Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Why do I read?

Eastside Road, Healdsburg, December 31, 2008
NOT MUCH TO DO beyond read, these days, read and socialize. The party was over yesterday, so the reading resumed.

It was discouraging, as I've noted elsewhere, to finish reading Sense and Sensibility and find at the bottom of the last page the notation 12/29/95 — the date I'd previously finished reading it. I had no recollection of the book: neither the book itself, nor of the process of reading it.

I guess I'm not surprised: I read it that December while recovering from abdominal surgery. I probably should have picked something a little less — well, subtle, I suppose. Will I remember this reading in nine years? Who knows. That's not the reason to read, nor is it the reason to live.

Yesterday I read a very different book, John Muir's My First Summer in the Sierra (New York : Modern Library, 2003). Muir knew how to live, and this book, his first, celebrates The Moment. Having recently recovered from a serious eye injury, and having warmed up by walking a thousand miles from Indiana to Florida decided then, in 1868, thirty years old, to go to California, where the next summer he took a job following a flock of two thousand fifty sheep into the high Sierra, ostensibly to keep an eye on their shepherd.

He didn't like the sheep much. Some of the funniest and sharpest passages in the book record that judgement, one of the few negative judgements Muir was to make. But he fell in love, or rather was confirmed in his love, for the high Sierra. "Love" is not too strong a word; he uses it often himself; and although his father was a preacher, and he himself had memorized the New Testament and much of the Old, he doesn't hesitate to identify the whole of Nature as an expression of love:
How boundless the day seems as we revel in these storm-beaten sky gardens amid so vast a congregation of onlooking mountains! Strange and admirable it is that the more savage and chilly and storm-chafed the mountains, the finer the glow on their faces and the finer the plants they bear. The myriads of flowers tingeing the mountain-top do not seem to have grown out of the dry, rough gravel of disintegration, but rather they appear as visitors, a cloud of witnesses to Nature's love in what we in our timid ignorance and unbelief call howling desert.
As you can see, Muir's prose is ecstatic: but it is also aware, accurate, and detailed. Page after page records observations of botany, geology, the climate. And while Muir is alone much of the time his notes on the personalities he meets — Portuguese, Indian, tourists; and also squirrels, houseflies, bear, not to mention the tedious sheep — enliven the book and bring his ecstasy back to earth.

Having walked among alpage sheep-pastures last summer I was perhaps particularly enthralled with My First Summer in the Sierra: I would like to reconstruct Muir's journey, his book in one hand, a GPS in the other. It's the sort of thing you dream about in winter, on the last day of the year.

A VERY DIFFERENT MATTER is Willem Elsschot's Cheese (New York : Granta Books, 2002), today's read, also a Christmas gift. It paired well with Muir: urban rather than rural; centered on business, not Nature; resigned, not ecstatic; it's a novel that brings to mind Svevo and early Pirandello, even Queneau and Beckett.

The story is simple: a humdrum clerk in a shipyard falls into a cheese-distributing job; his personality swerves into quite a different world. The book may well be a parable: Elsschot's afterword (which artlessly spans literary criticism, surreal poetry, and philosophical speculation) warns
The reader should gradually be seized by a feeling of uneasiness, making him turn up his collar and think of his umbrella while the sun is still out in all its glory.
(I should add that the book first appeared in 1933, and that Elsschot, whose real name was Alfons-Jozef De Ridder, was a Belgian advertising man.)

Cheese is a very funny book, but a tender one, even moving. Very economical, it brings Depression-era Belgium to life, portraying a lower-class bourgeois family intimately and sympathetically with virtually no sentiment. An interesting achievement, it reminds me of how little we know about European literature: here's another Flemish-language writer to pursue in the year to come.

Friday, December 19, 2008

Screen with Variations

SCREEN WAS AMONG my first and remains, I think, my most successful “graphic” score: notation which relies completely on drawn elements, rather than conventional musican notation. It was one in a number of “quartets” conceived as a series of experimental pieces investigating the concept of string-quartet playing, not as the playing of stringed instruments, or even the interpretation of that marvelous repertory of music from Haydn down through Lutoslawski, but as the act of listening to others and one’s self, playing in the moment while considering the long span, hearing and being in several places simultaneously, focussing consciously while leaving the intuitively expressive gesture free.


I made the piece on May 11, 1969, on my drafting table, dividing the page into six horizontal bands demarcated with dashed lines; then drew thick lines to indicate sounds (placed high or low to indicate pitch, of varying thicknesses to indicate loudness, of varying length to indicate duration), and connected these with thin straight lines to indicate voice-leading, two melodic lines to each band.

The instrumentalists can play from left to right or from right to left; when any system is completed, they pause or do not before beginning any other. The performance begins and ends as seems right.

Screen is intended as a sound-curtain through which something else might be heard — another composition or two, or ambient sounds, or internal songs. Screen should therefore not be too insistant. It should be fairly slow and quiet. Not too much needs to be made to happen. It is unassertive, like any linear statement. It is cool, a little formal, rather conservative, but not plain or cold. The several systems can be played forward or backward, each taking about a minute. I prefer Screen played by three to six instruments, weighted more toward violas than violins, including contrabasses too if possible. (I would like to hear it performed by a capella chorus one day, or by an ensemble of trombones.)

Variations was composed six years later, in 1975, again a graphic score, this time based on a star map that had been used on a poster advertising an exhibition at the Oakland Art Museum. Here again I relied on an intuitively pleasing visual appearance to guide me to a pleasing sonic resolution; this time the size of the circles indicated loudness; the placement on the page indicated pitch; and since I was thinking of nonsustaining instruments like harp and percussion there was no reason to extend the lines to indicate duration.

I'm sorry the scores do not reproduce better here. You can hear Variations played on the harp, superimposed on a performance of Screen by a string quartet, here, as recorded in a live concert thirty-two years ago in San Francisco.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

The thing about the thing itself

SILLIMAN'S BLOG STEERS ME to a note (from five months ago) about Wallace Stevens's poem Not Ideas About the Thing But the Thing Itself. I've always admired Stevens, and I particularly respond to this poem; when my mother died I used it in a version of the Requiem that I wrote for chamber choir with solo oboe.

I've rarely read a discussion of a poem I disagree so strenuously with as Nada Gordon's discussion of this. She reproduces the text in full on her blog, freeing me from the temptation to do so here, and then she writes
It’s a confusing poem, probably deliberately so, and I felt after reading it and discussing it that it doesn’t transcend its own contradiction: the cry “seem[s] like a sound in [his] mind” but he maintains, in that weird conditional tense (and with a potentially ambiguous pronoun reference) “It would have been outside”.…
The poem seems perfectly clear to me; it's about the coming of death, the ultimate "thing itself"; death whether literally or as the embodiment of any realization of the complete whatness of something. The poem is no more "confusing" than the difference between seems and is; and "would have been" is not "conditional tense" [sic] but laconic spoken English. Wallace Stevens is so readily thought a mandarin that his most direct discourse is analyzed into opacity; it's an example of the danger of reading intellectual complexity into material that is, in fact, perfectly straightforward.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Reading Lolita in Tehran

THERE'S NOT A LOT I can write about this book that hasn't already been written many times over, I'm sure — it's among the top hundred most-read books on LibraryThing, where it's garnered nearly a hundred reader reviews; a Google search of the title yields 136,000 hits. Wikipedia notes that "it has been on the New York Times bestseller list for over one hundred weeks and has been translated into thirty-two languages."

And it was published in 2003, five years ago; and I'm late getting to it. (And I owe Lindsey thanks for recommending it highly: she knows what I will wind up liking.)

The book recounts conversations among teacher (the writer, Azar Nafisi) and students (all young women) during classes, at two Tehran universities and in private, devoted to English-language literature. The four sections discuss Lolita, Pnin, and Invitation to a Beheading (Nabokov); The Great Gatsby (Fitzgerald); Daisy Miller and Washington Square (James), and Pride and Prejudice (Austen), always counterpointing the discussion of the texts against that of daily life in Iran as it developed during the classes (from the last year or so of the previous government through the revolution and well into the present theocracy).

Reading Lolita in Tehran has been roundly criticized as Orientalist, propaganda, not credible. I suppose the chief objections to the book voice two points of view: either that it misrepresents contemporary Iranian life (and government, and society, and religion); or that it irresponsibly conflates fantasy with realistic depictions of social reality. I can't speak to the former objection, except to note that both Reading Lolita in Tehran and, presumably, social life in present-day Iran are far too complex to be reduced to ideological argument.

To many the second objection will be the more disturbing, because it is less immediately evident. Nafisi subtitles her book "a memoir in books," and that's just what it is — in books and in discussions of books. She uses her class notes (and those of a student, it eventuates) and her thoughts on these novels to organize the development, as she lived it, of her awareness of the impact of life in Islamist Iran on her own personal life. Along the way she develops what seems to me to be a keenly perceived, close-held, and articulately expressed kind of literary criticism; she's made me think about The Novel as I haven't, really, since school days, since reading Forster and Wilson and such.

To reduce her ideas to a ridiculous skeleton, she finds Nabokov treating, in his books, of the theft of identity, or rather (and worse) of the possibility of ever developing an identity. Fitzgerald's theme is the asserted right to a life of the imagination. Jame's is courage. Austen's is precisely the denial of colonialism and imperialism, through the assertion of private life and private pleasure.

But as I say this is a reductionist presentation of Nafisi's achievement. Behind and above these four writers, and her analysis, and her cumulatively persuasive and troubling account of the repressive state, there is always Scheherazade. The graceful counterpoint of literature and conversation, private and public life, imagination and restriction is conveyed in a constantly forward-moving narrative.

