zenpundit.com » Musings

Archive for the ‘Musings’ Category

We should start with Lenin musing on Beethoven

Saturday, February 2nd, 2019

[ by Charles Cameron — music, mildness and massacres — do we have a scalpel that can peel the mildness back to explain where the massacres come from? ]
.

Lenin listens, muses:

From the Russian film, Appassionate, Here’s Lenin listening and, towards the end, musing, to the music:

Vladimir Lenin asks Rudolf Kehrer to play Beethoven’s Appassionata, Piano Sonata no. 23, op. 57, and at the end says, ‘Nothing I know is better than the Appassionata’. … The footage comes from this rare film entitled Appassionata:

**

Here’s the full Lenin quote:

I know of nothing better than the Appassionata and could listen to it every day. What astonishing, superhuman music! It always makes me proud, perhaps with a childish naiveté, to think that people can work such miracles! … But I can’t listen to music very often, it affects my nerves. I want to say sweet, silly things, and pat the little heads of people who, living in a filthy hell, can create such beauty. These days, one can’t pat anyone on the head nowadays, they might bite your hand off. Hence, you have to beat people’s little heads, beat mercilessly, although ideally we are against doing any violence to people. Hm — what a devilishly difficult job!

Some people already know this quote, some don’t.

**

Here, Lang Lang plays Beethoven’s Appassionata in its colossal entirety:

**

Mildness and massacres.

Hitler, who began as an art student, liked Wagner; Lenin liked Beethoven. Shall we blame classical music for the Shoah and Gulags?

Somehow, if we could peel back the mildness, we might find the massacres. Does anyone have a suitable psychiatric or spiritual scalpel?

Beauty and the Beast

Tuesday, December 4th, 2018

[ by Charles Cameron — samson draws honey from a lion, beauty draws a toccata from the great organ of laon cathedral ]
.

Beauty is wrestling the beast:

**

There’s a beast overcome and a treasure drawn forth from it in Judges 14.5-9:

Then went Samson down, and his father and his mother, to Timnath, and came to the vineyards of Timnath: and, behold, a young lion roared against him. And the Spirit of the Lord came mightily upon him, and he rent him as he would have rent a kid, and he had nothing in his hand.. and he turned aside to see the carcase of the lion: and, behold, there was a swarm of bees and honey in the carcase of the lion. And he took thereof in his hands, and went on eating..

**

Lidia Ksiazkiewicz is wrestling the great organ of the Cathedral of Laon, and drawing forth from it the Toccata from Léon Boëllmann‘s Suite Gothique, opus 25:

**

Honey!

Three self-references already, and its only 8am

Tuesday, October 4th, 2016

[ by Charles Cameron — with an eye for form, paradox, self-reference ]
.

I’ve found three self-references already today, and its only 8am.

Unless of course you count architect Matteo Pericoli‘s building design to illustrate the structure of Friedrich Dürrenmatt’s mystery novel The Judge and His Hangman:

perspective

— in which case, I’ve found four. Pericoli comments:

As in the novel — with its surprise ending that flips everything upside down, transforming the structure we had taken for granted into a profound moral and existential dilemma — in the building, what seemed to obscure now illuminates, what once concealed now is hidden, what seemed to give support is now nothing but a weight to bear and understand.

Now tell me, is that self-referential and ouroboric, or merely boustrophedonic or enantiodromic?

For Greek fun, wait till the end of this post*.

**

On firmer self-referential ground, my first self-referential account has to do with a Nobel Prize, just awarded. Gina Kolata and Seawell Chan in the New York Times explain:

Yoshinori Ohsumi, a Japanese cell biologist, was awarded the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine on Monday for his discoveries on how cells recycle their content, a process known as autophagy, a Greek term for “self-eating.” It is a crucial process.

Self-eating: even the ouroboros can’t say it plainer than that.

