The Art of Change Opera is an opera that has been commissioned to the composer and multimedia artist Jean-Baptiste Barrière on the occasion of The New School’s Centennial celebrations.

The following is the opera’s libretto, conceived and developed by the philosopher and writer Chiara Bottici. In accordance with the spirit of the Centennial and of The New School’s legacy, it will be an ongoing and open libretto: we invite all readers to suggest changes, to propose quotations from their favorite authors, or to develop the various narrative threads, by leaving a comment below.

Every sentence, every act, can change on its own, but it can also change along with the other parts. All changes are welcome. We will periodically update the libretto by incorporating changes that have been recommended and recognize individual contributors by name. A prelude of the opera will be performed at the Centennial Festival on 5 October 2019, whereas the premiere will take place at The New School on 16-17 January, 2020.

Synopsis: A city decides to radically re-organize its life by adopting the principle of accelerated change (AC) and apply it to all and every aspect of social life. The result is a utopian (or dystopian) world that may (or may not) turn out to be ours.

ACT 0.1

“I cannot understand why people are frightened of new ideas. I am frightened of old ones,” (John Cage).

Economy is stagnating.

We need new ideas.

We need to fight inertia, indolence, idleness.

We need to reorganize social life from its very fundaments.

We must change our habits, our statutes, our constitutions.

Change has been too slow. We must change change itself.

This is the road to success: We must install the new Accelerated Change (AC) Laws:

The AC Laws declare that:

I. It shall change, it shall increase

The labor force shall be separated from the means of production so that the latter can be accumulated incrementally, exponentially, incessantly -enabling uninterrupted investment in scientific and technological research.

The change of change will bring progress, the progress of progress will win the market, the marketing of the market will increase productivity

{ACQUISITIVE DESIRE SONG}

will increase

will increase

will increase

II. They shall change, they will not stay

The produce we eat shall change

the crops we plant shall change

the commodities we sell shall change.

Nothing will ever be the same – Again.

The genes we modify shall change every five hours

The produce we consume shall change every five minutes

The commodities we sell shall change every five seconds.

III. You will change, you won’t remain

Nothing shall change unless you change, so you will change too.

You shall change your private properties every month

You shall change your life partner every week

You shall change your personal wardrobe every day

You shall change your body

You shall change your habits

You shall change your I-phone

Every contract will automatically expire within a month

Every relationship will be consensually dissolved after a week

Every screensaver will be randomly replaced at the end of the day

Change your settings

Everything shall change!

ACT 0.2

“All fixed, fast-frozen relations, with their train of ancient and venerable prejudices and opinions, are swept away, all new-formed ones become antiquated before they can ossify. All that is solid melts into air, all that is holy is profaned, and [wo]man is at last compelled to face with sober senses [their] his real conditions of life, and [their] his relations with [their] his kind” (Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels)

We feel the heat

We feel the cold

We are all on the same boat

– and the boat is sinking


LAMENTATIONS

All that is solid melts into air

All that is solid melts into air

All that is solid melts into air

And comes back to us as acid rains

And comes back to us as carbon dioxide

And comes back to us as greenhouse gases


An asphyxiating mixture of wet and dry acid components keep depositing all around us Precipitations have changed, they are unusually acidic, there are too many hydrogen ions in this world: on our fields, on our crops, on our skin, on our lungs, on our keyboards.

The rain is wet, the rain is dry

We need more studies

But they must change, too


LAMENTATIONS

All that is solid melts into air

All that is solid melts into air

All that is solid melts into air

And comes back to us as sulfur dioxide

And comes back to us as nitrogen oxide

And comes back to us as their endless combination


One and many, many and one

NOy, NOx, NOz

The nitrogen oxides pollute the molecules we breathe,

and even those they themselves breathe.

The rain is wet, the rain is dry

We need more studies

But they have changed, too

I did the change

You did the change

It did the change

Who did the change?


LAMENTATIONS

All that is solid melts into air

All that is solid melts into air

All that is solid melts into air

And comes back to us as nitric oxide [NO]

And comes back to us as nitrous oxide [N2O]

And comes back to us as nitrogen dioxide [NO2]

And comes back to us as dinitrogen trioxide [N203 ]

And comes back to us as dinitrogen tetroxide [N24]

And comes back to us as tetrafloromethane [CF4]

And comes back to us as hexafluoroethane [C2F2]

And comes back to us as sulfur hexafluoride [SF6]

And comes back to us as nitrogen trifluoride [NF3]

NO

N2O

NO2

N203

N2O4

CF4

C2F2

SF6

NF3

ACT 0.3

“A war has its cause in those who unleash it; the climatic change, amongst others, in the leaders who clamor for ‘yet more studies!’ even though the planet already advances, tranquilly, towards asphyxia” (Reiner Schürmann)

At the beginning was the imagination, with its capricious, subversive nature. But a charming guy arrived on the scene and promised to bring bread to every-body. People believed him, although he turned out to be more interested in actually enriching only some-body.