Fiction, the novel, the act of reading — these are endlessly troubling matters to any authoritarian government. Yet one of the sources of that trouble must be precisely the temptation that imaginative narrative presents to the authority: in denying its freedom to others it must deny that freedom to itself; and the human urge to narrative expression is innate and irrepressible.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Noise Within: fall 2008

Eastside Road, Healdsburg, Saturday, December 13, 2008—
WHAT? OH, YES, I should let you know about the plays we saw last week. It was the semiannual visit to Los Angeles to see productions at A Noise Within, a repertory company whose efficient programming allows us to see three plays within a week — or less: next May, for example, within three days.
Every season seems to offer a couple of Shakespeare plays, a 20th-century American standard, a play from the French repertory, and a couple of plays from odd corners of the literature. Last week we saw The Rainmaker, Hamlet, and an adaptation of Oliver Twist: in nearly every case, the last or near-last performance of the run.
  • The Rainmaker is not a very persuasive stage play. N. Richard Nash wrote it for television, as the jerky flow of the play suggests (you can almost hear the Philco commercials between the scenes). It's dated (1954) and it's hokey, relying on the familiar collisions between a romantic social outcast (title role) and dirt-plain everyday America (a farm family beset by drought, in more ways than one). Sure: Nash has in mind the tension between insular pre-WW2 America and the older, more sophisticated Europe it has just liberated. The theme's familiar and has been done better elsewhere.
    But The Rainmaker works; it still plays, at least it did in this NW production; and it's useful to see it to better appreciate the work of, for example, Tennessee Williams. In this production, too, Nash's characters managed to come to life, and if the play recalls others in this detail or that — plays ranging from Of Mice and Men to The Glass Menagerie — at least in doing so it contributes to a fuller understanding of the nature of 20th-century American theater. And, let's face it, it's an honest evening of entertainment. Foxworth and Flanery, the leads, were remarkable, I thought, for the detail and patience they brought to their characterizations.
    Cast and Crew:
    Bo Foxworth (Starbuck)
    Bridget Flanery (Lizzie Curry)
    Mitchell Edmonds (HC Curry)
    Scott Roberts (File)
    Ross Hellwig (Jim Curry)
    Leonard Kelly-Young (Sheriff Thomas)
    Steve Weingatner (Noah Curry)
    Andrew Traister, Director
    David O, Composer
    James P. Taylor, Set and Lighting Designer
    Julie Keen, Costume Designer
    Byron Batista, Hair/Make-up
    Dicapria Del Carpio, Props Master
    Rebecca Baillie, Production Manager
    Kate Barrett, Stage Manager
    Adam Lillibridge, Technical Director
    Michael Pukac, Scenic Artist
    Ronnie Clark, Master Electrician

  • This year's production of Shakespeare's Hamlet was, quite simply, one of the most telling evenings we've spent in this Glendale theater — and we've seen over thirty plays here. Much cut from the usual production, it was based, I heard, on the First Folio text. It was compressed and tight and very much focussed on the title role. Double-casting the two Hamlets — the Prince of Denmark and the ghost of his murdered father — may seem gimmicky, but it very much worked; it breathed new urgency into a very familiar play. I thought Freddy Douglas was fine in the role; Tony Abatemarco (a friend of ours) was a very credible, humane Polonius; Deborah Strang and Dorothea Harahan grew as Gertrude and Ophelia as the play progressed, Steve Cooms was a strong Horatio., Francois Giroday portrayed Claudius as tentative at the beginning, then witless and hesitant. The physical production was dark and intense.

    Freddy Douglas (Hamlet/Ghost)
    Tony Abatemarco (Polonius/Others)
    Deborah Strang (Gertrude)
    Dorothea Harahan (Ophelia)
    Jacob Sidney (Guildenstern/Osric/Others)
    Steve Cooms (Horatio)
    Matthew Jaeger (Laertes/Rosencrantz)
    Francois Giroday (Claudius)
    Mark Bramhall (1st Player/Gravedigger/Others)
    Michael Michetti, Director
    John Pennington, Choreographer
    Sara Clement, Set/Costume Designer
    Peter Gottlieb, Lighting Designer
    Kari Seekins, Composer/Sound Designer
    Monica Sabedra, Hair/Make-up
    Ken Merckx, Fight Choreographer
    Rebecca Baillie, Production Manager
    Susan Coulter, Stage Manager
    Adam Lillibridge, Technical Director
    Jennifer Inglis, Scenic Artist
    Ronnie Clark, Master Electrician

  • Oliver Twist is one of the many classics of English literature this English Lit major has managed to avoid; the only Dickens I've read is A Tale of Two Cities, and that nearly sixty years ago. If only the novel were like the Noise Within production I'd run out and buy a copy. (Well, maybe not.) This version, adapted from the novel by Neil Bartlett, was funny and schematic, with production values recalling Brecht and Weill, sets and situations recalling Hogarth, and spoof-the-classics irony out of Mad Magazine.
    Brian Dare debuted with Noise Within in the title role, playing it straight and sympathetically. Tom Fitzpatrick was a reedy, sinister, creepy Fagan; Apollo Dukakis brought real presence to the role of Bumble; Geoff Elliott had fun with that of Sikes; Shaun Anthony fleshed out the warm minor role of the Artful Dodger. Jessica Berman and Jill Hill had fun as Rose and Nancy, individuating them nicely; Julia Rodriguez-Elliott directed.
    The more I think about it, the more I like it. It was a good half-season; I'm sorry it's over, and you can't see it too. (But do consider Noise Within's Waiting for Godot, running January 15-25; we saw it last season, and the production deserves this special revival.)
  • Wednesday, December 10, 2008

    New Music in Los Angeles

    Colorado St., Glendale, December 10—

    HERE WE ARE IN Glendale, on one of our semi-annual visits for theatergoing. We usually arrive the first weekend of December and another weekend in mid- or late April: in that way we can see all but one of the (usually) seven productions given each year by A Noise Within, a professional repertory company that's rewarded us more often than not.

    This time we're staying a week, the only way to see three plays. Scheduling these things must be tough, and my hat's off to whoever does it, but I do rather wish we didn't have to spend quite so many days here. Still, it gives us a chance to catch up on other things: gardens, restaurants, museums, and, this time, concerts.

    Except to mention that this fall's Hamlet was a wonderful production, I'll hold off on comments on the plays. We still have one to see tomorrow night — an adaptation of Oliver Twist — and the other two have closed by the time you read this. Instead, let me report on a couple of concerts of new music.

    We'd hoped to see the Los Angeles Philharmonic under its newly announced next music director, Gustavo Dudamel; there was an afternoon performance on Sunday, with György Kurtág's Stélé, Mozart's A Major piano concerto K. 488, and Strauss's Alpine Symphony. I didn't want to hear the Strauss; I heard Herbert Blomstedt conduct this orchestra in it years ago, and having walked across a small part of the mountains myself last summer I knew Strauss's view of the terrain was not mine. In any case the concert had sold out long since: Dudamel is a big draw.

    We did however go to a Monday Evening Concert, on Monday naturally, down the street at the Colburn School. On paper it was a fascinating survey of "new music through the ages," juxtaposing 15th-c. music and a Tombeau sur la mort de M. Blancheroche by the 17th-c. Johann Jacob Froberger with new and recent work. In the end the entire concert seemed dead to me, partly because of the relatively unvaried response of its audiencee, enthusiastic about everything it heard, partly because of the monotonous effect if the performances of the 15th-c. selections (which were probably, in fact, the most interesting pieces on the program); mostly because to the ear, if not the eye, the concert program simply didn't make sense — it was a survey, not a composition.

  • Sugar 1, by Michael Maierhof, was a beautifully structured sound-piece for piano trio, the three instruments widely separated, Eric km Clark's violin and Erika Duke-Kirkpatrick's cello primarily playing at the extremities of their dynamic and pitch ranges, the gifted percussionist Amy Knoles using various methods to find similar scraping, white-noise sounds on the exposed strings of the piano. Sustained sounds, or sounds marked by slow, softly-articulated repetitions, alternated with general pauses whose durations were obviously carefully determined. I thought of Scelsi, occasionally of Xenakis, rarely of John Cage. I would like to hear the piece again.
  • Dialog Ûber Luft, by Vinko Globokar, struck me as a silly piece, played by accordionist Teodoro Anszellotti (for whom it was composed) with conviction and fluency but ultimately little more than a divertissement.
  • Bone #, by Keiko Harada, was an enchanting piece for kalimba (the African "thumb piano" also known as mbira) and violin, seemed longer than necessary, or not long enough; it ranged discursively through a number of fascinating techniques and ultimately went away without really leaving a memorable effect. Movses Pogossian played sweetly, scaling the violin toward an accompanying role; Kuniko Kato brought a percussionist's dexterity and precision to the many ways Harada stipulated the kalimba be sounded. I'd hear this piece again, too.
  • Anzellotti returned to the stage for his own arrangement of the Froberger — not entirely successful, I thought, the accordion lacking the crispness Froberger's music seems to call for — and Sequenza XIII (chanson), by Luciano Berio. Berio's music is stonger than Globokar's: both more expressive and structurally more persuasive. But Anzelotti minimized the distinction, repeating in small the problem that seemed to characterize the evening in large.

    I write the above after having read the review, by Mark Swed, in the Los Angeles Times. I know and like Mark and was saddened by his comments, which seemed to skim the surface of the concert. It's worth noting that the online version of his review is followed by a very thoughtful response by Barbara Moroncini. The Times is in trouble, as are most daily newspapers, and I hope whatever emerges to replace it and them as public media will continue to make such exchanges accessible.

