The wisdom of silence

Adam de Ville has a particularly good post on Eastern Christian Books on Terry Eagleton’s book on sacrifice. This is an especially rich post covering a range of topics… but I will only quote a brief excerpt which echoed with this post inspired by a phrase of George Steiner’s from “The Portage to San Cristobal of A H”:

In addition to his work on Marx, Eagleton has also read Freud (and Lacan, inter alia) very perceptively, which most people today seem incapable of doing. This allows him to say–without, alas, developing it to the extent I wished–that the silence of the Father faced with His Son on the Cross “may be compared to the silence of the psychoanalyst who refuses the role of Big Other or transcendental guarantor” (41). (One thing it took me a long time on the couch to realize was that such silence was not neglect or lack of interest on the part of the remarkable woman who was my analyst. It was, rather, the very condition of freedom, and a very necessary reminder that the responsibility for the authorship of our lives must not mindlessly be handed over to others, tempting though that often is for many of us–cf. both Fromm and Winnicott on this point–as well as Adam Phillips.)

Advertisements

From “A Practical Guide to Time Travel” by Brendan McConnell

From “A Practical Guide to Time Travel” by Brendan McConnell, page 132

… What they don’t tell you about time travel is the emotional dislocation. I suppose my voyage, undertaken as it was explicitly for emotional reasons, has allowed me appreciate this most. But my conversations with those who, before and after my voyage, have journeyed purely from a spirit of scientific discovery or confirms my suspicion. The technical challenges – plotting co ordinates to ensure that one lands in a time and place conducive to staying alive – are of course formidable, but surmontable. What many find hardest is the sudden realisation that the past is now not only past but includes what was one’s future, and that loved ones and loved places are no more. Accelerated future-driving has proved a boon to historians and policy makers, and has made many aspects of contemporary life more civilised for us all, time traveller and future native alike. The realisation we have all made that, completely contrary to theoretical predictions and expectations, that while futuredriving is possible, travelling back has not yet been achieved, and that we are stranded in a place more forbidding than any we know, has driven some to the ultimate expression of despair: suicide.

Simon Jacobson on “honouring thy father and thy mother”

The commandment to “honour thy father and thy mother” is one that, one would like to hope, is usually relatively straightforward. Many of us (most of us?) can fairly easily point to evidence our parents are or were nurturing, supportive and loving … but one must always acknowledge those who cannot. Indeed, examples of not merely inadvertent but deliberate harm done by parents are not hard to come by in the headlines.

From the radio show of Rabbi Simon Jacobson:

When I was thinking about what to talk about this evening, a friend mentioned to me that he had a question that someone had asked him about how one honors parents who don’t seem to deserve honor. Then later in the day another friend asked me the same question, completely unrelated. So I guess that’s a sign that that’s the topic that should be addressed. I know it’s a very painful one, but at the same time a very relevant one to many people.

It made me think about the discussion we had last week with Mr. Dubner, about the issue of imperfect parents. Parents really do get a real bad rap, especially in our generation with everyone baring their souls in confessionals and the healing and recovery movement, but there’s a very good reason for it: parents definitely do shape their children.

At the same time, if you look into the Torah, for Jews particularly (yesterday was the Torah reading that included the Ten Commandments), the fifth of the Ten Commandments is “Honor Your Parents, i.e., honor your father and mother.” The Torah goes even further and promises that in the merit of doing that, you will have a long life. As a matter of fact, when the Ten Commandments are repeated a second time, in the final book (Deuteronomy), it even adds another element there: that you will not just have a long life, but you will also live in peace, and have a good life.

So tonight we’re going to address this issue of honoring parents. Every one of us has been a child, continues to be a child (hopefully our parents are alive), so it’s a very relevant topic and I welcome calls on all issues related to this topic (1-212-244-2050). I must say that many of us are very angry about this issue, so anger also relates to it because people have a lot of anger against their parents, against their childhood, the way they were hurt when they were still vulnerable and impressionable.

So what exactly are our obligations to our parents and what is this whole concept of honoring them anyway—particularly in a situation where on one end of the spectrum you don’t really feel that they deserve it, and on the other end there was even severe abuse; parents who have hurt their children in very profound ways. Issues that children have with parents who continue to haunt them, the scars that we pick up on different levels of abuse, whether it’s overt or subtle. How do we address that and what exactly is this fifth of the Ten Commandments of honoring parents?

