Thursday, December 1, 2011

Schubert and Mindfulness

I was listening again to Schubert's Quintet in C, which has always had a profound effect on me, and which may especially have one now given recent events.  His Death and the Maiden does so as well.  I respond in the same fashion to Beethoven's later string quartets.  There is something about them that supersedes our lives, perhaps even transcends them.  They take us out of the mundane, ever so briefly.  It is an effect which for me usually accompanies great chamber music of a sober, somber character.  Symphonies are too cluttered; they lack the simplicity required to evoke reflection.  Such works give one an appreciation of existence on something of a cosmic scale, albeit it is an appreciation one obtains not through reason but through something else which seems more significant than a mere feeling.

The works of Schubert I've mentioned were composed shortly before his very early death, which may have been due to syphilis, that bane of many artists of the 19th century (or perhaps it was the mercury with which it was treated).  That's what you get for being human though you have a divine talent; there is a kind of irony attached to such a death of such a person.  It must be admitted there is something about human nature which encourages dualism.

What I find impressive about Schubert, who I think represents the last gasp, as it were, of classical music before it succumbed like so much else to  Romanticism, is that he managed to excel at "lighter" music, particularly lieder, and can even sometimes be said to be sentimental, but at the same time was capable to composing music of real majesty.  This could not have been easy.  And yet it would seem to be natural enough for one who feels things with immediacy.  Someone who has the focus or mindfulness to accept and understand what is transpiring now may be best able to portray that moment.  Some moments we are happy, some we are not.

That focus is something I lack, except perhaps when called on to criticize or create an argument.  My mind is too chaotic until it is required not to be.  Perhaps this is what Dewey meant when he wrote that we only truly think when confronted with problems.  Otherwise there is no need to think, and necessity is of course the mother of invention.

Regrettably, we are at our best when we think.  This is sad as we do not think often enough.  Thinking is hard.  It is far easier not to think, but instead to drift along.

Is there some inconsistency here, though?  If we should be mindful of the present moment, does that not require that we give up thinking?  When we are mindful, focused on what is transpiring now, do we cease thinking?  There would seem to be no problem being addressed.

Perhaps it would be more accurate to say no "problem" as typically defined.  Because there is a problem of a kind that presents itself, and that we seek to solve, and that is the problem of living in a tranquil, rational manner.

Living in such a manner would appear to require a certain detachment from considerations which distract us from what is being experienced, i.e. from what we call "worries."  I wonder if this is a kind of detachment which can be obtained by artists more easily than others.  It wouldn't seem to necessitate a complete detachment; nirvana is not necessarily desirable for an artist, I would think, as for an artist there is something to be created and it would seem creation is an act which requires a certain involvement and even desire.

Complete detachment may be an attribute of the wholly self-sufficient, of a god or God.  This makes me wonder whether the wholly self-sufficient can be a God we would be inclined to worship.  Regardless, though, we are social animals, and there is necessarily a limit to which we can be detached.

Intelligent appreciation of the moment would seem to be a reasonable goal; it may even be achievable, with practice.  Now I only have to determine what it consists of, and hope I can do so shortly.

No comments:

Post a Comment