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Music and Genocide


Edited By Wojciech Klimczyk and Agata Świerzowska

At first glance, no two experiences could be further apart than genocide and music. Yet real, live culture usually goes beyond rational divisions. It is now fairly commonly known that art is not absent from the sites of mass killings. Both victims and prosecutors engage in artistic activities in prisons and camps, as well as at other places where genocides take place. What is the music of genocide? Can the experience of ultimate terror be expressed in music? How does music reflect on genocide? How do we perceive music after genocide? What is music and what is silence in a world marked by mass killings? Is post-genocidal silence really possible or appropriate? The goal of the volume is to reveal and, maybe even to some extent, resolve the most profound dilemma that was expressed by Theodor W. Adorno when he asked «whether it is even permissible for someone who accidentally escaped and by all rights ought to have been murdered, to go on living after Auschwitz.» It is not for the sake of pure curiosity that the relation between music and genocide is examined. In a sense we are all survivors who accidentally escaped genocide. It might have happened to us. It may still happen.
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Henri Bergson, a philosopher and – like Schopenhauer or Nietzsche – very sensitive to music, wrote in his last book:

We feel, while we listen, as though we could not desire anything else but what the music suggests to us, and that that is just as we should naturally and necessarily act did we not refrain from action to listen. Let the music express joy or grief, pity or love, every moment we are what it expresses. Not only ourselves, but many others, nay, all the others, too. When music weeps, all humanity, all nature, weeps with it. In point of fact it does not introduce these feelings into us; it introduces us into them, as passers-by are forced into a street dance.1

Bergson believed in the power of music. He believed that music could enchant the listener to the degree that he is changed: more susceptible to emotions which, in turn, can transform him into a better person. One can see his perspective as idealistic and biased. After all, Bergson grew up in a musical home so he was from the very beginning of his life conditioned to such beliefs. Yet, the same has been experienced by countless people before and after him, not necessarily brought up to love music the way he was.

It is hard to argue that the belief in the special powers of music is one of the most widespread among people, especially in Western cultures. There is neither...

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