20 August 2012


The Axe cannot be thrown, while the wielder has no home.


"The creation of an integral self is the work of a lifetime, and although that work can never be completed, it is nonetheless an ethical responsibility."
(Gary Saul Morson & Caryl Emerson, Mikhail Bakhtin: Creation of a Prosaics)

Bakhtin locates this project, the project of self, in language. Asking us to fully experience the words we use and how we use them. He asks us to not simply swallow the prose of life but to chew, spit and sometimes throw it up.

What narratives do we accept in the way we frame and express our thoughts?

What stories do we invoke?

Which authors?

Which authorities?

He asks us to question the way we breathe—the thoughts that inspire us, giving our lungs their ability to transport the substance necessary for life. Thought and spirit have an oxygen of their own. Anyone sucking thoughtlessly on the pipe of life refuses to accept their responsibility as maker. Life is a creative project requiring a morality and ethics of answering back (to what has already been spoken). Life requires voice—a voice of one's own.

Bakhtin insists on this project, allowing no alibi in being. He declares each individual's ethical responsibility to do more than claim existence, saying we must engage in the intimacy of giving our lives shape—shape in the process of taking on the authoritative discourse, and working at the substance of our own internally persuasive discourse.

16 August 2012


Iannis Xanakis: Metastasis
Order to Complexity to Disorder

Kundera on Xenakis. Xenakis severed relations between himself and music. Music as defined by a certain tradition, a heritage. He was not "new" he was "other." Unlike.

Xenakis "does not stand against some earlier phase of music; he turns away from all of European music, from the whole of it's legacy."

In this turn he locates a new origin for sound, not in the notes of man, but in nature. The sound the world makes, alive with rain, with dry heat and machinery.

Xenakis looks to the world of sound, sound with origins not confined to the heart of one man, or his intellect. In this turn he breaks with the authoritative notion that man is the heart of society, a person elevated above other life forms. In this turn from the lie of sentient beings, he takes his place within nature, where man and woman are small parts that do not define the whole.

Bakhtin also takes a turn from the I of writing to the world of speech. In his turn he locates the world of sound within an utterance— man at once a part of the grand dialogue, no more or less than a speaker.

About Xenakis' legacy: "Will he be remembered by music lovers?"

That is a question of music: what harmonies and scales are being agreed up, what instruments played, what opportunities for vocalizations, what beings expressed and realities explored.

They both fondle the dichotomies that have divided Nations, thoughts and music: man/nature; man/woman; oral/written; civilized/savage.

About Xenakis: "What will remain is the act of enormous rejection: for the first time someone has dared to tell European music that it can be abandoned. Forgotten."

So many parts of life are accepted as inevitable, events that cannot be avoided or evaded, certainties. This may be why some twist themselves around the barbed wire of free will and original sin. They are so certain,—as sure to follow as night follows day— of the story of their life, an appropriate score, an authority to empower their position.

Kundera mentions the circumstance of Xenakis' life: being sentenced to death, civil war, disfigurement. In his mind these circumstances "Led Xenakis to side with the objective sound of the world against the sound of a soul's subjectivity."

Many artists and many children of war (especially survivors of wars of extermination) break open in the attempt to understand. Arahon Appelfeld writes, "The numerous books of testimony that were written about the Holocaust are, if you will, a desperate effort to force the Holocaust into a remote recess of madness, to cut it off from life, and in other cases, to envelop it in a kind of mystical aura, intangible, which must be discussed as a kind of experience that cannot be expressed in words, but rather in a prolonged silence." (Beyond Despair)

The first time I heard Xanakis I thought of Beckett. I also think of Broch, beginning The Death of Virgil while interred by the Gestapo, finishing it in poverty and exile. None of these artists accept the inevitable. They have lost the certainty of day following night. And they respond with compositions: Metastasis. Pas Moi. The Death of Virgil.

15 August 2012


"And again I think the obvious idea (that astoundingly obvious idea) that everything that exists (nation, thought, music) can also not exist."
(Milan Kundera, Encounter)

Kundera wrote the above to intervene (from 2008) in his original text: The Total Rejection of Heritage, or Iannis Xanakis (originally written in 1980). His intervention mentions Thomas Glavinic's novel Night Work, a novel about a 30 year old man who wakes to find humanity gone. Left alone he wanders the empty structures of what he knows as civilization: apartments, streets and storefronts.

Night Work takes its place among other somewhat clichéd last man on earth stories. Many people are obsessed with this scenario because they live in ways that make it inevitable. They are taking their place—in an oral and written tradition of destruction. I don't read these works. I was raised with the definitive and authoritative text on the subject, The Bible.

Roman Catholic Doctrine met, married and argued with an old coyote when my Grandmother married my Grandfather. She explained the way it was, and he said, it didn't have to be.

