Thursday, 20 July 2017

Nietzsche's False Courage

According to Nietzsche, his philosophy was a form of inverted platonism. 
"My philosophy is inverted Platonism: the further a thing is from true being, the purer, the lovelier, the better it is. Living in illusion as a goal!"
Thus, just as Marx claimed to have stood Hegel's system on its head with his concept of dialectical materialism, so Nietzsche identified wholly with the physical, material realm where Plato had emphasised the metaphysical, ideal realm above all else.

This led to various consequences. 
  • Morality based on the ideal of justice and the good in Plato gives way in Nietzsche to immorality and the glorification of animalistic will-to-power.
  • Plato's ascetic suspicion of the bodily vehicle is replaced in Nietzsche's philosophy by the body and its physiology taking centre place.
  • Plato's focus on eternal truths as opposed to the ephemeral nature of the physical realm contrasts with Nietzsche's genealogical method and the importance he places on the so-called 'historical spirit'. 
  • Where, for Plato, there is only one absolute truth, Nietzsche emphasises the concept of perspectivism, which is to say the relativity of point of view. 
Philosopher Hannah Arendt was of course right to point out that in merely inverting Plato, Nietzsche left Plato's conceptual apparatus pretty much intact and it took Martin Heidegger's controversial (and arguably unsuccessful) deconstruction of the 'metaphysical tradition' to really begin to transcend Platonic metaphysics.

My point in this post is really to highlight the problem with over-identifying with the physical as Nietzsche does. For if one lives to embrace illusion and forgo any higher power then, human existence being the existential challenge that it is, this can lead to a psychology of fear, in the sense that the physical is transient, often violent and harmful, and that refusing to see the underlying metaphysical unity behind the variation of sense perception and the diversity of phenomena rids one ipso facto of the grounding and redeeming power of that which does not lie before one.  

The Canadian pianist Glenn Gould once mused that one of the things that might lead one to forgive a great deal of humanity's folly and cruelty is that it has invented the concept of what does not exist. 

Nietzsche, in other words, was a victim of his own materialism and the courage and honesty he felt as a thinker was proportional to the degree of fear he felt in his person having forgone the comfort blanket and consoling solace provided by the invisible realm and its supremacy over the physical realm, whether as a higher power ('God') or as Natural, Moral Law.   

This is why Nietzsche's philosophical courage was in my opinion a false courage which was merely experiencing the failure of his rejection of metaphysics as a sustainable and durable spiritual stance without the self-insight and honesty of admitting as much. 

Like Heidegger after him, Nietzsche dug himself into a hole and trapped himself just as Arendt thought was the case with her one-time mentor (Heidegger) when she penned the little prose tale 'Heidegger the Fox' (available to read in The Portable Hannah Arendt).  

Wednesday, 19 July 2017

On Performance Markings in Sheet Music - Fidelity to the Composer

The main composer I grew up playing on the piano was J.S. Bach who avoided the use of performance markings in his written music, also known as 'articulation'.

Those who have glanced at my own written music will have noticed that, apart from a metronome mark at the beginning of each piece, which is placed there purely for the purposes of satisfactory computer playback, I tend to do away with performance markings entirely, except for a few slurs in my piece Riverflow

There are three reasons for this:

  1. A certain laziness.
  2. Not wanting to restrict or bind whoever decides to play my music in their preferred way of playing it, I myself varying in how I choose to play the same piece depending on the piano I'm using or my mood at a given time.
  3. My general snobbery about performance snobbery.
Concerning point 2, I have never been entirely convinced by the musical school that seeks to replicate utmost fidelity to the composer's intention, as evidenced by the articulation indications he leaves in his piece as well as other characteristics such as his period, his body of work as a whole, his philosophy and so forth. 

The reason for this is, while it may be argued that if the composer took the trouble to signal these indications they should be respected, the converse also holds, i.e. the interpreter of the sheet music is taking the not-too-small trouble of learning and playing a piece created by another. 

If I'm taking the trouble to learn a piece why should I feel bound by performance markings which disagree with my musical sensibility and the way I feel the music? 

It seems to me less presumptuous, and a big point in J.S. Bach's favour, to allow for maximum interpretative freedom as a composer to those who take the trouble to learn one of my compositions rather than force them into one direction or the other when I myself am not too sure which is the best way to play the piece, playing it differently as the mood and the instrument itself take me, for example, with or without the sustaining pedal. 

