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In The Human Condition, Hannah Arendt, the author, explains that actions are frail; they are both irreversible and unpredictable (The Human Condition 191).  Forgiveness and promising are the only ways in which we can remedy the frailty of our actions.  The act of forgiveness creates a new beginning, giving humans the opportunity to start over again, without forgetting what happened.  This is necessary because actions always occur in a web (The Human Condition 190).  My actions have an effect on others, and the actions of others have an effect on me, meaning that I am both a “doer” and a “sufferer”.  Actions can have infinite ramifications because they are boundless.  We can never truly know what outcomes an action will have, and even the best predictions are only good guesses.  As humans, we are inherently vulnerable because we do not have total control of the effect that our actions have on ourselves or on others (The Human Condition 237).  We can be affected in unseen ways that can be either good or bad.  Forgiveness is a powerful act, which can release us from the consequences that our actions may have on ourselves or on others (The Human Condition 241).  Through forgiveness, people can open up a new future for themselves. Forgiveness serves to remedy the irreversibility of actions because in forgiving someone, both of the affected individuals can move on with their lives.  Unfortunately, as humans we tend to limit forgiveness to those that are close to us (The Human Condition 241).

The faculty of making and keeping promises is the second remedy for the irreversibility and unpredictability of our actions (The Human Condition 237).  As humans, we make promises to both ourselves and others.  For example, when I get into my car and begin driving, in a way I am promising to obey the laws of the road.  Laws are basically just the codification of promises.  The promises that we make are not binding in any way; they can be broken.  The fact that any human that is able to drive has the capacity to break the laws of the road is particularly distressing to humans.  The same is true for all laws (The Human Condition 191).  Humans are not bound by the laws they create, so they can choose whether or not to follow those laws.  Because of the unpredictability that freedom creates, humans search for ways to stabilize their lives.

Making promises serves to remedy the unpredictability of our actions by adding a sense of stability.  On page 244, Arendt states, “Man’s inability to rely upon himself or to have complete faith in himself (which is the same thing) is the price human beings pay for freedom.”  This means that because man is completely free, man will always be unpredictable.  A promise may not be set in stone, but it is a pledge to act in a certain manner.  In that sense, a promise allows people to be mutually trusting of one another, so that they may live their lives freely and without worry.

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All actions, including my own, occur in a political dimension, or a group of people (The Human Condition 176).  We can give ourselves a different identity within the community of humans that we live with through our actions.  Even the biological sex of an individual is not necessarily a factor in his or her community identity.  In a way, I can recreate myself through my actions, giving me the possibility of a new birth and a new life.  Actions are a revelation; they reveal who I am, not simply what I am (The Human Condition 176).  What I am is a set of features and characteristics, which I may very well share with others.  What I am can be described.  I am human, I am a student, and I am Dutch; there are many other people in the world that fit this exact same description.  Who I am can only be revealed through my actions.  On one hand, we as human beings are equal because we all share certain characteristics.  On the other hand, we are all distinct in the sense that we can draw boundaries between separate people.  The way in which we act makes us who we are. Our uniqueness, which is based upon our actions, allows us to escape the human condition of natality.

Plurality is another human condition that we attempt to escape.  Arendt defines plurality as “living as a distinct and unique human being among equals” (The Human Condition 178).  Referring to the distinctness of human beings, Arendt states, “Speech and action reveal this unique distinctness.  Through them, men distinguish themselves instead of being merely distinct” (The Human Condition 176).  This statement means that the human condition of plurality can only be remedied through the combination of speech and action.  The purpose of speech is to explain and interpret actions; therefore, speech and action must go hand in hand.  Action not accompanied by speech could be interpreted in a thousand different ways.  For example, if a man lived out in the woods, and killed a giant bear, he was involved in some sort of action.  Without speech, the man may have a way to tell people that he killed the bear, but he certainly does not have a way to tell people why he killed the bear.  Actions without speech have no meaning, they are just actions.  Speech and action together reveal who a person is, or what an action is about.  By allowing us to distinguish one human from another, the combination of speech and action releases us from the human condition of plurality.

The Human Condition

Arendt once said that action is “the actualization of the human condition of natality” and speech is “the actualization of the human condition of plurality” (The Human Condition 178).  This statement means that speech makes people unique, and that, in a sense, people can experience a rebirth through their actions.

On page 177 of The Human Condition, Arendt states that action is the ability to begin something, or take an initiative.  When man was created, he was born with an inherent freedom.  This freedom, given to us at birth, allows us to initiate something that was not before, through our actions.  Because of the intrinsic power of freedom and the fact that humans are capable of action, we can expect the unexpected from people (The Human Condition 178).  A perfect example of this is the element of surprise.  Humans have the ability to surprise and to be surprised because every human has a complete freedom of choice.  The freedom of choice makes humans unpredictable because we never really know how a person will act, or how that person will respond when acted upon.  Without our aforementioned freedom, we as humans would all act in the same manner.

Human beings have the ability to give themselves a second unnatural, biological birth through their actions.  This, in turn, distances them from nature because their actions inspire change.  Our actions can also modify what is given to us at birth (The Human Condition 178).  For example, I am naturally inclined to feel shy around new people; I have always felt this way, which leads me to believe that I was born this way.  I cannot help that I feel shy around new people, I just do.  Through action, I can put myself in a situation that is outside my comfort level in an attempt to become more extroverted.  If I continue to do this, it may be possible for me to alter my nature so that one day, I will not feel shy around new people any more.

