No Texting for Lent and The End of Solitude

Roman Catholic Bishops in Italy have added some contemporary relevance in the fasting tradition during Lent:  High Tech Fast.  The faithful are urged to free themselves from the bondage of technology and gadgets, and refrain from surfing, emailing, twittering, texting … in order to prepare themselves for Easter.  This could prove to be a penance much harder to practice than not eating meat, even just on Fridays, for texting could well be the newest form of addiction today.

At about the same time, I heard an interview on the CBC Radio program Spark.  Host Nora Young conducted an interview with William Deresiewicz, literary critic and essayist, who has recently written an article entitled ‘The End of Solitude’.

Deresiewicz taught at Yale from 1998 to 2008.  When he asked his students what place solitude had in their lives, he got this reply: “Why would anyone want to be alone?”

With the ubiquitous use of high tech gadgets, and the torrents of Internet social networks around us, we are caught in a web of connectivity like never before:

Not long ago, it was easy to feel lonely.  Now, it is impossible to be alone.

Not only that, the goal now seems to be to gain as much self-exposure as possible, to be visible.  It seems that the number of friends we have on Facebook, and the number of hits on our blog directly leads to our self-esteem and our quality of self.  The irony is, the pseudo and the virtual are substituting the genuine and the authentic.

What does friendship mean when you have 532 “friends”?  How does it enhance my sense of closeness when my Facebook News Feed tells me that Sally Smith (whom I haven’t seen since high school, and wasn’t all that friendly with even then) ‘is making coffee and staring off into space’?

Deresiewicz notes that solitude used to be a desirable social value.  From religious sages to the Romantics like Wordsworth, solitude is the channel one hears the still, small voice of God, or heed the beckoning of Nature.  As modernism crept in,  the literati turned inward to find validation of self, like Woolf, Joyce, Proust.

Then came urbanization and suburbanization.  The generation that used to vegetate in front of the TV has given way to the child of the Internet, the networked self.  And we no longer believe in the solitary mind.

So what does it matter when we have lost the moments to be alone?  What have we lost?

First, the propensity for introspection, that examination of the self that the Puritans, and the Romantics, and the modernists (and Socrates, for that matter) placed at the center of spiritual life — of wisdom, of conduct.

Also, the urge to be instantly connected has bred a new generation of skippers and skimmers, replacing readers.

… five minutes on the same Web page is considered an eternity

No wonder we’re told to keep our blog posts short if we want to attract readership.

With the loss of the capacity for solitude, we’ve lost the ability to cultivate depth of self  and create independent thinking.  Emerson said that “Solitude is to genius the stern friend.”  Deresiewicz goes on to say:

…no real excellence, personal or social, artistic, philosophical, scientific or moral, can arise without solitude.

The irony is, the more we are connected with the virtual world out there, the less we are connected with ourselves inwardly.  But this is what’s valued nowadays, isn’t it, to be open, sociable, gregarious.  But to maintain a sense of authentic self, we may have to sacrifice popularity, to be not so polite:

Thoreau understood that securing one’s self-possession was worth a few wounded feelings.  He may have put his neighbors off, but at least he was sure of himself.

Those who would find solitude must not be afraid to stand alone.

Maybe this is one meaningful connection we should strive for: solitude, introspection, slow blogging, quality thinking, quality reading, quality writing, quality self.

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Click here to listen to the full interview.

Click here to read the article ‘The End of Solitude’ by William Deresiewicz.

Click here to read my review of Sherry Turkle’s Alone Together

Click here to read my post on Virginia Woolf’s A Room of One’s Own in which she explored the privilege of Solitude.

 

Glenn Gould: The Russian Journey (2002, TV)

 For two months, I had to stay away from home while my house underwent a major renovation.  After sequestered from TV watching for the whole summer, that was one of the first things I delved into as soon as I moved back last week.  A couple of days ago, in between re-runs of Olympics events, I was most gratified to watch this CBC/National Film Board documentary.  What a breath of fresh air and what an invigorating luxury I have been deprived of all summer!  Only on CBC.

The legendary Canadian pianist Glenn Gould (1932 – 1982) visited the Soviet Union in 1957, at the age of 24, the first concert pianist from North America to be extended and accepted an invitation to play behind the Iron Curtain.  Stalin died just four years ago.  The Cold War was at its climax.  Very few had heard of a Canadian pianist named Glenn Gould, what more, very few had heard Bach since the composer was banned by the totalitarian regime for the religiosity of his work. 