To be sure articulation markings are but indications but many schooled in the classical music tradition are proud to think themselves as close to the composer's intent as possible, short of the composer himself performing his works. 

This strikes me as a meretricious ground for pride since, when it comes to music, what matters is musicality, not fidelity. 

This joins up somewhat with point 3 above, which is that I tend to see many musical pedagogues, especially in so-called 'master classes', as too focused on performance considerations, i.e. on how a piece should be played, which is after all a matter of personal sensibility and taste, rather than those pertaining to actually delivering the piece itself, which is more than three quarters of the challenge. 

In other words, time spent (or wasted) on whether a musical passage should be played staccato or legato might be more fruitfully devoted to focusing on alleviating performance anxiety, understanding the chord structures of the piece, looking at the score away from the instrument, analysing the form and architecture of the music and so forth. 

In short, performance markings are best seen as a suggestion as to how to play the piece, a suggestion which as a composer I often don't bother making, but this how should never supersede the more urgent problem of playing and delivering the piece in the first place.

That being said it is true that to effectively deliver a piece, the manner, the how of its performance is not inconsequential. But views on effectivity vary from musician to musician, from period to period and from audiophile to audiophile. Which is why performance considerations matter less, in my opinion, than those of simple delivery

John Williams: Duel Of The Fates (Star Wars) | piano cover

Piano cover of the dramatic Duel Of The Fates tune from Star Wars Episode One.

Audio here:

Sunday, 16 July 2017

Pixies: Where Is My Mind? | piano cover

Piano cover of the song Where Is My Mind? by the Pixies. Arrangement by the über talented Maxence Cyrin and used in the TV show Mr Robot.

Audio here:

Saturday, 8 July 2017

Bobbing | original piano composition

My 30th piano composition and my most technically demanding. I've moved my piano from the bedroom (as seen in previous videos) to my living room. A bit of variety can't hurt!

Sheets here:

Audio here:

Thursday, 6 July 2017

Not Being in the Mood & Discipline

Discipline in life requires an element of doing tasks even when not in the mood for doing them. 

However, one needs to be in the mood for such a discipline in the first place, i.e. one needs to be in the mood to do things despite not being in the mood for doing those things!

As I wrote in my post Initiating and Producing, starting a task arguably presents the hardest resistance - as procrastinators know well since they are prone to push off and delay getting started with what needs be done.

It is also possible and not uncommon that when one uses will-power to start a given task - such as, say, practicing piano scales - the activity, once started, will put us in the mood for continuing to do it, even though one was far from being in the mood for the task before embarking on it. 

At any rate, it is probably fair to say that the more one is disciplined in applying discipline, i.e. doing things when not in the mood for them, the easier maintaining such a discipline becomes and the more one gets done regardless of mood vagaries.

But this reiterates my earlier point that one needs to have a mood for discipline at the start or, failing that, be disciplined about being disciplined, i.e. doing things despite not being in the mood for them and not being in the mood for doing those things in the absence of a desire to do them.

The need for discipline can of course be reduced when one has refined the art of putting oneself in the mood for a task and has learnt to create desire for doing those tasks - e.g. wanting to practice piano by listening to piano music - or, failing that, desire for the discipline of doing those tasks even when not desirous of the tasks themselves, a desire which can spring from a healthy sense that accomplishment takes repeated and habitual care, attention and application and cannot be rendered slave to the whims of one's mood dispositions and temperamental ebbs and flows without suffering a great deal as a result, not least in terms of output.

In The South of France

Friday, 30 June 2017

Playing Father

Carrying a friend's son on my shoulders in the backstreets of rural London.

Dressed Up

(Taken in the Senior Common Room of Christ Church College, Oxford).

Tuesday, 27 June 2017

Brad Fiedel: Main Title from The Terminator | piano cover

Piano cover of the fantastic opening tune to the movie The Terminator directed by James Cameron and scored by Brad Fiedel.

This also happens to by my fiftieth piano video. Well done me!

Audio here:

Friday, 9 June 2017

Wishful | original piano composition

My 29th piano composition. Like its predecessor, Riverflow, this one contains a distinct melody line, in contrast to the previous batch of compositions which were driven by rhythmic harmonies. I hope some of you enjoy it.

