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War Books, local version

Tuesday, April 25th, 2017

[ by Charles Cameron — saved from a slush pile]
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A while back, I presumptuously submitted my effort for Modern War Institute‘s War Books Profile series, where it has languished on the slush pile for a few months now. No need to waste a decent post, though, so I’m posting it here, locally, on Zenpundit, for any who may be interested.

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Name: Charles Cameron

Brief Biography:

Charles Cameron is the managing editor of the strategy blog Zenpundit, and a past Principal Researcher with the Center for Millennial Studies at BU and Senior Analyst at The Arlington Institute. He is a three time finalist in the Atlantic Council Brent Scowcroft Center’s Art of the Future challenges, and author of the essay “The Dark Sacred: The Significance of Sacramental Analysis” in Robert J Bunker, Blood Sacrifices (a Terrorism Research Center Book). He is the designer of the HipBone family of conceptual games, and is currently working on a book on religious sanctions for violence titled Landmines in the Garden.

Top Five Books:

Mustafa Hamid & Leah Farrall, The Arabs at War in Afghanistan. Respectful enemies – he, a friend of UBL and Mullah Omar, she, a counter-terrorism expert for the Australian Federal Police – debate and confer across battle lines to draw a detailed picture of AQ structure and history. A unique collaboration.

William McCants, The ISIS Apocalypse. The key to ISIS intensity has to do with what then-Chairman of the Joint Chiefs Dempsey called their “apocalyptic, end-of-days strategic vision.” McCants masterfully reveals that apocalyptic driver, and the somewhat obscure scriptures on which it is based.

SH Nasr, ed., The Study Quran. With enemies such as ISIS and AQ that are given to quoting scriptural texts, it is important to have a reputable, non-sectarian translation and scholarly commentary on the Quran. This is that book.

Hegghammer & Lacroix, The Meccan Rebellion: The Story of Juhayman al-‘Utaybi Revisited. A slim volume, a delight to hold in the hand, and packed with detailed scholarship on what is arguably the seed moment of contemporary Jihadism.

John Kiser, The Monks of Tibhirine. This book, and Christian de Chergé’s astonishing letter to the jihadists who would shortly martyr him, is an eloquent testament to values we should cherish in a time of brutality and hatred.

The One That Shaped Me The Most:

Hermann Hesse, The Glass Bead Game. The human mind, attuned to variety and complexity yet primed to understand complex matters in binary terms, tends to hold war and peace as poles apart. Musically speaking, war is equivalent to discord, peace to harmony. The musical technique of counterpoint, so central to Bach, plays “voices” against one another in a manner that recognizes their variety and individuality and allows for discord while constantly working to resolve it harmoniously. It thus offers us an analogy for the constant interplay of warlike and peaceable motivations, both within the individual human and among the world’s societies and cultures – an invaluable overview of the natural condition. Hesse’s novelistic Game shows analogy rather than linearity as the key to creative insight, and offers a contrapuntal play of ideas as the overarching architectural structure for comprehending a world of conflict and resolution. It won the Nobel.

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Reworking my list today, I might well reckon the McCants book has served its brilliant purpose, illuminating in fine detail the apocalyptic nature of ISIS theology, and substitute a no less valuable but more wide-focus tome, Shahab Ahmed’s What is Islam, which broadens our understanding by offering a comprehensive exploration of “lived Islam” across the centuries and continents, going far beyond “scriptual” Islam as understood by the fundamentalists.

Ideally, of coure, there’d be room for both McCants and Ahmed, as there is in the tiny bookshelf on my desk..

Happy Easter, with a Bach blessing

Sunday, April 16th, 2017

[ by Charles Cameron — from the heart, may it go to the heart, as Beethoven once said ]
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Yesterday, Nicholas Kristof posed the question, President Carter, Am I a Christian? His subhead read, Christians celebrate Easter on Sunday. But wait — do we really think Jesus literally rose from the dead?

Here’s a taste:

NICHOLAS KRiSTOFF: How literally do you take the Bible, including miracles like the Resurrection?

PRESIDENT CARTER: Having a scientific background, I do not believe in a six-day creation of the world that occurred in 4004 B.C., stars falling on the earth, that kind of thing. I accept the overall message of the Bible as true, and also accept miracles described in the New Testament, including the virgin birth and the Resurrection.