    LAST NIGHT WE RETURNED to downtown Los Angeles, this time to the new Frank Gehry Disney Hall, to hear a "Green Umbrella" concert, produced by the new-music wing of the Los Angeles Philharmonic. This was a complete success: solid and attractive pieces chosen to illustrate a theme — and, like the Monday Evening Concert, serving to initiate a season. Again, the audience was large and enthusiastic: but in the larger, acoustically persuasive but visually distracting Disney Hall they seemed somehow less automatic, more discerning than they had Monday night. (There was probably considerable overlap.)
  • Sequenza V, again by Luciano Berio but this time for solo trombone, was fluently and efficiently performed by James Miller, who wore a Grock-style outfit (odd hat, big shoes) to emphasize the score's pathos.
  • Joanne Martin's performance of excerpts of John Cage's Sonatas and Interludes for prepared piano struck me as a bit mannered — unnecessarily "expressive," like Mitsuko Uchida's Mozart, counting too much on hushed dynamics and legato touch, rather than letting the notes make their own point. But the music was played accurately and the piano sounded effectively, though I'm not sure it was accurately prepared according to Cage's instructions.
  • Kontra-Punkte, by Karlheinz Stockhausen, was played with extraordinary beauty and accuracy, as I recall the score (I'd stupidly forgotten to bring it along). Pablo Heras-Casado conducted the ten instrumentalists in a supple, expressive, beautifully contoured and paced performance; the instrumentalists, all from the L.A. Philharmonic, brought attentiveness and true ensemble musicianship to the job. This was the piece that had attracted us to the evening in the first place: it's a real masterpiece, in Stockhausen's view in the root sense of the word, and should join the standard repertory. Only one cavil: I'm not sure the instrumentalists should be encouraged to leave the stage one by one, as their contributions to the score finish their courses; some events can be left to subtlety.
  • Gyôrgy Ligeti's Aventures and Nouvelles Aventures took up the second half of the evening, again in a perfectly proportioned realization. Heras-Casado conducted; the vocalists were Kiera Duffy, Marry Nessinger, and Eugene Chan; the seven instrumentalists (flute, horn, percussion, harpsichord, piano, cello, contrabass) were again from the LA Phil's New Music Group. As in the Berio, pathos, humor, and drama all emerged recognizably without ever falling into sentimentality; the final significance of the music was its clarity and limpid beauty. It'll be interesting to read Swed's review tomorrow.
  • Tuesday, December 02, 2008

    Le Marteau sans maître


    I'VE BEEN MULLING OVER this music for a couple of months now, Pierre Boulez's cycle Le Marteau sans maître; I write about it today quite unprepared — for one thing I can't recall where I put the score — but under some urgency, as a performance is scheduled next Monday in San Francisco, and it doesn't hurt to call some attention to it.

    (Alas I won't be able to hear it: I'll be in Los Angeles.)

    I've been thinking about the piece because of a strange string of coincidences. Six or seven weeks ago, just before we left on a longish trip to Italy, we had dinner with a couple of friends in Healdsburg. Richard gave me a little bundle wrapped in paper, a cube whose proportions looked oddly familiar. At the bottom, tied to the package but not within its wrapping paper, was a booklet. The package turned out to be a stack of identically proportioned miniature scores in the familiar Eulenberg yellow covers, mostly standard-rep pieces. The "booklet," however, was the first edition of the miniature score to Le Marteau sans maître.

    Even more exciting, it had Gerhard Samuel's signature on the cover; and inside its pages I found the program to the performance he conducted in Berkeley, at the University of California, in 1962. I had heard that performance: the exotic sounds and elusive construction of the piece had been an epochal moment in my awakening to music. Without exaggeration I would have to say that that concert, with two others — an all-Webern concert, also at UC, a few years earlier, and a Cage-Tudor concert in San Francisco a couple of years later — was what led me to music.

    Not having a recording of Le Marteau sans maître on hand I turned to the Internet, downloading the Lorelt re-release, with mezzosoprano Linda Hirst and the Lontano ensemble conducted by Odaline de la Martinez. I listened to it casually two or three times before leaving for Italy in late October.

    I just listened to it again, this time in a different context: a letter arrived today from another friend who writes about Debussy and Berlioz and the impact on their music — as he suspects — of their language, whose supple scansion imparts a completely different sound, or aural mentality, I might say, than that of Germanic composers of their time. Douglas is particularly keen on this subject: he's spent a number of years investigating the metrics (and melodics) of classical Greek poetry; his Latin is also up to subtle investigations; and he loves the free expressivity of the poets of those languages, so unlike the dum-de-dum (as he puts it) of poets working in English and, especially, German.

    I think, but have no reason to — undoubtedly this is sheer projection — I suspect that Boulez composed this music poised between contemplation and invention, but always with the sounds of his ensemble and the sounds of Char's poems at the front of his mind. Since we're overstating cases, let's not be afraid of bold generalizations: the Germanic mentality is fond of measuring things, and drawn to substances; the Gallic mentality is more likely to contemplate things, without touching or manipulating them you might say, and is drawn to surfaces.

    (I suspect there's a lot to be discovered in considering the intersections of the Greek-Roman and German-French dualities, two scales whose opposite ends declare changing allegiances to those of their counterparts. But I'm not going further with that at the moment.)

    If you don't know Le Marteau sans maître, you're not going to hear it, or for that matter learn much about it, here. You have to hear it. The nine sections, totalling a little over half an hour, set for various combinations an ensemble of only six musicians (voice, alto flute, viola, guitar, vibraphone-xylorimba, percussion), has a supple, lyrical, sinuous, glittering appeal; the composer György Ligeti called it "feline."

    The music is relentlessly complex on the page. I telephoned Anna Carol Dudley, who sang it in that 1962 performance, and she confirmed there'd been at least fifty rehearsals. She spoke of the music as being unnecessarily difficult on the page: it goes by so fast, and has so many notes and such complex rhythms, that in the end an audience can hardly know whether a performance is accurate or not.

    But that has nothing to do with listening to the music. It is, instead, a testament to the composer's attitude toward craft, to his procedure, and his awareness of his historical moment as it intersects with his own individual responses to the material he's working with — those six musicians and René Char's Surreal poems.

    Le Marteau sans maître is the subject of an unusually intelligent and attractive discussion on Wikipedia. (Wikipedia's entry on Boulez is equally intelligent.) Tony Haywood contributes a thoughtful review of the Lontano recording on the Internet, too, geared more to the layman; Wikipedia's extensive source citations will lead the really curious researcher much further.

    Le Marteau sans maître was influential in its day, half a century ago; more so in Europe, of course, than in the United States, where "difficulty" is quickly evaded. One of the ironies of the world of concert music is that the standard repertory of Beethoven and Brahms has been hammered into popularity by the music press; the same forces have sneered at the complexities of Modernist music from Schoenberg to Stockhausen, and recoiled from what it sees as the eccentricities of "mavericks" from Satie to Scelsi.

    A gullible public has been trained to mistrust and dislike the music it rarely has a chance to hear. A week of Le Marteau sans maître, the Modern Jazz Quartet, a little bit of Gerry Mulligan and even Chet Baker, early Stockhausen pieces like Kontra-Punkte (which I'll hear next Tuesday in Los Angeles) and Refrain, and Cage's music from the mid-1940s through the 1950s, and anyone with an open mind and a receptive ear would be persuaded that this music is, in fact, the Debussy and Satie of our own time (or a decade or two ago). We've been deprived of a great deal.

    Sunday, November 30, 2008

    Rae Imamura 1945-2008

    YESTERDAY WE ATTENDED a memorial service for Rae Imamura, the Berkeley pianist who died eight days ago of a brain tumor very recently discovered. Rae was a fine musician and a remarkable woman, dedicated to her students and to the music she played. She was particularly dedicated to contemporary music, which she served with fidelity and egoless intelligence.

    The service was held at the Buddhist temple on Channing Way, where her father had been an officiant for many years. It was quite moving, beginning with chant, moving through three songs sung by the Rockridge Choir which Rae often accompanied, and reminiscences by two friends, and ending with incense burning and flower tributes.

    There were a lot of people there, from the Japanese-American community — Rae was born in a relocation camp in September 1945 — and from the music world. I had a short conversation with her sister Hiro, who pursued a considerable concert career of her own.

    I was moved especially by Rae's caretakers, who sang with the choir; and by remarks by two of her close friends, Janet Woodhams and Andrea Yee, who spoke of Rae's loyalty and humility and humor. And moved, too, by hearing recordings, at the end of the service, of Rae's performance of some limpid, clearly written two-part music, maybe Beethoven bagatelles, I'm not sure; very sure, elegant, no mannerisms at all.

    Fifteen years ago Rae asked if I had anything for piano that would work in just intonation. One piece, I told her, and a piece I've never heard played at all; Three Pieces for Piano, written in the winter 1963-64. She played them on a wonderful program, with Charles Ives's "Concord" Sonata, at Annie's Hall, Berkeley, on an instrument tuned not in equal temperament but to Kirnberger 3. Alas, no recording equiipment was on the scene. The music was splendid in that tuning.

    I told Hiro yesterday that I remembered that when Bob Basart was dying, twelve years ago I think, I produced a radio broadcast of his music. There was one piece he'd never heard, his last one, for solo piano. I gave it to Rae as soon as I got the music, two days before the scheduled broadcast, and she learned it and recorded it at KPFA. I told her the second movement was too fast judging by Bob's indications; he particularly wanted it quite slow.

