Thursday, 20 July 2017

WHAT'S THAT YOU SAID ?


If you manage to read this, please read it with a smile. (By the way, Celia thinks I'm deaf and should wear a hearing aid at all times)

I heard today that a loss of hearing is a possible symptom of the approach of dementia. At least that is what I thought I heard. Not hearing, or rather the loss of the ability to hear, can lead gradually to a shrinking of the brain and hence the onset of Alzheimer’s. I have recently been aware that my hearing is not as good as it once was. This is in part due to treatment I received a couple of years ago, which involved chemotherapy and radiotherapy. The successful treatment of the disease has left me with a degree of tinnitus and a diminution of hearing, particularly in the right ear. I do not believe it is as bad as all that; however, it has left me wondering at times, (generally in crowded situations, such as restaurants, pubs and other such places) what people are saying. I am not deaf and I believe I do understand what is being said so long as the speech I am listening to is clear and distinct and unencumbered from extraneous background or surrounding noise. Thus many people round a dinner table, all speaking at more of less the same time, makes it sometimes difficult for me to understand what is being said, even if spoken directly at me. The distance between the speaker and myself is also a factor. The resulting incomprehension can make one appear distant and uninterested, perhaps even seem a bit slow and dim. Thus public places can be difficult to negotiate. This condition coupled with my stubborn denial of it, can make one seem brusque or gruff as well as slow and dim. Nonetheless, I believe my critical faculties are still intact, if sometimes misguided, or simply prejudicial and irrational.

I have been made more particularly aware of this condition because of recent visits to the theatre and the cinema. Both these are public places, with lots of people speaking at the same time. The noise level tends to increase with the numbers of people talking. Volume gets louder as people seek to be heard above the general increase in din. As soon as the show starts the noise subsides and one is left with oneself in the dark and the spectacle on stage or screen. At the cinema, what with state of the art sound systems, there is no difficulty hearing what speech there is to hear. Indeed it is sometimes too loud. One adjusts to the sound levels, but the sound is sufficiently loud to drown out the audience coughs and eating of popcorn and sweets and the drinking of thirst quenching soda pops. The theatre is another story entirely.

Last Thursday I went to see a new play at the Southwark Playhouse. It is not a huge space and the seating was arranged in tiers facing the performance area. It was very neat and tidy allowing everyone a good view or sight line, and hence unencumbered hearing. I was however seated on the side at the back and behind me was the continuous drone of the air conditioner. This did not make for easy hearing, and on occasion when actors were speaking with their backs towards my position in the audience, unless they were very clear and distinct, I could not make out what they were saying. After the interval a friend graciously changed seats with me and I was in a more central position to the performance area. The noise from the air conditioning was reduced as well. What is most disconcerting in these situations is that when the fully hearing audience reacts with joint laughter or shock, one feels left out. One has missed the joke or the calamity and one feels less involved. This can detract from one’s enjoyment of the play and makes one critical of certain aspects of the piece out of ignorance and misunderstanding, just from a lack of comprehension. Dessert, is, in my view, most definitely worth hearing and seeing. I am a fan of the Cotton oeuvres.

Lack of comprehension on the other hand, is not always the fault of the physical aspects of the venue. On Monday evening we went to the Hamlet at the Harold Pinter Theatre. It is a new and interesting production. I was not entirely overwhelmed and some directorial decisions were, in my view, misguided and simply wrong. The acting was on the whole wonderful, however, there were moments when certain characters gabbled. I am not alone in thinking this. I did read a review in which the reviewer commented on some dialogue being indistinct. Indeed the only actors in the play who were completely distinct and audible at all times were the Player King & Ghost (David Rintoul) and the Player Queen (Mary Cruickshank). I am afraid some of the acting was more appropriate to the screen than the theatre. The production did involve some screen performances which was of course clear and distinct because of the very modern sound system.

