Axioms of Poetics

  1. Games are the most serious thing in the world.

  2. It's games all the way down.

This has been a Library of Babel poetics service announcement.

Silliman & Gudding

Silliman's rumination on the personal lyric opens up some interesting questions, unlike the essays of the Hoaglands, Houlihans, and, perhaps, Ladins of the world.


Ligeti, Carter, and Starting Over

I've been reading Richard Steinitz's György Ligeti: Music of the Imagination. At one point, Ligeti got tired of the Bartokian idiom he had inherited and had been writing in:

In 1951 I began to experiment with very simple structures of sonorities and rhythms as if to build up a new kind of music starting from nothing. My approach was frankly Cartesian, in that I regarded all the music I knew and loved as being, for my purpose, irrelevant and even invalid. I set myself such problems as: what can I do with a single note? What can I do with specific rhythmic interrelationships which could serve as the basic elements in a formation of rhythms and intervals?

These experiments produced Musica ricercata and the beginnings of a music like no other in the world.

Elliott Carter had a similar moment in his life. It goes unmentioned in the Wikipedia bio except to note a change in style. Carter believed he'd come to the end of the mode he was working in, moved to Arizona, and re-thought everything he was doing. The result was String Quartet No. 1 and Carter's mature style.

That willingness to put aside everything you know and start over has made Carter a hero to me. It was a pleasure to find that same daring in Ligeti, though I shouldn't have been surprised.

There's something vital and essential in the willingness to turn your back on everything you've been doing and start over because somewhere, somehow a little itch or tiny voice tells you there's got to be something else to find and do. I don't think I have that kind of courage, though I find it inspiring. I think the Radish King has it, though, and that's why she agonizes so much like this and this.

I'd go so far as to say that that is what artistic courage is. Artistic courage isn't writing gut-wrenching poems about what a crappy childhood you had or how badly your spouse treated you, or how your sister pissed on you. If that's courage, and it isn't always, it isn't artistic courage. Artistic courage is the willingness to take the sledgehammer to the forms and processes you've used and to start over with a little of the dust that's left. Or, perhaps, just the empty table.


The Construction of Right-Wing Narrative

One of the best things Harper's has published in years is now online.


Weird Language

From the masthead of The Greenbelt:
Verbing Weirds Language only if you're expecting it to work in a simple way. This is a special case of the more general truth that Language Weirds. — John Lawler

Happy Fourth of July!

Some words for the holiday.

"And that is why so many business and governmental leaders today are promoting charity; it is desperately needed in an economy whose prosperity is based on growing inequality. First these leaders proclaim themselves experts on matters economic, and prove it by taking the most out of the economy! Then they promote charity as if it were the work of the church, finally telling us troubled clergy to shut up and bless the economy as once we blessed the battleships." — Rev. William Sloane Coffin

"Necessity, the tyrant's plea." — John Milton

"It means that we can't be scared out of who we are. And that's victory, folks." — LtCmdr Charles Swift, Hamdan's attorney, on the Guantanamo ruling

Leo Brouwer

Had another music lesson this weekend. What I like about them is that they are really music lessons, not guitar lessons.

I'm working on the first three of Leo Brouwer's Estudios Sencillos. Brouwer is a Cuban guitarist and composer. His more recent work combines very contemporary harmony with Cuban and Latin American rhytms and patterns.

I wouldn't want to subject you to my playing of the pieces. So, here for a little while are links to recordings of I and II, by David Tanenbaum and Ricardo Cobo respectively. From the first moment I heard it, the second study strikes me as the most perfect 14 bars of music ever written.

And now I should go practice.


Ann Coulter: Asshole and Plagiarist

The New York Post, that bastion of left-wing moonbattery, reports on cribbed text found in her most recent book and in her columns from the last 12 months.

The interesting thing (more interesting than Coulter) to me is that there's commercial pattern recognition software sold to find plagiarism. It's marketed as a web-based service.