Monday, May 24, 2010

Okinawa, Guam, Hawaii


This hints a possibility of rewriting the history of the Pacific islands, such as Okinawa, Guam, and Hawaii, where those people have been treated as second-rate citizens by either Japan or America. We need the people's history of those islands. In Japan, Okinawans are disproportionately burdened by American military presence, but the problem cannot be solved by simply moving part of the army to Guam. This is a new finding, at least, for me.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Zazie: "J'ai vieilli."

Zazie's dream to ride the metro finally came true, but, we can assume, she never experienced it because she was asleep at that time (she could have recognized her ride while she was dreaming, but who knows?). Her desire was similar to Robert Schumann's infamous Innere Stimme in his Humoreske, not really materialized, or resided somewhere between dream and reality.
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Perhaps my remembering of Louis Malle's Zazie dans le metro is irrelevant here, but my capricious mind remembered it anyway. Rainy Sunday. I am watching Slavoj Žižek's lecture titled The Return to Hegel on YouTube.


Here he mentions Shumann's Humoreske to explain Deleuze's notion of pure difference, in the context that, to put it roughly, Deleuze's anti-Hegelian argument is actually Hegelian. I am not qualified to say something about Hegel and Deleuze. But, I think I can say something about repetition and difference.
Schumann could not forget contingencies. This alone is not unique of him. All the composers might know that their compositions are just contingent. It might be a professional attitude for many composers to pretend as if the things have happened inevitably. Forgetting about contingencies is rather a wisdom for them to flourish. On the other hand, what is unique about Schumann is that he sometimes tried to present what might have been (and this probably was a tragedy of him). Actually, as he got mature, he renounced this kind of attempts (this probably was also a tragedy).The irony is people still appreciate his early works. Though I like many of his later works, I understand there are good reasons for appreciating his early, mainly, piano pieces. Reading his scores already is a fun (when it comes to the Innere Stimme, singing this is actually a fun. I wonder why no one records this with his or her own voice, in a manner Glenn Gould or Keith Jarrett could do). They are full of captions, like some of Erik Satie's scores. But Satie might have been more cynical about the captions. Young Schumann was more engaged to the oscillation between the sayable and the hearable (if ever was such a word).
Isn't it possible to say that Humoreske is a story of his renunciation of this oscillation? In the first half of the piece he indulges the contingencies, but in the second half he does not look back any more. And then he smiles while crying. Borrowing Žižek's term, I dare say Humoreske is a "vanishing mediator" for the composer.
The first note F# alone may already play such a role. At the beginning, he composes the sequence F#-G-C-F as if he is framing a moving merry-go-round. Each time F#-G-C-F repeats, it appears differently. Sometimes F# is heavier than G, sometimes G is heavier than F#. At last it clearly starts from G: F# vanished. Here F# represents a hesitation and an anticipation. F# hesitates to go to G and anticipates G at the same time. F# already conceives the whole story of Humoreske. As F# vanishes, it closes the first chapter.
By the way, in the first half his gesture of connecting each segments makes me smile. It is almost childlike. Why was he bothered with writing such bars? These just emphasizes how capricious his way of rendering is. Unlike Beethoven, his repetition does not come across as inevitable (Beethoven tried to make repetition sudden and inevitable at the same time), but as "there might have been the other ways." I think he was fully aware of it and even he consciously repeated what he had done in his earlier works.
And then he says farewell to his early capricious manner. But, before this, he still had to dwell in the second chapter, which is still within the first half. This chapter, which starts with the Innere Stimme, may be his farewell. It starts at the point that the voice is already vanished.

I was surprised when I found Sviatoslav Richter clearly playing this Innere Stimme. Here I note that I am not interested in whose interpretation is right, though I feel his interpretation not so effective. I understand his attempt to make the repetition of this part different. Richter did not obey the composer's order, but this does not bother me; I do not think his interpretation did change the essence of the piece. Many old pianists were not so loyal to composers (see how Rachmaninoff played the same composer's Carnaval). Feinberg also partly played the Innere Stimme. But those pianists did not alter the essence of the pieces.
Feinberg did something more interesting. Schumann actually did not repeat the exact. When reintroducing itself, actually it first appears as a form reduced to just a sequence of chords and the bass:
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Then Feinberg stresses the notes of the Innere Stimme when playing these chords, as if he listens to the resonance these notes generate.
In musicology, I think, repetition is not the exact of experiencing the same, because the listener "ages." The second time is not the same as the first time. Simple repetition is rather an attitude: "Let's pretend aging did not occur." How to slow this aging might be many composers' concern.
Under some conditions even simple repetition can slow aging. The context gives different meanings to the second time. At some point Schumann might have known it. And he might have thought his early works full of captions became too witty for him. In a way, he already knew that in order for him to produce "pure difference, (not sure if I understand this term correctly)" writing down Innere Stimme was no longer necessary. The sequence F#-G-C-F told him so. And then he was determined "Ok, this is the last time I write in this manner," I imagine. And I also imagine, after finishing Humoreske, he muttered "J'ai vieilli," like Zazie did in the end of the film. I do not know how to say it in German.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

