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It’s amazing, my bond with Rachmaninoff grows ever deeper. He has truly become the voice of the divine for me. Such a beautiful soul.

It was thus that i came across some recordings of the Rachmaninoff Preludes and Etudes-Tableaux, by the mysterious and engimatic English pianist, John Ogdon. Now i’d heard of him before, as mentioned by a very dear – and sadly former – friend: wolfgang. He’d mentioned Ogdon to me on a few occasions, embellishing his engimatic and somewhat tragic life, as only wolfgang could. I did not truly listen to what he played me at the time, because i was quite impressed by the technically difficult piece he’d played for me, and the facility with which Ogdon seemed to go through it (the piece was Balakirev’s Islamey).

On the other side of this equation, are the Rachmaninoff Etudes-tableaux, which like many other things that are going on currently in my life, are a taste only recently aquired. It is odd, as much as i have always adored Rachmaninoff, i always had some difficulty in appreciating his Etudes Tableaux. Until i found this recording of the completes etudes by John Ogdon.

I will give you a sample. It’s a couple of excerpts from the Op.39 No.5. The first part is the beautiful opening with the main melody, and then a small fade out as i brough in the absolutely divine climax of the etude (if this doesnt bring tears to your eyes, i dont know what will) where he recapitulates the main theme in the left hand along with typical vintage rachmaninoff chords in the right hand. Just magnificent:

So, why did Ogdon have this effect suddenly on me? I dont know. There is no secret that he was one of the trugly greats of all time, in terms of his technical wizardry on the piano. But he also had a highly musical sense. Why try and dissect a beautiful thing? He was genius. That is what genius, someone who can give you somethign that no other can.

He somehow is able to produce a sound so clear that you can hear every single note, and yet at the same the volume of sound he generates is incredible. He holds the entire piece, which is not exactly easy, so coherent thanks to his technical facility that he can actually attend to the musicality with more ease perhaps than others. and finally there is his insight. Taht is the intangible.

Anyways, sadly, as is too often the case, his life was marred by tragedy. The gentle giant that he was, he underwent a severe mental breakdown in the 70′s and was hospitalized for many years. When he finally came back out, in ’83, he was different, although he continued to play and record (along them his high praised recording of Sorabji’s famous, or rather infamous, Opus Clavicembalisticum, almost 5 hours long, and arguably the most difficult piece ever written for the piano).

Here is a very nice documentary on John Ogdon, found on youtube. Enjoy:

