When Was the Last Time You Listened to Real Music?!

Sometimes the most inspirational epiphanies arrive from the most unexpected places. Recently I had the pleasure to experience one of those feelings.

music069For some time now, I found myself less and less enjoying to simply listening to music. I still think it is inspirational at times, some music can, still, drive me to tears but I don´t find any pleasure in simply having it around me constantly (except specific moments). Well, to be honest, up until recently, I never actually stopped to seriously think why I feel this way, unattached by music. Then on a train ride where I finally got the chance to start the next book on my list, I came across this next phrase:

¿Os gusta la música?

Le mentí. Acostumbrado a los infinitos rumores de la mar, no concibo otra música que no sea la de las olas. Ade­más, la verdad, no estaba yo para muchas músicas. Y dila­tar la tarea para la que había sido llamado, me parecía, en verdad, un fraude. Pero como debe hacerse en tales ocasio­nes, disimulé y le contesté de esta manera:

-Mucho, señora. La música eleva los espíritus y consue­la de las aflicciones.” (from En el último azul, Carme Riera).

The-ocean-waves-1050x1680

Briefly, it says that after being asked if he likes music, the Captain felt he had to lie, saying that yes, the music lifts the spirits and sooth afflictions. However, his main and truer claim is that music seems to him as a fraud, for he was accustomed to the “infinite murmurs of the sea” where he could not conceive man made music but the one of the waves.

For so long I simply thought that people were right telling me (after realizing my stand about music, of course exaggeratively) that I was emotionless, unable to feel the intensity of a Leonard Cohen’s song, of a Rhapsody melody, or a shake with Shakira (I actually enjoy that part). “You are a robot! – some said – I feel bad for you.”

But no, I used to love music, listening to it all the time, as a teenager in high volume and later, while growing up, somewhat more constrained. I listened to all types of music having my periods of modern Greek style depressive songs, to Rock, and during other periods the Classics and New Age. I listened to music constantly, until my travels. And then, music began to fade, songs became a cultural experience, another form that construct one´s identity. Sounds and tones simply lost their power after experiencing the pleasure of listening to the jungle´s heartbeat. Music became a fraud, a mere imitation of howler-monkey-the true power of nature. I found my connection with nature through the eternal song of life, in the form of animals (what instrument can travel 3km inside a dense jungle like the cry of a howler monkey?); of a summer storm (what greater emotion can a drum give next to a series of thunders or even the break of a pacific 5m wave some footsteps away from you?). Music became a fraud, a simple man-made artifact to incite in us a safe imitation of those intense emotional states as they appear in nature.

It has been many years since the industrious mind of man’s imitations was clear to me. Lipstick for an aroused woman, high-heels for a better physical posture, tailored broad shouldered suit for a more distinguished male look. Perfumes are a billion dollar industry today, simply to imitate the smell of a young, fresh pheromone of a desired girl, or to enhance the masculinity of a village-born man with his wild nature. So much money is invested in finding a formula that will reproduce natural phenomenas, the mimetic existence we call real life.

perfume-2

We worked so hard to run away from nature into comfort, great technology. But are we really that far away from it as some will say? It seems that the more we want to distinguish ourselves from nature, the more we look for it with artificial creation.

So, next time, a person next to you is not thrilled from the music around, from colored faces and Armani suits, don’t scorn his “inability” to feel the music but instead, we can appreciate the capability to simply be truthful to the origin, to the source, constantly and only overwhelmed by the eternal song of Gaia.

music-tree

The narrative of our life: road towards political consciousness

This week I was asked to speak in a conference with an interdisciplinary audience from the Humanities. For that occasion, I decided to transform one topic of my research into a generic perspective to which many would be able to relate. The thought I will discuss is the rise of the political consciousness in the baroque period by controversial narrative. The concept of Narrative hunts me for the past few months and certainly for any modern humanist can, and should, evoke large variety of connotations.

recorte_lope_de_vega_
Lope de Vega

Up until recently (50 years or so) Narrative was used predominantly in literary context describing books, stories and literary work of any sort. This changed in the 60’s and 70’s with the rise of the study of Identity with all its components. Narrative slowly transcended into Narrativity and since then is also being used to interpret cultural and social based sciences (political philosophy, psychology, cultural theory, anthropology, sociology…).

storiesToday, Narrative is more of conceptual term that refers to the reality behind the fiction. For some it is the missing link from representational form to ontological and epistemological thinking. Personally, I am dubious about the use of Narrativity without the important epistemological evidence of narration. To my opinion, it is relatively vague and unscientific to simply relate to one’s hypothetical life of ideas as a Narrative without any sort of physical expression of it. This expression can have multiple forms such as: writing, oral and physical expression, filmed or recorded etc.

