Monday, February 28, 2005

Post Number Six: Music And Poetry. Art Again.

Of the primacy of subjectivity in the ability to appreciate Art.

Let's consider the following examples:

"Unthrifty loveliness, why dost thou spend
Upon thy self thy beauty's legacy?
Nature's bequest gives nothing, but doth lend,
And being frank she lends to those are free:
Then, beauteous niggard, why dost thou abuse
The bounteous largess given thee to give?
Profitless usurer, why dost thou use
So great a sum of sums, yet canst not live?
For having traffic with thy self alone,
Thou of thy self thy sweet self dost deceive:
Then how when nature calls thee to be gone,
What acceptable audit canst thou leave?
Thy unused beauty must be tombed with thee,
Which, used, lives th' executor to be."
(W. Shakespeare, Sonnets, IV)

"A Elbereth Gilthoniel,
silivren penna míriel
o menel aglar elenath!
Na-chaered palan-díriel
o galadhremmin ennorath,
Fanuilos, le linnathon
nef aear, sí nef aearon!"
(J.R.R. Tolkien, The Lord of The Rings, Book II, Chp. 10)

"Why do people fall in love?
Don't we know love is full of dangers?
Letting loose our foolish hearts
In this world full of perfect strangers
Maybe this time you will find
The moon will treat you kinder
Yes, I'm sure that I recall
That's the reason people fall...
Love is needing to belong
Right or wrong, when you feel the fire
Love is living in mid-air
young and rare, on a sky-high wire
Hoping this time it will last
You feel your heart beat faster
Yes, I'm sure that I recall
That's the reason people fall in love
Taking chances you would never take
When wide risk it all
Half afraid he'll only break your heart
Still you will close you eyes and simply fall
Why do people fall in love?
Are we fools with no hope of winning?
Or perhaps we always see
One last chance for a new beginning
Holding on and letting go
But never really knowing
Well, I guess that after all
That's the reason people fall in love"
(L. Eder, lyrics for the song Why do people fall in love)

What's the difference among these three quotes?
The first one is a Sonnet by Shakespeare, the second, a poem in Sindarin by Tolkien, the third are lyrics for a pop song.
The Sonnet is not only intense with meaning, but the result of a long and careful construction intended to build something of transcending beauty. In fact, what Shakespeare does here is what I already described before as "using the tools you have learnt to master to convey a message". The message is behind the words, but the words themselves are magnificiently following each other in a perfect example of balance. Alliterations, rhymes, and charming sounds are spread evenly throughout the poem. Not a word could be changed without breaking the equilibrium of this composition.
The poem by Tolkien is in Sindarin, a language invented by him that was meant to be beautiful. Tolkien had an incredibly subtle sensitivity to the beauty of languages, which brought him to believe that the musical essence of words is at least as important as the meaning they convey. Tolkien's poem is essentially beautiful for the sounds of it are, at least in his intentions, musical and pleasant to the ear. It doesn't matter whether we can understand the words or not, whether we speak Sindarin or not. The beauty of this poem resides in its sound.
The song lyrics are very close to speech. They mean what they mean, they were never intended to hide anything. They are not supposed to sound particularly beautiful per se. In this sense, they are "only" words. This song is purely "romantic" in its intent, and its lyrics show no particular spark of genius or inspirational marvel.

Why did I make this example today?

The vast majority of modern pop songs, are appreciated by the public especially for their lyrics. This makes of course no sense to me, since what touches my soul is the sound and not the meaning of a song's lyrics. Anyway I can understand how certain people that do not share my quite peculiar sensitivity to sound would completely ignore elements such as melody and harmony to concentrate on what is more easily "understood", that is, basically, words. But, as I proved with my three examples, words can be a lot more than a medium to convey an obvious meaning. Words are the tools poets and writers use to create Art. A simple romantic text with scarce poetic value is, well, disappointing, at least to me. Compared to what lyrics Shakespeare or Tolkien could have written for that same song, I find Linda Eder's choice of words really dull and appalling, leaving much to be wanted.

Some Italian singer/authors have concentrated more seriously on the lyrics of their songs. One of the best examples is Fabrizio De André, a very Leftist singer who paid extreme attention to his lyrics (they were actually decent poems themselves) and whose words normally hid more profound meanings. Here are the lyrics of one of his songs.

"Solo la morte m'ha portato in collina
un corpo fra i tanti a dar fosforo all'aria
per bivacchi di fuochi che dicono fatui
che non lasciano cenere, non sciolgon la brina.
Da chimico un giorno avevo il potere
di sposar gli elementi e farli reagire,
ma gli uomini mai mi riuscì di capire
perché si combinassero attraverso l'amore.
Affidando ad un gioco la gioia e il dolore.
Guardate il sorriso guardate il colore
come giocan sul viso di chi cerca l'amore:
ma lo stesso sorriso lo stesso colore
dove sono sul viso di chi ha avuto l'amore.
Dove sono sul viso di chi ha avuto l'amore.
Che strano andarsene senza soffrire,
senza un volto di donna da dover ricordare.
Ma è forse diverso il vostro morire
voi che uscite all'amore che cedete all'aprile.
Cosa c'è di diverso nel vostro morire.
Primavera non bussa lei entra sicura
come il fumo lei penetra in ogni fessura
ha le labbra di carne i capelli di grano
che paura, che voglia che ti prenda per mano.
Che paura, che voglia che ti porti lontano.
Ma guardate l'idrogeno tacere nel mare
guardate l'idrogeno al suo fianco dormire:
soltanto una legge che io riesco a capire
ha potuto sposarli senza farli scoppiare.
Soltanto una legge che io riesco a capire.
Fui chimico e, no, non mi volli sposare.
Non sapevo con chi e chi avrei generato:
son morto in un esperimento sbagliato
proprio come gli idioti che muoion d'amore.
qualcuno dirà che c'è un modo migliore."
(F. De André, Lyrics for Un Chimico)

This is actually quite beautiful, with rhymes and precise metrics. I am not skilled enough to be able to translate a poem into English (I would hardly be able to write a poem in my own language), so the best I can do is to provide a literal translation, warning the reader that my scarce skills are responsible for the poor result of what I am typing, and that the original text in Italian was much more poetic:

Lyrics for "A Chemist"
"Only death took me to the hills
a body among many to give phosphorus to air
for bivouacs of will-o'-the-wisps
leaving no cinders, melting no frost.
As a chemist I once had the power
to marry the elements and make them react,
but always I failed to understand men
why they combined through love,
entrusting to a game their joy and their pain
Watch the smile, watch the colour
how they play on the face of who looks for love:
but the same smile, the same colour
where are they on the face of who's found love?
Where are they on the face of who's found love?
How strange to leave without suffering
without a woman's face to recall.
But perhaps your dying is different,
for you who exit to love, who concede to April
What's different in your dying?
Spring doesn't knock, She confident comes in
like smoke She breaks through every cleft
She has lips of flesh, hair of corn,
what a fear, what a desire She takes you by hand
what a fear, what a desire She takes you away
But watch hydrogen silent in the sea
watch hydrogen sleep to her side
only a law that I can understand
could marry them without making them burn
Only a law that I can understand.
I was a chemist, and no, I chose not to marry.
I didn't know whom and whom I'd generate:
I died in a wrong experiment
just like idiots who die for love.
Someone will say there's a better way."

