ARTHUR GOLDBERG: VILLAIN OR HERO?
An Editorial by Peter Gimpel
As a significant and controversial voice in the national debate over gay civil rights, one of my authors has become the object of a hate campaign that has reached the limits of what can be tolerated in civilized society. I am referring to Arthur Goldberg, author of Light in the Closet: Torah, Homosexuality, and the Power to Change, published by Red Heifer Press (2008). The book is a Torah-based, in-depth exposition of the theoretical principles underlying Gender-Affirming Therapies, and a well-documented exposé of the political blackmail, shameless disinformation, media manipulation, and vicious tactics employed by certain militant gay-liberation organizations and individuals in the service of their radical agenda.
More importantly, Light in the Closet is a plea for understanding and compassion for all those who are affected by SSA (same-sex attraction) and a message of hope and encouragement to the many homosexuals who are deeply and tragically conflicted over sexual inclinations that put them at odds with their religious background and conscience.
Light in the Closet has elicited an avalanche of glowing and grateful reviews from doctors, psychiatrists, psychologists, rabbis, priests, ministers, and lay people both straight and gay. It has been called “a work so important that it belongs on the desk and in the hands of every Rabbi, Rosh Yeshiva, therapist, social worker, school principal, parent, and most critically, every SSA sufferer aspiring to make himself whole.” As the editor and publisher of this monumental work, I am proud to have published it under my Red Heifer Press imprint, and I am proud to number Arthur Goldberg among my most esteemed friends and colleagues. I know him as honorable, kind, conscientious and loyal, and selflessly dedicated to a courageous and vital cause that has profoundly changed for the better the lives of many hundreds of men and women.
From a layman’s curiosity, Mr. Goldberg educated himself into one of the world’s foremost experts on the subject of gender orientation, and has lectured on the subject in a multitude of cities on several continents. Because certain vested interests regard his work as a threat to their radical agenda of “social transformation,” Mr. Goldberg has been threatened, harassed, and libeled, and is now being sued in a meritless SLAPP-style action (Ferguson et al. vs. JONAH et al.) whose obvious goal is to stifle his exercise of Constitutionally guaranteed Freedoms of Speech and Religion.
As a home-born American citizen, I was brought up with “I may not agree with what you say, but will fight to the death for your right to say it.” As a graduate of a distinguished American law school, I was also taught that “reasonable men may differ”. Unfortunately, when “political correctness”, through disinformation and intimidation, arrogates Truth unto its exclusive self, the First Amendment becomes a very thin shield indeed. When this happens, only the personal strength, faith, fortitude and integrity of the man behind the shield stand between a free society and a despicable one. Whether you agree with him or not, Arthur Goldberg is such a man, and that is where he stands.
BACH! THE MUSICAL
Anna Magdalena Bach, the second wife of one of the greatest musical minds of western civ, was indeed a great wife, and while it may be true that behind every great man stands a great woman, a new musicological thesis is afoot that gives new meaning to “having your husband’s Bach.”
It seems that I am not the only one to suggest facetiously that Written by Mrs. Bach was actually written by Mrs. Jarvis! The evidence is only “circumstantial”, of course, but “strong”: we are living in an age that has finally recognized that in humanity’s kitchen, no great pie was ever baked that did not have the deep imprint of a woman’s fingers. It is an age that also coddles its own self-complacency by judging the past according to its own standards of sexual promiscuity, scandalmongering and pseudoscholarship. We can be sure that if Beethoven had married, his wife would have written the Diabelli Variations—most likely in tribute to her secret affair with Diabelli. After all, was her husband not deaf? Were his last words not “The comedy is over!”? But in suggesting, on equally ridiculous grounds that Bach had adulterous premarital relations with Anna Magdalena, and that his first wife consequently committed suicide, Jarvis reveals a personal animus that seems almost Freudian: one can imagine him at 5 years old being forced by his mommy to practice Bach, hating it, and being spanked for shirking.
Unfortunately, the “Jarvis” phenomenon is not a joke and is not isolated. There is a nasty little stream flowing through today’s halcyon meadows of classical music. Jarvis’s ideas had to have generated financial support to foist this pseudo-documentary on a pseudo-educated society that no longer has the critical capacity to see through to its hodgepodge of unfounded and opportunistic speculations. His ideas have encountered virtually unanimous rejection by his academic peers. Where is his support coming from and why?
We recently witnessed a similar phenomenon in Los Angeles’s revisionist glorification of Richard Wagner in a boondoggle “festival” that, for me, at any rate, culminated with a scandalously apologist lecture by James Conlon. Exerting himself to level the playing field, Conlon, Music Director of the Los Angeles Opera Company, counterbalanced his shameless rehabilitation of Wagner-the white-supremacist, anti-Semitic propagandist with baseless innuendos on the character of other great composers—including, without further elucidation, the exemplary Johann Sebastian! (See my coverage of the event at “What Really Happened at the Wiesenthal Center” posted at this website.) Similarly, John Adams’s controversial opera, “The Death of Klinghoffer” (“Death”, Mr. Adams? Not “Murder”??), currently in production at the Met, has come across to many as an attempted vindication of Klinghoffer’s terrorist murderers. Conversely, Wladyslaw Szpilman, the real-life Jewish Survivor-hero of the Academy-Award-winning movie, “The Pianist”, has been posthumously defamed as a Nazi collaborator in a scandal-mongering book that is essentially of the same ilk as Written by Mrs. Bach.
