Archive for the ‘lexington green’ Category
Scott Shipman had an excellent book review post An Unknown Future and a Doubtful Present: Writing the Victory Plan of 1941 — a review-lite and a few questions in which he discussed the intellectual seriousness and evolution of war planner Major Albert C. Wedemeyer as a military officer and strategist:
….Wedemeyer was an honor graduate of the Command and General Staff College, and his performance earned him the opportunity to attended the Kriegsakademie, the German staff college. However, coupled with impressive academic preparations, Kirkpatrick writes that Wedemeyer’s curiosity exposed him to a “kaleidoscope” of ideas and methods. Kirkpatrick summed-up Wedemeyer: “Competence as a planner thus emerged as much from conscientious professional study as from formal military education…” Going on to say:
In common with many of his peers, much of Wedemeyer’s professional and intellectual education was less the product of military schooling than of personal initiative and experience in the interwar Army.
Wedemeyer’s intellectual development was purposeful and paid off. In Wedemeyer’s deep study of his profession he used the prescribed paths, but also explored on his own. How common is that today?
As often happens, the discussion can take an unexpected turn in the comments section. Lexington Green weighed in with this:
Think about George Marshall in China, traveling around on horseback. No cell phone, no email. The man could actually think. Or Eisenhower meeting with Fox Connor to talk about the books Connor had him read. Telephone calls were not even common. The military might do well to have two days once a quarter of silent retreats, only emergency communication permitted, with literally no unnecessary conversation, for groups of officers and non-coms, with some assigned reading and some self-selected on the same theme, then an open discussion after dinner. It would cost virtually nothing and would be an intellectual and mental oasis, and some good ideas might come out of it. Religious silent retreats which last a couple of days and are truly life-restoring. This would probably be useful as well.
That in turn provoked this response from Marshall:
My sense is that many of us live, work, and fraternize in a culture of crisis. Everything is urgent. One response is to just shut off the moment we get some downtime. TV, drinking, schlock fiction, immersion in pop culture, video games, blog reading are some of the ways I’ve coped. I grew out of those as timewasters as I realized that I no longer had time to shut off if I wanted to do something.
But I still live in a culture of crisis. Almost everybody around me “has no time”. It doesn’t really matter what is being proposed, the sense of urgency kills all ambition toward progress. Defending myself and my space form this is a daily challenge – and some days I lose.
I’m visiting family this week on a long-scheduled “vacation” that has been interrupted by my office several times already, but always with the promise, “just this thing, Marshall, we don’t want to take you away from your family”. And these are the people I choose as my allies!
The culture of crisis doesn’t believe in people’s choices. It says that time will only be wasted, so we have to keep our people busy. After all, see how they spend their “free” time? Dissolute wastrels the lot of them. And then the culture of crisis tells us that we need to recharge by shutting off our minds. You need to vege out, man, you’re stressed; turn on the TV and have a beer, mate. Or else fire up your e-mail and write six more. And, hey, sorry about your insomnia, but it lets you get a jump on the day, amirite? [....]
The discussion moved on, but I have been mulling upon this exchange ever since.
The first thing that came to mind is that what we mean by “silence” really isn’t silent, what is really meant is that there is an absence of human voice pulling at our limited capacity for attention. Cognitive load is probably a real, if variable, limit on human cognition and the nature of hyperconnected information society is that all too frequently we are -and feel – “overloaded”.
When human voices are absent the “background” environmental noise comes “forward” , natural (wind through trees, animals etc) or mechanical (various humms and clicks) that we unconsciously tune out as a matter of routine focusing on conversation or distracting hearsay, broadcasts and so on. The processing in the brain is significantly different depending on what kinds of sounds you are listening to, for example:
1. Listening to Music
2. Listening to Language
3. Listening to unpleasant sounds (nails on chalkboard etc.)
So eliminating human speech from your environment but not hearing (earplugs) itself allows other regions of your brain to become more active than usual, depending on whatever else you may be doing at the time (walking, chopping wood, smelling a flower, scanning the horizon and so on). Your brain’s performance and how it varies when thinking under conditions of different combinations and levels of sensory stimuli – “crossmodal processing” – is not yet well understood as research is in early stages of investigation.
