Uncle Bob in Lund

Of all our family members, it is really only Uncle Bob who regularly comes to visit. He visited us when we lived in Shanghai, in north London and now in Lund. Yes, he was in Lund last night, our little medieval university town in southern Sweden. I brought Diane and two daughters. Blood is thicker than water.

Bob has once again reinvented himself. “Why change me now?” he asks in a borrowed Sinatra lyric, but it is not us trying to change him as much as he continuously changing himself.  At the age of 75 that’s pretty remarkable. Those who are not busy being born are a-busy dying.  And Bob Dylan is not dying.

He has, however, gotten quite a bit older since we saw him in Helsingborg three years ago. He moves more slowly on stage. He dances — yes, dances — but it’s all a bit awkward.  And he has to leave the keyboard and stand in the middle of the stage with his legs wide apart in order to be able to belt out the jazz standards which now feature as a regular part of his repertoire.

The jazz standards are not bad. Dylan’s raspy voice works well in combination with the silky smooth arrangements. And yet, I can’t help thinking that he is doing karaoke. Dylan karaoke is better than most kinds of karaoke, and I respect him deeply for doing what he wants to do, but it does sound to me like a hobby project rather than something to take with him around the world.

The real reinvention, however, concerns his transformation from a blues and rock ‘n roll artist into a sort of vaudeville performer. He and the band are playing circus music, in a Sergeant Pepper vein, or in the style of Bertold Brecht and Kurt Weill. You fully expect acrobats, jugglers and bearded ladies to come on stage. Yet it is not festive as much as grimy — “After Midnight” — grim — “Paying in Blood” — and sad — “Long and Wasted Years.” The furrows in the face of the clown have grown deep, the make-up of the septuagenarian prostitute is running. It’s a remarkable world into which Bob inserts the songs from his 1960s song-book as well as the new Sinatra classics. Yes, they all fit, and thanks to the tight accompaniment of the band and the imaginative arrangements of the songs it’s always interesting.

But how good is it?  I like my blues rock and the Dylan who stopped by here in Sweden only a few years ago was a first-rate blues and rock man. I liked his harmonica playing, for one thing, but there was no harmonica in sight last night and he made no pretense at playing guitar. The clothes are the same as before — that riverboat gambler outfit — but the band members should really be wearing jester’s costumes. I must confess, the vaudeville musician Bob Dylan is all in all less interesting to me than the bluesman, but OMG, he remains endlessly creative, enigmatic and remarkable.  We are lucky that he still comes to visit. Come back soon uncle Bob, we already miss you.

 

More on internal exile

I’ve thought a lot about the internal exile which Brexit/Trump seems to have confined me to. It’s not good, it’s not responsible. As though I didn’t care anymore.  I was somewhat encouraged to read this from Tracy B. Strong, written in 2008 and relation to the Bush presidency, not Trump:

“In what does tyranny consist? For Nietzsche, it is the insistence that the world is and is only as I will it to be. Challenges should be ignored or eliminated. Similarly, in the Persian Letters, Montesquieu argued that it consists in requiring that others have no existence for oneself except that which one allows them. This seems to me exactly right: tyranny consists in speaking for oneself and having the power to impose that speech on others, to hear only one’s own words. I note with political distress that when Bush comes on the TV, I turn to the World Poker Tour. I did not do this with Nixon or Reagan, much as I disagreed with them. My distress is almost unpolitical, for my channel changing is a form of not being willing to share the world with G.W. Bush. I want, in other words, not to deal with the fact that he is our president, that is, not to accept that he and I share what Nietzsche called “the life of a people.” My avoidance strikes me as dangerous: it is as if I were pretending to myself that he is not our president, refusing to acknowledge the world of which he and I are a part. This is a consequence of tyranny.”

Strong, Tracy B. “Nietzsche and the Political: Tyranny, Tragedy, Cultural Revolution, and Democracy.” The Journal of Nietzsche Studies 35, no. 1 (November 28, 2008): 62-63.

Internal exile

I’ve gone into an external exile. I don’t follow the news anymore, don’t read things on-line and I don’t watch TV. It was Trump and Brexit that did it. I guess I’m in denial. I just don’t want to hear about any of it, I don’t want to follow the ins and outs of what someone said; who was appointed to what job; what some report is saying. Even the very intelligently argued and perfectly convincing critique is like poison. Even the jokes are concessions. I don’t want any of this in my head. This is no longer my world.

I’m reminded of the way some scholars and artists survived in Germany during the Nazis or in China during the Cultural Revolution. Disgusted with the turn events had taken, yet utterly powerless, they decided that the best thing they could do under the circumstances was to focus on maintaining their humanity.  When the world is going crazy, maintaining your humanity is the ultimate act of defiance.  There were for example these Chinese artists who took to the forest, far away from the Red Guards.   To mimic the official art was of course unthinkable, but so was lampooning it. Instead they spent their time painting beautiful things, landscapes, city streets and flowers.  See above.

This is of course not good for me professionally. I teach political science at a university after all; I’m supposed to know what’s in the news. The time has already come when my students refer to things I know nothing about. What did I make of Trump’s inauguration? “What inauguration?”

Basically I feel like it’s 1913 all over again. There is a hard rain a-gonna fall. Btw, the works of some of those Chinese artists was recently exhibited at the Asia Society in Hong Kong — “Light before Dawn.”

 

“As long as we are loyal to our communities …”

“As long as we are loyal to our communities and identify ourselves in relation to them, we may have no other choice and very little bargain­ing power vis-à-vis our politi­cal and military authorities. We act, not in defense of our interests, but in de­fence of our identity.”

“Games do not gen­erally concern utility payoffs …”

“Games do not gen­erally concern utility payoffs, but instead questions of identities, and people do not generally engage in them because of what they can win, but instead be­cause of who or what the game allows them to be.”

“Actions undertaken in order to establish …”

“Actions undertaken in order to establish this some­one are thus the more basic and they cannot be redescribed in rationalistic terms calcu­lations of utility gains and utility losses can make no sense until they can be attached to a cer­tain per­son.”

“At the core of this alternative theory …”

“At the core of this alternative theory stands the suggestion that people act not only in order to win things, but also in order to defend a certain conception of who they are. We act, that is, not only be­cause there are things we want to have, but also because there are persons we want to be. In fact, this latter kind of actions must be the more fundamental since it only is as someone that we can have an interest in something.

“The fact that wars ap­pear as irrational …”

“The fact that wars ap­pear as irrational may in fact tell us very little about the stupid­ity or unreasonableness of human beings and very much about the limits of our contemporary explanatory accounts.  The deficiency, in other words, may rest not with the soldiers or with those who order them into battle, but rather with the scholars who attempt to explain these actions.”