Saturday, 29 November 2008

Freedom, where art thou?

In a shitty mood today. One of the particular modes of depression is a feeling of being immensely trapped. Freedom is an elusive ideal; perhaps more than any other, it is one of the defining characteristics of the human situation.

Frequently I get sick of the seeming banality and changeless stasis of my life. One week passes by much like the previous, and much like the next. Going nowhere, doing nothing much. Living in a room. An external prison mirroring your internal one. It is so easy to dream of all the places on the planet you could be, all the things you could be doing. But you're stuck in a prison that you don't know how to escape from - no money, no car, no proper home. Television programs and films can offer up an acute form of torture; you see places you wish you could be, see people doing things you wish you could be doing, people living lives you wish you could live.

The difference in quality between the child like sense of wonder and openness is that when life hasn't worked out how you planned, when your dreams seem to have been crushed... instead of dreaming and wishing with the residual optimism that "I'll do that someday", this feeling is instead replaced by the emptiness resulting from "I'll never get a chance to do that before I die". A sense of dreaming has been replaced by a sense of loss.

Of course you can't possibly know that for a fact, generally speaking, but it isn't about objectivity. It is about the feeling. It becomes difficult not to feel bitter.

And it is a grim, dark, and miserable place to be. A place barren of hope. Alone.

It wouldn't be so bad if you had some firm idea about what to do to change things. But when you can't see a way forward - then your soul might as well be sucked out of you, for you start to feel like merely a breathing corpse.

We all get glimpses of freedom. But increasingly they feel like mere shafts of light reaching down from a high ceiling in a dark cold cave; tantalising but ultimately unreachable.

Friday, 28 November 2008

Some one: Someone and blogging

It is, indeed, a wonder that anyone finds anyone at all.

First off, the logistics. Most people, after a while, settle into a steady job. Even if they work in a big corporation, in reality they interact with a relatively limited number of people who they see on an almost daily basis.

Assuming that no one finds love through their workplace, that obviously means they have to find it outside. Now a typical job is somewhere in the region of 40 hours per week. Add to that average commute times, and in general we could say, quite reasonably, that 50 hours per week of the 168 are taken up by work. That leaves about 118. Of those 118, based on an average of 8 hours sleep per night, that uses up an additional 56 hours, which reduces the available hours to 62.

Now, during the working week, average Joe or Jane then has to do all the usual chores around the house such as cooking, cleaning, washing and, of course, relaxing - which is of course usually a solitary exercise if someone is single, be it reading a book, watching a film or some junk on TV, etc. Including the time spent getting ready in the mornings, it is quite reasonable to suggest this takes up another 2-3 hours per day. Anything that doesn't get done during the week will get dumped at the weekend or days off, so even these days will have a similar time usage. So that is another 21 hours, taking our remaining time down to 41 hours.

We then have food shopping and time spent out the house doing other necessary non-recreational tasks, which easily uses up another, say, 5-6 hours per week. So down to 35 hours.

People that want to be healthy and fit (and by logic, anyone who is single probably wants to do their best to improve these aspects) need to do some type of regular exercise, of whatever variety whether it be going to the gym or cycling. So, based on an average level of exercise, including time showering, commuting to/from gym or other necessary preparations, we can say that this takes up at least another 6 hours per week. So 29 hours or so. Of these 29 recreational hours per week, most people will be lucky to have 1-2 hours actually spare in the evenings. Although people can and do socialise during the working week, typically most people will be tired and just want to crash out at home for these free hours. So that's another 10 hours gone. Down to 19 hours. Most people have two days off per week, so the majority of the 19 hours left for socialising will take place over these two days. Most real socialising - of the type where you can attempt to find someone of the opposite sex - tends to take place in the evening, say from 8PM till 3AM, which leaves us with 16 hours. On a typical working week this would be Friday and Saturday evenings. This is assuming someone goes out both nights, every week. Although some people will, probably most will go out on a proper night out once per week. So down to 8 hours.

Of these 8 hours, we then have a very hit and miss scenario. Most pubs and clubs have very loud background noise and music levels so real in depth conversation is not possible. Assuming this to be so, we are left with the more basic "dance floor" scenario to meet someone. Most people won't hit the dance floor until later on in the evening after several drinks, so probably from 11 or 12 onwards. So down to 3 hours.

