Loading...

Strange Vistas

Perspectives on the Utopian

by Justyna Galant (Volume editor) Marta Komsta (Volume editor)
Edited Collection 168 Pages

Table Of Content


Justyna Galant, Marta Komsta

Introduction

For Krishan Kumar “[u]topia confronts reality not with a measured assessment of the possibilities of change but with the demand for change” (107). Above all, scholars of utopias, alongside authors of utopias, share the desire to re-kindle our interest in the world, aiming to estrange what may have become too familiar, not only to inspire intellectual or aesthetic pleasure, but also to offer a new vista that opens a way to a critical rethinking and, ultimately, change. Admittedly, as Zygmunt Bauman attests, “[a] hundred years ago ‘to be modern’ meant to chase ‘the final state of perfection’—now it means an infinity of improvement, with no ‘final state’ in sight and none desired” (Bauman 241). This Wellsian view of utopia as an unceasing journey of improvement lies at the heart of this publication. The wide range of the topics and aspects perused in the chapters attests, thus, to the perennial need for hope and improvement even in the darkest of circumstances, as utopia is indeed sought and found in the strangest places.

The works of fiction examined in the volume come from a variety of times and locations, from the Persian Middle ages to the early 20th-century France, and concern a broad spectrum of literature, ranging from the canonical texts of Joseph Conrad or the currently popular dystopian Metro trilogy, to the lesser known, ambiguous early 20th-century Brazilian Racial Shock, which offers a vision of a future United States ruled by a black president.

While the authors contributing to this volume show keen awareness of the worldwide increasing engagement with dystopian scenarios, both in the increasingly popular works of fiction and in the form of bleak socio-political scenarios, they rarely leave us with uniformly pessimistic conclusions. A look backward provided by some of the chapters in this volume—to the 1886 Haymarket affair, or the seminal medieval Translation Movements—reminds us of the human capacity for empathy, justice, and community, which diminishes the significance of geographical distance and cultural differences. A look ahead to the anticipated post-capitalist society or the post-Trump USA, while attempted in the recognizably difficult political context of today, fosters hope in the possible futures that may evolve from the current turbulent reality. Paradoxically, in times of fluid referents the polyvalent pursuit of utopia remains the most stable of humanity’s endeavors.

←7 | 8→

The volume begins with the chapters exploring the practical dimension of the utopian impulse as a testimony to utopia’s potentiality for shaping the present. “Translation in Utopia and Utopia in Translation: The Case of Translating as a Utopian Practice,” by Mir Saeed Mousavi Razavi and Morteza Gholami, focuses on the process of translation as a utopian act of communication which fosters global solidarity and understanding. Commencing with Lawrence Venuti’s inquiry into the theory of translation on the basis of Ernst Bloch’s notion of surplus, the chapter argues for translation’s innately utopian function realized in the creation of “a global community around a translated text.” In support of their claim, Mousavi Razavi and Gholami approach some of the most significant translations of More’s Utopia as well as the renowned Baghdad and Toledo Translation Movements as utopian endeavors aimed at facilitating fellowship amongst diverse cultural contexts.

Similarly, as an experienced jazz musician, John Glenmore Style makes a compelling claim for utopia’s potential in developing “a real sense of the unfolding power of humanity.” In his chapter the author outlines the work of Wayne Krantz, a contemporary American jazz guitarist and improviser, by applying Ernst Bloch’s theory to the practice of improvisation to examine the act of music making as constitutive of utopian musical moment. In his detailed examination of Krantz’s Improviser’s OS¸ Style investigates how jazz improvisation sensu Krantz becomes the vehicle for the utopian “evanescent moment” capable of creative transgression and transformation.

The next section, arranged chronologically, is devoted to utopian poetry and fiction written in various cultural and political contexts, demonstrating the omnipresence and vitality of utopian dreaming.

As a fitting starting point to the multifaceted examination of literary utopias across the ages, “The Iranian Heritage of Utopianism: Niẓami Ganjaviʼs Utopian Thoughts,” by Alireza Omidbakhsh and Mohammadamir Jalali, considers Niẓami Ganjavi, a key literary figure of the Persian Golden Age, whose long narrative poem, “The Treasury of Mysteries,” delineates the utopian imagination of the medieval Iran. Drawing upon Gregory Claeys and Lyman Tower Sargent’s classification of utopias, Omidbakhsh and Jalali attest to Ganjavi’s unique status as both a poet and a utopian thinker by highlighting the relationship between the tolerant and moral philosopher king and his people as foundational utopian practice in Ganjavi’s work.

Writing from a different historical and political vantage point, Csaba Toth looks at Émile Pataud and Émile Pouget’s novel How We Shall Bring about the Revolution (1909). Authored by French syndicalists and architects of the union Confédération Générale du Travail (CGT), the text outlines the way to a utopia ←8 | 9→initiated by a general strike followed by a period of reflection during which workers realize the unfairness of their position. Toth offers a detailed account of the fictional revolution and its outcome, indicating the originality of the text (the rarity of a syndicalist utopia) and the thorough depiction of the various effects of the revolution, such as the divisive question of consumption, destruction of the coercive institutions of the state, the issue of land ownership, or the woman question. Linking the work to its political context as well as the events after its publication, the author underlines the mobilizing, inspirational power of this text and other utopias of its type, seeing workers’ solidarity as an enduring phenomenon within society and utopian literature.

In the next chapter, Antonis Balasopoulos proposes an analysis of Joseph Conrad’s Lord Jim (1900) and Victory (1915) in ideological as well as utopian terms, while significantly departing from an earlier reading along these lines by Fredric Jameson. Taking as his point of departure Mannheim’s distinction between a “preservative” and “shattering” functions of, respectively, ideology and utopia, the author discusses the utopian in Conrad’s fiction as an opposition to the ideological. Recognizing the ontological grounding of the dialectic between ideology and utopia on the level of narrative (especially within such aspects as plot and characterization) and acknowledging their persistent co-presence and interplay in the novels, Balasopoulos identifies these two categories as instances of double negation present in Conrad’s fiction, and as notions immanent in the novelist’s approach towards pessimism and skepticism.

The next contribution, entitled “The Contiguity of Utopia and Dystopia in Monteiro Lobato’s The Racial Shock,” by Evanir Pavloski, offers a rather bleak view of the future in his discussion of Monteiro Lobato’s 1926 novel that highlights the social and political ramifications of racial tensions in the future Brazil and United States. In his chapter, Pavloski provides an insightful introduction to Lobato as one of major literary figures in early 20th-century Brazil, whose influential socio-political views on nationalism and eugenics became the central thematic component of his only novel, The Racial Shock. By arguing for the satirical reading of Lobato’s work, Pavloski contends that the use of eugenics in Lobato’s novel reflects the problematic relationship between the utopian pursuit of social stability and the dystopian insistence on homogeneity that constitutes the core tension in the discussed text.

In “‘You know nothing of Tomasz’: Polish Immigrant as the Cultural Other in More Than This” Anna Bugajska considers the eponymous Tomasz, the Polish teenager in Patrick Ness’s 2013 YA dystopia More Than This, who struggles to find his place in the simulated afterlife. Approached by Bugajska as a “palimpsestic tale overwritten on Defoe’s Robinson Crusoe,” Ness’s novel allows for a ←9 | 10→thought-provoking examination of the cultural topos of the Polish outsider and its ambivalent status in the Western world, established in-between such dichotomies as “noble soldier vs. cunning conman.” In Bugajska’s analysis, Tomasz’s identity becomes both the burden to the protagonist and his means of escape from the oppressive environment; consequently, the novel effectively establishes the character of Tomasz as the contemporary re-appropriation of the Polish immigrant whose implied cultural otherness becomes the key aspect of the transnational solidarity in Ness’s work.

Another fictional dystopian scenario is the focus of Dmitry Glukhovsky’s Metro trilogy (2013–2015) in Julia Kula’s chapter which refers to the protagonist’s search for the truth in the subterranean totalitarian realm of the future Moscow. Adopting Baudrillardian perspective in her analysis of the post-apocalyptic civilization, the author examines Glukhovsky’s text as an example of a simulated dystopian reality where the existence of any life above the ground is purposefully denied by the state-controlled propaganda.

The final part of the volume focuses on the historical and philosophical manifestations of utopian thinking as a stimulus towards global change.

