Rhythm: Hip-hop – Epistemology and Ethics – Deleuze

A short post, on (for me, important) subjects for later more detailed use:

  • Rhythm makes following Deleuze speaking about Leibniz and baroque a wonderful experience of mind opening, mind pleasure and insight. If it weren’t for his pauses, his points d’orgue at the end of long “paragraphs”, his waiting times, his sudden accelerations and apparently unneeded slow motion passages, following him would be totally different. A serious part of his greatness is given by the way he delivers. (Thanks to Zalamea for pointing out these incredible lectures!)
  • Rhythm makes following hip-hop a possible endeavor. The music is really bass underlining (something that has been happening since Perotin at least, since the Parisian composers in the Western tradition), simple melodic lines. The lyrics of Mos Def, Wu-Tang Clan, RUN-DMC but even more so Aesop Rock and (king of kings) Saul Williams are among the best poetry being done at the moment, universally. Try reading some aloud. Try, stumble and fail, try again. Now imagine those guys sometimes being able to ad-lib, to invent (or carve out?) these lyrics out of their minds. Adam Bradley has written The Book of Rhymes – The Poetics of Hip-Hop – an insightful book, perhaps longish to read – maybe the best is just listening to some Wu-Tang, some Williams and some Mos Def to get a sense of the best poetry being written (and recited, and ad-libbed, and in some cases made into music or a nice video). Best poetry in terms of rhythm, mostly (in many cases the lyrics seem the least important part of the song/singspiel): something else is being sung, something pertaining to growing up in Brooklyn or the Bronx, to under-standing a city like New York in a world of prisons, of danger, of complicated racial politics, of self-assertion. Much more seems to be said by the rhythm proper than by the lyrics themselves. (Thanks to Michael Kowalski, Javier Moreno and Paola Vargas for their pointing out great hip-hop recommendations (and, in Michael’s case, for leading me in that direction from his description of his new opera)!)
  • And back to Jan Zwicky, on Plato. After leading her readers through heightened awareness of the rhythm of the dialogue (as in Deleuze or as in hip-hop): the pauses, the hesitations, the convoluted backtracking, the exposure of new ideas and expectation of a reaction, fulfilled in some cases only, she goes back to the role of mathematics (as measure of learning morality for Plato!). Zwicky: The notion that mathematical truth and moral insight were connected was not itself the result of immature idealism nor of geeky tinkering in the workshop of nutty ideas. Plato must have seen and experienced the connexion in a way that could not be gainsaid by his acute observation of the human pageant. … We become virtuous by believing what the mathematical demonstration suggests but does not prove; we awaken excellence, actually produce it in ourselves, by rejecting skepticism about it. Skepticism, in blunting philosophical desire, makes us morally unattractive. It is a very surprising turn and must, I think, affect our sense of Plato’s overall project (negrilla mía). In contemporary North American philosophy, we often imagine that the correct epistemology and metaphysics will provide the foundation for an adequate ethics. Plato suggests otherwise: we must choose our metaphysics and epistemologies on the strength of their moral outcomes. This choice requires unencumbered eros – unfettered, it only ever desires the good. If this extremely strong conclusion drawn by Zwicky holds water (I believe it does), it is through a lengthy, weighted argument developing awareness to listening to, to feeling the rhythm in Plato’s dialogue that one can draw the conclusion – and that the conclusion becomes unavoidable.

All this presence of rhythm, from those wonderful lectures given by Deleuze (and which would be reduced terribly were it not for the rhythm he uses to deliver them), through the craziness (and liveliness and strength) of hip-hop, all the way to Zwicky’s ear for rhythm in Plato – all of this is perhaps far-fetched, but it seems to glue correctly some insights.

Alejandro Martín has sometimes expressed serious doubts about the role of metaphysics in epistemology, about the way we reach knowledge. Not in writing – these have been informal conversations. Perhaps his questions can be re-read through Zwicky’s eyes.

(Added: Release – Saul Williams & Blackalicious  – Lyrics here: http://www.azlyrics.com/lyrics/blackalicious/releasepart123.html)