This book is dedicated to my family;
to my mother to and my father
and to the memory of my grandmothers
with all of my gratitude for their consistent love and support





I. The Opening 7
Creation 8
2. Sense, Sensation and Sensuality 10
3. The Breath of Life and Living Souls 15
4. Form 22
1. First Symphony 37
3. Third Symphony: Making Themes 70
4. Fourth Symphony: The Elements of Style 84
5. Fifth Symphony: The Applications of Style 98
III. Work and Play; Play and Work 106
1. Man as Maker: Function and Play 107
2. Jump-man 115
3. Additive Functions 142
4. A Traditional-Technical Festival! 158
5. Comix 175
IV. High Definition 189
1.The House of Memory 190
2. Function 193
V. From Form to Darkness; Void to Form 238
1. Tempered Definition 239
2. Upon a Midnight Dreary 243
2. Philia 272
3. “Love” and Marriage 281
4. A Long Time Ago, In a Galaxy Far, Far, Away 288
VI. Suspending Disbelief 300
1. Litany and Mass; Song and Soul 301
2. Fraction 317
3. Anti-phon 319
IV. Nostromos 334
VII. Fiction 351
1. Deceptive Ways 352
2. “Small Asks” 360
3. The American Dream 366
4. Alternative “Justice” 371
VIII. A Drowsy Numbness 377
I. Links 378
2. Applications 380
3. Inspiration 384
4. Opera and Operation 388
5. Hell 403
The Work of Making 429
2. The Heart of the Ocean 432
3. “Crimes of Art” 436
4. Morbid Resemblances 442
5. Prophets of Doom 450
X. Time and Traditions 456
1. Vanity of Vanities 457
3. Abortive Neologisms 463
4. “Political” “Art” 465
5. Killing Time 474
1 . Optics 482
4. Ode on a Grecian Urn 484
5. Truth is Beauty (at Least) 489
XII. Beginnings/Rites of Spring or Being Reborn 497
1. Populism, Socialism, Communism and other Common Goods 498
2. Democracy 504
3. The State of Affairs: A Report 517
4. Tribal Rule(s), Rights and Rites 522
5. The Autocratic State (Spring Awakening) 527 I. The Opening





























I have chosen to write this book in the form of twelve lessons. As a composer, I am familiar with the form of the “music lesson” as a one-on-one experience between teacher and student. The practice of musical composition involves making something (a musical composition). The act of making (or creating) is true of all the arts. The composers’ version of a teacher-student relationship is one where an experienced craftsman instructs an apprentice. The purpose of this book is not to compile lectures but to impart lessons.

My intended audience is as wide as possible. I have discovered that the only way to learn about art is by looking at how art is made. This is why I will draw away the curtain that mystifies the creative process in the only way that it can be done: by demonstrating the creative process. In this sense, the lessons contained in this book are poetic lessons and not philosophical or abstract ones. The fact that all the concepts and works explored in this book are approached through demonstration means that the ideas I am imparting are be accessible to all.

These lessons will examine several works of art from various artistic disciplines. It is my sincere hope that poetic inquiry will provide my reader with a process which can be used to explore further artistic works independently of this book. While these lessons follow in the footsteps of artists who have provided a study of poetics to their students and audiences, it is important to point out that my volume contains something new and, unfortunately, necessary. My poetics will be accompanied by what I can only describe as an exploration of an emergent “anti-poetics” that will be of concern to all human beings.

At it’s core, this book explores two things: construction and destruction.

I do not intend these lessons for students of the arts. These lessons should not be seen as my work or my personal perspective. The reader will quickly find that an array of important artists from cultures and traditions that span the globe and much of human history are represented. Some of these artists are those who have played a part in my body of work as a composer while others represented have not. Anybody who is concerned with humanity will find much to gain in the lessons contained within this text. My only request is that the reader approach the topic with as little prejudgment as possible and with as much trust in themselves and in their common sense as they can muster.

It has been over two decades since I took my last composition lesson. The moment I ceased to be a student was, however, a different moment from my graduation from Conservatory. At first, I followed as my works were played side by side with the works of my teachers (men and women of international regard). This excited me but it was quickly followed by the realization that I needed help. My music was spreading to places that lay well-beyond my immediate community and into the broader world of major orchestras, prime-time broadcasters, large theaters, top-tier record labels and big concert halls. I was unable to keep up with demand for my music and so I sought out a publisher and was promptly and happily signed.