This, in itself, is a very nice poem. I cannot fail to appreciate the effort and the skill put out by Fabrizio De André. I understand this is Art, and I wonder if my readers will perceive the difference between this text and the one by Linda Eder. They are both about love, which is why I chose this one. They are also both about "why people fall in love". But they are very different. In Italian it is also very musical, and some of its peculiarities just cannot be translated into English. De André was very "Italian-ish", he never loved the "American" way to entertainment. So his songs are deep with meaning and "heavy". It should come as a dramatic surprise to my reader then, that I actually don't like his songs.
Please do not misunderstand my meaning.
I do not like his songs does not equal to I do not perceive their artistic value.
I am very aware they are artistically significant, way more than other pop songs I enjoy. The problem with his songs, for me, is that I am not "resonant" with the form De André chose for his art to be expressed. He sang with a guitar and little more, in form of ballads. The music itself was "unimportant" to him, a mere "decoration" of the lyrics, which were the real "chest" containing the full value of the song (I use the past because De André is dead, although he kept singing until the end of his career in the 90's). To De André, it was poetry in Italian language the mean to convey a message, and music was the "addition" to have poetry break through the mass market and reach the masses. I am quite sensitive to words and poems, but not enough to appreciate a song whose main element is its lyrics. I can actually appreciate a song without understanding the lyrics. I find a Chinese song (a classic of the 70's called "Wang Bu Liao") absolutely charming, and I have only a vague idea of what a few of its lines could mean. Words are beautiful to me, but sound is better. The same lyrics by De André, with a completely different music, would make my ideal song. Then of course, I would not call it "pop song" anymore for the simple fact that I use the expression "pop-song" to define "American", light-entertainment industrial products. This is not to say that all pop songs are industrial products, but rather that I have chosen that expression to define them.

Here comes then, the meaning of what I said when I stated that one has to be "resonant" with the form of expression the Communicator (Artist) has chosen to convey his message. I can understand very well the message hidden in De André's beautiful poem-lyrics. But when it comes to emotional impact, his music has a limited effect on me. I enjoy his lyrics a lot more when they are written on a piece of paper, where I can read them aloud following the metrics and the actual beauty of their natural sound in Italian, un-hindered by the annoying music intended to support them. But that of course, is not the aim of De André.

What I tried to say in this whole post in the end is that we can all recognize Art when we find it, but there certainly is *one* form of art that makes your inner chords vibrate. Cultivating that form of art, pursuing it and enjoying it as much as possible, provides immense pleasure. It is up to my readers to search and find the Art they feel most resonant with; but certainly, whatever my reader's choice, anybody's life is greatly enriched by the wonders of Art.

Sunday, February 27, 2005

Post Number Five: The Lightness of Being Is Less Bearable Than Many Believe

This is my last post for this weekend and I would like to dedicate it to the Unbearable Lightness of Being once more. Compared to my previous posts, this one will differ in that it won't be long. To achieve its purpose, in fact, it will require only a few words. So, I will surprise my reader making an attempt to be coincise.

I am very sensitive to lightness, and therefore perceive it easily. Most people in the world are accustomed to it, they don't notice it. But it's there nonetheless and it causes uneasiness. We live in a world where nothing apparently really matters. Nobody really cares about great political ideals, deep ethical values, philosophy, or the inner spiritual beacon of Religion (as opposed to the superficial set of dogmata displayed by most established Churches, especially Christian). "Get a life", "Have fun", "You think too much" are very common statements in our world. In one of my future posts I will talk about a girl that was the ultimate embodiment of lightness, and sentences like that were the norm in her mouth. Nothing really matters. It's the way capitalistic/consumistic society is meant to be. You think that happiness will be achieved through the possess of a specific item, gadget, or other object you have seen on advertising, or by having a nice, sexy body with flat abs. You probably believe that thinking too much is dangerous, and that it's better to let the loud thumps of that trendy disco dumbfold your mind and daze you. Perhaps it's better to get a pill of ecstasy or two, dance the whole night, have sex with someone you don't know that you picked up at the disco and forget about the world. Nothing, really, matters.

But this lack of meaning, this superficiality, this absence of importance, will crush you. Human beings have innate instinct that calls for a meaning. Sooner or later, whether we are aware of it or not, this great void around us will beg for something to fill it up. You will realize that although you got a nice job, you are making money and you can buy the gadgets you like, and you go to the disco every night, nonetheless you are not satisfied. Something will still be missing. Some people don't know what it is, they just know that something's wrong. They turn to superstitions, they believe aliens are out there to abduct us, they think crystals harness great powers; or they turn to religion (without the capital R), and stick to dogmata that are as empty as the void they are unconsciously trying to fill in. It is a destiny to which most of the modern generation is condemned.
I think I have been lucky to realize what caused my uneasiness. There are still many things that do not really matter, and it's good they exist, as long as I know that they are irrelevant. Most of what we have learnt to like is ephemeral, irrelevant. Unimportant. It doesn't fill the void you feel. You will always have that annoying impression that something is missing.
Light things are very hard to bear. Emptiness is vain. Vanitas vanitatum et omnia vanitas, "Emptiness of Emptiness and Everything is Emptiness".
There are things that matter because they are heavy. They are dense with meaning. People fought for them, died for them. There are words that evoke millennia of civilization, concepts that are worth pondering, thinking. Democracy, Ethics, Freedom, Art, Literature, Idealism, Philosophy, Tradition, Culture. The last one, Culture, is the word that sums them all up. It doesn't matter where your brain will find the most intriguing spark. What matters is that these things really mean something. They are the contrary of our civilization. They have been with us throughout our history, but now they are perceived as a burden. They aren't a burden, if not in the sense that they are heavy. They actually are what we are missing. They are that Weight that would make the Lightness of Being a bit more tolerable. They have been removed because they are disliked by those in charge, but they have left an emptiness that we humans struggle to fill, and there is nothing, in the ephemeral nature of our world, that can replace them. "Getting a life" in an world of vain entertainment can be really, really not fun any more.

Post Number Four: Mae Govannen. Im Arwen.

