Friday, April 13, 2007

Philosophy learns in the Street with Edith Piaf (Midrash to 'Thinking in Dark Times')

'I know he will never be mine, nor will I be his... but I am willing to sacrifice everything for love, even if it can only mean loss for both of us' -Edith Piaf


La fille de joie est belle
Au coin de la rue là-bas
Elle a une clientèle
Qui lui remplit son bas
Quand son boulot s'achève
Elle s'en va à son tour
Chercher un peu de rêve
Dans un bal du faubourg
Son homme est un artiste
C'est un drôle de petit gars
Un accordéoniste
Qui sait jouer la java

Elle écoute la java
Mais elle ne la danse pas
Elle ne regarde même pas la piste
Et ses yeux amoureux
Suivent le jeu nerveux
Et les doigts secs et longs de l'artiste
Ça lui rentre dans la peau
Par le bas, par le haut
Elle a envie de chanter
C'est physique
Tout son être est tendu
Son souffle est suspendu
C'est une vraie tordue de la musique

La fille de joie est triste
Au coin de la rue là-bas
Son accordéoniste
Il est parti soldat
Quand y reviendra de la guerre
Ils prendront une maison
Elle sera la caissière
Et lui, sera le patron
Que la vie sera belle
Ils seront de vrais pachas
Et tous les soirs pour elle
Il jouera la java

Elle écoute la java
Qu'elle fredonne tout bas
Elle revoit son accordéoniste
Et ses yeux amoureux
Suivent le jeu nerveux
Et les doigts secs et longs de l'artiste
Ça lui rentre dans la peau
Par le bas, par le haut
Elle a envie de chanter
C'est physique
Tout son être est tendu
Son souffle est suspendu
C'est une vraie tordue de la musique

La fille de joie est seule
Au coin de la rue là-bas
Les filles qui font la gueule
Les hommes n'en veulent pas
Et tant pis si elle crève
Son homme ne reviendra plus
Adieux tous les beaux rêves
Sa vie, elle est foutue
Pourtant ses jambes tristes
L'emmènent au boui-boui
Où y a un autre artiste
Qui joue toute la nuit

Elle écoute la java...
... elle entend la java
... elle a fermé les yeux
... et les doigts secs et nerveux ...
Ça lui rentre dans la peau
Par le bas, par le haut
Elle a envie de gueuler
C'est physique
Alors pour oublier
Elle s'est mise à danser, à tourner
Au son de la musique...

Arrêtez la musique ! ...

[...Verbum sapienta.... Iterum]


'Late through the morning
I find no comfort in my sleep
I still wander through devenir
Who am I to please, indeed?

Still didn't get a haircut
In still, smoked, I've been
Devoid of thought, enfin
I no longer believe the time.

Neither remember whether I lived,
Nor the tongue I now speak,
Happily gay, even queer,
A child lived thorough in me.

Below his arms, I could falter
Above the earth, I hasten
Ever since grew old my answers,
I dwell'd in the moon, the sea, oh! father.'
(one of my poems, from Nov. 2004)

This beautiful song, one of the most popular of Edith Piaf has an interesting story, when Piaf (the sparrow) had been still a young man but already paving her way to become France's most popular singer a young man came to her house in Paris and stood by her portico for about three hours attempting to convince the maid to summon the sparrow to him; the young woman filled with fame and foul couldn't be any less concerned but after several hours she thought for herself 'if he's already here, why not then?'. A young soldier walks into the large salon to encounter Piaf and remarks to her that he's written a song for her and that he wants to play it. He adds while laying his riffle outside, that the day after he would be going to the army to fight in a war and the young woman delaying her agents and composers sits idly to hear the man play and adds 'you have three minutes to play', and after a minute she says 'I want it... everybody out of here! I must practice' and she stays in the salon next to the piano learning the song from the young man as he plays... the young man remained unnamed and was never meant to return from the war, while Piaf adopted the song and sang it at one of her first concerts at the Olympia [see Edith performing this song]. Not unlike 'L'accordeoniste' also her most famous song so far, 'Je ne regrette rien' that also rained upon her thus. The older woman already in her late fourties and burdened with arthritis and worn out from long years of irresponsible alcohol and morphine had been recovering from a nervous breakdown for about a year already in the 1960's; the agents, contractors and insurance companies were extremely troubled at the situation and set themselves to assess the situation, on whether she would be able to give at least a last concert in the Olympia as she had been by then enthroned as the singer of Paris.

