Monday, May 20, 2013

"Listen to them, the children of the night."

The Seer of Cleveland asks, "Usually when people talk about listening to a composer, they discuss which pieces to listen to or which composers or whether to listen to live or studio music. But I have a different question, prompted by your instructions in your recent Maybe Logic Academy class to listen to 'Hammerklavier' at least once a week, preferably with eyes closed.

 "When you listen to recordings of Beethoven, what conditions do you use? Do you just put the hifi on and and resume what you were doing? Or do you consume a substance/ask everyone in the household to keep silence/listen on headphones/burn incense/snuggle with your wife/perform a magick ceremony? Or do you do different things at different times?"
I think about Korzybksi's notion of subscripts: 
Listen1 means listen with one's full attention.
Listen2 means start out listening with one's full attention, but the mind starts to wander and perhaps one falls asleep.
Listen3 one puts the music on and resumes one's normal activity.
In my 11:32 Beethoven experiment I strove for Listen1 but mostly did Listen2.  I did not consume substances or burn incense.

For the process of listening to Beethoven's 32 piano sonatas eleven times each, I divided the sonatas into eight sets of four.  I associated each set with one of the circuits in the Wilson/Leary eight circuit model.  During the first four sonatas I focused on the physical act of listening.  I imagined the vibrations coming from the speakers, entering my ears, vibrating my eardrums, entering my nervous system, etc.

During the second set of sonatas I focused on the emotional impact of the music and focused on my breathing as well.  During the third set of four I paid attention intellectually, trying to follow the form.  I reread the analyses in Charles Rosen's book on the sonatas to help me with this.

Etc.  I guess one could model this as a magickal ceremony.  I don't think Beethoven intended the sonatas to illustrate the eight circuit model.  I just found it an interesting way to come to a deeper understanding of both the sonatas and the eight circuit model.

In the fall I plan to teach Rafi Zabor's novel The Bear Comes Home, so these days my listening focuses on the wonderful "Listening Guide" at end of that terrific novel.

Sunday, January 13, 2013

All Praise Joseph Kerman!

The Seer of Cleveland asks, "Inspired by your ongoing Schroedinger's Cat course, I recently finished listening to all of Beethoven's piano sonatas. I plan to listen to all of his symphonies before the course ends. (The string quartets will be next).

"Leon Botstein recently recommended several books about Beethoven in the Wall Street Journal (scroll down for the sidebar) but I noticed he did not mention the Maynard Solomon biography, which I had planned to read. What is your favorite Beethoven book/book about Beethoven?"
This question made me feel good.  I love the opportunity to talk about one of my very favorite books, The Beethoven Quartets by Joseph Kerman.  In the early 80's I remember looking through the music section of the Arizona State Bookstore and I saw The Composer's Advocate by Erich Leinsdorf.  It looked fascinating to me, so I checked and found that the library had a copy of it.  I read it over and over again and loved it.

Fast forward to the end of 1990.  I've started taking ballet classes, which leads me to listen to more classical music, which leads me to reread Leinsdorf.  He mentions Joseph Kerman's book The Beethoven Quartets, so I check it out from the ASU library.  It turns my head around.  Kerman combines deep musical analysis with psychological understanding and historical perspective.  His book helped me listen to the quartets more deeply, and listening to the quartets more led to reread his book, and rereading his book gave me even more insights into the quartets.  This recursive process has continued for the past 22 years.

Friday, December 28, 2012

Louis Zukofsky, etc.

Michael Johnson asks, "Did RAW mention Louis Zukofsky? If he did I missed it. Anyway, I know you enjoy LZ's _A_ and I've noticed the L=A=N=G=U=A=G=E poets see Zukofsky as one of their gods. Do you also like the Language Poets? And if so, who/what books?"

I don't recall Bob every mentioning Zukofsky.  Something tugs at my memory about Pound's dedication of Guide to Kultur, but I don't think it marks a real memory of Bob.

