Posts Tagged ‘Immanuel Kant’

Leon Retief. Anton Bruckner en Immanuel Kant

Tuesday, May 24th, 2011

Dit klink na ‘n vreeslike geleerde betoog hierdie, maar is darem nie. Ek het nog altyd van Anton Bruckner se simfonieë gehou, al het Brahms hulle bestempel as simfoniese boa konstriktors en al het Eduard Hanslick hom telkens in vlamme afgeskiet. Kant? Jawellnofine, ek is meer as so effens skepties oor die dinge wat filosowe soms kwytraak, maar gelukkig was Kant darem nie ‘n postmodernis nie – iets wat beslis in sy guns tel. (koes… )

Jan Zwicky

Jan Zwicky

Hoe dit ook al sy, ek het onlangs ‘n digbundel deur Jan Zwicky gekoop. Zwicky (ongelukkig kon ek haar nie kontak nie, sy skyn ‘n baie private persoon te wees) lyk na ‘n baie interessante persoon – filosoof, digter en violis. Die betrokke bundel, Songs for Relinquishing the Earth, is aanvanklik deur Zwicky self uitgegee, elke kopie met die hand gebind en op aanvraag aan lesers gepos. In haar “Note on the Text” skryf sy die volgende: “Part of (my wish) for having the author be the maker and distributor of the book was a desire to connect the acts of publication and publicity with the initial act of composition, to have a book whose public gestures were in keeping with the intimacy of the art”

Hieronder dan haar gedigte oor Bruckner en Kant, sowel as haar gedagtes wat dit voorafgaan. Of haar mening dat die ooreenstemmings tussen Kant en Bruckner meer as toeval is – nou ja, dis miskien nie ter sake nie, (persoonlik verskil ek van haar mening) maar dit is nogtans interessant.


The set of variations that follows grows out of a long-standing conviction that the number and sort (haar kursief) of echoes in the lives of Immanuel Kant and Anton Bruckner have to be more than coincidental. Not least striking among the correspondences is the fact that there are few biographies of either, those that exist are slim, aand many open with apologies for the ‘boring’ character of their subjects’ lives. – Yet the lives were extraordinary. Neither man produced much of anything until middle or late-middle age, and then what each produced was massive, dense, huge, and astonishingly intricate. Both were, by contrast with their work, naifs: devoutly religious, devoted to their mothers, anxious not to offend. Both were virgins, although apparently heterosexual and eccentric – Bruckner liked to go around looking at people’s corpses, and to collect as many certificates of competence as he could get people to examine for him. Kant ate one meal a day, at one o’clock, which was always attended by guests he had his manservant invite that morning; he was renowned as a conversationalist, possibly in part because he believed one had a moral duty to tell genuinely funny after-dinner jokes, laughter being an aid to digestion. The housewives of Konigsberg set their clocks by his daily walk – a solitary walk, as Kant had some unusual notions about the transmission of germs.

Kant didn’t like music, except for brass bands – the basis of Bruckner’s orchestral palette. Both were early risers (Bruckner wrote a fugue every morning before breakfast) and extremely popular as teachers. Both were obsessive revisers. Although the documentation is not very explicit, it appears that Bruckner had a nervous breakdown during which his numeromanic tendencies became very pronounced. His own instruments were the country fiddle, and the organ. On the latter, he was one of the century’s great virtuosi, though he wrote little music for it, preferring to improvise in concert. His favourite musical interval, the key to the architectonic of his symphonies and masses, is the semi-tone. Despite its chromaticism, however, his music remains profoundly diatonic in organization and inspiration.

At the centre of Kant’s thought is his debate with Hume, whose sceptical arguments concerning the nature of our apprehension of causal relations, Kant tells us, first interrupted his ‘dogmatic slumber’. By the time he was fully awake, Kant had extended the scope of the discussion to embrace much of the history of modern western European philosophy. Kant’s Transcendental Deduction aims, among other things, to hook the solipsistic interior that idealism gives us back up to the real world. If it fails, then the skeptics are right: we can’t get from ‘in here’ to ‘out there’ (or to there even being an ‘out there’) by rational reflection alone. And this, of course, would make for some serious problems in a discipline defined by the thought that ‘to know’ means to know rationality.

Bruckner had career troubles of his own. His work was frequently the object of savage attacks by the powerful Viennese critic Eduard Hanslick. In the hopes of reconciling Hanslick to Bruckner, Bruckner’s friends arranged a meeting – but Bruckner was so nervous, he was unable to enter the building where Hanslick was waiting for him. Even after many years in Vienna, his manners retained an old-fashioned and provincial cast, and to the end of his life, he was regarded by Viennese society as something of a country bumpkin. He was, in addition, absent-minded, and is reported on at least one crucial occasion to have worn mismatched socks.

Material in italics in Variation 7 is taken from Norman Kemp Smith’s translation of the first Critique. The quotation in Variation 5 is from Scruton’s biographical sketch at the beginning of his book, Kant. The Latin in Variation 2 is a tag from Virgil, Kant’s favourite poet: They keep out of the hives the drones, an indolent bunch (Geotgics IV, 168). Kant quotes it at the conclusion of the Preface to the Prolegomena, using it to commend ‘sound critical principles.’ His view is that difficult and obscure though the Critique may seem in places, the project of modern metaphysics stands or falls with the comprehension of its arguments. This is not, in my view, an exaggerated assessment.