Bach, of course, was not a Jew, and Jarvis’s thesis has nothing to do with anti-Semitism. But Bach does personify the genius and excellence of the Judaeo-Christian tradition, and the solid, respectable probity of traditional bourgeois Protestantism. What binds all these examples together is quite simply their radical revisionist, deconstructionist inspiration. Dan Brown’s Da Vinci Code (predictably made into an opera by another opportunistic music professor!) belongs in the same category (see my review, posted on this Blog). The cumulative effect of these counter-cultural stink bombs is to confuse, disorient, and ultimately detach public sentiment from long-standing pillars and premises of western civilization and culture. Is there an intent behind the effect, or is it all just a spontaneous trend—a virus of the times?
Whatever the answer, the mindless nihilism of the syndrome plays right into the hands of any content-based ideology that screams loud enough to attract attention. As Viktor Frankl has pointed out, man must find meaning to his life or go nuts. When enough Jarvises have deprived our cultural foundations of all meaning, value and dignity, other men, like Hitler’s Nazis, Mao’s Cultural Revolutionaries, or the Taliban, will complete the job by burning them.
- Peter Gimpel
Guns, Non-Violence & Conflict Resolution: a Triangle for Survival
an editorial by Peter Gimpel
Clay Jenkinson, the talented and scholarly alter ego of President Thomas Jefferson on Public Radio’s “The Jefferson Hour” says a lot of wonderful things on his show. Most of them are quoted by heart from the writings of that brilliant co-architect of American democracy, but some of them are the fruit of Jenkinson’s own not inconsiderable store of wisdom. A case in point: when asked what he thought Jefferson would have done about gun violence in the US, and whether he would have advocated gun control, Jenkinson replied, “No. I think he would have advocated Gun Education.”
This is the kind of answer one tends to smirk at and pass on to the next subject. It sounds too simplistic to be of any practical use. And yet . . .
I still remember my high-school “Driver Ed” classes from decades ago. They were designed to educate beginning drivers to the responsible use of the automobile. The course included theoretical and practical training in navigating a car through traffic, a survey of basic auto mechanics, and a very grim documentary into the human damage caused by irresponsible driving. The course was designed to inculcate into the minds of teenage drivers the concept of “defensive driving”—a mindset in which the driver constantly looks out for the possibility of danger, and primes himself / herself to avoid it. Successful graduates of the Driver Ed Program were supposed to have internalized not only an ethic of responsible and courteous driving, but a firm consciousness that when you’re at the wheel of a car, you’re holding a gun in your hands. In the main, they did.
So why not apply the same approach to the gun-control issue? Americans are not about to give up their claimed Second-Amendment right to resort to arms in defense of personal safety and guaranteed freedoms. Nor can bureaucratic processes, such as checking criminal records or psychological profiling, totally prevent the truly dangerous individuals from acquiring arms and ammunition. Why not educate our kids to the proper care and management of guns and the fight-flight part of their brains? I suspect that Jenkinson was thinking about something more than “gun training” or “gun safety”. The NRA already does that. So does every shooting range. I am talking about giving school kids, from middle school on (and why not adults, too?), a solid foundation of non-violent ethics, conflict resolution, and responsible arms management.
Movies, TV, news media and video games constantly feed our young citizens a dehumanized fantasy world in which guns serve as reinforcers of narcissistic delusions of power and invincibility. Isn’t it time for public schools to take upon themselves the burden of teaching our young ’uns about guns? What a gun really is? When its use is legally and morally defensible, and when it isn’t? What utter misery its improper use can cause? Clay Jenkinson is right. Gun Education is exactly the kind of practical, common-sense proposal Thomas Jefferson would have advocated. There is too much violence in the air, and too much intransigence on the part of those who argue about it.
I’ve done a cursory search on line for a national organization that advocates Gun Education. There are plenty of pro-gun and anti-gun associations, but it seems nobody is offering a comprehensive program on Gun Education that includes non-violence and conflict resolution. Constitutional Law Professor Erwin Chemerinsky prognosticates gloomily that the debate over gun control “will never be resolved,” for “it is difficult to imagine a bridge between the two sides,” viz between those advocating gun ownership as a personal right, and those advocating state or federal gun control. Erwin Chemerinsky, “Putting the Gun Control Debate in Social Perspective ,” 73 Fordham L. Rev. 477 (2004), p. 485. Available at: http://ir.lawnet.fordham.edu/flr/vol73/iss2/2
Has the American public become so inured to, so benumbed by, so horrified by, the daily body counts and the daily dose of stale rhetoric, that nobody cares or dares to try a different approach? Comprehensive Gun Education might be the very bridge that Prof. Chemerinsky is looking for. It is also a train that has been waiting far too long in the station of social policy. Responsible arms management is as essential to a democratic, gun-legal society as Civics and History. So is education in non-violence and conflict resolution. Together, they make a triangle for survival – not only of the individual, but of a free society that sticks to its guns.
Peter Gimpel, October 5, 2014
Schusterflecklochaufzeichnungen: Some Airy Notes on the Hole Beneath a Cobbler’s Patch
By Peter Gimpel
The further a balloon gets from the ground, the bigger it gets. There is a long-standing myth that Beethoven’s first reaction to Diabelli’s Waltz—destined to become the theme for Beethoven’s 33 Variations (Op. 120)— was disparaging. Such opinion is based on a comment by Anton Schindler, Beethoven’s first biographer, that, upon examining the score, the master exclaimed, “Ein Schusterfleck!” –“A cobbler’s patch!”
Some Beethoven scholars have expressed skepticism over Schindler’s account, noting the implicit contradiction with the master’s choice of this very theme for a work of such sublime depth and scope. Others have dealt with the contradiction by concluding that Beethoven subsequently changed his mind: “It’s not such a bad theme, after all!” (Can anyone seriously believe that a glance of the eye would not immediately tell Beethoven whether it was a suitable theme?) Others persist in sneering at it. Quite recently, a playwright won a great deal of attention by drawing from it the lesson that Beethoven made the best of a Schusterfleck, and so must we all!
