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Stewart Gordon: Mastering the Art of Performance, Oxford U.P. 2006

Stewart Gordon: Mastering the Art of Performance, Oxford U.P. 2006


This book on performance is written by a musician for musicians but is highly illuminating for anybody interested in the magic of the moment as mesmerized by a performing self. As the author observes, "many of the processes and challenges we face in dealing with musical performance apply to a wide variety of activities, for performance is an integral component of every human being." (p. 4)

From the point of view of my own concerns on living thinking I enjoyed particularly the chapters "Defining Performance", "Achieving a Positive Mind-set toward Performance" and "Dynamics during Performance". Excellent stuff, great crytallizations.

For me, an intriquing idea for quite some time has been the possiblity of approaching thinking in musical terms and in conceptualizing a lecture as a performance. We wrote about this with Sebastian Slote a few ago in the journal Philosophical Practice, and in my Paphos seminars, HUT lectures and elsewhere I have often returned to the idea which I believe is essential to my approach of stimulating living philosophy of life. Against this background, consider the following points by substituting "living movement of thought" for "performance" and "thoughts as contents" for "music":

"...performance and music are intertwined. As a musician embarks on learning to play or sing a given work, somewhere in the back of his or her mind is the concept of performing that music. This concept envisions recreating the musical work as a whole in an act that sets forth the beauty, the excitment, the emotion, the humor, and the intricacy of the music."

Comment: when thinking about thinking as a performance, it is natural to introduce categories such as "excitment" or "humor" as to be of primary relevance to thinking.

However:

"Many musicians downplay their interest in the spotlight, pointing to the worth of music rather than their achievement in realizing the music." (p. 3)

People as it were over-value the thoughts of others, especially authorities, as opposed to the active conduction of their own thinking in the living present. My idea in my lectures is to create a context where people would take their own thinking as a performance seriously, as opposed to fixed contents of thought developed by somebody else. Here the intricate nature of a performance highlights some of the challenges involved, the challenges that make it so essential to take special care to create contexts that support the emergence of the relevant thought-performance. At the same time, one cannot pinpoint the effort to a well-defined formula:

"...the ability to turn in a successful performance stubbornly resists codification, and to some extent remains a mercurial art. After decades of study and research, the components that make up successful performance remain elusive..." (p. 7)

The first chapter of this valuable book concludes with observation that I feel illuminate my own "tender and dynamic methodology":

"Most of us sometime wish for a comprehensive grasp of this process to understand better who we are and where we are headed. Yet the pressures of daily life offer few opportunities to gain insight into how our routine tasks relate to either the person we are, the person we are becoming, or the vision of the person we wish to become. ... We sense that not only does our self-image tend to be fleeting, but also the vision of what we seek is extremely fragile. Direct contemplation of our vision tends to compromise its transcendence, dulling its most alluring, mysterious aspects." (p. 10)

Like my "tender and dynamic" Paphos-methodology, the author prefers "an indirect approach" through which "we learn about ourselves by focusing on alternative but closely related concepts".

"We experience a paradox that brings us, surprisingly and seemingly miraculously, to a very clear realization of the dimensions, growth patterns, and attributes of our inner being. In this way performance, properly used, can become a way of life that is personally illuminating as well as fulfilling." (p. 11)

Kirjoitti Esa Saarinen, 17.02.2007

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