    "I don't have time to learn to play it slow," she said. "I recorded it on the Disklavier; you can slow the tempo to whatever you want." Bob was pleased. He died a week or so later.
    First you learn the notes
    find the (spirit) behind them
    brush the notes aside

    I have found the way, she said
    good! What is it like? I asked

    I can't tell you now…
    (this is what her friend recalled)
    …cannot find the words

    Monday, November 24, 2008

    Gli Uccelli

    Via Dionigi, Rome, Nov. 23—

    Birds over the Tribunali

    FOURTEEN MILLION STARLINGS doing their exercises in solid geometry, is what I wrote from Rome over four years ago — Feb. 1, 2004, to be precise. That's the only precision here: don't regard the phrase, or any other above or below my name, as factual. The number may be off by quite a bit. They may know no more than I about solid geometry. And they may not have been starlings.

    I've asked a number of people what these birds are called, and only one person has hazarded a guess more specific than uccellini, little birds. Passeri, he said they were called, passeri, because they migrate. At least I think that's what he said; he definitely called them passeri, which my little dictionary tells me is Italian for "sparrow."

    I'm pretty sure, though I'm no birder, that these aren't sparrows. They might not be starlings. I tend to call any small black annoying bird a starling. They act like swifts. You don't see them at first, you only sense they're about to show up; then suddenly there they are, great clouds of them wheeling about in the sky. You stare at them in open-mouthed (not a good idea) wonder. Why do they do this; how do they avoid collisions; what communication exists among them; do they have leaders in any sense.

    We got off the number 280 bus in the Piazza Cavour and saw, first thing, people standing around looking at the sky. We knew why: the bus had come up the lungotevere, the avenue along the Tiber; it's lined with plane trees, and the birds were already lighting among those trees. You could hear them, and you could see their dirty work on the pavement, which is washed daily, I think.

    (You could also see an astounding exhibit of their work on one unfortunate car which must have been parked under that tree for a number of days. If the car were mine I wouldn't claim it until well after the rains have come.)

    The birds have been flocking here to Rome for some time; we first noticed them a couple of weeks ago, when we saw two people in hazmat suits working the Piazza Cenci, down the street from the Argentina. They were brandishing machines that made eerie electronic sounds, in an effort to frighten the birds away from the piazza's trees — a futile gesture, I thought, rather like blowing leaves into the wind: but I suppose it makes work, and maybe there's something particularly sacred about the Cenci.

    I've always enjoyed looking at birds in flight, and particularly like the ever-changing patterns of these huge flocks. Since in Rome one's mind is always straying back to antiquity you can't help thinking of how these avian exercises may have struck the ancients, whether rustics out tending sheep — who, come to think of it, flock, the sheep I mean, not the rustics, pretty much the way the birds do — or whether city-dwellers here in Rome. Birds, of course, were Meaningful; the patterns of their flights, and of their entrails and on their livers for that matter, were useful in precipitating decisions of various kinds, and in foretelling the future.

    The hotel clerk has no idea what these birds are called, but he knows why they're here: Rome is warm, being a city full of burning petroleum products, and has plenty of nice tall trees; Rome attracts these birds from all around.

    C'e un disastro, a man on the street said the other day, It's a disaster, they come every year at this time, they're noisy and dirty, they ruin the passaggiata, you can't walk under the trees, or sit outside with an aperitif.

    I suppose he's right: I certainly don't walk under the trees, not if I can help it. But the displays are beautiful, arresting and beautiful and utterly organic, natural and transient and amazing.

    Thursday, November 20, 2008

    Rome Photos

    I JUST PUT 35 photos taken this month in Rome up on the Web; you can see them here.

    Tuesday, November 18, 2008

    Music in Rome

    Via M. Dionigi, Rome, Nov. 18—

    ROME HAS GIVEN US an amazing variety of music this last week, and it's time to think about it. Monday last — can it really only be eight days ago? — we went out to the Parco della Musica, a complex of concert and rehearsal halls, a fine bookstore dedicated to the arts, and cafés — to hear a concert of Gagaku, of all things. A touring group from Japan performed three items from the traditional repertory and a piece by Toru Takemitsu written for the traditional ensemble.
    Two of the pieces involved dance, one for a solo male dancer, one a duet — if a work involving two men, side by side in indescribably complex and beautiful costume, performing identical choreography, can in fact be thought of as a duet.
    The music was delicious and strange, veering from unison ensemble to various solo instruments, a continuously lyrical, pungent, keening sound, now quiet, now suddenly full-throated, played by reeds, flutes, plucked strings, and percussion.
    The performers knelt on the raised platform, all dressed in formal yellow gowns, very gravely walking in and out with their instruments, meditating some moments before beginning each piece. The concert lasted only a little over an hour; the hall was sold out; the crowd was appreciative and extremely excited afterward.

    TWO DAYS LATER we were at the Rome Opera Theater, in the center of town, a fine small opera house with seven ranks of galleries, to hear Der Rosenkavalier in a co-production with Tolosa. Sung in German, a language I don't know at all, but intelligently supertitled in Italian, Hoffmansthal's book was expressive enough; and Strauss's music was beautifully played by the orchestra and sung by the cast (barring wide vibrato in the first few minutes of each of the three sopranos).
    I don't know any of the cast — it's years since I kept up at all with opera, and in any case I'm sure these were mostly young singers near the beginnings of their careers. The Feldmarschallin and the Rosenkavalier were really quite wonderful; Sophie was fresh and lyrical; Ochs a bit exaggerated, of course.
    Since it was a traveling production the set was fairly minimal: the tedious jokes of the third-act opening were therefore minimized; fine with me. This production was more about age and youth, or perhaps I should say experience and youth, than it was about the clash of court and country.
    Perhaps because the Bellini show was still in mind, this Rosenkavalier seemed unusually philosophical, ultimately both moral and aware: every Moment dissolves into Continuity, true enough; but it's also true this involves Loss. A beautiful, resigned, realistic view of transience; an appropriate subject for this Eternal City.

    A FEW DAYS LATER we moved from the sublime to, well, it wasn't ridiculous, to pure entertainment with a revue in the Auditorium on the Conciliazione, Good Morning Mr. Gershwin. A dozen dancers moved through solos, duets, small ensembles, and full production numbers involving tap, break dancing, hip-hop, comedy pantomime, and jazz dancing, all to (alas pre-recorded) music by Gershwin.
    Behind them a screen filled the huge width of the stage with video projections of the same dancers, sometimes mirroring the choreography on stage, sometimes serving as pure décor, often nude but prettily, not provocatively. The numbers were often but not exclusively comic: one routine involving a sturdy woman eating an éclair might have come straight out of 1920s vaudeville.
    Toward the end, though, the act turned serious, recapitulating the social history of the "Negro" in the U.S. The projections became documentary; the choreography expressing, without ever simply depicting, the emotional quandary of this huge subset of the American population as it was so stupidly and wrongly marginalized.
    Our president-elect was never mentioned or depicted, thankfully: the production was set long before the historic election of two weeks ago. But the evening ended on a note of celebration: the worst of those injustices are far behind us, a Dark Ages of our own time. Again, the house was full; again, fully appreciative — jubilant, in fact.

    LAST NIGHT WE HEARD an orchestral concert: two Third Symphonies, one by Schubert, one by Bruckner; again at the Conciliazione which is now, since we've moved into a hotel in the Prati, our neighborhood hall.
    It's a dry, bright hall, and the Orchestra Sinfonica di Roma is a young, brash orchestra, and while last night's conductor, Lior Shambadal, was neither young nor brash himself he did nothing to tame his brass and timpani players; the resulting interpretations weren't memorable.
    The Schubert was more ponderous than it should have been and the Bruckner was unbearably slow much of the time, as if Bruckner's vast architecture was being examined with a magnifying glass. But what a delight to hear these two composers coupled on a program, and to hear and watch their music being played live! Next week they play the "Unfinished" and two Mahler song-cycles, and perhaps we'll be there again.

    Monday, November 17, 2008

    Bellini: mental perspective

    Via Corsini, Rome, Nov. 15—

    TO THE SCUDERIE the other day, up on the Quirinale, to see a blockbuster show of paintings by Giovanni Bellini, ?1435-1516, an artist who had the luck to live in a time of great change, the intelligence to be aware of that and to respond to it, and the genius to do that in work that continues to seize the intelligence and sensibility of onlookers half a millenium later.
    Giovanni Bellini: Pesaro Altarpiece

    The Scuderie show offered dozens of paintings, beautifully hung and lit in ten rooms on two floors, beginning with the Pesaro Altarpiece, perhaps Bellini's major breakthrough, painted when the artist was thirty or so (his birth date is uncertain). This online reproduction does the work no justice, of course: the first thing you have to know is that it is nearly eight feet wide. In a curious way, thanks to Bellini's mastery of recessive space, as you contemplate the painting the distant landscape gradually becomes its most significant component. It's as if the figures at the foreground and the divinity symbolized by the cherubim above were mediated through landscape, I thought looking at it; and indeed the little pamphlet we were given agreed:
    …here the relationship between divine and human is very nagurtally and simply translated into landscape. A relationship that becomes mental perspective.
    This mental perspective returns in what was to me the most arresting and memorable work in the show, the "Sacred Allegory" of perhaps twenty years later. The painting is arrestingly modern, even ahistorical, bringing to mind such disparate work as Fra Angelico's Annunciation and Degas's Spartan Youths.
    Giovanni Bellini: Sacred Allegory

    Incredibly rich and moving, this painting refers to Plato's allegory of the cave, to pagan times (the centaur barely visible at the right edge beyond the lake), to the Hebrew creation story and Christian legend (St. Peter about to go fishing, left of center), to the progress from youth to age (figures on the right, foreground), and to contemporary times (that timeless woman, left, in the black shawl).
    I don't know what to make of the porcini-like, flying saucer-like apparatus at the upper left corner, but the distant landscape full of architecture, center, recalls by its placement the one in the Pesaro Altarpiece — though more fully elaborated. Oddly, though you don't see it in this reproduction, the classical temple facade with the dark doorway, just above exact center, is the most brightly lit passage in the painting.
    I think Bellini, at least by the time he painted this Sacred Allegory, was not Christian but Hellenistic: I mean, uncommitted, privately, to an exclusively monotheistic, let alone Christian, view of life and nature, individual and society, moment and continuity. The progress of his Madonnas is a fascinating thing to see, and can be seen readily in this exhibition: when again will you ever see the identically posed Detroit and Milan Madonnas in a single room? Painted a year apart from a single cartoon, they show an increasing secularization of the subject. Bellini's view of the Madonna and Child is more about Maternity than theology, I think; the foreboding in the Madonna's face as she considers her son's future is universalized because it is generalized beyond anguish toward contemplation of an inevitable. Birth incorporates death, as the Moment incorporates Continuity, once self-sentiment is transcended.
    I suppose this is what Christianity attempted, two thousand years ago, here in Rome: a mythic apparatus that would appeal to a rising sense of individual self in a society grown insanely complex. As far as I'm concerned, in succeeding at appealing to hoi polloi at the expense of scrapping Hellenistic subtleties of intellect, it lost its usefulness; I suspect Bellini has this in mind late in his career.

