Friends making Music together (3)

There are moments when the thought of a friend makes us pause and ponder where they are and what they are doing right now.  It is not because we miss or need them.  We do not worry about their situation, we just know it, and we stop to reflect on it and share it with them.  We may not be physically close but we feel we are together in another dimension, the intensity of our friendship.

I often find myself transposed to the world of my other self, Dr. Pantelis Polychronidis, and I spend a few minutes with him in Vienna, not because I remember where he is but because I am at-tuned to his world.  I know so intimately how he plays the piano, he listens to songs, he recites poetry, he walks in the park, and he admires beautiful women that I can inhabit his cosmos as he does mine, I can suspend my reality for a short period to share his.  It works as if we are friends cosmically.

Great friendships are made powerful by the sense of shared presence permeating them.  For example, Pantelis and I make music together the way musicians in classical ensembles do not need to look at each other to play because they harken to each other.  Whether we are each other’s self, double, or reflection, we often seek to stand existentially next to each other and smile in mutual affective recognition.

25 May 2017

Posted in Attunement, Friends, Listening, The Double

Betraying the revolution

While Bertolt Brecht in his learning plays explored the antinomies of revolutionary autonomy, Heiner Müller responded by experimenting in his learning plays with the revolt against autonomy, specifically, the betrayal of the revolution.  The tragic structure of Brecht’s The Measures Taken is based on a tension between two incompatible kinds of duty, moral integrity and political strategy.  Müller’s  The Mission is based on an anterior tragic tension, the “antinomy of duty and inclination.”  This play contrasts two basic kinds of freedom, binding and arbitrary.

Binding freedom operates, as Kant’s autonomy, under normative law – for example, the law of the revolution.

Arbitrary freedom is not operating under rational self-legislating and may choose among different inclinations.

The tragic paradox of autonomy is that the self-prescribed law of autonomy is binding only due to a former non- self-prescribed law.  If autonomy, as self-subjugation, is paradoxical, then, instead of trying to reconcile freedom and law, why not ignore the latter altogether and revert to the arbitrary, lawless freedom of the unbound subject?  Thus, arbitrary freedom, which rebels against normative autonomy and the universal law of world revolution, can dissolve the fundamental law of the originary lawless act.

20 February 2020

Posted in Autonomy, Revolution | Tagged , , ,

“Πώς θα εξελιχθεί η ποιητική γενιά του 2000;”

Εδώ επισημαίνω πως αυτή τη χρονική στιγμή διακυβεύεται το μέλλον της ποίησης του 2000  η οποία εδώ και δυο περίπου δεκαετίες αναζωογονεί ποικιλότροπα την ελλαδική κουλτούρα.”

9 Φεβρουαρίου 2020

Posted in Crisis, Culture, Greek Poetry, Melancholy | Tagged

“What is Transnational about Greek American Culture?”

In this essay I suggest that in Greek diasporic literature “the transcomposition of an examined ethnic life assembles and arranges heterogeneous elements from diverse sources to fashion an entirely new well-tempered βίος.”

Posted in Greek Literature, Greek Poetry, Greeks, Hellenism | Tagged ,

Music at the threshold

I would love to read a collection of papers on compositions whose liminal character represents a turning point in classical music.  I am thinking about works which might have taken different directions.  In which particular pieces can we see a composer negotiating between two or more musical idioms and traditions?  To put it in a counter-factual way, what might have been the course of music history if such ambivalent pieces had taken an entirely different approach?

One such intriguing work is Sibelius’s 5th Symphony, op. 82, which the composer started drafting in 1914, directed in 1915, revised and directed in 1916, and further revised and directed in 1919 in what became the standard version.  Now that we have access through recordings to the 1st version, we can see why Sibelius was determined to alter and reconfigure it thoroughly even though the first premiere was an immediate success.  For those of us who grew up with the final version, the first one is a revelation.

With the exploratory undermining of tonality launched in his “bleak,” difficult 4th Symphony, op. 63 (1911), Sibelius tried to respond to the creative crisis generated by his encounter with the work of Modernists like Schönberg and Stravinsky.  Following the lukewarm reception of the 4th, he may have felt that it was too late to follow their radical path but he might still be able to join Mahler, whom he had met right after the premiere of his (Sibelius’s) 3rd Symphony, in his symphonic adventures.  I see the first version of the 5th as a grand venture in this direction.

Long, occasionally dissonant, episodic, with unclear connections between themes, unfocused and uncertain, the symphony sounds mysterious as it seems to be searching for a firm structure.  It opens a Mahlerian expanse with its cosmic ambition.  However, by the time Sibelius reaches the third revision, the instrumentation, the proportion of movements, the disposition of motifs, the circulation of themes, everything becomes tighter and cleaner.  Cosmic ambition yields to natural breadth and simplicity.  Instead of development by inner necessity we get unfolding by physical flow.  The famous concluding six orchestral chords are now interspaced with raw silences instead of flowing above the Mahlerian tremolo of winds and strings in the first version.  Sibelius has decided to become a conservative Modernist.  Thus, these chords also create a silence, as it were, between the 4th and the 5th Symphonies.

