I conceived this piece several years ago, but the notes didn’t settle down until summer 2022, when I recorded the following performance, with my friend Evan Bates engineering the audio and video. Enjoy!
- February 10, 2023 Fantasy for Solo Piano
- February 4, 2023 Prelude in One Sharp
- January 8, 2023 Book Review: The Grand Biocentric Design by Robert Lanza et al.
- June 2, 2022 Reflections on Beauty: Part Two
- June 1, 2022 Reflections on Beauty: Part One
- January 2, 2022 Composers Need Rules
- April 1, 2021 On Moral Fallacies: Why True Liberalism and Conservatism are Both Valid
- September 8, 2020 Long Artist Statement
- August 22, 2020 Artist Statement
- March 17, 2017 Karen Armstrong’s St Paul: An Epistolary Review
I conceived this piece several years ago, but the notes didn’t settle down until summer 2022, when I recorded the following performance, with my friend Evan Bates engineering the audio and video. Enjoy!
I composed this piece in 2015 and performed it in summer 2022, with video and audio production by Evan Bates. Enjoy!
Book Review: The Grand Biocentric Design by Robert Lanza et al.
January 8, 2023
Well-written, clear, funny, and mind-blowing, this book presents the scientific evidence for biocentricism, the view that life is central to the universe, that perception creates reality. This view is not new, but the book shows how modern science supports it. Lanza and co-authors develop the ideas of twentieth-century physicists such as E. Schrodinger who regarded consciousness as “absolutely fundamental” to reality. Those holding the antithetical view – that matter is central and life inessential – must ignore or else endure the discomfort of quantum physical discoveries such as nonlocality, entanglement, and superposition (which the authors explain very clearly). Physiocentrism (i.e. materialism) is thus weaker because it can only remained baffled by such phenomena. The biocentric view, by contrast, embraces those phenomena with love and tenderness because they, with the rest of the reality, harmonize smoothly with its all-encompassing view of the universe.
One of the key distinctions of biocentrism is that life, not just humans, is central to reality. This includes animals and even plants that “store memories and respond to their spatial environment.” Thus it disarms criticisms of anthropocentrism, so common an attack-strategy of the materialist camp. More importantly, however, it does justice to the perception of the world as larger and more mysterious than any one species can hope to comprehend, including humans.
The authors tackle the questions of free will, life after death, and time-travel. They also affirm the idea of a multiverse, which in my view remains speculative and unconvincing, though inessential to the main point of the book. The volume includes appendices addressing counter-arguments of critics, and a technical paper showing that the observer creates “arrow of time,” which quantum gravity will never be able to explain.
This challenging book is intended for “all of society,” not just the scientific community. To fully absorb the important information it presents, us lay-men should read it more than once. Doing so will affirm a generous and benevolent worldview of wonder and interconnectedness.
Find this book on Goodreads
June 2, 2022
Various critical traditions associated with left-wing politics have promoted apathy or antipathy toward beauty, beginning with Karl Marx, who planted the seeds of the idea that beauty is a distraction from the all-important aim of overthrowing capitalism. Beauty was part of the “ideology” used to validate the privilege and power of the ruling class. Marx’s twentieth-century disciple, Theodore Adorno, openly advocated ugliness in art as a form of protest against the evils of the free market. The vindictive resentment of the far left—whether justified or not—is incompatible with the experience of beauty as a self-transcendent vision. Such an experience would detract from the real end of tearing down capitalism and taking revenge on those who have benefited from it. A similar sentiment is evident in the work of more recent critics such as John Richardson, who condemned Philip Glass’ opera Akhnaten for not doing enough to oppose “the orientialist/capitalist-imperialist project” in its portrayal of ancient Egypt. The power differential between America and Egypt was the real concern. There is, however, no nationalist or imperialist mentality evident in that opera. Meanwhile, there are striking harmonies, compelling melodies, brilliant costumes, fascinating sets, and colorful orchestration—in short, much to miss if one heeds the bad critique.
Certainly some artworks reflect racism or other anti-humanist views, and the critic ought to expose it when necessary; but the critic’s job is also to use wisdom and know when charges of injustice are appropriate. Irresponsible critiques are themselves unjust. Critical theory (as it’s known) errs on this side, i.e. of projecting its concern with oppression onto the work it condemns. Critical theorists, however, are unlikely to admit the error, which they see as a virtue. One can always insist that a pencil drawing is merely two-dimensional, and refuse to admit that two-dimensions are hinting at three, and interpret the diagonal lines as mere angles. In a similar way, the critical theorist—or those infected by his claims—can always insist that the only relevant thing to behold in the art is orientalism or patriarchal oppression, etc. The cost of this fallacy is that one misses out on potentially wonderful experiences, and worse, blocks others from the same. Excellent art—not to mention the seascape, your sweetheart and so on—can and should bring joy without letting political preoccupations get in the way. The extremist’s rage against oppression, however, leaves little psychological room for the disinterested appreciation, let alone the rapt adoration, of beauty. It is a small world to live in.