KRiSTOFF: With Easter approaching, let me push you on the Resurrection. If you heard a report today from the Middle East of a man brought back to life after an execution, I doubt you’d believe it even if there were eyewitnesses. So why believe ancient accounts written years after the events?

CARTER: I would be skeptical of a report like you describe. My belief in the resurrection of Jesus comes from my Christian faith, and not from any need for scientific proof. I derive a great personal benefit from the totality of this belief, which comes naturally to me.

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Et Resurrexit, from the Credo, Bach’s Mass in B Minor, performed by Akademie für Alte Musik Berlin under the baton of Daniel Reuss:

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I guess I’m a reverse Bultmann: I don’t want to de-mythologize Christianity, I love to re-mythologize it.

If the Bible opened with the words, “Once upon a Time, God created the heavens and the earth..” and the Creed, “I make-beieve in One God, The Father Almighty..” we would still be in story, but no longer subject to the same kind of debate as to the historicity or dubiosity of the narrative’s claims. It’s a move that the literary critic Northrop Frye made on a more intimate scale when he called the Book of Revelation:

a fairy tale about a damsel in distress, a hero killing dragons, a wicked witch, and a wonderful city glittering with jewels”

I’m not interested in this move because it’s literary criticism; I’m interested in it because it rescues the great story corpus of our civilization from blind literalism on one side and blind debunking on the other.

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Bach, I believe, in his towering Mass in B Minor — written by a fervent Lutheran to the Latin, hence Catholic, text of a rite he would have celebrated in Luther’s and his own native German — offers those who cannot believe the literal truth another avenue to experience the majesty of the ideation. This at least need not be disavowed by those leabving the faith, and may serve as a welcome portal to those entering it.

Wishing you a happy and blessed Easter, one and all..

A trumpet voice above Trump’s

Monday, July 25th, 2016

[ by Charles Cameron — for those wishing for discourse above the political fray ]
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Yesterday, Sunday, I was going to post a “Sunday surprise” about a voice that transcends that of Donald Trump — the voice of Alison Balsom, trumpeter extraordinaire. But my thread linking Balsom and Trump was a slender one — Trump and trumpet — and I thought better of it, and deleted my reliminary notes for that post.

Today, though, I read Humera Afridi‘s Dance of Ecstasy: Bridging the Secular, Sacred, and Profane, and found therein:

Amjad Sabri, an eminent Pakistani qawwal -— a Sufi devotional musician in the tradition of world-renowned Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan, and son of the famous singer Ghulam Fareed Sabri of the Sabri Brothers — had been shot dead in his car in Karachi ten days earlier by the Pakistani Taliban. He’d been praising the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) and his noble family a little too much for the Taliban’s liking. And so they had their way with him. In a nation inured to violence, Sabri’s death, nevertheless, struck at the communal soul of Pakistan. ..

Thousands of Pakistanis came out on the streets, united in grief, to protest Sabri’s death. Sabri was a child of Pakistan’s own soil. He belonged to a venerable, centuries-old musical dynasty. His spiritual attunement and the muscular faculty of his voice transported people to ecstasy, raising mere mortals above the denseness of an earthly, mired existence, above differences of class and wealth into a celebration of the Divine. Sabri’s music was a glorification. And it belonged to a distinct tradition of South Asian music, a legacy irrefutably inherent in the DNA of Pakistan, twinned to the devotional practice of Islam and its syncretic cultural roots in the region. Invoking a transcendent joy, Sabri’s qawwali created a milieu of harmony—completely antithetical to the Taliban’s backward, beclouded ideology of hate which thrives on sowing seeds of discord.

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It’s that second paragraph I’m interested in, because it says so exactly what I was trying to get at in my deleted post about Alison Balsom: that “mere mortals” can be lifted, lofted “above the denseness of an earthly, mired existence, above differences of class and wealth into a celebration of the Divine”.

Here’s a taste of Amjad Sabri, for those who appreciate the Sufi tradition and the haunting ecstasies of the Qawwals:

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And here’s Balsom, whose trumpet voice likewise lifts us, for those with ears more attuned to the western classical tradition:

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— and best of all, though I’ve posted it here before:

Sunday surprise: Bach BWV 998

Sunday, July 17th, 2016

[ by Charles Cameron — with a ramble via his peerless peer, Shakespeare ]
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What’s a piece of music worth, on paper?

