Alice in Texas

Not writing here anymore- see top post for details of my new blogs.

Wednesday, June 15, 2005

"My darkness has been filled with the light of intelligence..."

(note: it was difficult to think of a decent title for this post, which is why a bad one was up for a while before I gave up and used this quotation instead.)


"... and behold, the outer day-lit world was stumbling and groping in social blindness." - Helen Keller

You will have to read the Chief Rabbi's whole "faith" lecture series to find out what he thinks about the Greek visual worldview and the Jewish auditory one; I can't summarise it. Although I am currently totally engrossed in these lectures and definitely recommend them. Lots there explaining how people make the mistake of dismissing things they don't understand because they think they understand them due to linguistic-conceptual miscomunications. I suppose that is another one of the many roots of all human failure.

One of the points the rabbi makes is that the Jewish people tend to produce different kinds of achievement than other people, because their culture is less about what you see and more about what you hear. There is a sense in which sound represents meaning and consciousness, in a way that sight does not, because sound represents language and communication and therefore human consciousness and the search for meaning. That is a very vague, poor and inaccurate summary. But I can think of more Jewish scientists and musicians than Jewish playwrights and artists.

Modern art tries to be more than physical. It wants to be invested with meaning beyond the beauty of what you see, hence the term "conceptual art". Sceptics argue that this enterprise is futile, but I think it is necessary and worthwhile, although its ambitiousness dooms it to failure most of the time. There is little point in art that just looks nice, because nature does that better already. In good art, you see the workings of (good, effective, enlightened) consciousness, which is something else altogether. For instance, there are stacks of old portraits in galleries around the world, but the Mona Lisa is popular because it is a picture of someone thinking. People are drawn to that. Of course, people will always be drawn to bad stuff too, but their generally greater instinctive attraction to what is good is visible in the greater popularity of Mozart over Salieri.

In King Lear, Gloucester famously begins to "see" truth only when his eyes have been put out. There is a similar theme in Once Upon a Time in Mexico, involving the Johnny Depp character. The message is obviously not that blind people are better than sighted people, or that hearing is better than sight. It is much more general and metaphorical than that; the observation that the forced removal of one's familiar relied-on systems, while threatening total breakdown of the human spirit, can also inspire a person to do better than they ever did before. Eyeballs are undoubtedly very useful, but the most important achievements of human beings are dictated by something greater than their individual physical senses. Having stuff, even having useful stuff, even having useful bits of your body, is not what counts: it's what you do with it all. Loss can raise our awareness of that truth more powerfully than any other challenge we face in life. Or it can indeed lead to our ruin, or leave us alive but crushed and struggling and regretful for the rest of our days. It depends how we deal with it. And sometimes we are useless and just have to keep struggling to find better ways of doing the dealing. That's fine.

I googled the Bach chaconne I have been attempting to play, and found a legend that he is said to have written it to commemorate the death of his wife and intended it to represent "the cycle of life". There are also lots of transcriptions for other instruments, including a piano one by Brahms for left hand only. Ravel wrote a whole piano concerto for left hand only. You can't do as much with only one hand, but you can do what you can do, better; it's the meaning that counts. The greater our awareness of that, the further we can go. Truth is not a one-phrase theory, it is a practical reality which we never stop learning how to live.


At 5:45 AM, Blogger Dave Schuler said...

Welcome back, Alice! I've linked to your blog as part of my run-down. Why didn't you tell me you were back? I'd have linked earlier.

At 8:20 AM, Blogger Alice said...

Ah, I thought I emailed everyone, but clearly you escaped my list somehow. Sorry about that, but thanks for the link!


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