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'We couldn't save the Pieta,’ says Colin, ‘It was already smashed by the time we got there.’
 — screenplay: Children of Men
While searching online for a painting depicting King David’s dance-fueled return of the Art of the Covenant to Jerusalam, I happened by chance to come across a still from the 2006 film Children of Men. Having seen the film a few years after it was released, I was arrested again by this image of Michelangelo’s towering nude of the shepherd (and future King) David set in dramatic antithesis: dogs lounging insouciantly at its base, backlit and framed by the hard angles of modernist architecture, and approached mysteriously by a suited man in silhouette. A few online clicks led me to stumble on a short video of philosopher Slavoj Zizek’s commentary on the film:

"I think that the film gives the best diagnosis of the ideological despair of late capitalism, of a society without history. This I think is the true despair of the film. The true infertility is the very lack of historical experience, and that’s why I love this elegant point in the film of importing all the works of art. All those classical statues are there, but they are deprived of a world, they are totally meaningless—because what does it mean to have a statue of Michelangelo or whatever? It only works if it signals a certain world, and when this world is lacking, it is nothing."

Zizek goes on to offer some sharp commentary on a few other aspects of the film—the significance of the story being set in England; the impotence and failure of 60s radicalism—most of which I find myself agreeing with. At this point, Zizek offers an interpretation of the symbol of the boat at the end of the movie: the boat floats on the water, without roots, carrying the woman and the life she carries in her womb to safety, because, “The condition of the renewal means that you cut your roots. That is the solution.” 
Whether this is Zizek’s personal viewpoint, or simply his reading of the viewpoint of the filmmaker, remains unclear. We could of course just as easily read the boat gliding to safety over the water as a symbol of the new man traveling through the waters of birth (or re-birth)—birth being a process which is at least as much about connectivity and dependency, as it is about any sort of cutting of ties.
If I read Zizek correctly on these last points—if he does believe man’s way forward necessitates a cutting of roots—then I must declare myself as holding rather the opposite position. Without roots, man has no memory beyond the confines of his own narrow experience, place, and time. Without memory, man loses both his collective identity (culture) and his self identity (consciousness). Man’s rediscovery of himself must come then not through the cutting of roots, but rather through their reconnection. Man’s rediscovery of himself must come by rediscovering the longer line of his collective memory.
Memory as central to man’s identity and consciousness: this was a major theme of the work of Pope Emeritus Benedict, both from his days as Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, as well as through his pontificate as Pope Benedict XVI. In Lumen Fidei—a joint work by Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI and Pope Francis—the theme of memory is given central place vis a vis the questions of truth and faith:

"The question of truth is really a question of memory…for it deals with something prior to ourselves and can succeed in uniting us in a way that transcends our petty and limited individual consciousness. It is a question about the origin of all that is, in whose light we can glimpse the goal and thus the meaning of our common path."

But the development of this theme here must remain a subject for another day. This is just a simple posting: Michelangelo’s David sculpture, missing part of its leg, set in a glass terrarium.
Oh—and a Pieta, shattered somewhere off-camera.
JG

'We couldn't save the Pieta,’ says Colin, ‘It was already smashed by the time we got there.’

— screenplay: Children of Men

While searching online for a painting depicting King David’s dance-fueled return of the Art of the Covenant to Jerusalam, I happened by chance to come across a still from the 2006 film Children of Men. Having seen the film a few years after it was released, I was arrested again by this image of Michelangelo’s towering nude of the shepherd (and future King) David set in dramatic antithesis: dogs lounging insouciantly at its base, backlit and framed by the hard angles of modernist architecture, and approached mysteriously by a suited man in silhouette. A few online clicks led me to stumble on a short video of philosopher Slavoj Zizek’s commentary on the film:

"I think that the film gives the best diagnosis of the ideological despair of late capitalism, of a society without history. This I think is the true despair of the film. The true infertility is the very lack of historical experience, and that’s why I love this elegant point in the film of importing all the works of art. All those classical statues are there, but they are deprived of a world, they are totally meaningless—because what does it mean to have a statue of Michelangelo or whatever? It only works if it signals a certain world, and when this world is lacking, it is nothing."

Zizek goes on to offer some sharp commentary on a few other aspects of the film—the significance of the story being set in England; the impotence and failure of 60s radicalism—most of which I find myself agreeing with. At this point, Zizek offers an interpretation of the symbol of the boat at the end of the movie: the boat floats on the water, without roots, carrying the woman and the life she carries in her womb to safety, because, “The condition of the renewal means that you cut your roots. That is the solution.” 