BWV 998 MS image

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I had the good fortune some decades ago to be invited to attent Dr Homer Swander‘s seminar at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival in Ashland. Dr Swander is notable among Shakespearean scholars for his insistence that the texts we have of the plays are not themselves works of art, but serve the same function with respect to actual performances that an anrchitect’s blueprints serve with respect to a house, or a musical score to the performance of a work of music. Dr Swander dedicated much of his life to Shakespeare‘s plays, so we should not imagine that he thought little of the First Folio — or indeed of the First Quarto of Hamlet with its truncated soliloqy beginning:

To be or not to be, ay there’s the point,
To die, to sleep, is that all? Ay all:

[for the original spelling, see this facsimile ©The British Library]

— it’s simply that he saw them as prelimiaries, not the thing itself. This in turn allowed him to “see” aspects of the plays from a director’s standpoint, with intriguing results:

Swander Caesar
Hugh Macrae Richmond, Shakespeare’s Theatre: A Dictionary of His Stage Context

You should have seen Dr Swander stab that point home!

But to return to Johann Sebastian Bach.. Similarly, we may ask ourselves, what’s the manuscript score of a great work of music worth?

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Christie’s auction house in London has one answer for us in ther case of Bach’s Prelude, Fugue, and Allegro in E-flat major, BWV 998 — $3.3 million:

Valuable Bach manuscript goes under the hammer

The manuscript’s value was originally estimated at between 1.5 and 2.5 million pounds (between 2 and 3.3 million dollars). At the auction on Wednesday (13.07.2016) in London, the final bid came in at the high end of expectations.

Likely written between 1740 and 1745, the Prelude, Fugue and Allegro in E-flat Major (BWV 998) is a favorite among both harpsichords and lutenists. Like many works by Johann Sebastian Bach (1685-1750), it can be played on different instruments, which is expressly indicated on this score in the composer’s handwriting: “Prelude pour la Luth ò Cembal” (for lute or keyboard).

That’s its current cash value as judged by the market.

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But what’s it worth — to you, to me, to life?

Nicholas Harnoncourt
explains:

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I am grateful as always to my friend Michael Robinson of Ornamental Peasant for pointing me to the sale at Christie’s — and to this remarkable piece.

That Bach Chaconne

Sunday, May 8th, 2016

[ by Charles Cameron — JS Bach in Palmyra, in the DC Metro, and variously on YouTube ]
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I have to applaud Putin and the Russians for bringing the full orchestra of the Mariinsky Theater from St Petersburg to Palmyra now that the Islamic State has departed, with added kudos for choosing Bach‘s towering Chaconne from his Partita No. 2 in D minor, BWV 1004 as one of three works to be played there — by the Tchaikovsky Competition winning soloist Pavel Milyukov:

As I say, I applaud the gesture. OTOH, British Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond, according to Breitbart, called the event “a tasteless attempt to distract attention from the continued suffering of millions of Syrians” and said it “shows that there are no depths to which the regime will not sink.”

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This may not be the greatest performance of that work musically, but the work itself is extraordinary. Johannes Brahms said of it:

On one stave, for a small instrument, the man writes a whole world of the deepest thoughts and most powerful feelings. If I imagined that I could have created, even conceived the piece, I am quite certain that the excess of excitement and earth-shattering experience would have driven me out of my mind.

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It was famously this Chaconne that violinist Joshua Bell played — twice — with his violin case open to receive tips, in DC’s L’Enfant Plaza metro station, during a 45 minute anonymous session in which he netted $32. $32 and change, for a man whose upcoming performance with the National Symphony Orchestra at DC’s Kennedy Center (February 11, 2017) is ticketed at $216 or $223, depending on how well seated you wish to be…

Here’s the poorly recorded, hidden videocam account of the second of those performances, which starts at about the 30’15” mark:

Gene Weingarten‘s description of the event in the Washington Post, Pearls Before Breakfast, won the Pulitzer..

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For the fullest musical appreciation, here is that same Joshua Bell playing the Chaconne in 2014 in the DeLaMar Theater, Amsterdam:

Hillary Hahn, also superb:

The no less beautiful Hélène Grimaud, playing the Busoni transcription for piano:

And last, violinist Christoph Poppen plays the Chaconne, with added chorale motifs as reconstructed by violinist turned musicologist Helga Thoene sung by the Hilliard Ensemble — the culmination of the group’s celebrated album, Morimur:

Post-modern adaptation, or quintessential Bach? Either way, I find the entire project enthralling.


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