    Monday, November 10, 2008

    Peace memorial

    Via Corsini, Rome, Nov. 9—

    Richard Meier's building for the Ara Pacis

    UPTOWN TODAY — I always think of upstream in Rome, toward the Piazza del Popolo, as "uptown", I don't quite know why — to see the first new building in central Rome in eighty years, or something like that: to my taste rather a nondescript flatroofed boxy thing of glass and concrete, next to the Tiber; set on a plaza and backed by a handsome travertine wall down which water sheets into a gutter leading to a clichéd square pool with four rows of four vertical jets. Some like this; I find it a little unsettling — it refers to Rome, of course, with her fountains and piazzas; but it's unlike anything else here, yet insufficiently arresting to justify its irrelevance.

    Oh well: this container is interesting for the thing contained, the Ara Pacis as it's called — in fact not the Altar of Peace, apparently never found, but the cube of a roofless building that enclosed it. The Ara Pacis was erected a couple of thousand years ago to commemorate the Roman pacification of Spain and Gaul, as I understand it: I have no idea what the altar looked like, but its enclosure, say thirty feet square and nine or ten high (I'm guessing), is a thing well worth seeing, even worth commissioning a nondescript new building to protect.

    Inside Meier's museum the first thing you notice is a scale model of the supposed original spatial context, very different from today's. The Tiber makes the same bend, but only three buildings are to be seen on the huge expanse that was then the champs-de-Mars, the training ground for young soldiers: the Pantheon, built in 27 BCE by Augustus Caesar's son-in-law Agrippa; Augustus's mausoleum, which he himself had built at about the same time; and, midway between them but considerably east of their axis, the Ara Pacis, dedicated eighteen years later. (Between the Ara Pacis and the center axis was an horarium, a paved rectangle serving as sundial whose gnomon was an obelisk.)

    Reconstruction of the Campo Marzio, 9 BCE: at left, Augustus's Mausoleum; right, Pantheon; center distance, Ara Pacis beyond Horarium

    Two things are immediately striking about this: first, the apparent emptiness of the zone, given more to Nature than to architecture; second, the location of the Ara Pacis, away from the river and oriented toward the sun — an orientation underlined by the Horarium, designed so that the gnomon's shadow will fall on the Altar at noon on the equinox, as I understand it.
    The deliberate mirroring of the Pantheon, celebrating all the gods, and the Mausoleum, celebrating Augustus Caesar, is unmistakable. I think, too, that the openness of the plan, all that empty grassy field between, reinforces a sensibility that must have been oriented more toward Nature and her spaces, less to the city-dwelling system of "development" and its complex economic, political, and technological structures.
    Augustus was passed off as a god himself, descended from Apollo: after the experiment of the Roman Republic failed it took divine intervention to restore a degree of order and impose a degree of "peace" on society. It must have been important for him to have been seen as something apart from the mass of humanity in the city that had built up to the south, in the harbor and the forum and the apartments and villas surrounding the Capitoline hill.

    WELL, YOU CAN'T put things back as they were two millenia ago, and I suppose this new installation of what's left of the Ara Pacis is a good thing, though the point of the original setting is largely lost, and the Ara itself is missing, and its original enclosure turned 180 degrees from what was intended as I understand it. The fragments that have turned up so far are set into a concrete wall reconstructing the size and shape of the original; missing figures from the bas-relief sculptures are indicated in two dimensions; the entire surround is placed high on a podium. Walking up those steps and entering the enclosure is a solemn kind of experience, quite like entering the Pantheon.
    There are plenty of explanatory panels, in Italian and English, identifying the figures in the reliefs, which portray a kind of parade celebrating the peace Augustus has imposed on those distant colonies. Considerable light falls from all sides, thanks to Meier's glass curtain walls. The sculpture itself is intensely interesting, both for its intrinsic qualities and for its historical significance. (It's hard to think of it colored, though, as it must have been when new; but that's a subject for another day.)

    From the sublime to the ridiculous: We left the Ara Pacis and headed for the Spanish Steps, with the usual Sunday crowds jamming the streets. It was the hour of the passaggiata, that slow amble Italians and other latins, I think) love to take on a sunny Sunday afternoon. Something was heightening the effect, though, and as we neared the Corso we heard a marching band just stepping out of sight toward the Piazza del Populo, enthusiastic children marching along behind it; and then here flew nine fighter-jets low overhead, right up the airspace over the Corso, red, white, and green smoke trailing behind them to lay the national colors out across Apollo's sky. We've largely lost the Augustan context, but human nature continues to respond to his instincts. I suppose it always will.

    Saturday, November 08, 2008

    Shopping in Rome

    Via Corsini, Rome, Nov. 8—

    "Garden" of the Villa Corsini, across from our apartment

    ANOTHER LAZY DAY in Rome, begun with an amble up the via della Scala, through the Piazza Sant'Egidio (whose trees have grown considerably since we stayed there four years ago), through the Piazza Santa Maria in Trastevere, down the via S. Francesco a Ripi to nearly the viale, then up the Natale del Grande, pointing out our favorite shops for pastries, cheeses, salume, household items and the like. Pointing out, too, the Pizzeria da Ivo where we really must eat one of these days, since we both (both couples, I mean) have grandsons named Ivo, and since it is a soccer pizzeria, and Hans is a soccer adept.

    The goal was the Santo Cosimato market, our local market. Last time we were here it was being torn up; now everything's back in order. Not as many stalls, Lindsey said; I disagreed. Finally I asked a saleswoman at one of the stalls: Ci sono tanti banchi come avanti, um, avanti la ricostruzione della piazza?
    The woman looked puzzled, and well she might: my Italian is atrocious. But she figured it out, and said No, not quite as many.
    Mi dispiace sentirlo, I said, I'm sorry to hear it: it means my wife is right, and I am wrong.
    Sempre così, it's always like that, said the smiling woman.

    We bought clementines and bananas and a scarf for me, a nice black one, and Anneke found a carry-bag, and I found a couple of used books. But where was the handsome tall redhead we'd enjoyed looking at four years ago? I approached an unoccupied fish-merchant: There used to be a tall, thin, red-headed guy here—
    He stopped me, waving toward the man we'd bought the clementines from. It's his friend, he said. Yes, he's still living; he doesn't come as often. A contadino.
    Reassured, we turned back down the Natale del Grande toward the viale. Time for tea. More shopping on the street, though: socks, sweaters, scarves, a nice black hat. I always buy my socks from stalls on Italian streets. They frequently give out at the toes after a few wearings, but some of them don't, and they're cheap enough the gamble's worth it.

    We sat out the rain with a cup of tea, then toured San Francesco a Ripi, stopping to enjoy the theatrical lighting of Bernini's nearly obscene Beata Lodovica Albertoni, an amazingly lifelike marble sculpture of a robed woman in ecstasy — spiritual ecstasy, we're assured. I was more interested in a small painting — perhaps a self-portrait? — memorializing Margareta d'Arezzo, a woman who had been a painter of flowers in the mid-19th century. The inscription referred to her as modest, productive, and devout, and she looked so ordinary, so down-to-earth, that I wanted to know her. She, and the funeral whose close we respectfully waited before touring the church, meant more to me than Bernini's virtuosity.

    Mid-day dinner at Alberto il Sardo (described at Eating Every Day); then the tram 8 up the viale, pointing out G.G. Belli's statue at his piazza, to the Argentina to see about concert tickets. Alas, no music these days at the Argentina: but at Feltrinelli's box office we bought opera tickets for next Wednesday; then trammed back to Trastevere to shop a little for our supper.
    Bread and foccaccie at "our" bakery on the via Mora, where I finally made the cold beautiful blond behind the counter smile when Lindsey corrected my Italian: fiore di zucca, not zucchini. Zucca, zucchini, zuccaccia, I said; Sì: tutti corretti, zucche, zucchini, zuccaccie, the woman smiled, and served out our foccaccie and cut a loaf of bread in half, for we buy it half a loaf at a time, warm from the wood-fired oven.
    Up the street, the wrong street, and back to find the right one, and up that one to our little supermarket for a bottle of water and a few rolls of toilet paper and such.
    Past the casual market at the Piazza Trilussa — another Trastevere poet, though not as ribald as Belli: who could be? — where once again Hans did not buy a beautiful black cap though he admired it, and where none of us was interested in the jewelry. Up the via Benedetta past my favorite breakfast bar, but we did not go in for a coffee; it's time rather for a pot of deicious Lapsong Souchong at home. And back to thumb through the guidebooks, to read the e-mail harvested on my pocket computer as we walked past a wifi hotspot, to read a few pages of Calvino, to nap.
    Lazy days in Trastevere.