I especially would like to hear from people who are very angry with their parents and also of course people who are very loving toward their parents. It will be interesting to hear from you the different dynamics in our relationship with our parents.

Last week I asked Mr. Dubner the following question, which we all have to ask ourselves: On the one hand, you look to your parents as your source of nurturing, a source of comfort, which even unhealthy parents definitely provide somewhat (I’m not talking about extreme cases of course) and at the same time, how do you separate the two feelings of love and hurt? The same parents who love you, have, on the other hand also hurt you?

For a child, even for an adult, it’s very confusing, and it becomes a very snowball type of combination of the good and the bad. As adults, we have the intelligence, the discretion to be able to distinguish.

But as children, that distinction isn’t that obvious and that’s a big quandary, because if you got from your parents healthy nurturing, and on the other hand they may have given you certain values that you really can’t embrace, or values that you see real faults in (you know, “the lies my father told me”), it’s the first time you realize that your parents aren’t perfect.

This is a serious issue. I’d like to begin by giving some perspective here, namely, the anatomy of what exactly the commandment “honor your parent” means.

Now, the real question that’s asked in Jewish thought, in Jewish philosophy, is a more fundamental one. Judaism does not believe in any intermediaries. In other words, we have a direct relationship with G-d. There are no partnerships, no intermediaries, no hired guns; each of us prays to G-d. G-d gave us a soul and empowered us with the ability to overcome our challenges in life. We have a mission. As I very often say on this show (Toward a Meaningful Life), “meaningful life” implies a direct mission that we have, a meaning and purpose in our lives. And that is a direct relationship with G-d.

So the question is asked, “Where is there any room for honoring anyone besides G-d?” It’s true, parents may have provided for us. Of course, if they were healthy they gave us nurturing. Many parents are selfless in their love and in their dedication to their children. But honoring your parents seems in some way to imply that parents have some type of partnership with G-d…but we should be honoring G-d alone who gives us life.

The Talmud does say that there are three partners in the birth of a child: the mother, father and G-d. The parents provide, so to speak, the stuff of which the body is made. G-d provides the soul. That’s why you can have a relationship between a man and a woman, a potential father and mother, husband and wife, and it doesn’t bear a child. So G-d is the third partner — the Creator of life.

So seemingly, birth should be honoring G-d, not the parents. We don’t recognize any form of “partnership” with G-d in creation. And one of the fascinating answers to this is that when we honor our parents, even healthy parents, we’re not honoring our parents, we’re honoring G-d who gave us life through our parents.

So, in essence, it’s really a recognition of G-d. For instance, there is a distinct law in Judaism that if parents tell a child to do something that transgresses G-d’s law, meaning the ethical laws of how we behave with each or other or any type of Divine law, any law that G-d dictates, the child does not have to comply with that request of the parents, even though there’s a commandment to honor your parents. But the commandment to honor your parents does not supercede the commandment of G-d because you honor your parents not because they have power or because they think they’re important, or because they provided for us, you honor them because G-d gave life to us through them.

And that’s a major distinction. That’s why if one has to choose between following a parent’s request and following G-d’s law, we defer to G-d. Honoring your parents is not an end in itself: there’s a meaning there, a significance, a spirit behind it — it is a means to honor G-d.

Now the interesting distinction that I’d like to make as well is that the commandment says, “honor your parents”; it doesn’t say “love your parents.” The Torah doesn’t tell us to love our parents. That means the commandment doesn’t include that. Honor can include that, but that’s an optional thing. There is a commandment to love G-d. There is a commandment to love your fellow. Why isn’t there a commandment to love our parents? Because they don’t always deserve our love. But if we dishonor the life that G-d gave us through our parents, then it’s not that we’re dishonoring our parents, we’re dishonoring ourselves, we’re dishonoring our own personal life.

Robert Louis Stevenson bequeaths his birthday to Annie Ide

I had read somewhere that Robert Louis Stevenson had bequeathed his birthday (13th November) to a girl who was born on Christmas Day. Lately I came across Katherine Miller’s poem “Stevenson’s Birthday”, reproduced below. Oddly, this poem seemed (to me) to imply the girl’s birthday was on February 29th rather than Christmas.

