Since we’re not at Defcon 1 but Defcon 4 — “nuclear tranquility” —and, therefore, since “we the people” — or at least me with Whitmanesque amplitude — feel no imminent need for a nuclear tit for tat with anyone, I decline to hysterically tuck and kiss, or energetically denounce the President of the Disunited States. But let me know immediately if I’m wrong about that!
Instead, I’d like to bring some proportion to fear and doom. After all, humans have always feared that they’re doomed. And the universe is probably doomed, too. Which might not be a bad thing.
Besides, I’m not afraid of the universe.
So let’s begin with something important: Music.
But wait! Newsflash. A domestic Defcon 1 has just been posted. No, not Barcelona! A supermarket checkout magazine this week ran a story about what to do if you’re married to a Trump supporter. Since these are women’s magazines — I think it was “Vanity Fair” — the story, which I heard second hand, probably runs something like this. You’ve crossed many words with your husband about him supporting Trump. You’ve crossed your arms. You’ve crossed your legs. He won’t change. He refuses to be improved by you! There’s nothing left to do but divorce him! Take that, Republican! And he was in your — bed!
Like I say, I only have this on hearsay. But the next time I’m checking out, I’ll get a citation. I’ve seen guys in movies cite such publications. And these guys successfully keep America safe from itself. Meanwhile, the present political intolerance is now reaching even deep into the American home — or polyvalent household. It reminds me of the split between the Catholics and the Protestants after the Renaissance. In fact, the split created the Catholics and the Protestants — and the joint reaction and spiritual lockdown that became Christianity: the Reformation and the Counter-Reformation. Back then, if you discovered your spouse had incorrect and even incorrigible beliefs, you could turn him or her over to the state for the 3C Treatment: Confession, Correction, and Combustion. The Democrats haven’t advanced yet to that Defcondom response level yet. But that’s not for want of examples from contemporary history. Stalin operated on that level. Of course, the Soviets preferred small pistols to big bonfires. I suppose the vanguard of the proletariat was already carbon footprint conscious. But, then, history is always advanced at the cutting edge. And some people wield the cutting edge like a sword. Heads, anyone?
And here’s a point of historical perspective which the discovery of the Middle Ages, not as myth but as history, has provided us. And Foucault refreshed my memory of it. Books such as those by Jean Gimpel — for example The Cathedral Builders and The Medieval Machine — reveal the vitality of the three centuries starting around 1000 AD, and the reaction that followed their collapse in the 14th century. And the Renaissance wasn’t the recovery. But that’s a different story. The sexual fascism typically attributed to medieval Christianity was introduced by the Reformation and the Counter-Reformation: i.e., by shattered Christianity. Only then were the baths of Paris and elsewhere closed. Medieval paintings amply and naturally display what these mixed venues were used for: the usual suspects — hygiene, socializing, partying, relaxation, fun. The divorce of Catholicism from itself — its internal split as with the universe cleaving into Heaven and Hell — was a high price to pay for a great building.
And now onto the importance of music.
I was recently reading in my new old New Grove the entry on Saint-Saens. Saint-Saens is the composer of the world-famous piece, “The Piano Beast.” I’ve taught piano lessons. So I know the terrain.
From the earliest age, Saint-Saens was an extraordinary prodigy. And that description isn’t pleonastic. There are always lots of prodigies. Today every child in New York City is a prodigy! Well, I heard Joshua Bell play the Kreutzer in Bloomington when he was 12, Josef Gingold presiding. I’ve heard all the great violinists play that piece — via records, radio, etc. Bells’ performance was the sweetest. Even so, in contrast to such prodigy, Saint-Saens’ childhood abilities in music were of the same caliber as Mozart’s: unbelievable until seen and heard in performance and composition.
In the biographical section of the Grove’s entry, Berlioz, the great Romantic orchestrator whose friendship and patronage Saint-Saens had won, is quoted as saying of Saint-Saens, “’He knows everything but lacks inexperience.’”
I had to read that sentence twice as I checked it for the apparent erratum.