I was now represented by the company that published music that I cherished; songs like Waiting For A Train, Will The Circle Be Unbroken, You Are My Sunshine and Georgia On My Mind. At the same time that my music joined the roster, they were also releasing songs that I would come to know and love. These included Katy Perry’s “Firework, “Rhianna’s “Umbrella” and “What’s My Name”, Beyonce’s “Single Ladies,” Put A Ring On It Rascal Flatts’ Banjo, Nick Jonas’ “Jealous” and Jason Aldean’s “Night Train.” When I realized that I was being represented by the same people as those who had made the good decisions to sign the appealing songs above, I was delighted. This delight sprang from the notion that my musical craft would now be complimented by men and women with enough good business acumen to have made the choices that they had made in selecting the songwriters above. I’d be able to focus on my work in the knowledge that my labour would be in the hands of people who would take care of the logistical work (including publication and distribution) that is required in order to shepherd any music to the audiences that would like to receive it. The composition of music is a full-time job; one that I cannot do without. But I am equally passionate about the communion with my fellow human being that happens when my music is played to audiences. It is my nature to view the art of music on the one hand and the act of communicating through and with this music on the other hand as a single act.

I was quickly informed, however, that my music would not be able to encounter the same number of people as my songwriter colleagues above. These publishers had found themselves caught in categories which defined the work they believed in and often did so in arbitrary ways. The delineations of genres which very often were created for good purposes had devolved into inherited and rigid outlooks that the best publishers (some of whom I have had the pleasure of working with) found themselves fighting to break.

Ralph Sylvester Peer, an American talent scout who was born in the 1890s and died in 1960, is often credited with “creating” a genre of music called “country music.” This genre can easily be seen as antithetical much of what is intuitive in music but, consider for a moment that Mr. Peer could easily have continued to record and promote music which was familiar to everyone (and therefore not in need of a “genre” (which is, at best, created in order to tell people what they are getting themselves into when they buy an album by a previously unknown talent). Peer had a job a Columbia records which he could have developed into a lucrative career for himself.

Instead, he dove into activities like making “field recordings.” In 1923 he took remote recording equipment down south to Atlanta, Georgia and recorded the music of Atlanta outside recording studios in such places as hotel rooms, ballrooms, or empty warehouses; whatever worked. Mr Peer loved this music and he wanted to share it. That, far from an arbitrary division of music into genres, is a placement of music first and foremost with the genre in the background as a way of getting the music into people’s hands.

The way in which genres are perceived, however, by a lazy critical and academic snobbery (people who, unlike publishers, had no “skin in the game” nor did they need to make anything — great publishers pride themselves on the quality of the recordings and scores which they produce often working with producers of great artistic merit in their own right in order to present the music they love in the best possible light). I have had the good fortune to work with truly excellent producers.

Among these people are names of men and women who’s work can (and should) be explored. These include Judith Sherman and David Frost as well as my first teacher, Gunther Schuller who, among his many other activities, excelled as a record producer and publisher of music which he loved and gave me my first proper recording in that capacity. These individuals work in a manner that akin to the best film-editors and directors, painstakingly helped me to realize the best possible recordings of my music that they could realize on recording.

These “recordings” are anything but “recordings.” They are put together through a painstaking process of artfully selected takes and laboriously mixed and mastered through in a loving process (there should be a poetics written on the art of record producers).

In school, I had the history of the great publishers recounted to me but it was not until I studied the promoters of these histories in contrast to the publishers (as they actually exist in the “real world”) that I realized that the perception of genres had done more than simply attempt to sort music into “teachable” categories. Over centuries of operation, they had managed to invent an entirely new genre of their own (one which was very separate in intention and explanation than the genres that Ralph Peer referred to when he spoke of “Country Music”).

My music, it was decided from my earliest days in the conservatory, was to be destined for the “classical division” of a publishing house (if I was lucky). The concept of my music fit in perfectly with the music of this conceptual “classical division.”