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The Cretan Glance

Odyssey: A modern sequelThis was somethign that i sent to a bunch of friends in email some time ago, but has stayed with me. It is part of the Introduction to Nikos Kazantzakis‘s The Odyssey: A Modern Sequel, translated by Kimon Friar. Being a huge fan of Kaztzakis after reading his famous and controversial “The Last temptation of Christ”, and “Saint Francis of Assissi” you can imagine my joy when i found an old version of the Modern Odyssey at Elliot’s Bookshop, back in Toronto. I bought, and never read it. I decided sometime ago to find give it a shot, and i was reading the introduction when i came across this, which truly struck me.
i will apologize ahead of time, for the lengh of this, and i realize that you may very well not really even read the whole thing, but that’s alright. i dont mind. I took immense pleasure in it today, and i just wanted to share it.
All emphases are added by me, and i’ve occasionally inserted comments in the brackets and in green[ ].
kazantzakis“a man, writes Kazantzakis, has three duties. His firs tduty is to the mind which imposes order on disordr, formulates laws, builds bridges over th unfathomable abyss, and sets up rational boundaris beyond which man does not dare go. But his second duty is to the heart, which admits of no boundaries, which years to pierce beyond phenomena and to merge with somethign eyond mind and matter. His thrid duty is to free himself from both mind and heart, from the great temptation of the hope which both offer of subduing phenomena or of finding the essence of things.
A man must then embrace the annihilating abyss without any hope, he must say taht nothing exists, neither life nor death, and must accpt this necessity bravely, with exultation and song [how lovely ]. he may then build the affirmative structure of his life over this abyss in an ecstasy of tragic joy [ lovely and tempting]
A man is now prepared to undertake a pilgrimmage of four stages. At the start of his journey he hears an agonized cry within him shouting for hlep. his first stepe is to plunge into his own ego until he discovers that it is the endangered spirit (or “god”) locked within each man that is crying out for liberation. In order to fre it, each man must consdier himself solely responsible for the salvation fo the world, because
when a man dies, that aspect of the universe which is his own particular vision and the unique play of his mind also crashes in ruins forever
[how beautiful, anthropocentric and narcissistic].
In the second step, a man must plunge beyond his ego and into his racial origins; yet among his forefathers he must choose only those who can help him towards greater refinement of spirit, taht h may in turn pass on his task to a son whomay also surpass him. The thrid step for a man is to plunge beyond his own particular race into the races of all mankind and to suffer their composite agony in the struggle to liberate God within themselves. The fourth step is to plunge beyond mankind and to become identified with all the universe, with animat and inanimate matter, with earth, stones, sea, plants, … with the vital impulse of creation in all phenomena. Each man is a fathomless composit of atavistic roots plunging down to the primordial origin of things. A man is now prepared to go beyond the mind, the hart, and hope, beyond his ego, his race, and mankind even, beyond all phenomena and plunge further into a vision of the Invisible permeating all thigns and forevr ascending [sounds almost oriental/eastern in its implications, doesn't it?]
The essence of the invisible is an agonized ascent toward more adn more purity of spirit, toward light. The goal is the struggle itself, since the ascent is endless.
God is not a perfect being towards whcih man proceeds, but a spiritual concept which evolves toward purity as man himself evolves on earth. he not Almighty, for he is in constant danger, filled with wounds, struggling to survive; he is not All-holy, for he is pitilss int h cruel choice he makes to survive, caring entiher for men nor animals, neither for vitues nor ideas, but making use of them all in an attempt to pass through them and shake himself free [my note: doesn't this almost seems like a personification or humanization of some eastern beliefs? not to mention 'natural law'] he is not All-knowing, for his head is a confused jumble of dark and light. he cries out to man for help because man is his highest spiritual reach in teh present stage of his evolution. he cannot be saved unless man tries to sav him by struggling with him, nor can man be saved unless God is saved. On the whole, it is rather man who must save God [how beautiful....]. …
…The essence of God is to find freedom, salvation. Our duty is to aid him in this ascent, and to save ourselves at last from our final hope of slavation, to say to ourselves at last that not even salvation exists, and to accept this with tragic joy [so much contradiction, so lovely]. Love is the force which urgs us on and which descend on us as a dance, a rhythm. Injustice, cruelty, longing, hunger and war are laders that push us on. God is never created out of happiness and comfort, but out of tragedy and strife [wouldn't nietzsche be proud?].
The greatest virtue is not to be fre, but to struggle ceaselessly for freedom [i can't help shaking off the feeling that there is far more latent in that, than is evident on the surface] ….
….Nietzsche confirmed him in his predilection for the Dionysian….vision of life: ….of ascending life, of joy in action , of eecstatic motion and inpsiration, of instinct and adventure and daungless suffering, the god of song and music and dance; as opposed to Apollo, the god of peace, of leisure and repose, of aesthetic emotion and intellectual contemplation, of logical order and philosophical calm, the god of painting and sculpture and epic poetry. … however, that though this was for him a predilection and a biased emphasis, it was not at alll a rejection, but rather an assimilation of hte Apollonian vision of life.
…. he then recounts how Dionysus came out of India clad in multicoloured silks, laden with bracelets and rings, his eyes ringed with black, his fingernails painted crimson. But as the god proceeded into Greece, his adornments fell from him on by one until he stood naked on a hill at Eleusis. Dionysus, the god of ecstatic and visionary drunkenness, had turned into apollo, the god of srence beauty. such, wrote Kazanzakis, is the progress is of art. Ultimately kazantzakis wished to combine the two in what he called the ‘Cretan Glance’. [more on that in a second]
kazantzakis also took the exaltation of tragedy as the joy of life, a certain ‘tragic optimism’ of the strong man who delights to discover that strife is the pervading law of life, the ‘melancholy joy’ which Wagner discerned in the last quartets of Beethoven [the pleasure of paper-cuts some might even dare say].
Henri Bergson…For Kazantzakis, as for Bergson, intuition (allied to instinct) is a more penetrating and more Dionysian vision which seks the essence of things, but both based their ultimate hop on the itellect which, as it growns stronger and bolder in evolutionary growth, sems to embody best the highest forms through whcih the elan vital may find its supreeme expression. …. Kazantzakis writes: ‘they ar no successive degrees of evoltuion, they are simply direction whcih the same fermentation took. Difference of quality and not of quantity exists between instinct and intellect. Instinct knows things, intellect the relationship between things. Both are cognitive faculties … intution has the advantage of entering into the very essence of life, of feeling its movement, its creation. But it has one great disadvantage: it cannot express itself.’ Language is an instrument of the intellect. That philosophy which wants to interpret experienc and to understand the essence of things cannot do it with the intellect alone. ‘intellect must therfore work hand in hand with instinct. Only the intellect, says Bergson, can seek to solve some prlbems, though it will never solves them; only the instinct can solve htem, though it will never seek them……
‘Life’, write kazantzakis stressing his words by underlining them, ‘is what inspiration is to a poem.
Words obstruct the flow of inspiration, but nevertheless they exprss it as best they can. Only the humanintellect can dissect words, sor unite them, or delineate them grammatically; but if we are to comprehend the poem, something else is needed; w must plunge into its heart, we must live in its inspiration, …. only then may the words lose their rigidity and inflxibility or may the current rush on its way once more ….
Like all poets, Kazantzakis is not much a sytematic Philosopher as one who, reachign out the tentacles of his mind and spirit, and garsping whatever might bring him nourishmnt, sucks up all into the third inner eye of vision peculiar to himself alone, and moves the reader with an imaginative view of life so intense as to be, in truth, a new apprehnsion. Basic to all of Kazantzakis‘ visions, as to that of Yeats, has been the attempt to synthesize waht seems to be contraries, antithess, antinomies. [talking about the Cretan Glance] this eye, this glance, between teh eye of the Orient (or Dionysus, who came from India or Asia Minor) and the ye of the Hellenic Greece (or Apollo_, Kazanzatkis called the Cretan Glance.
He make two distinctions between Greec and teh Orint. the chief characteristic of Greece is to erect the secur fortress of the ego, th fixed outline which subdues diorderly drivs and primivite demons to the dictates of the enlightened and disciplined will. the supreme ideal of greec is to save the ego from anarchy and chaos. The supreme ideal of the orient is to dissolve the ego into the infinite and to become one with it. He writes: ‘odysseus does not, like th greeks, cast a veil over chaos, for he prefers, instead, to keep a sleepless vigil and to increase his strength by gazing into it; yet he never abandonshimself to chaos, for on the contrary, until the very last moment, when Death appears, he stands erct before chaos and looks upon it with undimmed eyes.’ This attitude toward life and death is not Greek, nor is it Oriental.
He then goes on to trace the origins of his ‘cretan glance’: the cretan bull-fights has no relation to thos of modern spain. [i found this final passage very beautiful] The cretans confronted the Bull – the Titan-Earthquake- without fear, with undimmed eys, nor killed him in order to unite with him (the orient) or to be released from his presence (Greece), but played with him at their ease. “this direct contact with the bull honed the strength of the cretan, cultivated the flxibility and charm of his body, th flaming yet cool exactness of movement, the discipline of desire, and the hard-won virility to measure himself agaisnt the dark and powerful bull-titan. And thus the cretan transformed terror into a high game wherein man’s virtue, in a dierct contact with the beast, became tempered, and triumphed. The Cretan triumphed without killing the abominable bull because he did not think of it as an enemy but as a collaborator; without it his body would not have become so strong and charming or his spirit so manly. Of course, to endure and to play such a dangrous game, one needs great bodily and spiritual training and a sleepless discipline of nerves; but if a man once trains himself an becomes skillful in teh game, then evryone of his movements bcomes simple, certain, and graceful. The heroic and playful eyes, without hope yet without fear, which so confront the bull, the abyss, i call the cretan glance”

