Ferrarello: The Last Concert of the Greek National Symphony Orchestra; or The Need to Become a SubjectJun 22nd, 2013 | By Marc Applebaum | Category: Feature
It may be that to see yourself, it is not sufficient to look at yourself in a mirror, because you may not want to see yourself or, more likely, you aren’t able to see yourself as the subject of your seeing. It may be that you do not want to pay attention to those signs that show you where you really are and what you feel, because it may be too painful or pointless, or simply because you are so used to your familiar image of yourself that you have become, for yourself, an object like any other object.
But then, if you are given the opportunity to look at yourself from a different angle or in an unexpected way, your image may turn out to be clearer and less ‘objectual’. In my case the opportunity arrived when I watched the video, below, of the last concert of the Greek National Symphonic Orchestra.
Watching this video was an intersubjective experience which revealed my image to myself and gave me the energy return to being-a-subject. This video, in fact, offered a mirror of my political and social condition in Italy—a condition that I have been trying to keep at distance, despite the fact that I am living within it. But as Hannah Arendt wrote “we lie in politics” (On Violence) and we cannot escape from it. We are in politics and we can only decide if we want to become its subject or its object.
Thus, this video invited me to reflect on the process of becoming a subject and to examine how much this process is compromised in countries like Greece, as well as Italy or Turkey, where basic human needs are lacking. Being a subject is not equivalent to merely living. One’s life can be an object in the hands of others who decide where to direct your residual energy, since you probably lack the mental, or say, the spiritual energy to make the decision.
Being a subject is a “need” or an “achievement”, as Alain Badiou stated in his book L’éthique; it is a categorical imperative, as Husserl wrote in his Kaizo articles, that pushes you toward a deeper and deeper authenticity; it is a need or an “ought” that is more and more thrown into crisis in those societies in which the sense of what Badiou terms the “event” is lost. By “event” I mean something that comes (venire) from (e) an unexpected direction to shake your consciousness; or, as Arendt wrote, it is an “occurrence that interrupts routine processes and routine procedures” (On Violence, p. 20). In a society in which almost everything is an event that upsets your daily existence, your consciousness begins to lose the strength to remain awake.
So in this post I will reflect on how the term alterity (a word which I will return to later, and which is particular important in Stein’s and Husserl’s vocabulary, especially when talking about intersubjectivity) speaks to me regarding the subjectivity and objectivity of my condition. I would like to begin with some political ‘events’ and explicate the intersubjective meaning we can draw from them.
Events and Culture
Reporting these ‘events’ I am not interested in “the freshness” of the news stories. Instead I will follow the thread of these facts in an effort to disclose the intersubjective political and spiritual meanings of these lived-experiences.
On Wednesday of June 11, 2013, while violent protests against the government of Erdogan continued in Turkey—ostensibly in response to the planned removal of the trees in Taksim Square—the Greek government announced the immediate closure of the Hellenic Broadcasting Corportation (ERT).
By a legislative act, 2,780 employees from 5 TV stations and 29 radio stations were fired.
Among those who lost their jobs there were the musicians of the National Symphonic Orchestra. They decided to give a last concert to say farewell. This news came as a shock and it was followed by a wave of protests and a 48-hour general strike in Greece.
Another event in Italy: on the 3rd of August, 2012 the culture ministry decided to allocate just over 1% of its budget to the Italian state archives because of the recession. Rome, Como, and Modena cultural offices that were already in a deep economic crises would almost certainly be obliged to close down as a result. After 500 years, the Rome cultural office, built in 1500, that houses 1.5 million papyrus items, 800,000 antique maps, 35 million original drawings, files belonging to the Ming dynasty, a rental agreement belonging to Caravaggio, and former Italian prime minister Aldo Moro‘s letters written while he was in the hands of the Red Brigades, will no longer be able to preserve the memory of a country.
These two political events show phenomenally how strongly the ongoing cultural life and spirit of a people is touched and even deformed by our current crisis. In Greece, Italy, Spain and in some of the European countries that are experiencing a moment of deep economic crisis the culture is the first thing to be sacrificed to the ‘common good’.
It useless here to start an argument about the inopportunity of this choice. I just want to reflect with Husserl on what culture is, and on how it influences our intersubjective identity and power of growth. “By culture”—he writes in his Kaizo articles—“we mean the whole of the deeds (…) put in practice by men combined together by their ongoing activities” (p. 26). Culture is a means to put people together and generate a sense of community. “It is ‘Vergemeinschaftung’, that is the source that combines people together” (p. 26). More, Husserl writes “the culture grounded in free reason and, at its best, in the freedom that craves universality, stands for the absolute teleological idea, the absolute and effective entelechy which defines the idea of a European culture as a unit of development and rational definition” (p. 119).
By teleology and entelechy Husserl means the process by which I choose and commit to my aim (telos) and drive my action toward (en) that goal. Entelechy means exactly this being-directed toward a final end: “en telos”. To Husserl culture has this power: to create a community, a whole people rationally choose to work toward an individual, and, accordingly, a communal, meaningful goal. For example: a civil rights movement aims at achieving a more just society for all. And these choices and commitments shape and are shaped by culture. In this sense, culture is that spiritual energy by which people build community on rational, subjective, teleological and meaningful choices. The more this energy is weakened, the more we can lose the opportunity to renew ourselves and put in practice that entelechy by which we fulfill ourselves as a community driven by conscious goals.
The sense of alterity
These facts or ‘events’ are ‘encounters’, to use Badiou’s term ( in L’éthique) or, moments that can prompt us to respond and come to a new understanding of our identity. In fact, our identity is not our passive being (in Husserlian terms), it is not the lazy result of our present becoming, but it is an ‘achievement’. It requires our active answer, our conscious response, to what is happening around us.
