The Cage by Charles Ives is one of the shortest pieces of music I’m ever going to review, clocking in at one minute and nine seconds. The good part about having such a short work to review is I can listen to it on repeat about thirty times or so in the half-hour it usually takes me to write these entries. This lets me gain an intimate familiarity with the piece, and really ponder even the finest details of the work. The bad part is that in a piece this short, the difficulty of writing an analysis of respectable length is akin to squeezing orange juice from a rock. However, if I’ve learned anything thus far in my musical studies, it is to never underestimate any piece of music. With that attitude in mind, I begin my listening. The piece opens with a succession of a series of chords on the piano that spiral upwards and end as abruptly as they started. At around the halfway mark, after a few repetitions of the opening motif, a voice enters the mix. The voice is female, a soprano, and begins to sing in English. The lyrics of the song describe the experiences of a leopard trapped in a cage (hence the name of the piece), and a boy who observes the trapped leopard and wonders, “Is life anything like that?” The boy’s profound thought is very reminiscent of the theory of the Iron Cage, coined by German sociologist Max Weber. Essentially, Weber posits that as a result of an increasingly rationalized world brought about by the modern capitalist system, man is trapped in a metaphorical iron cage. Contrary to what he may think, man is not free to do as he wishes. Instead, he is a wage slave as he must work to earn money, as without money, living in the capitalist system is impossible. Weber was concerned that the bureaucracies of capitalism were stripping man of his passion, and that the assembly-lines of Fordism were creating “specialists without spirit,” or workers who specialize in an action, but in reality their specialization is meaningless, as the real specialists are the specialists of old who specialized in a trade rather than a single assembly-line action. The modern man is trapped in an Iron Cage, and the irony is that he himself smelted the iron and wrought the very bars that keep him captive. In The Cage, the leopard, a ferocious beast, is meant to represent the spirit of mankind, trapped helplessly inside a cage. The young boy pondering the situation from outside is Ives himself, casting a critical eye upon the situation of his fellow man. That leaves one character unaccounted for. Who is the zookeeper? Is it God? Is it Mozart? (Is that a redundancy?) Is it Ives’ mentor, Horatio Parker? I am genuinely puzzled. I’ll have to think long and hard about this one.
Giuseppe Verdi aka Joe Green (if you get that reference we can be friends) is one of the top 2 greatest opera composers of all time (the other being a certain German). This piece should be recognizable to anyone that hears it. But take a moment to really listen to it closely.
Giuseppe Verdi - Requiem: “Dies Irae” & “Tuba Mirum”
Here is a great recording by the Berlin Phil: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=up0t2ZDfX7E
I promessi sposi, perhaps the most famous and widely read Italian novel, was written by Alessandro Manzoni, an Italian poet and novelist. While the novel contains in its pages a remarkable tale of drama and betrayal, the work is acknowledged on a broader basis as a precipitator of Risorgimento, or the Italian Unification movement; a movement that served as the basis for the consolidation of the different states of the Italian peninsula into the Kingdom of Italy. Additionally, the novel also played a role as a significant milestone in the development of a unified Italian language. While it is undeniable that this great novel played a great role in shaping modern Italy, what does it have to do with my analysis of Verdi’s Requiem? On the face of it, this is an excellent question. And the answer lies within the context of the inception of the work. Verdi wrote this Requiem in the memory of the (then) recently deceased Alessandro Manzoni, who, as mentioned earlier, is the author of I promessi sposi, and a central figure in Italian heritage. It is known that Verdi greatly admired Manzoni, and this is evident in the work, as it takes a great deal of admiration for compose to compose a work of this size in their memory. And with this mention of size, we transition to our analysis of the piece, beginning with its simply massive scale. For the full effect, I recommend viewing of the work in video form. The massive romantic orchestra, along with four soloists and a choir, all play in unison to produce a massive battery of music. The incredibly chilling and hair-raising Dies Irae pits themes of agony and intense pain against moments of forgiveness and mercy, in which Verdi explores the rites of death and the tribulations that follow in the after-life. Indeed, much of what follows in the Requiem as a whole consists of dramatic contrasts. The text of the Dies Irae is very powerful, and Verdi assumed the responsibility of composing equally powerful music to accompany it. The following Tuba mirum takes magnitude to a whole new level: “The combination of brass and choral quadruple fortissimo markings result in some of the loudest unamplified music ever written.” One can only imagine what the poor souls sitting in the front row of the first performance must have been going through. A very interesting, albeit contrived, connection to be made here lies in the casting of the trumpet as the “caller to judgement”. Upon reading this, my mind immediately leapt in another direction, that of the Islamic faith. In Islamic eschatology, the trumpet is the instrument that will be played by the angel Israphel, upon the command of God, to resurrect the dead so that the Day of Judgement may begin. Islamic scholars have spent years debating the symbolism of the trumpet in the Quran, and most Muslims are aware of the mystery surrounding the trumpet. When I read that the 19th century Romanic opera composer also cast the trumpet as his “day of reckoning” instrumental harbinger, I was fascinated. Merely a coincidence, or something more?
