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  • Writer's picturegabriellehalpern

RCJ Radio: "Odessa, city-centaur"

This column is presented by Gabrielle Halpern every Tuesday during the 12 o'clock news on Radio RCJ and offers you a philosophical look at current events.

Today, I'd like to talk to you about Odessa. On the face of it, it's a simple Ukrainian town on the Black Sea. Except that when you walk around it, you don't know if you're in New York, Vienna, Florence, Tel Aviv, Paris, Marseille or St Petersburg, because you're in all of these cities at the same time. Nor do you know whether you're walking through an Eastern or Western, European, Slavic or Mediterranean city. And with good reason! It was first a Greek colony, then a Tatar and Ottoman conquest, before being named Odessa by the great empress Catherine II of Russia, who founded it at the end of the 18th century. It was built by Italians and French; it attracted Greek, Spanish, English, Albanian, Bulgarian, Jewish, Moldavian, Armenian, German, Turkish, Russian and many other settlers (from "Let's all be centaurs! A celebration of hybridisation", Le Pommier, 2020).

Odessa shatters all our categories, or rather, it renders them all superfluous. This city is neither really this nor really that. It is this, and also that, and so many other things.

It's a centaur-city, a world-city that invites us to build a special, tailor-made box within ourselves, in the shape of Odessa. A quintessential hybrid city, Odessa is an extraordinary illustration of my research in philosophy on hybridity.

Being one of my ancestors' lands, I've been there several times, and it's on this occasion that I heard about Piotr Stoliarski (1871-1944), a wonderful violin teacher, founder of the first special school of music[1] in Odessa.

He understood everything about pedagogy - indeed, he used to welcome young children in a big room full of toys. The children were allowed to play with all the toys, to touch all the objects, except one - the violin stored in a corner! Of course, like Adam and Eve with the tree of knowledge, the violin was the object that fascinated the children the most. Then from week to week, the children were allowed to touch it once, then to take it in their hands for a few minutes. Then, finally, to learn to play it!

What a wonderful educator who understood everything about desire, the desire to learn and the feeling of longing, the relationship of the human being to the forbidden! By proceeding in this way, by cultivating frustration, lack and desire, he created a love of music in the children's hearts...


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