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The Blanket - A Journal of Protest & Dissent

Parallels and Paradoxes

Daniel Barenboim and Edward W. Said, Parallels and Paradoxes: Explorations in Music and Society
(London: Bloomsbury Paperbacks, 2004) 190pp. £7.99
ISBN 0 7475 6385 3

Book Review

Liam O Ruairc • The Other View, Summer 2004, Issue 17

Until his death last year, the Palestinian intellectual Edward W. Said had been internationally recognised as an extraordinary influential and innovative thinker, an astute commentator on literature and culture, an accomplished pianist and a passionate defender of the Palestinian cause. Since the early 1990s, Said had been a staunch critic of the “Peace Process” in Palestine. Daniel Barenboim is one of the central figures of the musical world today, director of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra and Deutsche Staatsoper in Berlin. One of the most recorded artist in history, he was the first and most pro eminent Israeli musician ever to perform in the Palestinian West Bank. This book brings together those two individuals from opposite sides of the Arab Israeli conflict is a series of dialogues about various aspects of music. The book is accessible to the general reader and does not require technical knowledge. “These are conversations not treatises, and it is the nature of the conversation at its best to be engrossing for everyone involved, as well as from time to time to take even the speaker by surprise,” explains Said.

Music belongs to the world of sound, more specifically to that of sound relations (both relations between sounds, and relations between sound and silence as the absolute limit of music). This is what differentiates making music from just the production of unrelated sound. When we talk about music, we more often talk about how we are affected by it (that it is poetic, sensual, spiritual and so on), than about it in itself. But as Barenboim points out, music is far less about ‘emotion’ than about “structure as emotional means of expression”. Those means are the contrasting elements of music (like harmony, dissonance, notes, tempo etc) and their form (sonata, symphony and so on). To properly appreciate a piece of music, it is necessary to understand the technique displayed by the musician. Said asks: “The musician is very much wrapped up in a tonal world … is it possible to talk of the world of the musician as a social one at all?” The point is, as the most abstract of arts, has music anything relevant to say about society, history and political conflict? As a critical thinker, what Said is interested in “is always to challenge what is given”, and Barenboim can find such a process at work in music and performance: “You have to ask yourself: does music have a purpose, a social purpose, and what is it? Is it to provide comfort and entertainment, or is it to ask disturbing questions of the performer and of the listener?”

For Said and Barenboim, through understanding the nature of music it can become possible to challenge one’s certainties and understand the ‘other view’, or at least make place for it. After all, music made possible an occasion for a Palestinian and an Israeli to have this fascinating dialogue. By learning about music, you can learn about the other. Barenboim’s musical doctrine “comes out of the nature of a paradox: that you have to have the extremes; that you have to find a way to put the extremes together, not necessarily by diminishing the extremity of each on, but to form the art of transition.” It is not necessary to reconcile or somewhat diminish and take the edge of extremes. “You have to keep the extremes, but find the link, always find the link so that there is an organic whole.” This “art of transition” will sound familiar to The Other View.

The book is dedicated to the West-Eastern Divan Workshop in Weimar, where musicians from Israel and the Arab countries have in recent years worked together and shown that rapprochements and friendships, hitherto thought impossible, may be achieved through music. “But this does not mean that music will solve the problems of the Middle East. Music can be the best school for life, and at the same time the most effective way to escape from it.” (Barenboim)






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The Blanket - A Journal of Protest & Dissent



All censorships exist to prevent any one from challenging current conceptions and existing institutions. All progress is initiated by challenging current conceptions, and executed by supplanting existing institutions. Consequently the first condition of progress is the removal of censorships.
- George Bernard Shaw

Index: Current Articles

16 August 2004

Other Articles From This Issue:

Repression in Rathenraw
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Beating the Wife
Kathleen O Halloran

Fan Abuse
Sean Smyth

Save the Black Mountain
Davy Carlin

Parallels and Paradoxes
Liam O Ruairc

14 August 2004

At One with the West Belfast MP
Kathleen O Halloran

Disbanding the Provos
Tommy McKearney

Lessons from the Ceasefire
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Jobs for the Boys
George Young

Working Withing British 'Law' With A Vow NOT to Use Force Against the British
Sharon O'Sullibhan

Conditions for Irish POWs Today
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The Faithful...
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Globalised Indifference
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No Human Being is Illegal!
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