχνίας και επανάστασης, η δεύτερη γενιά, εκείνη των Σημειώσεων, παραδέχτηκε πως για τη λογοτεχνία η επανάσταση είναι ένα λογοτεχνικό θέμα.”

Νοέμβριος 2019

Posted in Friends, Greek Poetry, Left, Melancholy, Revolution | Tagged ,

“Looking for the perfect beat”: Great pop songs since the 1950s

What is pop music and what makes it irresistible?  One way to find out is to list irresistible songs.  All fans of pop music make lists so here is my personal anthology of great Pop songs.

13 May 2020



Posted in Popular Music