 

I had wondered if this was an urban myth, but it is anything but.  Here is the formal (-ish, OK, very -ish) legal document  wherein Stevenson passed his birthday onto Annie Ide, daughter of a U.S. Senator 

I, Robert Louis Stevenson, Advocate of the Scots Bar, author of The Master of Ballantrae and Moral Emblems, stuck civil engineer, sole owner and patentee of the Palace and Plantation known as Vailima in the island of Upolu, Samoa, a British Subject, being in sound mind and pretty well I thank you in body:

In consideration that Miss A. H. Ide, daughter of H. C. Ide, in the town of St Johnsbury, in the County of Caledonia, in the State of Vermont, United States of America, was born, out of all reason, upon Christmas Day, and is therefore, out of all justice, denied the consolation and profit of a Proper Birthday;

And considering that I, the said Robert Louis Stevenson, have attained an age when O, we never mention it, and that I have now no further use for a birthday of any description;

And in consideration that I have met H. C. Ide, the father of the said A. H. Ide, and found him about as white a Land Commissioner as I require;

Have transferred, and do hereby transfer to the said A. H. Ide, All and Whole of my rights and privileges in the 13th day of November, formerly my birthday, now, hereby, and henceforth, the birthday of the said A. H. Ide, to have, hold, exercise and enjoy the same in the customary manner, by the sporting of fine raiment, eating of rich meats and receipt of gifts, compliments and copies of verse, according to the manner of our ancestors;

And I direct the said A. H. Ide to add to her said name of A. H. Ide the name Louisa – at least in private; and I charge her to use my said birthday with moderation and humanity, et tamquam bona filia familiae, the said birthday not being so young as it once was and having carried me in a very satisfactory manner since I can remember;

And in case the said A. H. Ide shall neglect or contravene either of the above conditions, I hereby revoke the donation and transfer my rights in the said birthday to the President of the United States of America for the time being.

In witness whereof I have hereto set my hand and seal this 19th day of June in the year of grace eighteen hundred and ninety-one.

[Seal]

Robert Louis Stevenson
I.P.D.

Witness: Lloyd Osbourne

Witness: Harold Watts

I can’t find much about Katherine Miller online (possibly confounded by other Katherine Millers) but this poem is from only a few years after this occured:

 

STEVENSON’S BIRTHDAY

 

“How I should like a birthday!” said the child,

“I have so few, and they so far apart.”

She spoke to Stevenson—the Master smiled—

“Mine is to-day; I would with all my heart

That it were yours; too many years have I!

Too swift they come, and all too swiftly fly”

So by a formal deed he there conveyed

All right and title in his natal day,

To have and hold, to sell or give away,—

Then signed, and gave it to the little maid. J

oyful, yet fearing to believe too much,

She took the deed, but scarcely dared unfold.

Ah, liberal Genius! at whose potent touch

All common things shine with transmuted gold!

A day of Stevenson’s will prove to be

Not part of Time, but Immortality.

“We tire of distraction or concentration. we sleep and are glad to sleep”


From “Choruses from the Rock”, T S Eliot:

In our rhythm of earthly life we tire of light.
We are glad when the day ends, when the play ends;
and ecstasy is too much pain.

We are children quickly tired:
children who are up in the night and fall asleep as the rocket is fired;
and the day is long for work or play.

We tire of distraction or concentration, we sleep and are glad to sleep,
Controlled by the rhythm of blood and the day and the night and the seasons.

And we must extinguish the candle, put out the light and relight it;
Forever must quench, forever relight the flame

From “The State”, a short story by Tommy Orange

From The New Yorker, drawn from Orange’s forthcoming novel There There

Before you were born, you were a head and a tail in a milky pool—a swimmer. You were a race, a dying off, a breaking through, an arrival. Before you were born, you were an egg in your mom, who was an egg in her mom. Before you were born, you were a nested Russian doll of possibility in your mom’s ovaries. You were two halves of a million different possibilities, a billion heads or tails, flip-shine on spun coin. Before you were born, you were the idea to make it to California for gold or bust. You were white, you were brown, you were red, you were dust. You were hiding, you were seeking. Before you were born, you were chased, beaten, broken, trapped in Oklahoma. Before you were born, you were an idea your mom got into her head in the seventies, to hitchhike across the country and become a dancer in New York. You were on your way when she did not make it across the country but sputtered and spiralled and landed in Taos, New Mexico, at a peyote commune called Morning Star. Before you were born, you were your dad’s decision to move away from Oklahoma, to northern New Mexico to learn about a Pueblo guy’s fireplace. You were the light in the wet of your parents’ eyes as they met across that fireplace in ceremony. Before you were born, your halves inside them moved to Oakland. Before you were born, before your body was much more than heart, spine, bone, skin, blood, and vein, when you’d just started to build muscle, before you showed, bulged in her belly, as her belly, before your dad’s pride could belly-swell at the sight of you, your parents were in a room listening to the sound your heart made. You had an arrhythmic heartbeat. The doctor said it was normal. Your arrhythmic heart was not abnormal.