Of my innate sensitivity to Sound, and my love for Music

Yes, you have the right impression about the title of this post. It's written in Sindarin, the elven language created by Tolkien. I will immediately provide you with a translation: "Well met. I [am] Arwen". There is no verb to be in Sindarin, just as it happens in Russian. If you are interested in learning some Sindarin, please follow the link to the right, which will lead you to a comprehensive site about Tolkien's languages. Once again, I am referring to Tolkien in the title of my post, when the contents have nothing to do with him. In fact, this post will be about my own feelings about musical beauty. It will be very personal and introspective, and of a different quality compared to my previous posts. It will also dig into certain technicalities which I hope won't scare my readers away.
If you have seen the Lord of the Rings, you might have noticed that every now and then actors spoke in a language you couldn't understand without subtitles. That language was Sindarin. Probably you got the impression, despite the inability to understand it, that Sindarin sounded very beautiful to the ear. It is musical, harmonious, and sweet. When Liv Tyler for the first time speaks her line in Elvish, it seems that speech has turned into a song of innatural beauty. I am very fond of foreign languages and their sounds. I believe that in order to sense the beauty of a word, it's better to ignore its meaning: in fact, when the meaning of a speech is obscure, all that remains is the sound of it, and my mind can concentrate completely on it without the distraction of attaching a meaning to each word, and an idea to the speech. I am not advocating the primacy of beauty over the meaning of a text of course! I am using this literary metaphor to provide an example of what will come next.
Personally I find certain languages exceptionally beautiful to the ear, although I do not understand a word. Among the ones I have been exposed to and that I find most pleasant are Mandarin Chinese, Japanese, Greek and Swedish. Then, there are the languages I do understand; in these cases, it's not just the sound of the words themselves that I like, but the structure of the grammar. I am of course very fond of the English language, or this Blog wouldn't be written in this idiom. Anyway, in terms of ponderous grammar and monumental architecture, my favorite language is most definitely Latin, closely followed by German. A sentence in Latin is sounding with dignity and seriousness. There is a ponderous power in the Latin language, as if the dullest of concepts acquired a millenary burden of wisdom and authority when expressed in the ancient idiom of Rome.
I will try to give an example. Take the following sentence:
"The things that are small for the great are minimal for the greatest."
it is actually a joke I have made up myself based on the fact that "The Greatest" translates into Latin as "Maximus", which is, in fact, my name in Latin. Now, note the same sentence in Latin:
"Quae sunt parva magnis, minima sunt Maximo."
To actually better perceive the atmosphere of this sentence, it should be written as it would be done by the Romans:
The sound of this sentence, regardless of its meaning, has an intrinsic power that is completely missed in English. It is not a mere chance. Take this other example:
"...and to protect your own life, losing the reason to live". This is an excerpt from a long speech, and a sentence I am particularly in agreement with. It states that it is not worth to keep living if, to protect your own life, you give up your reason to live. It is a very Roman thing to say. In Latin it sounds:
"... et propter vitam, vivendi perdere causas."
Whether you perceive or not the different effect produced by the sound of this sentence when uttered in Latin is of scarce importance, because the sensitivity to sound and to languages is innate and not commonly shared by every human being. It is not a bad thing to lack it, and I am not chastising anyone for failing to see my point. As I said, this is going to be an introspective post. Therefore, if the reader wants to bear with me, I'll move on from languages to the next step, which brings us a bit closer to my chosen topic.

In front of colors I do not have the same sensitivity I think I possess for sounds. I realize that my inner chords are only touched in front of certain, quite clashy associations of colors. I fail to enjoy the intricacies of shades of green or brown. To me, the only collection of colors that somehow produces an effect on my inner self is the mixture of an intense blue, a shiny green, and a perfectly brilliant white. I naturally associate it with an ideal landscape with azure skies, high mountains topped with white snow, and intensely green, Scottish-like grass, descending in the distance into a blue ocean. Warm colors like red, orange and yellow give me a sense of dirt, of unease, as if they were sticky and oily like a stain of tomato on your tee. This means that I am instinctively unable to enjoy the nuances that others perceive, and probably it is the original root that makes me so uncapable to feel much in front of a painting (unless the painting in question displays blue, green, and white in the right proportions).
This is to say that each person has a peculiar sensitivity, an innate resonance (recently I came to love this word, "resonance") with certain particular sensorial stimulations. I am sure that while my sense of sound is way more trained and developed than the other senses, for other people the most intense experiences would come through sight, touch, taste or smell. I am now talking to those of you that naturally privilege the sense of hearing, because what I will type next will probably make little sense to anyone else. I can assure my readers that I feel the same disorientation whenever someone tries to tell me about the beauty of a painting.