According to Dr. William Kinderman, of the U. of Illinois, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NM4sXBjk6W4 , Schusterfleck would be a technical musical term: Beethoven’s exclamation was evoked by measures 9 - 13 of the Waltz in which a repetitive sequence of notes accomplishes a simple key modulation. This interpretation seems to have been adopted by Andras Schiff, in a wonderful lecture-demonstration that I was privileged to attend via video recording.
The source of this interpretation is, quite plausibly, an article sub voce rosalia, in Grove’s Dictionary of Music and Musicians (1908). According to Grove’s , Schusterfleck would be a German term for rosalia, “a form of melody . . . in which a figure is repeated several times in succession, transposed a note higher at each reiteration.” The name rosalia, Grove’s explains, is “derived from [the title of] an old Italian canto popolare.” Ibid., vol. 4, p. 141. However, according to the same Grove’s, the normal German term for the figure is Vetter Michel, analogously taken from an old German folk song of that name. Since Grove’s gives no source for the term Schusterfleck, it seems plausible that the writer of the article, William S. Rockstro, deduced its meaning from the supposed fact that Beethoven uttered the word in the circumstances described by Schindler! However, it is somewhat suspicious that the term Schusterfleck itself is not listed in Grove’s; for if it were an attested, bona-fide alternative term for a Vetter Michel, it should have been so listed. After all, Vetter Michel is listed, with instruction to “see rosalia.”
It seems that we have here an interesting example of circular argument: the term Schusterfleck must mean rosalia, because Beethoven uttered the baffling word when examining a waltz that, very conveniently, appears to contain a rosalia! By itself, however, this is not enough to conclude either that the word Schusterfleck is an accepted musicological term, or that Beethoven’s alleged utterance of that word had anything to do with the presence of a rosalia in Diabelli’s composition! Without an actual source attesting to the use of the word Schusterfleck in a musicological context—a source predating or at least contemporary with Beethoven’s alleged utterance of the word— there is simply no credible basis for concluding that Schusterfleck is a musicological term. See also http://de.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rosalie_(Musik).
That is not to say that Schusterfleck would not be an appropriate substitute for rosalia. A cobbler gluing layers of leather (assuming that this is how it is done) over a worn sole might indeed suggest an apt metaphor for the layering of a melodic sequence in successively higher (or lower) keys. But whether such a metaphor applies to Diabelli’s Waltz is highly questionable. Indeed, one has to ask: does Diabelli’s Waltz even contain a rosalia? Here is a link to the melodic sequence on which the term is based:
Note that the monotony only sets in after the 2nd repetition. It is the 3rd appearance of the sequence that ushers in the tedium. No such third appearance occurs in Diabelli’s Waltz. Thus, strictly speaking, it cannot really be said to contain a rosalia; and to apply the term Schusterfleck to the Waltz would make it a very thin cobbler’s patch indeed!
The question whether the Diabelli Waltz contains a Vetter Michel is a bit more complicated, because the song Vetter Michel does not, strictly speaking, contain a rosalia! A click on the following link should take you to a transcription of the tune: http://abcnotation.com/tunePage?a=ifdo.ca/~seymour/runabc/esac/zuccal0/0163
Musical theory has been the subject of treatises for many centuries, and it would be very strange if an accepted terminology were not noted in some old text, or if it is so noted, very strange that Grove’s should not cite it. If Beethoven invented it, he did not tell us what he meant by it, and we have nothing but logic and common sense to tell us what he may have had in mind. Without a citation—a source text to which scholars can point—understanding Schusterfleck as either a rosalia or a Vetter Michel is pure speculation, and not very convincing at that. Indeed, as noted by Grove’s, the mere duplication of sequences such as occurs in Diabelli’s Waltz, is just too fundamentally ordinary in musical compositions to deserve comment: “That a form which neither Handel nor Mozart nor Beethoven, nor any other great writer has disdained to employ, can possibly be, in its own nature, ‘vicious,’ we cannot believe.” Loc. cit. Here are some familiar examples that Grove’s might have cited:
Beethoven, Son. Op. 2, No. 1: First Movement (Development), bars 67-71; or Son. (“Waldstein”) Op. 53, First Movement, opening measures;
Or: Haydn, Son. No. 1, Eb, Finale, bars 1-16.
Would anyone dare call such examples Schusterflecken? I think Beethoven would roar with laughter! It is a great stretch of the imagination to think that a cursory glance at Diabelli’s Waltz would have either aroused Beethoven’s contempt or stirred his interest because it contained a perfectly ordinary “rosalia”: “Ach, schauen-Sie doch! Ein Schusterfleck!” Nor would he have dismissed it as “vulgar”. Doubtless, he would have immediately appreciated its suitability for variation. That it may not have interested him right away means nothing more than that Beethoven had plenty of other things on his mind.
So what are we to do with Beethoven’s exclamation, “Ein Schusterfleck!”? There is a very simple explanation. In the first place, let us do away with the skepticism of those scholars who believe that the story narrated by Schindler is a “legend”. Schindler was Beethoven’s Boswell. He adored and worshipped Beethoven and cherished every word and deed of the master that he could squeeze out of the laden sponge of his memory. Why would Schindler make up such a story? Second, having eliminated the sequential duplications as a credible factor, let us ask: what was so remarkable—or so “vulgar”, in Prof. Kinderman’s view—about this pleasing little waltz that would so arouse Beethoven’s attention or disdain? One thing Beethoven was not, was a musical snob. He enjoyed light, unpretentious music as much as the next man, and often used folk themes in his own compositions. And with all respect to Prof. Kinderman, Diabelli’s use of repetitious chords in his Waltz is no more “vulgar” than Beethoven’s comparable use in the 7th Bagatelle of Op. 33, and in many, many other places—including the opening of the aforesaid “Waldstein” Sonata and, in his ineffably sublime Fourth Piano Concerto, the dominant-seventh chords that introduce the last tutti before the coda of the Finale!