That's a pretty low percentage opportunity. 3 hours. And to meet what? A pure random physical (and probably short lived) attraction, if you're lucky? The likelihood of finding someone you are genuinely compatible with is extremely low.

Of course I realise this analysis is unduly pessimistic, grossly so, as every moment in life, is, theoretically, an opportunity to meet some special someone. You might bump into them at the supermarket. You might talk to them in the street. You might even meet them over the internet. Whatever.

The point is, it is nevertheless surprising anyone finds anyone they are genuinely compatible with at all in the modern world. The fact is they do, but it is against all odds, rather than with the confluence of any - certainly if you look at the matter from a materialistic perspective. In fact the odds of even meeting someone you aren't compatible with but at least have some superficial attraction that goes a little somewhere is still pretty low - generally speaking.

I should add that this cursory analysis took an "average Joe" example doing an "average Joe" life. Some people are fortunate in that they have amazing jobs and lives, where every day is filled meeting new people, doing interesting things, going to interesting places, etc. But my example looks at the more mundane sphere of a typical job working in somewhere like an office or wherever.

It has been correctly pointed out that a better method of meeting someone is to join a club or participate in some community or activity whereby you stand a chance of meeting some "like minded" people. Even that is still not a high probability, necessarily, since many types of clubs/activities won't have a high turn out of appropriate aged people and much of a potential attraction base. Furthermore, sharing an interest doesn't mean that you are alike or a good match with someone, even if we were to presume that the initial attraction and match was there.

The aim of this rather vague and rambling, overly empirical analysis of the world of human attraction, was perhaps to underline in a rather mundane way the difficulty in even encountering reasonable numbers of at least potential matches. You can construct scenarios - such as speed dating sessions, etc. - but the inevitable result is that they are always, necessarily, rather contrived and artificial. I did once come across a post on the internet by a statistician who subjected the entire population of the planet to a set of reasonable assumptions with the result that the typical individual might have 11000 potential matches, world wide. Or something of that order. Reducing that to ones in the geographical vicinity, you start to realise the improbability of meeting such a person when one considers this expressed as a percentage in relation to the population of the planet. Something dismally small. This was based on a set of quite reasonable assumptions and basic facts, nothing "deep".

So we have a small potential base, of which to meet someone. So if you're looking for someone who isn't just merely a bit of fun to be around, but someone who, as it were, was a true spiritual match, someone you instinctively understand, someone who you truly resonate with, someone who... completes you... Well, then, that is a tough proposition.

Non-empirical factors of course do ultimately seem to shape human relationships, for most people do meet that someone (or indeed several, over a lifetime). But it can feel like an impossible dream sometimes.

Is blogging a fundamentally egotistical activity? The answer probably is yes. As a diary, it is a means of self-exploration. The fact that a blog allows you to publicly air your thoughts, but at the same time to a fundamentally anonymous audience, does change the dynamic somewhat. Most blogs out there, amongst the vast numbers on the internet, are primarily only of interest to the person writing them, and the fact of the matter is they probably barely get read by a single other person. Just yet another clump of data in a vast electronic soup.

That, however, is not the point. The point is the very possibility that they could be [read by a particular someone] modifies the whole essence of the writing. The hidden (but assumed) agenda behind every blog - is the possibility of connecting with someone else who understands. This lies at the basis, as a component, of every piece of writing, of whatever type. The knowledge that it is being published - even if that is purely electronically on some random web page amongst thousands of others - is nevertheless a huge advance over merely writing something that probably won't ever see the light of day in any form. A writer fundamentally always wants some sort of audience. For, it is an opportunity to actually be heard - to genuinely say something, rather than merely utter pleasantries or  mechanic social parlance. We all say many words without actually necessarily saying much. A large part of conversations are merely social lubrication or mundane information exchange, rather than true human to human communication about the mysteries of life.

The written word quite often has a cogency, authenticity and level of expression missing from most spoken conversations in the real world, where there are always some degree of barriers erected, even amongst good friends.

A blog is usually a story about the individual life experiences of the particular person's own life. An autobiography. So, the real agenda - regardless of whether the person is happily married, with someone, or not - is the hope that somewhere, out there, in the vast and incalculable electronic nexus of the web, will be some one, someone, who reads, and understands. Not on a rational or even intellectual level. Beyond that; on an intuitive level. On a spiritual level. For, in effect, it is a means of confirming one's own existence; a moment of existential recognition. Everyone has that need buried in them somewhere, regardless of how strong or self-secure they may suppose themselves to be.