For the next few weeks or so, I’ll be writing reviews of some of the greatest classical works in the Western Classical tradition. They won’t be very technical, so even non-musicians can find them accessible. I would call this Musical Mondays or something but: a) its not monday and b) i suck at commitments (i’m less reliable than a pregnant girl’s period). First post will be up later today.
If you’ve ever wanted to get into classical music but don’t know where to start, this is a good opportunity.
1. You must listen to the piece before or while reading the review.
2. You must listen to the piece through decent quality headphones. (Senn or AKG, etc.) You’d be depriving yourself otherwise.
3. No beats by dre allowed. If you own a pair, kill yourself.
4. Feel free to leave me a comment for pieces you want reviewed.
Recently, I have encountered an interesting conundrum, one I have yet to find a solution for. I call this the paradox of governance.
This paradox involves the interplay between small and large governments, namely, the problem each extreme poses.
Large governments have the advantage of control, and the ability to enforce desired ends. However, history has showed that large governments often become tyrannical, infringing upon the rights of others. Worse, control of the government often falls disproportionately into the hands of specific interest groups, leading to skewed governmental policy.
Furthermore, a large government is understandably lacking in efficiency, requiring much from its citizens (by way of taxes, service, etc.) This invariably inhibits the growth of the private sector, simply due to the resources being monopolized by the government.
While the prevalently heard response to such a danger is to suggest a reduction in the size of government, this solution is equally dangerous. Simply, a government that is not large enough may grant its citizens freedom, but may ultimately be ineffectual, altogether negating the very utility of a governing body. (ie anarchy)
Taken from an economic standpoint, a large government may attempt to control the economy, ultimately failing to do so (Because such a task is nearly impossible). However, a small government will be unable to enforce necessary regulations, leaving a power vacuum only to be filled by large corporations, thus leading to a corrupt capitalistic system.
We thus find that the ultimate (assumed) goal is an economic system that is left to itself, but is governed by a government strong enough to enforce fair competition. However, neither a small nor big government help achieve this goal, producing a nearly unsolvable quagmire.
Claiming moderation between two extremes is not an appropriate solution to the problems posed by each, but only a compromise between two undesirables. While it may be true that a government that is neither small or large limits the problems posed by each, it in no way solves the inadequacies posed by both systems completely.
Have you ever thought that minorities might not want your pity? Have you ever considered the possibility that your culture of petty political correctness is inadvertently racist? Do you realize that the harder you try to be accepting, the more you accentuate existing societal schisms? You try to act ‘cultured’, ‘accepting’ and ‘enlightened’. Yet all I see is a pathetic attempt to exempt yourself of guilt. Your aim a purely self-indulgent psychological one. Your means a divisive, condescending method.
Each time you consciously attempt not to be racist, your attempt fails, exposing you for the narrow minded person you are. You think, foolishly, that acceptance involves a conscious effort, ignoring completely that true acceptance is subconscious. True acceptance does not need to be advertised. Its existence is as banal and mundane as its necessity suggests.
Have you ever considered that the process of promoting ‘diversity’ is inherently exclusionary? The notion of promoting ‘minority’ enrollment cements their position as the other. Have you ever considered that the push to increase enrollment of ‘colored’ students is by de facto an otherization of those who do not fit your mold? Who are you to be accepting of a minority? Why must you ‘tolerate’ others? Are they an artifact that must be tolerated? If so, why? Have you ever considered the inherently condescending element of tolerance?
Who are you to attempt to ‘accept’ the ‘underprivileged’? Who are you to pity them? Are you in some way above those you pity? Have you ever stopped to realize that the very act of pity involves a heirarchical system, one that perpetuates the very problem you wish to ‘solve’? Why must they accept your patronizing gift? Have you ever considered the ever so radical idea that equality is not a goal to be achieved by you, or by anyone for that matter. We are inherently unequal beings. Our existence involves nuance; it ebbs and flows. It does not need your interference. In fact, it would be much better served without it.