For the far-left critic, art must explicitly take a political side. The artist must oppose social hierarchies in his work, on pain of being condemned as complicit with the oppressors. You’re either with us or against us, the artist is told. And if you’re with us, you’d better prove it. This mentality has the potential to imperialize the leftist’s brain, so that more and more and soon everything in his world is interpreted through the lens of power differentials. This is unfortunate, not just because it is a sad fate, but because it reflects poorly on the left. “Socialism,” wrote E.F. Schumacher, emphasizes “non-economic values,”—e.g. that which offers “moral, aesthetic, and cultural enrichment.” Socialism wisely rejects the idea that society should be built on the individual’s single-minded pursuit of material profit. Marxism and its related thought-systems, however, envision those with power and privilege on the guillotine, and demand that artists and writers throw garbage at them. This embittered mindset is in competition with the love of beauty. The better versions of socialism, however, are allied with anti-materialism. Similar distinctions can be made of the feminist and anti-racist movements, of which there are extreme kinds fueled by vindictive resentment, and reasonable kinds motivated by the commitment to, let’s say, absolute justice, to borrow again from Plato. These distinctions are important because they show that the problem is not with the left, but with the far-left—which veers into intolerance, authoritarianism, and eventually blood and brutality, as history shows.
The beauty we see in art, nature, and people is non-trivial. If we allow ourselves to be arrested by its power, we allow the part of ourselves to live that seeks meaning and joy. This thirst cannot be denied indefinitely in the human race, and as a result, the love of beauty which arouses and, to some extent, quenches that thirst will never disappear from human cultures.
We have not addressed another quality that we attribute to art, nature, and even people: the sublime—that which inspires awe and wonder. Beauty and the sublime have different connotations. A list of things under each heading will yield different results. For me, Beethoven’s Ninth is on both lists. But my things, of one kind or another, will differ from yours. Some of them might coincide. Any two people who share the same experiences are more than fellow-humans that owe respect to one another; they are the same kind of person
May 31, 2022
Last week I was enjoying the vistas of the Sonoran desert hills while the Phoenix morning air was still cool, and mentally visited the old question of whether beauty is subjective or objective—whether it exists in the mind of the observer, or is a real attribute of beautiful objects. It must be both, I thought, but how can that be? I enjoyed the rest of my hike, and when I got home I did some reading on the subject, and scribbled the following list under the heading of Beautiful Things:
- Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony
- Borodin’s “Notturno” from String Quartet no. 2
- John Tavener’s “Mother of God, Here I Stand”
- Cabanel’s Birth of Venus
- The Bust of Socrates
- Sedona, AZ
- The Grand Tetons, WY
- Cupsogue Beach, Long Island
- Piazza Venezia, Rome
- Every photo and video of Audrey Hepburn
While writing I was conscious that all ten of these items fall into one of the following categories: Art (music, painting, sculpture), Nature, and People. Then I thought:
Beauty is the quality that stimulates amazement and delight in me as an observer. Beauty does not exist in my brain; the pleasure it creates exists in my brain. The things listed above—they are beautiful. I respond accordingly. People like me respond similarly.
Beauty is a reflection of the face of God. It is a glimpse of that with which I yearn to be connected. God is conceived and experienced differently by different people. He is not like physical objects, the existence of which can be empirically verified. But he speaks to us through physical reality—he fills us with longing, or he longs within us, for connection with the beauty we see in the world—or rather with the deeper reality of which these are the manifestations—divine love, or in Plato’s terms, absolute beauty.
Beauty is the manifestation of divine love acknowledged by human beings, who are also manifestations of divine love. When beauty is experienced, God is seeing an aspect of himself with longing through a physical form into which he has been incarnated.
Thus the experience of beauty is different for different people. God is speaking to them differently—or being glimpsed by them through different things—or glimpsing himself through himself in different ways. Forms awaken longing or joy in the individual that possesses some kind of symmetry with it. Thus beauty is personal. But patterns emerge. Groups emerge. I and people like me emerge, who see beauty in similar things. These groups may be described as informal communities. They are Tolkien fans, supporters of the Phoenix Chorale, Arizona backpackers with REI memberships, subscribers to any number of magazines, etc. None of the individuals in these groups will experience the thing they love in exactly the same way. No doubt they will be as indifferent to strangers within the “community” as to anyone else. But the core agreement puts them into intellectual proximity and is one of the conditions of friendship. Humans are delighted to find others like themselves, who see what they see. The faster the agreement, the greater the joy of discovering the other person. Even as few as two may agree, and form an island together. They will clasp hands and affirm that their opinion is not arbitrary or coincidental, but a natural response to the excellence of the thing they love—because beauty is not in the eye of the beholder, but in the object, and similar souls acknowledge it.