The Passion of Joan of Arc

The Passion of Joan of Arc is a silent film that was created by Carl Th. Dreyer. The movie was shot in France in 1927, and then destroyed by a fire, not to be found again until 1981. At the time of its initial release, it was presented with various piece of music performed live. The current version of the movie is in French with English subtitles, and uses Richard Einhorn’s Voices of Light as the background music to enhance the overall viewing experience.

Joan of Arc was born in on January 6, around the year 1412, in a small village in France. When she was twelve years old, she began to have visions of Saint Catherine and Saint Margaret, who were Christian Martyrs. She also had visions of Saint Michael, who according to the Bible led the armies of Heaven against the devil (Williamson 1). During this time, the tensions between England and France were very high, and war was imminent. Joan of Arc led the French army in the battle against England. She was soon captured and sold to the English, where she was eventually burned at the stake.

The Passion of Joan of Arc begins with her trial. She enters the court room looking very scared. Slow music with low dynamics begins playing as she walks in the door, adding to the dramatic effect of the scene. The background music seems to be Gregorian chant that has been superimposed over newer material. The music continues to add to the emotional effect of the scene as Joan of Arc’s eyes tear up and she begins to cry. Then, a drum baseline is added that sounds like footsteps. This creates a sense of suspense as the focus of the movie switches back and forth between Joan and all of the people in the court. As the audience watches people in the court room whispering to one another, string instruments are played in a repetitive sequence. The additional of the high pitched string chords peaks the suspense of the movie as the next scene begins.

The next scene begins with Joan of Arc being escorted into a jail cell. The string instruments from the last scene play pizzicato, which helps begins to heighten the suspense again, just as the baseline drum from earlier. The guards toy with Joan of Arc as she sits patiently, trying not to move or flinch. At this point, the music begins to increase in tempo as the priests and the judge enter the jail cell and once again question Joan of Arc. The increase in the tempo of the music develops a sense of urgency that feels very real to the audience.

Once again, the music decreases in tempo. Directly after that change, people that sound like angels begin to sing. The music is monophonic, but has multiple voices. The priests and judge begin to ask difficult questions that, depending on Joan of Arc’s answers, could lead to her death. I feel that the music in this scene portrays that Joan of Arc will be saved by God if she answers with the truth. If she remains steadfast in her mission and keeps her faith, she will live on.

The music in the next scene increases in dynamics, and changes to include a larger group of people singing in unison. The heightened dynamics, combined with the addition of more singers, make the music scary. If the audience listens to the music in this scene, it seems to be building up, as if it is foreshadowing some major event in the very near future. Then, Joan of Arc is brought into the torture chamber, where she faints at the sight of the primeval torture devices.

The final scene begins as Joan of Arc walks outside to be burned at the stake. The music is slow and sounds very sad. The crowd is enormous; everyone has gathered to see Joan of Arc’s execution. The tempo of the music is slow, and the dynamics of the strings instruments being played are very low, causing the audience to feel sad. The music fits the scene perfectly, sounding like someone is about to die, as Joan of Arc is set to flames. The music stops, and a group of men recite words, most likely prayers as Joan of Arc burns. Some high string chords are played, which run parallel to the movie as the flames grow bigger. The movie becomes silent as Joan dies. Suddenly, the music returns with a fast tempo, as the crowd revolts at the death of who many consider to be a saint.

Richard Einhorn’s Voices of Light truly fits The Passion of Joan of Arc perfectly. Throughout the movie, the music adds to the emotional effect and drama of each scene, helping to boost the overall viewing experience.

Moonstruck Review

Moonstruck Review

Moonstruck was held at Union College’s Emerson Concert Hall.  The program was composed of the piano trio Nothing Forgotten, a set of poems sung to music, Pierrot Lunaire, and four additional songs.

The first piece, Nothing Forgotten, was written by Hilary Tann.  It was a beautiful piano trio that created a happy fusion of poetry, music, and visuals.  Nothing Forgotten had a violinist, a pianist, and a cellist.  The piece started out at a slow pace, and gathered momentum, gradually increasing in tempo as the violinist and cellist alternated playing with a trill.  Towards the end of piece, the violinist performed a concerto, while the cello played the baseline and the piano played what sounded like footsteps.  Tann’s inspiration for this colorful music was derived from her home in the gorgeous Adirondacks.

The images of nature that accompanied the music and poetry were pictures taken by Lawrence White, a professional photographer and filmmaker.  The combination of the poetry and photographs helped bring the music to life by instilling in the audience sentimental meaning.  A striking picture of the moon brought the music to fitting end, while meshing well with the name of the concert.

Pierrot Lunaire, which was written by Arnold Schönberg, could be classified as a melodrama, or a theater performance set to music.  The piece contained three clarinets, one of which was a bass clarinet, a flute, a violin, a cello, a viola, a piano, and a piccolo.  The music accompanied the soprano Gene Marie Callahan Kern, who both recited and sang the poetry of Pierrot Lunaire in German.  She also changed her costume to fit the mood of each part of the piece.  As the dynamics of her voice increased, so did the dynamics of the multitude of accompanying instruments.  This variance in the music created a very eerie tune.  Each part of the melodrama broke with a short pause, much like a scene does in a play.

The final four songs were written by Richard Strauss, and arranged for a chamber ensemble.  Kern sang these four songs in German with background music containing a flute, piano, French horn, viola, cello, and clarinet.  The piano played the constant baseline at a slow pace, while the Kern sang with a powerful, piercing voice.  The music of the last four songs was much happier sounding than the previous piece.  It ended very much like a movie, dying out softly.

Overall, the concert was very good.  The musicians were very skilled with their respective instruments and were able to play a large variety of challenging music.  The visuals of the first piece, and the singer who accompanied the musicians on the second piece added another dimension to the concert’s mood, and the emotions felt by the viewers.