As it seems, if we lack a sense or a form of communication, the misconstrued ideas that might be established or provoked are simply too great to be considered as any kind of science. With the help of recent studies in Reception Theory, we are aware of the difficulties with interpretation from written expressions of realities (other theorists as Eco or Sontag had long mentioned some of these reflexions in their work). Considering Narrativity is not necessarily the controversy between prescribing life experiences and describing them (as Kreiswirth and Strawson try to debate).

From this perspective I will probably try to define later this week the literary expressive baroque as an awakening for transmitting political consciousness to other straits of society. Probably the most successful interpretations of this kind of cultural transmission are in the form of political satire and theatrical plays. Even though those voices were first documented in the great Greek and, more predominately, Roman ancient civilizations, it is not until the end of the 16th century that we re-encounter this social intervention in politics in such a large scale.

Thus, we can thank Shakespeare, Lope de Vega, Balzac as well as many anonymous satires (anonymous for obvious reasons) to set the foundation for this recent view about income inequality:

The death of Esperanto, explained by Trispectivism

Esperanto used to be (and for brave few still is) the hope for a better, happier society. Born out of the notion that language can be the bridge of cultures, understanding and peace, this language, similar to her older sister, volapuk, was created in order that everyone will be able to communicate with everyone.

esperanto_black

So, why such a positive initiative experienced such a failure?

For that we will have to understand some facts:

– Esperanto was created in 1887 by Ludwig Lazarus Zamenhof, an ophthalmologist from Białystok, and was based on the initiative to create an international auxiliary language open to all.

– Language is a very complex topic that has branches in all aspects of life. Hence, in linguistics there are many sections and subsections with different specialties that investigate this highly diverse topic. To illustrate some it is enough to mention divisions such as: socio-linguistic, phraseology, phonetics, cultural linguistic, experimental linguistics, diachronic linguistic, translation and a long et cetera.

South-park-esperanto

In order for us to understand language we can use the example of a car, a cell, an ant, a star and pretty much everything that exist. For the sake of simplicity let’s pick a car. When someone drives a car there is a set of road conduct set by humans in a natural way, most of which were later explained and described in a more methodological approach as a set of traffic laws. Meaning, today we say a tree and the linguist can write an entire book about the word explaining how it came to life, why, when and what happened to it since. However, in order for that word to be understood by others, the interlocutor in question needs to have the same set of linguistic notions. Thus, the more culturally and physically in pair he will be to the speaker the more understanding they will have.

Trispectivism says that the individual All cannot exists without the universal All and has to constantly interact with it. Similarly, a word cannot exist by itself but needs to have constant interaction within and towards a language. A word will not be understood without a context (if I meet a friend and tell him “apple” and leave, he will look at me wondering if I´m ok).

Esperanto_melonoThrough the course of its existence, Esperanto experienced moments of great success. People from different countries understood each other while talking about simple material topics. The difficulties began when it needed to rise to the next step, meaning in more variety of conversations. When two people started to talk about abstract issues, the material epistemological understanding was no more, leaving each one to understand the abstract word according to their background. This is when the connection between the individual All and the universal All suffers a breaking point and leaves both parties in their respectful notion of mere definition. In most cases, this situation complicates even more when each one thinks she understood what the other person wanted to say according to her experience or personal notions while in reality it has nothing to do to the notion pronounced by the speaker.

When an Indian person says to a Danish one, let´s eat ‘spicy’, the latter might say yes, but if he does not know the Indian culture, he is in for a long night of pouring water on his burning tongue. And what about the word ‘marriage’ between an American and a Saudi, or even worse, when a Muslim says God, the Christian hears a Judeo-Christian God (which explains why they all say that they have the same God even though everything about what their God says differs completely). Hence, when Esperanto aspired to become international and began to cross borders, the understanding between one and his kin diminished alongside with the effectiveness of the intercommunication.

In short, emotions, as we witness in many occasions, are what bring sense to the language, but it is the person (or persons), that creates the story to contemplate upon.

What an hour in a museum can do to a person

The Ashmolean museum in Oxford offers daily free tours with different thematic concepts and contexts. This is, by far, a superb way to visit a museum on a course of some weeks. That is due probably because of the obvious reason that what is usually an interested curious walk amongst the eras suddenly becomes a learning experience about cultures and hence, about life.