    Friday, November 07, 2008

    Via Corsini

    Via Corsini, Rome, Nov. 6—

    the via Corsini

    TIME TO WRITE a little about our apartment, no. 10C, via Corsini, Rome. Except for one problem we couldn't have done much better. The apartment is huge: thirty-one meters long, Anneke says, after pacing it off, and nearly five wide, divided into two bedrooms, a big sitting room with two couches and an armchair, two bathrooms, and a nicely equipped kitchen.
    The via Corsini is rarely driven on; across the street from our building is the Villa Corsini's "back yard," a one-acre lawn behind a handsome iron fence and set about with huge palm trees; down to the left, at the corner, past the carabinieri station (which keeps us safe), is the equally handsomely gated entrance to Rome's Botanical Garden, always worth a stroll.
    We're at the foot of the Janiculum hill, and Garibaldi's huge bronze presence above the Garden seems to watch over us. Down the street to the right, the via Lungara would take us straight up to the Vatican, if we only cared to go. Instead we turn the other way, coming in twenty meters or so to the Porta Settimiana, the southern gate in the old Roman wall on this side of the Tiber.
    Across the Tiber: trans tevere; Trastevere. We feel at home. A free wi-fi cafe around the corner on via Dorotea takes away the sting of our apartment's one failure: the advertised Internet connection has never worked. A little further down, my favorite breakfast place supplies organic milk and blood-orange juice and fine breakfast pastries, to be eaten there with Trastevere's best cappuccino or taken home.
    The Ponte Sisto is very close, just at the Piazza Trilusso: it's only a few minutes' walk across the river to the Campo dei Fiori, the via Pellegrino, and, a little further, Piazza Navona and the Pantheon, where the best coffee in Rome (and possibly all Italy, therefore the whole world) is available at Tazza d'Oro.
    The days have been quiet and lazy. There was of course the exciement, muted in our apartment for lack of Internet and English-language television, of the presidential election. Otherwise we've been strolling with Hans and Anneke, taking in the Pantheon, the Piazza Navona, Trastevere, and, yesterday, the Aventine, whose hill I'd not yet climbed.
    Last night we dined at the American Academy, where we first listened in on a little seminar comparing Ovid lines in Latin, English, and Italian translations. I've written about dinner over at Eating Every Day and won't repeat that here: but let me note that after dinner we ventured downstairs to a media room to watch Margaret Fisher's Letters from Duchamp, a video presentation of her work from my opera The Bride Stripped Bare by Her Bachelors, Even, and then her half-hour video Exquisite Corpse, a cut-up of haunting prose, sound, and visual material including actors and documentary footage. I always find Margaret's work supremely intelligent, deep and solid; clearly narrative though never restricted to linear story or fixed plot. Work, I think, for connoisseurs.
    moonlight at the Academy

    We left the Academy about eleven o'clock, walking across the dark dark garden, admiring the moon beyond the pines, then turning down the street, past carabinieri protecting a consulate, across the piazza in front of the silent Fontanone supplying Trastevere's many fountains, and turning down a staircase to find our way home easily. Quiet night; civil town. We feel quite at home.

    Il Mondo Cambiato

    Via Corsini, Rome, Nov. 6—

    WE STOPPED OFF at the edicula on the Piazza Sta. Maria in Trastevere this morning, on our way for a day's walk to Sta. Cecilia and then the Aventine and so on, to buy the historic newspapers. Reppublica had a dozen pages on the election, with articles by Madeline Albright and others, and the complete acceptance speech (in Italian, of course).
    Le Monde also had complete coverage, including detailed results state by state, and a twelve-page supplement into the bargain. And the International Herald Tribune, of course, was not to be outdone.
    Huge photos of the serious or smiling president-elect Obama were on every front page. Surprised in spite of myself I exclaimed to Lindsey: Look at them! Obama everywhere!
    A woman on my other side turned and asked pointedly, in American English, Where are you from? California, I said, Northern California.
    I'm from New Hampshire, she said; We couldn't be farther apart.
    But now we're very close, I said; side by side, in fact.
    She wasn't buying it. I'm afraid, she said, Very afraid. I don't know what is going to happen.
    Are you afraid for his life, I asked.
    I'm afraid of everything, she said. And I believe she was. Her face was nearly rigid with fear; fear sat in her eyes. I didn't know what to say, I'm sorry to report, and didn't think to try to reassure her.

    Her fear does not seem shared by the newspapers. They all report that the world is changed; a new optimism (or at the least realism) is in place; America has reassumed her position of enlightened leader into the new millenium.
    Most curiously, Obama's election, it's widely reported here, has ended racism and finally ended America's Civil War. This is proclaimed in headlines, even adjacent to maps showing most of the Confederacy went red for McClain. It's a little odd to be here at this moment; we wonder what the mood is really in the States, the mood among those voters, nearly half of them, who voted against Obama, the ones who voted against equal rights to marriage.
    And I continue to wonder if democracy can work in a culture that replaces education with propaganda, paid advertisments, and trivialized "information" elicited and published by a press whose chief role seems to be entertainment.
    We elected the right president, I think, and we seem to be giving him the support he'll need in Congress. Western Europe is clearly behind him one hundred percent. Perhaps this has been the turning point; perhaps now America will address social problems internationally and at home as just that: problems, to be recognized, analyzed, and dealt with intelligently and practically, not from an ideological program. Let's hope so.

    Friday, October 31, 2008

    The flight from I Mandorli

    Apeldoorn, October 31—

    TOO SHORT A STAY at I Mandorli early this week, sharing its pleasures with our friends Richard and Marta; but this is a trip with a social purpose, and we flew up to The Netherlands yesterday.

    We'd driven from Monferrato to Bergamo on Thursday. What a drive: we took the wrong highway at Alessandria, forcing a turnaround and losing twenty minutes; then the wrong toll-gate at Milan, winding up in the dreaded town of Rho where I'd been stopped by a traffic cop twenty years ago: another loss of twenty minutes.

    That meant we were no longer following Richard and Marta, and had to find our way to the day's destination using a description that misled us. Get off the autostrada at Casella Bergamo, it said; so we went past the Bergamo exit, expecting Casella Bergamo to be next. It wasn't: Seriate was; so we went on. We took the next exit, though, and a good thing we did: "Casella" turns out to mean, simply, "exit." I'm going to look more closely into this later; I suspect casella is more like "tollgate"; uscita remains legitimate Italian for "exit": but I could be wrong.

    Phone calls, small roads, traffic congestion; and finally we pull up in front of a café and wait for the hotel to send someone to lead us into Trescore Balneatico, an odd little suburb outside Bergamo, where we spend the night at the Hotel al Torre. We'd spent half an hour finding this hotel the night before, consulting a 1997 Michelin Guide we found in the breakfast room at I Mandorli. Bergamo was indicated, because we fly out of here: it's the third airport of Milan these days, much used by cut-rate airlines like Ryanair. We'd have preferred staying in the old city of Bergamo itself, fascinating and dedicated to good eating — little birds (thrushes) with polenta being only one of its delicacies — but the hotels are full; there's a feria on, a business show of some kind; Milan and Verona and Bergamo are dedicated to these big commercial expositions; in a way trading and trade fairs have kept northern Italy and central Europe busy since the Amber Route days.

    The hotel turned out to be quite nice, with an inviting garden, a pleasant bar-café, a comfortable big bedroom, and an acceptable restaurant; and Trescore is only twenty minutes' drive from the airport. Bergamo Orlo e Serio, as the airport's called, is small and accessible once you figure out the car-rental return (always an airport problem, it seems) and deal with the improvements being made (ditto), and yesterday's flight to the equally provincial Dutch city of Eindhoven was smooth and quick.

    From that airport, a bus ride was enlivened by a small accident when a little delivery truck pulled out in front of us, earning its German driver a sober lecture (delivered in Dutch) from our driver. Oh well: no harm done, though it was unsettling; miglior qui che giù, better here than up there, said the Italian fellow next to me who'd shared our flight from Bergamo, pointing up toward the heavens.

    Train to Utrecht; change to train to Amersfoort; change to train to Apeldoorn, all quick and efficient once you figure out which platform you need. Low-roofed Dutch houses; open Dutch pastures; orderly rhythmic lines of Dutch elms in the fading autumnal light. I ignore the industrial complexes, the endless clusters of huge new apartment-building suburbs, the occasional heap of scrap metal or concrete awaiting orderly recycling. Italy is delightful and cluttered, like the shouted conversations of the Italians in the airplane; The Netherlands, here in the east, away from the big cities, is delightful and serene. We feel at home, wherever we are.

    A few days in Monferrato

    I Mandorli, Cardona di Alfiano Natta, October 28—
    WE FLY THIRD CLASS, excuse me, "Coach." Though I stand six feet tall my legs are a little short; I'm not disfigured, I like to think, just a little long in the waist; in any case my legs don't mind the cramped airplane seat on a reasonably short haul, say nine hours.

    This, though, was not a short haul, and we were lucky to be boosted into "Business Class." I'd never realized what a difference it makes. The flight from San Francisco to Milan began well enough, a smooth ride halfway across the States to JFK where we'd change planes. Over the Great Lakes, though, the weather began, and by the time we were approaching JFK it was pretty rough.