-A message to those who fancy themselves “tolerant”
P.S. When and if I get the chance, I would like to formalize this more emotional rant into a logical one.
So often arguments become entangled in what I consider to be different and incongruent realms of postulation. When analyzing a situation, there are essentially three lenses through which a situation can be analyzed.
1. A hypothetical postulation based on the world as it should be. 2. A hypothetical postulation based on the world as it is. 3. An applicable postulation based on the world as it is.
First I will enumerate the three categories provided above, then subsequently provide contextualized examples as to their application, and frustrating confusion and conflation.
The first category describes an attempt to determine the way a situation should be, given the assumption that the world is perfect. Though this assumption if extended, would render most existing problems non-existent, it is helpful as a tool. From this assumption of utopia, one can abstract general principles, moving to the second and third categories.
The second category differs from the first in that it discards the assumption of perfection, but retains its hypothetical, and thus abstract structure. The purpose of this category is to acknowledge the imperfections of the world as it exists, while attempting to ameliorate a situation thoroughly and holistically.
Finally, the third category differs from the second in that its structure allows for its direct applicability. Although this final category often lacks sorely in ambition, it makes up for such shortcomings through pragmatism.
The purpose of this final category is to understand the restrictions of direct applicability, while still retaining the benefit of being abstracted from a hypothetical and broadly theoretical framework.
To provide a concrete example of the application of such a framework, I have deemed it helpful to provide a political example.
If we take the case of healthcare in the United States, many often argue from disparate categories, causing mutual misunderstanding and a fruitless pursuit of an unattainable conclusion.
An argument embedded solely in category (1) essentially says, in a perfect world, all citizens would have readily accesible healthcare, because of their common right to life. However, a counter-argument within this category would claim that healthcare is not a right, and thus it is not the case that a utopian society would provide its citizens with free healthcare.
Without delving into the specifics of the argument, or even picking sides, it becomes readily apparent that this argument is self contained within the first category. It is purely hypothetical, and assumes no flaws in the universe.
An argument regarding healthcare in the second category would differ significantly from the first. The affirmative side of the argument would be that the US healthcare system is broken in its current state. Healthcare should be provided to all citizens, but we the United States is currently facing a severe budget deficit.
Furthermore, the costs of healthcare continue to rise, meaning an increase in revenue will be necessary to mitigate the rising costs of healthcare. Because the economic situation in the United States is such that the wealthy have done fairly well, their taxes must in turn rise to pay for a government sponsored healthcare system.
Now, the argument for private or public healthcare is a different issue altogether. However, while remaining in category (2), a person making the affirmative claim would argue that healthcare is an industry where the conflicting incentives of maximizing profits and maximizing patient well-being are diametrically opposed, and thus healthcare must be provided by the government.
The negative side of the argument would be to claim the costs of providing healthcare on such a structure to be much too onerous for the federal government. The onus should not be on the government to provide such healthcare for such reasons. Furthermore, any extension of healthcare from one individual to another must necessarily involve in a cost to be incurred on a certain individual in society. Since no one individual is more important than the next, it should not be the case that one be the beneficiary and another the provider of healthcare.
It is clear then that the above argument considers the nuance and imperfection involved in the world as it is, while remaining purely hypothetical. The points enumerated in category (2) in many ways derived from, and were abstracted from the arguments in category (1). However, it is also clear that the two arguments lie in different realms, and to argue within both would induce stasis.
Finally, an argument embedded in the category (3) must take in to account both the imperfections of the universe as well as structural restrictions that arise from conflicting forces. In this situation, the conflicting forces are largely bureaucratic and business related.
Assuming the position of the affirmative, because it expressly alters the status quo, one would develop a directly applicable course of action. Given opposition from both business interests and congressional Republicans, one may decide to institute a system akin to Obamacare.
Such a system may not enact the previously stated goal of government provided healthcare, precisely because of corporate and congressional opposition. However, it will, in theory increase the availability of healthcare coverage. Thus, as was stated in my delineation of category (3), what this category loses in ambition it makes up for in pragmatism.
Too often there is a situation where one arguing within the realm of category (3) is berated by one arguing from category (2) for being too conservative in their aims. However, what this arguments fails to account for is the difference that exists between theoretical and applicable arguments.
There is not one form of argumentation that is more useful than the other. Each has its specific purpose. If this purpose is not acknowledged, and if the category being argued from not made explicit, much energy may be wasted by parties conflating discordant forms of argumentation.
