Friday, August 31, 2007


To my mind, the most serious objection that can be raised to such a doctrine as Marxism is this: that it can maintain itself only in the struggle for its own supremacy; as soon as it is supreme, it destroys itself and makes way for nothing better than coarse hedonism. That is why many of the young people whom you see among you today, professing to be Communists, would, I am sure, go over to the Opposition at once if Communism were to win the day.

Gabriel Marcel, 1930

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Il Padre

This year sees the 20th Mondomusica international exhibition of handcrafted musical instruments, especially violins, in Cremona, Italy. This year the fair will be held on October 5-7.

The Triennale will launch its third exhibition devoted to the Amati family. Carlo Chiesa writes in the Strad that Andrea Amati was an important violin maker,

Maybe the most important in the history of violin-making... Amati was widely believed to have invented the violin, but this is inexact: it is a complex instrument, developed progressively over a long period of time by several artisans. However, a few violin makers made exceptional contributions to defining its general look,shape and character. Amati was one of these, and posterity has decreed that 'his' violin, with the proportions, the roundedness and the sound properties that he selected, should become 'the' violin.


Consider non-representative musical expression. It is a sphere where the thing stated cannot be distinguished from the manner of stating it. In this sense and in this sense only, music has, strictly speaking, no meaning, but perhaps just because it is meaning. Explore this.

The fact is that we introduce a relation into the heart of the music, a relation between the content expressed (?) and the expression, which is of the same type as that which joins the expression to the execution. But this is an illegitimate transference. From this point of view the idea of objective music takes on a meaning, but it is a negative meaning.

But is the term 'expression* really one that can still be used with regard to music? Could there really still be expression when we can no longer speak of content expressed a content distinct from the expression itself? I think the notion of essence, anyhow so difficult to define, might be introduced here. There is an essence of Schubert, of the later Beethoven, of the later Fauré, etc. The expression would then be the opening-up of the essence to itself. I believe this is the idea to be explored. Combine the idea of essence with the idea of universe. The essence regarded as the highest point of a certain universe. It is almost impossible here to make abstraction from the metaphor of 'the summit', and this is the metaphor whose roots could usefully be laid bare. The idea of'the summit* could perhaps be replaced by that of 'the centre. In both cases there is a periphery, or to put it more accurately, precincts (zones of encroachment).

Gabriel Marcel, A Metaphysical Diary (1928-1933), tr. Katharine Farrer (1949)

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Executioner's Sacrament

The Ostrobothnian publishing firm Skrivor has released Gösta Ågren’s latest collection of essays. It’s hard to give the savour of the title – von Bödelns nattvard - in English. Doubling as the name of the final essay in the volume it sets the general tone. ‘von Bödeln’ – a childhood misreading or mishearing of the name of the Swedish General von Döbeln – suggests the presence of a nightmarish executioner-figure who comes to represent all the evil of the world. Not that the subjects of the essays are particularly morbid in themselves – they range from discussions of the Old Testament and the Greek tragedies to an exploration of aspects of the life of William Shakespeare, an analysis of the genesis and history of Nordic runes, a tour of the Spanish Inquisition, and a study of Aztec religion. While there is a general preoccupation with world history, the book never loses its Finnish and Finland-Swedish cultural focus, the voice of one Finland-Swedish author in particular – Hans Ruin – providing almost what amounts to a running commentary on the rest of the meditative ‘action’. Ruin, who lived in Germany during the 1930s and witnessed the rise of Nazism, is cast in the role of the author’s alter ego. In quotation he presents apprehensions about the future of the world and humanity similar to those that are current among many observers today. Ågren sees the greatest danger now, as then, in what he perceives as a collective desire for certainty and order amidst apparent chaos. Yet while the essays tend towards the rejection of Plan as solution, they are nonetheless arranged within a cosmological framework that can only be called religious. This apparent contradiction gives the book a circular feel, not unlike the effect of Ågren’s poetry, with its contiguity of the autobiographical and the universal, its consciousness of ritual, and its awareness of the cycles of individual life and human history as being essentially interrelated.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007


I was thinking, too, that the credibility of miracles is positively demonstrated by such facts as the conversion of Claudel or Maritain. That these events can be believed in, is absolutely undeniable. Now nobody can think that these men believed without adequate facts to go upon. So taking their belief as a base, we must ask on what conditions it is possible, we must rise from the fact to the conditions on which it depends. This is the best and only way for genuine religious reflection to take.
Deep down beneath the critical attitude to the Gospel stories, is the implicit assertion 'It oughtn't to have happened like that.' In other words, we inwardly sketch the idea with really paralysing presumption and folly of what revelation ought to have been like. And I have a very strong suspicion that in this criticism there is always the idea 'this can't be true,' so that of course one must be able to pick holes, find contradictions, etc. It seems to me that this laying down of law by the individual consciousness ought to be rejected in principle. The Gospel words, in fact: 'become as little children.' Glorious words, but quite unintelligible to anyone who believes that there is an intrinsic value in maturity.

