08 February, 2012

A Preface to Nothing, Really

I went to the opera tonight. No big deal...just sort of showed up about a half hour before and got "last minute" student tickets with a friend. Tickets for what would have been very, very expensive seats at La Monnaie.

Walking back, I had one of those moments of historical-hyper-consciousness (when lacking a better term one may as well use the most absurd, eh?) of the sort that Wordsworth would have worried himself to half his weight trying to describe. The sort that involves Belgian revolutions, the "historical trauma" of Walloon and Flemish collaboration and resistance during the 1940s, historical taboos vis à vis the mistreatment of the Congo, September 11, the TSA, ancient Rome, the development of nationalism in western Europe, images from the recently-watched Pianist and less-recently-watched Joyeux Noel, various and present challenges to the US Constitution, the weird (to an American) fact that Belgians actually have a king, Trappist breweries dating back hundreds (!) of years, demolition, Victor Horta, Joseph Poelaert, la Belle Epoque, shopping on Boulevard Anspach, and yes, Belgian revolutions...this time in relation to the EU.  But, as is typical during such moments, these things didn't really "pass through the mind" as things usually do; rather the moment was one of those in which the particulars are held before the consciousness while what one is primarily aware of is the fact that the self which is conscious of all of these things (a very je est un autre moment; thanks Rimbaud) actually is, and is in a historical context.*  That one exists in a history that is no less historical than any of the things about which one is thinking and that all the historical characters thought in a way that is very much the way one is thinking. That's something I think about all the time, intellectually. But intellectual "understanding" and emotional understanding are not identical, though the latter is properly a completion of the other, not something that ought to exist in isolation. (Which is another sense in which Wordsworth is quite right. I should really give that guy more credit than I want to.)

In any case, I don't know that being in Europe--and actually watching an opera at the place where the Belgian revolution from the Netherlands broke out in an opera house built by Joseph Poelaert (personal architect to that same Leopold II who was responsible for so many improvements being made around Brussels at the expense of the Congolese) in the effective capital of the EU--does all that much to encourage such moments. It makes a wider variety of historical experience more immediate, and being a visitor to a place does obviously heighten the je est un autre effect. But that latter can happen even on a trip to the ocean. And plenty of history has "happened" in any town in the US.

Well, that was all meant to lead into something about my reading lately. Which has been, not surprisingly, a lot of history. Some literary-critical, but even that has been history-oriented. However, since Operas tend to run Late, I am Tired, and wanting sleep. So my hopefully-brief post about the opera itself will have to be (forgive the exhaustion-induced pun, but I must make it) post-poned. And my post about historical consciousness, its manifestations in Europe, its curious absence from certain eras of American life (now is not one of them, I might argue), and what it means to be an American in Europe if your first name is not Henry, and how that affects your ability to empathetically comprehend your own historical existence ...well, that also will have to be postponed (but in this second case, I think it likely that the post will be written only in my head; pauvre lecteur!)

*Note: it is annoying to describe consciousness without relying upon philosophical terms, but philosophical terms generally lack a certain immediacy; poetic description would be better, but that takes real work.

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