Before engaging in learning, it is imperative that one gains an understanding of the ultimate purpose of their newly acquired knowledge. Too often we engage in the process of learning material in what can be described as an aimless process.
Similarly, the dissemination and propagation of knowledge follows a likewise aimless process. Not only is the spread of such knowledge purposeless, it is conducted in such a way that it induces intellectual stasis.
Knowledge does not exist simply to be known. It must be known for a reason. Otherwise, we are engaging in a useless endeavor, one that so many in academia unknowingly participate in.
There are three potential purposes of attaining knowledge. While these may be self-evident, a critique of the education system as a whole reveals that such concepts are not wholly understood nor abided by.
Knowledge exists: 1. For a pragmatic/utilitarian purpose. 2. In order to further existing knowledge (create new knowledge) 3. For purposes of entertainment or leisure.
It does not exist simply to be known. Despite the fact that such a proclamation is seemingly simplistic and intuitive, we are unfortunately faced with a system that rewards regurgitation and punishes creativity.
The first instance describes situations where one is learning material that is directly pertinent to their life in some way. The second instance describes situations where an otherwise mundane form of learning is being opted for, for the purpose of eventually creating new knowledge.
The final category involves knowledge as a form of entertainment. In such instances, knowledge may not be directly pertinent, and thus considered superfluous, but so long as it produces pleasure in the learner, it can be presumed to be worthwhile.
Then, it appears evident that knowledge that does not fall in either of the categories, should be avoided, for its perverse consequences and lack of ultimate aim. Unfortunately, most formalized systems of knowledge are set up in such a way, much to the detriment of highly uninterested students.
The way to make learning bearable, and dare I even say fun, is to show its relevance, either as an entertaining, directly pertinent, or potentially pertinent artifact. Though this should be readily apparent, its contents seemingly have not successfully penetrated the walls of academia.
Most view the possession of wealth as a contiguous, stable continuum. In such a view, there are the extremely wealthy individuals on one end, and the abject poor on the other.
It is presumed that between these two polarities exists a nominal scale (one in which the difference between each value is equal). However, a sobered analysis of how wealth is utilized suggests that such views are misguided and simply inaccurate.
In concise terms, wealth exists less as a nominal relationship but rather as a dichotomous one. In general terms, either one has enough money, or they do not.
While this notion, for understandable reasons is intuitively objectionable, a simple look at the utility of money in our existing society shows why this is true. As an individual gains more wealth, the utility of their wealth gradually decreases, to the extent that newly acquired wealth eventually becomes ineffectual, doing little to differentiate wealthier members from one another.
We will call this, for purposes of simplicity, the law of decreasing utility. As an individual acquires more money, the utility of their money goes down exponentially.
To help elucidate, an individual living in dire conditions has scant money to spend on luxuries. As a result, the individual on welfare cannot afford a computer, and thus has no access to the internet.
A member of the middle class, however can afford the purchase of a computer, albiet one with mediocre qualities, while a member of the upper class, by virtue of their wealth, can afford a high end computer.
The key point here, is that the difference between the individual who must pass up the purchase of a computer altogether, and an individual who can purchase a mediocre computer is much greater than is the difference between an individual who can purchase a mediocre computer as compared to an individual with the capacity to purchase a high end computer.
Furthermore, as long as one has discretionary income (ie income that is not used by necessities such as food, housing etc), they have the ability to establish priorities. The establishment of such priorities allows one to spend more on a certain type of item and less on others, thus allowing them to enjoy certain types of items that many consider the wealthy to typically afford.
For example, if one’s greatest passion is video games, they can spend a disproportionate amount of their money on video games, and decide to live in an apartment. The general point is that beyond a certain threshold, what one does with their money becomes less and less about how much money they have, but how they spend it.
Put simply, there is essentially no difference between what Cristiano Ronaldo can afford and what Warren Buffet can afford. After a certain point, more money becomes superfluous and ineffectual.
However, the difference between the utility of a homeless man’s wealth and the wealth of a working class individual is staggering. One has no shelter, little food, and lacks basic necessities. The other, while certainly not comfortable, has access to housing, the internet, AC, and the ability to spend any extra money on items valued by that individual. Yet the nominal difference between these two individuals’ income is, on a grand scale, rather minuscule.
Thus, as a society, we must work toward the aim of ensuring that all members are above this aforementioned threshold. This threshold does not contain any specific numerical value, but exists in the abstract.
How do we achieve this? By the institution of *mitigated* capitalism infused with the limited role of the state.