And then I realized that not only was the remark a bon mot. But Berlioz had also made a deep observation. More of that in a moment. I’ve read a collection of Berlioz’ writings. They’re technically pertinent to the history of music. Indeed, I recall points from them often. So I was pleased by this additional musical insight concerning the inadequacy of mere even immense ability. Meanwhile, Berlioz, the revolutionary orchestrator, is redeemed by “Harold in Italy” as a composer, and that great piece condemns Paganini for whom it was written. Paganini refused to premier that “viola symphony” because the viola part “was too easy.” What a pig! Should Serkin not have played “Für Elise” because it’s technically easy? Is everything excellent obscure? What nomenkultural snobbery! But indeed, Saint-Saens composed with too much facility. And now most of his music is neglected or ignored because of something that’s missing from it. That something is typically characterized as style – as at the end of the Grove’s entry. But as I’ve pointed out before, style isn’t a thing learned or acquired. It’s the byproduct of effortless aesthetic effort and, where needed, indomitable artistic struggle. Alas, these are precisely the kinds of exertions that Saint-Saens, because of his “complete” artistic gifts, never had to sweat or sweat out, at least not very often. Certainly he didn’t put them to work often enough — which is always in art!
I allude to this matter because it recalled for me the email I sent to you last week. And now, because of Berlioz’ remarks, I can justify quoting myself — or requoting myself as Thucydides did. Conrad wrote of the justification of the “squalor” The Secret Agent in his 1920 introduction to the book which I was just reading again. Of course, I could assert my will to quote myself — and just quote myself. But as with weapons systems, a public justification is so much more conducive to domestic tranquility and international accord. Thus, America has always started its wars by letting the other side shoot first, even if it had to wait a while: Fort Sumter, Pearl Harbor. And my patience has now proven productive. In other words, the email remarks can now be liked not only for themselves, but now also for the something broader they say about a rather recent change of world temperament in the history of human consciousness the spiritual disposition of which is easily misunderstood, even by those who first formulated the natural passion attitude.
In your email, you express concern and even dismay at the thought that everything you write for this blog will be “disseminated to the public, which exacerbates my” — your — “fears of looking stupid, hypocritical, or nonsensical.”
Well, imagine what actors and politicians must feel when they first go on stage!
I’ve done a lot of public speaking. I was also on radio in various small ways for years. I once interviewed a governor who was running for re-election. I was on the air that day in a two-hour program. I was suddenly given five minutes’ notice to compose my questions — and myself. As a college student, I was given that unscheduled opportunity because I’d somewhat improved my public speaking presence over the strangled and choking breathlessness I began with in high school Speech and Debate. The interview was a smooth success. The governor went on to win re-election. Later he was a cabinet secretary.
After listing your fears in your email, you then wondered if I, “a previously published author and veteran academic” — including three purple hearts, many undecorated wounds, and, like Ravel, two Legions d’Honneur declined — ever felt such things.
My reply, as I recall, read something like this. And notice that its insouciant onset is meant to be educationally dismaying in order to amplify its playful aftertaste.
“No, you’re right. I never have such problems. I have the confidence and the experience of years of thought and writing. So I just write. And as I write, I discover that I’ve only held opinions, or half-views, or impressions, or background noise. And then I really think and then I really write — usually simultaneously — in a waltz of words. Of course, as you know, for me that means many drafts — the equivalent of Fred and Ginger practicing — until the world and the word are one — or at least not a tripping and bickering twosome like so many marriage pas de deux are.
Meanwhile, one of the great consummations consists of discovering world errors on the human highway to the universe. And then, when glancing back and amply writing about it all in travelogues of the truth, the art, retaining the energy, re-engages in the original adventure of discovery.
Thus I was just congratulating myself last week that I don’t know everything — such as on the topics we discuss. And many things I do know I misplace in my mind. I’ve always done that and found such forgetfulness refreshingly if sometimes frustrating. It means that I must find them again and think them anew. But the results are rediscovered loves. The world is like that. And thinking is an affair with the universe. Should I ever know everything, I’ll quit love.”
This could all be considered a studied affectation of passion, or the cultured justification of ineffectiveness. Certainly Berlioz always began his letters with an appropriate amount of display. His musically important letters all begin with long salutations larded with Romantic rhetoric. “Oh! The infinite passion! The pain! The joy! Death and beauty! Transcendence!!!” And then he gets on to the business of discussing the brass section of the orchestra at, say, Mannheim, or a cellist at Düsseldorf, and other such craft matters. In the same way, Augustine begins each chapter of his Autobiography with a slathering of loud hallelujahs and long self-diminutions, and then he gets on with the outer story of his dimly understood but deeply felt inner life. In both cases, the display of an orthodoxy of rhetoric was clearly called for in public — Christian or Romantic — just as with Marxism in the Soviet Union. Even weather forecasts began with praise for the progressive workers and stalwart peasants who were advancing the forefront of history in the USSR! And then, if the communist weather forecast failed, the ensuing famine could always be blamed the imperialist bourgeois tests in Nevada and what they were doing to the people’s atmosphere. Oh, but Comrade Stalin had plans for those bad bourgeoisie! Meanwhile, Americans wouldn’t do such things, would they? I mean, in the land of free speech, the home of brave hearts, and the world center of proclaimed diversity, Americans wouldn’t insist on public displays of correct rhetoric, would they?