I will speculate here that what is important for enriching your thinking is that taking your brain out a linguistic-saturated environment (let’s include the “soundless noise” of intruding textual symbols as well from smartphones, iPads, laptops) gives it an opportunity to operate differently for a time and establish new neuronal network patterns of activity. Various forms of meditation – which involves both silence and an intentional modulation of attention – also alters normal brain activity.
I will now go further out on a data-free analytical limb and hypothesize that making a practice of “silence” and/or meditation might improve your thinking by making moments of creative insight more likely. Studies on insight tend to show that as a cognitive event, insight comes about as a kind of a “pulse” of activity and relaxation in the brain:
….Mark Jung-Beeman, a cognitive neuroscientist at Northwestern University, has spent the past fifteen years trying to figure out what happens inside the brain when people have an insight. Jung-Beeman became interested in the nature of insight in the early nineteen-nineties, while researching the right hemisphere of the brain. Mentions Jonathan Schooler. Jung-Beeman decided to compare word puzzles—or Compound Remote Associate Problems (C.R.A. Problems)—solved. He teamed up with John Kounios, a psychologist at Drexler University, and they combined fMRI and EEG (electroencephalography) testing to scan people’s brains while they solved the puzzles. The resulting studies, published in 2004 and 2006, found that people who solved puzzles with insight activated a specific subset of cortical areas. Although the answer seemed to appear out of nowhere, the mind was carefully preparing itself for the breakthrough. The suddenness of the insight is preceded by a burst of brain activity. A small fold of tissue on the surface of the right hemisphere, the anterior superior temporal gyrus (aSTG), becomes unusually active in the second before the insight. Once the brain is sufficiently focused on the problem, the cortex needs to relax, to seek out the more remote association in the right hemisphere that will provide the insight. As Kounios sees it, the insight process is an act of cognitive deliberation transformed by accidental, serendipitous connections. Mentions Joy Bhattacharya and Henri Poincaré. The brain area responsible for recognizing insight is the prefrontal cortex. Earl Miller, a neuroscientist at M.I.T., spent years studying the prefrontal cortex. He was eventually able to show that it wasn’t simply an aggregator of information, but rather it was more like a conductor, waving its baton and directing the players. In 2001, Miller and Princeton neuroscientist Jonathan Cohen published an influential paper laying out their theory of how the prefrontal cortex controls the rest of the brain. It remains unclear how simple cells recognize what the conscious mind cannot. An insight is just a fleeting glimpse of the brain’s huge store of unknown knowledge.
Another interesting data point to consider re: “silence” and insight is that the mental illness of schizophrenia, where delusions and other mental “noise” exists is significantly negatively correlated with insight. Researchers are currently investigating if meditation can ease the symptoms of schizophrenia and other mental illnesses.
For myself, I find my best ideas come via insight when I am doing something primarily physical requiring steady but not all of my concentration and I am alone – working out, walking the dog, a household chore and so on. Relatively useful ideas can happen when I am reading or writing or debating (i.e. interacting with a text or a person), but they tend to be analytic and derivative, sort of an intellectual “tweaking” or “tinkering” but not ones that are fundamentally creative or synthesizing.
Lexington Green may be right – Silence is golden.
[by J. Scott Shipman]
Thanks to our blog friend Joseph Fouche, I discovered Brigadier General Palmer’s excellent history of how America has organized the army both in peacetime and in times of war. Fouche introduced Palmer in an excellent piece called, How Did We Get Here.
The Prologue to this excellent book begins:
When Washington became President, he had two main planks in his administration platform. His first plank called for a sound financial system; his second plank called for a sound national defense system.
Thanks to Alexander Hamilton, his Secretary of the Treasury, his first plank was installed before the end of his first administration. But it was not until 1920, more than one hundred and thirty years later, that Congress established a modern adaptation of his military organization. And it was not until 1940 that Congress completed the Washington structure by accepting the principle of compulsory military training and service in time of peace.
Thus begins one of the best written books I’ve read since Rear Admiral J.C. Wylie’s Military Strategy. While the authors cover different topics, both write in crisp, efficient prose and say what they mean the first time. One won’t find much fluff or nuance in either book; I like that.