Gabriel Marcel, A Metaphysical Diary (1928-1933), tr. Katharine Farrer (1949)

Sunday, August 19, 2007

Space and Time

An idea came to me in the Luxembourg, and I will put it down at once. At bottom, space and time are in a way the forms of temptation. Pride and false humility combine in the act of recognising our insignificance when compared with the infinity of space and time, for we are then claiming to put ourselves in imagination on the same plane as this pair of infinites, realised as objects of knowledge. Our heads are turned by such an approximation to God. Return to the here and now, which recover an unparalleled dignity and worth. This for later examination. Too tired tonight to write any more.

Gabriel Marcel, A Metaphysical Diary (1928-1933), tr. Katharine Farrer (1949)

Saturday, August 18, 2007

A Theory of Evil

It is a serious error, if I am not mistaken, to treat time as a mode of apprehension. For one is then forced to consider it also as the order according to which the subject apprehends himself, and he can only do this by breaking away from himself, as it were, and mentally severing the fundamental engagement which makes him what he is. (I take the word 'engagement' here to represent both 'involvement' and 'committal'.)

This is the point of what I was trying to say yesterday afternoon,when I reflected that time is the very form of experimental activity. And from this point of view, to take up once more the metaphor of the absolute improvisation (a metaphor which seems to me inexhaustible) one finds oneself thinking like this. To transcend time is not to raise ourselves, as we can do at any moment, to the actually empty idea of a totum simul empty because it remains outside us and thereby becomes in some way devitalised. By no means. It is rather to participate more and more actively in the creative intention that quickens the whole: in other words, to raise ourselves to levels from which the succession seems less and less given, levels from which a 'cinematographic' representation of events looks more and more inadequate, and ceases in the long run to be even possible.

I think this is of the utmost importance. There, and perhaps only there, is the way open from creative evolution to a religious philosophy,but this way can only be taken through a concrete dialectic of participation.

I believe also, though I cannot yet establish it, that we have here the basis for a Theory of Evil, which would maintain its reality without denying its contingency.

Gabriel Marcel, A Metaphysical Diary (1928-1933), tr. Katharine Farrer (1949)

Wednesday, August 08, 2007


A Step At A Time is on holiday for a week or so. Back soon.

Saturday, August 04, 2007

Klaus on environmentalism

RFE/RL has an interview with Czech President Vaclav Klaus (a physicist, whose latest book is A Blue, Not A Green Planet), in which among other things he talks "not about global warming but about the opinions that are being imported, thanks to the false threat of global warming, by people like Al Gore and many others" [excerpt]:
RFE/RL: You write in your book that socialist ideology has been replaced by the threat of "ambitious environmentalism." Could you define what you mean exactly?

Klaus: Let's keep repeating until we're weary that one thing is ecology, scientific ecology, a descriptive, positive science that describes real things and phenomena in the world and tries to find connections between them and laws and so on. That's not the discipline we're discussing. A completely different thing is this "world view" wrapped up around it that exploits some theories from this or that discipline in order to carry out yet another in a never-ending line of attacks against human freedom and the market economy.

The main attack on the market in the last 150 years has been the softer or stronger versions of what -- now that communism has gone -- is known as the "social market economy," basically the official ideology of Germany and Austria and now the EU. In other words, the main attack on the market and on human freedom has been to add the "social" adjective [to the word "market"].

People know how I began my political career and if there's one expression of mine that's been quoted most, it's the early one from the beginning of the 1990s when I said, "a market without adjectives." In other words let's not spoil things with any adjectives. So the first attack is social, [either] in the softer version of today's European system, [or] in the harder version of communism. Now, more and more, [the words] "social and ecologically oriented" or something similar are added. So it's another attack, [meant to] destroy the market and human freedom and using a slogan -- social in the past and now ecological -- to do something completely different. And for me this is a fundamental attack on human freedom.