Sheets here:

Audio here:

Wednesday, 7 June 2017

All Truth is Simple Aphorism

A particular aphorism by Friedrich Nietzsche that has caused me a degree of perplexity for a number of years now I believe to have finally resolved.

The aphorism states:
"All truth is simple - isn't that a double lie?"
I provided a very unsatisfactory interpretation of this aphorism some years ago.

Anyhow what it says is that not only is all truth not simple - which it obviously isn't - but that the statement 'all truth is simple', presenting itself indeed as a simple truth, is also, in its form, untrue, i.e. a lie (at least according to its author). 

So 'all truth is simple' is a lie, something concealing the truth, not only in the content of what it is saying - because all truth is not simple - but also with regards to its form as a statement because if all truth is not simple, then the statement 'all truth is simple', presenting itself as a simple truth, is false and therefore proof that all truth is indeed not simple.

Emotions & Thoughts

As I've written elsewhere on this blog, emotions can be seen as the framework within and from which thoughts arise and assert themselves. 

That is to say, sad emotions give rise to sad thoughts, angry emotions give rise to angry thoughts and neutral emotions give rise to neutral thoughts. 

If it is a good idea to keep one's thoughts in good order, then this especially applies to one's emotional dispositions, since the quality and intensity of our emotions determine the quality and intensity of our thoughts.

In my writing Consequences of Worldview I wrote the following:
[I]t is advisable to keep one's thoughts in good order so as to be spared the throes of emotional turbulence - thoughts and emotions being mutually reinforcing though not identical agents - and its potential negative consequences for one's actions. 
This raises a question: if emotions are the framework and context within and from which thoughts occur, what is the impact of thoughts on the emotions?

This is a pressing question when there is so much noise at the moment about the importance of positive thinking so as to counter negative emotionality.

My view is that emotions hold sway over thoughts in that, for example, in a state of deep sadness triggered by an event it is very hard to think in a happy way. 

That being said good thought hygiene which avoids extremes, rumination, obsession and self-bullying - in others words, that aims at some form of neutrality if not jauntiness - will have a positive effect on one's emotions since it is clinically proven that thoughts have an impact on the quality of our emotions provided one is not already prey to an emotional state.

One thing that cognitive behavioural therapy helped me the most with - with regards to the clinical depression I used to suffer from - was to teach me how to correct and steer the thoughts that arose from my depressed state. The therapy entailed working with the thoughts as triggered by depressed states in order to make them reach a happier outcome and judgement (including on myself) than in their initial, un-edited state which tended towards self-denigration.

As one self-help author puts it, is is helpful to watch the thinker in us, i.e. to think about one's thinking in such a way as to be aware of the thoughts that pop into our head and monitor/edit them so as to spare ourselves stressful and therefore vulnerable emotional reactions through the agency of the cortisol hormone produced by the adrenal gland.

However, emotions are often triggered outside any conscious and deliberate thought pattern, particularly those of a sudden nature, which is why in such cases I recommend fully accepting the emotion rather than fighting it but still attempt to maintain, to as high a degree as possible, some free-will agency and editing power towards the content of the thoughts the sudden emotion gives rise to.  

In other words, it can be helpful, in as far as possible, to be an external witness to emotions and the thoughts they produce in ourselves - particularly when negative and stress-inducing - so as not to overly identify with said emotions and thoughts. Thus, I recommend allowing them their (hopefully) ephemeral say whilst not taking them too seriously or giving them more than their due as the objective, final truth. 

Tuesday, 6 June 2017

Disagreeing with Thinkers

In what I believe was a review of Kant's Critique of Pure Reason on the website, a reviewer expressed the wise insight that we read thinkers/philosophers not so much to agree with them but precisely the opposite. 

It is in disagreeing with or at least qualifying and moderating the strong angles offered by thinkers that we may come to sharpen our own thinking and awareness of our particular sensibility, provided the disagreement or nuancing is the fruit of not a superficial, blanket rejection but a careful consideration and evaluation of the words - written or spoken - of the thinker in question.

In fact I have done this with great benefit to myself in the case of thinker Friedrich Nietzsche (Morality and the Big & Powerful and Relative Failure of the Nietzschean Project) - whose words I used to take as gospel initially and for a long while afterwards - and, to a lesser extent, by nuancing or qualifying Mark Passio's more extreme positions (Mark Passio and the Chess Game, Dual Nature of Natural Law). 