Some blogs are a lot more personal than others. Some are a lot more detailed. Some deal a lot more with "external" [life] rather than "internal" events. Regardless. The same fundamental principle underlies them all - else they would simple keep their writing to themselves on some personal computer file. Blogs are about sharing, in a more or less uninhibited fashion. So in that respect, they are altruistic as much as they are egotistic. A lovely paradox.

Or probably just a truism if one looks at the matter on a deeper level.

Wednesday, 26 November 2008

Brahm's piano music

Brahms was a mighty composer in every sense of the term. All of Brahms music requires depth, conviction, and above all, authority.

The composers that normally first get name-checked as the greats are typically Beethoven, Mozart, Bach... all with some, quite considerable, justification. Brahms is one who slips somewhat under the radar, yet in my opinion stands comparison with any composer and deserves to be counted among the absolute elite.

As sweeping and majestic as his symphonic works are, Brahms himself was first and foremost a pianist - and a truly formidable one, at that. So deciding to rectify a gap in my collection, I decided it was time to obtain a survey of his solo piano music, and so I awhile back I got Gehard Oppitz's complete cycle on RCA, a modern digital recording.

This is music of profound beauty, depth, and above all moment. The exemplary pianism conveys the sheer gravity of the notes. Brahm's delicate melodic lines carry with them an almost transcendental expression; crystallising in the air, the essential silence around them providing a foundation for the tremendous spiritual depth of the music. The playing is often beautifully subtle, in equal balance to the sheer fortitude required to drive the music forward. Yet the music always flows; steeped in the traditional dances from which he drew significant influence. This is not music about flurries of notes, arpeggios, or indeed any overt displays of technique. It is so much more than that. There is none of the whimsical, self-indulgent, and almost childish - perhaps naive would be the fairer term - but above all, superfluous melodic lines that virtually overflow from Mozart's piano sonatas. For where Mozart would lapse into showmanship, every note in Brahm's music is vital, considered, and deeply resonant.

I contrast Brahm's with Mozart since for me they are almost antithetical to each other, despite the fact that necessarily Brahm's owes much to the Classical tradition [that Mozart helped forge] - Brahm's sought a higher synthesis of the Classical and Romantic traditions. Needless to say it should be obvious whom I favour. Mozart's finest works came near the end of his life, where it becomes apparent in his music that there is a spiritual depth, but above all, maturity, somewhat absent from his earlier music - his Requiem being a particular example. No one could deny his prodigious genius and unparalleled melodic ingenuity; but a certain sense of true awareness of the inherently human situation seems lacking, and in such cases we are left with elegant, extremely attractive but perhaps slightly superficial music. One that reflects a certain vanity - though an incredibly productive one - due to self-involvement rather than service to the fundamental Mysteries of life.
Brahm's has a depth and awareness that is incredibly manifest coupled with an incredible economy of line, without ever sounding dry or ascetic. There is tremendous tonal and harmonic complexity in this music, yet it always remains beautifully melodic. Each sonata is, in effect, an entire symphony in itself, with huge dynamic demands.

I suppose it should be obvious that this is without doubt some of the finest and most exquisite music I have ever heard. This is art of the highest possible calibre. It communicates with an erudition that words struggle to approach; this is music in service to Art in its highest and most perfect form; it goes beyond, and suggests towards that which is but Ideality, as the limit of which Art is merely the tool that simply can but strive; can suggest, without stating.

Oppitz, as both communicator and interpretor - whilst I have limited alternative recordings upon which to draw comparisons - plays at all times with what seems like an absolute command and intuitive understanding of the requirements of Brahm's composition. He combines effortless technical mastery with a true musical understanding. It is difficult to imagine this music being better represented than we have here.


Life seems like a rushed miasma interspersed with existential moments. Brief interludes, when, paradoxically, the artifice of this endless torrent is washed away with a sense of the timeless, limitless; the sense of a reconnection with self and yet not-self. Eastern esotericism has understood this truth for far longer than we have in the West, and we are still catching up.

