28 June, 2006

Three short extracts

I was always on good terms with my father and went along with his socialism. I am told that this is an abnormal relationship psychologically, making one uncombative and lacking in self-confidence. I cannot say that it had any such effect in my case. On the contrary it made me more confident to have a secure family background. It is a curious thing to be a hereditary dissenter. On the one hand, you reject established views - religious in earlier times, political and social in our own. On the other, you have no inner conflict in doing so. Indeed you would have a conflict only if you accepted them. On a committee I usually put forward subversive ideas and at the same time insist that the existing rules must be rigorously observed until they are changed.

AJP Taylor, from Accident prone, or what happened next, in From Napoleon to the second International: essays on nineteenth-century Europe.

When writers close themselves off to the documents of scholarship, and rely only on seeing or asking, they become conduits and sieves rather than thinkers. When, on the other hand, you study the great works of predecessors engaged in the same struggle, you enter a dialogue with human history and the rich variety of our intellectual traditions. You insert yourself, and your own organizing powers, into this history - and you become and active agent, not merely a "reporter." Then, and only then, can you become an original contributor, even a discoverer, and not only a mouthpiece.

Stephen Jay Gould, from the preface to Leonardo's mountain of clams and the Diet of Worms.

How is it possible that something that can teach you so much about the world, about nature and the universe, and, for more religious people, about God - that something that is so clearly able to teach you so many things can serve as a means of escape from precisely those things? And this is a fascinating thought, for me, about the effect of music. Whenever we talk about music, we talk about how we are affected by it, not about it itself. In this respect, it is like God. We can't talk about God, or whatever you want to call it, but we can only talk about our reaction to a thing - some people know God exists and others refuse to admit God exists - but we cannot speak about it. We can only seak about our reaction to it. In the same way, I don't think you can speak about music. You can only speak about a subjective reaction to it.

Daniel Barenboim in Parallels and paradoxes:explorations in music and society.

1 comment:

problemshelved said...

AJP Taylor's 'essays in 19th century Europe' was by far the best non-fiction book I read last year; if you're just starting it you're in for a treat.