Thursday, March 12, 2015

Music for Dinosaurs

Most of the ways in which you think of yourself do not consider the possibility of qualities such as conservative or even traditional. When occasions arise for you to list your age or supply year of birth on some document, you find yourself a bit surprised, looking at the numbers.

Years spent in graduate and undergraduate classrooms provide an ongoing reminder of the possibilities of generation gaps between you and them, making it possible for you to approach the phenomenon you have in mind with a greater sense of amazement than from denial.

Your tastes in art and music run what you consider eclectic paths from formality to spirited expressionism, where horizons, perspectives, and textures seem to be at a party where they've had more than one drink too many.  

The same applies to tastes in music, where, for example, on one of your portable player gadgets, Sidney Bechet performing "Rose of the Rio Grande" is a close neighbor of Sviatasov Richter, rendering Ravel's "Waltzes Sacred and Profane."  Bix Beiderbecke and Clifford Brown.  Meade Lux Lewis and Bill Evans.

The trouble of which you are about to speak begins in your clothes closet, where, with the possible exception of certain denim jeans cut and assembled in California, most of your shirts, jackets, shoes, and ties have begun their life in England, the Eastern U.S. in general, and that great American icon in Maine, L.L. Bean.  The jeans are done in California from a denim woven in Japan.  

At one point in your career, when you were into suits as well as sports jackets and trousers (as opposed to jeans), your main source of purchase was from the traveling seasonal exhibitions of J. Press, which is still to Yale as Brooks Brothers is to Harvard.

The closest you've come to an Ivy League school was living on the same block as Brown University in Providence, yet from the way you dressed, you were frequently taken for an Easterner, an image you were (and still are) at great pains to avoid.  

Added background: although were (and still are) a Westerner in mind and attitude, it never occurred to you to wear Western boots.  Horses, for a long while, were things to bet on.  Although you've ridden more than a few horses, their nobility in your opinion is visual.  In your early years teaching graduate level at USC, you wore suits, but were given the collegial hint that at USC, wearing a suit was something a dean or assistant dean was likely to wear, and by then, you'd had enough with executive levels.

The worst of the trouble, and the crux of these notes, can be found in your present day bookshelves and, in fact, all the bookshelves you've had during your lifetime.  These shelves contain classics and a number of contemporary and near contemporary writers, but your tastes in reading stop short of such modernists as Donald Barthelme, Robert Coover,Jonathan S. Foer, Hedwig Gorski, William Gass, and Roland Barthes leave you not merely cold but unmoved.  

One of your academic clients, pursuing a lovely study of the effects of feminism on American history, made frequent reference to Jaques Derrida, which you persuaded her to cut back on, removing him in effect from the text to the back matter, where, in one long note, she described his critical vision.

This places you in a position of having read any number of works for which you had no chemistry the way you'd have with a work by a writer such as Louise Erdrich or Carson McCullers or Eudora Welty, yet felt the need to be able to discuss with students who admired such post-moderns and wished to be influenced by them.  To your added sense of discomfort, some of these modernists were in executive positions in major writing programs.

In your view, modernist critical theory is attacking the text, making it less important than the time, place, or circumstances in which it was written, in other cases doing a masterful job of taking on the literary equivalent of the quantum physicist's search for how "it" all began.

For the umpteenth time in your attempts to enter the literary party, you find yourself in the role of arriving late, meaning in the long run even greater senses of surprise and time lapse when you are asked your age or to fill in your date of birth.  More books to read closely, interpret beyond the landscape of their plot.  More books of your own to write as a consequences of the books you've read, the arguments you've had, the thoughts you've thought, the feelings you've absorbed, and the close editing of them all to make sure you've articulated them to yourself on as many levels as you can find. 




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