Ashmolean4

One thing that is constantly repeating while visiting a museum is the multiplicity of faiths and general dispositions of belief-based traditions and ceremonies that qualify and quantify the society.

Amun-Ra
Amun-Ra

In one of these visits I had the pleasure to walk through the Egyptian era. While listening to the explanation of the volunteering Egyptologist, I couldn´t help myself but take few notes I find to be extremely relevant to the way we perceive the interaction between older cultures and traditions and our own. Today, any curious person that is interested to know where and when her beliefs began can simply look at the vast and growing number of web pages (both official and amateurs) that delightfully narrate the passing of concepts and faith from one culture to the one that followed. This tour was no different, staring at Amun Ra’s human or ram´s face, one cannot not be awe striking by its majestic power. This divine Sun God usually appears holding in one hand a spear and in the other the Ankh, the key of life by the gods (still represented to this very day in various beliefs). As creator god, he is considered to be the father of kings, meaning the father of the great Pharaohs.

Ashmolean Egypt section

As even the great god cannot stay without the universal need of a feminine wisdom and natural connections, the belief in the Mother God (known as Mut) was also part of the divine. The Goddess was venerated as both Virgin and Mother and in many representations was depicted as a gyps (a vulture). The Pharaoh, on the other hand, was praised as an earthly god, as the son of both the creator god and the great wise goddess (though by parthenogenesis of course). He can no doubt create miracles and even holds the balance between Ka and Ba (concepts of the soul). The first being the sheut (close to the word ‘sheol’ in Hebrew which in general terms means ‘hell’), it is the shadow of the human soul. In direct opposition to Ka is Ba, depicted by a bird with a human head that flies to the field of Reeds (or Aaru, similar to the modern notion of paradise). No doubt, the assimilations and reconfiguration of cultures and symbols gave way for Ba to have a strong resemblance to the famous Al-Buraq that followed in the same region.

Al-Buraq
Al-Buraq

A museum, the great palace of knowledge, where a person not only journeys to the past but also to her own culture and origins. It is our universal, our extension to the farther realms that altogether are closer than we can imagine to our own perception. As pattern seeking mammals, it seems that there is a desire to create these magnificent artifacts of aesthetic emotional experience in order to give rise to reasons and explanations. Yet let us not forget (and any visit in a museum should reminds us), what was once sacred, today, is a mere curious piece of history and beauty.

Field of Reeds, the image of Paradise as a flourishing land was common at the time ('Paradise' comes from 'Pardes', plantation of trees)
Field of Reeds, the image of Paradise as a flourishing land was common at the time (‘Paradise’ comes from ‘Pardes’, plantation of trees). Hence, the idea of Paradise was no more than an oasis surrounded by the great hot desert.

Mo-Tzu, ancient energy of curiosity and freedom

Golden RuleLove others as you love yourself (or the negation version: “do not do to others what you do not wish to be done to you”). Many (religious/believers/influenced people) claim this Golden rule to be God’s commandment (by god, of course each person believes it to be her god that said it). Unfortunately, it is a common mistake. Many cultures around the world have it as an implicit social rule (whether they are an Amazonian tribe or a lost Asian tribe). Actually, by limiting this basic human behavior to such a narrow cultural ownership, one might miss so much of human’s cultural beauty and variety. Meaning, aside of the fact that all cultural have this rule as a finite and ultimate goodness to follow, what is interesting is how they reach it and how they so beautifully described it.

Mo TzuOne such culture is from the land of the Hundred Schools of Thought, where Chinese philosophers were debating about existence, faith, heaven and earth. Those were philosophical reflections ten folds the ones that were taking place simultaneously in the deserts of the Judea and Samaria. One philosopher that is worth remembering is the great Mo-Tzu (also known as Mozi, ca. 470 BC – ca. 391 BC). He is the founder of the school of Mohism, a contemporary and rival to the school of Confucianism. Mo-Tzu’s teachings were about authenticity, simplicity and self restrain. He believed that Love is a universal concept and should be given to the entire universe in an equal manner (unlike Confucius that believed in measures of love to different proximities). This also means that Mo-Tzu was strongly against rituals, especially the kind that worships Heavens and different spirits and entities. One should reflect and search within himself -he repeated- and through nature to attain self-knowledge. Rituals make your mind stagnate and inhibit your spirit by dulling the energy of curiosity and freedom. For that reason he was also against music and ceremonies (while some say that some music inspires them, I do have to agree with him in regards to the large majority of popular music).