Whether this is Zizek’s personal viewpoint, or simply his reading of the viewpoint of the filmmaker, remains unclear. We could of course just as easily read the boat gliding to safety over the water as a symbol of the new man traveling through the waters of birth (or re-birth)—birth being a process which is at least as much about connectivity and dependency, as it is about any sort of cutting of ties.

If I read Zizek correctly on these last points—if he does believe man’s way forward necessitates a cutting of roots—then I must declare myself as holding rather the opposite position. Without roots, man has no memory beyond the confines of his own narrow experience, place, and time. Without memory, man loses both his collective identity (culture) and his self identity (consciousness). Man’s rediscovery of himself must come then not through the cutting of roots, but rather through their reconnection. Man’s rediscovery of himself must come by rediscovering the longer line of his collective memory.

Memory as central to man’s identity and consciousness: this was a major theme of the work of Pope Emeritus Benedict, both from his days as Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, as well as through his pontificate as Pope Benedict XVI. In Lumen Fideia joint work by Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI and Pope Francis—the theme of memory is given central place vis a vis the questions of truth and faith:

"The question of truth is really a question of memory…for it deals with something prior to ourselves and can succeed in uniting us in a way that transcends our petty and limited individual consciousness. It is a question about the origin of all that is, in whose light we can glimpse the goal and thus the meaning of our common path."

But the development of this theme here must remain a subject for another day. This is just a simple posting: Michelangelo’s David sculpture, missing part of its leg, set in a glass terrarium.

Oh—and a Pieta, shattered somewhere off-camera.

JG

12:14 am: philokales5 notes

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Sandro Botticelli: The Annunciation (c. 1489-1490)
Commissioned for the Cestello convent chapel, Florence.
Current location: Galleria Degli Uffizi, Florence, Italy
Dimensions: 59” H x 61” W

Sandro Botticelli: The Annunciation (c. 1489-1490)

Commissioned for the Cestello convent chapel, Florence.

Current location: Galleria Degli Uffizi, Florence, Italy

Dimensions: 59” H x 61” W

03:31 pm: philokales

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Ex Opere Oprah

"A historian can’t help observing how the need for confession has returned even — or especially — in the land of the pilgrim fathers. The difference is that instead of confession being followed by a simple, comforting rubric which has behind it the weight of divine authority, the modern confessor must grope his way into the labyrinth of the psyche, with all its false turnings and dissolving perspectives. A noble end — but a terrifying responsibility. No wonder that psychoanalysts have the highest suicide rate of any vocation. And perhaps after all the old procedure had something to recommend it because, as a rule, it’s the act of confession that matters, not the attempted cure."
–•–•–•–
Lord Kenneth Clark: Civilisation (BBC: 1969) Chapter 7: “Grandeur and Obedience”.
11:37 pm: philokales

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video

As the day’s golden hour dies into lavender, one could do worse than listen to the Adagio of Beethoven’s Eb Piano Concerto, its heart-catching pivots to minor which break into counterpoint like glass shattering in slow motion.

For the last several weeks I’ve been listening to Pierre-Laurent Aimard’s recordings of the complete Beethoven concertos, but a pianist friend of mine also recommends Richard Goode’s versions.

Certainly two of the most important hands in the 20th century belonged to the Canadian piano virtuoso Glenn Gould. Though most well-known for his revolutionary (and technically dazzling) interpretations of Bach, in the video above he plays the Adagio to Beethoven’s Eb Piano Concerto. The audio is somewhat unsatisfying (a better, audio-only version of his studio recording can be heard here), but the video does offer a good look at Gould’s technique and intensity of focus. Though his technical mastery is not as showcased here as in say, his recordings of Bach’s Goldberg Variations, his absolute control in the trills near the middle of the movement (starting around 3:30) is stunning.

A bit of Gould for the golden hour. Or should I make that…the Goulden hour?

06:05 pm: philokales1 note

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The Irish poet and recipient of the 1995 Nobel Prize for Literature introduces and reads “Miracle”, a poem inspired both by the stroke which left him paralyzed and hospitalized, and the Gospel account of the men who cut a hole in the roof in order to lower a paralytic for Christ’s healing, here (Heaney’s introduction to the poem begins at the 3:00 minute mark).
Having recovered from the stroke, several years later Heaney was hospitalized after taking a fall outside a Dublin restaurant. He passed away the next morning, just before a scheduled medical procedure. 
His last words, sent from the hospital in a text to his wife, were “Noli timere” — the Latin form of the most frequently occurring command in the Bible: “Be not afraid.”

