Friday, June 17

The grave of the Sadducee

Euro-intrigue being such a major story this week, there has been much useful online commentary to catch up on. Given the quality of the coverage, and the difference in tone to the reports which have made the television and radio, it looks like Europe will be an issue which will boost interest in many UK blogs as a rival source of information.

At the start of the week, Stephen Pollard quoted extensively from a piece by Dan Hannan putting the British rebate into perspective. Today, Alister McFarquhar at the ASI commented on French diversionary tactics and so, presciently a couple of days ago in the light of this evening's pretense of conciliation from Chirac, did Richard North.

In the interests of reprazenting the Ulster flavas (as Ras Kwame might say if he lived here), I should also link to Slugger O'Toole catching Ian Paisley out defending the CAP in parliament this week. Paisley and his party should be heartily ashamed of their pork barrel politics and Paisley only partly redeemed himself when he pronounced the European Constition as "dead and buried in the Sadducee's grave, which means that it will never be resurrected". Would that the CAP could join it there, despite what Dr Paisley might wish.


I like to look in at the Photoshopped images and tall tales on the front page and message board of b3ta every now and again.

On the front page, there's nearly always an upload by a certain Monkeon, like this excellent topical one of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.

Monkeon's style of photo strips are so detailed that I have to squint over them to make out what is going on. Even the layout of his archive gallery forces me to squint. Perhaps that is limiting his audience a little, despite how consistently good he is. But the overly-detailed style suits his humour, in that it takes a second to register what he is getting at usually, before the joke falls in place.

There seem to be two or three other people on b3ta who have more or less appropriated what he does and do it nearly as well. If I'm right in that, which I can't be sure I am because I'm not there every day, I hope he takes it as a compliment and I hope it is not a harbinger of some TV or radio producer stealing his ideas, because being funny is hard and and deserves credit.

Die Sonate hat sich gewaschen

Having realised from Radio 3's Beethoven marathon that I find it hard to get tired of listening to the great man, I've been listening through as many of his works as possible, starting with the early ones. So far I've heard 2 symphonies, 6 string quartets and 2 piano concertos. I've also been going through the piano sonatas, using the complete set still available on demand from Radio 3, recorded by Artur Pizarro. When I reached the eleventh one, I came across Beethoven's own comment on it in the programme notes here. He wrote to his publisher
in colloquial German that 'Die Sonate hat sich gewaschen' - 'The Sonata has washed itself', which the great musical analyst Donald Tovey likened to the English phrase 'takes the cake'.

I would like to adopt this phrase for everyday use, not about piano sonatas necessarily as I rarely compose them myself, but knowing my knack for language, there is little chance of me remembering it even an hour from now.

Foucault's ignorance

A new book has been published on the relationship between the influential French philosopher Michel Foucault and radical Islam, entitled Foucault and the Iranian Revolution.

Arts & Letters Daily are linking to an excerpt from Foucault's writing in it and a review of the book in the Boston Globe.

The question is, whether this throws any new light on the tendency of today's far left to make political alliances with Islamists.

What were Foucault's specific errors? The Globe says that this leading scholar

[...] accepted at face value the idiosyncratic reading of Islam promulgated by Ali Shariati, an Iran-born, French-educated sociologist who promulgated a militant Islamist ideology identifying martyrdom as the only true path to salvation. He also spoke of an Islamist ideology shot through with Western elements as if it were a unified and absolute Other. He accepted a mythological rendering of Shi'ism as a historical religion of resistance, when, in fact, it was imposed by authoritarian force upon Iran in the 17th century and had collaborated with authoritarian power more often than it had resisted it.

Like today's apologists for terrorism in Iraq, Foucault didn't know or care to find out what sort of revolution he was in favour of, as long as that revolution was against "industrial capitalism". It is good to have the details of his ignorance on record.

Monday, June 13

Beethoven's humanity

During Radio 3's Beethoven Experience last week, no music but Beethoven was played, with no interruptions, around the clock. Nothing he composed was left out.

A range of opinions about the project have gone up on the station's message boards. While most posters are full of praise for it, a couple of posters feel that to dedicate the station's output to one composer is to go too far.

Before last week, I would have guessed that I would have been bored of listening to Beethoven by the 2nd or 3rd day of tuning in and out to the programmes. I tend to vary my listening on a whim and would never dedicate myself to one composer.

But I found that having Beethoven constantly there was a wonderful thing. Having his music there every day began to make his music that much more human and real to me.

I've also sometimes found Beethoven a bit self-important. Norman Geras posted a couple of links on his blog that relate to this. First, he quoted from a Beethoven-bashing piece in the Guardian:

Most western musicians had agreed that musical beauty was based on a mysterious connection between sound and mathematics, and that this provided music with an objective goal, something that transcended the individual composer's idiosyncrasies and aspired to the universal.

Beethoven managed to put an end to this noble tradition by inaugurating a barbaric U-turn away from an other-directed music to an inward-directed, narcissistic focus on the composer himself and his own tortured soul.

If overstated, still sort of true. This is why Beethoven for me has been secondary in importance to Bach. Beethoven seems to push himself into his music in a way that Bach doesn't.

But Norm links on to a comment elsewhere, which takes this argument head on. What Beethoven did

was a great departure from earlier composers, who did indeed try to create regular, somewhat mathematical pieces. But those constraints were the outside force; the detachment from true music. Beethoven composed from the heart. He wanted you to feel - to be sad, happy, thrilled, or even to laugh [...] He hadn't abandoned a guiding principle, but rather embraced a different and, I'd say, better one.

Hearing a lot of Beethoven in a week leaves me feeling similarly. While I can't accept Beethoven as Bach's superior, the sheer humanity that comes across from Beethoven's music vindicates his approach.