Thursday, November 29, 2012

Kempff and Liszt

The Paris Review (or...the hell of boring people)

It's been quite a long time since I checked out The Paris Review online. I checked it out this morning, and my brain almost died on the stem.

I somehow ended up there, to read an essay about friendship. That was an incoherent and boring essay. But I went ahead and pulled up some other categories while there -- on music, on poetry, on cinema, nostalgia, my literary hero, etc.

I thought that first essay must have been a one-off specimen of dullness. So I was unprepared to discover that everything else I pulled up to read at The Paris Review was also mind numbing, vapid, pretentious. It was almost frightening to witness such a uniformity of intellectual shallowness. As if this journal is the hive into which dubious bees form a collective sensibility, depositing their anemic written pollen.

The complacent tone of these articles is unnerving.

Of course, there are many other categories listed there, many articles I did not check out. Maybe somewhere inside that journal are things that might be interesting. But of the 30 or so things I glanced through -- zero. The statistical probability is not encouraging.

Who am I to find that stuff boring? Who am I to criticize? Those writers are, apparently, important essayists. They got published in The Paris Review. I am not an important essayist, not even a published or publishable writer. But good-freaking-grief! I somehow trust my judgement regarding what is interesting and well written. The stuff I read or glanced through at The Paris Review -- the topics are not compelling to me and the prose does not spark.

Apparently unbeknownst to me, a certain type of "literary" mind has grown and spread like a vast acreage of fungus. It is painful to encounter this generic fungal sensibility. It is hurtful to read prose written without imagination, flair, depth. It is unpleasant to read things by droning, diaristic pseudo-intellectuals.

The horror! The horror!

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

the Kodaly String Quartet

a war elegy...and something else

Prokofiev said this symphony is about the tragedy of WWII. I can hear that. But I think it has some other dimensions as well.

This music is an aural location for a particular spirit of aesthetics. That location -- that sounding moment -- is distinct from spaces of meaning and artistry existing especially now. Whatever our present general aesthetic, it is unlike that earlier phase of being, circa 1948. Back then, the spirit of the times was a curiouser thing. Besides visceral memories of the war years that shade into a darkening surrealism, another quality was in the air, so to speak. A nostalgia for the fin de siècle. Today, we are farther (metaphysically) from that turn of the century. We are displaced from those ways of consciousness, those attitudes of art.

Prokofiev was nine years old at the end of the century. Those early years of a boy or girl are impressionable ones. Beauty was extant and vivid. It affected ways of being. Tchaikovsky's music still lived in the special atmosphere of Prokofiev's adolescence. An aesthetic depth and expansiveness of spirit from that time lives on in Prokofiev's Symphony No. 6.

The most audacious art opens a new door into the old House of Beauty.

This is music of Fantasy, Melancholy, and Belles-Lettrs.

The fantastic is allowed to breathe when one takes three steps sideways out of the trancing circle  of the everyday. Then, the hidden spirits of things leave their prisons of matter, to blend with a dreaming human consciousness. This is music, the real thing.

The melancholic aspects of time are given voice and gesture in certain music. Some of us are sustained, even somehow justified by the beauty of melancholy. Our own spirits are freed by this music, and they go out of us to bond with a sadness on the disappearing edge of a symphonic phrase. We live within an aura of death, and certain (older) music conveys that poetic reality, sympathizes with our condition, expresses a catharsis of waiting.

This symphony is also like the lost art of letter-writing. Once upon a time, two souls exchanged works of missive art. Themes and dreams were developed with an older rhythm, a deep unfolding. Not simply reportage, those letters were confessions of how time and space are colored by unusual impressions. This symphony is like a long letter written to us by Prokofiev, a letter in which fantasy, melancholy, and beauty condition even a tragic aural document.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

I'm all ears

Valery Gergiev is one of my favorite conductors.

Sunday, November 25, 2012

deeper than postmodernism

The real is always just beyond us. We exist in perennial lag-time. Some acquiesce in paranoiac solids -- religion, politics, economics, science, historiography, social convention. Or float postmodernist theories about those things. Others (a few) keep trying to arc toward the misting real, keep trying to touch the outside with a dreaming, aesthetic gesture. Those others are the poets.

I just heard and saw... unusual thing in the frosty early breeze. 

Small groups of crisp brown sycamore leaves were swirling on the ground. One or two leaves would swerve away from their spiraling group to join the communal gestures of another group. Two or three groups, in turning and leaning activity, always sending off drunken emissaries or secret agents to blend into other moving enclaves.

The sense of animation, sentience, dance was marked and eerie. As if some living tribal spirit had infected these dead skittering forms.

"Reading Aloud" -- Ilya Repin

I shanghaied this image from Biblioklept

Friday, November 23, 2012

a piano the prism...

