Thursday, September 28, 2017

A Perfect Sunday

Overcast weather is perfect weather for a Sunday.

I  read profusely. I read to gain better understanding of  thoughts in general  and the very nature of our being or the very being of  our nature.

I read about the trajectory of  life, the state of  our being and hope to expand my mind. I read to write better sentences. Mostly I read for pleasure. I read more than one book at a time and try to be an omnivorous reader.

Words persuade, dissuade, describe and transcend all that define us, our beliefs, our insecurities, our hypocrisies, our truths and the ordinary events that shape our lives. 

It was one of those Sundays when the weather was perfect for reading outdoor. Even if it is  overcast weather, I am too wary of pigmentation to sit in the sun. Sunbathing is a thing of the past since I discovered how pigmentations have found their way to my skin.

Our dog does not  enjoy solitude and I have found a happy compromise. 
After some rain storms, the dog wanted the sun as much as I did. She left me alone when I read under the porch. She just wanted me to be in the vicinity, how adorable. I told  her , “ Maybe you can read in your next life.”  She seemed  to understand  and  lied there next to me, looking contented. She did her downward facing dog stretch like what she does all the time. She is natural at it, it is her pose after all.

When our  dog moved away from my feet, I knew  the sun had  reappeared.

We want the breeze and the sun. We want to have it all.

In the early evening, our dog hopped onto the wooden table where my book was placed, it was as if she wanted to see what book I was reading. After dinner , I took her  for an evening walk. She behaved so it was good. I never know how to train a dog.

I was reading The Noise of Time  written by  Julian Barnes . The story is based on the life of Dimitri Dmitrievich Shostakovich, a Russian composer and how the tumultuous evolution of Soviet Union has affected him in his music compositions. The novel begins with the composer on the landing of his apartment block in the middle of the night waiting by the lift thinking that he would be arrested and persecuted as his opera Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk click has met with Stalin's disapproval and public denunciation. The year was 1936.

The life of Shostakovich is full of ironies and contradictions.
In The Noise of Time, 
' One of the few places where optimism and pessimism could happily coexist -- indeed , where the presence of both is necessary for survival -- was family life. So, for instance, he loved Nita (optimism) , but did not know if he was a good husband (pessimism). He was an anxious man, and aware that anxiety makes people  egotistical and bad company. Nita would go off to work; but the moment she arrived at her Institute, he would telephone to ask when she was coming home. He could see that this was annoying: but his anxiety would just get the better of him.

   He loved the children ( optimism ) , but was not sure if he was a good father (pessimism). Sometimes he felt his love for his children was abnormal. even morbid. Well, life is not a walk across a field, as the saying goes.'

 Julian Barnes guides us through Shostakovich's career and meditates on the meaning of art and its place in a society that commands reeducation for artists.

' Art belongs to everybody and nobody. Art belongs to all time and no time. Art belongs to those who create it and those who savour it. Art no more belongs to the People and the Party than it once belonged to the aristocracy and the patron. Art is the whisper of history, heard above the noise of time. Art does not exist for art's sake: it exists for people's sake. But which people, and who defines them? He always thought of his own art as anti-aristocratic. Did he write, as his detractors maintained, for a bourgeois cosmopolitan elite? No. Did he write, as his detractors wanted him to, for the Donbass miner weary form his shift and in need of a soothing pick-me-up? No. He wrote music for everyone and no one. He wrote music for those who best appreciated the music he wrote, regardless of social origin. He wrote music for the ears that could hear. And he knew, therefore, that all true definitions of art are circular, and all untrue definitions of art ascribe to it a specific function.'

The following passage strikes a chord with me.

' In an ideal world, a young man should not be an ironical person. At that age, irony prevents growth, stunts the imagination. It is best to start life in a cheerful and open state of mind, believing in others, being optimistic, being frank with everyone about everything. And then, as one comes to understand things and people better, to develop a sense of irony. The natural progression of human life is from optimism to pessimism, and a sense of irony helps temper pessimism, helps produce balance, harmony.
          But this was not an ideal world, and so irony grew in sudden and strange ways. Overnight, like a mushroom; disastrously, like a cancer.'

The question thus is: Could irony protect Shostakovich's music? All his life, he had avoided joining the party but in 1960, when Shostakovich no longer feared for his life, he was required to join the Communist Party to endorse the new direction taken by his country and he had to accept the chairmanship of the Russian Federation Union of Composers.

' So irony becomes a defence of the self and the soul ; it lets you breather on a day-to -day basis. You write in a letter that someone is a 'marvellous person' and the recipient knows to conclude the opposite. 

The composer  had lived long enough to be dismayed by himself.

'And how would he now appear to his younger self, standing by the roadside as a haunted face in an official car swept past? Perhaps this was one of the tragedies life plots for us: it is our destiny to become in old age what in youth we would have most despised.'

' He attended Party meetings as instructed. He let his mind wander during the endless speeches, merely applauding whenever others applauded. On one occasion, a friend asked why he had clapped a speech in the course of which Khrennikov had violently criticised him. The friend thought he was being ironic or, possibly, self-abusing. But the truth was , he hadn't been listening.'

All  his life, the composer had relied on irony.
So irony becomes a defence of the self and the soul ; it lets you breather on a day-to -day basis. You write in a letter that someone is a 'marvellous person' and the recipient knows to conclude the opposite. 

' If you turned your back on irony, it curdled into sarcasm. And what good was it then?Sarcasm was irony which has lost its soul. 

The Noise of Time  is descriptive about how the composer had to submit to Power and lived through the complexities of life under tyranny. Despite repressive regimes and official intimidation, Shostakovich managed to compose music and produce great symphonies against the noise of time. If you ask to whom does music belong to, not being able to answer is the correct answer as Julian Barnes writes, ' Because music, in the end, belonged to music. That was all you could say, or wish for.'

Julian Barnes is absolutely prolific and his prose thought-provoking. He is a brilliant writer.

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