As someone who went through communism, I know what this is about and I think it's necessary to sound the alarm. I'm not comparing, like some caricatures have me, the threat of communism versus the threat of environmentalism. Communism was probably worse, though I think that with some of those extreme environmentalists we would live to see something similar. They would be cutting off heads, too, but I'm not comparing them.

The Producers

From the Edinburgh Festival, a production of Jihad, The Musical. The Mail writes:

The controversial satire about Islamic terrorism includes such classic tunes as "Building a bomb today, what does the manual say" and "I wanna be like Osama".

Perhaps its creators were inspired by the success of The Producers - a runaway broadway hit which attracted criticism for its camp rendition of Nazi Germany.

Friday, August 03, 2007

Bending to the wind

In EDM, Vladimir Socor writes about how PACE chairman Rene van der Linden is bending to the Kremlin wind against Estonia. He also voices concern about PACE's future:
Van der Linden’s statements have demonstrated strong bias, ahead of his visit next month to Estonia on Russian minority-related issues. Van der Linden completes his chairmanship at PACE next January. A Russian politician with close Kremlin ties, Mikhail Margelov, seems strongly positioned to take over PACE’s chairmanship through a backroom deal. A vote by PACE for Margelov would be a vote against PACE’s own credibility.

Chechen dictionaries

A list of Chechen-Russian dictionaries (via this resource [pdf]):

Starchevsky, A.V. Kavkazskii perevodchik, zaklyuchasyushchii v sebe 30 yazykov. St Petersburg, 1893.
Slovar' arabsko-kumyksko-avarsko-russko-chechenskii. Petrovsk, 1914 (Arabic script).
Matsiyev, A.G., Chechensko-russkii slovar'. Grozny, 1927.
Sheripov, Z.D. Kratkii russko-chechenskii slovar'. Grozny, 1928.
Matsiyev, A.G., Islamov, M.D. Terminologicheskii slovar' chechenskogo yazyka. Grozny, 1930.
Orfograficheskii slovar' chechenskogo yazyka. Dlya nachal'nykh i starshikh klassov 8-letnei shkoly. Grozny, 1960.
Matsiyev, A.G. Chechensko-ruskii slovar', Moscow, 1961.
Matsiyev, A.G., Dzhamalkhanov, Z.D. Orfograficheskii slovar'. Grozny, 1961
Chokayev, K. Kratkii russko-chechensko-ingushskii slovar'-spravochnik obshchestvenno-politicheskikh terminov. Grozny, 1961.
Ozdoyev, I.A., Matsiyev, A.G., Dzhamalkhanov, Z.D. Chechensko-ingushsko-russkii slovar. Grozny, 1962.
Karasayev, A.T., Matsiyev, A.G. Russko-chechenskii slovar'. Moscow, 1978.
Aliroyev, I.Yu., Chechensko-russkii slovar'. Moscow, 2005.
Aliroyev, I. Yu. Russko-chechenskii slovar'. Moscow, 2005.

Thursday, August 02, 2007

Fake Times

Via Russia Info-Centre: the curious episode of the fake Times.

Today, in the real Times, Giles Whittell "thunders" on the subject.

Wednesday, August 01, 2007

Classic Putinism

Andrei Piontkovsky, writing in Insight about why Litvinenko's suspected killer is a classic Putinist:
In Russia you get asked for your autograph if you have made it, if you are a proper hero: an ice-hockey player, a cosmonaut, a high-society prostitute, or an executioner.

The list of unspeakable crimes allegedly committed in the course of his brief life by the late Alexander Litvinenko grows longer with every day that passes, and is such that any right-minded Russian patriot could only thirst to see the traitor subjected to the supreme measure of national retribution. Only one such patriot, however, was granted the great honor of being allowed to perform this act, and that is why Lugovoy is being asked for his autograph.

This should not, of course, be taken to mean that the patriots so enthused by Lugovoy’s stupendous achievement concede the justice of the allegations of the British investigation. The social awareness of homo putinicus, meticulously burnished by the television propagandists, is such that pride in the achievement of this spook and indignation at the infamous campaign unleashed against him by the calumniators of Russia can jangle in harmony within his breast without the slightest suggestion of self-contradiction, and indeed bring out vivid new hues in each other.

We are evidently facing the mystery of that holistic quality of Russians’ synthetic thinking which has proved so unfathomable to those of other nations, so unyielding to every analytical scalpel, and about which our Slavophiles and Eurasians wrote at such length.