Considering the phenomenon of universal solidarity of the workers, Annette M. Magid examines The Haymarket Riot of 4th May 1886 and its aftermath, the Haymarket Affair. After offering a well-balanced account of the event and its repercussions, the author discusses the various worldwide reactions (both condemnatory and supportive) which followed in the wake of the trial and convictions: rallies, numerous newspaper accounts, political cartoons, and writers’ responses. What emerges from Magid’s paper is primarily a powerful account of an outpouring of universal solidarity with the American working class as a reaction against the injustices of employers, the law’ cruelty, and the biased misrepresentation of the rebels by the media. Looking at the current reality of hyper-capitalism, the author concludes her chapter by identifying the need for non-corrupt unions and leaders as necessary safeguards against the dominance of corporations, pointing to the power of workers’ solidarity as an unchanging value in the present world.

Mehdi Parsa addresses the notion of utopian communication as a way to achieve co-existence of diverse human beings. The author, after Simon Critchley, identifies the roots of philosophy in the sense of lack, or disappointment, which he later links also with the understanding of utopia as a lack in the present, rather than a future dream. As he believes, at the time of a diminishing significance of national boundaries in the globalized world inhabited by “citizens of the world,” a radical re-thinking of the philosophical framework is long overdue. Examining the writings of Gilles Deleuze (specifically the logic of events) and ←10 | 11→Jacques Derrida (his thoughts on supplementarity), Parsa makes a connection between the Deleuzian “paradoxical element” and Derrida’s supplement, which, while articulating the difference between two systems or series, are responsible for their communication. Seeing the notion of lack inherent in this floating element between systems as an incarnation of the utopian, Parsa advocates a philosophy of communication capable of establishing a uniformity with diversity, formed by mutually-modifying fragments of reality, in place of individualism and logic of identities.

Dirk Hoyer’s article focuses on examining different types of political and aesthetic imagination, including the currently failing socialist though, to prove the need for a plurality of retopias which he defines as “reconstructive utopia[s] without a concept of human nature.” Addressing the dreaded and perhaps realer than even notion of the end of capitalism, the author points to the omnipresence of apocalyptic thinking in current political and economic discourse which he sees as resulting from the long belief in the There Is No Alternative (TINA) doctrine. After offering a brief summary of contemporary approaches to utopia Hoyer calls for a retopian imagination as essentially inspired by socialist thinking before Marx, yet significantly different in its recognition of the need for plurality. Against the tide of pessimism, the author proposes conceiving of experimental, local “laboratories of societies” perhaps founded on the ruins of the grand civilizations of today, as a way towards a utopian “new diversity.”

The volume ends with James Block’s essayistic “The space to dream again: Utopian prospects in the age of Trump,” which identifies the current political climate in the USA, the period of the empire’s decline, as the time ripe for utopian alternatives. For the author, destructive policy can be seen as ground-clearing, making way for a fulfilment of human potential, not least in our capacity for meaningful communal bonds. In the case of the USA, it entails acknowledging the flaws of neoliberalism and the dream of hegemony to “go into the wilderness”: open oneself to the possibility of a potential, very different future. Block encourages us to view the turbulent present not as depressive and decant but primarily as a genuine opportunity to become makers of history by re-kindling our capacity for social dreaming and forging utopian scenarios that can transform our reality.

Works Cited

Bauman, Zygmunt. Foreword to the 2012 Edition. Liquid Modernity Revisited. Liquid Modernity, by Bauman. Kindle ed., Polity Press, 2012.

Kumar, Krishan. Utopianism. Open University Press, 1991.

Mir Saeed Mousavi Razavi, Morteza Gholami

Translation in Utopia and Utopia in Translation: The Case of Translating as a Utopian Practice

A map of the world that does not include Utopia is not worth even glancing at, for it leaves out the one country at which Humanity is always landing. And when Humanity lands there, it looks out, and, seeing a better country, sets sail. Progress is the realisation of Utopias. (Wilde 28–29)

Abstract: The present chapter addresses the role of translation as a utopian practice in shaping human civilizations. Due to its significant sociocultural ramifications, translation has played a prominent part in shaping new perspectives towards the world throughout history. Having resorted to Ernst Bloch’s social theory, the interconnection between utopianism and translation, and the utopian function of translation were investigated from two perspectives: firstly, the way More’s Utopia has been disseminated across the globe through its translations into different languages, as well as the way these translations have influenced the target communities in terms of their socio-political structures. Secondly, how the two outstanding translation movements in history, i.e. Baghdad and Toledo, have contributed to bettering the conditions of human life by means of facilitating inter-social understanding, transfer of knowledge, and advancement of science. Accordingly, it is argued that translation is a vital prerequisite for any utopian model envisaged for the future of human society.

Keywords: translation, Translation Movements, utopia, communication

Introduction

Oscar Wilde’s description of utopia appears to provide a concise and comprehensive definition of the term. It includes almost all basic characteristics of utopian thought: the fact that hope for a better situation is what makes the status quo of human life in the world worthwhile, the inseparable link between humanity and utopia, and, more importantly, people’s unceasing longing for the better.

Although More (1516) proposed the neologism “utopia,” the “earliest utopian works are myths of a golden age or race in the past and earthly paradises like Eden” (Claeys and Sargent 6), and utopian thinking seems to be a very long-standing intellectual tradition. Apart from utopianism as the explicit representation of ←13 | 14→man’s concern for the better life, many other human activities appear to have served utopian functions throughout history; one such example is translation.

Among the varied range of purposes it has served, translation has made it possible for the utopian ideas of certain societies to travel across national frontiers and reach other cultures. In this capacity it has helped to create solidarity and harmony among people from various linguistic, cultural, and socio-political backgrounds. As a case in point, this article is aimed at investigating the translations of More’s Utopia with a view to finding out how these translations have been received by the target societies, and considering the changes that have been brought about as a consequence of the introduction of More’s utopian ideas into the receiving communities.

Utopian Concepts

As far as the meaning of utopia is concerned, there appears to be an area of common ground between Plato and More, who both fantasized about alternative ways of managing society. Essentially, irrespective of any current circumstances, there is always the possibility of improvement as well as “the desire for a better life” (Sargent 33) born out of the discontentment with the present situation. Generally speaking, it is hope which inspires humanity to undertake reconstruction and improvement of their reality (Vieira 6; Sargent 33). Zournazi believes that the idea of hope in the present is essential; otherwise, a mere dream of a utopian better society in the future would only result in frustration (22). In Anderson’s view, utopia implies a lack in the present and outlines a situation in which a better life is imminent (691).

Unavoidably, life in the present is compared with life in a utopia, the problems and drawbacks of the author’s reality are highlighted, and remedies are offered. When considered from this perspective, utopia is a never-ending path towards gradual improvement on various levels and the efforts aimed at boosting human progress towards a better life can be considered utopian. In Sargent’s words, this mechanism is “essential for amelioration of the human situation” (19).

Bloch sees utopia as a process prevalent in a world in which “something has not yet realized itself” (41). To take things one step further, Suvin argues that “[i]f utopia is philosophically, a method rather than a state, it cannot be realized or not realized—it can only be applied” (qtd. in Cooper 24). In contemporary utopian studies, utopia is not simply a good place, but rather a process or struggle driving humanity towards betterment, a struggle “in which questions of imagination, creativity, and processes of change […] are deeply entwined” (Cooper 25).

←14 |
 15→

By resorting to artworks, McKenna (qtd. in Vieira 5) argues that a vision of a future can be both promising and frightening. Utopian thought provides us with highly desirable future visions which allow for a fuller understanding of who we are and who we wish to be, and inspire ideas of improvement. They are “visions of hope that can challenge us to explore a range of possible human conditions” (McKenna qtd. in Vieira 4). Levitas uses the very same term “vision” to refer to the purpose and principle of utopia; for her it is not primarily a dream to enjoy, but rather a philosophy of change for the better (6).

The Nexus between Utopia(n Concepts) and Translation

While for Venuti, “translating is also utopian” (485), it is worth examining why and in what sense that should be the case. According to him, translation tries to create a domestic readership, an imagined community that shares an interest in the foreign. In line with his domestication and foreignization proposal, he concludes that any act of translation implies a kind of hope for “a consensus” (485): the translator introduces a foreign text into the receiving community and attempts to gain recognition for it through creating communication between the foreign text (to which they give some domestic colors) and the target audience.

In an effort to explicate his idea, Venuti resorts to Ernst Bloch’s theory of the utopian function of culture, according to which any cultural practice produces a “surplus” (Bloch 21). The surplus of an artistic or literary work enables humanity to comprehend the conditions and tendencies prevalent in the artist’s times, which, in turn, allows us to realize “what was lacking and needed during its period of conception and realization” (Zipes xxxvi). In the introduction to the translation of Bloch’s selected essays The Utopian Function of Art and Literature, Zipes states that “surplus is also the objectification of shared human values and possibilities that provide us with the hope that we can realize what we sense we are missing in life” (xxxvi).