Palmer traces the history of how America has organized to fight wars, and more often than not, the “how” is not pretty (we usually play catch-up in the early days of conflict). Palmer’s purpose in writing “this little book” was “to tell how Washington arrived at his military philosophy: how and why he was unable to persuade his countrymen to accept it; how their rejection of his advice affected their subsequent history; and finally how, after a century and a half their descendants have have been impelled to return to his guidance.” From the period of 1783 through 1911, Palmer’s book is history. Following 1911, Palmer provides “first-hand experience of the events described.”
Palmer begins with an early (pre-Constitution) inquiry to Washington by Congress on his views on a proper military policy for the new nation. Washington shopped the query around to Generals Steuben, Knox, Huntington, Pickering, Health, Hand and Rufus Putnam. Their responses were strikingly similar; “a well-regulated militia” would be sufficient for national defense. They agreed on a small regular army to patrol the Indian frontier and other “special duties” that could not be performed by citizen soldiers.
A Peace Establishment for the United States of America may in my opinion be classed under four different heads Vizt:
First. A regular and standing force, for Garrisoning West Point and such other Posts upon our Northern, Western, and Southern Frontiers, as shall be deemed necessary to awe the Indians, protect our Trade, prevent the encroachment of our Neighbours of Canada and the Florida’s, and guard us at least from surprizes; Also for security of our Magazines.
Secondly. A well organized Militia; upon a Plan that will pervade all the States, and introduce similarity in their Establishment Manoeuvres, Exercise and Arms.
Thirdly. Establishing Arsenals of all kinds of Military Stores.
Fourthly. Accademies, one or more for the Instruction of the Art Military; particularly those Branches of it which respect Engineering and Artillery, which are highly essential, and the knowledge of which, is most difficult to obtain. Also Manufactories of some kinds of Military Stores.
(Would highly recommend reading the entire piece.)
Palmer accounts for Washington’s seeming contradiction on the issue of militias, and points out that Washington was specific in his low opinion of an “ill-organized militia” (one based on short enlistments and political connections influencing the selection of leaders—a problem which endured in Lincoln’s Union Army). Washington favored a “well-organized militia” with the Swiss model ranking high in his esteem. Of the generals providing Washington with their thoughts, Palmer writes that Steuben and Knox were largely in agreement with Washington’s ideas. Both were in general agreement on the organization of small infantry divisions, or legions divided between New England, the Mid-Atlantic, and the South Atlantic. Under the direction of Congress, in 1786, General Knox (then Secretary of War) completed a Plan for a General Arrangement of the Militia of the United States.
The following plan is formed on these general principles.
That it is the indispensible duty of every nation to establish all necessary institutions for its own perfection and defence.
That it is a capital security to a free State for the great body of the people to possess a competent knowledge of the military art.
That this knowledge cannot be attained in the present state of society but by establishing adequate institutions for the military education of youth— And that the knowledge acquired therein should be diffused throughout the community by the principles of rotation.
That every man of the proper age, and ability of body is firmly bound by the social compact to perform personally his proportion of military duty for the defence of the State.
That all men of the legal military age should be armed, enrolled and held responsible for different degrees of military service.
That agreeably to the Constitution the United States are to provide for organizing, arming and disciplining the Militia, and for governing such part of them as may be employed in the service of the United States, reserving to the States respectively the appointment of the officers, and the authority of training the Militia according to the discipline prescribed by Congress.
Congress did not enact the Knox plan as the United States, still under the Articles of Confederation was “insolvent” and unable to act. Palmer estimated that had Knox’s plan been adopted in 1786, “it is my estimate that the advanced corps would have numbered 60,000 men at the end of three years.” Those numbers would grow progressively as the population increased, so that at the outbreak of the Civil War, “the first line of the civilian army would have numbered about 500,000 men. ” By WWI in 1914, that number would have been about 1.8 million.
As president, Washington’s military policy was closely aligned to the Knox plan (Washington amended the original). The change involved a reduction in the required training for the advanced corp—then, as now, costs were the motivating factor for the reduction, but Washington wanted to get a national infrastructure approved. As mentioned previously, the Swiss model factored heavily among Washington and his general’s thinking—with the essential difference between the Swiss plan and Knox being the “distribution of training time.”
