February 19. Jazz

A life for the art is a life apart. A life à part, a sacrifice of solitude. You have to keep moving on, or you will become mediocre, a painful aesthetic entrepreneur smiling unctuously to his customers. But how do you live art? Hear that question? It is no good thinking about that at all. You just live. Take me and Jack, we just do what we do. If someone comes along and asks us if we live for the art we say of course and what are you living for? For the dough? Who doesn’t live for the art? Who doesn’t consider himself an artist of life?
Today I went for a short walk in the Barrio Alto to find a café to write. I walked down too far first, then went up again. Behind me a street musician playing Beethoven’s ninth, the anthem of Europe, and shaking his paper cup with ample coins in it to match the rhythm. Beethoven in my back, a straight blue sky above my head, reflections in the shop windows, wonderful clothes they are selling, walking up the street again to reach my café A Brazileira, the popular tourist place with the Paris entourage. I went inside and jack came along. I ordered a coffee, wrote, was said that sitting inside costs extra, felt too proud or stingy, went to another place and continued my work there. Some poetry, a fragment in French I will send to Aurélie to correct, and a short Dutch essay about the beauty of moving our appendages. It was a beautiful afternoon. I concluded the day with satisfaction and appetite to continue writing tomorrow.

Jack didn’t say much and stands at the counter to order a strong espresso. Why didn’t he go for crack right away, one asks. Well, I can explain that to you. It’s because Jack lives by the second, not by the millisecond. He still has some sense of what’s going on around him. There are still some moral values, there’s still some social glue that slips into his perception of the world. Jack is always after his pleasure, if he sees something that he can associate with pleasure (and he has a rich fantasy) he tries to grab it. He tries once, twice, and when he’s not successfull he moves on.
Jack is only a few days old now. I created him out of a rib of mine, if that metaphore pleases you. He already gave up on the world, the poor bastard. He would have been a cynic if he were like one of us. But he isn’t. Jack has no consciousness. But as we will discover in the course of his development, Jack will become our consciousess.
The opposite of Jack, of course, lives aeon by aeon. It is the higher spirit Nietzsche dreamt about. The spirits that communicate with each other throughout the centuries, Napoleon, Bismarck, Goethe, Mozart, Dante, Shakespeare, Churchill. Their talk stands on a higher level. The Apollinic beauty of the products of their minds is tantalizing to the smaller spirits; the aere perennius of their words becomes the holy grail of the less gifted; their halkyonic aura does a great job consoling the misanthropical semi-geniusses among us. Jack has a brother, Marin, who is his opposite in this sense, but he wouldn’t come with us. He is hibernating in Berlin.

Jack sees a man with a golden watch around his wrist and starts talking to him.
“You must be a wealthy man with that golden wristwatch?”
Jack lives by the second. He knows all he has to know about watches, namely their price.
The man felt uncomfortable but then found the question hilarious enough to answer it. He laughed
“Yes, you could say that. I don’t complain.”
Jack pops his lips. Then he asks his next question
“Is your daughter free?”
-“What do you mean, free?”
Jack frowns. He isn’t used to being the one that has to explain everything.
“Free to have. Can I marry her?”
The man looks stupified. Jack says “marry” because it sounds good.
-“Look mister, I don’t know who you are, but I don’t like your tone.”
“My tone? I’m only politely asking for your daughter’s hand. So, is she free?”
-“I don’t know.”
“Can’t you find out?”
The man turns his head and starts to talk to a beautiful young woman who sits next to him, as to shut down the conversation with Jack. Jack estimates the woman to be about 27 years old, and falls in love with her on the spot. It is not only her breathtakingly well-formed décolleté that makes Jack feel like a hummingbird exploring a peach tree, not only the warm teint on her smart-looking face, not only the shiny long hear that curls over her shoulders like manes in gentle gait, but her whole appearance. Her whole appearance fits into Jack’s seconds. He moves over with his chair and looks the young woman straight in her eyes.
“So, you must be his daughter. I reckon you can answer my question. So, are you free?”
She laughs.
-“No mister, I am happily married.”
Happiness sounds good. Jack doesn’t want to meddle in that.
“So, who’s the lucky guy?”
-“I am” the old man answers and he kisses the girl on her mouth. “She’s my wife.”
Jack understands pleasure is out of reach here. He gives the girl a card whispering in her ear “if he dies give me a call okay” and leaves.

That night we heard piano jazz and bossa nova from Mozambique in the CCB (Centro Cultural de Belém). It was a free concert, and it was really good. I recognized Schubert Impromptus in a terrific jazz version for solo piano. Sitting on the floor, I dwelt in dear memories of listening to piano music, memories that I have to take care of. Music is the only thing that counts! I can understand the musicians who are living for nothing but music, who marry, love, work, sleep, procreate, eat, drink, all for music, all with music in their ears. Alfred Brendel. Daniel Barenboim. That night, the piano touched me. As a writer, I take off my hat. This went way beyond words. Still, of course, my task is to find out beyond which words. I think during concerts. Always did. They can only stop the stream of thoughts in very short moments, then I feel the music, but normally thoughts pile up in my head, unfinished philosophies, ideas for writing, buzzing through my head and warming it up like a huge chestnut in a campfire. Music must catalyse it in some way. The thoughts, the words that are the furthest coasts of language, the Patagonia of speech, the heavenly words we imagine music goes beyond – is writing not a quest for these final words, that we must never understand as final but as the beginning of the organic movement of music?

We are on an Odyssee. I have to remind Jack all the time, because he never gets it. He doesn’t get excited about what’s more than a few seconds, alas, a few hours away from him. I feel sorry for him. But what can I do? There’s nothing in my power that I can do to educate Jack. Not yet.

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Kamiel Choi

Dutch philosopher and poet, sometimes sharing thoughts on the internet.

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