Some of the joint audience reaction made me realize that I did miss out on some dialogue because of hearing loss, but not all of my difficulties were down to that alone. I believe I know the play reasonably well and those monologues of note included, on occasions, some prattle or rant. It was gabble. Hamlet’s directions to the players, “Speak the speech, I pray you, as I pronounced it to you, trippingly on the tongue: but if you mouth it, as many of your players do, I had as lief the town-crier spoke my lines” was indeed very well delivered, but I wish the actors, including Hamlet himself, had taken up his admonitions throughout.

What it comes down to, if you come over for supper, please be patient with the hearing impaired cook.

Friday, 24 February 2017

APPROACHING LAWFUL AUTHORITY

We are approaching the end of the philosophical interlude in Paris. The preoccupation has been, inter alia, with Leibniz, his necessary truths, contingent truths, monadology and principles of sufficient reason without which nothing happens. It - the preoccupation - has also been with Aurelius Augustinus and Tommaso d’Aquino, an Algerian and a Sicilian.
Aquinas
Augustus lived to the age of 75 in the year 430 and his work The City of God, in which he explains his justification for war, was initially published in 426, four years before he died. As to Aquinas, he died age 49 in 1274, some 844 years after Augustus. Aquinas worked on his opus Summa Theologica over a period of 9 years until his death. Aquinas takes up Augustine’s just war theory and improves on the justification of war including ideas of the just means of conducting war. Indeed Aquinas appeals to the authority of Augustine to underpin his arguments. Aquinas does not refer to Augustine as a saint as he was not canonised until 1298, but City of God, Contra Faustum Manichaeum (Reply to Faustus the Manichaeum) published in 400 and other writings were very much part of the authority of the church. Aquinas was himself canonised 25 years after Augustine in 1323.
Augustine
I find that this course, Philosophie du Droit – La guerre juste, has more to do with history of the Church than Philosophy; néanmoins, it is of some interest. There are two passages in particular from the Contra Faustum (Book 22: paragraphs 74 and 75) of note:

“…The real evils in war are love of violence, revengeful cruelty, fierce and implacable enmity, wild resistance, and the lust of power, and such like; and it is generally to punish these things, when force is required to inflict the punishment, that, in obedience to God or some lawful authority, good men undertake wars, when they find themselves in such a position as regards the conduct of human affairs, that right conduct requires them to act, or to make others act in this way…”

“A great deal depends on the causes for which men undertake wars, and on the authority they have for doing so; for the natural order which seeks the peace of mankind, ordains that the monarch should have the power of undertaking war if he thinks it advisable, and that the soldiers should perform their military duties in behalf of the peace and safety of the community. When war is undertaken in obedience to God, who would rebuke, or humble, or crush the pride of man, it must be allowed to be a righteous war; for even the wars which arise from human passion cannot harm the eternal well-being of God, nor even hurt His saints;…”

Augustine clearly allows that there is a lawful authority other than God. The authority men have to preserve the natural order of things, the peace of mankind. Unfortunately he claims that the natural order ordains a monarch exercising power. Nevertheless he suggests that God might not necessarily have anything to do with it and it is not just a question of free will, but a lawful authority on which a great deal depends.

There have been other written justifications on the matter of just wars, in particular from the Mahabharata some 800 years before Augustine and in Cicero’s De Officiis written around the time of Caesar’s assassination, but nothing so influential in the western world as Augustine. His just war theory has been 'prayed in aid' and wrung out for the justification of our recent turmoils notably by the likes of Bush, Blair and others. It seems odd then that this son of North Africa, born in what is now an Algerian Souk (God knows what it as like in 354) would have a great deal of difficulty getting a visa to enter into the United Kingdom or States of America. He might even have been a boat refugee seeking asylum, picked up by the Italian Navy. I wonder how he would approach lawful authority now. 


