Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Zizek on Communism and the Neo-Liberal Left

19 comments:

nicrap said...

o/t

i have seen you previously posting on this, so if i may.

Joe Conservative said...

Mi casa es su casa! :)

Joe Conservative said...

...and for those who might not subscibe to The Economist...

“THE most erotic music ever composed.” This was how one critic described Richard Wagner’s “Tristan and Isolde”, which in 2015 marks the 150th anniversary of its first performance. The work is divisive. Many 19th-century critics thought little of it; some even mocked it. But it had an enormous impact, ushering in the move towards atonality that found its most extreme expression in the work of composers like Arnold Schoenberg. Today it is the most famous opera by Germany’s most famous opera composer. But why all the fuss?

The opera traces the story of two lovers, Tristan and Isolde (painted above by August Spiess in 1881), who fall madly in love after drinking a potion. The plot is forgettable; the music is not. The magic starts with the prelude, a ten-minute musical introduction that structures the rest of the piece. The opening chord, known to music buffs as the “Tristan chord”, shocked the 19th-century listeners who heard it first.

Normally, in classical music, dissonance resolves into consonance; tension melts into resolution. But the Tristan chord, and the music that follows it, dispenses with such convention. It tempts you to listen out for a particular chord (A minor). But it never comes. Instead other dissonant chords emerge, which while not unpleasant, do not provide any relief. By the end of the prelude, the listener is left unsatisfied and waiting for more.

The prelude sets the tone for the rest of the opera. Western music composed before “Tristan” tends to be tightly structured. Composers of the classical period of the late 18th century, such as Haydn and Mozart, often opt for four- or eight-bar phrases with a clear beginning and end (the opening of Beethoven’s first piano sonata is a prime example). There are often clear, easy-to-follow tunes, so the listener knows where the music is going. Not so in “Tristan”. Overlapping melodies flow for dozens of bars; humming the opera is tough.

In fact, the music was so unusual that, at first, musicians struggled to play it, says Laurence Dreyfus of Oxford University. The first performance was supposed to be in Vienna in 1862. But after more than 70 rehearsals, the production was cancelled. The singers could not find their notes and the orchestra struggled to keep time. Only by 1865, with its premiere in Munich, had the musicians caught up with Wagner and his “Tristan”. The critics were less convinced: the singing was “nothing but screaming and shrieking”, fumed one, while the orchestra indulged in the “most outrageous discords”.


Joe Conservative said...

(cont)

Why did Wagner choose such an unusual style? Partly it was the result of a new outlook on life. He discovered the work of Arthur Schopenhauer, a German philosopher, in 1854. Schopenhauer believed that people were driven by unachievable desires; the chasm between what they want and what they can get is immiserating. Wagner was inspired by such pessimism. For a man prone to fleeting romantic liaisons, love was always unsatisfying. And he came to believe, again thanks to Schopenhauer, that music was the best way to express such complex emotions. That forced him to abandon temporarily his work on the “Ring” cycle, where the music is really a complement to the drama, and instead knuckle down to “Tristan”, where the music is clearly the main event.

“Tristan” is all about dissatisfaction. The love between Tristan and Isolde is so intense it cannot possibly be realised in the real world; their only option is to die together. To represent the pain of their unachievable desire, Wagner had to dispense with conventional harmony. He also could not offer the audience neat chunks of music that were easily digested. He wanted them to feel as anxious and confused as the protagonists.

Wagner uses musical tricks to toy with his audience, says Mr Dreyfus. The opening phrase of the final act turns out to be another form of the Tristan chord, only darker and even more melancholy, which emphasises the tension. One of the most famous scenes, in the second act, is an amorous encounter between the lovers that is brutally spoiled right before the climax. More than two hours into the opera, this violent coitus interruptus is hard to bear. Two conductors have died leading the second act.

Some productions add to the pain. Traditional Wagnerian performances tend to be rather silly spectacles, with lots of swords, cloaks and horned helmets. One of the most recent productions of “Tristan”, which was directed by Christof Loy at the Royal Opera House in London and which closed shortly before Christmas, was less bombastic. Much of the action took place in just one corner of the stage, a chair at times being the only prop. The spartan set removed even the lightest of relief from the listener’s experience.