"Human anatomy contains a key to the anatomy of the ape (Marx)."

In the middle of a slope is an apple fixed on it. By a ball it can be pushed down. A chimp, in order to get this apple has to choose from two balls: one is heavy and the other is light. The chimp cannot figure out that the heavy one has enough force to get the apple. A toddler can do it easily. Then, she is asked how she knew the ball can move the target (for her, it is not the apple, but a ball). She answers she "used strong one."
It is actually difficult to explain why heavy one is strong. She did not say the ball was heavy. So it appears that she cannot connect the weight and the force, but she knew the heavy one is strong. Gravity is difficult to grasp. Even Aristotle could not accurately. A scientist who does the experiments to compare chimps and children explains how abstract the concept gravity is, "like love," and despite that human children can understand it. Citing Einstein's "Gravity cannot be held responsible for people falling in love," Alan Alda, who guides this TV show The Human Spark, broadcast by the PBS, replies with an Aristotelian joke:" I just don't understand why gravity doesn't make us fall in love." For Aristotle, gravity was exactly love. He was scientifically wrong about gravity, but was right about the abstractness of it.
The Human Spark focuses on what makes humans humans. It is a good educational show. As I said before, I am not so interested in the difference between humans and apes, but I am in our mind and cognition. Or, I am interested in the connection between humans and apes in the way Marx puts it that "Human anatomy contains a key to the anatomy of the ape."

Sunday, May 16, 2010

evolution, anthropocentrism, environment


I am not so interested in how human is different from the other animals. Or, I can put it, I am as much interested in difference between human and apes as I am in difference between lion and the other cats. I am also interested in what made Charles Darwin discover evolution and how people accept or reject this idea. My point is that, if there was no notion of the agency who creates the world for Darwin, there might have been no such a discovery.
The PBS has many good educational programs to teach evolution. What strikes me is that some of the programs appear to try to argue that evolution and the religious belief shared by many Americans are compatible. For instance, Evolution Episode7: What about God? is an exemplary of this effort. I understand the PBS strives to democratize knowledge. The gap of knowledge between the people who understand evolution and the others who believe in the biblical creationism literally might be a grave concern for the broadcaster. It also tries to "humanize" Darwin, a Lucifer for those of conservative Christians, depicting how much he suffered and hesitated before the publication of his On the Origin of Species. Unlike Richard Dawkins, the PBS appears to be more practical not to attack religion itself, perhaps because it knows well that the problem for those Christian students to make sense evolution is real.
What about God? describes that evolution puts many American students from conservative Christian families an ontological question. For them accepting evolution means alienating their families or cutting themselves from their own roots.
I think that, generally speaking, for the most of Asian Christians living in Asia, the question is rather epistemological. For them, Genesis happened in a kind of spiritual world, but not in this material world. It may be relatively easy for them to make religion and evolution compatible to each other. Though I know there are many evangelists in Asia, or in Japan, I can imagine that the problem for them is not as painful as for the Americans.
Most of Japanese students have no trouble to accept evolution, but I can point out that they can struggle to understand some ideas in evolution, such as distinction between designed objects and designoid objects, which is often discussed by Dawkins. He explains that bee nest is not designed, but something looking like designed: bees are wired to make their nests, but they are not doing so at will. A Japanese student may ask "How can you tell we humans are not wired to make our houses, Mona Lisa, or Moonlight Sonata?" The distinction between the designed and the designoid is used to explain how natural cause makes amazing things. Such an explanation is needed because, in Western culture, when the people are struck by the beauty of nature they tend to imagine that someone has to create this. For a Japanese, comparing creation of nature, if ever was created, to watchmaking is rather blasphemous: "Nature did it. No one can do such amazing things. Making watches or planes is pathetic, compared with what nature does. What's wrong with that?"
In my view, if Darwin was not religious he did not find evolution. His job was rather redefining the watchmaker, but not rejecting it. For him, without a subject there was no world. My assumption is that, for many Asians, the world does not need such a subject in order to exist. I quickly add that I am not interested in which notion of the world is superior.
I would love to understand so-called the Western subjectivity. I have never been in America. The most of Americans I have met are, I think, rather secular people. So I am not qualified to say something about those evangelists. But, I dare say what I imagine is that the main obstacle for those religious people to conciliate evolution is their anthropocentrism, but not the Western subjectivity. In my opinion, it is important to articulate the subjectivity from anthropocentrism.
Anthropocentrism is everywhere, even among those of environmentalists. For such people, only human can save, say, biodiversity. But, who saves for what? It is humans who benefit from saving biodiversity. Anthropocentrism tends to ignore this.
Anthropocentrism and Evo Morales's notion of Mother Earth may be two sides of the same coin. Though I am for his idea of climate debt, I do not think those indigenous people have never polluted the earth. Of course, I agree with that the developed nations are mostly responsible for climate change and have to cut emissions drastically. My point is that Mother Earth is not a pre-modern idea. If there was no anthropocentrism, there could not be such a concept. Those indigenous people are not living in another time. They are our contemporary.