Authority. Be'ashniih. They both had it. Each one undoing the other. I stood between them and saw the power they had, to create one world, and destroy another. Each one did it. They did it over and over again. Every morning. Every evening. In the fight for each others soul they were defeated by two words: no divorce.

14 August 2012


"be'ashniih: I am an authority on it (and thus know how to counteract it)

Authority on it, to be an—(in the sense of knowing how to counteract it; to know how to counteract it)

Colloquial Navajo: A Dictionary (Robert W. Young & William Morgan)

NB: not the power to enforce
NB: not the power to make sure it is followed through

I am an authority on it, in this view means I have power over it, in the very least by means of making it no longer true, by means of loosening its rein, by means of lifting the yoke, by means of direct action.

"Counteract: vt., to act directly against; check, neutralize, or undo the effect of with opposing action."

Webster's New World Dictionary, Second College Edition (Simon and Schuster)

To then say, I am an authority on poverty, severed relations, and hunger, would mean I have the means to undo the effects of these afflictions, by some opposing action.

Thought. Music. Language. Art.

I have the means to neutralize these conditions via action. I give generously. I maintain relations. I feed the dirt. I feed the Gods.

Be'ashniih. What possibility does this bring for Nations, thoughts, and music? For people and artists? For every one living inside several mouths and several languages? How can we apply our authority, our ability to counteract, to direct action, at the level of recognizing what needs to be done and doing it, to what needs to be seen and seeing it, to what needs to be said and saying it.

13 August 2012


"Both the authority of discourse and its internal persuasiveness may be united in a single word—but such unity is rarely a given—it happens more frequently that an individual's becoming, an ideological process, is characterized precisely by a sharp gap between these two categories: in one, the authoritative word (religious, political, moral, the word of a father, of adults and of teachers, etc.) that does not know internal persuasiveness, in the other internally persuasive word that is denied all privilege, backed up by no authority at all, and is frequently not even acknowledged in society (not by public opinion, nor by scholarly norms, nor by criticism), not even in the legal code."

We confront these authorities every day—consciously or not. Sifting between these words and worlds is not difficult. The authoritative word is familiar, it grows everywhere, rusting the substance of people, and the substance of conversation. Authoritative words and worlds don't go down easy—they choke, they stretch the esophagus, stripping the sides, and making it difficult to pull in the oxygen required of thought. If you do not agree—you cannot go forward. When you agree, you go only where your movement is required. Is that motion or relocation?

"The struggle and dialogic interrelationship of these categories of ideological discourse are what usually determined the history of an individual ideological consciousness."

Struggle, dialogue, and history, each of these words open and close of their own account. Considering Bakhtin's point here, "are what usually determine the history of an individual ideological consciousness," the use of the word determine whispers a declaration, you are shaped in ways you can be significantly unaware of and still feel you've come to some conclusion.

But, "It is not a free appropriation and assimilation of the word itself that authoritative discourse seeks to elicit from us, rather, it demands our unconditional allegiance."

I return to the process of sifting. Sorting through language in this way is not difficult, but few take the smallest amount of time to do it. Instead we speak, we think, we pledge allegiance to the flow of words, the exchange of ideas, the pattern of interaction the authoritative discourse demands of us. But we think we are speaking, thinking, exchanging. Why?

"It enters our verbal consciousness as a compact and indivisible mass; one must either totally affirm it, or totally reject it. It is indissolubly fused with its authority—with political power, an institution, a person—and it stands and falls together with that authority. One cannot divide it up—agree with one part, accept but not completely another part, reject utterly a third part."

Political power determines citizenship, mobility, economies and to a large degree basic safety. Political power defines necessity and then applies those definitions to our bodies (earth, human, plant and animal). Political power requires a licence. Institutions and people serve the same functions, standing and falling by the authority of these words (business hours, days of the week, languages, and ceremonies). There are innumerable worlds outside of these, but this world of words refuses to recognize their existence.

"The authoritative word demands that we acknowledge it, that we make it our own; it binds us, quite independent of any power it might have to persuade us internally; we encounter it with its authority already fused to it."

To some extent, when we are not sifting and sorting, we are agreeing. That agreement is coerced, but it is agreement nonetheless. Disagreements are punished, severely—but disagreement allows for dignity.

"All this renders the artistic representation of authoritative discourse impossible."

We must moan, scream or cry. We must cough, and spit. We must retain something capable of bearing life.

"An independent, responsible and active discourse is the fundamental indicator of an ethical, legal and political human being."

all quotes are from: M. M. Bakhtin, The Dialogic Imagination, Edited by Michael Holquist, Translated by Caryl Emerson and Michael Holquist. (pages 342-4)