This 56 minutes documentary, which won the Grand Prize of the 2003 Montreal International Festival of Films on Art, is packed with valuable archival footage of the actual Gould concerts, meditative shots of the lone pianist against the grand Russian architectural backdrop, as well as some of Gould’s own reminiscence of the historic journey. Interspersed are interviews with significant personalities within the Soviet arts and music circles, sharing their life-changing Gould experiences.  Among them are prominent musicians such as the renowned pianist and conductor Vladimir Ashkenazy, and dissident cellist Mstislav Rostropovich, who sheltered the writer Solzhenitsyn and resulted in the Soviet government banning his performances.

Tatiana Selikman, a pianist and teacher at the Russian Academy of Music, recalls the day of Gould’s first concert in May, 1957.  She saw the poster and was curious about a pianist from Canada, playing The Art of the Fugue, which nobody ever played in Communist Soviet Union.  The Grand Hall of the Moscow Conservatory was sparsely seated.  Then the pale faced pianist came on stage, sat on a low chair, and unleashed a magical performance that mesmerized his small audience.  During the intermission, those in the concert hall dashed out to phone their friends, urging them to come right away.  As the concert resumed for the second half, the hall was packed to overflow.

And the rest is history…

What Gould brought to the Russian audience was not just Bach, or the intricacies of the Fugue, or the beguiling Goldberg Variations, but a new perspective.  Gould’s performance embodied the liberating effect of music, the freedom of artistic expression and the bold exhibition of individualism.  The audience was emancipated to a new found freedom that was not sanctioned under totalitarian rule.  Using the words of some of the musicians interviewed in the film, the Berlin Wall of music came down, warming the Cold War by a few degrees. For the first time, they were applauding something that was not Soviet.  And they were exhilarated.

The recent passing of the Russian dissident writer Alexander Solzhenitsyn, and the events taking place in Georgia, or even the Olympics, have whirled up sentiments in me that I thought was long gone… the pathos of hearing the muffled cries of the oppressed, be it political, social, or artistic. 

There are those who are indignant about the Canadian government subsidizing the Glenn Gould trip, arguing it was a waste of taxpayers’ money.  If a lone pianist can inspire the masses, and if music can soften the hearts of man, enhance international goodwill, and reiterate the ideals of humanity, I am all for it.  Would it not cost more to send hundreds of thousands of soldiers to the front line?

 ~ ~ ~ ½ Ripples

The documentary has been posted on YouTube in six parts.  Here is the beginning.  However, nothing compares to the big screen especially with Glenn Gould playing Bach:

                                     

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CBC Disbands Radio Orchestra

Update April 1:  Reader Tom has alerted me to the site for online petition to save the CBC Radio Orchestra.  http://www.savecbcorchestra.com  Please sign the petition and spread the word. 

Another shocking news:  The CBC Radio executives have just decreed that The CBC Radio Orchestra is to be dismantled as of November, 2008, on the heels of Cutting Classical Music Programs on Radio 2. 

What a swift one-two punch!

Formed in 1938, mandated “to make engaging musical radio programs, commission and perform works by Canadian composers, showcase Canadian performers and conductors, and discover and expose Canadian excellence”, the orchestra has been a Canadian cultural and musical tradition for 70 years.

 Click here for the news coverage in the Globe and Mail of March 27, 2008.

Click here for the Vancouver Sun article on Canada.com: CBC Kills Radio Orchestra

Click here for the article:  The Day The Music Died in The McGill Daily.

Does the CBC management even have the right to do that?  I thought this is a publicly-owned national radio station.  A cultural and arts institution with 70 years of history can be chopped off the Canadian landscape by a few executives like a branch off an old tree in the backyard? 

With this executive order, the CBC has finished off a piece of North American history, disbanding the last radio orchestra in the continent.

Again, I was alerted to this piece of appalling news by my teenaged son…talking about axing classical music to attract younger audiences.  CBC has gravely miscalculated the musicality of our youth and done an utter disservice to them, depriving them of knowing and appreciating a heritage dating back to hundreds of years of human civilization.