**

The second comes from an article on artist Jennifer Trask titled Death and Decay Lurks Within These Stunning Works of Art in the Smithsonian magazine. The description of Jennifer and her work begins:

Those who encounter a piece by Jennifer Trask are likely first struck by its elegance: a baroque gold-coated necklace or an intricate floral broach. But a closer look reveals much more happening below the gilt surface: antlers woven into the necklace; snake vertebrae used as the “petals” of the broach’s flower, giraffe femurs…

Death, here, as in earlier artistic tradition, is a reminder of the fickleness of life. The article gives us the self-referential paradox as it explains:

Trask draws on the tradition of vanitas — moralistic paintings that were popular in 16th- and 17th-century Netherlands. She says her interest is now focused on the “symbolism and the ironic nature” of the paintings, and “how the vanitas itself ultimately became another of the luxurious objects they were meant to warn against.”

**

And the third might even count as two recursions — one analogous to the other.

You may have read the New Yorker‘s profile, Sam Altman’s Manifest Destiny: Is the head of Y Combinator fixing the world, or trying to take over Silicon Valley?, and you may just be cooler than I, and either way you may already know that the Y Combinator is the startup starter-upper par excellence.

Here’s the self-ref, from their FAQ:

Why did you choose the name “Y Combinator?”

The Y combinator is one of the coolest ideas in computer science. It’s also a metaphor for what we do. It’s a program that runs programs; we’re a company that helps start companies.

A hat-tip here to Steven H. Cullinane, whose Log 24 blog today pointed me to this particular quote.

**

*It’s all Greek to me:

  • ouroboros, a snake or dragon devouring its tail, standing for infinity or wholeness
  • boustrophedon, written from right to left then left to right, as in ploughing with oxen
  • enantiodromia, tendency of things to change into their opposites, as a natural principle
  • **

    Well, it’s past 9am now, but I haven’t been scouting around for further examples since I began this post.

    Sunday surprise: peering digitally around corners 1: Holbein

    Sunday, July 31st, 2016

    [ by Charles Cameron — a saunter through London’s National Gallery with Holbein’s Ambassadors, a skull and a psalter ]
    .

    Let’s begin with Hans Holbein, The Ambassadors:

    Holbein Ambassadors

    **

    First up for consideration is this anamorphic skull detail:

    Holbein detail anamorphic skull

    The very oddly misshapen object in the foreground is in fact a skull, visible as such from the right position vis-a-vis the painting. It has puzzled countless people for ages, and no doubt considerably increased the painting’s fame in the process. The simplest explanation I’ve found is this one:

    It has also been hypothesized that the painting is meant to hang in a stairwell, so that a person walking up the stairs from the painting’s right would be startled by the appearance of the skull. From such an angle, the skull appears in its correct aspect ratio.

    Here’s the skull, resolved — to show it as it appears from the correct viewing angle — an angle from which the rest of the painting makes no sense, mark you:

    Holbein_Skull

    **

    That’s the most striking detail in the painting, but also of interest is this Psalter detail:

    Holbein psalter detail

    The psalter is depicted in the painting in the same perspective as the two figures, globe, carpet and so forth, but it’s at an angle to the viewer — and an enterprising fellow therefore decided to work computationnal magic and show us the psalter rectified, as we might see it if we were in the room, went over, and looked down at it:

    Ambassadors_Lutherian_Psalms

    **

    All of this reminds me of another brilliant work of art, featuring an analogous shifting of viewpoint: Ridley Scott‘s Blade Runner, which I’ll explore in Part II of this two-part post.

    Nesting Buddhas and insubstantiality

    Monday, July 25th, 2016

    [ by Charles Cameron — from the Buddha’s Diamond Sutra via matrioshka dolls and koans to Sun Tzu and Wittgenstein ]
    .

    From Karl Brunnhölzl, The Heart Sutra Will Change You Forever, in today’s Lion’s Roar:

    Besides being a meditation manual, we could also say that the Heart Sutra is like a big koan. But it is not just one koan, it is like those Russian dolls: there is one big doll on the outside and then there is a smaller one inside that first one, and there are many more smaller ones in each following one.