Thus, surplus is the residue of a cultural practice that “exceeds the ideologies of the dominant classes, the ‘status quo’” (Venuti 485). Translation, in its broadest sense, is one of the cultural practices that make it possible to exceed the dominant ideologies. Surplus “anticipates a future ‘consensus’” (Venuti 485) and “stems from the Utopian function in the creation of culture and fills the horizon of times with such surplus” (Bloch 48). In short, regarding the utopian function of culture, Bloch declares:

It [surplus] continues to enlighten, opens itself up more and more to us, to the coming foundation of the consensus, to that which has not yet become, that which has still not ←15 | 16→been accomplished, but which has not been thwarted in existence (Sein), in existence as realm. (49)

Relying on Bloch’s theory, Venuti offers his own interpretation of the surplus as adapted to the translation process:

I construe Bloch’s utopian surplus as the domestic remainder inscribed in the foreign text during the translation process. Translating releases a surplus of meanings which refer to domestic cultural traditions through deviations from the current standard dialect or otherwise standardized languages—through archaisms, for example, or colloquialisms. Implicit in any translation is the hope for a consensus, a communication and recognition of the foreign text through a domestic inscription. (485)

In Bloch’s utopian framework, the surplus would be the produced translations which surpass the “status quo” (49) and overcome the constraints imposed on texts and cultures due to linguistic diversity which impedes communication between different human communities. Through overcoming these linguistic restrictions, translation promises a future of linguistic and cultural “consensuses.”

Likewise, Gasset argues that the proponents of utopian thought find it appealing to “correct the natural reality that places men within the confines of diverse languages and impedes communication between them” (53). Although he mentions that this liberation from the restrictions of languages can be attained only to a degree, the effort to be spared to this end should by no means be limited, since “there always exists the possibility of bettering, refining, perfecting: ‘progress,’ in short” (53). Here, Gasset makes an interesting distinction between true and false utopianism and a good and bad utopian/translator (54), with the latter utopian/translator presupposing that what we desire is simply possible because we desire it. By making this assumption, they embark on the project without any further reflection on how to carry out the translation. This type of utopianism is reduced to no more than naïve wishful thinking. The good utopian/translator, in contrast, is aware of the strict limitations imposed; they realize that precisely because it is desirable, it is not easy to achieve. Hence, approximation is aimed at.

One of the main hopes and concerns of utopian thought is the creation of a unified human community characterized by solidarity. In line with this ambition, by erasing the divisions arising from the co-existences of various languages, translation seeks to create a global community around a translated text, i.e. a “place” where language division is not capable of creating separation among people. In this sense, translation has served a utopian function throughout history; it has striven, and continues to strive, for the utopian dream of reaching a common linguistic and cultural ground for communication.

←16 |
 17→

Utopia in Translation

To substantiate the utopian function of translation in history, it will be useful to look at the reception and expansion of utopian thought through translation across the world. In what follows, certain instances of the reception of More’s Utopia through translation in different parts of the world will be discussed, with special focus given to the texts’ utopian functions.1

Italy

Spinozzi draws our attention to a historical review of translations of More’s Utopia over the past 500 years: from the 15th till 21st century. She points out that, depending on the period, different aspects of Utopia were brought into focus in the society and especially among intellectuals (506). To be more specific, Utopia has been the subject of interpretation in a variety of ways, ranging from a manifestation of social reform, a “model for a virtuous and happy state,” to a literary genre (510).

According to Spinozzi, it was Renaissance Italy which perceived Utopia from a social and political perspective, inspiring the idea to ameliorate the current social and political context; therefore, “[t]he island of Utopia appealed to the minds of thinkers inclined to introduce social reforms” (507). Utopia, in the eyes of Italian intellectuals, was widely regarded as an opportunity for introducing “new ways of governing states, guiding people, and making laws for senators” (506).

Furthermore, as Spinozzi explains, the “readers [of Utopia] were not familiar with Latin; neither were they fascinated by the classical world. Visions of the future were at the core of their interest” (507). This interest in the future encouraged the Italian audience to react to More’s Utopia with enthusiasm, while the utopian influence inspired by its translation rejuvenated the social and political atmosphere of the time, bringing its editor and translator “credit as progressive political spokespersons” (507).

America

In America, More’s Utopia has been effective, first and foremost, in shaping the national ideology and philosophy. Magid provides an in-depth analysis of the perspectives from which More’s text has been understood in America, and ←17 | 18→the way it has affected the American ideology. As she explains, this audience repeatedly interpreted the work as “portray[ing] the totality of man’s abilities, as remarkable builders [of civilizations]” (525). Another influential aspect of More’s Utopia is the “Commonwealth of Reason,” by which justice is brought to society (524).

To emphasize the degree to which More’s Utopia was a valid source of inspiration for the earliest colonial New England settlers and the leaders of the Bay Colony, the “Cambridge University men, contemporaries of Shakespeare” (Magid 525) and prominent figures of their time, Magid refers to Roger Williams, a New English settler, and his “only book about America and the Native Americans, A Key into the Language of America […]”:

While A Key was not a direct translation of More’s Utopia, it seems to reflect More’s concern of discovering what natural man, unaided by revelation or Christianity, can accomplish in our closeness to nature and our use of all our natural faculties in the natural pursuit of pleasure […]. (525)

The Czech Republic

As Veselá declares, the most debate-rising period of the translation of Utopia was the 20th century. At the time, utopia was a significant social phenomenon for the Czech people, who sought social reform through its agency: “[a]ccording to Eduard Petrů, at the time when More’s Utopia was published, Czech humanists were interested less in fiction and more in nonfiction through which they could ‘learn about the world as well as transform it’” (Veselá 541). In the Jiří Foustka translation of Utopia, which came out most likely in 1911, it was claimed that More’s text is “the first modern vision of an imaginary, ideal state built on the basis of democratic equality and common property” (540).2

Brazil

Ribeiro refers to two periods of boom in translation activity in Brazil: one was in 1937, known as the “golden age of translation” (276), and the other emerging from a recently-revived interest in translation studies, both of which, in her view, were characterized by “a sort of vitality […] that in turn results in national ←18 | 19→political and cultural affirmance” (276). One of these significant change-provoking translations is the translation of More’s Utopia by Luiz de Andrade, which seems to have had a notable impact on Brazilian reality:

Instruments such as participatory budgeting and the referendum, which allow a certain social control over the state, and practices such as social economy have become more frequent and are commonly labeled as “utopian” in the media—and, if we take a closer look, are not entirely unrelated to More’s Utopia. (Ribeiro 276)

Paratexts in Translations of Utopia

Almost all studies on More’s Utopia in various countries include a section dedicated to paratexts: comments, prefaces, prologues, and epilogues added to the translation by the translator, editor, or anyone else in the course of publication. The analysis of their content reveals that, in the majority of cases, their introduction into the texts is an attempt to interpret the meaning of Utopia as tailored to the context of the receiving culture. They help the readers understand the text and, in certain cases, infer what (utopian) measures should be taken.

Investigating the translations of More’s Utopia in Poland, Pisarska refers to the introduction written by Witold Ostrowski to the translation by Wiktor Kornatowski. She explains that in an attempt to prevent a possible misinterpretation by the readers, Ostrowski felt it necessary to provide clarifying illustrations and “an analysis of the elements of the Utopian system, from family life and education to religion” (357).

Additionally, Veselá refers to the foreword added to the 1950 Czech edition in which the translator “reviewed More’s possible inspiration and highlighted the text’s importance both as social criticism and as literature” (353). She also mentions two paratexts included in the 1978 reprint of Utopia: “a preface by Jan Halada (1978) and an afterword by Petr Křivský, [which] consider Utopia fundamental for the growth of socialist and communist thought” (538).

In view of the above-mentioned instances, it can be argued that translating More’s Utopia has proved to be a thought-provoking activity which may have shaped some of the utopian thoughts and interests in various cultures around the world.

Thus, it can be stated that the translations of More’s Utopia have been warmly welcomed by the receiving cultures fueling debates on concepts such as: ideal society, hope for the future, democracy, equality of individuals before the law, and betterment of the educational system. It may be argued that translation can continue to fulfill, as it has in the course of time, its utopian function through disseminating utopian ideas in the world, creating harmony among different ←19 | 20→societies with regard to the way an “ideal future” for mankind is envisaged, and facilitating socio-political change in that direction. This might be, on a higher conceptual level, the realization of the consensus which, in Venuti’s idea, is implicitly hoped for in any act of translation.