Tuesday, 14 February 2017

MON CHER AMI…..A BIENTÔT

The Correspondent, I have noticed, seems to have disappeared from the social scene. On a recent visit to certain Musées in Paris, I have noted on display various letters or written comments by persons concerned in the exhibitions. These have been on the whole 18th, 19th and early 20th century letters sent by individuals whose correspondence has been saved over the years. People saved letters. I wonder how many do that now. The handwriting of some can be difficult to decipher, but with care and diligence one can make out the gist. It is really just a matter of time, which is not always easy when there are a number of people trying to look at the same exhibit. Nonetheless, little things spring out revealing nice little bits of the life behind the letter.
Eugene Delacroix
Celia and I recently visited the Eugene Delacroix museum in St. Germain, just off the Rue Jacob. Eugene was a great friend of George Sand. In one letter to him from her she states “ je suis interrompue par Chopin qui” It was difficult to make out just what Chopin was after with his interruption, whilst she was writing to Eugene, but just that little phrase conjures up a domestic picture of Ms Sands sitting in a room, along with Chopin (possibly tinkering on the piano) writing to her friend and filling him in with current goings on. It is also interesting to note that she does not say Frédéric, Fred or even Freddie, but Chopin. But then, on reflection, that is a very French thing to do. I can recall at school that we called each other by our surnames, and hardly ever used first names, even among close friends. Nonetheless, it is perhaps time to bring back the letter, not necessarily handwritten but certainly posted. Our friend Emma Piper still sends letters, although she has also taken to emails, but letters do still appear. This is a nice thing.  
Atelier of Eugene Delacroix

I am interrupted, at this very moment, 12:32 PM, Paris, Tuesday 14th February, by a text message from Specsavers telling me that an eye test is due and that I can book an appointment on line. The text message has come to overtake letter writing as a means of correspondence. It is certainly quicker and clearly can be generated automatically by commercial enterprise and technology, but it is not the same as a letter. My parents used to go on at me, as probably yours did, to write, send a letter a post card or even a phone call, just so they knew I was alive. I should have paid more attention. But the age of IT has changed all that. What did we do before the mobile phone? How did we manage to live? Questions we have all pondered on from time to time. By all, I refer to people born well before the advent of the portable telephone, who were capable of interacting with others, and to whom technology came as a bit of a surprise, but who embraced it with vigour nonetheless. Dick Tracy's two-way wristwatch radio is no longer a comic book fiction.
Sculpture by Stéphane Thidet – Une Histoire Vraie
2016 –Néon, structure métallique in the Garden of 
Atelier Delacroix
On the whole though, people who saved letters were people whose correspondence was more of an exchange of ideas. Leibniz (who features in my current course of study) was a prolific letter writer. Indeed he wrote a prodigious amount of stuff, mostly in correspondence with just about anybody he thought might be interested in what he had to say. Professor John M. DePoe, at Marywood University claims that it could take 100 years to go through Leibniz’s correspondence in trying to understand it. He gives an interesting lecture on Leibniz on YouTube.  Indeed, there are a number of lectures and thoughts on the subject of Leibniz and many others on YouTube uploaded by a number of academicians. Perhaps this is a way of animating a correspondence; but that is not the same as a personal exchange created by a series of letters; letters developing a proposition about who and why we are, and elaborating upon it with a multiplicity of possibilities and speculations. Not necessarily asserting that a proposition is the only correct way of looking at the matter, but at least putting forward a suggestion.  This is now usually done in the form of a paper presented at some academic gathering, by learned colleagues to learned colleagues. My suggestion would be to bring back the notion of an exchange of letters between just people, and to do it as Leibniz did, by simply writing to someone and asking for a view. I am sure there are people who do that now and that my suggestion is nothing new. Donc, néanmoins I hope to give it a try. Please be prepared to respond. NB: Note the piece of performance writing in Delacroix's garden, there's a real story.