Market productivity increased but labor became boring, repetitive, alienating,

Until, one day, a mob of angry kids stood up and cried:

“Let’s stop it! All the power to the imagination! No more one-dimensional [wo]men!”

And the guy, being quite smart, timidly replied: “Let’s try it out. Let’s be creative and express ourselves. We will get digitalized machines to do the repetitive work of the factories.”

And now we have too many images and too little imagination.

Too many identities and too little time to test them out.

Too many climate change studies, and too little faith in them.

We asked for more creativity and ended up with too many screens and too little vision.

Can there still be place for imagination in a world where the latter has been enlisted to the production machine? Can we imagine something new in a world that is so full of the old, because every new has already been sold “just-in-time”? And what if imagination itself proves to be not a faculty that we possess but the homologated imaginary possessing us?

At the beginning was the imaginal, that space which is neither an individual faculty, nor a social context, but pure immanent flux of images, re-presentations that are also presences in themselves.

Re-orientation of images can begin the revolution of our times.

Re-innovation, Against Compulsory Innovation!

Consumption phagocytized innovation, time has come to start re-innovation.

The old to create the new,

Strata of images to digital flatness,

Lost words to re-discover new, living ones.

Re-innovation, Against Compulsory Innovation!

A straight line, against the phantasmagoria of commodities.

Fixity, against the constant flux of capital.

Repetition, against the compulsion of acquisitive desire.

Continuity, so that interruptions become possible again.

Re-innovation, Against Compulsory Innovation!

The new, through the same.

Eternal return, against empty difference.

Bodies, against flatness.

Touch, against the excess of seeing.

A mountain against the sea: next to the sea, made by the sea.

18 thoughts on “The Art of Change Opera 0.1

  1. Is change active or reactive, or both? When we talk about having to change the world are we talking about having to actively create new values from scratch because we don’t find the current ones to be satisfying anymore? Or are we talking about reactively coming up with new ideas to account for a world that has already changed, so that we can make sense of this new world and make it work in a way that is beneficial to us (or to all)?

    Valerio Magrelli’s “This red cup” seems to describe (maybe unwillingly) this latter scenario:

    “I have from you this red
    cup with which to drink to all my days
    one by one
    in the pale mornings, the pearls
    of the long necklace of thirst.
    And if it drops and breaks, I, too,
    will be shattered but compassionately
    I will repair it
    to continue the kisses uninterrupted.
    And each time the handle
    or the rim gets cracked
    I will go back to glue it
    until my love will have completed
    the hard, slow work of a mosaic.

    *

    It comes down along the white
    slope of the cup
    along the concave interior
    and flashes, just like lightning —
    the crack,
    black, permanent,
    the sign of a storm
    still thundering
    over this resonant landscape
    of enamel.”
    (Valerio Magrelli)

    Is the new grounded in the same? And what do we mean by “same”? What is our red cup? What are the cracks?

    Change should be an effort to make our broken – because always challenged, always in becoming – reality (and/or our broken (collective or individual) life projects) into a beautiful mosaic, rather than an ugly cracked object. Think of how our reality has changed in regards to the environmental crisis. We “suddenly” find ourselves in a more polluted world (pollution as the crack?) and to learn the art of the mosaic means to find a way to allow everyone to live well (the red cup?) but in a sustainable way. The crack doesn’t necessarily have to be understood negatively. For example, we “suddenly” find ourselves in ethnically diverse communities (the crack), and to learn the art of the mosaic means could mean to find ways to live together peacefully (the red cup).

    What “love” completes the hard slow work of the mosaic?

  2. thank you so much for this comment! the poem you recommended is magnificent and very well capture this janus-faced nature of change. i agree that change is both active and reactive, because even in our leap of the imagination we never create “ex nihilo”. but the image of the cup also transmits the idea of the slow, careful work required by change, particularly when it is a work of love. can we apply the same work to the the planet earth and turn the amor fati into an active work of love, as opposed to the passive acceptance of the status quo?

  3. i do hope to include the recommended poem in the subsequent editions of the libretto, so it would be useful to know where you took the translation and what is the original title of the poem. grazie molte!

    1. thanks a lot stefania! the question of the visibility/invisibility of women is crucial, inside the new school and outside of it!

  4. A great and timely libretto!

    A couple of further observations:

    When the object of our passions is represented by sensation, it is need. But when it is represented by the imagination, it is desire.

    Imagination is more powerful than can be imagined.

  5. Felicità raggiunta, si cammina
    per te sul fil di lama.
    Agli occhi sei barlume che vacilla,
    al piede, teso ghiaccio che s’incrina;
    e dunque non ti tocchi chi più t’ama.

    Se giungi sulle anime invase
    di tristezza e le schiari, il tuo mattino
    e’ dolce e turbatore come i nidi delle cimase.
    Ma nulla paga il pianto del bambino
    a cui fugge il pallone tra le case.