What, then, of the famous utterance? “Ein Schusterfleck!” I would like to suggest that Beethoven’s mysterious utterance was nothing more portentous than an expression of his surprise and amusement at discovering that Diabelli’s touted theme was just a light, danceable waltz, a catchy dance tune—the kind of tune (as noted by Maestro Schiff himself!) that the Viennese loved to wear out their shoes on—“a cobbler’s patch”!
The expression, Schusterfleck , used in this manner, exemplifies a quite common usage, a type of colloquial metonymy in which a word is substituted by another word with which it is associated by a characteristic pattern of events. A popular waltz is a “cobbler’s patch” because it draws people to the dance floor to wear out their shoes. I do not know if this usage of Schusterfleck was a common Viennese idiom, or if Beethoven came up with it himself; but other examples of this kind of metaphorical expression are quite familiar in English: “cannon fodder”, “slam-dunk”, “tear-jerker”, “page-turner”, “money-pit”, “graveyard shift”, “sweatshop”, “a headache!”, “a bellyache!”, etc., etc.
In conclusion, I believe that Beethoven’s exclamation was neither disparaging nor occasioned by the Waltz’s quite innocent sequential repetitions. It meant nothing more than “Look here! A catchy waltz tune! A Schusterfleck!” But a single word let fall by a great master gives rise to volumes—and sometimes, truth be told, to volumes of air!
By Peter Gimpel
Revised. Posted Jan. 7, 2014
If philosophy means love of wisdom, the search for wisdom, the investigation into the nature of truth, the quest for the right way to live, for the laws of thought and language, the meaning of existence, etc., then the activity that seems nowadays to be the preoccupation of some major philosophy departments has little to do with philosophy.
Nick Bostrom, a respected philosophy professor at Oxford U., argues that, so long as certain not-improbable conditions will be realized in the future, there is a strong probability that we, in the present, are not genuine, living human beings at all, but only the virtual product of a computer simulation set in motion by our more technologically advanced descendants. The proposal has generated inordinate interest among Bostrom’s colleagues in Cloudcuckooland and the media.
It’s a curious thing, but nobody seems to have noticed that Bostrom’s proposal rests on the entirely unsupported assumption that a conscious mind is something that can be created artificially in the first place, let alone by a computer simulation. If it turns out that it can’t, then then no amount of technological progress, however spectacular, will ever result in my being a computer simulation. The only two necessary conditions laid down by Bostrom are (1) that humanity survive long enough to attain the requisite mastery of computer simulation technology, and (2) that this future humanity in the meantime not lose interest in implementing such technology. Bostrom does not entertain as a separate and third condition that, without losing interest in simulations in general, our super-evolved descendants not shrink from “playing God”—in other words, abhor experiments that cast the simulator in a role that religious thought has reserved for a Supreme Being of perfect righteousness. In fact the first question that ought to arise in the mind of a philosopher is: what kind of advanced civilization would take upon itself the moral responsibility for simulating (and with what heart-wrenching realism!) such widespread suffering, and how would they justify it?
Of course this same question, mutatis mutandis, has been raised against God Himself, and also as a challenge to the very idea of God. But whereas religion has long ago answered that question and met that challenge, the idea of a humanity (or “post-humanity”) that would deliberately create a sentient and conscious surrogate of the humanity we think we know presents a scenario leading to a satanic conclusion: evil and suffering have all been programmed into the world by our own morally calloused descendants, for no other purpose (in the best of hypotheses) than to conduct a test of some sort—an experiment, if you will, in which humanity, whatever its essence may be, is being deliberately subjected to conditions of mass murder, epidemic disease, betrayal, misery, grief and torture by our own progeny. In the worst of hypotheses, our progeny is simply imposing this unhappiness on us for their own entertainment.
However that may be, since there is no way to distinguish between reality and the level of simulated experience contemplated by Bostrom’s proposal, that proposal is surely meaningless. It makes no sense—and it serves no constructive purpose—to propose two modes of existence that are in every way indistinguishable. It follows that to argue that one such mode of existence is more or less probable than the other is absurd. In other words, Bostrom’s argument goes against a fundamental principle known as Occam’s razor: Entia non sunt multiplicanda sine necessitate. More simply, if A and B are identical, and it serves no constructive purpose to treat them as different, then it is crazy to do so. Indeed, the only thing gained by preferring the one hypothesis (viz, that we are living in a computer-generated world) over the other (viz, that we are living in a God-created world) is that it absolves our present and past generations of ultimate responsibility for the wrongs we have committed, and conveniently—and not unlike Social Security indebtedness—deposits that responsibility on the shoulders of those not yet born. Alternatively, it allows some people to argue, for their own personal agendas, that life has no value, that suffering has no meaning, and that there need be no moral, legal, or ethical restraints on the drive for power and wealth and the gratification of the physical appetites. But such permission has already been granted by those visionaries who propose that human beings are only bacteria with an overgrown brain, and that our ethics must accordingly be revised.
Bacterium or not, in talking about a simulated reality, I can only talk about my own conscious experience of the world; because if my world is only a simulation, the characters who populate it have, by definition, no objective reality. In other words, they are mere artifacts of MY simulated reality. If, on the other hand, those same characters are, like me, sufficiently real to be experiencing their own simulated reality, then, by definition, they are NOT artifacts of my simulation (i.e., they have independent existence). But since those characters populate MY world, it follows that MY world can’t be a simulation! (Apparently, however, this objection can be circumvented by qualifying the type of simulations we are talking about as “infinitely stacked”, or “nested”, or interstitial. See more about this in the Chronicles of Lagado.