Since my most significant emotional experiences are elicited by sounds, it comes quite naturally that the form of art I am most "resonant" with is Music. I am particularly fond of what is generally known as "classical" music. I don't like this definition. From a historical point of view "Classical" music is the collection of compositions created during the "Classical" age, which is the second half of the Eighteenth Century in Europe. So, composers like Bach, Haendel, Wagner, Debussy, Ravel, Tchajkovskij, Shostakovic or Dvorak should not be considered "Classical". None of these composers, in fact, lived nor created music in the "Classical" age. But it appears that in order to be understood, the expression "Classical Music" conveys the right concept, so I will use it with the only caveat that I deem it inappropriate.
As I said I have no sense for pictures. My taste for colors will sound dull and repetitive to someone more attuned with visual arts. To my ear, instead, it is what is commonly known as "pop music" to sound dull and repetitive. Not only it is extremely Light (and I don't tolerate its Lightness), but it lacks skill, fantasy and ultimately, beauty. I am referring, just to make the point very clear, to recreational music such as Britney Spears' pop songs, rap (all rap), hip-hop, disco-dance and so on. I am not referring to the Queen, Elton John or David Bowie. To me, the difference between these two groups is obvious, so I won't dig into it any further.
In one of my previous posts, I stated that the process of creating an artwork basically consists of
1. Acquiring an exceptional level of skill in one or more specific crafts as required
2. Using the learnt techniques to convey a message.
In order to understand a work of art, though, there must be a resonance between the technique used by the artist and your inner sensitivity. It is like speaking a language. If you want to understand the meaning you must understand the language first. So, it is necessary to find the specific craft intrinsically beautiful per se to really attempt an approach to a work of art created through that specific craft.
My instinctive love for sound is more inclined to be elicited and stirred up by a combination of sounds played together, or almost together (in the language of music they are called "chords" and "arpeggios", respectively), than by a disjointed sequence of sounds. In a very basical simplification, music is made of two elements: a Melody and a Harmony. For those who know little to nothing of the technicalities of music, when you are sitting in front of a campfire with your best friend playing the guitar for you, what you are singing is the Melody and what the guitarist is playing is the Harmony. Chords and Arpeggios are to be found in the Harmony, while the voice carries out the Melody (which is why usually the melody is "singable"). However beautiful a melody can be per se, I must admit that it is the harmony that supports it that makes my heart beat. Stripped of the harmony, a melody that would make me cry (and I am moved a lot by music) loses most of its grip on my soul. On the other hand, a harmony stripped of its melody can still retain a good deal of the mysterious magic that makes my heart beat. [Much should be said of the emotional effect I feel for different timbres, but I will intentionally skip this element because it would lead me too far]
A harmony is not simply one chord (although even one can be beautiful, as I will prove later), it is a sequence of chords and arpeggios (I admit I am over simplifying a very complicated matter, but I beg you to excuse me for this, because I am trying to convey a message to readers that most likely have little to no training in music). Different chords do not always sound well together, while others, for mysterious reasons, seem to be "meant" to follow one another. I remember I spent entire days mumbling over the same two chords again and again, pondering how beautifully they called to each other, how pleasant their succession sounded to my ear. If you have a keyboard, you can try this experiment. Try playing together the following notes: D, F, A, in this order, so that the D is the lowest note and the A the highest. What you just played is a D minor chord, and it's already beautiful per se if you can feel it. Now play it again but add a fourth note, D-F-A-C. Do you hear that wonderful collection of sounds? Does it move something in your inner self? Because to me, what you just played is pure delight. It is an "artificial seventh" as it is called, and it is very common in Bach's music.
Let's try another. Try playing the following chord: F, A, C, E (incidentally it appears to mean something!), and then the previous D-F-A-C. Do you hear how this chords seem to "call" for each other, as if they were "meant" to be in sequence? Again, feelings are very subjective and even those who are most sensitive to music will certainly perceive sounds in different ways. Perhaps a pure C major (C-E-G-C) is more pleasant to someone's ear than my artificial seventh. The simple presence of certain sounds in certain sequences in music is already enough to stir something into my heart that goes very close to passion. The right harmonic sequence (which should never be so dull to be reduced to just two chords of course) can, in the right moment, provide my heart with the same intense emotion felt when I am kissing a beautiful girl. Of course, harmony is meant to support a melody, and there are no words I can find to describe the beauty of the right melody accompanied by the right harmony. On the other hand, you can by now take for granted that the obsessive repetition of bass thumps, supporting the obsessive repetition of the same few, banal chords, intended to sustain the obsessively repetitive "melody" of a disco hit nauseates me. I don't even get to the point of disliking it for its Lightness, its lack of depth and meaning. It's nasty to the ear before being downright ephemeral.
It should be quite obvious then, that if pop music is not repetitive and it actually displays a rich and beautiful harmony supporting a tolerable melody, my ear won't fail to enjoy it. And in fact, I do like some pop music. As a mere example, I recently discovered a singer called Linda Eder. I have heard her singing only once and only one song, "Let Him Fly". I invite you to listen to it. The harmony supporting the melody is fairly enriched, especially in terms of timbre richness, and the melody moves like the waves of an ocean in a lovely crescendo supported by the amazing voice of this awesome singer. The final acuto comes as a cry of liberation, which is exactly the meaning of the lyrics which end on the words "let him fly". There is a lot in terms of instinctive pleasure that I feel when I hear this song. Nevertheless, I also have to admit that it lacks something.
Like all songs, this song is, well, "just a song". Its structure is beautiful, but very simple, it's emotionally quite powerful (to me), but it lacks a profound, hidden message. It is a wonderfully crafted empty gift box. Unluckily. That is not to say that I dislike it, because one can admire the skill of a crafter that decorates an empty box with great accuracy, but, sigh... it's short of something. A song by, say, Britney Spears, is a rough, poorly crafted, dull industrial plastic box. A song by, say, Linda Eder, or Freddie Mercury, or Lacuna Coil, is a nice display of reasonable skill with the techniques of the art called Music, and if one is as sensitive to sound as I am, it can touch a chord or two in one's inner self, like it does to me. But there's more with Art than just mastering a technique and get an emotional grip on the listener. Giving you an emotion is wonderful but not enough.
Here comes classical music. Classical music composers were all very skilled at creating harmonies and melodies. Obviously much more skilled than the authors of Britney Spears' songs, and probably more skilled than the authors of Let Him Fly as well. But whether they were skilled or not is not the point. The point is that they used this skill, they used those sounds that possess so much emotional power over my soul, to convey a hidden message. They worked like painters and poets, bending their skill to the needings of communication, transforming pure emotion into speech. Listening to Classical music is not as easy as listening to Britney Spears, although this is not necessarily the rule, but the emotional power it possesses, combined with the depth of its significance, provides an intensity of experience that I cannot feel in any other way. I hope that my words have induced some of the most musically inclined of you to pay more attention to sounds, but my purpose was just that of trying to express with words a turmoil of emotions that compares only to the feeling of hugging a woman or kissing a friend.
In a classic example, I would like to mention Beethoven's Fifth Symphony. It is written in C minor. This choice is already full of meaning. To those who are especially sensitive to sound, there is a humonguous difference between a melody played in C minor and THE SAME MELODY played, say, in D minor. The first one will we perceived as dramatic, the second will be tragic. Death is in D minor, Struggle is in C minor. Beethoven chose C minor because when he composed the Fifth Symphony he was trying to convey a specific message: a struggle against Destiny. As you probably know, Ludwig van Beethoven turned deaf when he was 27. There was no greater catastrophe for a composer than being a deaf. This is easily understood. It is also easily understood that Beethoven wasn't too happy about it. In fact, he felt a turmoil of emotions in his heart that almost led him to suicide, if it weren't for his immense strength of will. I am profoundly in awe of this man. This man, Ludwig van Beethoven, had a depth of thought and a willpower that I can only dream of. He was the ultimate contrary of modern "Light" ideals, those of a person devoted to inane amusement and ephemeral (another word I am fond of these days) entertainment (the mantra of consumism). Beethoven, to say it in very modern terms had BALLS, a lot of them. How do I know? Not only because he did not kill himself at all, but kept composing his music regardless of his handicap, becoming probably the greatest composer of all time. I know it because he said it in his music. He stated it with all the power he could extract from the tools he had learnt to master as a musician. The famous first notes of the Fifth Symphony, the repeated sounds, they are not only powerful and beautiful to the ear (mine at least). They mean something that transcends their mere emotional effect. It's Destiny. Can you hear it? Destiny knocking at your door. In the first movement, the characteristic construction of the symphony, which required two "themes", two "melodies" that would follow each other, is transformed by Beethoven into a battle, a dramatic struggle, a heroic combat between a man's aspiration to happiness and the dramatic destiny that attempts to destroy this very happiness. He's telling us that if we really want to pursuit happiness we must stand in the face of Destiny itself. We must fight for it, we must struggle. It's not something to take for granted (as our epoch seems to believe). Listen through the Symphony. Try to feel the intensity of the emotional fight that Beethoven is trying to portray until an immensely powerful crescendo explodes in the Fourth Movement, which is written in a monumental C major, the most optimistic of all tones. How does that movement start? Three times C major: C major, C major, C MAJOR, GODDAMMIT! I have struggled and fought and suffered to win over my unfortunate destiny and I am darn HAPPY now! I want to SHOUT my happiness, to hell with Destiny, I have WON! How else can you describe the immensity of the fanfare of the fourth movement? Can you feel how PONDEROUS Beethoven is, how hard gained happiness is for him? There is so much more than just the emotional impact of music in this composition, regardless of the beauty of sounds themselves...!! I am feeling my heart beating faster at the sole memory of the fifth symphony, go figure listening to it!
I will close this post here, for I have said all I could about this topic. I hope I have communicated at least in part the emotional effect that music has over me, and once again the reader might have noticed how important it is for me to perceive weight in what entertains me. There's a reason if this Blog is called "The Unbearable Lightness of Being" after all. Now you all will excuse me, but I can't help rushing to listen to music.