In the middle of the conversations the nurse turned to Mdme. and informed her about the two musicians gathering at the door waiting to present her with a song, Michel Vaucaire (the lyrics) and Charles Dumont (the music). The musicians came in and Paif once again remarked to them, 'Please be quick, I'm tired'. But in a rendez-vous from the old story soon after the song started playing the soothed and asked for it to be played again; the lyrics were written by Vaucaire in honour of Piaf's defiant attitude toward the past - the ability to 'create ex nihilo', to produce new beginnings. She thought it had been the song she had been awaiting for her whole life:

Non, rien de rien
Non, je ne regrette rien
Ni le bien qu'on m'a fait
Ni le mal... tout ça m'est bien égal
Non, rien de rien
Non, je ne regrette rien
Car ma vie, car mes joies
Aujourd'hui, ça commence avec toi !
[see Edith performing this song with the original music composer in 1961]
Immediately she phoned the director at the Olympia and scheduled a concert, took with her the cross of St. Therese and prayed and then sang, sang like only the cricket-male sings himself to death in the woeing of his maiden. Piaf sang at the Olympia one of her last concerts and dedicated her performance to the French Legion in Algeria. Just before she sank into the anonimity of illness, of solitude, of disappointment, of life... In her last years while vacationing in California she agreed to give an interview at the beach to a young journalist in which she was asked what would be her advise to adult people? 'Love', and to the youth? 'Love', and to the children? 'Love'.. while serenely she attempted to knit as in the old days while the arthritis waned on her. Just like Arendt remarked on Friedrich Von Gentz, the political journalist of the 19th century; 'Gentz gave himself to life so entirely so that it would consume him'. Once while living in New York as a younger woman in love with a married man who would die in a plane crash on his way to her, after giving a concert in an exclusive salon a beautiful woman would approach her and say: 'I haven't been to Paris for many long years, but tonight while hearing you sing I was back in Paris, to its streets and cafes, to its people, to the sounds of its wind and the rhymes of its night'.

This is not very different from my feel, so that today in the chains of Prometheus I would remember those long wafting idle afternoon in Neuchatel surrounding the whole of the lake with only one arm and sitting in cafes, in the company of the long fur coat that would wrap Christine inside with her Catholic tawdriness together with my northern alacrity. We would sit in those cafes for whole days and attempt recover the innocence philosophy had already lost in the streets of Tel Aviv, on the long journey with Sylvia from Jericho through the Dead Sea and then into the plains of the Sharon, the greener meadows, greener than the English fields but drier inside than the water of faith. We listened to those songs with the same eyes that Katherina and me would have some three years later when the Greek poetry could no longer hold together the life and the world; the French language had been then a way to recover this innocence and to remember in a way of understanding that only from the ugliness of the darkest times may the poet rise in freedom, immaculate and serene... the lines remembered engraved in our tar-blackened lips since the 7th grade, 'Oissive jeunesse / A tout asservie / Par delicatesse / J'ai pardu ma vie'. A few years later I would read from Arendt's journal, 'hilflos, verratende Jugend' (helpless, protracted youth).

Germany had been already a permanent exile for more years than I could count on for myself or of myself. A tale all to cunned with tragedy as to become the source of the 'poiesis' of Aristotle - the praxis of beauty and Eros, comprising all of politics, philosophy, poetry and morality. A pitiful love affair that would bridge Vienna and Jerusalem forever, whereby one could only bring himself to listen to those beautiful French songs and make himself at home in this world in a way, in whichever way, at any price... even if the price of permanence and immanence is also the price of damnation, of forsaking eternity if for the sake of eternity as well. I would listen carefully to Guilel's cunning remarks on French philosophy and would remember myself reading Montaigne, Voltaire and Malebranche with Cecile on the grass after the Biblical Hebrew class, while totally despising Rousseau and Durkheim; his remarks would remind me more of my own philosophizing than they could ever refer to his own - a philosophizing (mine) whose Eros is a betrayal of itself, a contradiction that leads into failure per necessite but that leaves the philosopher untouched yet kinder, because he's speaking with the authority of death, and even at that the Jewish philosopher speaking with the authority of life would sit idly in the Occident and play games with death, games of eros and semantics, games of history and reason.