Thinking, like music, is never set for all time and is open to continuous interpretation, correction and amendment and to want to police thinking or bring it to a halt or stand-still, just like wanting to police art and bring it to a fixed state of existence, is to kill it (for, as Nietzsche wrote, life, which manifests in both art and thought, is that which overcomes itself again and again). 

I will view the 'thoughts' section of my blog as having been of some benefit to others if these others, in disagreeing with or nuancing my positions and angles - whose partial, biographical and flawed nature I readily admit (Disclaimer about this Blog - My Rubbish) - gain in self-understanding by their so doing.

And it could be said with some honesty that philosophical discourse, however well-argued, intricate, logical, sensitive and thoughtfully executed, is, at bottom, opinion-based (some would even say simply 'glorified opinion'), in the sense of offering one fragmentary angle out of countless other options on the mysteries and complexities of existence (for more elaboration see post Thinking v Opining).

Limitations of the Work Ethic as Moral Paradigm

The puritanical, capitalist work ethic is one of the most entrenched and powerful moral paradigms of the Modern World - 'moral' in the sense that it judges things in terms of 'good' and 'bad'. 

Whether one is employed or not, has a 'real' job or not, is an economic contributor or not, a 'taxpayer' or not (although see post Who are Taxpayers?), is a default and ubiquitous way of measuring a person's worth, so that activities not pertaining to monetary considerations and societal trinkets are often seen with a suspicious glance and commonly denigrated as 'self-indulgent'.

In my post Puritans as Self-Loathers? I suggested the psychological possibility that much modern-day, conformist puritanism could be rooted in self-loathing or, at the least, some pent-up resentment as expressed in much of the right-wing vote (Considerations on the Right-wing Working Class Vote).

In any case the ubiquity of the capitalist and therefore conformist mindset - capitalism being the economic system now in favour with which, by and large, all have to conform (see Truthfulness and Money) - is daily revealed by the question many if not most people ask on first meeting you: 
"What do you do for a living?"
As I wrote in The Superficiality of Normality, one of the key divides and conflicts that affects and has affected the human population is the one pertaining to the priorities of conformists as against the preferences of misfits. 

For the Daily Mail reading public, the work ethic is the criterion for measuring someone's morality so that the abuses of bankers, corporate owners and other 'hard-working' types, including in terms of something as harmless and mundane as drug abuse, is of no import as opposed to the inadequacies and said drug abuse of benefits 'scroungers' who are not employed although, like me, might apply themselves diligently in many areas (see post What is Work?) including in terms of voluntary, unpaid work.

The argument of this post, therefore, to say that the capitalist work ethic is a conformist (and, arguably, superficial) way of (morally) evaluating people and activities as opposed to other, less established ways of making moral judgements such as the one expressed in my writing How to Become Master of the World which puts thoughtfulness as the prime criterion for rightful, care-ful, action, conscious of its effect on others (an angle also put forth in my post Thought and Responsibility). I indeed define 'enlightenment' as treating oneself and others with care (Meaning of Enlightenment).

It goes almost without saying that, taken in isolation from other considerations, the puritanical work ethic can in fact be highly immoral if it is used, as indeed it is, to harm others, whether by shaming them for not wanting or being unable to work or by forcing them into a position of exploitative subservience, since undermining their conscious ability to resist the apparently self-evident requirement of selling one's labour to others to be able to continue to exist - employment as a form of modern-day (wage) slavery.

The work ethic as a methodology to enforce capitalist practices on people and as an instrument of incalculable mind control since repeatedly and constantly reinforced by mainstream political discourse says nothing of the harm actually caused by work itself, i.e. employment, whether it be the nature of the work in question, should it be of a harmful and violent nature (see, for example, Business is Business), such as practices employed by food giant Monsanto or Arms manufacturers, or the conditions that permeate the work context (see Culture of Fear in the Workplace) which have worsened over the years due to anti-labour, neoliberal policies and are in any event a huge component of daily human stress, agony, misery and even injury.

Post Scriptum: This blog post is of course very symptomatic of the privileged lifestyle and economic conditions prevailing on my person at the time of writing. For all that I do hope my argument transcends, at least in part, the singularity of my social and sociological position.