All of us are being herded there, for all
lots are tossing in an urn: sooner, later,
they will come out and book our passage
on the boat for everlasting exile.

Horace, Ode II.3 [translation: Clancy]

That you are here – that life exists and identity,
That the powerful play goes on, and you may contribute
a verse.

Walt Whitman, Leaves of Grass


The art of concentration appears to be located in a well-measured dosage of attention and stimulation.

In this perspective you could draw lessons from a story by one of our Dutch writers – Biesheuvel – about a lonely village in Turkey. Only once a year the little band of people out there watch television, this for only one quarter of an hour. In this manner they really register intently what is seen in but that short time.

Just now I listened to the Metamorphosen, that masterpiece by Richard Strauss. I do this three, perhaps four times per year, saving the composition for moments when I’m ready for it – open, ripened. That piece of music is so great that I do not want to miss one note.

In my younger, thus suppler days I lay down on a little mattress which I unrolled on the floor between the two speakers – in the middle of the night, in pitch dark, only illuminated by a glass of good wine.

Even now, when the nasty barks from Lilly’s bitch of a dog penetrate into the room, these Metamorphosen still manage to completely imbue me.

The Tondichtung, which according to Strauss meant that pure, wordless music might ‘speak’ to you, telling you a story, I consider a bullshit ideology. In this case, however, I do admit that even in this cramped half of an hour his music lets me navigate through a lifetime. Although it is still not a narrative, it certainly is an intense experience with a reference.

This composition is designed for an old man or for someone who is becoming elderly. Without this experience of life there can be no acquaintance with death. And death it is, which is announced therein.




Although the metamorphosis from caterpillar to butterfly suggests that we witness the formation, if not creation of something utterly different – hence that irreparable sense of wonder at the sight of such a miracle – it nevertheless remains the transformation of something which in the end remains ‘the same’, an identical life principle calmly circling its evolutionary orbit.

Life was never Modern. Only confused people believe in revolutions.

So it is with that famous Ego and – why not – with so-called Identity. While, most certainly, it is a thoroughly abused and worn-out concept, the ‘I’ is nevertheless ‘something’. A life, unpredictable as it may be, so full of vicissitudes – it still is my life, or your life, or their life. Equally unmistakable.

This ‘I’ exists, even when investigation show that drug use may disrupt its functioning, perhaps even finally destroy it. Something like schizophrenia helps it a long way on this course… However, even then the process involves deregulation of something that ‘was’ or could have been there in some way.

Although charmed by the metaphor of good old Sade, who considered death as merely a metamorphosis of matter and thus murder as not all too serious, the above consideration is fully at odds with his philosophy.

Our free will may be a fiction, yet without that illusion we cannot exist. If the soul is sheer make-believe – that notion of something remaining after our death – yet during my life I have a soul. The soul, admittedly, is not something that lies inside me; it is out there, in the music I listen to or in the young deer whom I met only yesterday while out for a walk, all of sudden and face tot face.

The older I get, the more the present of this listener resides in the end of Strauss’s brilliance – that slow extinction of what moments before had been the wild fire of a collection of string instruments that whipped you into the far out corners of the cosmos. It is this music which suddenly gives the ears their sense.

Then I put on his Letzte Lieder.

Sierksma, La Roche 14.4/2016


Author: rjsiersk

Sierksma was born in Friesland, a 'county' in the northern part of the Netherlands with its own language which he does not speak and with an obstinate population to which he both belongs and does not belong. A retired Professor of Social Philosophy and Aesthetics, as a Harkness fellow he taught at Rutgers and Berkeley Universities in the USA, and at GUAmsterdam and TUDelft in the Netherlands. In 1991 he was awarded his PhD from Leiden University on the subject of 'Surveillance and Task: Labour Discipline between Utilitarianism and Pragmatism'. His books include Minima Memoria (1993), Lost View (2002 with Jan van Geest), and Litter Scent (2013). He has published poems and articles in Te Elfder Ure, Nynade, Oasis and the Architectural Annual. Half the year he lives in Haarlem, the other half he spends in la France Profonde, living ‘in his own words’ as the house out there was bought with the winnings from his essay Eternal Sin, written for the ECI Essay Prize (1993). In this blog, Sierksma's Sequences, written in English, he is peeping round his own and other people’s perspectives. Not easily satisfied with answers nor with questions, he turns his wry wit to a number of philosophical and historical issues. His aim in writing: to make parts of the world light up in his perspective - not my will, thine! Not being a thief, he has no cook, one wife, some children, one lover and three cats.

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