Sea, Maestro

There is a recording of one of Tiegerman's performances of Chopin buried in an article about the search for master concert pianists that led the author to Cairo, and the curious maze of personalities that cluster around the 'other' often visible in the art of overseas. It is about a master with the draw of the sea.
How close we have come to a certain kind of person may make all the difference in our lives. The Greek ἐπίσταμαι refers to both knowing and standing upon - there seems, on so many levels, to be a topical aspect to learning. The place of the books. The professor's office. To stand in the same room as luminaries. Something rubs off in the contact, if not always enough. 
When I listened to the Tiegerman Chopin recording certain kinds of friends came to mind: with their signature deftness that came from neat lessons unfettered with the indeterminacy of what Gadamer calls untenable hermeneutic nihilism (when relativity, not man, reigns - man, who is to be magis, or "more" than his surroundings). That is the sign of the master, a 'greater-than' sign.
So let us return to Cairo and the article. We learn there was a time when people of all backgrounds got along; that two Muslims sat by the side of their infirm Jewish friend's bed to the very end. Edward Said, cited in the article, himself writes about this in Reflections on Exile. He describes one of Tiegerman's most promising students, a Muslim mother of four, veiled always in her burda, who never said a word in his presence: nonetheless, he points out that in Cairo, the ultra-European and ultra-Islamic conjugated, "Where such pictures have since gone I don't know, but part of their poignancy for me is that I am certain they will never recur."
But are such crossroads not also the sign of the master, magis to landmarks? Gadamer writes that something is overcome in aesthetics, if ultimately within the structure of meaning: "Our experience of the aesthetic is a mode of self-understanding. Self-understanding always occurs through understanding something other than the self and includes the unity and integrity of the other." Emphasis added.
In Said's Reflections, he writes that Tiegerman continued to live in Cairo even when things got harder because there, he felt unique, while in Israel, many were like him. But surely he meant that he had found the circle of people to whom he was relevant. One does not pick where this happens. Knowledge is also a place with its own reasons, not always apparent to us.
But if Gadamer is right about aesthetics and the other, then it would make sense if, as Said writes, many once went to Cairo for "warmth and possibilities in contrast to what was coming in Europe". Merely to stand there would be aesthetic. Something more, and meaningful.




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