For me, I live for these moments. To make the moments instead a thoroughgoing element of daily life, I suppose, is what you would call Philosophy at its most pragmatic. The requirement - certainly for most people - to make this possible would be a vocation that in itself provides intellectual and above all spiritual satisfaction. For most of us, this is but a romantic fantasy; so we merely greet these moments of existence when we have a chance to reflect, when presented with the wonder of nature or some sublime Art in some form. Finding it in the everyday and the mundane is an infinitely more subtle and difficult art; Buddhists spend a lifetime searching for it, so that it is at once everywhere; which is of course to say, they have to search within themselves.

Age allows this dimension to increase as the understanding draws upon an ever deeper library of experience; when other physical dimensions start to recede, this dimension can continue to expand unabated.

On the challenge of reconciling this spiritual connection and the increasingly industrialised Western world, Julius Evola said it best:

"The most peculiar thing is that this superstitious and insolent cult of
work is proclaimed in an era in which the irreversible and relentless
mechanisation eliminates from the main varieties of work whatever in
them still had the character of quality, art, and the spontaneous
unfoldment of a vocation, turning it into something inanimate and
devoid of even an immanent meaning."

The world needs artists, and equally, it needs listeners. For otherwise it is deprived of its purpose.

Listening to Brahms is but another way to find those existential moments.

Sunday, 23 November 2008

Jazz and the Blue feeling

Few of the people I know are really into Jazz, besides which everyone was off elsewhere this weekend, so thought I'd head out to the Jazz Café here in Newcastle by myself regardless.

Excellent night out. Despite the inclement weather and partially resultant small number of people present, this small venue has a great yesteryear charm. Its all slightly run-down, which really just adds to the character of the place. Too many places are being turned into drab modernist clinical environments, particularly when it comes to the seeming mercurial rise of chain store style pubs and clubs. Places with an authentic sense of history are slowly dying out.

This is probably an overly cynical view, since no doubt plenty of new places are cropping up to create their own bit of history anew. But still. The critical thing is that the venue has to be run for the love of what it offers, rather than just seeing it as a one dimensional commercial opportunity where everything is ultimately considered purely in terms of profit streams.

Well the Jazz Café is clearly a labour of love under the helm of its idiosyncratic and charismatic owner (pictured above).

Even given weather considerations, it was a surprise to see such a small turn out. Does no one in the North East like Jazz? Pretty bizarre. Since for £4 entry you get yourself several hours of live entertainment. And the trio last night were undoubtedly highly accomplished. It was a set of traditional lounge jazz, delivered with confidence and feeling. I seem to have a refined talent for always locating places which are mysteriously quiet - I say mysterious because they are often places that are not normally particularly quiet. Maybe I have some misanthropic radar.

I love Blues, and bluesy Jazz or Jazz Blues, whatever you wish to call it. We live in a society where it is almost unacceptable to be melancholic. Maybe its a Northern thing; put a brave face on it, laugh it off, act all Alpha, whatever. But as Aristotle observed, tragedy has much more depth than comedy. And you feel a deepening of your sense of being when you sit and let the music seep into you. Sink into your soul, if that doesn't sound so clichéd. Melancholy is beautiful. Melancholy is profoundly life affirming.

Perhaps we merely connect most with what we associate most intimately with.

So life is ambiguous. The one certainty you can be assured of is the lack of certainty. This is the primary discrepancy between real life and all fictionalised accounts of life; life is always far more indistinct, more uncertain, and always less clear cut. You go out and you hope to connect with someone. Life is disappointing in respect to the type of meaningful moments that populate virtually all "deep" films. Those moments are rare, elusive. One wanders around in the cinema of one's own mind.

I think the primary benefit of getting older is that it almost seems that in direct proportion to your age, your sense of feeling deepens; as the catalogue of Experience grows, so you find yourself more readily able to connect with specific emotional states. Your sense of intuition deepens. Your spiritual depth increases. Everything, slowly but surely, carries more gravity.

Conversely, this can be a burden, hence it is a double-edged sword; but if age is the boat with which to sail into the inexhaustible reservoir of intuition, it is a burden worth bearing. For who knows just how deep those waters are except the explorer cast upon them? You can only understand in direct proportion to the level of experiential awareness you have developed. In Kantian terminology (for on most important matters, Kant said much that bears consideration) only objects of possible experience are objects for you at all; else they are mere thought entities. Whilst I use this in a slightly different context, the basic principle applies.

Saturday, 22 November 2008

The Consolation of Philosophy - indeed

So it doesn't make sense to me when people say they're not interested in Philosophy.

Or that it is pointless.