The Irish poet and recipient of the 1995 Nobel Prize for Literature introduces and reads “Miracle”, a poem inspired both by the stroke which left him paralyzed and hospitalized, and the Gospel account of the men who cut a hole in the roof in order to lower a paralytic for Christ’s healing, here (Heaney’s introduction to the poem begins at the 3:00 minute mark).

Having recovered from the stroke, several years later Heaney was hospitalized after taking a fall outside a Dublin restaurant. He passed away the next morning, just before a scheduled medical procedure.

His last words, sent from the hospital in a text to his wife, were “Noli timere” — the Latin form of the most frequently occurring command in the Bible: “Be not afraid.”

04:13 pm: philokales4 notes

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T.S. Eliot, Four Quartets: East Coker

T.S. Eliot, Four Quartets: East Coker

04:48 pm: philokales1 note

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Rainer Maria Rilke: from Book of Hours (1905)

translated from German by Anita Barrows and Joanna Macy

Rainer Maria Rilke: from Book of Hours (1905)

translated from German by Anita Barrows and Joanna Macy

02:43 pm: philokales1 note

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Tango Treatment

–•–•–•–

Can dancing provide healing from neurological conditions? If so, which styles or forms would be most effective?

One research doctor, as well as dance instructors from two separate continents, believe that dancing can provide just such treatment—and the dance singled out as particularly effective is the tango.

Tango therapy has recently become a new form of treatment in patients suffering from neurological diseases such as Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s. Patients afflicted with the diseases face a future of deteriorating physical and mental state and need a constant stimulation of the mind through for example music…

'We saw that the movements in tango proved helpful particularly regarding balance and walking backwards,' says Dr. Gammon Earhart, assistant professor at Washington University and author of the study. She explains that the motor skills of Parkinson’s patients vanish and especially movements like walking backwards and turning are hard to carry out, making it difficult to perform everyday chores.

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After reading a study by Patricia McKinley at a conference of the Society for Neuroscience, which stated that tango improved mobility in generally frail elderly patients, Earhart decided to see if the same results could be achieved in patients with Parkinson’s. Together with Madeleine Hackney, a PhD student and professional ballroom dancer, they conducted a series of tests comparing tango to standard exercise regimes as well as more familiar dances for the Canadians like waltz and fox trot.

'All treatments had some result elements in common, but the treatment using the tango always proved either equal or superior to the other exercise methods,' said Earhart. Improvement in balance and more fluid movements was seen after as little as two weeks of exercise.

Earhart believes that there are some benefits found in dance in general, but that the tango contains some specific manoeuvres that are especially beneficent to people with Parkinson’s…

'…Through the close embrace with their partner, the patients feel safe and dare to move around more,' says Marisa Maragliano, secretary of Sentimiento Tango, who initiated the first international conference for tango therapy…

In light of recent studies which show that adding cinnamon to the diet may help prevent Alzheimer’s, I’ll be adding plenty of spice to my morning oatmeal, and taking regular mid-day dance breaks as a step toward my tango-filled twilight years.

Article extract and photo from Maria Buenos Aires

–•–•–•–

05:37 pm: philokales

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video

Recently I sat for some portraits to be used in a video for a friend, Vince Scheuerman (whose band is Army of Me). The video was directed and shot by another friend of mine, William Gene Price III

Beginning with a quote from 19th century Scottish author and theologian Ian MacLaren, “Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle”, the video cuts between Vince singing close and direct to the camera, and video portraits of various individuals, mainly wearing white T-shirts, with flickering WWII archival footage projected on them.

10:01 am: philokales

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Exchanging Currency

—•—•—•—

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I’ll admit it: most musicians know very little about dancing. You’d think the opposite would be true. After all, there are very few emaciated chefs or teetotaling bartenders. But the fact is that during our formative years, instead of heading out to one event or another and learning the art of socialized movement, most musicians probably spent the majority of our time hunched over an instrument, in the isolation of practice room or bedroom.

I’m sure many people actually learn about about a style of music by learning to dance to it. The swing dancing revival in the 90s brought a new interest in big band jazz to a younger generation. And a modern club hit can still gain the momentum to become a radio hit. 

For me, the line has run the opposite way. With my mother being a music teacher, my music education began in first grade at the piano. Or perhaps it began while I was yet in the womb: my mother would put the speakers near her body and play her collection of classical LPs, in hopes that the music would, as she had read somewhere, make me smarter. (There was no control group in the experiment, so I have no way of knowing if it worked.)

Music has been a part of my life since long before I can remember, but dancing? Well, not so much.

