Monday, 10 February 2020

Aesthetics are not an Absolute



Aesthetics are not an Absolute:

This picture shows a painting by Jean Siméon Chardin, the 18th century French painter (1699-1779), considered to be a master of still life. Carefully balanced compositions, soft diffusion of light and granular impasto characterize his work.


I first encountered this painting on a CD-cover of a selection of piano pieces by Jean-Philippe Rameau, performed by Tzimon Barto "A Basket full of Wild Strawberries", a jewel in its own (2005). It is also the title of the painting " Le panier de fraise des bois".

I have always admired this lovely still life, its composition with the abundant redness of the strawberries, the contrasting white flowers in the front and the delicate transparency of the glass of water.

And yesterday I showed it to a friend who immediately took to the picture, too, but had one small critique to offer. To him the glass of water seemed like any ordinary water glass and not appropriate to accompany the erotic, sensual exclusivity of the strawberries. He suggested a metal beaker on another of Chardin's paintings to go with it. 


While I couldn't find any fault in the composition it nevertheless kept me pondering on if and how much aesthetics are influenced by the values of the society we are part of.

Aesthetics are not an absolute, they are prone to change like everything else man-made and respond to the zeitgeist and the general agreement on value. In this case I remembered that back then, in about 1750, there must have been a different value accorded to glass than today, simply because the production was by far harder. So in that time this water glass was most definitively considered to be something of value, something exclusive and therefore quite fitted to go with the exclusivity of the delicious strawberries. A metal or even gold beaker would have worked well, too - probably. But I think Chardin, who is said to have been quite a humble person, chose the water glass instead, most likely because of its unobtrusive and ephemeral exclusivity.


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Saturday, 8 February 2020

Music and Memory




Music and Memory:

For the last 2 weeks, out of over 9.500 titles, I have been editing and completing a music playlist for streaming purposes, one for classical music and one for Jazz. 

All my favorites, one after the other, continuously playing in an endless, uninterrupted stream: the joys of modern life, somehow always new, always exciting, thanks to random-mix mode. 
And thanks to this accomplishment I am rediscovering music I had not heard for ages, music which quietly went into oblivion on my cd-shelf, music I forgot the existence of, music I had lost myself in, music I would have metaphorically died for, music I thought I couldn’t live without and then forgot, music strongly attached to situations, events, people, episodes and phases in my life. 

Now, under a downy warm blanket, I lie on my couch and listen again to sounds almost forgotten. Mahler’s 9th, for example, the last slow, 25 minutes long, movement with its heartrending climaxes and its long, almost unbearably bittersweet fading out of this world. So many memories go with it, so many emotions and ghosts rise up from the depth of the past. 

Different times, different ages, they all are still there and even though I knew they were, was aware those memories must still exist somewhere, must still be encrypted in my brain, now, with the help of this music, they are as easy accessible as if they happened only yesterday. This is, among other spells, the magic that music is capable of. Music creates markers in the memory encrypting process. As do other strong tools: taste, smell, touch. Or color. 
It seems our brain uses our fundamental senses to help memorize, store, anchor and retrieve events by simply attaching sensations to them. 

Bartok is coupled with The Shining and early adolescence,  Ligeti’s Requiem with Space Odyssey and a very curious 12 year-old self and a certain person. The Preludes by Debussy make me think of, relive, re-feel, my moods, my joys, my despairs of a time in Nuremberg; Rameau, Satie and Mompou bring back a specific phase in Berlin (as does David Bowie), Bach makes a lost, dear dead friend return, Poulenc recreates the moment of a significant artistic insight. 

This is how I imagine and wish for, old age could be, the long afternoon of my evening of life. Given that I then will still have the necessary mental capacities, this is not an unattractive outlook. Recline on your couch, simply turn on the music and let your life pass by. It’s not them but me who plays “Our Song”!