“Maybe he’s a drummer,” your dad said.

“He doesn’t even know what a drum is,” your mom said. “And the man said arrhythmic. That means no rhythm.”

“Maybe it just means he knows the rhythm so good he doesn’t always hit it when you expect him to.”

“Rhythm of what?” she said.

But, once you got big enough to make your mom feel you, she couldn’t deny it. You swam to the beat. When your dad brought out the kettledrum, you’d kick her in time with it, or in time with her heartbeat, or with one of the oldies mixtapes she’d made from records she loved and played endlessly in your Aerostar minivan. Once you were out in the world, running and jumping and climbing, you tapped your toes and fingers everywhere, all the time. On tabletops, desktops. You tapped every surface you found in front of you, listened for the sound things made back at you when you hit them. The timbre of taps, the din of dings, silverware clangs in kitchens, door knocks, knuckle cracks, head scratches. You were finding out that everything made a sound. Everything could be drumming, whether the rhythm was kept or it strayed. Even gunshots and backfire, the howl of trains at night, the wind against your windows. The world was made of sound.

But inside every kind of sound lurked a sadness. In the quiet between your parents after a fight they’d both managed to lose. Or when you and your sisters listened through the walls for the early signs of a fight about to start. For the late signs of a fight reignited. The sound of the church service, the building wail of worship, your mom speaking in tongues on the crest of that weekly Sunday wave. Sadness because you couldn’t feel any of it, though you wanted to. You felt that you needed it, that it could protect you from the dreams you had almost every night about the end of the world and the possibility of hell forever—you living there, still a boy, unable to leave or die or do anything but burn in a lake of fire. Sadness came in the sound of your dad snoring in church, even as members of the congregation, members of your family, were being slain by the Holy Ghost in the aisle right next to him. Sadness came in the quiet of the street when the days got shorter at the end of summer and the kids weren’t out anymore. In the color of that fleeting sky, sadness lurked. Sadness pounced, slid into everything it could find its way into, through anything, through sound, through you.

The lost world of Ana Olgica

The lost world of Ana Olgica

https://open.spotify.com/embed/artist/29nLvGubwGVV9I4kF3nldc

55180

Continuing from my profile of the work of Amity Cadet, I thought I would focus on another artist, once legendary, now only known by a fraction of their life’s work.

Unlike Amity Cadet, however, Ana Olgica is represeneted on Spotify by not one, but two works. Here, from YouTube, is “Sugarcane”:

On 7th September 1968, the Venice Film Festival was concluding, with the Golden Lion being awarded to Artists Under the Big Top: Perplexed directed by the West German philosopher Alexander Kluge. In New York, an organisation called New York Radical Women organised a protest against the Miss America pageant that sent bra-burning into the public consciousness. Elsewhere in New York, the New Yorker on that date published George Steiner‘s essay “A Death of Kings”

Steiner’s essay begins:

“There are three intellectual pursuits, and so far as I am aware, only three, in which human beings have performed major feats before the age of puberty. They are music, mathematics, and chess. Mozart wrote music of undoubted competence and charm before he was eight. At the age of three, Karl Friedrich Gauss reportedly performed numerical computations of some intricacy; he proved himself a prodigiously rapid but also a fairly deep arithmetician before he was ten. In his twelfth year, Paul Morphy routed all comers in New Orleans – no small feat in a city that, a hundred years ago, counted several formidable chess players. Are we dealing here with some kind of elaborate imitative reflexes, with achievements conceivably in reach of automata? Or do these wondrous miniature beings actually create?”

As it happened, 7th September 1968, in the city of Novi Sad, in what was then the Socialist Republic of Serbia, which was a constituent republic of what was then the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, a baby girl who would become known to the world as Ana Olgica was born. And she would perform major feats in all three “intellectual pursuits” Steiner identified.