This attempt to articulate the mystery of the experience of beauty acknowledges its transcendent quality. The individual perceives excellence outside himself or herself. This experience should not be minimized. Accordingly, we should reject the subjectivist view that makes beautiful mean nothing more than I happen to get pleasure from it; and we can reject that view without denying that people obviously have different experiences and will rank the value or impact of them differently.
The subjectivist movement of last century (not the most important intellectual phenomenon happening at the time) coincided with a decline of interest in beauty amongst the artists historically regarded as prominent—Schoenberg, Kandinsky, Cage, Warhol, etc. This hiatus could not last very long because it contradicts human nature. The longing for deeper meaning cannot disappear, and honest people are eventually bound to admit their reflections. By the end of the century there was a renewal of interest in beauty in the academy and in the arts. Of course, subjectivism remains alive, and ever-opposed to the spiritual experience of beauty as described above.
I was reading John Locke and came across this:
“For law, in its true notion, is not so much the limitation as the direction of a free and intelligent agent to his proper interest, and prescribes no farther than is for the general good of those under that law: could they be happier without it, the law, as an useless thing, would of itself vanish; and that ill deserves the name of confinement which hedges us in only from bogs and precipices. So that, however it may be mistaken, the end of the law is not to abolish or restrain, but to preserve and enlarge freedom…”John Locke, Two Treatises on Government, Part Two, Chapter VI, para. 57
Of course this was stated in the context of a discussion about political power, but it reflects a larger principle, which the great composers of the past from Bach to Stravinksy and so on have duly embraced – compose within restraints, whether it’s “don’t write parallel perfect consonances” or “don’t repeat this pitch-class until these six others have been used.”
January 2, 2022
On Moral Fallacies: Why True Liberalism and Conservatism are Both Valid
A commitment to justice and a willingness to risk one’s life, livelihood, or reputation in its pursuit…These are the very qualities needed to defeat both Perverted Liberalism and Irrational Conservatism.
I am from the United States; but artistically, I identify as closely with my Italian heritage. More importantly than my citizenship or ancestry, however, I am an idealist. Like Abraham, I look for a better country.
In my work I acknowledge John Keats’ simple maxim—“Beauty is truth, truth beauty.”
Karen Armstrong’s St Paul: An Epistolary Review
March 17, 2017
Last Thanksgiving a friend got me a book called St. Paul: the Apostle We Love to Hate by historian Karen Armstrong. On December 30th I emailed a response, which is pasted below, typos and all (and pictures added), as an “epistolary” review of the book.
Hope your Christmas was fun. On the plane-ride to Italy I finished Karen Armstrong’s St. Paul. It was an enjoyable read with many insightful perspectives. I found it a convincing and informative biography with relatively little to quibble with. I’ll give a brief synopsis of my reaction to it, so you can have some Cliff Notes if you don’t have time to read it yourself…better call them Klug Notes!
1. I enjoyed, in fact loved, her characterization of the “Jesus Movement,” as inseparable from the political context in which it was birthed. She cites John the Baptist and Jesus himself in the opening chapter, describing their vision as one in which people were called to shoulder the burden of the economically oppressed, to give and receive freely, as Luke describes the believers in Acts having “all things in common.” This in contradistinction to the Roman empire which taxed laborers at extreme rates, and locked them up if they could not shoulder the burden–up to 66% of yield, she says. She quotes one historian who says that the common person under Roman patronage had two daily concerns, “shall I eat today?” and “shall I fall ill and be unable to pay my taxes?” (Think of the significance of Christ’s healing in this context!) This in conjunction with the use of crucifixion to scare subjugated peoples into obedience meant that the political system, despite it’s pretense as ushering a Pax Romana, was systematically cruel and unjust. Meanwhile, the elite in Judea, she says, were in cahoots with Rome, making matters worse.
The Roman Empire circa 100 CE
Before reading this book I remember reflecting on how Christ said, “come unto me all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest”–how it cannot have been originally understood otherwise than as addressing peoples’ economic plight. And the beatitudes…blessed are the poor for they shall inherit, etc….he foretells a world order in which political injustice is abolished. This is what the prophets in the bible have always cared about. It’s a refreshing thought, especially when many in the church have made the essence of biblical tradition into a “love letter from God,” and so on.
