Monday, April 18, 2005

Links and Presumption and Stereographic Writing

It appears I am now linked at Terry Teachout's very serious and thoughtful arts blog, for which I am grateful...

I am aware of how presumptuous and odious it is for a lazy, self-satisfied non-composer (such as I, heading out to tan like any serious artist in Central Park today) to lecture hard-working composers on their shortcomings, as in the last post. Mea culpa. But the point of that post is really not the (considerable) shame and decay of modern culture--and so-called "classical music" in particular--but the idea of a musical work as the counterpoint of various voices--not in the literal, "compositional" sense of soprano, alto, tenor, bass, but using the word "voices" somewhat as Roland Barthes uses the word "codes" in his book, S/Z:

"The five codes create a kind of network, a topos through which the entire text passes...

Alongside each utterance, one might say that off-stage voices can be heard: they are the codes: in their interweaving, these voices (whose origin is "lost" in the vast perspective of the already-written) de-originate the utterance: the convergence of the voices (of the codes) becomes writing, a stereographic space where the five codes, the five voices, intersect..."

And so, in accusing composers of not "multitasking," I am not saying that they are lazy, but that somehow their compositional approach is not open to this kind of interweaving. A voice (a style, a method, a logic, a sound) is found; it is cultivated, but other voices are suppressed, or never explored; this univocal cultivation sometimes results in something that is "well-crafted" (the ultimate in faint praise), but is not really "writing" or "composition."

What I love about Barthes is how he avoids placing works of art next to each other in some grand Hall of Great Art, where their qualities glower at each other and are subject to endless art-historical comparisons, proposing instead a much wider (infinite), nearly unimaginable context: the unimpeded, total plural, what he calls the "writerly":

"... the writerly text is not a thing, we would have a hard time finding it in a bookstore ... the writerly text is ourselves writing, before the infinite play of the world ... is traversed, intersected, stopped, plasticized by some singular system (Ideology, Genus, Criticism) which reduces the plurality of entrances, the opening of networks, the infinity of languages."

I imagine myself in a hall of the Metropolitan Museum, staring up at busts of Beethoven, Brahms, Mozart, Bach, etc. I have that faint headache I often get in art museums, that sense of standing too long, the ache in my feet, an irritation with the lighting. Barthes' quote above (despite its intellectualism?) makes the hall, the whole museum, vanish; in its place a starry, endless field with infinite crossing lines, where Op. 111 Beethoven is actually connected to me directly (by uncountable threads), where I myself might compose some part of Op. 111 (say), where there is no "pitiless divorce" between me and the music... The writerly is a "perpetual present;" and come to think of it, that is the perpetual goal of my piano practicing, in all its seemingly repetitive tedium. As Robert Mann once said to me in a lesson (and I am paraphrasing): you don't practice in order to repeat exactly what you have practiced on stage (that is in order to be a serviceable, reliable robot--and we are all familiar with those performances) but instead to be able to create freely at the moment of the performance... in order to access the "writerly," after all the initial freezing of the musical idea into the score, and the subsequent ossification of centuries and tradition, to do the impossible and rescue the text back into the present.

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