The voice, to use a highfalutin term, is polyphonic – it moves around a lot. Sometimes it is Kant’s sometimes Bruckner’s sometimes that of both, sometimes that of an observer. Among the observer-voices there is one that deserves special mention in connection with the conventions governing the composition of sets of classical variations. Not infrequently, especially in the works of Haydn and Beethoven, the sublime and the ridiculous are deliberately juxtaposed – the meditative tension is relieved by a scherzo.  This goofing-off usually occurs about two-thirds or three-quarters of the way through. It appears here in Variation 8.

(Nota: in Zwicky se boek verskyn elke Variasie op ‘n aparte bladsy en word hulle nie genommer nie. Om die lees en identifikasie te vergemaklik het ek aan elkeen ‘n nommer gegee.)




What did they want of me?

What’s worth saying?


A terrible thing, always losing your socks.

God is everywhere, everywhere.


This is the shortest path

there is only one. Listen.


Clouds above the western mountains:

A good laugh.


Close your eyes. Not what you knew then.

Not even what you know now.




If reason cannot do it, what then?

Don’t care for music, never have.


How is pure math possible? Turn inward: you will

see the left hand’s glove can never fit the right.


Love your mother. Love the moral law,

the path up and the path down. Lieber Gott,


we cannot touch a hair

without affecting all the rest.


Bees of the invisible. Ignavum

faces pecus a praesepibus arcent.





Gesture unhurried.

The shoe that’s on the right foot


will not fit the left.

The way is clear.


Organ lofts: in Linz, Kremsmünster, Steyr.

If the practice is coherent, we are free.


Improvise? St. Epvre, the Crystal Palace, Notre Dame: there’s


For those who need to see it written down.


Step by step, semitone by semitone.

The bishop, listening, too moved to pray.





Schonberg will be wrong. Yes, even now

It’s everywhere and every second


thundering, erupting home. Hume saw.

Without synthetic a priori


we are lost. The size of it!

You think the Dutch might understand?


A rainbow arched across the canyon. Bridge

of stone. No wonder you are blind.


Something brushes past your head.

God’s claw.





A terrible thing, always losing your socks.

Scratches on the handles of the bureau drawer.


Mass in D Minor. 40 years old. Critique

of Pure Reason: 57. Lively lecture styles.


You can determine everything. Or nothing.

What’s to tell? “His blameless life….”


The path has no algebra. Its geometry

is perfect.


Walk alone. Breathe through your nose.

Converse with no one out of doors.





One meal a day at, exactly one. Death’s face

is numberless and duty means a good joke.


Static, they say, and repetitious, set

your clock: but look, they haven’t seen what I have:


it’s the size of Texas! Listen:

safety lies in numbers. Sicherheit


and certainty. Oh father, count them! – stars, leaves, pearls, the Danube


swelling, flashing, thundering and plunging,

glittering , it swallows us.





A good laugh aids digestion. Add

the practical necessity of freedom


and you get a knock-down argument

for telling after-dinner jokes. Yet


the soul, like noumena,

unknowable –


out past the last outpost of reason.

We yet comprehend it is


Incomprehensible. Open the door.

Sunlight and singing. All that we may ask.





“Forms of nutrition”, “categories

of the understanding” – nah,


forget the prose: the argument’s

built like a Rolls. That Hume, see,


he weren’t taken with the view, so

when the rad blew,


quit. Thing was, he saw you just can’t get

from here to there by car.


(Walked out with his pool cue, so they say.

Don’t meet a mind like his just every day.)





The pale brown of the lilac hedge grows paler.

Tinier and tinier, the stitches in the quilt.


Finches, too, a singular array

on the pocked February snow. It’s all


you see, or nothing.

Hume, that acute man.


A fugue a day keeps god’s

claws at bay. Routine


can render one invisible. It’s true.

There’s no place safe.





We have searched, sir. No sign

of early talent, never could conduct. His first


Beethoven concert failed to stand him

on his ear. (In Linz, sir: No. 4; apparently


a fine performance.) couldn’t sight-read. Desperate

for approval (quite pathetic, really, sir) but


never thought to mend his overcoat. Wore baggy pants,

liked sauerkraut. Numeromaniac. A virgin.


Nothing else, sir. We’re afraid

that’s it.





What did they want of me?

Terror, beauty; heaven, and the moral


law,; the angels’ hot chromatic breath

Or symphonies, critique unfurling


like an amaryllis on its leafless stalk.

I’ve seen Beethoven’s corpse, believe me


genius will not save you. Schonberg

will be wrong. But Hume?


God’s hand in the bureau drawer:

One sock, two sock, red sock, blue sock.





Rainbow arch of stone across the canyon.

Sun cascading through the pass.


Water, light: that’s the shape of it:



Love the countryside. Your mother.

Brass bands. Exactitude.


It’s not about music or ideas.

E both knew you couldn’t be too careful.


Close your eyes.

The bridge is exactly as wide as your foot.