At least initially, the religion-like rhetoric of Romanticism was just soul methadone to replace the opium of religion. And that, in turn, was taken for the pain caused by the fall of Rome. Or was it Athens? Of course, some people are ersatz addicts and never get off their artificial excitations — for want of real ones inside. But regardless of the initial and continuing rhetoric aesthetic and political, the content of Romanticism was prodigiously liberating. The work of incompleteness — what was once called world striving and life art: “Striving! Oh infinity! I’m a work of art! I’m beautiful! Gaze on me! Well, damn you, wait till I pose!” — is now more welcome than completed works. This isn’t an affectation or a degeneration, but an amplification and a greatness. In the old world view of a static universe, humans would deduce the one and eternal truth, intuit its totality with the help of some holy grace, and then — what? Count the cobwebs forming on the cosmic facets of their fixed souls’ faces? Even if the truth did exist and were out there like a treasure, neither truth nor treasure is very interesting. But finding them is. Finding the treasure and the truth are world-class adventures. And then using them afterwards with rich honesty are further excitations. In contrast, accomplishment and possession are indiscernible from death. Nothing is happening! And the game isn’t afoot. But life is the hunt. With randy naps for relief. Like in the old Parisian baths. Pre-Foucault. Natural without naiveté.
You’ll have noticed, perhaps, how often in this political blog I refer to music. I only noticed it yesterday. And I noticed it only because I read an astonishing remark of Foucault’s. And this was the mature and well-informed post-Frisco Foucault in a 1982 interview with someone named Riggs. I present the passage in its entirety because of its remarkable significance. In some ways, it’s even more impressive than the stunning exchanges between Mildred and Elvira.
S.R. A frequently quoted remark of Romain Rolland [French Romantic blowhard, Nobel Prize in literature, unreadable today] is that the Romantic writers were “‘visuels’ for whom music was only a noise.” Despite the remark being an obvious exaggeration, most recent scholarship tends to support it. Many references to paintings occur in some of your books, but few to music. Are you also representative of this characteristic of French culture that Rolland called attention to?
M.F. Yes, sure. Of course French culture gives no place to music, or nearly no place.
Mon Dieu! Do what?
On any day, I’d be willing to read any random work of Foucault or any such Professor Royal of Verbosity Pomposity, State Lecturer in Resentment Aggression, or official Humbug of Popular Obfuscation in order to find such a heap of insight. Meanwhile, this just in. I’ve just read Foucault deny that he’s a naysayer of psychiatry and — therefore by inference —any other “bourgeois” institution. Pray, Monsieur, save your coyness for your nocturnal friends.
Can you imagine such a thing being said about Americans? I mean that cultural America has a national incognizance of music? As an America— And, wait, everyone is like us, right?
Mildred: Of course they are! And those who aren’t are standing in line.
Elvira: In an Ellis Island of the mind, Mildred?
Mildred: And there’s always those who can’t wait, and they hop the fence. Naturally they should be thoroughly punished. But I do admire the eagerness of their good sense!
Elvira: You’re always so sunny, Mildred. What about those who crash the line with trucks?
Mildred: Do you mean seniors who need a vision test? Remember me? And then there were those sticky gas pedals.
I’m amazed that musical incognizance can be attributed to any nationality. Don’t humans love music? Potential inference: French intellectuals aren’t humans. They’re only nationalist rationalists. Of course, they’ve now disguised themselves with antipodal affectation as anti-rationalists. This is just dialectical cross-dressing. In substance they’re the same, especially in regard to spiritual taste. Call them Confucian Cartesians and logical Taoists. And notice that, in the quoted passage, Foucault didn’t passingly agree to some ephemeral remark made by the interviewer in order to fob it off and get on to the next major point. That observation was the next major point! And Foucault addressed it directly and unequivocally.