...refracting the unusual Scriabin.

concerning 'Pataphysics

Here's the link to a review of the book 'Pataphysics: A Useless Guide --

Back in the seventies, I got hooked on the band Pere Ubu. I got curious, and because of that band I did some research. I found out about Alfred Jarry. That dovetailed nicely with my appreciation of a book I had read a year or two previously -- A Night of Serious Drinking by Rene Daumal, who was a pataphysicist.

I also appreciate how Jarry influenced and enriched the arts and literature of Modernism and beyond. But...his anti-system is still a system. A totalizing form of being, despite its claim of absurdist granularity, its stance of alienation from all types of normality.

As I age, I grow more aloof from my earlier attraction to schemes of existential darkness. I'm still a somewhat dark being, but rather than acquiesce in allures of nihilism and surreal revolt, I've arrived at a different station of attitude. I choose to seek venues of beauty (yes, even dark and strange beauties) as antidote to creeping cosmic nothingnesses. As a personal way of reaction to persistent strains of normality that the pataphysicists also strove against.

Yes, I count 'Pataphysics as one of many versions of nihilism. To me, it is another circumscription instead of a freeing or an opening. I've just grown weary of the negative as artform. That's why I have no use for the films of Tarantino -- violence for entertainment's sake. Even the widely celebrated Godfather movies are repellent to me. I have no use for the filmic glorification of cheap thugs, warped souls. But I'm drifting from my topic. Sorry.

Back to Jarry. And back to beauty.

Settling on the absurd is a kind of living death. However oppressive and constrictive the conventional, choosing to live inside a manifesto doesn't strike me as revolutionary enough. Jarry and his attitudinal descendants were, I think, as much anti-beauty as anti-convention. How much beauty -- how much of aesthetic substance -- can one find in the poetry of the Beats? Not very much, I think. But why beauty?

Art, music, dance, and literature (especially poetry) can be vehicles of exploration beyond the confining gists of absurdism and the concretions of irony. Aesthetic attitude is a tunnel of light boring through not only the granite of normality but also of giddy anti-systems and anti-attitudes.

A dream is a fully free thing. It continually opens onto ungoverned prospects. And so does the aesthetic attitude. Beauty is a wakeful dreaming into alternative reality. Beethoven, Van Gogh, Bruno Schulz, the Bolshoi Ballet, Tomas Tranströmer -- here can be found ways of living in which aesthetic moments become stranger, deeper than any surrealism and any irony.

I would like to dream that the aesthetic is an echo of something eternal and essential. That anything exists at all a kind of aesthetic determination or expression coming from who-knows-where. And even if it's simply a finite human gesture, it's a gesture of peculiar light and not laughing night.

Diana Butto on CNN

I just saw her interviewed. She's a Palestinian legal analyst. She's either stupid or a liar. She doesn't appear to be stupid.

She kept saying that for there to be peace Israel must end its occupation of Gaza. Israel has not occupied Gaza for years.

It is counterproductive and even incendiary to accuse Israel of an occupation of Gaza. Dianna Butto has, for me, no credibility as an honest evaluator of events and conditions in the Middle East.

Why would the CNN anchor interviewing her allow the untrue phrase "occupation of Gaza" go unchallenged?

my daughter saw Lincoln

I asked my daughter if she enjoyed watching Daniel Day-Lewis. She said, "I didn't get to see him at all. What I saw was Abraham Lincoln, right before my eyes."

Thursday, November 22, 2012

I don't know...

...what orchestra this is or who the conductor. But the orchestra plays with involvement and sympathy. The conductor paces with a tempo that encourages lilting rhythms.

Schubert's German Dance No. 1

an interview with the very talented Paul Lewis

me just standing there...

...for no good reason and without a thought in my head.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

A poem...

...should aspire to the condition of Beethoven's music -- spiritual and aesthetic, open and searching, mysterious yet ineffably familiar.

I give you...Ilya Kaminsky.

You can read his remarkable poem "A Toast" here:

Tupelo Press

Monday, November 19, 2012

a description of Hamas

From the Council on Foreign Relations:


I'm not being incendiary or ideological when I state the following sober fact:

a coastal enclave, wishing to become a sovereign country, is going to have big problems if it is culturally and politically committed to the destruction of another country.

Hamas's charter calls for the destruction of Israel.

Keep that basic social, religious, and military fact in mind during the current conflict.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Listen!... the wonderful Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra.

In Beethoven

In Bartók

Friday, November 16, 2012

the touch of a book

This article is about the difference between reading a physical book and reading an electronic book:

"Out of Touch"

from the article:

"The book’s graspability, in a material as well as a spiritual sense, is what endowed it with such immense power to radically alter our lives. In taking hold of the book, according to Augustine, we are taken hold of by books."

Lost in Dreams -- Friedrich von Amerling

Because we exist...

