Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Blog metronome

Often, the interruption of my blogging activities for a few days is a healthy sign. It can indicate that I've become involved in some other kind of activity that seems to be of a higher priority and maybe more rewarding than the ephemeral pulses of my blog metronome.

Recently, in my blog post entitled Voices from Vienna [display], I included a copy of a short personal letter sent to me in 1976 by the great Vienna-born art critic Ernst Gombrich. I forwarded a link to my blog to the people in charge of the Gombrich archives, for I imagined that it was my duty to inform them of this interesting little letter (in which Gombrich mentions his friend Karl Popper). Well, to cut a long story short, they are indeed interested in this document, and the circumstances in which my correspondence with Gombrich took place. So I started to dig through my personal archives in order to reconstruct the context in which I had written to Gombrich. At one point, I suggested to the British professor Richard Woodfield (a specialist on Gombrich) that I intended to deal with these questions in my blog, as soon as possible. Richard's honest reaction caught me a little off guard: "Blogs themselves are ephemeral affairs." He would prefer to receive from me something a little more substantial, fit to be incorporated into academic archives. And he's so right. In spite of all our wishful thinking and vain attempts to write words of wisdom, or even to entertain in a wholesome style, our poor metronome blogs remain ephemeral creations, in which bloggers flit gaily from one theme to another, often clumsily and inexpertly, while their commenters continue nevertheless to support and applaud their literary heroes of note with lots of LOLs and "I agrees". Finally, I was happy to tell Richard Woodfield that I intended to create an in-depth PDF document describing the context of my contact with Ernst Gombrich. So, in the near future, my blog will contain a short post that merely invites you to download the article in question (on which I am currently working).

Pursuing the theme of voices from Vienna, I had intended to talk about an event that left me with many fond memories: a Unesco consultation of experts on communication that took place at the Berghotel Tulbingerkogel in Mauerbach, near Vienna (on the edge of the Wienerwald), from 15 to 18 April 1980.

We came from nine countries, including the Soviet Union and Japan. The US participant was Lotfi Zadeh, renowned for his mathematical invention of fuzzy sets. The chairman was the Austrian musicologist Kurt Blaukopf (a specialist on Gustav Mahler), whom I had already encountered when I was working in Paris with Pierre Schaeffer (the inventor of musique concrète). My personal participation came about through my contacts in Paris with the French participant Yves Stourdzé, a sociology academic who had been a comrade of Daniel Cohn-Bendit at Nanterre in 1968.

Anecdote: Stepping into a tourist bus for some sight-seeing in Vienna, Yves Stourdzé said to me: "I've just received a phone call from Paris. Jean-Paul Sartre has died." Curiously, that trivial announcement of the philosopher's death [on 15 April 1980] made a lasting impact upon me… on a par with my being informed, say, that Kennedy had been shot, or that terrorists were flying planes into skyscrapers.

As for the meeting itself (for which I was the elected rapporteur), my blog would be an inadequate medium for delving into the themes that were discussed there. In any case, our meeting gave rise to a special issue of Unesco's International Social Science Journal [vol 32, no 2, 1980]. My personal participation consisted of expressing one of my favorite French themes: the way in which a blending of the semaphore towers of Claude Chappe and the punched-card weaving apparatus of Joseph-Marie Jacquard set the scene for the arrival, a century down the road, of a certain US company that gained celebrity and made a fortune through the manufacture and international marketing of so-called "business machines".

Over the last week, during the time that my blog metronome ceased its audible ticking, I was also enthralled by the fascinating story of the bacterial epidemic in Germany, but I soon discovered that it has become such a complex affair—intertwining several different dimensions: biology, public health, economics, etc—that it would be senseless and reckless to run the risk of writing insipid nonsense about such a huge problem. It's incredible that unexpected incompetence in Germany has given rise to so many disastrous false revelations concerning the source of the epidemic. Meanwhile, I've been working on a short blog post that sets forth my impressions of this affair, but it's probably preferable to refrain from saying anything for the moment.

Undisturbed by the ticks of a metronome, I was also able to take advantage of the warm days at Gamone (a little wet at the present moment) to get around to rereading, at last (for the first time since my move to Gamone), the hermit's hero: the American poet-naturalist Henry David Thoreau, who lived on his own in the woods of Massachusetts, alongside the lake named Walden, for two years. He was outdone in the stakes of solitude, in a way, by Master Bruno [1030-1101], who survived in his Chartreuse hermitage for six years. But I emerge far ahead of both of them, of course, in that I've been living on my own here at Gamone for 17 years!

Finally, let me get back to the metronome. Whenever my blog metronome stops ticking for more than a few days (as has been the case over the last week), I inevitably receive worried messages, of one kind or another, asking whether I'm still alive. At such times, I get around to wondering whether some people might be more attracted by the regular beats of my metronome than by the actual music of my blog (if I may be excused for claiming pretentiously that the latter is supposed to be present). To paraphrase an Aussie pollie who's famous for his blunt colorful language: Is it possible that these people receive my blog as all tick and no tune?

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