To save Classical Music from being axed off the cultural tree, Click here for the Online Petition.

BTW, the Facebook Group ‘Save Classical Music on the CBC’ now has over 8,000 members…I’m not trying to stereotype, but would these not be some of the ‘younger audiences’ CBC is trying to woo?

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CBC Cutting Classical Music Programs

What a shock it is for me to learn that our national radio station CBC Radio 2, is choosing to axe more classical music programs to appeal to a ‘wider audience’.  Why, aren’t we who have been enjoying the arts and music, who have cherished the long tradition of these CBC productions, who have raised our children on them, teaching and nurturing them to appreciate their content, not a part of the general public? 

Click here for Russell Smith’s article in The Globe and Mail on March 13, 2008, “No classical?  Then kill Radio 2 and get it over with.”  Just let me try to fathom the motives behind these further cuts:

1.  Diversity.  If it’s diversity they are aiming at,  they should all the more leave the classical edge in because CBC Radio 2 is the only nation-wide English radio station in Canada that offers classical music.  Which station can I tune in for such extensive and in-depth coverage of the arts and artists, classical music and musicians, live concerts, commentaries, CD reviews and even an audience requests program? What alternative do I have when the only classical music station in Canada decides to go with the flow and become just another dial for easy listening or contemporary pop?  I feel like I’m a CBC copywriter doing a promo for the station…but why would they need me to tell them this?   To CBC Radio: Respect your role in the Canadian cultural landscape.  What ‘diversity’ are you offering if there are no choices in genre? If ‘diversity’, and ‘choice’ are such powerful words nowadays, honor the real meaning of these terms and not just utter them for political correctness. 

2.  Multicultural. The term “Classical Music” has often been misconstrued as being monocultural.  Are CBC program researchers and management not aware that many so called “classical” composers, especially the more contemporary ones, are from a diverse cultural background including not only Western European, but Central and southern European, Scandinavian, Russian, North American, South American, and Asian?  And do they not know that for this last group here, Asian-Canadians, especially appreciate classical music and particularly in the teaching of their young, the next generation of music lovers?  I for one can speak out on this issue where I personally and know and have come into contact with countless parents of Asian descent who have involved their children in the learning of classical music, and have nurtured numerous talented young classical musicians here in Canada.  Jan Wong in her recent book Beijing Confidential notes that there are 30 million piano students and 10 million violin students in China today.  Two of the most popular music icons among the young are Lang Lang and Yundi Li, both world renowned classical pianists in their 20’s. Wouldn’t it be odd that one can enjoy classical music on radio in China but not be able to in Canada?

3.  Education. If it’s just for the sake of our young, we owe them a great heritage if we do not nurture them to appreciate the roots of modern music. Without going deep into music theory, isn’t it true that our contemporary music evolves from classical foundations?  Calling it ‘classical’ sounds so politically incorrect, as it wrongly conveys ‘elitism’ or simply connotations of being passé. But, would you avoid teaching our next generation Canadian history just because history is passé? 

4.  Business. If it’s for marketing reasons, why add one more ‘easy listening’, ‘pop’, ‘jazz’ or ‘contemporary’ station to the already competitive business, why fight for market share while you can distinctly offer something very different and unique, a real alternative to the radio audience in Canada.  If you wish to morph into a more hip mode to appeal to the young, look for younger DJ’s for your classical music programs. If George Stroumboulopoulos (previously of MuchMusic) can become a Canadian news icon on CBC Television, I’m sure you can find young blood equally well versed in the classical music sector.  

5.  Identity. And if it’s Canadian identity they are seeking, trying to appease the ‘general public’ (as if we are not), then CBC Radio 2 should all the more realize, as a publicly owned radio station and a national institution, the classical music they are eliminating is not just a part of Canadian identity, but human civilization…and I suppose western or eastern, old or young, we are a part of that.

Enough said here.  My teenaged son who alerted me to this piece of incredulous news has sent me a link to the on-line petition.  Click here to sign.

Other reactions to this announcement:

 http://www.cbc.ca/arts/media/story/2008/03/04/radio-two.html

http://www.friends.ca/News/Friends_News/archives/articles03200802.asp

A Facebook group has already been formed:  “Save Classical Music on the CBC”, has gathered more than 8,000 members and counting.