    We circled so long waiting for weather to clear enough to land that fuel was running low, so we touched down at Dulles, Washington D.C., to refuel; then, after more delay, flew on up to JFK where we landed in the roughest weather I've flown in, fishtailing our way down the slick runway.

    We were four hours late, and the Milan plane had left, of course. There wouldn't be another until the next night, so we were put on an oversold flight to London, where British Airways would pick us up for the short hop to Milan. We had no seat assignment, and were not given one at the gate. Don't worry, we were told; we'll page you.

    We waited. Boarding began. Passengers were paged. Standbys were seated. We were left waiting.

    I went back to the desk, where the clerk drew me aside with a conspiratorial air, beckoning also to Lindsey. She whispered, as if afraid others would hear: We have two seats in Business, but they aren't together. Will they do? Yes, I assured her, and we finally boarded, to be greeted by a glass of Pommery, a menu offering various meals, white and red wines poured from real bottles — and, best of all, noise-cancelling headphones, and a seat that reclined fully. I haven't slept so soundly in years.

    Arrived finally at Milan Malpensa, nine hours later than expected, we found our baggage had not accompanied us. We were not the only ones, of course, many Milan-bound passengers had missed flight 198 out of New York. Niente a fare, nothing to be done about it: we got into our little rented Panda and drove here to Cardona, in one of my favorite corners of the world, to I Mandorli, where though we'd missed Sunday dinner's bollito misto its soul was awaiting us: see Eating Every Day.

    The weather has been foggy, autumnal; the colors muted and deep though subtle. White truffle weather; knit sweater weather. Richard and I took an hour's walk to the next town, Alfiano Natta, along an unpaved country road past modestly imposing farmsteads, big sturdy buildings that are homes at one end, haymows and corncribs at the other, with elegant brickwork and molded stucco decorations, and beautifully tended gardens whose lawns are set about with pines, elms, poplars, cypresses.

    The days are devoted to conversation at breakfast, drives in the country, conversation at lunch and dinner, and the occasional fretfulness at missing baggage.

    Ah! Here it is! The poor deliveryman had been detained by little "incidents", foggy weather, and mystification at the many hamlets and winding roads here in Monferrato. Did I mention the telephones (and therefore Internet) have been out for days, victim of a mouse attack on the trunk line?

    Wednesday, October 22, 2008

    Nassim Taleb and his black swans

    LAST WEEK I WROTE about Nassim Taleb's book The Black Swan, forgetting to steer you to an interesting online review here. Then last night on the McNeil News Hour who should show up, at the end of the show, but Mr. Taleb himself, in an interview with the News Hour's sometimes determinedly entertaining economy commentator Paul Solman. Even more striking, exciting really, Taleb was joined by the man he claims as mentor, Benoît Mandelbrot.
    For ten minutes they talked about Taleb's book and the economic crisis. The interview was both fascinating and disturbing; I wish it had been an hour long. Fortunately PBS does a good job of making itself available: you can read the transcript, listen to or download the audio track, or watch the streaming video of the interview on the PBS webpage.
    Not to be overly dramatic, but Taleb and Mandelbrot say that this crisis may well be the greatest disturbance since, not merely the Great Depression, but the American Revolution. Citing the incredible complexity of the global economy, they see the entire apparatus to a chain reaction of unknowable effects. As Taleb explains:

    You may have chain reactions we've never imagined before. And these come from the intricate relationships in the system we don't understand.

    PAUL SOLMAN [turning toward the 84-year-old Mandelbrot]: You've been around a lot longer than we have. That's possible. Is it likely?

    BENOIT MANDELBROT: Well, we don't know the probability. We don't have enough knowledge. We don't have enough information. We don't have enough reliable information on data which are not published. I mean, I sleep better, perhaps, than Nassim, but I don't sleep very well.

    Sorry if I've disturbed your sleep.

    Wednesday, October 15, 2008

    "Values," abstraction, accumulation, chaos

    FOR SOME TIME NOW I've wanted to write about a fascinating book read last month, Nassim Nicholas Taleb's The Black Swan: the Impact of the Highly Improbable (New York: Random House, 2007). Alas, I read it from the library, and did not take notes; I won't write about it in any critical detail here. (There's an extended discussion of the book online.)
    Briefly, it's Taleb's point that history is the litany of convulsive unexpected events punctuating daily predictability. (It occurs to me that The Blog is a convenient analogy.) The title refers to the scientific and philosophical certainty, going back to Aristotle, that swans are white, a black one being exceedingly improbable — a certainty convulsed by the discovery of black ones when Australia was "discovered" in the 17th century.
    Taleb uses analogy and metaphor to propel his book, analogy and metaphor and above all humor; and he does this so well that one races through it where one should stop and consider, take note and perhaps demur.
    Another bird metaphor intrudes: his Turkey Narrative. The turkey, according to Taleb, assumes that tomorrow will be just like today, someone will come and feed it as has happened every day of his life. The turkey does not suspect that final morning, when instead of being fed he'll be sent to slaughter.
    As you might have suspected, The Black Swan is largely about Wall Street. It is also an assault on the idea of the Bell Curve, on the notion that Experts Are Infallible, on The narrative fallacy which, according to the Wikipedia discussion referenced above,
    refers to our tendency to construct stories around facts, which … may serve a purpose, but when someone begins to believe the stories and accommodate facts into the stories, they are likely to err.

    and on the division of information among the categories Known knowns, known unknowns, and unknown unknowns.
    That last will sound familiar to those whose memories go back to the early days of the present Iraq war. I always thought in not amusing that Secretary Rumsfeld talked about "unknown unknowns"; it seemed a perfectly legitimate concept to me. Turns out that Nassim Taleb was a consultant, on occasion, to the Department of Defense. Indeed he writes, in The Black Swan, of a brainstorming session he attended in Las Vegas, of all places:
    The symposium was a closed-doors, synod-style assembly of people who would never have mixed otherwise. My first surprise was to discover that the military people there thought, behaved, and ated like philosophers… I came out of the meeting realizing that only military people deal with randomness with genuine, introspective intellectual honesty—unlike academics and corporate executives using other people's money. … the military collected more genuine intellects and risk thinkers than most if not all other professions. Defense people wanted to understand the epistemology of risk. (p. 126)

    TALEB REFERS TO HIMSELF as a "skeptical pragmatist," a phrase I like; and divides the world we live in into two mental constructs: Mediocristan, "the province dominated by the mediocre, with few extreme successes or failures," ruled by the bell curve; and Extremistan, "the province where the total can be conceivably impacted by a single observation," like that of the final arrival of the turkey-farmer. His book goes a long way to suggesting reasons for the institutional failure of the market this year, and indeed the statistical near-certainty that such failures will happen. Another publication, much smaller and less public, discusses a different philosophical approach to the problem: Money and the Crisis of Civilization, an essay by Charles Eisenstein published at Reality Sandwich, an online forum-magazine-construct so visually cluttered I haven't had the desire to explore it further.
    I am impressed, though, with Eisenstein's essay (and thank Richard Burg for sending it to me). It explains the paper credit crisis very clearly (perhaps too simply, economists might object), and then comes to a startling conclusion. The entire affair is of course a gigantic Ponzi scheme (here again Wikipedia is entertaining): moreover, Eisenstein suggests, the entire history of capitalist economy is a Ponzi scheme, and the current crisis is another in what may be the death throes of capitalist economics as we've known it for the last century or so.
    The startling conclusion is that Capitalism has very nearly eaten itself to death. The problem lies in the conversion of Things to Money. Money originated as a token of a pledge, an object to stand for the promise to pay in the future, with a service or a product, in return for a temporary loan symbolized by the token: a shell, gold, a slip of special paper, whatever.
    Eisenstein recites the dismal litany of Things sacrificed, one after another in the several centuries of capitalist history, to the conversion into Money — which had gradually grown from token of delayed repayment to retained "Wealth":
    Essentially, for the economy to continue growing and for the (interest-based) money system to remain viable, more and more of nature and human relationship must be monetized. …
    The crisis we are facing today arises from the fact that there is almost no more social, cultural, natural, and spiritual capital left to convert into money. Centuries, millennia of near-continuous money creation has left us so destitute that we have nothing left to sell. Our forests are damaged beyond repair, our soil depleted and washed into the sea, our fisheries fished out, the rejuvenating capacity of the earth to recycle our waste saturated. Our cultural treasury of songs and stories, images and icons, has been looted and copyrighted. Any clever phrase you can think of is already a trademarked slogan. Our very human relationships and abilities have been taken away from us and sold back, so that we are now dependent on strangers, and therefore on money, for things few humans ever paid for until recently: food, shelter, clothing, entertainment, child care, cooking. Life itself has become a consumer item. Today we sell away the last vestiges of our divine bequeathment: our health, the biosphere and genome, even our own minds. This is the process that is culminating in our age. It is almost complete, especially in America and the "developed" world. In the developing world there still remain people who live substantially in gift cultures, where natural and social wealth is not yet the subject of property. Globalization is the process of stripping away these assets, to feed the money machine's insatiable, existential need to grow. Yet this stripmining of other lands is running up against its limits too, both because there is almost nothing left to take, and because of growing pockets of effective resistance.