...certain thinkers try to think into the abstract structures of the situation -- of the ontological everydayness. They apparently think it can be described and explained. Maybe it can. Maybe the French postmodernist philosophers were onto something. Maybe their descriptions and explanations are accurate, more or less.

Of course, those French thoughts might not be accurate, but 
only fascinating:

"Delight at having understood a very abstract and obscure system leads most people to believe in the truth of what it demonstrates."

-- G.C. Lichtenberg (1742 - 1799)

The "textualness" of books, personality, and circumstance may indeed be amorphous and infinitely deferential. Something called "Event" may be eruptively efficacious in patterning great turns of time within abstract being. Contextualizing arenas of action and change may shed unexpected light. Social psychoanalysis may yield groovy ways for looking at the problem of identity. Critiques of power relations may tell us about general attitudes and systems of value. Semiotics may point to the elusiveness of any conceptual solids in our discourse.

Derrida, Foucault, Lyotard, Badiou, Lacan, Baudrillard...fine. Go ahead and think your stuff to the max. It's entertaining to read and ponder odd and original views of the world.


at some freaking point, I think it would be a truer thing to replace the word that floats their thinking -- "abstract" -- with a different word -- "mystical."

So what would we gain by a mere word substitution? Probably not much. But just as Heidegger danced around none too nimbly trying to avoid the mystical implications of his own work, I think it would be more honest and more succinct for the French to cut to the chase: consciousness finds itself always and at every ontological location enmeshed not in intertextual patterns or reified ramifications but in the chronic impossible.

That's the rub of it. Being is best describable and explainable as a massive paradox. 

I keep wondering about what those French guys have said. Why in the world do they spend so much time being profound and arcane? What practical (existential) thing results from the dark rooms of thought where they develop their abstract pictures of reality?

The problem of mortality trumps the problem of thinking. Being death-haunted makes the student in the Lycée lecture hall grow impatient, fidgety. "Speak to me of why, not of what," she says to the French professor who thinks reality is contained inside language and abstruse prolixity.

Something is surely going on with all this human existing stuff. I'm just not sure it is accurate or aesthetically satisfying to account for it in terms of postmodernist abstraction.  It seems to me there is something that remains yet hidden (mysterious) behind our best attempts to map phenomena onto a coherent plane of deep thinking.

It's not just the French guys. There's also Slavoj Žižek, the Slovene. Inside his strange reality bubble, we bounce around trying to dodge the anti-matter particles of his contrariety. Those elusive particles eventually agglomerate into political shapes. But politics is a form of sleep, of normalizing trance. The true radical is the one silently screaming toward the mystic abyss. 

What do I mean by "mystic"? Not sure exactly. But maybe something like this: what is not possible has nevertheless found a way within the sentient doldrums of a dreaming Holism.

Does anything practical (existential) result from such an intuition? Not in the normal sense. Rather it offers a perspective in which the organic, the inorganic, and all the laws of process are imbued with traces of an old and weary magic. In such a milieu of the holographic uncanny, it behooves us to have compassion for all other drifting and tragic spells of being. 

The Sensitive Layer -- Yves Tanguy

Gergiev on Szymanowski

Monday, November 12, 2012

The Shepherd on the Rock

Consider (if you wish) the melody of this. And the indescribable beauty of Elly Ameling's soprano. Also remarkable is the evocative mood of this lied.

Saturday, November 10, 2012

"The Noble Rise Above"

This is a poem by William Crawford, read aloud by me (mispronouncing "centimes"):

The Noble Rise Above

the first time
Coltrane played Paris
the French booed
and threw copper centimes
at him

Coltrane just
closed his eyes
raw oceans gentling

and listened to
the sound of pennies
tapping the wood
of the stage

it reminded him
of rain falling down
onto the tin roof
of his first home

Coltrane mimicked
that sound with his horn
then quoted
Pennies from Heaven
for safe measure.

Copyright © 2012, William Crawford

-- from his new book of poems Actual Tigers (Edgar & Lenore's Publishing House)


Friday, November 9, 2012

hallucinatory music

I listen to this, and I can't explain to myself what is happening inside my imagination. Except to say that it's as if I slip off-world or off-time into some realm of mythic dream.

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Barney Fife -- genius of the possible

We all liked to watch Barney and Andy back in the early 1960s.

Poor Barney. All around him was the languor of static Mayberry. He could not be still, though. He wanted something to always be happening. He wanted to make something happen. Sure, his schemes and eruptions of nervous energy led to hilarious and preposterous circumstances.

But Barney wanted something to happen. Barney could not sit still while the clock of being ticked sluggishly through the molasses of normality, the dullness of tradition.

In that sleepy town of Mayberry, Barney Fife -- conjurer of sheer situation, impresario of revolutionary theater -- pried open moments onto event, expanded metaphysical space for absurd possibility.