The first Congress was reluctant to embrace Washington’s ideas and instead passed the “notorius Militia Act of 1792.” Palmer said this Act made “our military system worse than before the bill was introduced. The old militia organization [the "ill-organized" that Washington deplored] with its phony regiments and divisions now had Federal sanction and was made uniformly bad throughout the nation.”
Washington was defeated in his efforts to develop and deploy a national militia. Washington in warning of foreign entanglements in his Farewell Adress also reminded us of the realities nations must shoulder:
If we remain one People, under an efficient government, the period is not far off, when we may defy material injury from external annoyance; when we may take such an attitude as will cause the neutrality we may at any time resolve upon to be scrupulously respected; when belligerent nations, under the impossibility of making acquisitions upon us, will not lightly hazard the giving us provocation; when we may choose peace or War, as our interest guided by justice shall Counsel…Taking care always to keep ourselves, by suitable establishments, on a respectably defensive posture, we may safely trust to temporary alliances for extraordinary emergencies.
Palmer covers the efforts of Jefferson, and then, Madison to develop a cogent national military organization. The War of 1812 illustrated the the dangers of “the ill-organized militia” as it was, as organized the militias were found wanting. A new force emerged from the War of 1812 and that new force was the regular army. Palmer concludes this chapter: “The history of our modern regular army really begins with the War of 1812. Since then it has never failed to give a good account of itself. It won the pride and gratitude of the American people just when the failure of the national militia had filled them with contempt and humiliation.”
“A new military gospel” was formed after the War of 1812, and the War Department became the new headquarters of the regular army. Madison’s successors had to start over as the archives (including Washington’s Sentiments) were destroyed when the British burned the capitol in 1814. John C. Calhoun, Secretary of War under Monroe, advocated an “expansible standing army”—the antithesis of Washington’s ideas. Palmer said, this “expansible-standing-army” plan hampered American plans for preparedness for more than a century…[through 1941] and…is not quite dead.” The problem was “how” to expand this force in time of war.
As Palmer traces the military policy from Florida to Mexico, and the Civil War, the same problems recurred: the standing army was stretched thin at the outset of conflict and ill-equipped to train recruits provided by the Several States. Added to this was the problems of short enlistments, that in some cases left commanders waiting to pursue the enemy while waiting for fresh troops (Battle of the City of Mexico).
After the Civil War Congress took action to attempt a solution to the broken military organization problem. The Burnside Commission was formed with veterans of the Civil War, but without Washington’s wisdom to guide them. Palmer recounts the accident of history where General Emory Upton had just finished reviewing Washington’s military writings—but missed Sentiments (referenced in a footnote). Upton missed the “key” to Washington’s thinking on an “efficient citizen army.” It appears Upton took the Washington he had read and connected to the expansible standing army idea—and missed Washington’s true intent.
Elihu Root became Secretary of War in 1899 and traced our military faults in the Spanish American war to “defective organization.” The defective organization, in Root’s estimation was this paragraph in Army regulations: “The military establishment is under orders of the Commanding General of the army in that which pertains to its discipline and control. The fiscal affairs of the army are conducted by the Secretary of War through the several Staff Departments”—dual control. While he was resisted, in 1903 the office of the chief of staff was created. Palmer calls this the first of Root’s “great reforms.” He followed by formalizing planning and organizing “the American war army.” A General Staff college was formed to educate those who would serve in the newly reorganized Army. Root and his use of Upton’s work made an indelible mark on the army, and in many ways made the army more professional and able. On the downside, I sense Root provided the shell of what is now the massive military bureaucracy.
I’ll conclude my chronological review here, as the author enters the narrative in first person while signed to Henry L. Stimson, Secretary of War. Suffice it to say, Palmer’s recounting of “how” we have traditionally organized our army is a very informative read. I have seen many “reading lists” of generals and leaders, but haven’t seen this old book on any of those lists—it should be. The “tribal” disconnect between the regular army and the National Guard is explained (not in so many words, mind you), and Palmer’s recounting of the dangerous power of doctrine and dogma is worth the read. The writer of the biblical book Ecclesiastes said, “There is nothing new under the sun.” In America in Arms, military personnel and general reader will find that many of today’s challenges have been challenges since our Founding.