Like Benjamin and Heine I could only pray in French back then, because St. Therese wouldn't bother to have learnt German, and in a world where there was no political help for poetry no more the Classical education could help no one, like a Celtic poem puts it:

'Looking back at my youth
I was content
Without dead knowledge
I was young, without time
Now I'm sorrowful
Those days are long past
Sadness and loss
The great days of my youth
They were full of expectation
The great journey that was before me then
Happiness was in store for me'

Not in vain Romain Rolland writes to Stefan Zweig before the beginning of WWII, 'Art can provide consolation as individuals, but it is powerful before reality'; statement for which all of the Sophists and Platonists, be they poets or philosophers, would have shared in the fate of Socrates on the very same day. So I search endlessly for chances at exile, even in my room... but the no-return points surround me and embrace me with their warmth, the warmth of the gallows, of the hangman... And I helplessly remember the streets of Neuchatel and the French spoken in the streets, so that I would feel like living in Exile without being at all forced, yet those little alleys have long vanished from my mind to be replaced by the cumbersome arrogance of Jerusalem's adulthood. At the same time the philosophy had lost all sanity and innocence in these streets, in the warmth of foreign bodies and conversations with strangers, in living one day more, either in Rehavia or in Ma'alot Dafna... all its content became theologically unsayable and mute, so that the French philosopher would always tend a happy hand to my ailing poetization. Nowadays I spend countless hours writing my own verses in French, which I might send to somebody one day, when it no longer matters... trying to discuss with Lasker-Schüler and Susman if perhaps it's granted us, Jews, to pray in a language other than German when praying is no longer possible; whenever the chips are down and every act of love, every letter, every entanglement with the in itself praying. Praying in a world where there're no conversations, where they've become ardously impossible, alacrous, even vanquishing. In the rooms of my mind the songs play all day long and people sit in procrastination, remember the old poems and make themselves think that they can save one at times from the urgency of the Hebrew language, from history, from lack of hope and even from the uncanny beauty of death.

Dans le désert et brūlé par le soleil
De Jérusalem, de Jérusalem
Un homme en blanc, au loin, assiste au réveil
De Jérusalem, de Jérusalem.... (from Piaf)

But it can only remind you how the only cure for your cynicism is that moral suffering that isn't ethical in principle but with a tad of far-sight it already creates you from within yourself. All of them parted too early as to live for long enough to gather wisdom, Piaf, Rosenzweig, Kafka, Rose, Hegel, Von Gentz... and perhaps it is alloted for us to be the opportunist and hold onto our wait, but you can't know those things for sure. The ugliness of your privacy eventually turns into light, beauty and love... but only for others, so that you might make sure not to save yourself. You dream not of gardens but of evenings under the stars, even when you're already so dead and have so little to offer, so much lack of beauty, and of life. All of it the price of philosophy, and the price of love. The price of love's work. 'Keep your mind in hell and despair not'.

Then in the middle of my endless entanglements with wayfarers and pilgrims, 'One more love affair, why should I care? Love is nothing new and I know what to do', until the Diotima comes to me in the graces of a woman, and we spend three days rejecting all possible philosophies, destroying them, making them impossible, if only for our own sake. On our last day (without me knowing it) I bring her to meet the motif of my painting so that I can keep myself from showering him with the callousness of my momentum of death and keeping my mind into place, stating the obvious and not deflecting any blames. The charm of their conversation appalled me and made me so uneasy that I almost reached heaven, Oh...

(Piaf, another song written by Michel Vaucaire)
Mon Dieu ! Mon Dieu ! Mon Dieu !
Encore un peu,
Mon amoureux !
Un jour, deux jours, huit jours...
Encore un peu
A moi...

Le temps de s'adorer,
De se le dire,
Le temps de se fabriquer
Des souvenirs.
Mon Dieu ! Oh oui...mon Dieu !
Remplir un peu
Ma vie...

Mon Dieu ! Mon Dieu ! Mon Dieu !
Encore un peu,
Mon amoureux.
Six mois, trois mois, deux mois...
Pour seulement

Un mois...