Barney -- heroic jester, tragic agitator!

Saturday, November 3, 2012

you can read a certain book...

...right now inside the ethersphere, with no muss or fuss, at Google Books:

In the Pale: Stories and Legends of the Russian Jews
by Henry Iliowizi, 1900

The introduction -- "A Word to the Reader" -- is interesting to me.

Thursday, November 1, 2012

on the eve of the War Between the States

I wrote this song, and the cool-as-heckfire Robin Willhite plays lead guitar.

I'm posting it in case anyone might be interested in my take on the antebellum era and auguries of catastrophic upheaval.

Gathering Storm

There’s talk in town from the livery to saloon
Just last night, somebody saw a blood spot on the moon
And two counties over it was rumored that three dogs went mad
They put ‘em down with charm salt but those folk’s luck still gone bad
Well, this morning in the pine pews at Calvary Church
The womenfolk were nervous, the sermon unrehearsed
And the newspaper front page spoke of a Mr. John Brown
When they hanged him in Virginia, he wore an abolition frown

There’s a gathering storm
From the North to the South
Swirling with vengeance
There’s thunder in them clouds
That gathering storm
From the Wild West to the East
Is coming like a locomotive 
Engineered by a hellish beast 

‘Ol Sassafras Sassoon was hunting down in Snakebite Hollow
Said he found a dead angel and his tobacco he did swallow
Said that angel was a dire omen of consequence to come
Said he got down on his knees and prayed after a shot of sweet rum
Well, there’s fussing and fighting in the Jenkins household
Tommy told his pappy no man or woman should ever be sold
Pappy said Ham from the bible, he was to blame 
So Tom bought a ticket one way bound on the first northern train

Don’t you feel that gathering storm
Something’s wrong with the weather
A gathering storm is moving
Over the cowering heather
That gathering storm
Gonna shake our sycamore trees
There’s lightning in the firmament
And it’s aimed at you and me

Don’t you feel that gathering storm
From N’Orleans to Arkansas 
Casting a great big shadow
Like a sharp black bear claw 
A gathering storm
From Mississippi to New York
That gathering storm
Gonna rain down pitchforks

That gathering storm
From the North to the South
Swirling with vengeance 
There’s thunder in them clouds
A gathering storm
Hear the nevermore ravens sing
All the hosts of heaven 
And hell are shivering

the Gothic Rangers

a Bruno Schulz letter

My next book will be a volume composed of four stories. The subject, as always, is insignificant and difficult to summarize. For my own use I have several names that convey nothing. For example, the theme of one of the stories bears a title borrowed from Jokai's "Marsz za porte-épée"—I really don't know how to describe the theme before the contents crystallize. The real subject matter, the ultimate raw material that I find in myself without any interference of will, is a certain dynamic state, completely "ineffabilis" and totally incommensurate with poetic means. Even so, it has a very definite atmosphere, indicating a specific kind of content that grows out of it and is layered upon it. The more this intangible nucleus is "ineffabilis" the greater its capacity, the sharper its tropism and the stronger the temptation to inject it into matter in which it could be realized. For example, the first seed of my story "Birds" [inCinnamon Shops] was a certain flickering of the wallpaper, pulsating in a dark field of vision—nothing more. That flickering had however great potential content, enormous possibilities for representation, a quality of ancientness, a demand or claim to express the world itself. The first germ of "Spring" was the image of a stamp album, radiating from the center of vision, winking with unheard-of power of allusion, attacking with a load of content one may conjecture. This state, however poor in content, gives me the feeling of inevitability, a sanction for imagining, certainty of the legality of the entire process. Without this basis, I would be given over to doubt, I would have the feeling it was all a bluff, that what I create is arbitrary and false. At the moment I am drawn to increasingly inexpressible themes. Paradox, the tension between their vagueness and their evanescence and their universal claim, their aspiration to represent "everything" is the most powerful creative stimulus. I don't know when these stories will be ready for print. An inability to take advantage of bits and scraps of time forces me to set aside their completion until vacation. 

-- from the Schulz biography Regions of the Great Heresy by Jerzy Ficowski 

crackling with deep electricity

Imagination is the spark and flame of energy propelling a work into pronounced aesthetic and spiritual life. It's a rare literary aptitude. Hardly anything has that dark and wondrous current running through it. So many novels, stories, and poems -- they are so boring and so self-important that your reading brain becomes an entropic mass of congealed literary disappointment.

Bruno Schulz wrote a thing that is almost beyond belief -- The Street of Crocodiles.

As you read it, you enter the infinity of imagination, the realm of aesthetic wonder. This book is one of the marvels of literature.

A large part of me has been shanghaied or absconded into that partly real, partly fantastic Polish town of Drohobych.