I began to be interested in dance while in college, partly because of composers such as Aaron Copland and Igor Stravinsky, whose most important works were written for the ballet. In the years which followed I became interested in electronic dance music, and began to go to clubs partly out of fascination at the ways in which the internal order of sound could push out into the external. Occasionally there would be a dancer with an obviously higher level of training and passion—here was someone both in control of their body and immersed in the music, creating poetry in the exchange of currency between sound and body. A quote by Charles Baudlaire (encountered later) would have put words to my intuition: “The dance can reveal everything mysterious that is hidden in music…”

Over the last several years I’ve fallen more and more in love with the music of Argentinian “tango nuevo” composer Astor Piazzolla. And yet, I have only recently become interested in the actual dance form of the tango. At this point it has only gone as far as watching various recordings of the dance, as well as trying to learn a few of the most basic steps and movements. Yet even from this I’m getting a better understanding of the tango’s rhythmic push and pull—single time, double time, and back—and the mixture of smooth and jagged line which makes both the music and the dance so compelling and alive.

There is a pair of tango dancers I’ve discovered recently whose work seems to transcend that of many others. While many tango performances seem to degrade into a caricature of the relationship between male and female—a two-dimensional sensuality with a stylized reduction to type (predator-prey, seductress-seduced)—the work of Rubén Veliz and Sabrina Veliz seems to place the tango’s traditional male-female dialectic into a context of greater breadth and complexity, showing something more deeply and manifoldly human.[1] One senses in the movement and expression of these two a great mutual respect, perhaps even a deep friendship, and dare I say it: love?

As it turns out, the shared last name is neither consanguine, nor coincidence. They are, in fact, married.

Watching Rubén and Sabrina Veliz move together, one becomes enchanted as much by their faces, as their bodies. Serious, then light-hearted and playful. Seducing, then falling into simple and joyous delight.

Though obviously captivated by each other, Rubén and Sabrina do not reduce each other to mere objects of desire. They seem to bring all of who they are together, meeting in their unique and unrepeatable subjectivity. They move in a language which they know, a language they’ve inherited—and yet a language they themselves are inventing and refining.

There is a move which marks the beginning of one of their routines: they face each other a body’s length apart, but as he advances toward her, she steadily recedes. In a quickening of footsteps he begins to overtake her, and just as their bodies almost come into alignment she reaches out her hands to accept his. In the flash of an instant she is suddenly moving toward him, willingly caught in his embrace. The entire arc of movement takes only a few short seconds, but it is full of charm, at once simple and profound. We see the audience break instantly into smiles. Placed into form just before us is the heart’s movement of resistance and acceptance, a time-lapse narrative rendered in real time.

Watching Rubén and Sabrina dance their tango, I can’t help but wonder: can we learn how to love by learning how to dance? What language do these two speak, what words are formed in their brushstrokes pink and black? What is signaled in the slide, slide, tap and turn—this push and pull, tender and tense? What letters are drawn in the silent ink of her quill pen heels, what symbols stamped out under his heavy black shoes? In this with-against, with-against, a gentle arc and then suddenly her body is thrust into lightest air, insouciant of its earthbound weight, as in desperate defiance of gravity and gods. This refusal to believe we are made only of hand and foot, and not also of wing. This movement where bodies forget their servile prose, and take flight into poetry. And in these sharp, swift steps—the slice of heel and strain of fabric—can man and woman yet bind together what has long been torn?

This is a dance I don’t yet understand. It is a kind of language—but one I have only just learned to hear, and not yet how to speak.

After all, I’m only a musician. And we know so little about dancing.

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—•—•—•—

Photos of Rubén and Sabrina Veliz from Ball Tango Argentino, Germany (2010)

[1] Post-script: Perhaps my statement that tango tends toward a reduction to type/archetype is unfair. A female Argentinian blogger writes that in Argentine culture,

"women are strong and men appreciate the opportunity to engage with her full energy. When we observe tango it appears that she is a passive follower, but looking deeper it is much more an active engagement than a passive following, at its best. 

In learning and practicing tango we have the opportunity to come face to face, literally, with all our archetypal, relational challenges.

Indeed, one can use tango as a means to uncover a broad spectrum of personal attributes which have been hidden or unprocessed for various reasons, often unknown to us. Whatever is going on in your life, it will show up through your tango. Giselle Anne says, “You dance who you are.” Oh so true, yet I pose the challenge:

Dance toward who you are becoming, opening doors to who you actually are.”

So is the tango a dance which further calcifies existing archetypes, or one in which those types are at once acknowledged and yet transformed and taken up into something greater?

Answering such a question is beyond my current dance score grade. Given that I am a North American musician, writing a blog entry about a South American dance, I would advise the reader to exercise the appropriate discretion.

01:34 pm: philokales1 note

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