Her real name, and her parentage, are unknown. Rumours would abound in the Belgrade of the later 1970s. They were university professors, demoted in the aftermath of the 1968 student protests in Belgrade. Or they were in some way linked to Tito’s inner circle. She made public appearances alone, without reference to a mother or a father.

At the age of five, Olgica performed on a Belgrade stage, playing over fourteen nights Beethoven’s complete piano sonatas. At the age of six, she defeated Boris Spassky – still, perhaps still, perhaps, not quite recovered from his defeat by Bobby Fischer in the famous 1972 World Championship, in a ten game series held in Rome. At the age of seven, she delivered a paper On the stability of the linear mapping in Banach spaces to the American Academy of Sciences.

With an infectious smile, Ana became a propaganda fixture of the latter days of the Tito regime. This deflected somewhat from her gargantuan talents. Furthermore, there was continual speculation that some kind of trickery was involved. Never mind that she played music and chess in exactly the same conditions as any one else, or that her mathematical papers were subject the the full rigour of the worldwide mathematical community’s review. What did she herself think of this suspicion? Her warm smile and sunny demeanour on stage seemed to suggest that she was at ease. But no press interviews were ever allowed; even with supine Yugoslav state media.

As the 1970s progressed, the world seemed to tire of the precocious girl. Like so many prodigies, what seemed initially miraculous soon became ho-hum, run of the mill. Just as the world reacted with wonder at Neil Armstrong’s walk on the moon but the stupendous achievement of Apollo was met with more and more indifference, Ana Olgica continued to excel in her three areas. The Yugoslav state would send her on visits to nations where she would perform on the piano, deliver a mathematical paper, and beat a Grandmaster in an exhibition. Yet this schedule did not vary. In the later 1970s, Ana Olgica did not appear.

It was May 4th 1984, three years to the day after the death of Tito, that Ana Olgica reappeared to the world. She released a record, a single entitled “Sugarcane.” Yugoslavia, more Western-leaning than the Warsaw Pact, had something of a music industry, and through this the mysterious, placid, self-contained “Sugarcane” was released. It would become an hit in Yugoslavia, Norway, Belgium and San Marino. And still, Ana Olgica was as inaccessible to the media as ever. Now 15, there were no publicly available photos. Rumours spread that she was the cover for a German disco producer’s dabbling in the new ambient style.

Over the rest of the 1980s, a torrent of Ana Olgica works followed. They followed a similar style to “Sugarcane”, but utilised a bewildering range of solo instrumentation. Pipe organ, harpsichord, cello, double bass, trombone, tuba, glass harmonica, gamelan, french horn, oboe, bassoon, violin, violin, steel drum, xylophone, theremin, trumpet, flute, guitar, accordion, banjo, ukelele, bass drum… all were used individually, to create a world of gentle, yet flowing enchantment. These albums came out via the Belka Tashmaydan label, and achieved milestones internationally. The first commercially available CD in New Zealand was her “Glowing”, recorded entirely on hammered dulcimer. The highest selling album in Japan in 1988 was her “Panoply”, recorded on Northumberland bagpipes. A recording of her piece “Smoothness”, recorded on Fife drum, was launched into space aboard the space probe Galileo.

And then Yugoslavia broke up. Even more obscure than the obscurity of Ana’s prior years is what happened over the next decade. It is as if the stage were in shadow, and suddenly a kind of reverse spotlight thrust her into deeper darkness. What did happen is that Belka Tashmaydan became the subject of UN sanctions, and in the aftermath of these it transpired the company was being used to launder money from the heroin trade in Milan. The assets of Belka Tashmaydan, including the Ana Olgica recordings, remain in a legal limbo, and her albums of the 1980s cannot be released, or even mentioned, due to ongoing cases in the courts of eleven countries.

So her songs go unheard. Except “Sugarcane”, which was not released by Belka Tashmaydan, and one more song which appeared in 2000, just after the fall of Slobodan Milosevic. “Atoms” is a song of quiet devastation, with a sense of loss that both sums up and transcends its historical moment. Ana Olgica may record again, but in “Atoms” she achieved a summation of all her musical work before. In a way, to hear “Atoms” and “Sugarcane” is to hear all her vast, eternal output, and to recognise that here was one prodigy who survived the crushing expectations of a demanding state and jaded global public to achieve a measure of peace.

https://open.spotify.com/embed/track/1nPTaQHgrjKhSGb5ILEV47