A game that my other self, Dr. Pantelis Polychronidis, and I love to play when hanging around a piano is, taking a piece of the standard classical repertoire and spinning it midway in a different direction:  What if at some point the composer had decided to turn in another way?  How would it sound if it evolved in an alternative and unexpected manner?  It is a fascinating exercise in counter-factual music history.

In our era of performative interpretation, I place great value in interventionist approaches which revise and remake works in order to foreground, in a quasi-deconstructive fashion, their constructedness, including paths which for whatever reason they did not take.

13 February 2020

Posted in Classical Music | Tagged

The antinomy of autonomy

In my current research project, The Tragedy of Revolution, I argue that α central topic of modern tragedy is the ethico-political dilemma of rebellion, namely, the predicament of the revolutionary beginning caught between limitless self-authorization and self-limiting rule.

Modern tragedy stages the drama of the Greek arche/ἀρχή in its double meaning of beginning and rule, and asks whether self-rule may control itself, whether radical autonomy may limit itself.  Thus, it explores the inherent contradiction of auto-nomia captured in its very etymology: Can freedom and rule co-exist?  Can a collectivity be free and at the same time live under the rule of law?  This contradiction, when insurmountable, makes freedom “tragic.”  The concept of “tragic freedom” has been central to Critical philosophy from Kant to post-anarchism.  Its earliest concise articulation is the “paradox of autonomy,” the hugely influential Third Antinomy of Kant’s Critique of Pure Reason (1781).

Kant defines freedom negatively as independence from heteronomous determination and positively as self-lawgiving – in short, as the law of self-legislation.  This definition frees the rebels from the normativity of necessity and encourages them to make their own laws yet it sounds self-contradictory.  “The way in which Kant articulates the idea of autonomy might give rise to a paradox:  autonomy understood in Kantian terms seems in imminent danger of reverting into arbitrariness of force, into a freedom without law or a law without freedom. [] In order for there to be a paradox in the full sense of the word we need to see how the conditions that autonomy seems to require at the same time appear to be conditions of the impossibility of autonomy.  This is precisely the sense of paradox that is at issue in the interesting diagnoses of the paradox of autonomy” (Thomas Khurana: “Paradoxes of Autonomy:  On the Dialectics of Freedom and Normativity,” Symposium 17:1, 2013, p. 61).

Law-giving as a foundational act of the revolutionaries is lawless.  However, such an act may be repeated again and again in celebration of its arbitrariness.  “The condition of possibility of autonomy – a reasoned and non-arbitrary positing of the law – seems to reveal itself as the condition of the impossibility of autonomy:  it implies an order of heteronomy in which the self-prescribed law is not binding as such but only due to a former law that was not self-prescribed” (62).

Is there a way to balance arbitrariness and heteronomy or seek another option?  “The paradox is brought to the fore by conceiving autonomy in terms of self-legislation and thereby implying a first instituting act that seems to be either arbitrary and hence open to an infinite series of different institutions or else dependent upon pre-existing reasons that open up a regress beyond the putative first instituting act.  The question then is whether we can make sense of our being the authors of the law without invoking of such a first legislation” (67).  The tragedy of revolution dramatizes the dilemma of self-constitution and the antinomy of autonomy, an issue that continues to preoccupy both political theory and moral philosophy.

5 February 2020

Posted in Autonomy, Revolution | Tagged , , ,

“Memory of a revolution”

Commemorating a revolution is always self-congratulatory as it amounts to solemnizing a victory of sorts.  Negotiating claims on the memory of the revolution, though, is a very different operation.

Heiner Müller’s The Task/Mission (1979) provides an excellent illustration.   The play works as a triple memorialisation.  First, as its subtitle states, it represents the “memory of a revolution,” which can be a French, Jamaican, German, or other historical revolt:  The play unfolds at a time when the revolution has become a disconcerting memory.

It is also a memory of an entire theatrical tradition, the theater of Kleist, Büchner, Brecht, Beckett, Genet, and others cited in diverse ways.  This tradition appears exhausted.

Last, it dramatizes the memory of revolutionary theater – both theater about revolutions and revolutionary production.  This too seems to have lost its direction.

This triple memorialisation of revolution, theater, and revolutionary theater makes The Mission a consummate postmodern tragedy.  Its many dramaturgical complications (which account for its rare productions) are an integral part of its argument.  They illustrate the problems we face when remembering the task of a revolutionary mission becomes itself a task:  To salvage a revolt from its anniversaries.

23 January 2020

Posted in Revolt, Revolution | Tagged , ,