Translation Movements as Utopian Points of Solidarity

As an act of intercultural communication with significant socio-cultural ramifications, translation is more than mere linguistic transfer, and, as evidenced in the earlier parts of this essay, it has played a prominent part in shaping new perspectives throughout humankind’s history. Despite its age-old importance, there have been certain historical circumstances when translation proved more critical than ever before. These historic points of solidarity have come to be known as translation movements, among which the most outstanding ones are the Baghdad Translation Movement and the Toledo Translation Movement.

In the former movement, which took place during the 9th and 10th centuries AD, Muslims undertook translations of the Greek classics into Arabic. These works were first simply translated, next commented and elaborated on by Muslim scholars. Ibn al-Muqaffa’, Abû Yûsuf Ya’qûb b. Ishâq al-Kindî and his circle of translators, Hunayn ibn Ishâq and his son Ishâq ibn Hunayn, Abû Bishr Mattâ ibn Yûnus, Abû Nasr Alfarabi (Street), and Averroes (Clark 369) are only a few examples of the translator/commentators of this type.

In the latter movement, taking place during the 12th and 13th centuries, the great body of texts that had come into existence mainly in Arabic as a result of the first movement was translated into Latin. The Toledo Translation Movement came into being after the city of Toledo was captured by Christians and turned into the most important intellectual center in Europe. Latin translations of Arabic scientific texts were used as textbooks when the first modern European universities were formed in the 12th century. Hence, one may argue that the great Renaissance of the West was not only indebted to, but also rooted in the Toledo Translation Movement. In what follows, a brief account of these two important translation movements will be presented and discussed with a view to highlighting how they have served the utopian function of creating solidarity among various human societies.

Baghdad Translation Movement

By the middle of the 8th century AD, the Abbâsid dynasty came to power in the Islamic world and took as its role model many of the Persian traditions, one of ←20 | 21→which was translating foreign works. Inspired by the Sassanid (a ruling dynasty in Persia before Islam) Imperial Library, an intellectual center called Bayt Al-Hikma (literally meaning the House of Wisdom) was founded. Apart from being a library, Bayt Al-Hikma is also believed to have been home to prolific translation activity, which, following the advent of Islam, was the place where Arabs developed existing sciences and created new ones, thanks to translations from the great civilizations of Greece, Persia, and India (Aiss 5). By the 9th and 10th centuries, the city of Baghdad witnessed considerable numbers of translation projects in which important scientific and philosophical works from Ancient Greek thinkers were rendered into Arabic (Salama-Carr 108). What is important in this period of abundant translations is the approach adopted by the translators; the purpose was not to solely translate a text but to create some food for further thought. Translation was only considered as a first step, followed by critical reflection and production of new ideas. The translated texts were usually explained, commented on, and criticized by the translators themselves or other thinkers. This way “translation helped establish a new system of thought that was to become the foundation of Arabic-Islamic culture—both on the conceptual and terminological levels” (Salama-Carr 108).

Just as impressive as the volume of the translated books is the diversity of the topics and subject matters they covered. To form an idea about this all-inclusive array, it suffices to look at the list of the fields provided by Gutas: astrology, alchemy, arithmetic, geometry, astronomy, music, Aristotelian philosophy, metaphysics, ethics, physics, zoology, botany, logic, medicine, pharmacology, veterinary science, military science, collections of wisdom sayings, and the list goes on (1).

What makes this translation movement a great utopian success in history is its socio-political dimensions as a cultural phenomenon: it was not only a passing trend, but rather a long-lasting project covering a time span of about two or three centuries. It was supported and funded by all groups in the society as well as the government and carried out with systematic methodology and scientific rigor (Gutas 2–3).

The ideological approach towards this phenomenon has also been utopian. As an instance of how translation was embraced by Muslims, Goodin mentions Ḥunayn Ibn Isḥāq, the most renowned and successful translator of the time, who tailored the Greek texts in accordance with the norms of the recipient culture, not seeing it “as a threat to identity or sign of weakness but rather as an integrated part of scholarship” (3).

Not surprisingly, this translation movement had an important part to play in the emergence of the next. In this regard, Aiss argues that Muslims’ “contribution ←21 | 22→to human civilization and the advancement of science was transmitted, in the Middle Ages, to Europe through Spain,” and this gave birth to the next important translation movement (5).

Toledo Translation Movement

Apart from the role which Muslims played in creating a “center of scientific learning” (Burnett 251) in Spain, Pergola mentions two important reasons for turning this locus into a translation center as well: the burgeoning of universities and university programs in Europe, as well as the existing gaps in scientific subjects, which required urgent translation of academic-scientific texts to serve as text books and reference books.

When Alfonso VI captured Toledo and Christianity’s dominance was assumed (Burnett 249), Toledo was turned into an important center for intellectual pursuits and knowledge. However, the initial demand for the translations of the Arabic texts into Latin can be probably traced back to the time after the visitors to Toledo came from other European countries. Unlike the inhabitants of Toledo, these people were not familiar with the Arabic language, and the need for translation started to appear. As Pergola argues,

[t]he scientific current of the High Middle Ages represents a turning point in the Western translation panorama of the period: at the very base of this current, there is the awareness, within the Western European tradition, of existing gaps in scientific subjects, in particular mathematics, astronomy/astrology and medicine. (1)

Reflecting on another important factor, i.e. the flourishing of universities across Europe, he quotes Edward Grant as saying:

The translation of scientific and natural philosophy works from Greek-Arabic into Latin, together with the establishment of the medieval university and the emergence of theologian-natural philosophers that set the preconditions for the development of a new medieval intellectual world made the Scientific Revolution possible. (1)

To the Europeans at the time, the importance and necessity of translating from Arabic was twofold: it meant not only transferring of knowledge from the Islamic world into the West, but also reviving the science and philosophy of Ancient Greece. The great Renaissance in the West, followed by considerable scientific, social, and cultural developments, can be rightly assumed to have its roots in the Toledo Translation Movement.

This short account of the two outstanding translation movements in history can be an indication of how humanity has benefitted from translation as a utopian practice, which, in turn, has contributed to the forming and thriving of ←22 | 23→civilizations, and how important it continues to be in any utopian model envisaged for the future of the world.

Works Cited

Aiss, Layachi. An Analytical Study of the Process of Translation: With Special Reference to English/Arabic. The University of Salford, PhD Dissertation, 1987.

Anderson, Ben. “Transcending Without Transcendence: Utopianism and an Ethos of Hope.” Antipode, vol. 38, no. 4, 2006, pp. 691–710.

Bloch, Ernst. The Utopian Function of Art and Literature. Translated by Jack Zipes and Frank Mecklenburg. Massachusetts Institute of Technology, 1996.

Burnett, Charles. “The Coherence of the Arabic-Latin Translation Program in Toledo in the Twelfth Century.” Science in Context, vol. 14, no. 1–2, 2001, pp. 249–288.

Claeys, Gregory, and Lyman Tower Sargent. The Utopia Reader. New York University Press, 1999.

Clark, Carol Lea. “Aristotle and Averroes: The Influences of Aristotle’s Arabic Commentator upon Western European and Arabic Rhetoric.” Review of Communication, vol. 7, no. 4, 2007, pp. 369–387.

Cooper, Davina. Everyday Utopias: The Conceptual Life of Promising Spaces. Duke University Press, 2014.

Gasset, José Ortega. “The Misery and the Splendor of Translation.” The Translation Studies Reader, edited by Lawrence Venuti. Translated by Elizabeth Gamble Mille, Routledge, 2000, pp. 49–64.

Goodin, Katherine Sproul. Translation Theory and Practice in the Abbasid Era. The University of Texas at Austin, Master’s Thesis, 2014.

Gutas, Dimitri. Greek Thought, Arabic Culture: The Graeco-Arabic Translation Movement and Early ‘Abbasid Society (2nd-4th/8th-10th Centuries). Routledge, 1998.

Levitas, Ruth. “Introduction: The Elusive Idea of Utopia.” History of the Human Sciences, vol. 16, no. 1, 2003, pp. 1–10.

Magid, Annette M. “Thomas More in America.” Utopian Studies, vol. 27, no. 3, 2016, pp. 521–528.

Pergola, Ruggiero. “Medieval Translators in Spain and the Toledo Affair.” Translation in History Lecture Series. Imperial College, 2013.

Pisarska, Katarzyna. “More’s Utopian Poland: Translations and Impact—An Overview.” Utopian Studies, vol. 27, no. 2, 2016, pp. 346–362.

Ribeiro, Ana Cláudia Romano. “Utopia: Brazilian Translations in Context.” Utopian Studies, vol. 27, no. 2, 2016, pp. 270–299.

←23 |
 24→

Salama-Carr, Myriam. “Translators and the Dissemination of Knowledge.” Translators through History, edited by Jean Delisle, Judith Woodsworth and John Benjamins, 2012, pp. 95–117.

