Archive for the ‘AtoZ’ Category

Mahler, Gustav

November 21, 2007

Mahler is an acquired taste. Start with the 5th symphony. If that’s too long for you, just listen to the scherzo. It’s still long, but worth every second.

Mahler might not strike you as modernist at all. After all, wasn’t he just a very late Romantic? And wasn’t everything that followed modernist? Breaking the tradition Mahler was a part of?

There is truth in this, although Mahler pushed the tradition further, influencing what became known as the Second Viennese School. But Mahler’s relation to tradition, the tradition he was a masterful conductor of, was already a broken one. Being the director of the Vienna Court Opera, nobody could have been more inside the tradition than Mahler. But Mahler, as always, was also an outsider, an ironic commentator on this very tradition. Mahler didn’t just work within the tradition, he tweaked it and developed it further.

This is his true contribution: work within a genre, a style, fully aware of the past greatness achieved within it. Dare to. Accept the tradition with its standards and measures against which your work will be judged. There is a sense in which this takes more courage than simply breaking with all of it.


October 23, 2007

Sport as an activity of the masses is not just a modern phenomenon, it’s a phenomenon of modernism. The idea that exercise can produce a new kind of man, can act as a balance to our everyday activities, can change who we are, that’s all very modernist. It is driven by the idea that it is possible to reinvent man, it is possible because of the rediscovery of the body after it had been hostage to Christianity for centuries. Unsurprisingly, all the ideology-driven movements of the 20th century promoted exercise and used sport as a recruitment tool. The Olympics, reinvented at the dawn of modernity, are only the most prominent example.


October 15, 2007

Economics, in the first half of the 20th century, was clearly a developing discipline. At the turn of the century, only a handful of countries were seriously industrializing, with Britain being the farthest along. How serious a problem economic naiveté can be, only became clear in the 1920ies. Even before the infamous crash in ’29, politics seemed insufficiently prepared to handle the new economic dynamics of industrialized nations.

Take war reparations, for example. Whether or not reparations in general are a good idea is debatable. It is widely acknowledged, however, that the reparation policies after WW I were disastrous. Set at 269 billion gold marks (roughly: $23 billion then, $393.6 billion these days) in 1921, they fueled hyper-inflation in the Weimar Republic, despite being lowered in subsequent negotiations. Notice the naiveté in requiring an already damaged economy to pay outrageous sums of money, but notice also the naive response of the Weimar politicians: just print more money.

One of the few good outcomes of the reparation policies was the LZ-126 (later: USS-Los Angeles) – a zeppelin built as part of the German reparations to the US. Hugo Eckener, chairman of Luftschiffbau Zeppelin, got the German government to pay for the airship, and this contract saved the zeppelins. Military zeppelins were not allowed in post-war Germany, and there was certainly no money for civil airships. You maybe don’t need to be a rocket scientist to figure out such a deal (or fly a zeppelin across the Atlantic, for that matter), but it should be noted that Hugo Eckener had a PhD. In philosophy.

Wittgenstein, Ludwig

October 1, 2007

Wittgenstein was a proto-blogger. While he initially had something like a theme and a strong attempt to order his thoughts logically (whatever that actually meant), his later writings seem to have gone down the road of all blogging: a mixture of personal reflection and philosophy, in no particular order, increasingly esoteric. Not to mention the habit to comment on one’s own posts, even in the absence of a proper comment function.

Propaganda (3) – Why not?

September 29, 2007

So, now suppose that we have convinced ourselves that there is a real difference between propaganda and argument along the lines outlined in propaganda (2). The question now becomes: is there any reason to refrain from using anything that would fall into the category of propaganda? For clarity, let’s take a case where what you are trying to get your audience to do is not in itself evil. You don’t try to get them to kill somebody, but to put up solar panels, for example.

Propaganda can certainly be effective in influencing your audience, so it does not seem imprudent to use it. If you are a Kantian, you can reject it on moral grounds, because you are presumably not sufficiently respecting a person’s humanity when you are trying to manipulate them. But what about the non-Kantians? Is there a good reason not to use propaganda for them?

Propaganda (2) – Manipulation and Reasoning

September 27, 2007

Can there be a difference between manipulating and reasoning? Both aim at changing the opinions or actions of the audience. Is one difference that manipulation can happen through various means, such as images and music, whereas reasoning can only happen through words, written or spoken? But can words not also be used to manipulate? So what is the difference between a manipulative speech and an argument? Don’t try truth as a criterion – an argument might contain false premises, a speech may contain only truths and nevertheless be manipulative (think about the use politicians make of statistics, or the famous strict either – or distinctions that seem to leave you with no alternative but to agree with the speaker). If anything, the difference might be in the attitude taken by the speaker.  Take two speakers, S1 and S2, both convinced that what they preach is right.  S1 chooses to include only elements in her speech that she herself has been convinced by, S2 decides to include also elements she does not herself find convincing, but assumes to be convincing to others. The suggestion would be, then, that S1 reasons, while S2 manipulates. Will that do?