I don't know anything about the L=A=N=G=U=A=G=E poets.  I scanned a copy of articles about them after I read your question, and I haven't even heard of any of them except for Bob Perelman, and I only know his name because of his interest in Louis Zukofsky.  I enjoyed this piece about LZ by BP - .  I particularly liked these lines:

"14. There’s also the progression of his last planned projects: at the beginning of his 8th decade he begins /80 Flowers/ with /Gamut: 90 Trees/ planned for the decade after that. Isn’t 100 the teleological goal there?

"15. (At this point, it’s hard to resist Ron Silliman’s prediction for the next project: /101 Dalmations/.).

"57. Pound remained the model of the poet for Zukofsky.

"58. /Prepositions/ was on Zukofsky’s desk when he died, open to his essay on Pound.

"61. Zukofsky carries Pound on his back, like Aeneas carrying Anchises out of burning Troy."

If I live  to 101 I may write a series of poems about dogs called 101 Dalmatians.

Did you know Zukofsky mentions Vico a few times in "A"?

On another note, there seems so much to read.  Reading about Samuel Johnson's friends in the eighteenth century, it seemed as though most of them had read many of the same books.  In the inverveening centuries, so many more books have become available that we have such a huge variety of texts to choose from.  I think again about Paul Schrader's essay on the film canon ( ).  I find it fascinating how we choose what to read.  It can take a lifetime to start to understand some writers (Pound, Joyce, etc.).  Over the years I've encountered various ideas of the literary canon.  I've spent a lot of time reading books perceived as canonical by Bob Wilson and Ezra Pound, but when I became friends with Rafi Zabor a few years ago, I found a whole new canon I had not read (Chekhov, Tolstoy, Proust, etc.).  I always feel humbled reading your terrific blog ( ) because you have so many books you regard highly which I haven't read, and you've read so many of the books which I value highly.

Robert Heinlein, discussing the difficulties he had in keeping up with advances in the sciences, quoted Alice, "The faster I go, the behinder I get."

Thanks for the stimulating question.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

"Who's Zelenka?"

The Seer of Cleveland asks, "I had never heard of composer Jan Dismas Zelenka until I read Schroedinger's Cat, the subject of your upcoming Maybe Logic Academy online course. Do you know if Robert Anton Wilson had a particular interest in his music and was trying to bring attention to it?"

I don't of Bob mentioning Zelenka anywhere except for that novel, as you say the subject of my new class at Maybe Logic - .  I don't think Bob had a deep interest in Zelenka, but perhaps he did.  I do know that anytime I hear Zelenka's music, I think of that novel.  I think I've only heard Zelenka's music on the Music Choice classical cable channels.  I don't recall ever hearing him live or on the radio.  It says something for the power of the novel, or at least its impact on me personally, that whenever I hear it I think of Frank Dashwood hearing it and wondering, "Who's Zelenka?"  If the novel took place in 2012, I guess he would just google it.

I don't recall ever reading about Zelenka in any books on classical music by Kerman or Rosen, etc.  I find it interesting how their maps of what they consider important in the vast history of classical music helps to shape my notions of what music to focus on, as do the models of Bob Wilson, Rafi Zabor, etc.

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

"Trust to good movies then."

AC asks about my upcoming class at the Maybe Logic Academy ( ), "In this you give a movie recommendation for each week, are we to watch this a couple of times during the week, or just once. if just once, do we do it at the end of the week or at the beginning? Or is it just left up to the person to decide?"

I would leave it up to the individual.  I plan to start watching the movies at the beginning of November, and I hope to finish watching them all before the class ends.  I've seen them all before, but I look forward to rewatching them.  I also plan to watch some of the bonus material and alternative versions on the Criterion edition of Mr. Arkadin.  After I posted the syllabus I remembered Netflix didn't have The Magnificent Ambersons, but it just got rereleased and they acquired it.