This book has my highest recommendation—especially if you are a serving army officer or have interest in American military organization. This is a great old book. Get a copy; Palmer has much to teach us.
Postscript: Another friend of this blog, Lexington Green, recommended Citizen and Soldiers: The Dilemmas of Military Service, by Eliot Cohen, in the comments to the same post posted at chicagoboyz.net. On Lex’s recommendation, I ordered and have Cohen’s book, but have not yet read.
Second Postscript: I purchased America in Arms from a used book dealer on abe.com, and was fortunate to get a first edition hardback (ex-library book) in excellent condition. This particular title spent time on the shelves of The Catlin Memorial Free Library, Springfield Center, NY, and was placed there by the Arthur Larned Ryerson Memorial; Mr. Ryerson perished on the Titanic. In addition, this particular edition was also published by Yale by the Foundation established in the memory of Philip Hamilton McMillan (check the wife and children entry), Yale Class of 1894. Quite a pedigree for any book; a book that will remain safely in my collection. (the photo above is a snap-shot of my copy)
Hearty congratulations to Lexington Green and James Bennett of Chicago Boyz on their book deal!
James C. Bennett, author of The Anglosphere Challenge (Rowman & Littlefield, 2004), and Michael J. Lotus (who blogs at Chicagoboyz.net as “Lexington Green”), are proud to announce the signing of a contract with Encounter Books of New York to publish their forthcoming book America 3.0.
America 3.0 gives readers the real historical foundations of our liberty, free enterprise, and family life. Based on a new understanding our of our past, and on little known modern scholarship, America 3.0 offers long-term strategies to restore and strengthen American liberty, prosperity and security in the years ahead.
….America 3.0 shows that our current problems can be and must be transcended with a transition to a new America 3.0, based on modern technology, decentralized communities, and self-reliant families, and a reassertion of fiscal responsibility, Constitutionally limited government and free market economics. Ironically the future America 3.0 will in many ways be closer to the original vision of the Founders than the fading America 2.0.
America 3.0 gives readers an accurate, and hopeful, assessment of our current crisis. It also spotlights the powerful forces arrayed in opposition to the needed reform. These groups include ideological leftists in media and the academy, politically connected businesses, and the public employees unions. However, as powerful as these groups are, they have become vulnerable as the external conditions change. A correct understanding of our history and culture, which America 3.0 provides, shows their opposition will be futile. The new, pro-freedom, mass political movement, which is aligned with the true needs and desires of Americans, is going to succeed….
Read the rest here.
[ by Charles Cameron - extended analytic game on Israeli-Palestinian conflict -- continuing ]
Meditation part 1 / Move 10
What to say? There are two sides to the game, darkness and light, and the light encompasses the darkness, and the darkness threatens the light.
I promised a meditation on the state of the game, and it comes in the form of two moves: Move 10: Piano Lesson, by Haim Watzman, addresses the light, and my sense that the game is as much a gift to me as a gift from me to you, while Move 11: Auschwitz and Theodor Adorno raises the darkest question of all, whether art can still function in situations as terrible as those where humans hate to the fullest extent of their powers.
Move 10: Piano Lesson, by Haim Watzman
The content of this move is Haim Watzman‘s story Piano Lesson which comes from his Necessary Stories series, on the South Jerusalem blog he shares with my friend and colleague Gershom Gorenberg. It concerns young Felix Mendelssohn, the grandson of the rabbinic scholar Moses Mendelssohn, composer – and the man who revived Bach‘s St Matthew Passion after it had lapsed into obscurity for a century or so.
With Wagner, in complete refutation of the latter’s opinions about Judaism and musicianship – Watzman’s story opens with the words:
I am impressed. You play like a Jew, Felix. What I mean by that is that you have Johann Sebastian Bach in your heart as well as in your fingertips…
contains this more detailed assertion:
This piece you have played so beautifully for me this morning, the Partita No. 5 in G Major, can only be played properly, in our falscherleuchtung age, this time of false enlightenment, by a person of Jewish sensibility. Please do not interrupt me. At your age you are to listen to your elders first. After you listen you may disagree, you may do whatever you want. But first you must listen.