    (Eugenio Montale)

    Achieved happiness, you make one walk
    on a blade’s edge.
    A teetering glimmer you are to the eyes,
    To the foot, cracking taut ice;
    thus, those who love you the most, shan’t touch you.

    When you reach the souls that are filled
    with sadness and brighten them up, your dawn
    is sweet and upsetting like nests under a cornice.
    But nothing can compensate the tears of a kid
    whose ball gets lost through the houses.

    [This is my own translation but I’m more than happy to try again if this doesn’t look good enough and I’d be even happier to give way to a more experienced translator or to existing translations that I might well have missed.]

    The art of change is never completed, it is a continuous and endless work. The world is always changing, we are always changing, we “walk on a blade’s edge”. It is in this sense that happiness is never really acheived, and that our state, our constant running after ‘successful’ change, is like that of a kid who chases in tears the ball that escapes his catch and rolls through the houses. The art of mosaic, of the previous poem by Magrelli, is thus never completed, but simply learnt and applied with care, patience and hope. We think of Cavafy’s words, in his poem “Hidden things”

    “Later, in a more perfect society,
    someone else made just like me
    is certain to appear and act freely.”

    (From the Cavafy Archive https://www.onassis.org/initiatives/cavafy-archive/hidden/hidden)

    The art of change becomes a trans-indvidual project, through change we are constructing a better/different world not just for ourselves but for the others like ourselves that will come one day.

    1. thank you so much for these beautiful poems and suggestion! the image of the child running after the ball that escaped him is a very significant one! we will certainly think about this and try to incorporate!

  6. A passage from Castoriadis’s ‘Imaginary Institution of Society’ (pp. 163-164), which invites us to re-imagine change as autonomous praxis in the socio-historical domain.

    “History is always history as it is for us – this does not mean that we can truncate it however we may wish or naively submit it to our projections, since what interests us in history is precisely our authentic otherness, other human possibilities in their absolute singularity. As absolute, however, this singularity necessarily suppresses itself when we attempt to grasp it, just as in microphysics, when the position of a
    particle is established, it ‘disappears’ as a definite momentum.

    And yet, what appears to speculative reason as an insurmountable antinomy undergoes a change of sense when we bring the consideration of history back into our project of the theoretical elucidation of the world, and in particular of the human world, when we see in it a part of our effort to interpret the world in order to change it – not by subordinating truth to the party line but by explicitly establishing the articulated unity between elucidation and action, between theory and practice, in order to give our life its full reality as autonomous activity, that is as lucid, creative activity. For then the ultimate point of junction of these two projects – understanding and changing – can in every instance be found only in the living present of history which would not be an historical present if it did not supersede itself in the direction of a future that is to be made by us.

    The fact that we can understand the other times and other places of humanity only in terms of our own categories – a fact which, in turn, bounces back upon these categories, relativizes them, and helps us to surmount our enslavement to our own forms of the imaginary and even of rationality – does not simply
    express the conditions for all historical knowledge and its rooting, but manifests that any elucidation we may attempt is finally an interested one, it is for us in the strong sense, for we are not here to say what is but to make be what is not (saying what is belongs to this as one of its moments).”

    1. thanks you aris for you comment! i particularly like the emphasis on the singularity and the analogy with particles in microphysics, whose position is never given as a definitive momentum

  7. This also seems to be relevant:
    “I am truly free only when all human beings, men and women, are equally free. The freedom of other people, far from negating or limiting my freedom, is, on the contrary, its necessary premise and confirmation.” Mikhail Bakunin. Human, Society, and Freedom.

  8. “You shall change your body

    You shall change your habits

    You shall change your I-phone”

    “…on our fields, on our crops, on our skin, on our lungs, on our keyboards.”

    May I ask why such specific mentions of technology are mentioned? While they are certainly effective in creating a “surprise” factor for the reader, may I know why were such specific words/items chosen, instead of “cell phones” and “computers”?

    1. I think the specificity of the details add a “reality effect” to the text. in this way, it contributes to raise the question: is this a completely dystopian world or is it the one we are living in?

  9. This quote comes from the book Body Learning, by Michael Gelb. It is made by John Dewey, speaking about the Alexander Technique and the Use of self, but I think it applies to bigger changes:

    “Until one takes intermediate acts seriously enough to treat them as ends, one wastes one’s time in any effort to change habits. Of the intermediate acts, the most important is the next one. The first or earliest means is the most important end to discover…

    Only as the end is converted into means is it definitely conceived, or intellectually defined, to say nothing of it being executable… Aladdin with his lamp could dispense with translating ends into means, but no one else can do so.”

    In its context, it talks changing habitual postures: instead of having an idea of “good posture” and instantly changing our physical selves to “achieve” it, the more effective way for the long term is to change our habitual thoughts and incorporate new ones, and see our thought changes as our “little ends” that would ultimately lead to our goal, or “big end.”

    On a bigger picture, what I see is that every step in a process of change is important. It is not enough to have an “end gain” of a change; how every step is taken is important because it leads to the next and next until we “reach” our goal, which could end up very different than we initially had in mind.

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