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Grafica e comunicazione

Pass by

- "Can you experience reality?"

- "Open your eyes, ears, nostrils, use your tongue and your hands and you will experience healthy and positive reality."

- "But what reality? For example: what’s the flavor of the bread? That of the first piece I eat when I'm hungry or the slice I eat later, when I am satiated?"

This dialogue appears in Persuasion and Rhetoric by Charles Michelstaedter. At one point the main character wonders if the true portrait of his friend matches the traits of nobility that he had just noticed, or if the vile and sinister aspects that the portrait revealed in a latter moment means that his friend guilty of infidelity. Both the flavor of bread and appearance of his friend are centered and disturbing examples. Michelstaedter affirms, with simplicity and wit, that reality is changing, elusive, adaptable, subjective; and it is conditional. "Reality becomes edible if you are hungry, liquid if you are thirsty, somniferous if you are sleepy. And if I'm not hungry, I'm not thirsty and I’m not sleepy? If I don’t need anything, then what? The world becomes grey?"

I wonder if we can see the beauty of things, or if we can even just see things, or others, when we don’t strictly need to. I wonder if we are able to discern beauty for its own sake, without utilitarianisms, but even if we are able to enjoy something without having to necessarily flaunt it. If we are able to do something for the sake of it. To do or enjoy something, sober, without any prospect of gain, be it material or moral.

If everything is really influenced by desire, need, utilitarianism, exhibitionism, are we are doomed to pass by the beauty of life with "really" seeing it?

American violinist Joshua Bell conducted an equally interesting experiment. He played the violin for forty minutes as a street musician in a busy subway station in Washington during rush hour traffic, placing a hidden camera to document the effect of the his performance. One of the largest and most famous living musicians, who only a few days before, in January 2007, he performed with resounding success at the Boston Symphony Hall in front of a large audience that was happy to spend more than $ 100 per person to see the show, decides disguise himself and present a similar program in a subway and what happens? He isn’t able to draw anyone’s attention or make a single buck. More than a thousand people passed by indifferent to the music, only seven lingered, and only one recognized him. The total proceeds from the second concert amounted to $ 32.17. I had heard about this experiment at the time. I thought it was just strange.

Recently, however, I happened to see the video recording. A fixed camera frames a dignified entrance to the subway. On the left you can see the violinist tuning the instrument. He begins with the “Chaconne” (Partita for Violin No.2 in D Minor) by Johann Sebastian Bach, "not only one of the greatest pieces of music ever written, but one of the greatest works completed by man in history," according to Bell (and many others, to be honest). The sound is quite distinct even it’s not intended to be powerful. Obviously his 1713 Stradivari violin causes one to feel the music. The violinist arches back. He feels the music. The Washington Post reporter who organized the experiment states that saw him play "with acrobatic enthusiasm." The Chaconne unfolds, poignantly. A young woman passes by, then a man with the briefcase, boys, and groups of people of all kinds. The bustle increases and it’s not affected at all. The crowd is impervious to sound, completely indifferent. No one pays even the slightest attention to one of the greatest violinists in the world, who happens to be a handsome man, masterfully playing one of the most exciting works of art created by a human being throughout the history of our civilization. No one stops, worse, virtually no one lingers. "When you perform for a paying audience - says Bell - your value is already recognized. But then I thought: why don’t they appreciate me?" I wonder the same thing, with growing despair. At the beginning the video was amusing, but it gradually becomes more and more tragic. I am mesmerized by those people from who knows where, headed who knows where. For several minutes I see them darting in full screen. On the far left of the screen, I see the poor man who continues to wave his arms in the air in attempts of drawing attention to his high art. Looking at those people passing by indifferent to the man and the music that I love deeply, I finally cried softly, without really knowing why. For the offense paid to Bach? Or for the offense paid to me? Or rather, because I recognized myself in those people, in my daily rush to get from one place to the next? Or was it because it was proof that everything, even the sublime beauty, unassailable, certain and therefore "real"... ultimately is as precarious as all the rest, given the absurdity of a poor man producing shrill sounds of general indifference? Was it therefore for the huge disparity between my ideal and reality, the reason for that soft cry? For a moment I thought of that artist's genius as a man alone, in pain, gasping, in a silent corner of the subway. We simply pass by, but to go where.

13/11/2014 Filippo Maglione

What is the flavor of bread?

What is the flavor of bread?
That of the first piece

devoured when I'm hungry –
or the one I eat when I am satiated?
What is the odor of roast meat?

The smell of desire –
or the contrary, the stench
the what remains after it’s been eaten?

And what does the eye see?

I look at my faithful friend carefully –
a common ancestral nobility

imprinted in his nose and forehead

in his thumb and eyelash.

But I can also see him betray me –
a foul aberrant mouth

a banal look in his eyes

a sinister mold of animal.
And if I look at a woman

before or after having used her –
the contradiction would become

even more amoral.
What then of the abyss –
experience of reality?