This was a way of saying that my music is too long and complex for “ordinary people” and that these “ordinary people” would simply not understand what my work was about if it was given to them. The worst part of this is that the mentality of writers and academics seeped into the actual publishing houses and influenced outlooks (even though these outlooks were counterproductive to business as well as the ability for publishers to take full joy in the works they published).

The songs I loved, from You are my Sunshine to Single Ladies were popular and therefore would please people. My compositions, on the other hand, were there to be respected by people. I was “serious.” The categorizations seemed like a birdwatcher’s approach to spotting birds. It was naturalistic Nor were the categories unique to this publisher. They represent an industry standard that does not address the human-to-human way that I understood that my music as well (as all the music above and much of the music I adore) actually conveyed itself to other people. On first listening, my music is meant to pass from the heart to the heart. My mind immediately turned to those audience members who told me that my work had moved them and I decided that , with or without meaning ill, the arbiters of this industry had adopted an approach more suited to a naturalist than a human being regarding the work of another human being. I was told that my work was simply too high-minded and that is why it “could not reach millions of people” (the last six words were expressed: “could not sell millions”). An assumption was made (on the basis of a system that I understood as unnatural and counterintuitive) that my music, which I worked so hard to make for my fellow human beings, simply could not reach millions because it was above them.

I firmly decided to bet against that assumption. I have since built a major career and reached those millions by betting against those assumptions.

Mine was not a courageous or “visionary” bet but simply an assertion of common sense. I was lucky to find many parters in the publishing houses and at record labels who shared in my perceptions of this simple good sense strategy: give people that which you love and make with care; make your work well and always make it with integrity. People like nice things.

As the months and years went by, I started to see my music spread wider and cross continents. It was moving to experience my music in the great concert halls of the world. These are places I could only read about from a great distance when I was a child composing my first song at the age of seven.

As the time of writing these words, I have composed a body of over a hundred musical works. These include symphonies, operas, instrumental music and songs that have been performed on storied stages like Carnegie Hall as well as on recording. I have also composed works that are specifically intended to be experienced by a television audience. One such work, for the BBC, was composed for the talents of Shakti Mohan (a famed Indian Bollywood dancer and actor), the American String Quartet (a highly-regarded chamber music ensemble) and David Krakauer (a clarinetist who has championed the Klezmer style of Jewish Ashkenazi music). This dance composition has been aired (in it’s entirety) to over 70 million viewers who continue to reach out to me enthusiastically. My first opera, Sumeida’s Song, was sold out in it’s New York run to an audience of millennials even though I was once told that those of my generation were especially averse to “serious” music. I forged on and made over a dozen recordings. One record executive, a lady by the name of Elizabeth Sobol, who headed a major label (Universal Music) believed in the enduring value of what she called “classics” as well as the non-genre oriented nature of what makes a classic. She followed her heart and invested in music which she loved. Through a rigorous partnership with her and her team, I became the youngest composers to be represented on the world’s oldest and most decorated record label (Deutsche Gramophone).

Sobol loved the work; she took pleasure in it. In an age when “major” executives were faceless figures, she showed up to the recording sessions and spoke passionately and eloquently of a “return to language.” Ms. Sobol treated the work she was making with love and it showed because people could tell that they were being offered music in a manner which was sincere. The album (Follow, Poet) rushed to the top of the charts on Amazon and iTunes.

In addition to all this, I happily followed up my first opera with more than one evening-long work of music-theater and several dance pieces. These works opened to warm crowds in the largest theaters on three continents and were received by sold out houses in nations across the world that seem to share little in terms of language, culture and custom.

Despite all this, I continue to encounter the ideas that were popular among the music less invested executives and “businessmen.” I have found these individuals to be a counterweight to the majority of professionals. They treated genres as more than a marketing device or a system of sifting; they believed in their own predictions and unilateral judgments.

I will dissect these ideas in the hopes of demonstrating how they function as a type of salesman of the human soul in which the role of Judges of Humanity has been creative by combining soul-peddling with the most abusive strands of criticism and the most misguided academic reductions of human feeling and spirit into attempted formulas for study. I have seen these individuals put their ideas to work and I wish to show their behaviors to the reader in a series of case studies because of their attitude of judging whether on not human beings are entitled to art or smart enough to receive art. I have seen them pretend to make these surreal judgments (judgments that involve the most fundamental operations of the soul) on behalf of every one and anyone. The present reader would do well to include themselves among those whose worth of humanity is being decided by means of committee, Nielsen ratings, Sales Charts, demographic data or some other method that obviously has nothing to do with the person in question.

