2003 - Saloni M swims East
Notes on Barbarianism
(For Paul Bowles)
emerged victorious participates to this day in the triumphal procession
in which the present rulers step over those who are lying prostrate. According
to traditional practice, the spoils are carried along in the procession.
They are called cultural treasures […] They owe their existence not only
to the efforts of the great minds and talents of those who created them,
but also to the anonymous toil of their contemporaries. There is no document
of civilisation which is not at the same time a document of barbarism.
And just as such a document is not free of barbarism, barbarism taints
also the manner in which it was transmitted from one owner to another."
Earlier last century, the piece of music of mine that has been included in the performance part of this latest Saloni M might well have been called ‘barbarian’. This term would have been used derisively, to indicate minimal employment of melody, a ‘basic’ harmonic structure, and the use of ‘primitive’ or ‘monotonous’ rhythms. "Memories of Attar" does indeed contain these qualities, but it is worth keeping in mind that a native of the Master Musicians of Jajouka, Morocco (the Berber land which inspired the piece) might well consider much of our own pop, country and western, and ‘classical’ music as lacking in rhythmic complexity (i.e syncopation), soulfulness, and healing qualities. Evidently, music serves different functions in different societies, but we Westerners – all practising our own form of cultural imperialism to various degrees – would benefit profoundly from even greater exposure to the musical traditions of other cultures. Let us become less barbarian by becoming more like those foreign strangers….
are no longer interesting turn into lies."
We also make truths into lies by being uninterested in them, and even on essentially Christian terms, we should be far more interested in, for example, the needless deaths of millions, than in the blatant lies of commercial entertainment. To express this engagement non-passively, what we interest ourselves in is a choice which indicates a value judgement (and not merely an aesthetic one) which partakes of the social world, since all ‘culture’ can ultimately be divined back to the human being. Or to put it another way, to BE INTERESTED is to CARE.
we find the others / Deserted like ourselves and therefore brothers."
Seeing the other as an inferior can only be remedied through humility (respectfully putting oneself on the same level) and compassion (feeling the suffering of the other as one’s own). Essentially, this is to recognise (to understand again) that we are all one of a kind, but also one humankind.
he would say to the parents of Iraq children who could well die in the
war, [Prime Minister] Howard replied that international decision-making
was about taking risks. ‘Well they wouldn’t be dying if their President
[Saddam Hussein] had respected international opinion.’ "
According to an Arab legend, the dunes of the Sahara were formed by Allah throwing down grains of sand from the sky as punishment for the telling of lies; the sands will only disappear on the day that human beings once again become sincere.
"What we from
our point of view call colonisation, missions to the heathens, spread
of civilisation etc., has another face – the face of a bird of prey seeking
with cruel intentness for distant quarry – a face worthy of a race of
pirates and highwaymen. All the eagles and other predatory creatures that
adorn our coats of arms seem to me apt psychological representatives of
our true nature."
We, too, want to take sides, and of course the right one. But when there is not an other that one is opposed to, one can learn from oneself, and from that other great teacher: those who would oppose themselves against us and whom we are supposed to hate and fear. Jesus himself taught that we need not live in terror: "Ye have heard that it hath been said, Thou shalt love thy neighbour, and hate thine enemy. But I say unto you, Love your enemies" (Matt. 5:43 f.)
True revolution is not begun in neighbour-hatred and fear. Revolution begins at home.
"When men say,
‘The new song has the most attraction’, it may be thought that we are
talking not about new songs but about new ways of making them, and so
new ways might seem to be given approval. But new ways are not good, and
those words are not to be taken as saying that they are. We have to keep
new sorts of music away from us as a danger to society; because forms
and rhythms in music are never changed without producing changes in the
most important political forms and ways…"
The Berbers of Morocco took their name from the term Barbaroi, which the Phoenicians used collectively for those foreigners at the time they knew as Libyans and Ethiopians. It might be useful for us to ask ourselves what terms we use for those outside our borders, and whether or not silence itself is also a way of judging them, and ultimately ourselves.
"If you / I
hesitate to speak, isn’t it because we are afraid of not speaking well?
But what is ‘well’ or ‘badly’? With what are we conforming if we speak
‘well’? What hierarchy, what subordination lurks there, waiting to break
our resistance? [...] We have so much space to share. Our horizon will
never stop expanding, we are always open. Stretching out, never ceasing
to unfold, we have so many voices to invent in order to express all of
us everywhere, even in our gaps, that all the time there is will never
be enough. We can never complete the circuit, explore our periphery: we
have so many dimensions [...] The sky isn’t up there: it’s between us."
© Matt Hetherington 2003.