This Godless Communism (In Color)

This Godless Communism (read it and weep – PDF). Strangely enough a lot of the information is actually accurate, but it is presented in such a way that the reader cannot really stop and think about some of the issues since they are so starkly different from what one expects a “normal” life to be.

Here are some very interesting highlights:

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Random Quote: Badiou

“[Adorno’s] Negative Dialectics begins, in a way, with a long discussion of Heidegger’s ontology because the latter presents itself as another proposal for going beyond Enlightenment rationalism, which Heidegger regarded as no more than a moment in the history of metaphysics. But it actually falls short of doing so, in Adorno’s opinion, which is why he won’t hesitate to claim (much to Lacoue-Labarthe’s chagrin) that Heidegger was a fascist through and through. So Heidegger’s ontology, a rival of his own, is ultimately discredited by Adorno because it fails to go beyond Enlightenment rationalism – unlike negative dialectics, which will combine Kant’s critique and Hegel’s dialectics and transcend them in a new way.” [Five Lessons on Wagner, 30]

The Hollow Crown: Henry IV (Parts I and II)

This is already old news (with Olympics and all) but I still wanted to mention that BBC’s installment of Henry IV (Part I and Part II) was excellent. Watched as one long story, it makes for a great long enjoyable experience.

Part I and Part II do not exactly fit, I think, into one seamless narrative and they were probably not performed one after another, or so the scholars are telling me. The entire story is that of Harry becoming a king, a legitimate kind (unlike his father, or so the suspicion goes). Part II has two parallel stories developing – Harry and Falstaff. If in Part I they are bosom buddies and this fact greatly annoys the king, in Part II they are still very friendly, even if the end is near. I thought that the scene where Harry and Poins play yet another trick on Falstaff and overhear him making derogatory remarks about themselves and confront him was well done, but very much overemphasized the future break between the main characters. The purpose of the trick is once again to put Falstaff into an awkward position and watch him lie his way out (as in Part I robbery scene). The BBC version here makes it look like this is the reason Harry is going to break with Falstaff which isn’t so. Continue reading

Preface to Yakhot’s history of early Soviet philosophy

The entire Translator’s Preface published here:

Yehoshua Yakhot’s The Suppression of Philosophy in the USSR (The 1920s & 1930s) is essential reading for an understanding of the devastating impact of Stalinism on philosophy in the Soviet Union. The translator’s preface published today provides an introduction to this new English translation. To order your advance copy, click here.

bookAlthough twenty years have passed since the collapse of the Soviet Union, hardly any aspect of the society that arose after the socialist revolution of October 1917 has been exhausted by historians. To be sure, there was a flood of historical material in the half decade of perestroika before the Soviet Union was dissolved in December 1991. And, although many archival sources have become available since the early 1990s, little consensus has been reached regarding the overarching question: Was there an alternative to Stalinism?

In order to begin to answer this question, it has first been necessary to conduct extensive and painstaking work to restore the names erased from Soviet history in virtually every area: politics, literature, science, economics, and lastly, the subject of this book, philosophy. In each of these realms, the results have been uneven and incomplete, yet significant gains have been made by many researchers from the former Soviet Union, including writers such as Yehoshua Yakhot.


Is There Progress In Music?

Barenboim’s second installment of Beethoven’s symphonies is up on BBC (again in addition to the available everywhere radio version).

As in the first installment, Barenboim programmed a piece by Boulez between two symphonies. The first episode featured a conversation between him and Boulez about various musical issues. The idea is not so much that the Boulez is the Beethoven of our time (as sympathetic to Boulez and his general musical agenda as I am, I think to say that would be too much), but that there is a sense in which if you juxtapose the two, you can see that they are both significant composers each in his own way and that this contrast somehow shows the progress in music. Or at least this is what the explanation sounded as trying to present the issue to me. Even if I completely misunderstood the intention of throwing Beethoven and Boulez together, there is still a very strong tradition in classical music (and music in general) to interpret the change of styles and type of music over the centuries as a kind of progressive development of musical substance: from simple unison singing to polyphony to harmony to atonality and so on.

But does the diversity here show any progressive development? And, if such progressive development (in the sense of successive generations picking up and developing the musical material of the previous generations) exists, does it constitue a kind of universal progress of music from previous primitive forms to more recent sophisticated forms? In order words, is Boulez’s in any way more advanced than Beethoven’s music (or, say, Monteverdi’s music)? Can someone write music in the style of Beethoven today (and not be a film composer) and be taken for a “real composer”? They probably can but they do not. Any piece of contemporary music that is being written today (and, again, not for films) is very likely to be atonal in some form or another.

I think the question of the progress in music is difficult to answer because if progress is taken not as a simple development from one form to another form, but as a development from an inferior form to a superior form, then there must be a clearly identifiable criterion of what constitutes “good” and “bad” music. What must music do? If it is entertainment, then obviously Boulez and much of contemporary classical music is bad music. Yet whose entertainment are we talking about? If it is the “great unwashed masses,” then even Beethoven is bad music. So does that mean that the quality of music in the ear of the listener? An educated and refined insider would understand Boulez (what does it really mean to “understand” something like Boulez’s music anyway?) and an uneducated and rough outsider will think it’s sheer noise and nonsense – so where do we go from here?

In What Sense Is Music Universal?

Daniel Barenboim is doing a cycle of Beethoven’s symphonies with his East-West Divan Orchestra, an honorable undertaking (started, I think, with an idead he and Edward Saïd had) during this year’s Proms. The first two symphonies are out.

Every time there is a discussion of composers like Beethoven, there is an unspoken assumption that his music is “universal” and understandable to all, thus it serves as a kind of cultural glue that can connect people who are not together (culturally, politically, economically and so on). And there are of course plenty of ways to disprove this general sentiment. Beethoven’s music is quite clearly not the kind of music that is universally understood and appreciated. One does not really need a history lesson here (the fact that Beethoven’s music, especially some of the very same symphonies, was rejected by contemporaries is well known). Certainly the fact that Beethoven’s music is presently known and appreciated, even by those without particularly refined musical education, means either that it does indeed contain some universal content or that it is made universal by the sheer fact of its universal spread.

The first scenario stinks of essentialism (there is some eternal essence that, once disclosed, allows every “human being” to see it and appreciate it) and some sort of cultural supremacy discourse (“our” culture contains the majority of the elements of “civilization” and Beethoven’s music or classical music as we understand it expresses them the best – take it or be left uncivilized). The second scenario stinks of cultural pessimism and relativism – anything can be made “universal” by those with means of carrying out their message (with money, arms, or sheet cultural dominant cultural presence) to the ends of the globe. (See this eerie report about an abandoned project for a fake Disneyland in China.)

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