from Monday, May12th of the year2008.
I love Helen DeWitt. I have spoken of this before. She is one of those people about whom I entertain simultaneous fantasies that she and I would be fast friends in flesh-space, or, we would meet and it would be too awkward for words and I would be crestfallen. I have the same sense about Cintra Wilson, whose Critical Shopper articles in the Times are the highlights of my life. Anyway, Helen DeWitt has an excellent post up about languages. She writes,
The last thing a child wants to learn is a language that shows some prospect of being useful. Sheer impracticality is one of the strongest points in a language’s favour for the young learner. The main reason my French is so much better than my Spanish or Portuguese is, naturally, that I grew up in countries where there was no use for it.
Holla, students of Faroese worldwide! A few months ago, I wrote the following about Helen DeWitt’s book The Last Samurai (which I swear to god if you don’t buy it right now for the low-low price of $11 on Amazon.com we are so no longer friends, and (!) you can get both ytt and John Lanchester’s The Debt to Pleasure for $22, there really is no excuse):
This is also one of these books where to read it is to have the totality of the author’s vision only hinted at: despite its epic scale, it still feels like a tiny but perfect puppet fable played at the outskirts of a big, bustling city inside her head. I don’t say this by means of a judgement, but rather, it is interesting and important to think about the scale of the work that you’re doing and how it relates, in a sense, to the greater Projects that you have going on. I know that one of my major problems as a composer is that I used to feel, instinctively, that each piece had to fully represent (even in fleeting miniatures) all the aspects of my Whole Thing.
It’s interesting to revisit this little nugget from August; when I wrote that, I only obliquely knew what I was talking about as it related to music, but very much knew what I was talking about when it related to the written word. Some scattered examples. Does anybody else receive an erotic charge by knowing that the American Museum of Natural History in New York has over 32 million specimens, “of which only a small fraction can be displayed at any given time.” Or, as a counter-example, is it not a total buzzkill when a shopkeeper tells you, “the only sizes we have are the sizes that are on the floor?” Other things about which I get a physical tingle thinking about that same thing:
Awesome, Deep Shuddery Things
The phrase “tip of an iceberg”
The idea that an Island is just a giant mountain
Museums with 1% of the shit visible and the rest…somewhere…ELSE
Opera Houses with Giant Backstages
Those crazy tunnels under Columbia
There is a very subtle and important way, in the making of Art, to hint at the enormousness of the underlying island, archive, or stack; one way to do it is to just throw it all in there “” this is sort of the Tony Kushner model, who once said (or wrote?), “A good play, like good lasagna, should be overstuffed. It has a pomposity, and an overreach. Its ambitions extend in the direction of not-missing-a-trick, it has a bursting omnipotence up its sleeve.” This is also the model that my old teacher, John Corigliano expertly employs; I saw a band piece of his once, and Nadia and I turned to each other and both agreed that that piece had the most “stuff” going on ““ both physically and musically ““ of basically anything we had ever seen before.
There are really great moments in Rushdie where I would get the same physical sensation ““ one such is in The Ground Beneath Her Feet:
And as he passes that unseen frontier he sees the tear in the sky, and for a terror-stricken instant glimpses miracles through the gash, visions for which he can find no words, the mysteries at the heart of things, Elusinian, unspeakable, bright. He intuits that every bone in his body is being irradiated by something pouring through the sky-rip, a mutation is occurring at the level of the cell, of the gene, of the particle. The person who arrives won’t be the one who left, or not quite. p.252-253
What about Bach? How much are we being shown compared to how much there actually is? How off-limits is the rest of the archive? Bach, for me, always works because you don’t actually know when you are in Forbidden, Ecclesiastical Backstage Space.
J.S. Bach Mache Dich, mein Herze, rein from the St. Matthew Passion
I don’t know whose recording this is but I will figure it out
I am going to be posting more Iceberg Tipp music in the next couple of days.