Month: August 2007


To my mind, the most serious objection that can be raised to such a doctrine as Marxism is this: that it can maintain itself only in the struggle for its own supremacy; as soon as it is supreme, it destroys itself and makes way for nothing better than coarse hedonism. That is why many of the young people whom you see among you today, professing to be Communists, would, I am sure, go over to the Opposition at once if Communism were to win the day.

Gabriel Marcel (1930)

Il Padre

This year sees the 20th Mondomusica international exhibition of handcrafted musical instruments, especially violins, in Cremona, Italy. This year the fair will be held on October 5-7.

The Triennale will launch its third exhibition devoted to the Amati family. Carlo Chiesa writes in the Strad that Andrea Amati was an important violin maker,

Maybe the most important in the history of violin-making… Amati was widely believed to have invented the violin, but this is inexact: it is a complex instrument, developed progressively over a long period of time by several artisans. However, a few violin makers made exceptional contributions to defining its general look,shape and character. Amati was one of these, and posterity has decreed that ‘his’ violin, with the proportions, the roundedness and the sound properties that he selected, should become ‘the’ violin.


Consider non-representative musical expression. It is a sphere where the thing stated cannot be distinguished from the manner of stating it. In this sense and in this sense only, music has, strictly speaking, no meaning, but perhaps just because it is meaning. Explore this.

The fact is that we introduce a relation into the heart of the music, a relation between the content expressed (?) and the expression, which is of the same type as that which joins the expression to the execution. But this is an illegitimate transference. From this point of view the idea of objective music takes on a meaning, but it is a negative meaning.

But is the term ‘expression* really one that can still be used with regard to music? Could there really still be expression when we can no longer speak of content expressed a content distinct from the expression itself? I think the notion of essence, anyhow so difficult to define, might be introduced here. There is an essence of Schubert, of the later Beethoven, of the later Fauré, etc. The expression would then be the opening-up of the essence to itself. I believe this is the idea to be explored. Combine the idea of essence with the idea of universe. The essence regarded as the highest point of a certain universe. It is almost impossible here to make abstraction from the metaphor of ‘the summit’, and this is the metaphor whose roots could usefully be laid bare. The idea of’the summit* could perhaps be replaced by that of ‘the centre. In both cases there is a periphery, or to put it more accurately, precincts (zones of encroachment).

Gabriel Marcel, A Metaphysical Diary (1928-1933), tr. Katharine Farrer (1949)

Executioner’s Sacrament

The Ostrobothnian publishing firm Skrivor has released Gösta Ågren’s latest collection of essays. It’s hard to give the savour of the title – von Bödelns nattvard – in English. Doubling as the name of the final essay in the volume it sets the general tone. ‘von Bödeln’ – a childhood misreading or mishearing of the name of the Swedish General von Döbeln – suggests the presence of a nightmarish executioner-figure who comes to represent all the evil of the world. Not that the subjects of the essays are particularly morbid in themselves – they range from discussions of the Old Testament and the Greek tragedies to an exploration of aspects of the life of William Shakespeare, an analysis of the genesis and history of Nordic runes, a tour of the Spanish Inquisition, and a study of Aztec religion. While there is a general preoccupation with world history, the book never loses its Finnish and Finland-Swedish cultural focus, the voice of one Finland-Swedish author in particular – Hans Ruin – providing almost what amounts to a running commentary on the rest of the meditative ‘action’. Ruin, who lived in Germany during the 1930s and witnessed the rise of Nazism, is cast in the role of the author’s alter ego. In quotation he presents apprehensions about the future of the world and humanity similar to those that are current among many observers today. Ågren sees the greatest danger now, as then, in what he perceives as a collective desire for certainty and order amidst apparent chaos. Yet while the essays tend towards the rejection of Plan as solution, they are nonetheless arranged within a cosmological framework that can only be called religious. This apparent contradiction gives the book a circular feel, not unlike the effect of Ågren’s poetry, with its contiguity of the autobiographical and the universal, its consciousness of ritual, and its awareness of the cycles of individual life and human history as being essentially interrelated.


I was thinking, too, that the credibility of miracles is positively demonstrated by such facts as the conversion of Claudel or Maritain. That these events can be believed in, is absolutely undeniable. Now nobody can think that these men believed without adequate facts to go upon. So taking their belief as a base, we must ask on what conditions it is possible, we must rise from the fact to the conditions on which it depends. This is the best and only way for genuine religious reflection to take.

Deep down beneath the critical attitude to the Gospel stories, is the implicit assertion ‘It oughtn’t to have happened like that.’ In other words, we inwardly sketch the idea with really paralysing presumption and folly of what revelation ought to have been like. And I have a very strong suspicion that in this criticism there is always the idea ‘this can’t be true,’ so that of course one must be able to pick holes, find contradictions, etc. It seems to me that this laying down of law by the individual consciousness ought to be rejected in principle. The Gospel words, in fact: ‘become as little children.’ Glorious words, but quite unintelligible to anyone who believes that there is an intrinsic value in maturity.

Gabriel Marcel, A Metaphysical Diary (1928-1933), tr. Katharine Farrer (1949)

Space and Time

An idea came to me in the Luxembourg, and I will put it down at once. At bottom, space and time are in a way the forms of temptation. Pride and false humility combine in the act of recognising our insignificance when compared with the infinity of space and time, for we are then claiming to put ourselves in imagination on the same plane as this pair of infinites, realised as objects of knowledge. Our heads are turned by such an approximation to God. Return to the here and now, which recover an unparalleled dignity and worth. This for later examination. Too tired tonight to write any more.

Gabriel Marcel, A Metaphysical Diary (1928-1933), tr. Katharine Farrer (1949)

A Theory of Evil

It is a serious error, if I am not mistaken, to treat time as a mode of apprehension. For one is then forced to consider it also as the order according to which the subject apprehends himself, and he can only do this by breaking away from himself, as it were, and mentally severing the fundamental engagement which makes him what he is. (I take the word ‘engagement’ here to represent both ‘involvement’ and ‘committal’.)

This is the point of what I was trying to say yesterday afternoon,when I reflected that time is the very form of experimental activity. And from this point of view, to take up once more the metaphor of the absolute improvisation (a metaphor which seems to me inexhaustible) one finds oneself thinking like this. To transcend time is not to raise ourselves, as we can do at any moment, to the actually empty idea of a totum simul empty because it remains outside us and thereby becomes in some way devitalised. By no means. It is rather to participate more and more actively in the creative intention that quickens the whole: in other words, to raise ourselves to levels from which the succession seems less and less given, levels from which a ‘cinematographic’ representation of events looks more and more inadequate, and ceases in the long run to be even possible.

I think this is of the utmost importance. There, and perhaps only there, is the way open from creative evolution to a religious philosophy,but this way can only be taken through a concrete dialectic of participation.

I believe also, though I cannot yet establish it, that we have here the basis for a Theory of Evil, which would maintain its reality without denying its contingency.

Gabriel Marcel, A Metaphysical Diary (1928-1933), tr. Katharine Farrer (1949)