Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Words and Music

John Barth's short story, "The Night Sea Journey" from Lost in the Funhouse, is a strange little allegory that plays empty when inspected. As Bill mentioned earlier, the Heritage that's supposed to be passed on , in this instance, is only a grab bag of superstition, speculation and teleological gossip.  Substituting , presumably, a species of human fish for Christians and System-locked beings in general, we have a neat inversion of the collective self-denial that keeps a system working, churning.

It's a system here, a faith system pegged on the need to keep the population swimming to the unreachable Shore, that has all questions about existence channeled back to the anonymous need to keep the population treading water in the dark: we get traces of a theology that once might have sounded glorious, an ideology that might have once cast the future as bright and on dry land, but the disillusionment with the process is heard, the skepticism comes forth. It becomes nothing but a process for process sake: exhaustion, which Barth has used a key term in some of his essays on the problems of fiction narrative, hear becomes the theme of things being done for their own sake, unchanged to the conditions that exist at the margins of a self-perpetuation lexicon. The promise that the swimmers hold out, after the poetry of their plighted is played out, is that all will be well when they reach the shore, is revealed as bunk: it is a promise that will be kept only in the dark, when one is still blind, thrashing about.


The Hours works because author Michael Cunningham doesn't try in any obvious way to assert a connection between the women, other than a tenuous connection with Woolfe and her novel, Mrs. Dalloway. It's the skillful use of the stream-of-conscious the connects the stories, really, the women and their time periods, the way in which the on set of depression and slowly inhibiting despair is explored in the ways that these women think about the world they live in.

Family, duty, loyalty to others, all the things that the characters have to be loyal to and whose cause the central figures argue for, are seen to come into a continuing conflict with personalities whose centers are eroding, slipping into darkness. Like Woolfe, Cunningham continually deploys the facts and the images of the external world, a sign that the alert mind is struggling to stay engaged with the world, but we see these images become abstractions, mere definitions , blurry and meaningless as the corridors get darker, colder.
Applying this to Woolfe herself, as a character, was a brilliant touch, perhaps critiquing the notion , the myth that one may write their way out of a chronically dour state. In any case, this trio of tales is delicately rendered, and the author's touch here is sure, if not invisible.
Corea Concerto: Spain for Sextet and Orchestra
--Chick Corea w/ the London Philharmonic Orchestra featuring Origin (Sony Classical)

The word "pretentious" comes to mind, as well as "waste", in so much as Corea, one of the surest and most ingenious musician/composer talents alive, takes one of his most perfect compositions, "Spain" and elongates into a series of "movements", no doubt meant to explore new ideas, poetry, impressions. What he has here is near unrecognizable from the original, except when the orchestra kicks in with some obligatory figures: the improvisations from Corea and the worthy members of Origin are tentative at best--they sound like they are sitting next to insane wrestlers on a crowded bus-- and the piece, long, shall we say, stops and goes with no real dynamic emphasis or emotional wallop delivered, or even hinted at in the foreshadowing. Corea  should have known betterought to know better; he can certainly do better.

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