Sargent, Lyman Tower. Utopianism: A Very Short Introduction. Oxford University Press Inc., 2010.

Spinozzi, Paola. “Italian Translations and Editions of Thomas More’s Libellus Vere Aureus.” Utopian Studies, vol. 27, no. 3, 2016, pp. 505–520.

Street, Tony. “Arabic and Islamic Philosophy of Language and Logic Translation.” The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Spring 2015 Edition), edited by Edward N. Zalta. Metaphysics Research Lab, Stanford University, 2015, https://plato.stanford.edu/archives/spr2015/entries/arabic-islamic-language/. Accessed 6 Sept. 2017.

Tokarczyk, Roman Andrzej. “The Reception of More’s Utopia in Poland.” Moreana, vol 41, 1994, pp. 99–169.

Venuti, Lawrence. “Translation, Community, Utopia.” The Translation Studies Reader, edited by Lawrence Venuti, Routledge, 2000, pp. 468–488.

Veselá, Pavla. “The ‘Czech-In’ of Thomas More’s Utopia.” Utopian Studies, vol. 27, no. 3, 2016, pp. 530–545.

Vieira, Fátima. “The Concept of Utopia.” The Cambridge Companion to Utopian Literature, edited by Gregory Claeys, Cambridge, 2010, pp. 3–27.

Wilde, Oscar. The Soul of Man under Socialism. Max N. Maisel, 1911.

Zipes, Jack. Introduction: Toward a Realization of Anticipatory Illuminaton. The Utopian Function of Art and Literature: Selected Esssays, edited by Ernst Bloch. Translated by Jack Zipes and Frank Mecklenburg, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, 1996, pp. xi–xliii.

Zournazi, Mary. Hope: New Philosophies for Change. Pluto Press Australia, 2002.

←24 | 25→

1 The selection of specific countries was based on the accessibility of the relevant critical sources.

2 Notably, the interpretative similarities between the American and the Czech audiences focus on the concept of “commonwealth,” evoked in the description of the island Utopia and its inhabitants as a “nation” (Veselá 540), and revolving around the idea of equality and “society of truth and justice” (Magid 524).

John Style

“O Music, Sweet Music”—Practising Utopia in the Jazz Improvization of Wayne Krantz

Abstract: Following Bloch, the chapter arrives at a definition of the “musical utopian moment” as that moment in which the intensity of musical performance is experienced as a process in which humanity potentiality, “the attained world of ‘we,’” (Bloch) is given full expression. The chapter considers how the act of music-making can embody this collective potential, in the example of the East-Western Divan orchestra, although it also gives musical examples which show the opposite happening. The second part of the chapter focuses on music, arguing that the characteristic utopian musical moment is often to be found in jazz improvisation, in its collective evolving creativity. Following the line of American jazz guitarist and author, Wayne Krantz, it points out how much of what passes for improvisation is precomposed, and so lacks the spontaneous creativity of true improvisation. It discusses Krantz’s The Improvisor’s OS (2004) to show how the guitarist’s method of practicing improvisation comes close to the ideals of Bloch, and provides a means for bringing the utopian musical moment into practice.

Keywords: jazz, Wayne Krantz, improvisation, utopia, Ernst Bloch

Introduction: The Musical Utopian Moment

In her chapter on Ernst Bloch in Music in German Philosophy, Francesca Vidal points out that Bloch’s chapter on music in The Principle of Hope ends with a section called “‘Marsellaise’ and the Moment in Fidelio” (175). The moment referred to, in act 2, scene 1, of Beethoven’s opera, is the sounding of the trumpet to mark the arrival of the governor in Seville, which saves Leonore and Florestan, and frees all the prisoners. As Vidal puts it, this moment

merges the private with the politically just and hence socially significant. It is a promise that, at the moment of fulfilment, makes it possible to sense the meaning of the fullness of time in the present moment and, since it occurs in art, simultaneously refers to a realization that is possible only in the future. (175)

Vidal’s “moment of fulfilment,” which brings both a sense of abundance in the present and a sense of future potential, is a recurrent idea in Ernst Bloch’s frequent affirmations about the utopian potential of music. Bloch ends his essay on “the Moment in Fidelio” thus: “[M]usic as a whole stands at the farther limits of humanity, but at those limits where humanity, with new language and haloed ←25 | 26→by the call to achieved intensity, to the attained world of ‘we, is taking shape” (Essays 243).

Bloch’s words capture the sense in which music signals to us (“the call”), through the power of realized sounds (“achieved intensity”), that a deep sense of human potential, of the power of acting together (“the attained world of ‘we’”) is unfolding before us. Elsewhere, Bloch writes, “[t]he emotion of hope goes out of itself, makes people broad instead of confining them […]. The work of this emotion requires people who throw themselves into what is becoming, to which they themselves belong” (Principle 1). He derives hope from the way music brings a sense of increase, not diminution, and notes, importantly, that this comes not with a sense of completion, of being, but rather, with a sense of ongoing process, of “becoming.”

While Bloch’s musical writings largely focus of Western classical music, his description of the power of music to bring us this sense of unlimited human potential is surely applicable to other forms of music, and, as in the case of this chapter, to jazz improvisation. In what follows, I use the expression “the utopian musical moment” to refer to those moments, described above, when musical performers and listeners experience through the “achieved intensity” of the music a real sense of the unfolding power of humanity. Based on my own experience as a jazz musician, I can affirm that this realization does not often happen in the moment of musical creation, but after it. This is because during the intensity of the musical moment that brings this deep awareness, the rational analytical self that comes to such realizations has often dissolved into sound itself, and only returns to consciousness when the performance ends, when through later reflection the achievement can, to some extent, be understood.

In this chapter, I will set the ideas of the contemporary American jazz guitarist, Wayne Krantz, as expressed in his 2004 self-published instructional book on improvisation, An Improviser’s OS, alongside Bloch’s words, to show the clear utopian element in Krantz’s musical project. An important element in his music is the determination to improvise freely, by consciously avoiding “composition,” which he defines as “any preconceived music, including all licks, stylistic vocabulary, chord voicings, scale and arpeggio patterns, songs, pieces, tunes and chord progressions that one knows, or will learn” (Krantz 7), in favor of “improvisation,” which he defines as “any spontaneously created music” (7). By avoiding compositional elements, in favor of spontaneity, Krantz’s live music is a constantly unfolding process, rather than a performance of a pre-existent work. A Krantz concert embodies Bloch’s words (above), where the music “requires people who throw themselves into what is becoming,” in order to create in all those present a sense of “the attained world of ‘we’.”

←26 |
 27→

The chapter will begin by considering briefly how the act of collective music-making, rather than music itself, can embody utopian ideals, or fall short of them. Moving into the narrower context of jazz, it will then go on to examine how conventional improvisation is, more often than not, far from the spontaneous musical creation it might appear to be. The last part of the chapter will discuss how Krantz proposes to create in the improvising musician the mindset that makes truly spontaneous musical creation possible, and how this practice is likely to produce utopian musical moments.

The title’s reference to “practicing utopia” is intentionally ambiguous. It implies that Krantz’s book does indeed suggest a routine which, through repetition and practice, prepares the musician for the musical utopian moment, and, at the same time, that it provides a means of bringing the utopian musical moment to realization, bringing it into practice, understanding “practice” in this second instance in the sense of Ruth Levitas’ words, when she claims that “[b]oth making and listening to music are material practices” (qtd. in Thompson and Žižek 241). Despite grounding music-making and listening in this way, as “material practices,” paradoxically, Levitas concedes they are also so much more, when she continues: “And yet, it seems, the elusive and utopian cultural surplus of music is such that it continues to open, in many different ways, to that which is not yet” (241), echoing Ernst Bloch’s own “noch nicht.” It is my wish to show that Krantz, in his thinking, as revealed in his book on improvisation, and in his own improvisation, practices utopia in both senses, and points to the potential of free improvisation rather than compositional work to reveal Bloch’s “that which is not yet.”