    WHICH LEADS ME TO the phrase in today's subject-line. I think of this latest crisis, the one centered on the Global Economy and its collapse (though no doubt to be set right temporarily by the infusion of money promised, yet again, by an unknowable Future), as more evidence that contemporary social life is accelerating itself to death. Matt Matsuda writes about this in his book The Memory of the Modern (Oxford University Press US, 1996):
    One key, recurring word explains all: acceleration. Pierre Nora begins Les Lieux de mémoire under its sign: "The acceleration of History: let us try to gauge the significance, beyond metaphor, of this phrase. An increasingly rapid slippage of the present into a historical past that is gone for good, a general perception that anything and everything may disappear." As History accelerates, the "lieux de mémoire" are designated sites which defy time's destroyer, the places of commemoration where memory anchors the past. My studies, rooted in the biology, technologies, and political economy of the late nineteenth century are somewhat differently oriented: they attempt to approximate Henri Bergson's understanding of memory as action and transformation. In looking to shattered monuments, financial markets, high-seed machines, and the nervous system, my subjects are not the memories preserved from an accelerating history, but histories of accelerated memory, subjected to the dramatic rhythms of an age.

    (Think of Francis Ponge's note, in Soap, that that (French) literary device the momon is typical of late historical eras in which rhetoric, dying, turns on itself; Ravel's La Valse is a good example.)
    If we're indeed in a "downhill slide," acceleration is as inevitable as gravity; putting on Henry Paulson's brakes will generate a lot of heat, very little light, and only somewhat slow the collapse of the monetary economy. So what should we do? In Taleb's words,
    Snub your destiny. … You stand above the rat race and the pecking ordere, not outside it, if you do so by choice.
    Quiting a high-payiing position, if it is your decision, will seem a better payoff than the utility of the money involved… (p. 297)

    And in Eisenstein's:
    Individually and collectively, anything we do to resist or postpone the collapse will only make it worse. So stop resisting the revolution in human beingness. If you want to survive the multiple crises unfolding today, do not seek to survive them. That is the mindset of separation; that is resistance, a clinging to a dying past. Instead, allow your perspective to shift toward reunion, and think in terms of what you can give. What can you contribute to a more beautiful world? That is your only responsibility and your only security. The gifts you need to survive and enjoy will come to you easily, because what you do to the world, you do to yourself.

    I THINK IT'S OUR endless tendency to evade the immediate that gets us into trouble, whether the evasion is prompted by boredom, distaste, laziness, or greed. It has something to do with our apparently also innate tendency to abstract and generalize, to categorize. Obviously it's useful to do that; it makes it possible to sort things out, to lay things aside for future use, to communicate concepts effectively (if not always truthfully) by using analogy and narrative. The problem is that it's so easy to forget that that's what you're doing, that you're dealing with not the thing but the idea of the thing. The Industrial and postindustrial ages have accelerated the extend to which the concept, the idea, has displaced the thing, the real. Profit-based economy is in a state of near-terminal confusion about this, generating commodities sold and bought for their code value, conceiving and generating services serving artificially generated needs.
    When Senators Obama and McCain are asked what they will do about the economy they tend to talk about taxes, bailouts, jobs, mortgages: all of them very important politically. Lately Obama has also been talking about government kicking the economy by addressing infrastructure repair, which sounds a lot like a WPA effort: if so, good, say I: that was an triple effort aimed at improving the economy, employing the out of work, and providing for the community.
    In the last analysis much of what I've been calling vaguely "the problem" results from the detachment of details from the context in which they exist. Money from an economy; concept from a reality; profit from an exchange; individuals from society. And, increasingly, it seems to me that this kind of detachment grows exponentially — accelerates, in fact — in a society whose numbers increase unsustainably, resulting in greater pressures of various kinds, and the temptation to turn against one's society, one's community, for sheer survival (as one thinks), rather than to trim one's individual sails, turn away from the accumulation of wealth, and take an appropriate place within the world as it is.
    As the turbulence accompanying this process, and generated by it, continues, the things that truly matter to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness are overcome by an accelerating accumulation of complexity leading to chaos. I hope the next Administration will think about these things. Perhaps the Department of Defense can give the departments of the Treasury and of Health and Human Services some pointers.

    Wednesday, October 08, 2008

    The Late Mattia Pascal

    LAST MONTH, CASTING ABOUT for a book to read while visiting in Portland I picked up an early novel by Luigi Pirandello, whose short stories entertained me fifty years ago or so, and whose plays have always fascinated me — though opportunities to see them actually produced have been far too rare.
    (An important exception to that was The Imaginists's Tonight We Improvise, seen in January 2007 in a marvelous production.)
    I hadn't read his novels, though, and was unprepared for this. Written in 1904, preceded by at least two earlier novels, The Late Mattia Pascal is clear, entertaining, thoughtful, nostalgic, as complex as you want to make it, accessible, and a quick read. I won't give you the plot; you can find it summarized here: it's enough to report that Mattia Pascal has the luck to be found dead even though he is in fact on what Algernon Moncrieff called a Bunbury. The novel concerns events as they play out during Pascal's second life, and climactically as he returns to the scene of his apparent suicide.
    I suppose it's only because of the time and place their authorship shares, but The Late Mattia Pascal made me think of Italo Svevo's novels and plays, and of Alberto Moravia's novel Gli indifferenti; there's a similar meticulous lassitude, shared by Pirandello and his character I think. The precision of Pirandello's descriptions of Pascal's awareness is really quite wonderful; you might think of Henry James, but a very efficient James.
    William Weaver's translation seems fluent and expressive, placing the novel in its time but holding the 21st-century reader's attention. I'm sorry I now have to return the book…
    Luigi Pirandello: The Late Mattia Pascal. Translated and with an introduction by William Weaver. 1995: Marsilio Publishers, New York

    Does he really want to win?

    WATCHING THE PRESIDENTIAL DEBATE tonight, and thinking about it afterward, I suddenly begin to think it's possible McCain doesn't really want to win the election — or at least doesn't really care that much about losing. Do you remember his saying at one point that he'd rather lose an election than sacrifice a principle? (I paraphrase; I don't have an exact quote at hand.) Clearly he would have had to have gone on the attack in the debate to reverse his ebb in the recent polls, and he's stated at various times that he wasn't going to engage in that kind of campaign.
    I think that statement was not disingenuous, even though his campaign, if not he himself personally, has turned to character attacks — certainly his vice-president pick, Sarah Palin, has done that. But in the debate tonight, McCain really didn't. I think he can't bring himself to that kind of conduct in live real time, and of course the physical presence of Obama would have had a sobering effect.
    Don't get me wrong: I don't think McCain's any better a man than he needs to be, and I certainly don't give him points for consistency, let alone fidelity to principle. But I wonder if, faced with the recent polls, the overwhelming economic disasters, the difficulties shaping up on the international front, and his age and perhaps his physical condition, he doesn't really mind not winning. Perhaps his main point all along was to revise and reshape his party, not to be president. Perhaps he came to some kind of awareness when he told his party he wanted Joe Lieberman for vice president, and the party told him no. Perhaps the Palin choice was a challenge, not to the Democrats, but to the Republicans.

    Monday, October 06, 2008

    Further on flarf

    FLARF IS A WORD new to me; I found it yesterday, in the course of reading further, among the many comments posted to Ron Silliman's blog, about Issue 1, the huge "anthology" of "poems" that included one attributed to me. One of Ron's commenters referred to it as a "fauxthology," a word I like.
    "Flarf" apparently refers, originally, to a specific kind of writing: poems — let's beg that question for the moment — generated by a computer routine that trolls the Internet for source material and then, using various algorithms, chops up the material it finds and reconfigures it into lines with the appearance of poetry.
    There's lots to like here, beginning with the neat trick by which the figurative "net" of the Internet is used to sieve material on the Internet.
    Recursiveness. Matt Matsuda, I think it was, suggested that our culture like all previous cultures will die of acceleration: but our own culture's death will result, I think, from an accelerated recursiveness, and flarf may be a straw in the wind.
    In any case it's a procedure with an honorable source going back to the cut-ins of William Burroughs and, beyond them, to the "random" generation of literature by Marcel Duchamp, of art by Hans Arp. It's inevitable that the literature of our time would be spelled with the double "l" of litter; Joyce got to that one in Finnegans Wake.

    Flarf is automated Oulipo, and that's a contradiction in terms; surely any real Oulipo outcome must proceed from deliberateness. Perhaps the ouvroirs of potential literature — or should it be translated "literary potential"? — are taking over the consciousness of the workers within; perhaps that's what interconnected computers are doing to us all.
    Fine with me: let bots do their mindless thankless work all they like; if some of the result is amusing, or poignant, or possibly even provocative, so much the better. But there's more to this affair than simply flarf.

    Issue 1 has resulted in metaflarf by activating a sizable community; many of its 3,164 "contributors" are apparently readers of Ron's blog, or have been mentioned in it; and the sixty-odd comments that have appeared so far on his complaint about the fauxthology amount to flarf criticism, in both senses of the term.

    While I've never been a fan of the concept "intellectual property," which sounds to me like a contradiction in terms, there are two things about a completely open public domain that bother me. One is the possibility of one's own work being forwarded or distributed inaccurately — with errors, whether deliberate or not, attributed to one's original work. The other is the possibility of one's own name being attached to things one has had nothing to do with, as is the case with Issue 1.

    In this case, or at least in my own case, no harm done: no one would remotely think of me as a poet, or of the "poem" reproduced here yesterday as something I would or might have written. But if I were a poet, as Ron Silliman (to name only one of the thousands of "contributors") is a poet, then a casual reader may easily have made that mistake, and formed an opinion of the poet completely outside the poet's ability to influence. This, it seems to me, is an intolerable situation; it goes beyond hoax in the direction of fraud.
    So I revise my feeling of yesterday that Ron goes too far in his anger with this event. His outrage is justified, and the perpetrators of the event can't be excused with the explanation that their work is art. I've never before been comfortable with the idea that artists, however outrageous their work may seem, are hoaxers. But then I've never before had to deal with anything quite as postmodern as this event seems to be.