Typically people from all over the world take the Maybe Logic classes.  I realize that some people might not have a chance to watch the films.  I suspect they will still enjoy the class.

Films greatly influenced Bob Wilson, and I hope the cinema component of the class will illuminate that.  Chinatown particularly influenced Schrรถdinger's Cat. 

I remember having dinner with Bob in 1995.  I wanted to talk about my Finnegans Wake study group, and he just wanted to talk about his Orson Welles study group.


AC asks, "I recently read a polemic of tolstoy's that detailed his many criticisms of Shakespear, particularly his (in tolstoys view) plagiarism (tolstoy accused shakespear of making them worse, where others said he made them better) of earlier authors. With the majority of people who sing shakespears praises, in the literary world, I was a little shocked that tolstoy criticsed shakespear.

"What do you think of this polemic and of Tolstoy?"

Well, I haven't read Tolstoy on Shakespeare.

Works of art seem to me like wells.  I know I've gotten water from some wells - I've read some books and enjoyed them.  I've heard good things about other wells but haven't yet enjoyed drinking from them - others I respect have said they enjoyed some books although I haven't yet enjoyed them much. For instance, James Joyce, Robert Anton Wilson, and Michael Johnson have all gotten more from the well of Vico's work than I have.

T. S. Eliot said immature poets borrow, mature poet steal.  I have very little first hand knowledge of Shakespeare's sources, but I do enjoy what Shakespeare did with them.  Shakespeare has a such a vast reputation, I don't think Tolsoy's criticism will keep too many people from experimenting with reading Shakespeare.

I love Tolstoy.  I'd never finished any of his books until 2006.  I had become friends with Rafi Zabor the previous fall, and he encouraged me to read War and Peace.  I remember reading an interview with him online where the interviewer said he'd gotten her to read War and Peace as well.  I just searched for that interview and found this letter to The New York Times instead:

"If, Mr. Keller, you have read only the new translation, you may be mistaking characteristics of Tolstoy for those of his translators—he is never, well hardly ever, even in the Rosemary Edmonds translation I am startled fo find myself having read five times through, the smoothest and most fluent of writers. Often, when returning to him after long absence, I am amazed to find how clunky and foursquare he can be—and then, hardly noticing the transition, I fall under his spell—his curious spell that appears to dispell, with its overwhelmingly observed and constant realism, one’s own suggestibility to spells: suggestible, ensorcelled, moi? Why, sir, I am looking at reality unmediated and complete!
"It would be too easy to say of Tolstoy that he is, oh, less subtle than Proust, less spirited than Stendhal, and so on down a distinguished line, to finish by saying that he is the best all-rounder. This conclusion, while perhaps correct, seems well beside the essential point. I usually revert to Proust’s observation—it works to set a genius to catch a genius—that people mistake Tolstoy when they point to his powers of observation, especially the observation of human beings as they are, as the key to his power. No, says Proust, overstating the case in order to make it: his characters are not the product of an observing eye but of a thinking mind; Tolstoy has seen the general Laws of human nature, and renders them in their consequent particularities, and it is in recognizing this quality in him, intuitively or otherwise, that we are convinced by his art as by that of no other author. (I paraphrase and interpret, a little. If anyone can find the exact quote from Proust, I’d be happy to see it again.)
I got my copy of the P&V translation only recently, and have not yet read 100 pages, and so far I seem to be enjoying the ride despite the obvious bumps in the road. Better still, I am tumbling into Tolstoy again, and notice how, even very early on—in small details such as Vera Rostova observing her beauty in the mirror and becoming more calm and cold; in the circulation of characters around the matter of Count Bezhukov’s will; in the earliest observations of the Rostov children and the first conversation between Prince Andrei and Pierre—already we, or I (since I know what is coming), see these people in the round as I see no others in literature, and already begin to see emerging (or, having shown its essential character quickly, it has already entirely emerged) Tolstoy’s singular and I believe unmatchable portrayal of the action and evolution of human character in Time.
Other author’s characters—even perhaps Proust’s—are more predictable than Tolstoy’s: they respond to something impacting upon their lives somewhat in the manner of billiard balls, and you can follow their trajectory and understand the phsyics of their motion without too much intellectual exercise; but in Tolstoy there is a mysterious quality within each character that alters and transmogrifies such simple patterns, and imparts to their motion in time what seems the full complexity of human life as we experience it, although we have probably failed to recognize the Proustian “Laws” that produce this largely incomprehensible motion.
"Tolstoy convinces us that he has comprehended it, which is why, with him more than with any other great writer, that when we read a perhaps too happily debunking biography, we are so shocked and sometimes delighted to find that he lived so much of his life like an uninstructible idiot. Never mind: before reading even 100 pages of this new version of his masterpiece, I feel my consciousness being expanded again, as Tolstoy paints his enormous picture in which, as we progress through it, the earliest details remain clear in our minds as we encounter a thousand new details, the entire composition held in focus in the author’s massive consciousness and duplicated by analogy in our own.
"As for the translation, I’m not sure, but I don’t expect to return to Rosemary Edmonds’ fine, fluent version, and will rough-ride all the way to the finish with Pevear and Volokhonsky—unless, as may happen, I can’t put War and Peace down and will be compelled to take one of its less bulky avatars onto the F Train and into town. What a pleasure it is to be riding in Tolstoy’s great carriage once again!
— Rafi Zabor"
He says it better than I could.  I also loved Hadji Murat and some other short pieces I read.  (I can't figure out how to get out of italics.  So it goes.)  Tolstoy struck me as so different from my idea of the great novel I had formed largely from reading Joyce.  If feel like my ignorance of Russian blocks me from a deeper understanding of Tolstoy.  One can spend years and years reading an author and barely scratch the surface.  I feel that way about Joyce and Shakespeare.  I've barely begun to read Tolstoy.  I sometimes feel as though I've barely begun to read.
Thanks for the question.
P.S.  I forgot.  About the time I read War and Peace Robert Anton Wilson started calling himself the last Decembrist, and he encouraged people to google "Decembrists + Illuminati".  It delighted me when I finished War and Peace to learn that Tolstoy began writing the novel to explain the origin of the Decembrists.  I love that synchronicity.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

"Dying is easy. Comedy is hard."

Dr. Johnson asks, "I wonder what you'd say about the role of difficulty in reading books like The Cantos, Finnegans Wake, Ulysses, Zukovsky, Gravity's Rainbow, WSB, The Wasteland, the S-Cat Trilogy, even Illuminatus! (Just today someone on Internet labeled Illuminatus! as 'unreadable.')?

"Why do you think some readers ENJOY difficulty, while others not only dislike it, but disparage it?

"My main model has to do with personality 'types' and predilections, but I'm not wedded to this as my main model. What say you?"

I've thought about your question, and I don't think I have a good answer.  (You have a knack for asking questions I have difficulty answering.)  I think vanity plays a role. People like me like to feel superior by reading at books which seem difficult, alas.  I only had a slight interest in "difficult" books before I started reading Bob Wilson.  He got me interested in Finnegans Wake, Ulysses and The Cantos, and as with the tar baby, I've had trouble letting go of those books.

I think part of the appeal of these kind of texts come from their sense of humor, a kind which seems to only emerge out of this kind of chaos.  (At one point late in The Cantos Pound say he'll have to study some Greek to write the poem, but so will the reader.)  I also have a fascination with what kind of book fascinates those whose minds fascinate me.  Bob remained fascinated by Finnegans Wake, Ulysses and The Cantos for decades, and Tim Leary remained fascinated by Gravity's Rainbow for twenty-plus years.  I would like to understand what they saw in those books.

It struck me once thinking about the Jumping Jesus Phenomena that Joyce and Pound marked the first time that people lived through an information doubling, and they created styles of writing to try to deal with that experience.