Sebastian Bach was a devout Lutheran, true, but he wrote Jewish music. I do not say this simply to embellish the repute of my ancestral people. The nation Israel needs no trills. I say this after long years of study and performance of Bach’s music, during which I have come to know this remarkable man. Better, I hazard to say, than his own sons did.
What is Jewish about the music? To see that, you have to know music. Which, of course you know. You also have to know what Judaism is. Which, thanks to my niece, you do not. This is scandalous. The grandson of the great Moses Mendelssohn knows nothing of his own people’s special relationship with God.
and closes with:
Remind me to show you the “St. Matthew Passion.” It is such wonderfully Jewish music!
I read this story a day or two after completing moves 8 (Wagner) and 9 (Golgotha) and posting the game thus far to Zenpundit, and was astonished and delighted to find that a mind and heart in Jerusalem – friend of a friend – was touching on the same territory: the relationship of music, especially that of Bach, and Judaism.
But not only does Watzman deftly refute Wagner’s position on Judaism and music as presented in move 8, he also specifically discusses the contrapuntal aspect in both music and religious understanding, and the power of dissonance at times to work towards resolution.
This he accomplishes through a discussion of the two “laws” of Judaism, and the complexities of their musical relationship with one another:
I kept working on the piece and the morning prior to the performance I had my epiphany. Here, let me play it for you.
So where is the stress? Yes, here. And here too. At the end of the melodic line. And at the end of the harmonic progression. Which do not coincide.
You see, the underlying harmonics here are the Torah, the Written Law. And the melody playing above it is the Oral Law. The melody would be hollow, meaningless without the underlying harmony, and the underlying harmony would be incomplete and useless without the melody above it.
The simple-minded might think that the two laws should coincide. What good is a God if his message is not clear?
Yet it is the lack of clarity, the occasional dissonance, the unsynchronized phrases that move us forward, that propel us toward the final resolution. And that final tonic itself sends us off into new melodic and harmonic firmaments, from which we again return to our G major chord. One idea begins before the previous idea has been completed. As when you interrupt your Great Aunt Sara.
There is thus an uncanny melodic line here, running from Said through Bach, Gould, Wagner, to Watzman.
Whatever I am doing here – and it feels at times quite lonely, I am not sure how many people will find this game an easy work to follow – in reading Watzman’s tale of Felix Mendelssohn I felt again my kinship with what has been termed the “invisible cloud of witnesses”…
Indeed, my sense of the gracious synchronicity involved in my stumbling across this particular story of Watzman’s at this particular time can only deepen as Watzman concludes his story – and I my move – with this rendition of the Bach Partita No. 5 in G major BWV 829, played by one Glenn Gould…
Meditation part 2 / Move 11
If the first part of this meditation relates to the game <as a whole, and to the fabric of grace of which, it seems, the universe as a whole is woven, this second part addresses the sense — as bitterly merciless to those who suffer it as grace is merciful to those who receive it — that the fabric of grace is itself picked at and torn by humans, in danger at any point (and perhaps in this moment more than most) of unravelling.
In my personal perspective, I should no more ignore the threat than ignore the grace — for love extends itself in compassion to the one, even as it extends in gratitude to the other.
Move 11: Auschwitz and Theodor Adorno
Theodor Adorno famously said: “To write a poem after Auschwitz is barbaric.”
Think of this move as a sort of metaphysical black hole, an anti-game.
To expand on this idea a little: Adorno was a musical advisor to Thomas Mann while Mann was writing his novel Doctor Faustus — a copy of which he inscribed to his friend Hermann Hesse with the words “To Hermann Hesse, this glass bead game with black beads, from his friend Thomas Mann, Pacific Palisades, January 15, 1948″ – featuring a composer named Adrian Leverkuhn, whose intention in his final work was to retract — cancel, annul — Beethoven‘s Ninth Symphony, and in particular its Ode to Joy with his own oratorio, The Lamentation of Doctor Faustus.
”I find,” he said, “that it is not to be.”
“What, Adrian, is not to be?”
“The good and the noble, what we call the human, although it is good, and noble. What human beings have fought for and stormed citadels, what the ecstatics exultantly announced — that is not to be. It will be taken back. I will take it back.”
“I don’t quite understand, dear man. What will you take back?”
“The Ninth Symphony,” he replied.