But there is still another giant paradox to be considered. Recall that Bostrom’s argument is based on the premise that our own descendants have “created” this satanic program. But if we are only a simulation, then our descendants (i.e., the simulators themselves) must also be simulations! Bostrom’s argument does not give us the means for bridging the gap between “real reality” and “simulated reality”.
One must also consider the following irony: the academic community has, since the 1950s, identified itself as largely atheistic. But if it is necessary, as Bostrom suggests, to accept with some degree of probability that the collective human experience of our universe is the product of a computer program, how can we possibly rule out the “existence” of a God Creator? On the contrary, it is much easier to assume that the universe has been programmed by an all-powerful, all-knowing Supreme Being, than by the King of Laputa! Has Bostrom unwittingly (or—who knows?—cannily?) attacked the foundations of atheism?
Yet another serious flaw exists in Bostrom’s argument: Bostrom assumes the possibility that a technologically advanced “post-human” civilization might be interested in creating programs that simulate what he calls “ancestral history”. But why? Why not just look at history itself? What knowledge can be gained by simulating such a vast, incredibly complex network of experience? Any data culled from such an experiment would have no historical value, as simulated facts can only comprise a simulated history. The notion that a cosmically complex simulation would be anything but incredibly wasteful, harmful, and ultimately useless strikes me as not only idiotic, but deplorably ignorant of the value and meaning of history, as well as of the purpose and method of historical research.
The problem of distinguishing between reality and illusion was noted already by the ancient Chinese philosophers, and no new light is shed upon the question by attributing the source of the illusion to a computer simulation in place of a pill or a butterfly's dream. The Bostrom Argument, the seriousness with which it seems to have been received by the academic community, and the irresponsible manner in which the participants in this debate have engaged the complicity of the media constitute yet another example of the growing degeneracy of western academia. One is reminded of the Biblical Tower of Babel: when early humans confabulated to build a structure that would challenge the Heavens, God confounded them through the confusion of Language. It appears that now that the languages of the world no longer constitute a barrier to technological progress, it is Thought itself that has been perverted in the recesses of its own ivory tower!
WHY ON EARTH DOES GOD HAVE TO PAINT?
By Rafael Chodos; Based on Selected Works and Writings of Junko Chodos. Giotto Multimedia, 2009. 336 Pages. ISBN: 978-0-9704042-8-2.
Price: US $35.00
Book Review by Peter Gimpel.
ORDER THIS OUTSTANDING BOOK FROM RED HEIFER PRESS, or GiottoMultimedia.com
The coffee table art book, traditionally the prestigious but impenetrable refuge of stuffy art critics, the best of whose texts are often unjustly and ironically condemned to serve as drab wallpaper to the beautiful reproductions they were intended to elucidate, has now been superseded. Hail the art book in which paintings and text form an indelible bond of passion, wonder, discovery and self discovery! The inventor of this welcome innovation is none other than Rafael Chodos (already praised on this site as the author of a monumental legal reference work on Fiduciary Duties), who has lately co-authored with celebrated Japanese artist, Junko, a jewel of an art book entitled, Why on Earth Does God Have to Paint?
In all truth, the idea of the art book as literature is not without precedent—notably Henry Miller’s delightful “To Paint is to Love Again,” in which that icon of literary sexual liberation and master of American prose recounts with chaste and joyous passion his love affair with watercolor painting. But Miller’s approach to painting was that of a child, exulting in the pure sensations of color and form and the simple joy of creation. Rafael goes much deeper, seeking, as the title suggests, the purpose and underlying meaning of the very act of creating. Why does G-d have to paint? What is it that impels a caveman or a Giotto or a Junko to paint—as though G-d needed someone to paint through? The question is enriched by a counterpoint of Junko’s own commentary, interlaced with excerpts from her diaries.
Rafael doesn’t actually answer this question, but by posing it opens up a whole new approach to the appreciation of modern art. The unexpected circumstance that Junko happens to be Rafael’s beloved wife of 38 years, and that Rafael confesses to being no more than a novice in matters of art only enhances our interest. This is not merely because Junko is a great artist, but also because Rafael’s years-long quest to understand Junko’s mind and her work gives him, and us, a unique perspective into the creative process witnessed not merely as an act but as a way of life. Rafael sees this process as beginning in the artist and continuing (rather than ending) in the viewer; whereas for Junko, the process really begins with the object—or “visitant”—that happens to catch her eye, enter her consciousness, and become one with her—working on her, changing her, and even healing her. Perhaps because Junko sees the finished work as a medium, and the viewer’s role as penetrating through to its transfigured essence, and perhaps because of the resemblance of that penetration to meditation, Junko calls her art “centripetal.”
Indeed, viewers of Junko’s art often confess to having been drawn in to something quite beyond the extraordinary colors, forms and media of which it is comprised. There is no convenient way to explain the powerful effect Junko’s creations can produce on our emotions, for what she creates does not typically belong to our world, but almost exclusively to hers. The wonder is that in contemplating her works face to face, as I did some years ago at the Long Beach Museum of Art—works which can strike one at first as inscrutable and overwhelming—I was transformed into something of an empath, able—almost beyond endurance—to feel the awe, the pain, the love, the torments, horrors, and aspirations of another being.