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Sunday, 2 February 2020

‘Identity’ - poem





Identity

When Hans Hofmann became a hedgehog
somewhere in a Germany that has
vanished with its forests and hedgerows
Shakespeare would have been a young actor
starting out in a country that was
only a word to Hans who had learned
from those who had painted animals
only from hearing tales about them
without ever setting eyes on them
or from corpses with the lingering
light mute and deathly still forever
held fast in the fur or the feathers
hanging or lying on a table
and he had learned from others who had
arranged the corpses of animals
as though they were still alive in full
flight or on their way but this hedgehog
was there in the same life as his own 
looking around at him with his brush
of camel hair and his stretched
parchment of sheepskin as he turned to each sharp
particular quill and every black
whisker on the long live snout and those
flat clawed feet made only for trundling
and for feeling along the dark undersides
of stones and as Hans took them in he
turned into the Hans that we would see

                                    W. S. Merwin (1927 - 2019)*



*William Stanley Merwin (1927 – 2019) was an American poet and translator who wrote more than fifty books of poetry and prose and received twice the Pulitzer Prize.

*Hans Hoffmann was a German painter (1530-1591)

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“The Tremor of Forgery” by Patricia Highsmith - review



“The Tremor of Forgery” by Patricia Highsmith:

Recently, in search of a light read which would get me over the first, always dreary, days of January, I was recommended a book by Patricia Highsmith, “The Tremor of Forgery“, published first in the UK in 1969.

I was of the impression up until then that I had read all the books by Highsmith, even if that was a long time, decades, ago. Well, I was wrong, this one I had not read. And what a pleasant surprise it was.

Patricia Highsmith, American crime novelist (1921-1995) was by far more famous outside of the USA. And this did not change even after her novel “Strangers on a Train“ was bought and adapted for cinema by Alfred Hitchcock.

Her most famous figure could well be the talented Mr. Tom Ripley, to whom she dedicated 5 books alone. The first of the series was also made into a film, at least twice, one featuring Alain Delon in “Plein soleil“ by René Clement in 1960, and recently Matt Damon in “The Talented Mr. Ripley“ by Anthony Minghella from 1999.

The Tremor of Forgery marks somehow a departure from its predecessors as it is playing much more on the internal life of its protagonist, tells the story solely from the perspective of one single character. It is often considered to be her best novel, even Graham Greene gave it high praise. 

It tells of Howard Ingham, an American writer, who travels to Tunisia in order to meet and work with a friend on a screenplay. The friend never shows up, having committed suicide and Ingham, shaken by this news, resolves to write his next novel instead on site and stays. He gets sucked into the strangely different life of Tunisia, observing the Tunisian society around him, reflecting on its attitudes and how he feels about those cultural differences. 

He meets and befriends another American, a strange bigot character, and a friendly, lonely, gay Dane with a dog, who is a painter.
He ponders his own sexuality, deliberating on his latent homosexual tendencies whilst also embarking on a brief fling with a young woman. He even questions the very nature of his existence.

In following his thoughts or his conversations on a variety of topics with his friends it makes for a rich and rewarding reading experience. And there are mysteries at the heart of the story.
There's a hint of espionage with the American friend, there is the incident of an attempted break-in at Ingham's hotel bungalow, during which Ingham throws his typewriter in defence against the intruder; thereafter he is haunted by the notion that he might have killed the man.

All the while he waits for news of his girlfriend who later comes to visit him and tells him she has had an affair with his suicidal friend and was the reason for his killing himself.

On first perception the novel might seem uneventful but, as with almost every Highsmith novel, it grows on you in suspense and psychological drama. The true complexity and the depth of this novel come from the questions of morality and crime and how they can become relative in a given situation, forcing one to rethink well-trodden paths.



*Patricia Highsmith (January 19, 1921 – February 4, 1995) was an American novelist and short story writer best known for her psyhological thrillers, including her series of five novels featuring the character Tom Ripley. She wrote 22 novels novels and numerous sshort stories.


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“Bewilderment" by Richard Powers - review

 “ Bewilderment“ by Richard Powers: “Dad! Everything is going backwards.“  This frustrated outcry of a nine-year-old to his father is the ...