Herbert Marcuse — another modernist philosopher of the left — is quite clear on the power of this Faustian attempt, which he approves as liberating us from “illusion” and indeed “making us see the things which we do not see or are not allowed to see, speak and hear a language which we do not hear and do not speak and are not allowed to hear and to speak”:
The present situation of art is, in my view, perhaps most clearly expressed in Thomas Mann’s demand that one must revoke the Ninth Symphony. One must revoke the Ninth Symphony not only because it is wrong and false (we cannot and should not sing an ode to joy, not even as promise), but also because it is there and is true in its own right. It stands in our universe as the justification of that ‘illusion’ which is no longer justifiable.
To Wagner, because the mythology of blood and race which he promulgated so stirred one Adolf Hitler that the latter carried out the Shoah, in face of which Adorno finds poetry – hence Orpheus and the muses – speechless.
To Golgotha, because Christ is banished and beaten from the city, Jerusalem, whose name is The Abode of Peace — because there is no more despairing cry than his cry at Golgotha: “My God, My God, why hast Thou forsaken Me?” — because the Descent of Mercy in human form is then brutally executed as a common criminal – because the very veil that protects the holy of holies in the JerusalemTemple is then torn asunder, as his body is broken – because all this marks the darkest moment in the Christian narrative – and because such desolation, felt by the Marys gathered at the foot of the cross, is nowhere so closely mapped in the history of the arts as by the silence of poetry and the arts before atrocity.
And to Watzman, because despite the Shoah — the Golgotha of my civilization and Hesse’s and Bach’s — and despite Adorno, there is poetry in his voice — an Israeli voice, speaking after Auschwitz, in an Israeli State, in Jerusalem.
As I was setting out the ground-rules for this game, my friend Lexington Green made what I’d like to call “the essential objection”. He wrote:
Pals send their teenagers to be suicide bombers. That is beyond dissonant. There is no symphony where one group of musicians is committed to a relentless campaign of murder and terror. Said was using this as one more way of playing make-believe, and claiming moral equivalence. In other words, it was a sophisticated move in an elaborate scheme to help disarm his opponents so his fellow Palestinians could kill them.
There is another point of view, which sees the Israelis enforcing a mutant form of apartheid with attendant horrors on an occupied population – indeed, I have Israeli friends who hold some version of this view — but Lex’s point is crucial:
There is no symphony where one group of musicians is committed to a relentless campaign of murder and terror.
This cuts to the heart of the work, as it cuts to the heart of our world. It is, in essence, the issue of theodicy, and which Lex’s permission I am addressing it in this meditation, within the work itself …
My linking of the cry of Golgotha –”My God, My God, why hast Thou forsaken Me?” – with the cry of Adorno – “To write a poem after Auschwitz is barbaric” – is my presentation of the most godforsaken of despair of which we are humanly capable, and I present it within that opposite extremity of human possibility represented by Bach’s motto which I invoked earlier, Soli Deo Gloria.
It is precisely in the context of free will that both possibilities arise, and theodicy becomes an issue. Here, then, is the relationship of darkness to light as described by St John in the Prologue to his gospel:
the light shines in the dark, darkness does not blot it out.
I can say no fairer than that.
Oliver Sacks in Musicophilia tells the story of a Manhattan psychiatrist who lived immediately opposite the Twin Towers, and whose otherwise rich interior musical life went blank for months after he witnessed the 9-11 attacks:
My internal life was dominated by a dense and silent pall, as if an entire mode of existence were in an airless vacuum. Music, even the usual internal listening of especially beloved works, had been muted…
“Music”, the psychiatrist said, “finally returned as a part of life for and in me” after an absence of several months. The first music to return was Bach‘s Goldberg Variations.
Again, I must admit it was by no skill of mine but some grace of god or muse that I stumbled on Sacks’ book today, while searching my cramped and overflowing shelves for something else entirely.
There are, it seems true, periods of silence in the arts, while we absorb horrors of our human doing.
There is also a return from those horrors to the arts — even Marcuse admits this — and as forgiveness, mercy and compassion alike claim, to that great possibility, “a happy issue out of all our afflictions”.
Or so the mystics tell the realists — and time grinds all to dust.
[ next ]