Surely this is what great art is and does. And it is here that I disagree with the term “centripetal” as a characterization of Junko’s art. For all great art, whether visual, musical or literary, shares this quality of drawing the reader/viewer/listener out of him or herself and into a brave new world of alien yet intimate revelation. As I have been moved by Junko, so have I been moved by Van Gogh, by Klee, and by Botticelli. It makes no difference to me that in Junko, or in Klee, the conventional frame of reference has been surpassed or even destroyed. It is not in the conventions that poetry, art, or greatness are to be found. And while I agree with Rafael that Junko’s work has little in common with the deconstructionist wave that swept over art from cubism—really from impressionism—onward to the present, I see the difference vastly more in terms of inspiration than mere psychology of perception. For whereas Junko’s contemporaries generally labor in a world devoid of hope, meaning and purpose , Junko, having mastered all the latest, most sophisticated tools of artistic technology, extracts pathos, urgency and regeneration from even the most humble detritus of nature and civilization. This places her squarely within the humanistic tradition so boorishly tabooed by our times.
Thus, for me it is not in Rafael’s conclusions but in his explorations that the uncommon value of the book lies. Among them, his tenderly searching account of how and from whom he learned to love and strive to understand art—not just Junko’s, but all Art—form pages worthy to be anthologized and handed down through the ages.
WHY RED HEIFER PRESS OPPOSES “RING FESTIVAL LA”
Just recently, Carie Delmar of OperaOnline.US informed me that the City of Los Angeles is planning a ten-week long, city-wide festival in honor of the German composer Richard Wagner (1813-83), whose opera cycle, “The Ring of the Nibelungs” is currently being produced by LA Opera in a historic first for that company and this City. Unfortunately, the realization of such a festival would be a serious provocation to the Jewish Community and to other ethnic and gender-based communities that make up the richly variegated population of our City.
There is no question that Wagner was an inspired musical and creative genius with enormous significance in the development of western music, or that the performance of his operas (especially the circa 15-hour “Ring” Cycle) is a signal artistic achievement for any opera company. The problem is that Wagner conceived his operas (both music and words) as propaganda for his outspoken “ideology” of Germanic racial and cultural supremacy, anti-Semitism, ethnic cleansing, and nationalistic entitlement. In some European cities, an announcement like LA Opera’s glowing Press Release of November 3, 2008 (attached herewith), promising everything but a tickertape parade, would have sparked citywide antifascist demonstrations. Is this the kind of cultural hero our City should be celebrating?
While much of Wagner’s text strikes today’s educated listeners as adolescent if not idiotic, the direct influence of his ideas on the subsequent development of the Nazi agenda, and on Hitler personally, is thoroughly documented and indisputable. Like Hitler himself a fanatic with messianic delusions, Wagner went so far in his megalomania as to raise a national shrine dedicated exclusively to the performance of his own works. That shrine, the Festspielhaus in the Bavarian town of Bayreuth, continues to function as an annual Wagner Festival, whose lingering associations with the Nazi era and Nazi nostalgia have been exposed and denounced by none other than Gottfried Wagner, a great grandson of the Composer. (Twilight of the Wagners, New York: Picador, 1997).
It is bad enough that our City is planning to honor this icon of the Nazis. However, it is clear that the organizers have drawn inspiration from Bayreuth. That makes it even worse. “The L.A. festival will seek to imitate Bayreuth's example by mounting an international publicity campaign to attract cultural tourism,” writes Reed Johnson in the LA Times (Nov 3, 2008). Just whom does this City imagine it is catering to with this invitation? Whom or what does this City imagine it is going to celebrate?
LA Opera claims, with transparent disingenuousness, that it only wants to honor Wagner’s music, not the man. But how does it imagine it can separate between the artist and the person, between the vessel and the content? Read what Wagner himself wrote on that very question:
“I can only hope to be understood by those who feel a need and inclination to understand me . . . . As such I cannot consider those who pretend to love me as artist yet deem themselves bound to deny me their sympathy as man . . . . The severance of the artist from the man is as brainless an attempt as the divorce of soul from body and . . . never was an artist loved nor his art comprehended, unless he was also loved—at least unwittingly—as man.”
("A Communication to my Friends", quoted in Milton E. Brewer, Richard Wagner and the Jews, Jefferson, N.C.: McFarland & Co.,2006, p. 81)
The truth is, our City’s and cultural leaders know very well that a Festival in honor of Wagner is much more than a musical celebration, and that Wagner the composer cannot be distinguished from Wagner the ideologue: “The idea of having a festival where the whole city participates is very Wagnerian,” explains LA Opera’s Music Director, James Conlon: “This takes on proportions that fit with the extraordinary personality of Richard Wagner, for whom nothing was too large.” (LA Opera Press Release.) “Ring Festival L.A. . . . follows Wagner’s lead in conceiving his monumental four-opera cycle ‘Der Ring des Nibelungen’ as both a cultural and civic happening,” acknowledges the Times (ibid.). Indeed, the Ringfest, according to the Times, will involve the participation of the Los Angeles County Museum, the Getty Trust, the Los Angeles Philharmonic, the Center Theatre Group, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, the Colburn School, the Griffith Observatory, the Latino Museum, the Museum of Contemporary Art, UCLA and USC, among others, not to mention several posh restaurants set to feature German cuisine—and even a German-style beer garden—for the duration. Again according to the Times, “each of the roughly 50 participating institutions will develop activities that will touch on some aspect of Wagner’s artistry or a dimension of the vast conceptual, philosophical and aesthetic universe in which the masterwork orbits.”
Little more than 70 years ago, many hundreds of musicians, writers, artists, and scientists, fleeing from that same “conceptual, philosophical and aesthetic universe,” took refuge in Los Angeles, where they injected intellectual brilliance, talent, and European sophistication and refinement into the then notoriously provincial cultural life of this City. Even the movie industry—the “Golden Age of Hollywood”—owes a great debt to those very refugees. Many of them were the sole survivors of large families extinguished in the Holocaust. Those survivors had children, grandchildren, and great grandchildren. All of them—and, yes, Baruch Hashem, many survivors are still among us—still carry those terrible scars within them.