Mercifully, Wagner rewards his audience at the end of the third act. After Tristan dies, Isolde begins a long solo that leads to the opera’s conclusion. Five hours after the first Tristan chord demanded it, a quiet, extended and wholly unexpected major chord provides a glorious resolution. It was, said Friedrich Nietzsche, “a spine-tingling and blissful infinity”. The orchestra fades out, and Isolde, too, is dead.

Joe Conservative said...

from the opera Prelude and the Whole 4+ hour Magilla.

nicrap said...

I am deeply honoured, FJ! :)

nicrap said...

heh. sorry, i hadn't seen the last four comments.

nicrap said...

I hope The Economist does not sue you for reduced sales. ;)

Joe Conservative said...

Fair use... ;)

nicrap said...

heh. :)

FreeThinke said...

How Tristan got into this I can't understand. Needless to say it is a great favorite of mine along with Die Meistersinger von Nurnberg, Der Fliegende Hollander, Tannhauser, Lohengrin and "The Ring." I love them all with more or less equal passion.

That said I have little patience with "intellectuals" who strive to infuse Wagner with "social or historical significance," etc.

The notion that music has been making "progress" toward some unknown, unknowable ideal, as it evolves from Plainsong to Organum, to the atonal Polyphony of Machaut and Josquin des Prez, to seventeenth-century counterpoint of Palestrina, the early operas of Peri, Caccini, Monteverdi, to the full-blown tonality and equal temperament of the Baroque, and on to the Classical, Romantic, Impressionistic use of whole tone scales and "planing", Germanic post-Romanticism, and the modern Atonality of Schoenberg, Berg, and the highly experimental innovations of Stravinsky, and on and on, strikes me as foolish.

Each period, and each of its prime exponents had something uniquely marvellous to contribute, and while there is no doubt most musical innovation came about as a response to the prior achievements of others, each of the important composers carved out a territory all his own, and deserves to be considered strictly in his own merits without odious comparisons and facile contrasts to the work of others.

Wagner, whose bold, harmonic innovations in truth owe much to Franz Liszt, is noted for the employment of leitmotifs (short, easily recognizable "signature tunes" representing the various characters and dramatic-philosophical-symbolic themes in his Music Dramas [he eschewed the term "opera" to define and characterize his works].

At any rate, Wagner wove these leitmotifs into a densely complex, largely contrapuntal orchestral texture, and used the SINGERS as an INTEGRAL PART of the ORCHESTRA. Most of the solo singing serves as a vocal obbligato or super-text to the orchestral part which evokes and expresses the meaning of the words and story lines with sublime eloquence.

What we musicians call "frustrating the tonic" creates the incessant tension Dreyfus refers to. The "tonic" is the chord that RESOLVES all the action and puts it to rest, either temporarily, as in classical"music where each phrase and section is constructed in clearly defined sentences and paragraphs that nonetheless achieve unity by always relating each to the whole. Musicians call this the "architecture" of the piece in question.

Wagner does write in traditional phrases, but they tend often to overlap because of his constant use of counterpoint -- just as they do in the great fugues of Johann Sebastian Bach, whose great organ works foreshadow just about every "innovation" developed by Beethoven, Brahms, Liszt, Wagner and Richard Strauss. The difference in Wagner is that his quasi-traditional phrases almost never RESOLVE to the tonic of whatever key he's chosen, and his counterpoint modulates from key to key almost constantly.

These things and Wagner's abundant use of CHROMATICISM (a precursor of twelve-tone music in its generous employment of dissonant tones outside the scale or key of the piece in question) are the reasons why those of us who love serious music can listen to four or five hours of Wagner unabated and not lose interest. He keeps the tension and maintains a constant sense of movement through the use of these means.

FreeThinke said...

As for Zizek, I cannot bring myself to call him a "Communist" no matter what he says. If we must label him, I'd prefer to call him a Practicalist, a Possibilitist, or even a Pragmatic-Idealist, because -- unlike our intransigent, morally blind, generally idiotic leftists zealously practicing toxic forms of GroupThink -- instead of defending or apologizing for the series of fiascos modern political and economic theory have wrought, -- he seems to be searching for ways to abate, negate, -- possibly even eliminate, -- whatever has caused these ravages against human dignity, freedom and propsperity. So I say, God bless him.

