The idea for this companion book and website of notes and annotations was initially inspired by reading Ulysses Annotated (Gifford, 1989), The Dante Encyclopaedia (Lansing, 2010) and Thomas Aquinas’ commentary on Aristotle’s Politics (Aquinas, 2006)). With these books I found myself studying the complex and dense imagery, the historical references and the philosophical depth of the original works. With Aristotle and Dante it could be argued that reading their texts without some supplement (notes, companion books, encyclopedias) results in a superficial reading. Joyce deliberately wrote in a style that demands a supplement. Dante wrote to appeal to the wider readership and the supplement helps us bridge the references his audiences would have known. Of course one can glide over the surface and pick up images and events but without a supplement it is fairly easy to miss the density of the allusions, images and concepts buried in the text.
By providing a supplement to the main text my aim is to recognize that conversation is, by its very nature, fluid, dynamic and jagged. Arguments do not necessarily unfold from one line to the next but can be interrupted. The notes therefore serve a twofold task: to unpack some of the imagery and allusions but also foreground the threads that appear and disappear throughout the text. The aim is to deepen one’s grasp of the themes and images that run through the book. It is hoped that you have read or are reading ‘Against Capitalist Education’. If not, I would highly recommend doing so.
The notes are given in the following format:
[page number, line number(s)] followed by a partial quote in bold – and then the annotation and note.
What is music? And how can it reveal something of the ontological dynamics of existence?
Music, like language, is common to all human beings and for some, it is an essential part of what it means to be a human being. But why? what is so special about music? And, equally so, what can we learn from thinking about music?
Is music just ‘decoration’? Something that belongs to the decorative arts? Or is it a serious art form, coming to life in dialogue with philosophy?
Music is a dynamic temporal structure (rooted in repetitive patterns and complex evolving harmonic relations). This is explicit in the rhythmic music of Nik Bartsch. Musical structures only exists in a flow. If the flow ceases so does the music. The structures – the musical patterns or forms – you are listening to, also mutate, distort and shift over time, giving us something like a narrative. All music seems to share these two properties: structure and narrative. In the classical tradition we have forms of the fugue, the canon and, critically, the sonata (still one of the best images of a dialectic I can think of).
Let us say that ‘truth’ is like a seed buried deep in the fabric of the world. Under the right conditions it will emerge, it will flower and appear in the manifesting surfaces and forms of the phenomenal. Music creates a set of conditions. Think of these conditions as a dynamic scaffold, constructed over an infinite abyss (cf Meister Eckhart). If the listener is tuned in to the music then they sense this flow, moving both upwards and inwards through the musical scaffold.
That is my contention. And it is a fragile contention. It requires thinking Swedenborg with music but it also links Bartsch to the dynamic of Qawwali music, an ecstatic spiritual form which explicitly enacts this upward and inward movement through the scaffolding of the music.
Nik, I suspect, senses this in music. He calls his music “Ritual Groove Music” or “Zen-Funk’.
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This discussion came a lot closer to touching the vast philosophical edifice underlying my work. It is enormously difficult to impress upon the listener what price I pay for this originality. THanks to Thomas I manage to approach some of the key ideas in fairly uncomplicated ways.
In the film ‘Brainstorm’ there are two profoundly spiritual moments – the ending, which portrays a return trajectory back to a transcendent root, presented in almost mystical terms (no surprise that the director Douglas Trumbull created the effects for 2001: A Space Odyssey) and a moment quite early on in the film when the Christopher Walken character returns home to find his wife and a quartet of string players playing Schubert’s “Trout Quintet”. Schubert? I hear you say? Spiritual?
The film’s ending is the familiar and well established classical image of the spiritual – one that points away from the world, one that returns the soul to God, restoring its original unity from an exile in the finite. One you find in most mythologies. My favourite example is Dante’s Commedia. My favourite philosopher expressing this is Plotinus.
But what about the scene with Schubert? Here we find something new and different. Here, the movement is not the narrative of “exiled from some heavenly abode until death restores and returns you to your true spiritual home”. Firstly, in the hands of a Hegel, it points to the world as the paradoxical (finite) location of the highest point of the Spirit’s self-realisation. The world is not far from the root but, in the order of things, actually the site of its fullest realisation and self-revelation. (These ideas are familiar to anyone who has digested Jacob Boehme, Emmanuel Swedenborg or even Spinoza). The world, at these moment, discloses the transcendent root and, to paraphrase Arthur Danto, transforms itself in the process (much like James Joyce’s notion of Epiphany – itself rooted in Aquinas). And, more importantly, this root is the very same one we see at the end of the film – flowing upwards and into the world, the light we return to.
Ironically, given Hegel seemed to dismiss music, it is hard to find a better image of the Hegelian metaphysic and aesthetic than the sonata form in classical music. But I digress. I wanted to talk about Dutilleux. And I’ve ended up talking about Schubert. Perhaps next time I will get there. In the meantime listen to this stunning piece, built out of forms that do not fit any simple school of thought, but somehow gather them, weave them together to allow The Spirit to see itself.