How could you not be interested in the big questions? In the final analysis, the only ones that actually matter. The classic ones; freedom of will, existence or non-existence of God (or Gods), the existence or non-existence of the soul (and its corollary - permanence or impermanence thereof), the nature of the origin of the universe, etc. These are the "pop" questions of Philosophy, and the very asking of any of these questions automatically presupposes a whole set of associated conditions. For ultimately Philosophy is concerned with universals, that which is unconditioned to which everything else is ultimately subservient.

But anyway - you see my point. Everyone simply must have at least some interest, even if they don't intellectually recognise this fact.

The second, often connected attitude of the pointlessness of it all carries with an unacceptable attitude of defeatism and apathy. For the lack of any certainty to such questions should not be considered the end of such speculation, but rather the start. To paraphrase Kant (and no doubt many others).

There is no natural delineation from where Philosophy ends and Theology begins. The Philosopher must always remain neutral, however, and seek wherever possible to subject everything to the utmost ratiocinative powers at their disposal. Whilst such an attitude is advisable for the Theologian, it is not necessarily required, as they are more willing to adopt a greater range of unknowables as given true as articles of faith. Theosophy is the natural synthesis of the two, and integrates the wider spectrum of occult and esoteric learnings into the canon.

Of course such distinctions are rather artificial and somewhat coloured by the over-specialisation and over dependence on modern empirical Science. Lo, those who would try to bring Philosophy as a specialisation of empirical, materialistic, Science. It is a move so absurd that it scarcely merits conversation. After all, originally, Philosophy was called Natural Science. So to subject this to an involution of primacy is merely a reflection of a lack of understanding of the proper architectonic upon which the nature of appropriate generalisation and specialisation, the proper order of subjects, belongs.

No, Philosophy is always the ultimate root parent subject to all others. Or rather, all others are ultimately subject to a Philsophy.

So anyway, life is frustrating. We all make our errors of judgement. I went to University and studied Computer Science, only to realise half-way through that I'd picked the wrong degree as it progressively bored the hell out me, and I felt a yearning to study ultimately more fundamental matters - i.e. Philosophy. Of course had been someone of the pragmatic and sensible type, I would have just finished it, continuing on from my excellent results in the second year... and probably could have some well paid job now, albeit unsatisfying.

But such a pragmatism is out of character for me, I am ultimately driven by more impulsive undercurrents, despite perhaps appearances to contrary in terms of my outward seemingly sensible, almost staid, navigation of life's challenges.

So I find myself in murky waters of discontent. A feeling of not having actually come close to fulfilling my potential in any respect. Almost a sense of being inauthentic towards myself.

So I could do an external Philosophy degree now. But guess what. Yeah, money. It'll have to wait until I'm out of debt, as it isn't cheap. It is tiresome waiting. But Philosophy, I suppose, is one of those powers of mind that merely improves with age. Philosophy should be rushed. In fact, the slower the better. A 100 brilliant words can contain more coherency than a 10000 garbled pages.

Zen masters intuitively comprehended this truth.

The sense of discontent would be eased if I more people in day to day life to share this stuff with. I mean, I have one particular person the other side of the globe who I randomly converse with over Facebook, then in my day to day life maybe one or two people.

Patrick is one of them. He has a PhD in Mathematics so invariably our discussions revolve around perplexing mathematical abstractions and in-jokes about Wittenstein. Kant talked rather penetratingly about mathematics. Mathematics won't ultimately help you with the deep Philosophical problems, but as a tool for the construction of concepts, and as a tool for exploring the universal in the particular, in concreto, as it were, it has an efficacy no other subject has. It also encourages a rigour and clarity of thought and method like no other.

I was far too lazy in school with Mathematics. I had plenty of ability but lack of application, so never it took it that far beyond GCSE. I should probably go back and correct that. But I'd start from a different standpoint. It all starts to become a lot more powerful when one approaches it from the Mystery perspective, the Pythagorean school. Rather than assuming them as abstract concepts in itself, it instead relates the abstractions as analogues of deep philosophical observations, and builds them up there. So instead of a mere structure "for the sake of" it is a structure that reflects instead a certain something. The great Pythagorean Tetraclys is the profound example of this.

Anyway, its a beautiful winter's day outside. Cold, frostly, crisp and sunny. My favourite type of weather in many respects. A fine day to wander, sit and have a coffee, and consider things anew.