“conscripts to our age”


We are all “conscripts to our age”, as Auden wrote.

These days, we are all drafted as horrified spectators.

And too many of us as sharing & tweeting commentators. Once hailed as a conduit of democracy, free speech and empowerment, the social media now rather seem a murky pool bubbling with unchecked, biased information.Unreflective fleetingness rules. Organised chat bots manipulate news flows, individual fools unthinkingly look for their minute of fame. Propaganda & hate speech are amplified– endowing any new Radio Mille Collines with global poisonous reach.

How not to worry? The growing violence (ever closer ever more frequent) which hardens the souls, the growing resentment everywhere. Social cohesion frays, the centre cannot hold – or so it seems.

Each group (social, racial, political, national, …) distrusting the other, reproachful of the other . “Il y a trop de tensions, ça va péter” a Lebanese colleague said, on a matter of fact tone, after the UK political murder, after the Brexit. My French colleagues have fallen silent altogether, after Nice, just doggedly getting on with their lives.

In today’s context it even comes as a relief, when a shooting, however horrifying, turns out to be an act of a “mere” crazy lone shooter. I so felt for the Germans, with their lockdown of München, with their public life paralyzed by an avalanche of (quite understandable) fear-fuelling speculations on the social media.
And each time I checked upon the FAZ website for the latest update, a governmental ad popped up, with such poignant contrast: a photo of a young eager dark-skinned apprentice saying “my German is not yet perfect”, with behind him an older fair-haired man exclaiming admiringly “ but his motivation is !” and the tagline running “Integration which helps all - Deutschland kann das”. Germany can do it.




"The extraordinary frailty and unreliability of strictly human affairs."




"Since we always act into a web of relationships, the consequences of each deed are boundless, every action touches off not only a reaction but a chain reaction, every process is the cause of unpredictable new processes.

In acting, […], it is indeed true that we can really never know what we are doing.

And […] though we don’t know what we are doing when we are acting, we have no possibility ever to undo what we have done."(1)









(1) Hannah Arendt, The Vita Activa   

fragments of re-enchantment (2)





How  many dis-enchantments and re-enchantments are possible, one wonders, reading longingly about the Florentine colony of high strung expat-art lovers around 1900. (1)

How they re-enacted an Arcadia of culture & aestheticism. They wanted to escape from the humdrum demands of modern utilitarianism, but were funded by it - either subsidised by wealthy parents or else advising as 'expert connoisseurs' wealthy patrons who had made their fortune in industry and banking. 
But that does not disqualify their longing. That does not lessen the sincerity of their endeavours. 

      
 
"Romanticism [...] represents one-half of the dialectical nature of modernity, a process of disenchantment and re-enchantment, where cultural forms were reinvented and reinfused with displaced spiritual values."

 "Re-enchantment as cultural production has been defined as the transposition of transcendent meaning onto repurposed forms in the face of the loss of transcendent meaning elsewhere."





“aestheticism’s philosophical potential as Epicurean materialism that was yet possessed of a transcendent dimension. [...] To aestheticism’s search for sensation is [...] added the desire for permanence in the face of change.  ” 
 
to create – to live, perhaps, a little beyond the allotted span, in some fragment even, of perfect expression – was the form his longing took, for something to hold by and rest on, amid the “perpetual flux”  "
(Pater, "Marius the Epicurean")

"The cultivation of memory to remedy “the sinking of things into the past”"




"The decision to abandon philosophical inquiry and become an expert connoisseur [engaging with the marketplace] is dramatized as a fall from grace:

 “the magical world [...]. I dwelt there for my first thirty years. It was hard to abandon it, to be driven out of Paradise even as our first parents were. […]. Like them, I looked  back often and with what homesickness and heartsickness! But there is no return.”"
 (Bernard Berenson, “Sketch for a Self-portrait”) 










 "Le Paradis Florentin : [...] Ile bénie pour les hommes et les femmes cultivés mais las"




 
(1)  All extracts from “Palaces Eternal and Serene”, by Robert Colby  in “Bernard Berenson – formation and heritage” except for the "Paradis Florentin" Warburg quote, cited by M-A Lescourret in Aby Warburg, "La Tentation du Regard" from Roeck's "Florence 1900. The Quest for Arcadia"

fragments of re-enchantment (1)




Lo and behold, music made visible : the sounds of trumpets, of psalteries & harps, of timbrels & choirs, of strings & organs, of the high sounding cymbals of joy


 (Luca della Robbia, singing gallery - 1432) 

Laudate eum in sono tubae; laudate eum in psalterio et cithara.
Laudate eum in tympano et choro; laudate eum in chordis et organo.
Laudate eum in cymbalis benesonantibus; laudate eum in cymbalis jubilationis.







Rejoicing for reasons difficult to fathom now, but a melancholy sticky tune nonetheless.  


(Florence, Opera del Duomo Museum - Sala delle Cantorie)  
Music played here is  Lassus, 1573 -  not exactly matched with pictured score