    After reading that, I wasn’t exactly expecting to find illustrations of Buddhas in the form of Matryoshka dolls on Google, but in fact there are quite a few variants on the theme. Here’s one, original source unknown:

    matryoshka_buddha

    Buddhism actually has a doctrine of the Trikaya or three bodies of Buddha, as described in the dictionarily dry words of the Britannica:

    Trikaya, (Sanskrit: “three bodies”), in Mah?y?na Buddhism, the concept of the three bodies, or modes of being, of the Buddha: the dharmakaya (body of essence), the unmanifested mode, and the supreme state of absolute knowledge; the sambhogakaya (body of enjoyment), the heavenly mode; and the nirmanakaya (body of transformation), the earthly mode, the Buddha as he appeared on earth or manifested himself in an earthly bodhisattva, an earthly king, a painting, or a natural object, such as a lotus.

    — and point you to a deeper reading as set forth by Shunryu Suzuki Roshi, whose understanding far surpasses anything I could muster.

    I don’t. however, believe these three bodies are “nested” quite the way the Russian dolls are..

    **

    Now let’s get down to business. In the same article, Brunnhölzl writes:

    Many people have complained about the Prajnaparamita Sutras because they also trash all the hallmarks of Buddhism itself, such as the four noble truths, the Buddhist path, and nirvana. These sutras not only say that our ordinary thoughts, emotions, and perceptions are invalid and that they do not really exist as they seem to, but that the same goes for all the concepts and frameworks of philosophical schools—non- Buddhist schools, Buddhist schools, and even the Mahayana, the tradition to which the Prajnaparamita Sutras belong.

    That’s by normal western standards, is pretty strong philosophical meat. But Brunnhölzl continues, asking:

    Is there any other spiritual tradition that says, “Everything that we teach, just forget about it”?

    **

    I sense a slight “my path is edgier than yours” tinge to that question, so I didn’t treat it as rhetorical, I pondered it — and in my googling ran across this rather neat pair of DoubleQuotes, which had been put together by Noah Greenstein in a blog-post titled Wittgenstein and Sun Tzu (on throwing the ladder away):

    DQ Sun Tzu Wittgenstein ladders

    and which I’ve presented here using one of my own DoubleQuotes formats.

    **

    It should be noted, however, that the Sun Tzu translation quoted here is the 1910 Leonard Giles version, that the text with a little more context reads:

    At the critical moment, the leader of an army acts like one who has climbed up a height and then kicks away the ladder behind him. He carries his men deep into hostile territory before he shows his hand. He burns his boats and breaks his cooking-pots..

    and that Giles‘ own comment on “the leader of an army acts like one who has climbed up a height and then kicks away the ladder behind him” reads:

    literally, “releases the spring” (see V. § 15), that is, takes some decisive step which makes it impossible for the army to return—like # Hsiang Yü, who sunk his ships after crossing a river.

    Sun Tzu as quoted here, then, is not in fact a great match for Wittgenstein — but Wittgenstein, who can indeed be said to have “thrown away” his own early philosophy as outlined in the Tractatus before acquiring the new one outlined in his Philosophical Investigations, comes far closer in spirit to the Diamond Sutra as discussed above.

    **

    Did I say the Heartv Sutra was “pretty strong meat”? I did. Perhaps this excerpt from Brunnhölzl’ piece will bring the point home:

    There are accounts in several of the larger Prajnaparamita Sutras about people being present in the audience who had already attained certain advanced levels of spiritual development or insight that liberated them from samsaric existence and suffering. These people, who are called “arhats” in Buddhism, were listening to the Buddha speaking about emptiness and then had different reactions. Some thought, “This is crazy, let’s go” and left. Others stayed, but some of them had heart attacks, vomited blood, and died. It seems they didn’t leave in time. These arhats were so shocked by what they were hearing that they died on the spot. That’s why somebody suggested to me that we could call the Heart Sutra the Heart Attack Sutra.

    Now that’s serious philosophy.

    **

    Okay, this has been an early morning meander, sufficient to drive away both fatigue and insomnia. On with the insubstantial day..


    Switch to our mobile site