Thursday, January 19, 2006

Realizations

I realize now--and as always, too late--that one of the great purposes of the blogworld is interconnection, the ongoing dialogue of concerns, weaving in and out of the worldwideweb. A virtual, impossibly sprawling watercooler. Everyone else on the in blogland seems to be constantly quoting and linking--linking like a giant string of idea-sausages, held thinly in their word-casings--and buzzing back at the buzz of the day, week, or month. Added to the giant list of my faults (something like Don Giovanni's list, as enumerated by Leporello) is a general lack of links on my site to other sites, and a reluctance to engage in "current topics." I hesitated to blog about fluorescent green pigs a week or so ago; and when Beethoven's Grosse Fuge manuscript surfaced, you read nothing of it here either.

But yesterday I read (with some envy) a short and sophisticated post by Alex Ross ("Truthiness.") I came to its powerful final sentence, something about totalitarianism depending upon myth, and I thought: there's someone who can sum up a thought in a decent amount of space; why does it take me so long to offer an opinion? At the same time, I felt vaguely uneasy at the swiftness and totality of his judgement, and yearned to ask qualifying questions. Ross is hard on Frey; he is skeptical of the "essential truth" defense (in which the spirit is somehow more important than the literal facts); he refers to a general "diseased attitude toward truth in American society." I do not attempt to refute the main thrust of his post (the usefulness of truthiness for political deception and power)... But I wonder why people are so attracted to "true stories" in the first place? What is the appeal of novels and movies "based on real events"? I'm not sure that "truth" itself is not a more dangerous entity than we are giving it credit for; perhaps the desire for truth is part of the problem.

Though an avid and sheepish consumer of TV, I abhor "reality shows;" they bore and disgust me. What could be more ridiculous and sad than swallowing those cued-up, coached, crocodile tears? Feelings are not as easy to record as all that. If they were, then Beethoven et al would be out of business. Alex Ross might say (leading the witness, your honor!) the problem with reality shows is also a kind of truthiness, a kind of lifeyness masquerading as life. But I think this issue is not graphable on the axis true/false; these shows are too true and too false simultaneously; because of the desire for truth, they downplay aesthetic consideration (which makes them aesthetically false) and to compensate for this, leaping into the gap, there is the choking falsehood of coerced emotionalism. Why do people buy into this? I always wonder. Is it that people want gritty reality, people want stories that they can either identify with, or which represent a "more real" life than the sheltered existence they lead? Perhaps the lie begins with this urge for reality.

Last night, looking at the dresser in my bedroom, I realized I felt light again. I wondered why "again." I realized I had struggled against the obvious, and there was now just the obvious path of being light, and doing what's necessary, and practicing the piano, and loving the art. But there always seems to be, preceding the realization of the obvious, a long period of denying it, of being sure the truth is elsewhere. Working harder against the imaginary obstacle. Even Narcissus manages to figure out he's been looking in the wrong place:


I burn with love for my own self: it's I
who light the flames--the flames that scorch me then.
What shall I do? Should I be sought or seek?
But, then, why must I seek? All that I need,
I have: my riches mean my poverty.
If I could just be split from my own body!
The strangest longing in a lover: I
want that which I desire to stand apart
from my own self.

--Ovid, Metamorphoses, tr. Mandelbaum


...and subsequently Echo, the aural mirror who cursed him with his visual reflection, comes to regret her curse and take pity on the boy she loved and killed. Is this myth totalitarian? I guess I find myself, at my moments of realization, wishing in some way that I could be in constant possession of the truth as I see it then (but always then, then, then). I blame myself for being temporarily blind and climbing downhill. Why couldn't I have seen it sooner? In some way one wants the time between epiphanies to get shorter and shorter, towards some infinitely small limit, meaning eventually: constant total awareness. But really I think truth is part of a myth, and always at the end of the struggle, following denial or quest: the end (but not necessarily the purpose) of a narrative. And my life constitutes so many of these little myths, ending in discoveries or blank walls; all dovetailing, and of necessity taking time. My desire to free truth from time, to have more and more truth all the time, may be as fatal and unnatural as Narcissus gazing at himself in the pond.

Readers will groan if I make a musical parallel? But good old Beethoven and his Sonata forms ... if you know enough Beethoven, you are familiar with the myriad moments at the ends of the development sections, when he hovers suspensefully on the dominant. Even those who love and revere Beethoven must have thought on occasion that he dips into that well rather often, for the same (generic) suspense. And what is he holding back, anyway? The most obvious possible thing: the tonic, the home key. Hmmm. What kind of truth is that? Has anyone else ever thought impatiently, while listening to one of those passages: just resolve it already!? Perhaps I was wrong to call it generic: sometimes this suspense is humorous, sometimes otherworldly, eerie, thrilling... etc. (In a side-note I think Brahms wins the prize for best returns to recaps...more later?) But it is funny, all this drama around the obvious, necessary solution; pretending you can't find it. Musical narratives are full of these kind of myths, enacted, "pretend" struggles, like the ones I realize I am waging within myself. They depend on not knowing the truth all the time. Eagerness for the truth would not necessarily make them better works of art. The recurring quality, the sense of deja-vu, of reenacted pattern and ritual, of formal conformity, cannot be totally explained by my cynical side, which points and says "he did this before!" Call it if you will a trick, a gimmick, a falsehood; its pretend wonder seems more sincere than many other people's truths.

5 comments:

R J Keefe said...

1. Myth: I suspect, because I'm reading it now, that Alex Ross had Hannah Arendt's theory of totalitarianism in mind, and that he's using "myth" in its vulgar sense of "untrue but agreeable story that everyone wishes were true."
2. Dominant into the recapitulation: I don't feel these passages as "suspenseful" except insofar as the tension increases as the passage is prolonged. I think rather of the constant tightening of a screw that is suddenly unscrewed. Catapult, perhaps?

Amy said...

Jeremy, one example of Beethoven comes to mind: the last movement of the op.59 #1 string quartet. He doesn't hover on the dominant, but loosens into the tonic in a rhythmic shift, almost like a laugh (first violin). You are familiar with the last piano sonatas and string quartets, where dom-tonic resolutions are almsot philosophical wranglings that take place through form (fugue) and scale (4 octave separations between bass and treble). Truthiness? More like a treatise to justify art in the face of death. Reminds me of the late poems of Yeats.

Vanessa said...

yet still, "the truth sets you free."

Anonymous said...

"The strangest longing in a lover: I
want that which I desire to stand apart
from my own self."

What a brilliant, wonderful quote. Thank you for sharing it.

Anonymous said...

"The strangest longing in a lover: I
want that which I desire to stand apart
from my own self."

What a brilliant, wonderful quote. Thank you for sharing it.