Unlike Confucius that continued the Western Chou tradition (1111-770 BC), Mo Tzu was inspired by the ancient Hsia (2183-1752 BC), with the concept of righteousness. Although both had a strong emphasis on human value and valor, it was Mo Tzu who was against the belief in faith. For him, the doctrine of love should be embraced and everything in the universe should be loved like one’s own. Thus, while walking ceaselessly between the different rulers, he preached for peace and egalitarian society. For Ti Mo Tzu, the Heaven were passive and indifferent and the spirits (angels) did not exist, thus it was strictly by the knowledge and love of men to create a world kind and prosperous.

Mo Tzu2

On his many travels, he saw a world of poverty of the mass, wars inflicted by unfit and greedy rulers, classes that weight on social well being with extravagant luxuries of the few. Mo-Tzu strongly believed that helpless believe in faith undermines the will of all, and only by becoming aware and self-conscious with knowledge human will overcome those maladies of natural beings.

http://www.dmoz.org/Society/Philosophy/Philosophers/M/Mocius/

read full text at –ctext.org/mozi

Who hides behind the mask?

mask2

Last week, Professor John Picton, Emeritus Professor of African Art at the University of London’s School of African Studies, spoke about West African masks. The talk held place in the recently renovated and renewed Pitt Rivers Museum in Oxford. Professor Picton says that it is important to understand that the relationship between a mask, the person wearing it and the mask-in-performance, is neither simple, nor straight-forward. This asseveration is very interesting in relation to Trispectivism, recognizing the three perspectives interacting in one performance. Picton also elaborated on aspects of power, performance, disguise, secrecy, colour and imagery in specific masks from Nigeria.

Map-YorubaThe renowned expert explained about the mysterious subject of masking and masquerade in Nigeria. One of the main mask destinations he discussed was in Nigeria. In the Yoruba tribe there are three types of masks for different ceremonies. The most impressive one is called Epa, which is an incredibly decorated masks with variety of symbols.

As you can see in the photos, there is a large variety of colours and shapes (i.e. the color of white means hard work in the fields but for a Muslim it is purity and closeness to God). Not every detail has a meaning but certainly some forms, shapes and symbols have meanings. This is where the knowledgeable will be able to distinguish between the important and the not important aspects of the mask (i.e. a wheel have no important message but two red colors on the forehead mean a certain deity). So does the chant and the music. A good wearer has to know to distinguish music, words, and steps and of course the symbols of the deity he represents.

mask1

The ceremonies which the tribe uses the masks for are known to be a form of a test, where the most famous one is the representation of death (of a person). The spirit is entered into the mask before the ceremony and the wearer of the mask is supposed to embody the spirit or re-embody the dead person. Actually, in some cases, as with the masks of the Ebira, the mask maker incorporates body relics of the death person (possessions and even skin tissue, hair, bones etc).

CofradíasThe secrecy of the wearer is important. The mask wearer cannot appear to your eyes as the neighbor’s son or a relative that you grew up with. In order to keep the mysterious aspect and the holiness belief, it has to be the transcendental divine. The human body (again) becomes a mere vessel. That is the reason why both the spectators and the performer have a belief that a person cannot see the wearer of the mask naked in any other occasions; otherwise, they will fall ill. One cannot see the inside of the mask.

mask dance

mask3The masks are created with images about the authority, army, spirits, kings and other power position essence (in some case even an American or other foreign symbolism). It is believed that the masks dance, sing and tell stories, they make you laugh and sometimes think, they initiate children into adulthood, lead armies to war and celebrate their achievements.

Masks create distance, with no exception, which, in a small community, brings to life some dramatic distance between performer and audience. It is a wonderful interaction in a trispectivist manner where the human agency dissipates into the cause of the ceremony, meaning the metaphysical one. The fact that the wearer actually has the physical strength to dance and jump with those heavy masks in midsummer is also believed to be thanks to magical intervention and medicine with special powers.

chiwara-dancing

The notion of the mask blurs the individual All into an ambivalent, sometimes ambiguous identity, one that is depicted by the universal All yet still represented by an individual. This anthropomorphic deification of a symbol repeats in different cultures and in this one, probably the most intriguing issue is the use of masks. This creates an acute interaction between the spectator in the physical world and the mask as a door for the spirit world to intervene.

 

Mask from Pitt Rivers museum, Oxford
Mask from Pitt Rivers museum, Oxford

mask4

mask5

mask6