To give a quick biographical sketch, Wayne Krantz released his first album as leader, Signals, in 1990, and since then has added 10 CDs to his name. The significant number of guest appearances with many top jazz fusion groups Krantz has made over the years is a testimony to the high esteem he is held in by his musical peers. However, rather than pursue the commercially successful career his guitar-playing could have afforded him, he has preferred to pursue projects of his own, guided by artistic rather than commercial ambition, evidenced by his making and keeping some recordings freely available on the internet in exchange for his audience’s voluntary contributions. He is especially known for his work in a trio format, of guitar, bass and drums. With this trio, which has a constantly changing line up, Krantz plays regular gigs at The 55 Bar in New York, and occasionally tours. Early recordings were of his own compositions and works done in collaboration. Once he developed the trio format, recordings and live shows have tended to be structured around his own original compositions, which always contain spaces for extended free improvisations. However, in his latest CD, ←27 | 28→Good Piranha, Bad Piranha, from 2014, and in recent tour performances, he has substituted his own compositions for other well-known pop songs,1 as a framework within which, or as a springboard from which, to improvise freely. Some critics have questioned whether what Krantz is doing is jazz, after all, due to the all-electric line up and the driving rhythms. Krantz, in an interview,2 has seemed not especially concerned with how to categorize his music, although he used the term “jazz” due to the important improvisational element commonly found in his music, which is understood in jazz to be a key feature. Before focusing on the musician’s method for improvisation, and its utopian implications, I would like to consider, briefly, how the act of music-making can speak to us of utopian possibilities.

Music-Making as a Utopian Activity

In the 20th century, Ernst Bloch has been the philosopher who has argued most in favor of music being considered the most utopian of arts, and is well-known for his recurrent thoughts on how music can reveal, through its particular, abstract power, what humans and human experience can become. Ruth Levitas has frequently referred to Bloch in her own writings on utopia, from The Concept of Utopia (1990), through to her recent Utopia as Method (2013). In her chapter on music in Thompson and Žižek’s The Privatization of Hope (2013), Levitas notes Bloch’s comment on Kurt Weill’s music, to the effect that music does not change society, but it signals change (230). As a concrete example of how this change is symbolized she discusses here, and elsewhere,3 the founding of the West-Eastern Divan orchestra by Daniel Barenboim and Edward Said, and the lessons it teaches. Of orchestral playing, Barenboim says, it is “not simply a common activity […] but an existential process that encourages reflection and understanding” (79) in both players and audience. “The idea of music could be a model for society,” Barenboim continues, “[it] teaches us the importance of the interconnection between transparency, power, and force” (133). One way the orchestra highlighted and so challenged power, in the form of ignoring deeply held prejudices, is by exemplifying an openness of attitude in its choice of ←28 | 29→repertoire, with the inclusion of excerpts of Richard Wagner’s Tristan und Isolde, despite the composer’s anti-Semitic associations. But it is surely the fact that the West-Eastern Divan orchestra is made up of Israeli, Palestinian and other Arab musicians, who come together to perform despite the long years of conflict between their communities, that symbolizes most powerfully its utopian potential, by embodying the advantages of cooperation between those communities. In this case, I would argue that the utopian is expressed more in the act of music-making, rather than in the music itself.

Of course, Barenboim is a classical musician, and so rarely, if ever, engages in musical improvisation, but rather interprets a carefully composed pre-existent score. Consequently, within the musical performance, generally speaking, the performer is restricted to playing preordained notes, in a preordained order.4 While any type of music-making exemplifies the utopian potential of music as Barenboim sees it, I would argue that among the different genres of music, jazz is particularly illuminating as “an existential process that encourages reflection and understanding,” to echo Barenboim again. In improvisation, it seems to me, the “existential process” of music-making receives its clearest expression, in the sense that the free space that improvisational playing allows us to witness the process of the music itself being brought into existence. As jazz is the quintessential improvising musical form, our focus will be there.

Improvisation in Jazz

In more standard, including traditional, or “Trad”5 jazz, the path the improvisation follows is determined by the harmonic structure of the melody upon which improvisation takes place. For this reason, in theory, at least, while a saxophone player is playing an improvised solo, you could sing the absent melody, or implied ←29 | 30→melody, over the top of the harmonic changes perfectly well. In jazz standards, the tunes might seem different and varied, but that apparent difference would be dismissed as “pseudo-individualization” by Adorno, the term he develops in the third section of his seminal essay, “On Popular Music” (qtd. in Soundscapes). Here Adorno points out the many standardized elements in the popular music of the 30s and 40s (which has provided much of the “jazz standards” repertoire), such as the lyric content, the duration, the AABA structure,6 the tendency to stick to familiar major and minor harmonies, while avoiding awkward shifts like tritones. Within the harmonic structure of most “jazz standard” tunes, for example, the recurrence of the II-V-I chord sequence7 at the end of many tunes is a standard feature. For the improving musician, building up a repertoire of ways of joining up notes derived from the II chord to the V (or dominant 7 chord) to the root or tonic, the I chord, is standard practice. These prefabricated phrases, which may vary in length, and may be applied in different harmonic situations with just small tweaks, (say, raising or lowering a note or two in the whole run by just a semitone) are known as “licks.” In all likelihood, the musician will also spend hours running up and down combinations of the major and minor pentatonic and blues scales, practicing “Arpeggio up, scale down” and learning a host of little figures or longer runs which can be pulled out of the bag when the right moment comes.

When two or more jazz musicians come together, aggressivity rather than cooperation may arise. The battle metaphor is appropriate for jazz improvisation, as often, rather than being an environment for sublime, utopian cooperation, it can become a dueling ground on which musicians “cut each other out,” or “kill” their fellow instrumentalists, in order to establish their precedence. The biographies of jazz musicians are full of such stories, when the new star comes to town and the “old guns” are “out to get him.” To take just two instances, the night Art Tatum, recently arrived in New York City, “found himself escorted to ←30 | 31→a Harlem nightspot where the greatest masters of stride—including Fats Waller, James P. Johnson and Willie “The Lion” Smith—were ready to do battle” (Gioia 98), before finally sitting down to play his version of Tiger Rag, which left three masters slack-jawed, as they acknowledged the new king; or when Jimi Hendrix, newly arrived in London, had the audacity, one night, to ask to sit in with Cream, the top blues trio in the land at that time and took the opportunity on the first song to show everything he could do to a guitar, so that Eric Clapton simply left the stage without playing, and was found 10 minutes later by his manager in the dressing room unable to light a cigarette because his hands were shaking so much.8

Such acts of prowess require the display of instrumental technique that frequently arises from the use of largely pre-composed elements, which are resorted to as the instrumentalist builds up the solo. The use of pre-composition does not preclude improvisational innovation, or the creation of beautiful music, especially in the cases of great jazz musicians, but the commercial and psychological pressure of maintaining a reputation over time can lead to a reliance on composed material, which can limit a performer’s creativity and the power of their performances.

The risk of heavily compositionally-based improvisations is that they can become predictable and schematic, to the point of banality. As Bloch said, when answering the question of whether he was a Marxist or not, “[b]anality is counter-revolution. Marxism would become banal if it became schematic” (Essays xix). To the extent that jazz improvisation becomes “schematic” (taking “schematic” to mean simplistic, oversimplified, formulaic, formularized, and unimaginative), it, too, will be in danger of becoming banal, and thus losing its utopian potential. How can one avoid this?

Wayne Krantz and the Practice of True Improvisation

In the section entitled “The Explosive Youth of Music” in the long essay “The Philosophy of Music,” Bloch describes how this youthful spirit “is directed at what is essential, and it causes invention [trouver] to triumph over contrivance [construer] time after time” (original italics) (Essays 12). For “invention [trouver]” read free-flowing improvisation, what is found in the moment, and for “contrivance [construer]” read the constructed nature of compositionally-based ←31 | 32→improvisations. Wayne Krantz identifies a similar impulse, when on the final page of his book, An Improviser’s OS, he affirms that

[t]o create, and to perceive creation, is to experience the world in a singularly direct way. The maker and the perceiver are awakened to an immediacy of being and are transformed. In an environment of ritual and complacency, creativity speaks the truth of the moment and suggests that of the infinite.

The results can’t always be pleasant. Birth might not be pretty—but it is, like the creation of all good things, beautiful. There is nothing more interesting, more meaningful, more enlightening, more important than creation—and improvisation, the forging of music in real time, defines the essence of creation in music. It’s the soul, the creative spark, of composition; it’s the uniqueness and relevance of performance. (81)

Krantz’s book announces its intention to “go beyond” from the start, in its epigraphs:

To invent, the slate must be clean.

Out goes the rock, the jazz, the funk, the blues…to be added later, if desired, by design; not by default.

Along with idiom, heroes are respectfully dismissed. Imitation of an artist is contrary to what any artist stands for: innovation.

Tradition brought us here and that’s enough. It need not occupy our thoughts and action any more or less than our own birth.

Rhythm, melody, harmony and sound, free of generic reference, idolatry and derivative affectation, are expressions of the self. (5)

These are the epigraphs with which Krantz lays out his project. It is clear from the start that he pretends to provide a Year Zero text to allow improvisers freedom from the weight of tradition, from certain generic constraints, and from laboring in the shadows of their musical gods, be they Joe Pass, Wes Montgomery, Eric Clapton, or Jimi Hendrix, lost in emulation, rather than seeking self-expression and innovation, which is, Krantz suggest, any artist’s mission.

