One of the most important and distinctive features of Spinoza’s philosophy is that it is practical through and through. His ideas are never merely intellectual constructions, but lead directly to a certain way of life. This is evidenced by the fact that his greatest work, which combines metaphysics, theology, epistemology, and human psychology, is called Ethics. In this book, Spinoza argues that the way to “blessedness” or “salvation” for each person involves an expansion of the mind towards an intuitive understanding of God, of the whole of nature and its laws. In other words, philosophy for Spinoza is like a spiritual practice, whose goal is happiness and liberation. (more…)
Jordi Savall: I find your situation especially interesting. Early on, you were composing within various traditions of the avant-garde, according to those systems. Then suddenly you decide it’s time to ask questions. You went through something like a renaissance as a composer… Since then, have you used the knowledge that you had acquired during your earlier period, or did you say: “I will never again do what I’ve already done”? Are your early works completely separate from those you’ve written since?
Arvo Pärt: Of course. We learn from the mistakes we’ve made. But unfortunately, it’s not possible to change everything we would like to change within ourselves. We lack the ability of the old masters to take off and soar. Why? I can’t say. We must adapt to our conditions. Each person must search for and find his own solution. Ideally, I would be able to write a melody with an infinite voice, a voice that carries on forever. Music that would be like speech, like a flood of thought. Thought is never pure, it’s often pierced by lightning, from without as from within. Thought is fragile. This means that our music also flows from our fragility and our inadequacies. And all this is reflected in the melody that has one voice, which is like a blood test. In music, one could say that a voice or a melodic line is like a man’s soul. In this sense, polyphony would have more to do with the idea of a crowd. The richness of the music of many voices is, however, the sum of the wealth of each of these melodic lines—as was the case in the polyphony of the great masters of the past. [Read More]
[…] I’m in a hotel in Tallinn, a city that’s full of Russian tourists making the most of their Christmas and new year in the beautiful Estonian capital. I’ve been here to interview Arvo Pärt, the famous Estonian composer, and someone who has a reputation as a shy recluse; a seeming paradox given that his music is celebrated all over the world.
He talked to me in the building that houses his archive – a half-hour drive through the snow, forest and flatness of the landscape outside Tallinn, a journey that felt like a pilgrimage to a mythical musical hideaway – and I found Pärt to be the exact opposite of the forbidding, taciturn figure that looms out of some of his photos. There was laughter, humour and generosity in the way he spoke about his compositional and existential struggles, and even his religious feelings. […] [H]ere are a couple of things Pärt revealed about his music, especially from around the time of his consolidation of the technique of “tintinnabulation”, which has defined his music from the mid-1970s to this day.
In one of the rooms in the house, there was a row of plant pots. It turns out they were more than mere decoration: they were painted by Pärt in 1977, because working with riotously festive colours was one of the ways he got through the hard years of writer’s block. “You have to do something to keep your creativity going,” he told me. But the real epiphany that set Pärt on his course of what sounded like a radical simplicity in the mid-70s, producing works such as Tabula Rasa, Fratres, and Passio, which poured out of him later that decade, was an encounter with a street cleaner outside his house in Tallinn. Searching for a solution that would connect his emotional, musical and spiritual lives together, Pärt, at a loss for inspiration, went outside into the snow one morning and asked the cleaner: “What should a composer do?” “Well, he should love every note,” was the reply. “No professor had ever told me something like that,” Pärt said, and this single sentence crystallised his thinking. He realised that to really love every note, to really understand the connections between even a tiny handful of musical pitches, could be the source of lifetime of composition and contemplation. [Read More]
“Tintinnabulation is an area I sometimes wander into when I am searching for answers – in my life, my music, my work. In my dark hours, I have the certainty that everything outside this one thing has no meaning. The complex and many-faceted only confuses me and I must search for unity. What is it, this one thing, and how do I find my way to it? Traces of this perfect thing appear in many guises – and everything that is unimportant falls away. Tintinnabulation is like this. Here I am alone with silence. I have discovered that it is enough when a single note is beautifully played. This one note, or a silent beat, or a moment of silence, comforts me. I work with very few elements – with one voice, with two voices. I build with the most primitive materials – with the triad, with one specific tonality. The three notes of a triad are like bells. And that is why I called it tintinnabulation.”
— Arvo Pärt
This is not the Booker Prize. Let’s remember that. This is something quite different. The idea of an award named Not the Booker Prize is cheeky: it playfully challenges the prestigious honour of the Booker with a counterfeit alternative, an imitation of the real thing. Or is that going to far? I would suggest that the Not the Booker Prize is not so phoney after all: it simply awards on the basis of different values. Here, we are not looking for books that fit snugly on canonical shelves. Not the Booker Prize is our chance to praise new and alternative voices, writers that colour outside the lines.
With this in mind, what could be a more appropriate winner than Lars Iyer’s Spurious? The clue is in the title, surely. Beautifully awkward and wilfully absurd, Spurious is a short, funny text that celebrates the lowdown and the everyday. If we are feeling generous, we might compare its two protagonists with any number of other haplessly comic duos: Withnail and I immediately springs to mind, or Flaubert’s Bouvard et Pécuchet, or Samuel Beckett’s Mercier and Camier. But we’re already getting off the point – already lunging towards the classics and forgetting what draws us towards Iyer’s book in the first place. If we want texts of high-standing and lofty repute, we already know where to go. But the exchanges that comprise Spurious are something of an antidote, deflating egos and popping grandiose ideas. It’s a book that is, paradoxically, both below and above literary prizes and trinkets. What better candidate, then, for such a mischievous award?