Friday, 3 February 2017

TO PROMOTE THE PUBLIC GOOD

Paris 3rd February 2017 12:30 PM – I have been blissfully unaware of the goings on at the Louvre, a shooting. I went out this morning, having been informed that the ink cartridges that I had ordered were now in the store, only to find that my intended bus had been diverted and that most services were temporarily disrupted. The sun was out, the sky was blue, the air was nippy but pleasant and crisp. Other people at the bus stop were equally perturbed. The inciting incident for this disturbance was taking place some 900 meters down the Avenue de l’Opéra. So far as I could tell all those about me, as well as myself, were blissfully unaware of the goings on, and slightly pissed off at the disruption in transport. But it was a lovely day and I accomplished my mission taking another bus part way (I am becoming familiar with various alternative routes) and back, including some healthy walking.  Nothing seemed out of the ordinary. The first I knew of the incident was a phone call from Irene Cotton whilst I was in the local supermarket getting milk and linguini on the way back to the flat. Getting back to 12 Rue Saint-Hyacinthe, some 500 meters from the incident, I got a text from Ishbel Brown requesting information and an email from Duncan MacAskill. I had spoken to Celia earlier, so she knew all was OK. ‘Mais appart ça, Madame la Marquise, tout va très bien, tout va très bien.’ 

Saint Augustine
As to Violence et Droit : Le problème du droit de la guerre it is quite a class. Our lecturer, a young chap by the name of Lyess Bouderbala, is an interesting man. So much of Just War Theory is bound up in the Catholic Church, the term having been first proposed by Saint Augustine in his work The City of God published in 426. It is essentially a way of getting around the commandment “Thou shalt not kill”, which to most Catholics is the 5th commandment , and the 6th according to Jews, Orthodox Christians and Reform Christians. Young Lyess, in his historical build up to the theory of a just war, began with Jesus advising turning the other cheek, the crucifixion and the early submissive martyred Christians. In the middle of his exposé he gave a rather graphic and clinical account of what happens to the body of a person crucified. It amounts to a long, slow and painful suffocation. Why we needed to know this I am unsure, but it was part of his overall performance, adding to the flow. He’s clearly done the research, so why not.
Thomas Aquinas

Briefly, as the Roman Empire turned from multi theism to Christianity, the church moved from submissive martyr to top dog. It liked being there, controlling order rather than being ordered. They got used to it and over time got a bit lazy and decadent, as you do. With the sacking of Rome by the barbarians in 410, pagan non-believers, something had to be done to safeguard the future of what was left of the State Authority, in effect, Church Authority. This would require some resistance and show of force, but a show of force supported by God. Which meant getting around his commandment and justifying killing of the innocents or perhaps more politically correct, the spiritually challenged. And so Augustine comes up with his theory of a just war, taken up and reinforced later by Saint Thomas Aquinas and still later by the Council of Trent. The Church is more than happy to support killing for God under the authority of the State. But it is from those very philosophical arguments that nations are able to justify the taking up of arms against aggression, but more importantly creating an international legal framework with which to deal with what has become criminal aggression, by individuals, extremist groups and overly aggressive nation states. There is still much reading and learning to do.

In the Catechism of the Council Of Trent it states, inter alia, with regard to the Fifth Commandment – Thou Shalt Not Kill – “Utility and Necessity of Explaining the Commandment – It is lawful to feed on beasts and to slay animals, `it is lawful to sentence Men to death, and to slay them, in Judgment: another kind of slaying is also permitted, which applies to those civil magistrates, to whom is given the power of life and death, by the legal and judicial use of which they punish the guilty, and protect the innocent. Far from involving the crime of murder, the just exercise of this power is an act of paramount obedience to this divine law, which prohibit murder. For since the end of this commandment is the preservation and security of human life, to the attainment of this end the punishment inflicted by the civil magistrates, who are the legitimate avengers of crime, naturally tend, giving security to human life by repressing audacity and outrage with punishments.”

Is that not a wonderful way of expressing things – giving security to human life by repressing audacity – or saving life by killing.

In like manner, neither do they sin, who, actuated not by motive of cupidity or cruelty, but by the sole desire of promoting the public good, take away the life of the enemy, in a just war.

To promote the public good, how’s that for mitigation. Something like this went on today, this morning, in Paris. I was blissfully unaware.

I am not sure if this is healthy reading.


Satellite photo shows distance from flat to Carousel du Louvre