Sunday, May 9, 2010

frightening and pensive at the same time

During a brief period I worked at a place which provided photo developing and printing service not so long ago, one day a customer asked me to make a set of sleeves of negative film from his digital photos (it is possible), because the customer, from a construction company, was asked by his client to hand in film to show that the construction had done properly, instead of digital photos. For his client, film was still more reliable as the evidence than digital photos.
It was already the time that digital images, which are easily photoshoped, had taken over the majority, but I still saw customers who think film as relatively reliable evidence, even though photographs lost such an innocence (if ever was). Such customers were real estate brokers, detectives, and constructors. I must say "relatively," because those old schools, in which I am a member of it, know that a photograph has never been a simple emanation of the original. I can remember that, when I was a child, many tabloids often claimed to discover photos that captured stars' nudes which were mostly synthesized.
I know nothing about legal matters, but I can imagine a photograph alone has never been a material evidence of, say, a crime scene. It needs the other materials, or strict scrutinizing whether the photo is genuine, or both. To be interpreted, a photograph needs a caption.
By the way, perhaps Polaroid images make more reliable evidence, for they need no dark room operations. But, interestingly, such images look rather unreal, too flat, and sometimes too picturesque or even surrealistic. The immediacy of a Polaroid photo is embedded to rather that white part of the sheet. The white part becomes as its caption (and also a "real" caption is often written with a Paint Marker) to make us feel intimacy, making the image more interesting. Or, that part becomes part of the story the image carries. Those Polaroid images may have a place somewhere between photography and Big Brother.
Many professional photographers may know that making a photograph is nothing more than processing. Ansel Adams left good books to teach this. He taught us how to make boring mountains and valleys interesting. As a very bad amateur photographer, I like his books not only because they inform about the taste of his time, but also because they inform about practical things than theoretical ones, though I rarely follow what is written in it. It is like that I also like to read recipes that I do not follow; I am already full when reading them.
The practical things inform me his aesthetic and ideology. I admit his photographs fascinate me. Our notion of nature might be partly constituted by the images he left. And I imagine his taste might have been influenced by Casper David Friedrich's paintings and the other good old landscape paintings. His aesthetic might have been of what Jacques Rancière calls the regime of representation. His photographs are not about presence or presentation. Though he might have known immediacy of photography, he knew too well photography is something to be processed. Adams experimented his mediums to achieve his aesthetic, as did many painters so.
How to make is one thing, however, and how to be seen is another. When Roland Barthes in his Camera Lucida expresses his disinterest in making of photographs, I imagine he stresses this. He resembles those who dismiss many musical theories created by composers, and argues that how music sounds is more important. And I agree with such people; I am a bit bored with theories of how to make, especially when it comes to music.
Camera Lucida is a poignant book. He is in search of images that "prick" him, as if he uses pain to cure his wound. He ignores "deliberate" photographs because they are too noisy for him. Instead, he chooses those silent images and tries to let them speak. He replaces his own captions (the punctum) to the captions already embedded to the images (the studium), and sees death in every picture. He admits his distinction of the punctum and the studium is arbitrary, but he needs to do so in order to live with those who are already living.
Already living. I just remember this phrase T.S. Eliot used in his essay Tradition and the Individual Talent, from The Sacred Wood: Essays on Poetry and Criticism. The last paragraph of it goes like this:
There are many people who appreciate the expression of sincere emotion in verse, and there is a smaller number of people who can appreciate technical excellence. But very few know when there is expression of significant emotion, emotion which has its life in the poem and not in the history of the poet. The emotion of art is impersonal. And the poet cannot reach this impersonality without surrendering himself wholly to the work to be done. And he is not likely to know what is to be done unless he lives in what is not merely the present, but the present moment of the past, unless he is conscious, not of what is dead, but of what is already living.