Today, moreover, Los Angeles is home to a large and diverse ethnic and cultural population, most of whom would have been considered “undesirable” in Wagner’s idealized, or Hitler’s actual, Germany. And while it may be possible for some people to enjoy a Wagner opera for the music and the spectacle without taking seriously what the characters are actually saying, or what their author was advocating, or what he stands for in the eyes of so many admirers and detractors alike, one cannot watch our City administrative and artistic leaders as they connive, behind a rosy cloud of mystification, to turn Los Angeles into another Bayreuth without noting the climate of apprehension and mistrust already being generated as a result.
Clearly there has been a concerted effort to hide the true nature and significance of this tragically complex figure from the many diverse groups of people including, but not limited to, Jews, Gypsies and homosexuals (whom the Nazis gassed and machine-gunned by the millions); to mask the implied insult to the many other ethnic groups whom the Nazis considered “inferior;” and, for that matter, to ignore the affront to women, whom Nazi theory regarded as either breeders or whores—a dichotomy, by the way, that Wagner already made the tormented theme of his early opera, “Tannhaueser.” Nor can one ignore the offense to the memory of the millions of victims, or of those who died fighting for the liberation of Europe.
Let’s be blunt: the people who thought up this boondoggle (and boondoggle it is: “[LA Opera] expects to receive financial backing from city and county funding sources”—in other words, taxpayer dollars!) are being incredibly naive if they think that these “activities” will not hurt, offend, perplex, depress, intimidate or even frighten many thousands of LA residents, or that they won’t give encouragement and validation to individuals whom political correctness has until now inhibited from overt acts and expressions of race hatred.
However, the machers behind this initiative are not so naïve. They are quite well aware of the potential of this “festival” to sow discord, fear and hatred. That is why, trusting in the ignorance, gullibility and apathy of “us the public,” they are trying so hard to put an aggressively upbeat spin on the whole disgusting enterprise (see LA Opera Press Release, attached). “Ring Festival LA will highlight the wealth of arts and culture that is unique to our town,” trumpets LA County Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky: “The festival puts Los Angeles at the forefront of our major international cultural destinations, drawing together visitors from around the world and residents from neighborhoods across our county. It’s truly a celebration for all of us.” (Ibid.) Arch German nationalist Wagner has now become “a citizen of the universe” in LA Opera’s program notes for the Eli and Edythe Broad Stage (http://laoperaring.com/festival/events.php). Similarly, the Jewish refugee talent that streamed into LA during the ’30s has now become simply “German” in LA Conservancy’s program notes (ibid.).
In the same vein, an article by prominent LA attorney Randol Schoenberg (cover story, Jewish Journal, Feb. 19. 2009) trivializing widespread Jewish repugnance for the composer, and speciously absolving him of any responsibility for the Holocaust, suggests: “Those Jews who support the ban on Wagner because they believe that they hear in his music the same German culture that produced the Shoah should take a look in the mirror. Anyone who thinks that German culture and Jewish culture can be separated is fooling himself.” Apparently, then, the Holocaust was simply a matter of Germans gassing Germans. This is the kind of cynical historical/cultural revisionism we can expect from the self-serving promoters of this circus of shame—an example all the more shocking in light of the fact that Schoenberg happens to be President of the Los Angeles Museum of the Holocaust, and—surprise!—also a Board Member of LA Opera.
Among Jews, it is a tradition to avoid injecting oneself into public controversy. On the other hand, it seems to me that this case is different, going far beyond anti-Semitism, and affecting many more communities than just Jews—indeed, the whole political climate of the City. Moreover, some of the learned rabbis to whom we turn for guidance at a time like this may not be well informed on all aspects of the Wagner question. That question revisionist propaganda has tried to reduce to one of hypersensitive Jews unjustly biased against a great artist who, like so many others, happened to dislike Jews (“Get Over It,” captioned a full-page photo of Wagner on the front cover of the Feb. 20, 2009, Jewish Journal of Los Angeles!).
as I have tried to point out, the issue is not simply anti-Semitism: it
goes much deeper, with serious implications for the honor, dignity, and
safety not only of our Jewish Community, but of our diverse non-Jewish
friends and neighbors with whom we have long-standing harmonious and
productive relations. No less an admirer of Wagner’s music than Thomas
Mann (the Nobel-Prize-winning German novelist who made Los Angeles his
home during his self-imposed exile from Nazi Germany) wrote in 1940,
“[Wagner’s work] is the exact spiritual forerunner of the
‘metapolitical’ [i.e., Nazi] movement today terrorizing the world.” (“To the Editor of Common Sense,” in Thomas Mann, Pro and Contra Wagner,
trans. A. Blunden, U. Chicago , p. 202). Hitler himself wrote,
“With the exception of Richard Wagner, I have no forerunner.”
conclusion, “Ring Festival LA” is totally uncharacteristic of this
City’s well-established tradition for multiculturalism, ethnic
sensitivity and mutual respect. More than likely, the City’s decision
makers were manipulated into approving something they had nowhere near
the historical and cultural background to evaluate properly. There is
still time to stop it, or, as Ms Delmar proposes ("Carie Delmar sounds
off on LA's Ring Festival," www.OperaOnline.us),
to finesse it into a celebration of something else. In that connection,
there are plenty of unsung heroes in this town who fought long and hard
to bring opera to LA. Why not honor them?
In any case, to allow this travesty to go forward without voicing a vigorous, well-coordinated, multicultural protest would be, I suggest, shameful and dangerously counterproductive. As LA Opera General Director Placido Domingo promises, “Ring Festival LA will be a defining moment in the cultural history of Los Angeles.” Let us make sure we have a say in how our City is defined. Above all, we must, as a matter of principle, reject revisionist and misleading propaganda aimed at railroading our City into a roundhouse of Bayreuth-style Wagnerism and bullying or shaming Jews and other vulnerable citizens into submissive silence.