Le temps de commencer
Ou de finir,
Le temps d'illuminer
Ou de souffrir,
Mon Dieu ! Mon Dieu ! Mon Dieu !
Même si j'ai tort,
Un peu...
Même si j'ai tort,
[see 'la Mome' performing this song]

The anger and the beauty turn to the same objects for inspiration, for amelioration... so that after our estrangement together she could only remark, 'you guys are so beautiful' and on a third drink somewhere else we toast 'to fallen angels'.The next day the eyes of the philosopher turn dark, not unlike mine and sooth themselves in the hope for beginning life again, for another in-road, for a resurrection that leads to salvation without a crucifixion... We laugh hysterically at our destinies and then I return to my French verses and she sinks into a profound early sleep. In between I return to 'The New Science of Politics' and read about the Roman foundations of political life in their theology, while altogether in between I'm torn asunder by 'But we, my beloved companion, have life, useless hope, true friends and fire consuming our souls' and then immediately joining a Neo-Platonic chorus not knowing whether such makes me so infinitely sad or extremely happy and comforted. But I insist and return to the philosophy again, while in the middle of it my mind returns to the streets, to the French and the German and I can't be reconciled with anything so that I'm unable to move at all; thinking that I'm just in foul, postponing the present forever like the old philosophies and I try to throw myself at the present but its lack of vehemence and coherence and willingness to live, leave me greener than grass. I set myself to write and thus mourn the philosophical death which is unsurprisingly turned into a statement of life; the hours pass and the writing cannot stop because every sentence rests upon a wisdom of the streets, a wisdom in a modern language, historical even... and I see myself gathering the ashes of the times into a prayer so that I can only gather the strength to continue writing from those who were without compromises prepared for their parting,

My Ode flows into the streams of God -
I lay switfly my foot
On the alley that leads to my eternal home.(Else Lasker-Schüler)

I finish my article while the light is already glittering on my window but I just lie down and let myself be engraved by thoughts of recent pastness, the noises in the house preclude my sleep and the dreams leave me exasperately mellow. I know I want to be alone just about all the time, but I can't really... I can't... confessing oneself to be alone means that you fail to keep yourself company, there's no solitude for you. I awake late in the morning quite uncomfortable but strangely sober, and after spending an hour or two with the French verses again, I want to turn to the philosopher and bid her farewell, but I'm startlingly encountered by a small letter which didn't make me at all sad because I could have written it myself:

'Dear Leo, I decided to leave at the dawn so as to jump into my new life-start with the sunset, Hugs, Daria'

Then I felt myself to be home alone, for the first time in several weeks and somehow I couldn't bring myself to sing in happiness, although I wasn't miserable either. I could only bring myself to leave the house and go to the theatre, smell the springly cold and mingle with the denizens of this world, hear their prayers and understand their sounds. In the end, I might not say farewell either, for the time being all can I do is write and write and write like just the madman certain about the nearness of his end could. But as I concluded in my article, every end is the opening of an endless beginning - that's how the Rabbinic commentators start their reflections on the Hebrew Bible. The love makes me ill, because it can only remind me of death only if out of correlative familiarity, but I hold onto everything of this world as it is,

'He clings to his solitude, to his affected indifference and his grown up ways, but it's just an act, so as never, never to show his real feelings. Poor Peter, how long will he be able to go on playing this role? Surely a terrible outburst must follow as the result of this superhuman effort?' -Anne Frank

By the end of the day and the night, still writing.. and one can only conclude with a modern Latin poem which is inspired by the engraving in the portico of Marilyn Monroe's last home 'my journey ends here', while I'm more fond of the Homeric dictum, 'kata to daimona eautou' (each one to his own fate):

'Cursum perficio.
Verbum sapienti:
quo plus habent,
eo plus cupiunt.
Post nubila, Phoebus
Iternum' -(Roma Ryan)

I follow and end my course.
A message to the wise:
The more [people] have
The more they want.
Past the clouds, Phoebus(*)
Journeying...journeying... forever(**)
(translation is mine)

(*)The Greek Apollo, this is a paraphrase of the Roman saying 'after the clouds comes the sun' or 'after rain comes sunshine'
(**) The word in Latin is not very clear, but obviously 'iterum' has a meaning of 'iterative', always on the move, of journeys and 'iternum' (although it does occur in some Vatican manuscripts) is not a real Latin word and of course could easily be a late Latin slang for 'aeternitas'. I've played with both to recreate some meaning.

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