[After reading my post again, I realized I completely skipped another very important element that adds to the emotional grip music has over me. That is the architecture of music. In the attempt to simplify things I ended up forgetting what is probably one of the most significant effects achievable by a well constructed composition. In fact, of all forms of musical creation I especially favor the fugue. It is a monumental construction of humonguous proportions, especially when it is well written, but the technicalities are so complex that I won't attempt to describe them here in a few words. It will suffice to say that beyond the beauty of chords and melodies, which please my ear first, my brain finds indicible delight in following the intricacies of a complex music; this is not limited of course to Bach's fugues. Examples of wonderful musical architecture are to be found in Wagner's masterpieces, in the symphonies of Mahler, and in the breathtaking orchestrations by Ravel. It is simply impossible, I finally realise, to express in simple words the various layers of pleasure that are elicited in my heart and brain by good music. I can only say as a final note, that in order to satisfy me to the fullest a music must compy to the following criteria:
1. it must possess a rich and complex harmony
2. it must be graced by an appropriate melody
3. it must display a variety of timbres in adequate proportions
4. it must be constructed in a complicated and monumental architecture
5. it must convey a profound message
The pop music that I appreciate, in my opinion complies to the first 2 criteria, rarely including the third. Almost never the fourth. The fifth simply turns pop music into another genre]

Post Number Three: There's More With This Hobbit Than Meets The Eye

Of the hidden meaning of things, and of Art.

I am a fan of the Lord of the Rings. In fact, I have a fixation with the Lord of the Rings, which describes my attitude towards this novel more accurately. When I started off opening this Blog, I wanted to name it in Sindarin. This is the name of an artificial language invented by a Professor of Philology of the University of Oxford, whose name is John Ronald Reuel Tolkien. Tolkien is known worldwide for being the author of the first, and by large and far still the best, fantasy novel of modern literature. Recently, a Newzealander movie director called Peter Jackson turned this masterpiece into an equally breath-taking collection of films. I have seen the three movies eight times already. I especially like the extended editions because they last longer. I have read the book only twice instead, and only in Italian, but I will soon read it again in English.
I hope Professor Tolkien's son Cristopher, and New Line Cinema alike, will excuse me if I dare borrowing a line from the Lord of the Rings to title this post of mine. It seems that this people take copyright issues very seriously. I think anyway that copyright laws concede the right to quote.
I have chosen this particular line because it perfectly suits the topic of this morning's thought of mine, although it is purely incidental that it is a Tolkien's quote.

I recently saw a movie starring Miss J. Styles. It was a romantic comedy of scarce value, deeply infected by too much lightness for my taste. Anyway, my instinctive attitude to search for in-depth meanings of things led me to note an important detail that turned a lamp on in my brains.
In one of the scenes of this poorly assembled collection of insipid film shoots, a blonde guy who happened to be a Prince of Denmark in disguise attempted to teach the meaning of a Sonet by Shakespeare to a typical American schoolgirl from Wisconsin. I will not mention the blatant inaccuracy displayed in portraying both Denmark and European aristocracy, not to mention my continent's customs and culture. I can excuse the director because I know he was just trying to film a tasteless comedy targeted to American teens well fed with pink clouds and bubbling floating red hearts. But the very scene I mentioned above revealed a great truth. The dull teen played by Miss Styles was unable to perceive the hidden meaning of the words written by Shakespeare. She required the assistance of someone else, to discover the ultimate truth beneath the surface of a poem.
This rang an alarm bell in my head. If the director portrayed such a horrifying scene, it means that he experienced the existence of people that fail to understand things don't really mean what they seem to mean. There are people that think there is Nothing More With This Hobbit But What Meets The Eye.
Maybe it's because the society has come to appreciate ephemeral superficiality so intensely, that whatever lurks beneath the surface will remain hidden to most. In this post I intend to tell the reader, if he or she wishes to bear with me, that more often than not things do not just mean what they superficially appear to mean.
This truth is of capital importance. Failure in perceiving the hidden meaning of things not only precludes the possibility of fully enjoying poetry and literature, not mentioning paintings and music, but also leads to the inability to read behind the lines spoken by those in charge (of you).
First and foremost, it is critical to understand that the surface, the appearance of things, is insignificant. It can be beautiful, but carries little value per se. It is exactly the lack of an inner, hidden meaning of things that distinguishes the unbearably light to the pleasantly ponderous (the allitteration of "p" is intentional as I perceive "p" as a heavy sound, opposed to "l" which is quite ephemeral). The beautifully crafted box of my first post provides a perfect example. When a present for one's birthday turns out being a wonderful, yet empty, gift box, it seldom provides pleasure. In front of a closed case, the first thing a child does is to open it, to see what it conceals. It is naturally human to be curious. And it is really frustrating to realize that a closed box contains nothing.
Literature, poetry, music... in one word, "Art", is actually a box. Forget whatever your bohémienne neighbour who defines himself as an artist ever told you about Art. Before the corruption of the twentieth century, before the world was contaminated by Lightness, and before Art turned into art without the capital A, an Artist was a Communicator. A person who used specific tools and techniques to communicate a message, a meaning. Art is a form of communication. Anybody can, with the right training, learn techniques to, say, compose a music, paint a picture, or write a poem. But not anybody is an Artist, regardless of how well he or she masters the tools. In fact, the techniques of an Artist are the means through wich the Communicator tells us something. It really does not matter what is being communicated. It could be a celebration of the Might of your Civilization, an attempt to express the turmoil of passion within your heart when you think of your boyfriend (or girlfriend), a message about the Word of God, or a description of the pleasure felt when eating a cake... What will ultimately make your artwork will be how beautifully you concealed your message beneath the surface of your work, by skillfully using the techniques you have learnt to master so well.
It goes without saying that watching just the surface of an artwork, in awe of the technical ability of the author, without perceiving or grasping what the artist was trying to say, equals to being unable to understand an artwork. I for one do not understand paintings. It seems that there is a sort of "incomunicability" between visual arts and music. I perceive with instinctive ease the inner meaning of a Symphony by Tchajkovskij, but in front of a painting I struggle to understand what it was meant to really portray. So I don't demand for my reader to be able to understand the hidden meaning of any work of art. Being able to perceive a hidden meaning is often the result of an education and of genetic predisposition. It suffices to realize that a hidden meaning is there, and then we can humbly confess to be unable to grasp it, because the technique used to convey it is not resonant with us.
It is typical of our era of Lightness, to believe that what counts the most in an artwork is the emotional impact it has on the viewer. This emotional effect is actually the result of two combined truths contained in an artwork:
1. the hidden meaning
2. the tricky technique used to convey it.
Needless to say, failing to perceive that the emotional effect is but a trick used by the artist to make you stop in front of his work and pay more attention to it, equals to break the link between you and the artist, ultimately preventing you from grasping the message the artist was trying to convey.
"This painting is beautiful because it makes my heart beat faster"
While there is nothing inherently wrong or bad with this sentence, it only makes sense, and pays the required tribute to the artist, if it is paired with a deeper understanding of what the painting meant. Besides, once the inner meaning is perceived, one's heart is likely to beat even faster.
As I said I don't understand paintings. So I do not represent a good example in this field.
On the other hand I think I can fairly understand literature, poetry to a lesser extent, and certainly music to a much greater level.
The difference between an artwork and a beautifully crafted item is precisely the hidden meaning. A vase, however beautiful, however cleverly designed, regardless of the awesome skill displayed by the crafter, remains a vase. It is not intended to convey a hidden meaning. It is a tool that serves a specific purpose. The crafter might have achieved a level of skill equal, or even superior to that of an artist, but still, the result of his work is not an artwork. This happens because the crafter really meant nothing else but to create a tool.
Too often, in the modern era, we use the word artist to describe a good crafter. It is not enough to master a technique in order to become an artist. It is necessary to have something to say first, and to be able to bend the techniques you mastered to the message you are trying to convey.
This is, needless to say, a Lightness vs Weight issue. The inner meaning provides what Kundera would define "Weight". The lack of it makes something "Light". The love for lightness is the greatest plague that ever struck humankind.
Words can be used to create artworks. You can mean what you are saying, and then you are a good crafter, or you can wonderfully say something totally different from what you mean, but that hints to something else which is what you really meant. That is Art.