There is a gap between creating and appreciating. This Eliot's essay can be read as his arguing either how a poem should be written or how a poem should be appreciated. I do not know at all whether Barthes was influenced by Eliot. But I imagine Barthes tried to appreciate "emotion which has its life in the poem and not in the history of the poet." I also imagine why he remained to be a thinker/critique rather than tried to be an artist despite his creativity (he even occasionally wrote music) and often inserted his own personal stories into his writings (The second half of Camera Lucida is dominated by his own mother's death and A Lover's Discourse, for instance, is known as the most personal writing by him). Renouncing to be an artist might have freed him to some extent, if he thought creating artworks must be impersonal. In my opinion, it is impossible for an artist to "surrender himself wholly to the work to be done." I never claim an artist has to create something personal; there are sometimes good reasons for an artist to try to erase his/her own traces from the creations. But a certain amount of people who always want to see personal motivations of artists in any artworks could find what they want to see even in Tony Smith's Die. Eliot's The Waste Land connotes the author's personal stories that tabloids might have liked, but it becomes impersonal in a space between him and the readers. Impersonal emotion emerges rather in a gap between creating and appreciating, between the subject.
Barthes talks about the pensiveness of the images he chooses. He says, "Ultimately, Photography is subversive not when it frightens, repels, or even stigmatizes, but when it is pensive, when it thinks." Rancière, in his essay The Pensive Image, basically seems to agree with this, but defines this pensiveness more precisely: "someone who is pensive is 'full of thoughts', but this does not mean that she is thinking them." For him, "thoughts" take place between the subject. He sees a possibility of passivity as art, and that is why he criticizes Barthes. For Barthes, creation of artworks is still active and passivity means making non-art. He overlooks a possibility that art of passivity exists.
At this moment I am not so interested in distinction of art and non-art, but Rancière's emphasis on what he calls "double poetics" in photography. He says photography became art "by exploiting a double poetics of the image, by making its images, simultaneously or separately, two things: the legible testimony of a history written on faces or objects and pure blocs of visiblity, impervious to any narrativization, any intersection of meaning. This double poetics of the image as cipher of a history written in visible forms and as obtuse reality, impeding meaning and history, was not invented by the device of the camera obscura (The Future of the Image, pp 11-12)." And he says this double poetics was established by certain literatures that capture the images and then slow our apprehension of them.
Such a photograph brings immediacy to us, as if the transportation of the image has happened within the time of exposure, but also suspends our apprehension of it (this "apprehension" means nearly "to understand"), unsettling both the sender and the receiver of it.
Interpretation of images does not rely on an individual's choice, or is not matter of subjectivity. My guess is that Barthes, knowing that, pretended that his interpretation was matter of subjectivity.
By the way, I think a photograph can be subversive, even it "frightens, repels, or even stigmatizes." Doing so, simultaneously it can be pensive. I think those Abu Ghraib photos became subversive to some extent, during their circulation. The initial intention those were taken was just having a fun. The kids who shot them were obviously ignorant about the fact that they were shooting their own war crimes. If the images were shot by Polaroids, the kids might have written captions with Paint Markers. Indeed they did the almost same things, titling the photos and sending them to their friends. But at some point the other kind of people became the senders. They collected the photos and redefined them. What they did was perhaps not so different from what Christian Boltanski did with family photos, even though it was not elaborated operation.
And now, we have the video footage by WikiLeaks. The conversations between the soldiers in this are outrageous enough, but I just point out that between the conversations, the white noises, and the other electronic sounds there are powerful silences. I do not call those silences the punctum. No longer. But it shows that those people on the ground were indeed silenced that way.