2015. január 12., hétfő

Late Night Tea With Bartok


The day-to-day events of life should not overwrite the normal course of our days. The shocking attack on the satirical magazine, Charlie Hebdo, is such a disruption of 'normal' history. As a reaction to the unacceptable killing of the members of the editorial board, there were millions on the streets of France and Europe. As an expression of the shock we all felt.

Killing is unacceptable. This form of terror is rightly refused and protested with full force.

Yet, my feelings are mixed. This is equally shocking to see the arrogance of the French 'Gloire'. Why do I feel that the 'old reactions' of politics can no longer be trusted? I do not know the answer. Only a sketchy thought is outlining itself. What one can feel is the lack of a historical distance. We simply lack distance from the situation, that sufficient distance, which would provide us with genuine answers as to what has happened.

It is very difficult indeed to trust a political response which is unable to make a fundamental distinction. Namely, that the terrorist attack was a response not to a religious provocation, as the killers claimed, but to an erroneous foreign policy of the EU. The hubris of the EU (hubris in the sense of not being analytical of the complexity of situations and processes) resulted in a mess in the Middle-East. This warfare was not based on the collective decision of the citizens of the EU. The allies simply have been talking down to these regions from the 'superego of Western democracy'. We can not see that this terrorist attack is not an attack on Western values, the 'European man' or on the 'freedom of speech'. This was a form of military retaliation, a response to the war which our countries and with the underlying national-economical interests are fighting; with their sophisticated weapons and diplomatic machineries. Now the enemy hit back well beyond the front-lines.

Personally, I would be grateful, if religion would be left out from the public discourse in interpreting these tragic events. Europe's colonising attitude has backfired. How do we think that bombing Islamist extremists, destabilising the peace of distant regions, fragile status quos (conceived in blood and tyrannies) is something 'distant' for ever? Why is there such hubris in the power of our weapons and just cause?

What made me put these thoughts down in writing is an uncanny thought. Why is it that our Western political culture is incapable of the humility, at least now, when we are mourning the victims and denouncing the bastard act of terrorism, to make an apology, however small. Yes, to start with an apology, whatever we say afterwards, for offending religious sentiments and feelings. For while through the Muhammad cartoons, and their angry re-publication we provoke an extremist minority, nevertheless, we do hurt the religious sentiments of a balanced Muslim majority? Is it too difficult to see? Until Europe cannot start his denouncement of the barbaric attack with this apology, the old colonising attitude, the superiority of the 'white Gloire' remains. But I should really conclude now. I have no answers. I feel emptiness and anger. As if being caught up in the whirlwind of hubris: In the furnaces of karma, bad karma, which is our death mask on our truer face and self.


Bartók's music is a consolation. These nights, his Concerto for Orchestra and Third Piano Concerto are my guides. In the very last 1941 issue of the Hungarian literary magazine, Nyugat, I am just reading an appreciation of the 60 year old Bartok's musical achievement. The author gave an overview of the musical development of the Hungarian composer (who will die four years later in exile in the United States). Bence Szabolcsi, in the closing words of his essay, gives a profound understanding of this musical evolution. Bartok's unfolding oeuvre is a parallel ethical development. He handed over his heritage as a resource, 'perhaps still in time, in order to save Europe's truer soul. Bartok represents the nobler and immortal part of our perishing world, in that wider, renewed world, which shall be towering over the wreckages of the old one.' (Nyugat, 1941. 4.)

This music gives me the missing distance from these days. All of us, ordinary producers of the world's bad karma and its professional creators, our politicians who have lost the sense of history (the ability to think with the sense of historical distance), can learn from the vast spaces which this music reveals. Bartok, it is said, synthesised all the available musical knowledge of his age. He did even something more: he transcended this knowledge and created this heritage anew as a fresh message; a new voice indeed. It is a very rare moment within a cultural canon. In this space, in which life is imperishable, always safeguarded by a mysterious presence, we can relearn our presence. For me, this night, this is the message of the Third Piano Concerto, written on his deathbed, as a present for his wife's birthday. The distance from our present exists. This saving distance of love exists, it is within reach. Within a distance which we can equally miss. Which proves to be stronger in us: karma or grace?


12.01.2015, Bialystok, Poland.