In the movie with Miss Styles, the American teen thought Shakespeare meant nothing more than what he was saying. Then the Bard's word made little sense, they were, yes, nice to the ear and strangely vague about the sun and the clouds, but they carried no value. But the Prince in disguise told her there could be a hidden meaning, and although the movie turned Shakespeare's words into distilled romance, the director didn't fail to grasp the truth I tried to tell here.

This is not the place to dig further into the meaning of specific music and poems, but it will suffice to say that even the Lord of the Rings is a forest of hidden meanings. There is much more with The Lord of the Rings than meets the eye. Next time you read a book, or a poem, or listen to a symphony, or watch a painting, depending on which art is most resonant with you, try asking yourself "what else is there here?". It takes time, and training, to finally be able to grasp the hidden meaning of things, but once one achieves this result, a new world opens to one's eyes. And the Unbearable Lightness of the modern ephemeral world will become even more intolerable. Guaranteed.

There's more with this Hobbit than meets the eye.

Saturday, February 26, 2005

Post Number Two: Common Sense Is Your Worst Enemy

Of Common Sense as the Opium of the Peoples, and of why I don't believe in God.

Warning: the following posts is highly critical of Religion, Catholicism, Activist believers and the Church. Be aware of this before reading further.

I do not believe in God.

This simple statement is often cause of major concern for some people. Italy hosts a small enclave known as "the Vatican", the last remnants of a once larger nation, ruled by a man called Pope. What is a Pope? In purely political terms, a Pope is the absolute leader of a theocracy, and there happens to be only one absolute theocracy in the world: the Vatican. The Pope of the Vatican is also the leader of a Religion called Roman Christian Catholicism. There are many sects of Christian Religion, and they generally differ from each other in a number of ways. The Catholic version of Christianity is the most common Religion of Italy. According to geographical maps, Catholics are most commonly found in other countries like France, Spain, Portugal, and especially Ireland and Poland. Catholic Priests have been very active in Africa and South America too. In fact, one of the core beliefs of the Catholic version of Christianism is that non-Catholic believers should be converted to Catholicism.
The Church has been very effective in converting people to its Religion, but not to the same degree everywhere in the world. Italy is one of the countries where the Catholic Church had the greatest influence on the society; in present-day Italy, a majority of the population is Catholic, and although only about half the people actually attends the Mass on Sundays, a belief in God is still widely spread and usually taken for granted.
As being in contrast with the cultural mainstream seems to me my trademark, there should be little wonder that I do not believe in God, but still some people look at my "lack of faith" as something odd and very peculiar.
I can assure everybody here that a lot of people does not believe in God. Really. Personally I know some really cool, charming and witty girls that happen not to believe in any God or Religion whatsoever. I don't know why each non-believer has chosen not to believe, but I know why I have. This post will mainly address the problems of faith, Religion, and belief.