The book begins with 30 pages or numbers, or “formulas” as Krantz calls them. They represent the 2048 possible iterations of the twelve available notes of a chromatic scale, in other words a sequence of notes which would include all the white and black keys on the piano between any note and its repetition an octave above or below. So the list goes from one single note, through two- three- and four-note combinations up to eleven-note formulas,9 in which all notes except one are included (there are eleven of these) up to a twelve-note formula, in which ←32 | 33→all the possible notes of standard Western musical scales, between a note and the same note an octave above, are included. Much of the rest of the book is a discussion on how these number sequences can be applied to any groups of notes, in order to generate musical ideas.

Krantz’s book takes the form of a dialogue between a student and a teacher. After 30 pages of lines of just numbers, not surprisingly the discussion starts with the student’s “What is this bullshit?” (40) The author’s answer is that each formula represents “a consistent sonic combination of one or more specific tones. A context for music to exist within” (40). To the question “Why not call them scales, rather than formulas?” the answer is:

The word “scale” implies an orderly sequence of notes learned by rote; a known quantity with little potential for reinvention. “Formula” suggests a blend, a concoction; something open-ended and without a tendency toward any particular order—though they are usually written step-wise from the root for convenience. (40)

The student quibbles, “It’s just semantics, anyway… ‘What’s in a name, right?,’” to which the answer comes: “A name or a word can become a prison for the artist if it answers more questions than it asks” (40).

What is the prison from which Krantz’s method invites you to escape? He is not advocating atonality, or the strict use of the twelve-tone scale, as was firstly systematically practiced in the compositions of Second Viennese School, in which pieces have little or no sense of tonality, or “key,” because all twelve tones are used in equal measure, and so no key center develops. Krantz’s exercises, which, if done correctly, would bring about the guitarist’s complete mastery of all the multiple note positions on the neck of the guitar10 are designed to encourage the student to explore the various sonic possibilities of groupings of notes, from simple, three-note groups, to complex groups of 9 or 10 notes, which exceed the traditional 8-note major and minor scales. By not prescribing any order that the notes of a given formula should be played in, Krantz encourages the search for new sonorities. Repetition of structures, even ones that sound nice, until a certain speed or dexterity is acquired is not encouraged, as this would lead to compositional playing. While he does not reject compositional playing, this type of unending sonic investigation opens up possibilities. He notes: “Composition is ←33 | 34→an opportunity to play something that you know sounds good. Improvisation is an opportunity to play something that sounds better than what you know” (70).

The book is not heavy on music theory as might be expected, and Krantz names artists whom he admires who had great knowledge of theory, and no knowledge of theory. He offers possibilities rather than imposes, by suggesting

[t]here is no obligation on the part of a musician to investigate music theory. But a certain kind of curiosity will make it almost inevitable. At its most relevant, theory is the head introducing new sounds to the ear in a process that expands both. Necessary? No. Inspiring? Potentially. (43)

Sometimes the Student becomes a little over theoretical, when, for example, he asks “Wouldn’t I be better off playing my Dorian stuff from bVII of the Phrygian chord?” (original italics) (70). In general, Krantz’s answers try to avoid labels, by breaking up these traditional compositional units, like the Dorian and Phrygian scales, into smaller units, 440 possible subsets of the scale in the first case, with the aim of showing the vast potential hiding with the 7-note sequence that we know as the Dorian scale.11 Successful improvisation will depend on being able to seek and locate the notes of a formula at any position on the neck, and the best way to practice this is to practice searching and locating. Once this is highly developed, the musician will reach the point where they can turn into sound any playable sequence of notes as fast as their inner ear can conceive of it. Of course, this practice is not without risk. As the Teacher explains,

[f]ormulas present an opportunity to improvise, which put the musician in a potentially vulnerable position. There is an inherent risk to the art that even a master improviser is subject to. But within that vulnerability, the magic of spontaneous creation—maybe the most powerful, transforming phenomenon in the universe—lives and breathes. To invoke it, the security of composition is relinquished for the creative moment. (71)

In this risky creative moment, the musician will encounter themselves, because, in Bloch’s words, music “is the sound-source of self-shapings still unachieved in the world” (original italics) (Essays 219).

If that is acceptable to the player, what about the listener? Both Krantz and Bloch suggest that, ultimately, they are one and the same. Where Krantz refers almost reverently to developing a deep trust in his “inner ear,” Bloch offers a similar metaphor when he claims, “[o]nly a few people, however, actually reach ←34 | 35→the stage of pure self-hearing” (Bloch, Essays 124). As Bloch describes it, most people drift in “false and whimsical dreams” (124) as they listen; or else, the opposite occurs, as the “rationalists” listen with a very analytical mind, focusing on form. Bloch is skeptical about the use of formal analysis, as he adds, “[f]or while it is very much form alone which leaves an impression, discloses things and brings what is faintly glimmering to the surface, there is very little to be grasped through form by itself” (124).

According to Bloch, artists are closest to this “pure self-hearing.” He claims that

[e]ven the artist—who, after all, is progressively abandoning the meaningless expedients (like tonality) and only achieving further great things through transcendent forms (like rhythm and counterpoint), even he is simply his own listener in the last instance […] [This] means placing at the end of music the interior realm of all that is hearing itself, moulded sound, as simply the aura of the listener re-encountering himself. (original italics) (Essays 130)

Krantz reminds the Student at the end of The Improviser’s OS, that practice, whether along the lines of his method or not, is ultimately preparation for performance, which is, after all, as Levitas reports the saxophonist John Harle putting it, “the point of grace between audience and performer [which] only happens live” (qtd. in Thompson and Žižek 238). And like all points of grace, to be there is to accept the transient, evanescent nature of reality. Thus, the improviser knows more than the composer. As Krantz says,

[a]n improvisational idea enters one’s awareness like a passing butterfly. The improviser simply observes and appreciates the transient nature of its brief appearance, while the composer actually captures it to preserve it. Part of being an improviser is having the faith that another butterfly will come, perhaps one even more beautiful. Part of being a composer is knowing which butterfly won’t fade under glass. (An Improviser’s OS 76)

He goes on,

[i]mprovisation still offers an uncluttered horizon to those who care to reach for it […] The vulnerability inherent in improvising can be a liability; one reason why it’s not embraced more often. Once musicians find things that work, they tend not to be inclined to give them up for the next butterfly that comes along. […] Improvisation will require some faith on the part of both the artist and the audience. It’s a faith that can be significantly rewarded. In this lifetime. (81)

In both his own playing and his instructional writing, I believe that in the improvisational musical setting Wayne Krantz does practice utopia, which Ernst Bloch identified as music’s greatest promise to us. The Improviser’s OS shows us how to practice, in the sense of indicating how to prepare thoroughly for the future arrival of the musical utopian moment, and how to perform its coming, by putting it into practice in the here and now.

←35 |
 36→

Works Cited

Adorno, Theodore. “On Popular Music.” Soundscapes.info, vol. 2, Jan. 2000, www.icce.rug.nl/~soundscapes/DATABASES/SWA/On_popular_music_1.shtml. Accessed 15 Dec. 2017.

Barenboim, David. Everything is Connected: The Power of Music. Weidenfeld and Nicholson, 2009.

Bloch, Ernst. Essays on the Philosophy of Music. Cambridge UP, 1985.

Bloch, Ernst. The Principle of Hope. Basil Blackwell, 1986.

Gioia, Ted. The History of Jazz, second edition. Oxford UP, 2011.

Krantz, Wayne. An Improviser’s OS. waynekrantz.com, 2004, http://www.waynekrantz.com/?albums=wayne-krantz-an-improvisers-os-book. Accessed 8 Dec. 2018.

Krantz, Wayne. “WAYNE KRANTZ: Jazz-Gitarre anders…” YouTube, uploaded by Gitarre & Bass, Feb 12, 2016, www.youtube.com/watch?v=Z8AmIpPHon0. Accessed 23 June 2017.

Levitas, Ruth. “Singing Summons the Existence of the Fountain.” The Privatization of Hope, edited by Peter Thompson and Slavoj Žižek, SIC 8, Duke UP, 2013, pp. 218–45.

Levitas, Ruth. Utopia as Method—The Imaginary Reconstitution of Society. Palgrave Macmillan, 2013.

Vidal, Francesca. “Bloch.” Music in German Philosophy: An Introduction, edited by Stefan Lorenz Sorgner and Oliver Fürbeth, University of Chicago Press, 2010, pp. 165–86.