Musicians lost their job, but that does not mean that they will not be musicians anymore. The archives cannot have funds to safeguard cultural documents, but this will not erase our memory. Present events cannot change who we are or annihilate our identity, rather they are an opportunity for us to react. But is this true? Are we reacting to all that is happening in Greece, in Italy?
What struck me when I saw that video was the sudden awareness I gained about the sense of detachment or insensitivity I had been reflexively living in response to these ‘encounters’. I realized that I have not responded to the events that have been occurring daily in Italy, destroying little by little the fundaments of our culture, as encounters or events that awakened me, but just as moments that seemed to weaken my ‘mental’ energy. I found myself numb, even passive, a passive witness. Watching that video, I realized that facts that should have shaken my consciousness and called me to actively respond, to seek to answer, were instead leaving me with the sense of being merely the passive object of my experience.
In the Greek video of the last concert, the reporters seemed to want to see people crying and falling apart. But the Greeks seemed not to be in that mood. There was one violinist -and she was repeatedly returned to by the camera, as if hungrily—who was crying. But the others, the majority, seemed to be mostly cold, empty, quiet, angry faces. The expectations (among we Mediterraneans) that we would witness the hot blood of Mediterranean people was probably disappointed the TV reporters’ inability to find strong, emotional reactions.
Their faces, clothes, and hair reminded me our Italian faces. Their reactions explained much to me about my condition, I would say, of ‘objectuality’. Their alterity gave me the answers to my questions.
The alterity, that in the Edith Stein’s sense means the invisibility of the visible (Zum Problem der Eihfuehlung), can be that givenness which shows you something of yourself that you would not see otherwise. It is through this alterity that you are able to perceive your submerged and unrecovered subjectivity—by feeling the contrast and the similarities between yourself and the “alien” other. According both to Stein and Husserl, you ‘appresent’ the other, you make it present as a part of your identity as a Leibhaftig, as something that is in person present, though it will remain, by definition, different from what you are, and it is thanks to this difference that it can speak to you.
I experienced the alterity of those Greek faces twhich I recognized as my face. Through them I understood the intensity of my noetic activity and I became aware of my process of becoming-a-subject.
Noesis and Noema
In Husserl’s theory the relationship between yourself and the real world occurs through noetic and noematic acts. Both these terms come from the Greek nous—which signifies mind, or intellect—and thought (noema). The noesis is the act through which you grasp what is outside of yourself and the noema is that which is grasped. In the first volume of Ideas (§§ 84-99), Husserl defines the noesis as a meaning-giving act (Sinngebung) and the noema as the sense (Sinn) acquired through this act.
Thus, according to Husserl, you live in a life-world (Lebens–welt), in the world of your experience, only when you are able to establish a noetic and noematic relationship with that real world. After watching the video, I wondered what happens if I were not able to return to the life-world and re-establish my living contact with it? If instead, I was limited to merely registering facts instead of giving them a meaning?
In that video what deeply hit me was the contrast between the noesis of the camera and its noema. The camera (the subject behind the camera) was looking for tears and tragedy through ongoing zooming onto the faces of musicians and participants of the protests. But the Greeks seemed calm, exhausted and probably resigned.
This is the same contrast I felt before other tragic events in Italy. I was present to protest, but my noetic activity was weak: enervated. Through the video I understood that I had lost my sense of the ‘event’ or of the ‘encounter’. My noetic activity of giving a sense to the things that surround me had been, as it were, “delegated” to someone else. In those moments I lost my responsive capacity, my identity, and my authenticity. Husserl in his Kaizo articles talks about the Verantwortlichkeit, the responsibility, etymologically meant as “the capacity to answer”, to give a responce to what you are experiencing, to who you really are, and “rewrite” your experience according to your noesis.
Every human identity needs this capacity to answer to a Berufsleben, to a vocation and a call. The “authenticity”, again from Greek, means exactly this capacity of being autos, of being identical to yourself. Demonstrating fidelity and integrity in relation to your essential self. If you miss the opportunity to engage in a noetic and noematic relationship with your life-world and do not engage with its events as an encounter, you invite the loss of your spiritual energy, your decisional subjectivity, your being a part of an entelechical community. You could become just an object as a tree is, or as your work instruments are, in the hands of someone else. If you become convinced that there is no possibility of finding consistency or congruence between your inner intuition of who you are and the life-world in which you find yourself daily, wouldn’t it be natural to cease to even seek to perceive your presence in the world?
I conclude with the words of Hannah Arendt that perfectly describe this sense of annihilation in The Origin of Totalitarianism (120): “The human sense of reality demands that men actualize the sheer passive givenness of their being, not in order to change it, but in order to make articulate and call into full existence what otherwise they would have to suffer passively anyhow.”
Arendt, H. On Violence, New York: Harcourt, 1970.
Arendt, H. The Origin of Totalitarianism, New York: Harcourt, 1968.
Badiou, A. Ethics: An essay on the understanding of evil (P. Hallward, Trans.). New York: Verso, 2001.
Husserl, E. Ideas Pertaining to a Pure Phenomenology and to a Phenomenological Philosophy, Dordrecht: Kluwer, 1982.
Husserl, E. Renewal: Its Problem and Method,” Jeffner Allen (trans.), in Husserl: Shorter Works, Peter McCormick and Frederick Elliston (eds.), University of Notre Dame Press, 1981.
Stein, E. Zum Problem der Einfuehlung, Halle: Buchdruckerei des Wesenshauses, 1917.