* * * For the full text of the Times article from which I have quoted above, go to:
LA Opera’s Press Release can be read at:
Randol Schoenberg’s article can be found at:
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By Peter Gimpel
It is both ironic and sad that Randol Schoenberg, who argues that Wagner’s anti-Semitism is separate from his music, should hold that Jewish culture is inseparable from German culture! (www.jewishjournal.com/cover_story/article/why_wagners_music_deserves_a_second_chance_20090218/ ) Schoenberg is wrong on both counts. Wagner’s ideology of Germanic supremacy and Judeophobia is part and parcel of his operas, as anyone knows who has read or listened to the text of his self-penned librettos. Less obvious to the millions of Jews who—thanks in large part to the Nazis—grew up without their Jewish heritage—is the fact that Jewish culture—including music, poetry and the decorative arts—is essentially focused on Scripture, Law, Divine Service, and Kabbala. What Randol is referring to when he speaks of “Jewish culture” is the product of assimilation and Haskala—the so-called “Jewish enlightenment” that affected principally the Ashkenazi, or Yiddish-speaking, Jews of Middle and Eastern Europe (sizeable contingents of Jewish Civilization, notably the Sephardic, Italian, Persian, Iraqi, Yemenite, and others, developed just fine without Germanic assistance).
The Jewish attraction for secular learning certainly produced some wonderful gems, but had little to do with genuine Jewish culture, which is awesome, immense, stunningly beautiful, and largely inaccessible to the uninitiated. The two cultures, Ashkenazi-Jewish and Germanic, have been historically intertwined ever since Jews settled in the Rhine Valley in the 9th Century C.E., and the reciprocal influences of Jews and Germans have been felt in several areas—not least, the occasional slaughter of the former by the latter. However, intertwining is not merging. The two cultures are anything but “inseparable.” In fact, their respective strands are easily identified and quickly disentangled. Had Wagner known more about real Jewish culture, he might have been less worried about the “contamination” of Germanic art by Germanized Jews. The irony is that Randol has fallen into the same error as Wagner, the difference being that Wagner was ashamed of this “contamination,” while Randol is proud of it.
All this would be purely academic, were it not for the fact that Los Angeles has been setting the stage for its first “Ring Festival” with a carefully planned propaganda campaign replete with all the revisionisms, travesties and machinations deemed necessary to prune Wagner’s monumental cycle of its embarrassing associations and to stroke the city’s large, Holocaust-conscious Jewish population into meek acceptance. The machinations range from the sublime (a festival dedicated to music composed by victims of the Holocaust cannily mounted just prior to another festival dedicated to the guy who helped inspire their transformation into victims) to the ridiculous (the Eli Broad Foundation’s much touted donation of six million dollars—$1.00 for every Jew murdered by the Nazis???), as well as a number of revisionist articles like Randol Schoenberg’s, geared to absolving Wagner of his due share of responsibility for the Nazi mystique. According to most published comments ( see, e.g., http://latimesblogs.latimes.com/culturemonster/2009/02/los-angeles-ope.html ), the principal travesty is Achim Freyer’s outré costume and set design (read Carie Delmar’s review and commentary on Das Rheingold, www.operaonline.us), obviously intended to mask Wagner’s Germanic chauvinism and to divert public and critical attention from his obsessive Judeophobia. Such massive efforts, however, are belied by our City’s groveling attempts to turn what ought to be a raising of musical consciousness into a Germanophile media circus with dissembled shades of Bayreuth. The end result cannot be anything but the glorification of the man Wagner, along with all that he stood for, and all that his legacy (according to many sources) still stands for.
Though I, personally, have never been moved to ecstasy by Wagner’s music, I respect his musical genius and fully understand and respect the enthusiasm of his musical admirers. I attended only one live presentation of his work, a so-so production of Parsifal with a translation of the dialogue projected onto a screen above the stage. I came away feeling physically nauseated by the jarring contrast between the beauty of the music and the pathologically childish absurdity of the text, which seemed more appropriate for Marvel Comics than for a classical work of art. In a highly perceptive blog (http://netnewmusic.net/reblog/archives/2008/11/ring_festival_l.html ), David Ocker explores this comic-book affinity with subtle humor while arguing for a populist “Wrong Festival” to counter L.A.’s elitist “Ring Festival.” (On the other hand, Carie Delmar of OperaOnline.US makes a strong case for diversifying the Festival from within: read her eloquent protest, “Carie Delmar Sounds off on LA’s Ring Festival,” at http://www.operaonline.us/.) However, after viewing Ocker’s gallery of comic-book Valkyries, I have come to believe that he is on to something of more intrinsic significance: the definitive production of Wagner’s Ring will be, not with surrealist sets and deconstructionist costumes, but with characters and scenery derived from action comics—the male heroes tall, athletic, and muscular, the heroines all statuesque and scantily clad alla Lynda Carter. Their musings and conversations will be projected inside text bubbles, just as in the comic strips. The villains, of course, will all be represented as Wagner would have wanted them: twisted, repulsive caricatures with exaggerated Semitic features.
Naturally, such a crass production would have been out of the question in Wagner’s Germany, where good manners and outward propriety were paramount among the educated classes. But here, today, in Los Angeles? What’s to prevent it? Such a production would be sufficiently campy to attract vast new audiences to the seductive world of opera. It might also help Wagner fans understand that the composer’s disreputability lies not in some separate capsule of personal failings and foibles, but in his having created a mantle of artistic and pseudo-philosophical dignity for comic-book-level ideas of racial supremacy and world dominion—ideas that, once unleashed in all their kitschy finery, would lead inexorably to gas chambers, armageddon, and the eternal shaming of that very cultural primacy of which Wagner was so proud.
March 20th, 2009