Let's be frank. Some people believe in God because everyone else does. It's like being part of a group, and humans are born with the need to belong to a party of some sort. Being a non-believer means to be an outcast, with all the dire consequences this might bring upon you. If you have read my first post, you should infer that I repute this kind of homologated religion downright annoying. It implies that a person hasn't even wondered why he cares so much about God. Such people normally shrug off at any inquisitive interlocutor and make no effort at trying to understand what's behind their own behavior.
"Why do you believe in God?"
"Oh well, why not?" or "Mum told me God is Good" or even "Everybody does!" are not acceptable answers. And to be precise, such answers aren't (should not be) acceptable by the Church either. It's a pity that more often than not the Ministers of God are more concerned with the number of their parishioners rather than with their convinction.
In the same way, it is equally annoying to receive the same answers from non-believers. There has to be a specific reason to be a believer or otherwise. The lack of a reason is precisely what gives me that sense of intolerable unease that I refer to as "unbearable lightness of being".
It is necessary for any believer of non believer alike, if one cares to provide one's self with a reason, to stop for a moment and erase whatever has been up to now accepted on the basis of common sense. Common sense is your Worst Enemy. I cannot overstate this sentence. Common sense is what the majority of people gets accustomed to accept because at a certain point of somebody's life, it appeared quite obvious that things were in a certain way. It appears quite obvious that a shiny yellow metal is gold but more often than not it isn't. It appears quite obvious that men and chimps are different but in fact they share 97% of the genetic pool. It appears quite obvious that your neighbor is a good fellow, but normally this is what people say before learning that their neighbor is a serial killer.
Common sense is a nice way to define Intellectual Laziness. It is much simpler to take for granted what appears to be superficially obvious than digging into a matter in depth and perhaps discover than what seemed so natural is actually the other way round. The majority of people, needless to say, are Intellectually Lazy. It is not their fault, in general. Every society works hard to achieve the result of suppressing the working of the individual mind, because inquisitive minds are extremely dangerous. They challenge the commonly shared beliefs, and consequently challenge those in charge. And I would like to remind the reader that those in charge happen to really enjoy being in charge (of you). Really. They like it, they love to pull your strings like a puppet and make you do whatever they want, like spending your hard gained money on fancy gadgets you won't ever need, work without questioning your life conditions and, why not, believe in what they tell you to believe. Those in charge of you get a lot in terms of wealth, power, and self-esteem thanks to the fact that you do not question them. Medieval Kings in Europe stated their right to rule derived from the Will of God and to stress this point they let the Pope crown them (incidentally the Pope gained quite a deal of power over who was supposed to rule whom thanks to this habit). It was common sense that induced most of the population to believe the word of the King, and it was in the interest of the king to let it stay this way.
Common sense is your worst enemy.
If you believe in God and you don't know why, you are affected by common sense.
Now, the first thing a person should normally do is to erase his mind completely. Most philosophers commit a serious mistake when they fail to do so. If you talk to a philosopher (one of my friends has a Ph.D in Philosophy) you might notice that he has a reason for everything, (which is good), but for some strange mishap, no two philosophers seem to think in the same way. How comes? If rational thinking is objective, and if the philospher is trying to be rational, shouldn't he be led to the same conclusions of every other philosopher? Logics are, well, logic, they cannot lead to various different results depending on who's using them. Unless, of course, they are not objective. Now, it is my strong convinction that many philosphers start off from something they assume true. They actually already know where they want their reasoning to lead them, and then build their entire philosophies as a monumental justification of something they would hold true nonetheless, although they use the newly acquired motivations to uphold their convinction more effectively in a debate. In this sense, I consider philosphers weak reasoners, in the sense that their beautifully constructed arguments carry little objective weight: their conclusions were drawn beforehand, and all the machinations of their minds, regardless of the charm they possess, would never lead a philosopher to disbelief his original tenets.
A philospher of this kind is not Intellectually Lazy, but his conclusion are subjective. This fails to excite me, for I perceive that there is an objective Truth in things and that philosophers completely miss it.
So, the first step is to get rid of what you deem right. Take for granted that what seems right could actually be completely wrong. Maybe you think it's right because the society wants you to believe so. Maybe it's ultimately wrong. If you start off from what you already believe you won't get rid of Common Sense, which is the enemy we are trying to fight off.
Once upon a time, I was a believer. Really. I believed in God, prayed in the morning and thought Jesus died and resurrected from the dead. I also believed in Satan as the embodiment of evil, and I believed many other fanciful things I won't mention here. So, I can assure you all that I am not like any philospher who tries to justify his beliefs a posteriori.
Like many others in this country, at a certain point I asked myself, "Why do I believe in God?"
I had no answer that could satisfy me. Remember how I cannot tolerate Lightness. I do not shrug off at such questions.
I wondered for example, how could there be so many religions in the world, if the Catholic Roman was the only true one. According to the local priest, the difference between the Catholic Religion and any other religion (including all other Christianisms) is that Catholicism is inspired by God himself, while others lack this enlightment. Personally I never saw God in the act of inspiring Catholicism so this answer was quite dissatisfying. According to the priests, anyway, the answers were to be found in a book called "Bible". I took this book and read it through.
The Bible is a collection of various books that tell a story, as seen from the point of view of a Middle-Eastern people called "the Jews". According to what the priests said, this story was the Word of God, and it contained the ultimate Truth. This is a brief summary of the ultimate Truths contained in the Bible.
God created Adam and Eve from clay and blowed a soul in their body. He considered the two human beings the best achievement of his entire creation and gave them the garden of Eden, a land of peace and joy they had the right to live into. Nonetheless Eve, inspired by a snake. disobeyed God's only order (not to eat a certain fruit from a certain tree) and she even had the nerve to induce Adam to commit the same Sin. As a consequence to this disobedience God cursed Adam and Eve and all his descendants for eternity. Then humans moved on to live on an imperfect land only to be later wiped off by a Deluge, when God's wrath fall upon Earth and killed every single living being with the sole exception of Noah, his sons, and a number of animals. Among other Truths contained in the Bible I like to remember:
1. The rain of fire on two cities that disobeyed the rule of God (that is, they enjoyed sex)
2. The turning of a woman into a statue of salt for watching the above mentioned slaughter
3. The siege of a city (Jericho) whose mighty walls were toppled by Joshua (with the help of God) and whose entire population was slaughtered (including animals and trees) by order of God
4. The story of Job, a man plagued by all known and unknown diseases, left alone in a desert by God for Him to witness how a man reduced to a wreck would still pay his tribute to the Only True God
5. The story of Moses and the Jews, enslaved by the Egyptians in the face of God who plagued Egypt with locusts, frogs, blood, and finally by killing the children. On this occasion God ordered Moses to kill a number of lambs and use their blood to mark the doors of Jews, so that the Angel of Death would recognize them and spare their life while he was on a killing spree through the Egyptian kingdom.
6. The story of Babel, a place where humans meant to build a tower tall enough to reach the kingdom of God. Apparently God was quite sure they were going to succeed since he chose to confuse their languages and prevent them from continuing their job
...and so on.
Is it me, or there is something wrong here? God the Almighty, the embodiment of Good, the all-loving God that creates the Universe is described in the Bible basically as indulging in genocide and massacre of children with the same non-chalance displayed by a kid killing ants.
Then there was this Jesus Christ person. Now, he seemed to speak another language. No more slaughtering, no more sacrifice and lots of love. Incidentally Jesus Christ never mentioned any of the characteristic dogmata of the Catholic church. In fact, Jesus protested doing business in the Temple, saved the life of a prostitute, and never really chastised anyone. Hello? Is it me again, or there is a number of Christian activists out there that are not doing much to save prostitutes, but criminalize abortion and advocate death penalty? Death penalty? They reconcile the word of Jesus Christ with Death penalty? Really amazing.
My most obvious conclusion was that the Bible is one of the many similar books we find in every culture, in many ways quite worse than many. It's gross, full of violence and blood, genocide and slaughter. It's obviously written by someone who was accustomed to violence, and probably this is no wonder since life in the Middle East was quite harsh. It's quite harsh even now after all.
Anyway there was no hint in the Bible that made me think it was written by God, or that it contained any Truth. I could as well have taken the epic of Gilgamesh and state it contains the ultimate Truth. There's no reason to believe that the Bible should be inspired by God and the Coran shouldn't. Why the Bible and not the Edda (an Icelandic myth of Viking origin)? Why not the Veda? Why not the Shinto tradition, or the Aztech myth? Why not the Roman and Greek gods after all? They weren't so inclined to genocide at least.
So, I do not believe in God, certainly not in the God of the Bible, and having no reason to believe in any other specific God in particular, I abstain from believing. I find this the healthiest choice. I have some sympathy for the nordic myth and I like to carry the Hammer of Thor (Mjölnir) hung to my neck, but it's more of a fanciful habit than a religious belief.
Later in my life I have turned my attention to Buddhism. Now, this particular set of beliefs is very resonant with my inner self, although I see no reason to believe in reincarnation.
Among the things the Dalai Lama have said, there is one I am quite in agreement with. I will now try to paraphrase it. A true Religion is not a set of dogmata and exterior habits, but a subjective expression of the inner "spiritual" needs of a human being, because it happens that for some reason, most humans (not all of them) feel a call to spirituality. In this sense, each human being has a peculiar subjective need, because we are born unique, despite the efforts put out by the society to suppress this uniqueness. Some religions are particularly resonant with the needs of a specific person, while another might turn out more suitable for someone else. But the ultimate purpose of a religion is that of fulfilling the needs of a specific believer. As such, it exists within the person and not without. I am now very tolerant with the beliefs of my religious peers, as long as I perceive them as their own. On converse, I am very aware that religion is a powerful tool that can be misused by malevolent men (usually dressed in black) to control people, and deprive them of their right to think.
In my future posts, I will also address themes like Euthanasia, Abortion, Death Penalty, Sex, and even Human Cloning. In all cases I will never resort to Religion, in particular not to the Christian Religion. While a human being has the right to choose not to abort a child for his own religious beliefs, I scorn at those dictators and fascists that preposterously have the arrogance to force their own subjective, irrational religious opinion upon others, and in particular I will accept no attempt made by any such bigots to strip me and the rest of society of our right to think and act freely, unfettered by their intellectual laziness, by their arrogance, and most of all by the arrogance of a supernational association known as "Catholic Church", which I consider but a cluster of brain-washers that never really cared to read and learn the word of the man on the cross they display in their churches. A man who once saved the life of a prostitute.