We’re told by Marx that human nature is economics. And the offspring of Marx like puttis of progress uplifting pictures of the global GDP in hosanna of forthcoming happiness — tell us that once globalization is in place, we’ll all be foot-swooshed, computer-glazed, and full of hugs for everyone everywhere. Olé! But, of course, WWI — which was supposedly logically impossible socialistically — was socially possible precisely because the workers of the world weren’t the workers of the world. They were imbedded residents of nation states whose cultural homelands were being invaded. And the invaders were imperialist beasts whose languages were babble and whose cultures were obnoxious. Like radical Islam and the world today. Or was the Barcelona strike really just another misunderstood group truck hug?
As for Ballistic Kim, your comments are astute. Especially credible is your speculation about Saddam and Gaddafi not being politically toppled and rudely terminated in their persons if they’d possessed deterrent nuclear weapons.
But that’s precisely what Kim isn’t doing.
Everyone in the global ecumene today agrees that nukes aren’t meant to be used for a Boom! Not ever. They’re only use is for preventives against foreign invasion — and domestic pride parades. “No national ED with our launchers!” And because they’re such convincing preventives, they won’t ever be boomed. They’re like those German fleets in being in WWI and WWII. Such things don’t need “to go bang” to work. Nuclear weapons are obliteration in being. Obliteration is a really effective deterrent for humans of all religious and political persuasions.
True, the US did use nukes once. But this unique event can be historically explained and explained away with open integrity.
First, as a new weapon, nukes needed testing, not off in some secret dessert site, but openly where the world could see their effectiveness. Melting some sand into blue glass wouldn’t have impressed Stalin. Stalin wouldn’t have believed it if only to be certain of his own neurotic self. “Where was that test, Comrade Academician? On a Hollywood backlot?”
Second, America’s use of nuclear weapons was humanitarian. Those two bombs saved the Japanese people one or two million deaths, and millions more in casualties. Those bombs morally permitted and politically empowered Hirohito to trump the Japanese Army High Command and possibly his own militant self, and then stop the war. Had the Allies been obliged to invade Japan — regardless of the air and sea blockades, the invasion would have occurred that fall — the Japanese self-slaughter would have been prodigious. Honorable Nippon had prepared the entire populace — peasant men with pitchforks, women with cleavers, children with sharpened chopsticks — to die for the emperor in mass charges against the Allies. Ten thousand years for the Lunar Scion of the Moon Goddess! Bonzai!
Third, finally, as you know — but many Americans don’t — we didn’t need those nukes to defeat Japan. LeMay was well on his way to burning urban Japan to the ground. Hiroshima and Nagasaki were two of a few larger cities saved from LeMay’s B-29s for nuclear demonstration purposes. Otherwise, Hiroshima and Nagasaki would already have been burnt with a combination of high explosives and unquenchable incendiaries. LeMay, to his dismay, was already moving on to smaller properties. You don’t need nuclear weapons to conquer a country. Rome conquered the greater Mediterranean littoral with men who wielded swords and marched in sandals. Likewise, you don’t need machine guns and long-range artillery to wreck your culture’s confidence. Athens accomplished that with bows and spears. It’s the psychology of the spirituality that matters. Watching Augustine watch himself pathetically illuminates what a great fall human greatness can take through mismanagement and unconsciousness. And then consider how forgetful humans are, or, rather, how incognizant they are even when they’re conscious. From within the architecturally superb medieval cities all over Europe, cities which didn’t exist c. 1000 A.D., the Renaissance pronounced the Middle Ages dark and barbarous. The Renaissance was believed for 500 years! And the Renaissance is still believed by most people today!
Kim, as I’ve indicated, isn’t playing the international game of nukes according to the time-tested rules of the world’s statesmen club. He isn’t just claiming to have nukes for self-defense against invasions from South Korea, Japan, China, Russia, and the United States. He’s threatening to use them as first-strike terrorist weapons because of his international nervousness and political neuroses. At his best, Kim sounds like Andropov in the early 1980s who, fearing Reagan’s freedom rhetoric, was considering a pre-emptive strike to pre-empt America’s presumed pre-emptive strike that would pre-empt Russia.
Mildred: I like those spooky mirror rooms at amusement parks. But if we’re in a hall of mirrors at closing time and they turn the lights off and only the red Exit sign is lit, will we be able to find our way out?
Elvira: James Jesus Angleton will appear as a spectral hologram and guide us out.
Mildred: Oh, yes, James Angleton is our good guy spy catcher. But even so, I don’t think anyone should have that name now even as a middle name. Except Spanish speakers. They mispronounce it so politely.