Thersites said...

Progress? No. Evolution? Most definitely. Repetitive patterns (discordant or not)? Most definitely. ;)

Thersites said...

It's all so much Difference and Repetition.

Thersites said...

T.S.Eliot, this great conservative, who first clearly formulated this link between our dependence on tradition and our power to change the past:
tradition cannot be inherited, and if you want it you must obtain it by great labour. It involves, in the first place, the historical sense, which we may call nearly indispensable to anyone who would continue to be a poet beyond his twenty-fifth year; and the historical sense involves a perception, not only of the pastness of the past, but of its presence; the historical sense compels a man to write not merely with his own generation in his bones, but with a feeling that the whole of the literature of Europe from Homer and within it the whole of the literature of his own country has a simultaneous existence and composes a simultaneous order. This historical sense, which is a sense of the timeless as well as of the temporal and of the timeless and of the temporal together, is what makes a writer traditional. And it is at the same time what makes a writer most acutely conscious of his place in time, of his contemporaneity.
No poet, no artist of any art, has his complete meaning alone. His significance, his appreciation is the appreciation of his relation to the dead poets and artists. You cannot value him alone; you must set him, for contrast and comparison, among the dead. I mean this as a principle of aesthetic, not merely historical, criticism. The necessity that he shall conform, that he shall cohere, is not one-sided; what happens when a new work of art is created is something that happens simultaneously to all the works of art which preceded it. The existing monuments form an ideal order among themselves, which is modified by the introduction of the new (the really new) work of art among them. The existing order is complete before the new work arrives; for order to persist after the supervention of novelty, the whole existing order must be, if ever so slightly, altered; and so the relations, proportions, values of each work of art toward the whole are readjusted; and this is conformity between the old and the new. Whoever has approved this idea of order, of the form of European, of English literature, will not find it preposterous that the past should be altered by the present as much as the present is directed by the past. And the poet who is aware of this will be aware of great difficulties and responsibilities.


Thersites said...

(cont)

What happens is a continual surrender of himself as he is at the moment to something which is more valuable. The progress of an artist is a continual self-sacrifice, a continual extinction of personality. There remains to define this process of depersonalization and its relation to the sense of tradition. It is in this depersonalization that art may be said to approach the condition of science. [7]
When Eliot writes that, when judging a living poet, "you must set him among the dead," he formulates precisely an example of Deleuze's pure past. And when he writes that "the existing order is complete before the new work arrives; for order to persist after the supervention of novelty, the whole existing order must be, if ever so slightly, altered; and so the relations, proportions, values of each work of art toward the whole are readjusted," he no less clearly formulates the paradoxical link between the completeness of the past and our capacity to change it retroactively: precisely because the pure past is complete, each new work re-arranges its entire balance. Recall Borges' precise formulation of the relationship between Kafka and the multitude of his precursors, from old Chinese authors to Robert Browning: "Kafka's idiosyncrasy, in greater or lesser degree, is present in each of these writings, but if Kafka had not written we would not perceive it; that is to say, it would not exist. /.../ each writer creates his precursors. His work modifies our conception of the past, as it will modify the future." [8] The properly dialectical solution of the dilemma of "Is it really there, in the source, or did we only read it into the source?" is thus: it is there, but we can only perceive and state this retroactively, from today's perspective.


-Slavoj Zizek, "Deleuze's Platonism: Ideas as Real"

Thersites said...

:P

FreeThinke said...

_________ A Task Completed _________

A swelling joy makes breathless with delight
The one who oversees and masterminds
Altruistic projects of all kinds.
Satisfying is Artistic Sight.
Knowing how things ought to look’s a Gift
Combined with Wisdom, practical yet kind,
Overcomes the fears that blind then bind
Most people to a crippling sense of Thrift.
Placing Beauty as a high priority
Let’s prospects for Enlightenment prevail.
Eking out one’s life is doomed to fail.
To reach no more than drab Inferiority
Erodes capacities to fulfill dreams ––
Denying what Volition’s meaning seems.


~ FreeThinke

Thersites said...

:)