Monday, April 21, 2014

If we were his sentences

If any of us were as well taken care of as the sentences of Henry James, we'd never long for another, never wander away: where else would we receive such constant attention, our thoughts anticipated, our feelings understood? Who else would robe us so richly, take us to the best places, or guard our virtue as his own and defend our character in every situation? If we were his sentences, we'd sing ourselves though we were dying and about to be extinguished, since the silence which would follow our passing would not be like the pause left behind by a noisy train. It would be a memorial, well-remarked, grave, just as the Master has assured us death itself is: the distinguished thing.
— from On Being Blue: A Philosophical Inquiry, William H. Gass.

Gass writes a mean sentence himself.

[On Being Blue is the Argo Bookshop bookclub selection to be discussed at the end of May.]

Saturday, April 19, 2014

Mind modelling

As you may have noticed, in general members of book clubs regard the characters inside books exactly the way they regard the characters outside books. The facts that the former are made of the alphabet and the latter of muscle, tissue, and bone are of little relevance.
— from The Summer without Men, by Siri Hustvedt.

Science backs this up. It's the same brain centres lighting up in response to a stimulus, whether in the world or in our minds.

This is the essence of a short online course I recently completed, and it's a curious serendipity that I was concurrently reading a novel that addressed the same concept within it.

By the age of 3 or 4, we develop a theory of mind, applying the sense of our own personness, to others, real or fictional, in order to understand them, to fill in the gaps.

Real life is good experience for understanding and appreciating literature; and fiction can be good practice for real life.

Certainly the girls attending the narrator's summer poetry workshop learn this lesson.

The Summer without Men was not the book I expected it to be. Having read Hustvedt before, I knew it wouldn't be chick lit. There's some angry feminism about it, not all of which I agree with.

The narrator's a poet, an academic. As much as she references Kierkegaard, I never fully warmed to her.

Friday, April 18, 2014

Reading Gabo online

The Handsomest Drowned Man In The World
"even though they were looking at him there was no room for him in their imagination"

Light Is Like Water
"Household objects, in the fullness of their poetry, were flying through the kitchen sky on their own wings."

Tuesday Siesta
"She bore the conscientious serenity of someone accustomed to poverty."

A Very Old Man with Enormous Wings
"a Portuguese man who couldn't sleep because the noise of the stars disturbed him"

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Transcendence of form

Beethoven's music is Hegelian philosophy: it is at the same time truer than this; i.e., it contains the conviction that the self replication of society as something identical is not enough, indeed, that it is false. Logical identity as the esthetic and produced domination of forms is at once practiced and criticized by Beethoven. The seal of its truth in Beethoven's music is its suspension: the transcendence of form, through with form for the first time achieves its inner meaning. The transcendence of form is for Beethoven the portrayal — not the expression — of hope.
— T.W. Adorno, as quoted in Hegel — Purpose, Results and the Philosophical Essence, by Scott Hornton, in Harper's Magazine.

I've just finished another online course, this one exploring Beethoven's piano sonatas. I've learned quite a bit about the structure of Beethoven's music, and about the historical context for all the rules he was stretching to breaking point. And I've come to some understanding about some of the elements that attract me, about why I love Beethoven so much (even though I wasn't especially familiar with his sonatas before taking up this course).

I got to realizing just how modern Beethoven is, and it got me thinking about Kierkegaard and the crisis of modernity, and I started drawing connections, and recognized an ironic stance in Beethoven's work, how self-reference can only come from self-awareness, how he could be said to be composing metamusic. Beethoven of course precedes Kierkegaard, but Hegel would've been all the rage, and Kant: "The moral law within us and the starry heaven above us!" — which Beethoven had scrawled in a notebook. The music is becoming. And Beethoven is infinite.

And in writing my final assignment, I found scattered across the internet evidence that others have thought as I have. A reassuring thing.

And I am reminded to pick up Thomas Mann again. I must read Doctor Faustus.

Friday, April 11, 2014

Life has taught me to understand books

Learning to Read

If I had to look up every fifth or sixth word
so what. I looked them up.
I had nowhere important to be.

My father was unavailable, and my mother
looked like she was about to break,
and not into blossom, each time I spoke.

My favorite was The Iliad. True,
I had trouble pronouncing the names;
but when was I going to pronounce them, and

to whom?
My stepfather maybe?
Number one, he could barely speak English –

two, he had sufficient cause
to smirk or attack
without prompting from me.

Loneliness boredom and fear
my motivation
fiercely fueled.

I get down on my knees and thank God for them.

Du Fu, the Psalms, Whitman, Rilke.
Life has taught me
to understand books.

Franz Wright

Tuesday, April 08, 2014

I am resplendent in divergence

The end is the best part. After the stop. I love the end. Sometimes I start chanting that bit spontaneously. "I am resplendent in divergence." It's a holy thing.

I've been looking for this song forever, because upon a time I owned it, on vinyl, and I think of it often, every time I encounter a new ism. Surely my vast knowledge of isms can be traced back to this song. I learned more isms than any 12-year-old ought to know. I developed a weird interest in the Great Schism, and also the teachings of Nestorius. I think solipsism may still be my favourite, though, because it was my first.

Sometimes when I hear bells, I say, out loud, "Bells! I can hear bells!"

Nobody ever gets the reference, though, with my chanting, or the bells, or the diction of various isms.

Having seen Divergent this weekend with my daughter, I am now, of course, resplendent in it.

Thank you, Internet, for restoring this divergence to me.

Sunday, April 06, 2014

We are all comic characters

Lola's eyes gleamed with pleasure and interest as she listened to my tales of the cosmopolitans, all of them true but all fictions nevertheless. Shorn of intimacy and seen from a considerable distance, we are all comic characters, farcical buffoons who bumble through our lives, making fine messes as we go, but when you get close, the ridiculous quickly fades into the sordid or the tragic of the merely sad. It doesn't matter whether you are stuck in the provincial backwater of Bonden or wandering down the Champs-Élysées. The merely sad business about me was that I wanted to be admired, wanted to see myself as a shining reflection in Lola's eyes.
— from The Summer without Men, by Siri Hustvedt.