“When Eric Clapton Met Jimi Hendrix.” YouTube, uploaded by Mrjamesanonymous, Aug. 17, 2011, www.youtube.com/watch?v=KPJgtQwtVVA. Accessed 1 July 2017.

←36 | 37→

1 The album consists of eight tracks, using different line-ups to record two versions each of Thom Yorke’s “Black Swan” and MC Hammer’s “U Can’t Touch Me,” Ice Cube’s “My Skin is My Sin,” and Pendulum’s “Comprachicos.”

2 In a 2016 YouTube interview with the German Jazz & Gitarre magazine, “WAYNE KRANTZ: Jazz-Gitarre.”

3 In Utopia as Method, 51–54.

4 While this is true of most of the Western classical music repertoire, it must be acknowledged that contemporary compositions often do leave space for the performers’ improvisation, as did certain earlier musical styles, such as the figured bass continuo parts in a Baroque musical ensemble. Within Western music, however, the musical genre that most consistently embraces improvisation as an integral part of its repertoire is jazz.

5 Gioia defines “Trad” as jazz played in the traditional New Orleans style by small combos, of six or seven players, and dates the revival from the 1940s when old New Orleans musicians such as Bunk Johnson and Kid Ory were brought out of retirement as part of a musical resistance to the new Bop style. One key date is 1947, when Louis Armstrong, with Earl Hines and Jack Teagarden following his example, abandoned the big band format to return to the commercially viable smaller New Orleans “Trad” band format (Gioia 253–8).

6 Standards are often derived from tunes from shows or musicals, which would typically start with a long recitative-style verse, to contextualize the up-coming “number.” For jazz purposes, this musical preamble is usually excised, and just the main tune is retained. A jazz standard may have a musical introduction, but that introduction will usually be derived from harmonic material in the actual melody, and will not allude to the original recitative part of the song that has been removed. It is an example of further standardization, along the lines Adorno criticized in American popular music.

7 The very frequent II-V-I harmonic sequence refers to chords based on the second, the fifth and the first degree (or root) of a scale. So, a II-V-I in the key of C would typically follow the pattern of chords based on D, G and then C.

8 As told in the BBC documentary, “Seven Ages of Rock,” episode one, by, inter alia, Chas Chandler, Hendrix’s manager at the time. The clip “When Eric Clapton Met Jimi Hendrix” is available on YouTube (see Works Cited).

9 The single note formula is written “1”; three-note formulas are “1 b2 2 … 1 4 b6 …” etc; an eleven note formula would be, for example, “1 b2 2 b3 3 4 b5 5 b6 b7 7” (Krantz 8–38).

10 For pianists, every note has but one key associated with it, while for guitarists the same note can be played in up to five different locations on the guitar neck, so complete familiarity with the range of locations on the neck at which a sequence of notes can be executed is essential for fluent improvisation.

11 The Dorian scale is a form of minor scale created by following the notes of the C major scale, the white notes on the piano, but running from D to D’, instead of C to C’. It is the basis for the modal compositions heard, for example, on Miles Davies’ 1959 classic, “Kind of Blue,” giving the music a particular melancholy, yet bright quality.

Alireza Omidbakhsh, Mohammadamir Jalali

The Iranian Heritage of Utopianism: Niẓami Ganjaviʼs Utopian Thoughts

Abstract: Criticizing the status quo and proposing a blueprint of a better world are two approaches to utopian thinking. The foundations of a utopia are, therefore, established upon a critical examination of the current state of affairs, followed by an attempt at providing a plausible solution to the problems. In his renowned poem “The Treasury of Mysteries” (Makhzan al-asrar), Niẓami, a 12th-century Iranian poet, strives to provide some answers to the most urgent issues of his times by focusing on the nature of monarchy and its relation to the people.

Keywords: Niẓami Ganjavi, Treasury of Mysteries, utopia, 12th-century Iran

Mesopotamia, including parts of a modern-day Iran, Iraq, Syria, and Turkey, is often referred to as one of the cradles of human civilization where the earliest written records of a better life were found on a Sumerian clay tablet dating back to 2000 BC (Sargent, Utopianism 2010). This shows that the history of utopianism is as old as the history of civilization, although the word “utopia” was coined by Thomas More in 1516, about 3500 years later. Hence, as the majority of scholars, such as Sargent, Claeys, and Sargisson believe, the phenomenon of utopianism “pre-existed its name” (Sargisson 7). The time gap between the research on western and non-western utopianism is due to the fact that “the definition, design and development of utopian literatures and theories have emerged from western examples of the genre and practice” (Dutton 225). Lyman Tower Sargent in “Utopianism and National Identity” states that “[t]he mistake we made as scholars was to treat all utopias as if they came from some single source” (102). Thus, research on non-western utopianism and utopias involves examining areas which remain critically unnoticed. The present chapter investigates some aspects of utopianism and utopian thoughts in Iranian literature by introducing Niẓami Ganjaviʼs utopian views in his collection of poems “The Treasury of Mysteries” (Makhzan al-asrar).

Utopianism in Iran

Claeys and Sargent identify two fundamental utopian traditions; the first, “utopias of sensual gratification,” consists of myths that look back to the idealized ←37 | 38→past of the human race; they are usually called “golden ages, Arcadias, earthly paradises, fortunate isles, isles of the blest” (2). The second tradition, “utopias of human contrivance,” (2) consists of texts which depict a better future life on earth, rather than after death. Particularly significant in this context are utopias which feature an ideal city, such as Kallipolis ruled by a philosopher king in Plato’s Republic (3), Amaurot in More’s Utopia, and Virtuous City in Farabi’s Virtuous City. The abovementioned types of literary utopias can be found in Iranian literature, with the Persian Golden Age of Iranian myths representing the former, and Firdowsiʼs Shahnameh (Book of Kings), Farabi’s Virtuous City, Rumiʼs Kitabi Masnavi Maʼnavi (The Spiritual Couplets), and Niẓami Ganjaviʼs “The Treasury of Mysteries,” the latter.

Irrespective of this sub-classification, there is one notable difference between western utopias and their Iranian equivalents, with the latter characterized by the strong presence of religion. What follows, it would be difficult to find lay utopian texts by Iranian authors. One of the main reasons behind this can be traced to the Middle Eastern setting, where Zoroastrianism, Mithraism, and all Abrahamic religions, such as Christianity, Judaism, and Islam, are born.

Based on Claeys and Sargent’s definition, the Persian Golden Age can be classified as a utopia of sensual gratification, whose illustrations can be found in the ancient Zoroastrian scriptures. Similarly, the myths of Yima or Jamshid, the first mortal with whom Ahura Mazda conversed, are written in two parts in Avesta (Zend-avesta 35). In the first part, lines 1–20, Ahura Mazda, the representation of goodness in Zoroastrianism, suggests to Yima that he should receive the law from him and hand it on to humanity (54). On his refusal, Ahura Mazda orders Yima to protect people and make them prosper. Accordingly, Yima helps them thrive and multiply, keeps death and disease away from them, and enlarges the earth to thrice its former size, as it becomes too small for its inhabitants (54). In the second part, from lines 21 to the end, on the approach of a hard winter which is to destroy every living creature, Yima, advised by Ahura Mazda, builds a Vara (a subterranean shelter) to lodge the finest representatives of all kinds of animals and plants, where they live a life of perfect happiness (54). As seen in the myths of the Persian Golden Age and Jamshid, human agency is subject to the authority of Ahura Mazda in Zoroastrianism. This interconnectedness between human beings and gods/God occurs in almost all Iranian utopias. Even in The Virtuous City, a typical utopia of human contrivance that Farabi presents as an exclusively philosophical work, traces of Islamic teachings are clearly discernible, particularly when he discusses the ruler, Imam, of his Virtuous City.

Overall, it is possible to classify Iranian utopias with regard to two models of divine agency in ideal states: in the first the higher power is in direct contact ←38 | 39→with the human being to found a utopia, and in the second, its intervention is achieved through a prophet, his/her successor, and a king, hence the frequent employment of monarchs as facilitators of utopian ideas, as is the case with Niẓami Ganjaviʼs “The Treasury of Mysteries.”

Biographical notes

Justyna Galant (Volume editor) Marta Komsta (Volume editor)

Justyna Galant is Assistant Professor of English Literature at Maria Curie-Skłodowska University, Lublin. She published in the field of Renaissance drama and utopia. <B> Marta Komsta </B>is Assistant Professor of English Literature at Maria Curie-Skłodowska University, Lublin. She published articles on British contemporary fiction and utopian narratives.

Previous

Title: Strange Vistas