That Jesus’ message was given to people who were faced with the reality of political/economic oppression is implicit in the Gospels, and KA’s succinct articulation of it is beautiful and worthy of remembrance. Paul, she narrates, responded to this message with his conversion, and (along w the other Apostles) carried the torch passed by J the B and Jesus before him. It was a torch she describes as “utopian” and “egalitarian.”
The conversion of St. Paul, Michelangelo, 1542-45
2. She says the consensus among historians today is that Paul did not actually write a number of the letters attributed to him in the NT, including Colossians, Ephesians, 2 Thess., 1 & 2 Tim, Titus. I’m skeptical about this…I was curious and double-checked the salutations in some of these. In 2 Thess. he signs “I Paul, sign this with my own hand as I sign all my letters…” but then KA says “these were not forgeries in our sense.” Here I’ll quibble. Anyone who writes in the name of an admired sage and then signs that way is committing a forgery. I would have liked a footnote with some explanation on this point…but it was convenient to her argument that 1 & 2 Tim should not be Paul’s. Those are letter that have some of the most offensive talk about women being subject to men, etc. The biography is something of a rehabilitation of Paul…people hate him bc, for example, he is blamed for the long tradition of misogyny in the church, for condoning slavery, unconditional obedience to the government. By eliminating the letters to Timothy, KA’s job of rehabilitation is easier. But then she has to deal w I Corinthians.
3. She argues that the rule against women speaking in the assembly in 1 Cor. was probably an add-on, not by Paul himself. She argues the same for one of his exhortations to obey the ruling authorities. For me, this is possible but seems like a stretch. It reminds me of those who deny Thomas Jefferson’s involvement w Sally Hemmings…it doesn’t fit their conception of who this great man is supposed to be. They don’t want to believe it, so they go to whatever lengths necessary to come up with a reason they don’t have to believe in it. It seems like KA may be doing something similar with Paul. Indeed, I’d much rather Paul be innocent of those things, but it looks to me like agnosticism is the best stance available. KA argues that the misogynist passage is at odds with Paul’s statement in Galatians, “no more Jew nor Greek, slave or free, male female, but all are one in Christ…” that it would contradict his egalitarian ideals. I answer: indeed…people contradict themselves. My assessment of Paul, before reading this, was that he was extraordinarily progressive in many important respects (Gentiles don’t have to become circumcised, mutual racism between Jews and Gentiles should be transcended, pride in “works” of religious law is useless), but that he couldn’t let go of *all* that he had been raised to believe. And how can we expect so much of him? It’s hard to turn your back on *that* much of what you’ve been taught.
Saint Paul, by Rembrandt, 1657
4. KA argues against the idea that Paul was authoritarian. One of my personal problems with Paul as a teenager was Romans 9, where his response to the injustice of double predestination essentially amounts to “because God says so.” That, and other passages in the NT epistles, troubled me deeply, and I was ready to give up the faith (only the Gospels stayed my hand). In any case, KA doesn’t mention this Romans 9 bit, but for me it is at variance with her portrait of Paul as a de-centralist egalitarian.
5. Among the many eye-widening points she makes in the book was her comment that the specific language used to describe the Caesars in the first century was the same as that which the early Christians used to describe Christ–“savior,” “son of God,” “visible image of God.” This puts into perspective how early Christians viewed Jesus, and (I believe) how Jesus viewed himself–he is the true ruler of the world. Rulers at this time were considered divine. She says that back then the gulf between human and divine was not a big deal–gods became men and men became gods, in myth and legend. I recall in Acts someone from a crowd calls out when Herod Antipas is speaking, “it is the voice of a god, and not of a man!” This is one of several examples that put into historical context the language of scripture. It also reinforces the idea that the early Jesus followers were indeed concerned political rulership, as was the entire history of Israel in the OT.
6. I loved her emphasis of Kenosis–self-emptying love embodied by Christ’s sacrifice–and how Paul followed this example by working as an artisan after his conversion even though he was born into privilege and didn’t have to do so to make a living. He worked long and hard, and did so for others’ benefit. It’s a powerful testament to the humble character of this man, and it justifies the title of “Saint.”
Medieval Portrait of St. Paul
7. Paul’s story ends with imprisonment and unknown cause of death, and the delay of the hoped-for Parousia (second coming). KA wonders whether he died in despair. For me, his silent and uneventful passing underscores the idea that, while we hope for political salvation–world peace basically–in this world, the ultimate destination is after this life. Even if Parousia, and the concomitant deposition of unjust power, doesn’t happen in this life, the example of a self-emptying leader such as Paul does much to encourage others after him to not despair, but to, like he said, “press forward toward the mark” and “run the race set for me” so as to win.
I’ll stop here. Thanks again for sending the book over!
Hoping you’re well and that the New Year brings great things!