Meanwhile, Kim isn’t working at Andropov’s level of statesmanship and sophistication. Kim is generating the unsettling rhetoric. Kim is exciting himself with his own verbosities of aggression.
The psychology of Kim is rather obvious. Kim is a political gangster punk. The best aesthetic representation of him is the character of the bomb-anarchist in Conrad’s The Secret Agent. Conrad’s profound contempt for this character culminates in the last phrase of the last sentence of the last paragraph: “a pest in the street of men.” He sounds like an Antifa thug — I mean activist. If you don’t have that book at hand, you can substitute a pimply ineffective permanent American teen ager — think of neo-Nazi skinheads — and you’ll have the psychology of Kim. Kim is carnally trying to convince the world to convince himself that he’s not an insignificant vermin whose regime is significant only because it’s so verminous.
Moral: You don’t want skinhead psych-types going around with nuclear weapons the triggers to which are warm well-fingered buttons in their pants.
And now here a few observations on the present nuclear shindig with North Korea.
1. If nuclear weapons are ever used even once in warfare, that would be double ungood. Unless their use resulted in the mutual destruction of the national assets of both parties involved, thus confirming nukes’ futility as offensive weapons, then they’ll continue to be used. Even gas warfare has apparently never fully been stopped. But gas warfare doesn’t produce fall-out to concern third parties.
It’s a human imperative that nuclear weapons are never used.
2. You began to personally surmise what the psychology of the nuclear 1950s were like as a consciousness of everyday terror, but you retracted your artificial empathy in time. Indeed, only the West Coast at most is presently under threat by Kim. And if Kim actually launched on California, I wouldn’t worry about the fall-out on the East Coast, let alone the possibility that Kim would then develop further-range ICBMs. Ballistic Kim would have long since met with a stellar destiny.
But we don’t want that happen. Notice how Conrad doesn’t exterminate the vermin at the end of his book. Such pests are a part of the environment. Most pests at best can be kept in their pestilential reservoirs. Few human pests can be eliminated like small pox was. And then what did the US and the USSR do? Did they finish the job eliminating small pox from the face of the earth? No, they saved it for “research purposes.” For weaponization, that is. Good job, guys. But, of course, you didn’t want to drive a species to extinction, right? DNA is a sad thing to waste.
3. Given Trump’s strong words directed to or, more likely, at Kim, I actually expected from you an indignant blast. I’m never quite sure when conversing with you whether I’m speaking with a supporter of soft socialism or of strong nationalism — since you’re both. Of course, there’s method in that — as long as the combination isn’t just a randomness of affection.
Meanwhile, the indignant blast of a verbal hurricane — a 5 on the Saffir-Simpson Scale — is what the press has been blustering up — Move inland now! — until Barcelona side-tracked the righteous mouthfuls of liberal wind and fury. Of course, this is the press that blasted Trump for not blasting the neo-Nazis enough.
But what Trump said in public to Kim is precisely what historians virtually all agree should have been said to Hitler by France and England when Hitler invaded the Rhineland in 1936. Hitler was bluffing. He had the political will, but he didn’t have the military force to enforce his will. Had the West threatened — no, promised — an immediate all-out retaliatory attack if he didn’t instantly withdraw from his illegal occupation, Hitler not only would have withdrawn. He might also have been toppled by the military for the humiliation he’d caused the state, and the opportunity he afforded his upper-class enemies to be rid of him. And WWII would not have happened when it did, in the form it did, or even at all. The Napoleonic Wars are impossible without Napoleon. WWII in Europe was Hitler’s War.
4. Next week I’ll run through a list of all the nuclear powers of the world, and consider any culpability America has for the proliferation of nuclear weapons.
And now inn conclusion, it’s no wonder that Berlioz wrote “Harold in Italy.” Byron’s Harold was never in Italy. But imagine a musical Harold in France! Imagine what that music would have been like: Auber belaboring kettle drums and blathering brass in a loud attempt to be grandly passionate. Aughhh!!!
My respect for Berlioz has grown once again. France’s culture is hag-ridden with boards of Cartesian intellectuals who, with rigorous opacity — one of the prides of France — dominate the resources and the opportunities for cultural expression in France. And that includes which words are legally correct. Take note, Democrats!
But who knows? Maybe official France can redeem its state soul — and I don’t mean Marie! — from an overdose of geometrical Confucianism.
When Paganini finally heard a performance of the now-famous “Harold in Italy,” he rushed on stage to give Berlioz a kiss and a bag of money.
See! Even Judas can be reformed with music!