Post Number One: The Unbearable Lightness Of Being

Of introducing the reader to the spirit of my thoughts.

It is generally assumed that each epoch is marked by what is perfectly described by the German word zeitgeist, a word that unluckily lacks an appropriate translation in other languages, and that I can approximate with the expression "spirit of the time". It is an impalpable but nonetheless very real essence of each one of the many subsequent eras of human history on this small rock we call "Earth". In precisely the same way each epoch possesses a zeitgeist, so each person's thoughts, I am convinced, are defined by a unique geist, a "spirit" (please note that the German geist shares the same roots with the English ghost). Most people tend anyway to uniform their own thinking to that of the society they live into, and by doing so they strengthen the spirit of the society itself, in what is known as a positive feedback, a loop that feeds itself endlessly. Because we must not forget that a society is a collection of individuals, and its common sense derives from that of the individuals that constitute it. On the other hand, a collection of individuals becomes a new singular being, in the same way a collection of cells apparently independent from one another happen to become a human being. So, being part of a society implies being shaped by it, as much as bringing one's own uniqueness into a society implies enriching it.
Some societies acquire a strong power over the individuals that compose them, and in modern world it is quite the norm that the specific indivuality of a human being is erased by the society through what I call intellectual brutality, a form of brute force that attempts to smooth out the edges of difference and transform unique beings in extensions of the society. This form of brutality is what endangers the survival of the society the most, but I will dig further into this specific matter later on in my thoughts, because in this moment it would take us too far from the precise purpose of this first entry in my newly created "blog".
I am one of those individuals who oppose resistance to the intellectual brutality of the society I live into. I live in a boot-shaped country called Italy, or Italia in my own native language (and I'd like to catch this occasion to apologize for the inadequacy of my English which happens to be not my mothertongue, unluckily). Italy is part of a relatively small continent normally referred to as Europe, which is also generally considered the Cradle of Western civilization. On the other hand, these names, I believe, are generally misinterpreted as if they defined something real and concrete, rather than ideas. The place we refer to as Italia is not divided by the rest of the world by anything real. An alien looking down from a spaceship on low orbit, would only see land and sea, and nothing geographically evident would induce him or her to believe that Italy is a different place from France. On the other hand, human beings living in Italy have developed their own social common sense, their social geist which differs from that of the human beings living in France. This difference, however superficial and of scarce importance in terms of distinguishing a French from an Italian individual, is taken very seriously by many humans. One of the most important characteristics of the Italian social geist of the late twentieth-early twentyfirst centuries is the intensity of its brutality against the the individual uniqueness of its constituents. This translates into a massive campaign to uniform each person to the whole, boycotting any form of cultural and intellectual difference. Most of my readers might find a reflection of their own condition in this description of the place called Italy, but I am convinced, after traveling to places that carry different names (France, Sweden, Denmark, Norway, Finland, Scotland, United States of America, Switzerland...) that the effort put out by the Italian society against its individuals to erase their uniqueness is more intense than that achieved by other societies. This means that it takes a greater effort to be unique in this place than it would suffice elsewhere in the world. This is not to say that there aren't other countries where the intellectual brutality is more effective than here, but rather than most of you who live in any of the countries I listed above, I believe, thrive in a less brutal environment.
Among the most important features of the Italian society, there is a rather grotesque dependance on Lightness. I catch at last the occasion to tell every reader that the title of my blog, "The Unbearable Lightness of Being", is borrowed by the title of a magnificent book by Milan Kundera, a Czech writer, which I strongly suggest you all to read as soon as you can. With the word Lightness, I refer precisely to what Kundera meant in his book. Assuming that not all the visitors of my blog ever had a chance to read it, I will provide my interpretation of Kundera's thought.
Lightness, as opposed to Weight, is the "emptiness", or better, the "superficiality" of Being. Being is intended as one's "Life", "Essence", although such words describe the concept with great inaccuracy. We live in a world, and I live more specifically in a society, which considers the lack of "Weight" a positive thing. Consider the ephemeral nature of our most popular forms of entertainment: TV shows, discos, pop music, alcoholics... What do such things have in common? Basically, the lack of "depth", the absence of "content". Take one of those Reality Shows that receive so much appreciation from the public. Is there any ethical value in a Big Brother episode? Is there any room for ethics, politics, philosophy in any of our entertainment forms? I am ready to bet that most readers here would raise an eyebrow and wonder what kind of obvious statement I am making here, for what kind of entertainment would succeed in its scope if it had any philosophical, political, ethical value to be pondered about (please note the word ponder, from the Latin ponderare, " to weight"). Entertainment has to be light. Right?
Not really. It is actually part of a zeitgeist, whether to consider entertainment as light vs. heavy. In the Nineteenth century, for example, the entertainment provided by the music of Beethoven was anything but "light". Beethoven thought that heavy, ponderous thoughts were entertaining, and lack of depth wasn't. It's not something specifically limited to Ludwig van Beethoven (whose music, by the way, I strongly suggest you to listen), but it's how the European society felt in those decades. Lightness, or lack of depth, has come from the United States, where it marks the definition of entertainment. I believe it is an outcome of a generally poor social backgound in philosophy and other "humanities", as they call them, typical of certain areas of the United States (which happen to be a large and vast country where no norm is such throughout the nation). Italy, and its society, has been intensely affected by this lack of depth, and it's lost its grip on "Weight", on everything that implies depth of content.
Lightness, states Milan Kundera, this ephemeral nature of our living, can become tougher to bear than the heaviest of rocks. I am not here trying to write a review of Kundera's book, so I will not dig any further in his ideas, but will rather state my own.
I have always felt an inner uneasiness with the society around me, and I only recently discovered that what caused my unease was that I was unable to bear the Lightness of Italian Being. To me, Lightness is a negative concept. It is not resonant with my inner self. It is too empty, like a beautifully crafted gift box that contains nothing. Therefore, my thoughts on various issues, which I will post later in what little spare time I still have at my hands, will be better understood if the reader will keep in mind that I need weight, for I cannot bear the Lightness of Being.
This introduction should have by now achieved one of two outcomes:
1. The reader has fled in terror, rushing back to ephemeral forms of entertainment and ascribing me among the dangerously insane to be avoided like plague;
2. The reader is resonant with my thoughts, and perhaps has even perceived the undescribable effect of the Lightness of being and realised it nauseates him or her.

In the first case, I presume the reader hasn't come to this point so I shouldn't spend words on him or her.
In the second case, you are welcome to share your thoughts with me, comment this and my future posts, and even express disagreement with them.
I close this rather long first entry by wishing any of my readers a good day and sending a warm invitation to come back in the future. Goodbye for now.