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It is such an odd sensation.  I feel like I’m at a point, in thoughts and ideas, where i might be on the edge of a precipice.

There have been many thoughts that have been swirling in my head for a some time now, mostly for the past six months.  Ideas that were vague and unclear, accumulating.  And now because of an interesting encounter and discussion with someone unexpected, it seems that some sort of catalysis and crystallisation happening. It is interesting, as a phenomenon unto itself, as well as it terms of the fruits it is bearing. I’m realizing how little i know outside of my own scientific domain.

Not surprisingly, in these situations, things seem to fall into space.  I came across an article, quite by chance, written by Eugene Wigner, Nobel Laureate in physics, and one of the greats of quantum field theory.  The article is entitled “The Unreasonable effectiveness of Mathematics in the Natural Sciences“.  And this has only exacerbated the flow of ideas.

It is a great sensation.

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It’s funny, across time, and my experiences in it, I become more and more convinced that a Man’s Personality, who he is, how he defines himself, and sees himself in the world, evolves through a series of Beatrice’s. 

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Funniest thing I heard today

“Don’t get that cookoo clock back. that thing almost put my eye out!”
“Well you shouldn’t have been so close, you KNEW what time it was!”

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This is a very interesting discussion between two rather well-known and well-mediatized scientist: famous anti-god and anti-religion flagbearer Richard Dawkins and physicist Lawrence Krauss one of the many pretenders to the throne of former physics/astrophysics for the layperson champion Carl Sagan. It is a very interesting discussion, about the agelong conflict between science and religion, why do we need one or the other, and other such matters.

It is a series of 12 videos (they load automatically), with the final three being a Q&A session with the audience. Enjoy:

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Think about this:

Whenever, then, anything in nature seems to us ridiculous, absurd or evil, it is because we have but a partial knowledge of things, and are in the main ignorant of the order and coherence of nature as a whole, and because we want everything to be arranged according to the dictates of our own reason; although in fact, what our reason pronounces bad is not bad as regards the order adn laws of universal nature, but only as regards the laws of our own nature taken separately. … As for the terms good and bad, they indicate nothing positive considered in themselves … For one and the same thing can at the same time be good, bad, and indifferent. For example, music is good to the melancholy, bad to mourners, and indifferent to the dead.

That is an excerpt from Spinoza’s Ethics.

Thanks to R.L. , a colleague and fast becoming a dear friend, i’m rediscovering – for the first time – the world of philosophy in an amazing way. It is happening in such a natural and organic way, as if the time is right for it. This excerpt from Ethics surprised and shocked me because of the proximity of what he is saying with my own – physics inspired – rejected of any notion of absolutism in life. The fact that he also identifies God with nature and the universe in its entierty was also a very pleasant shock.

What however surprised me upon further reading was his rather absolutist view on ethics and morality from this base. I think either i have not read enough, or not clearly understood the lines of reasoning.

That, however, will not take away from the pleasure of the passage above.

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