Thursday, 8 January 2015
Le cas Voltaire
Nothing can be expressed about the 'executions' in the Charlie Hebdo headquarters beyond horror and revulsion, but the ramifications of what happens next are thousandfold. I heard that folk at the French Institute today were in shock and tearful mourning; many of them had grown up familiar with the work of several of the murdered cartoonists, and felt that with their deaths went part of themselves. Of the thousands of outpourings, I was struck afresh when our beloved Sophie quoted a French journalist citing lines attributed to Voltaire: 'I disapprove of what you say, but I shall defend to the death your right to say it'.
The first point here is probably trivial, but the fact is that Voltaire didn't put it in those words: that was how a 1907 book by one Tallentyre, The Friends of Voltaire, summed up Voltaire's attitude to the state burning of a controversial book by the philosopher Helvétius. What he actually said, which doesn't begin to do justice to the present situation, was, 'so much fuss about an omelette!'. Anyhow, it was instructive to learn of the circumstances.
More troubling is an article by Brendan O'Neill in Spiked, which points out how the lawyer of the radical Muslim men tried in Luton back in 2010 for verbally abusing soldiers returning from Iraq and Afghanistan invoked that very phrase in their defence. Five of the seven were found guilty and fined £500 each with a conditional discharge, so Voltaire's tenet wasn't accepted. Certainly O'Neill's points about the west's forgetting Voltaire at its un- or dis-enlightened peril are rich and troubling food for thought, though I don't agree with them all. After all, European societies' hypocrisies are nothing compared to the wholesale pursuit of bloody revenge which is such a mass psychosis in the world today.
I'm still not comfortable enough with the question of spoofing Mohammed to declare 'je suis Charlie Hebdo' (I know, I'm being too literal there). But I do embrace this truth with all my heart (and a question mark about the slaver), courtesy of Index on Censorship.
Here is probably not the best place to reinforce what I wrote in the comments to the previous thread, since master musicologist Michael Kennedy's death at the age of 88 on 31 December was relatively peaceful and natural. Still, a sombre time seems appropriate to voicing something of my feelings. How I admired that man. His biography of Barbirolli was the first I ever read about a musician, since it was one of the few in my grammar school library that stood out when I first went there at the age of 11. And his Master Musicians study of Richard Strauss stoked my teenage infatuation; since then he's been the model of informed enthusiasm, not just about Strauss but also in warm appraisals of Boult, Britten, Elgar and Vaughan Williams.
We met often at operas and concerts, and shared several study days and discussions. He always looked a little wry when I told him how influential he'd been on my musical life, thinking perhaps that I was overdoing it ('licky, licky'; as another colleague, David Fanning, rather disarmingly put it). But I meant it. Since so much of his time was spent on the Northern edition of the Daily Telegraph, it seems right to link to that paper's obituary. Thoughts to the vivacious Joyce Bourne, his widow.
This is merely a detail, since it can't be seen clearly below, of a panel gathering at the Manchester Prokofiev Conference in 2003. How sad it makes me to note that Michael is only the latest person photographed to be no longer with us. Also here are Sir Edward Downes, my dear Noelle Mann, Lynne Walker and Sasha Ivashkin, all of them untimely gone.
I've not written about other deaths towards the end of 2014 which affected me personally, for various reasons; at the request of his griefstricken partner Cristian, I can't enlarge on how sad I feel about his dear Gary, and I'll miss two of my mother's closest and liveliest friends, the two Marys (Farrington and Hooper), though their lives had been so wretched in the last year or so that it really was that clichéd thing, a blessed relief.
So it goes. Il faut cultiver notre jardin.