Finally, I will draw on specific examples that bind these ideas together. I will identify practices and behaviors that are commonplace. We will see how the same behavior appears in public forums. Across disciplines and across a huge variety of cultures, nations and individual people, I will ask the reader to focus on the unifying behaviors that I will show as occurring over and over again. I beg for the reader’s indulgence throughout this text. Though I hope that the repetitive explorations of how art is made will be enjoyable, I have found that the repetition is vital to understanding any artistic practice or work of art. This results in a longer text. I will also present the ideas of my fellow artists from the past and present as full thoughts. The truth is that brevity is not always helpful or virtuous. A longer text is much more worthy of the reader’s time than a shorter text in which many ideas are convoluted and folded to meet a certain word count and give the reader the impression that they are getting “all the information they need” as offered in a quick “one-stop shop.”

I have come to understand how destructive this anti-poetics can be to the general attitude of human beings who come into contact with such ideas.


2. Sense, Sensation and Sensuality

In 1939, Aaron Copland, one of America’s most imaginative (and widely beloved) composers wrote a book called What to Listen for In Music.

In his book, Copland sought to offer any music-lover the insights into musical form that musicians grasp as part of their profession. He did this in the hopes that his readers would gain an access with which to engage with the art that he loves on a more rewarding level (one that Copland himself enjoyed and took for granted). He was motivated by the desire to share.

Copland’s music requires no explanation. Everything that Copland composed should be engaged with fearlessly. His treatment of Shaker melodies in a 1944 ballet called Appalachian Spring will move anyone with a pulse. A choral setting of the opening chapters of Genesis (ending on an ode to the breath of life) and his rowdy composition of intense rhythmic motion in an evocation of a rodeo from another ballet (Billy the Kid from 1938) is as close to being at a Wild West shootout as I’d like to come.

Copland’s book is helpful in explaining how composers make music and includes explanations of elements of musical style (he identifies “melody, rhythm, harmony tone color”) as well as how composers apply these elements into larger forms (among others, he talks about “sonata form” and “theme and variations”). I raise Copland’s book because of a problem which exists in Copland’s idea of how people listen to music. By breaking down the issue at hand, I am hoping to launch into the main part of this text. He identifies three “planes” on which he believes that people engage with music:

“The simplest way of listening to music” says Copland, “is to listen for the sheer pleasure of the musical sound itself. That is the sensuous plane. It is the plane on which we hear music without thinking, without considering it in any way. One turns on the radio while doing something else and absentmindedly bathes in the sound.”

The presence of a poetic metaphor that is, in fact, meaningless outside of the realm of poetry is indicative of a problem that we will be addressing throughout this book: that of definition. One cannot, of course, “bathe in the sound” unless we are extending poetic license to a book that is not a book of poetry. This raises the question of what, precisely, Copland’s book can be described as. It is a combination of philosophical thoughts on music (such as the “planes of listening” that we are considering here) and poetics (the elements and forms that he explains later). The “planes” cannot be demonstrated while the forms can be demonstrated. This is not to say that Copland is wrong in his description of “planes of listening” but simply to suggest that this introduces an opinion on the part of the author to which one could add many other opinions.

“The second plane on which music exists” continues Copland “is what I have called the expressive one. Here, immediately, we tread on controversial ground. Composers have a way of shying away from any discussion of music’s expressive side. Did not Stravinsky himself proclaim that his music was an “object,” a “thing,” with a life of its own, and with no other meaning than its own purely musical existence? This intransigent attitude of Stravinsky’s may be due to the fact that so many people have tried to read different meanings into so many pieces. Heaven knows it is difficult enough to say precisely what it is that a piece of music means, to say it definitely, to say it finally so that everyone is satisfied with your explanation. But that should not lead one to the other extreme of denying to music the right to be ‘expressive.’”

Here Copland refers to Stravinsky, another composer whom we will encounter over the course of this text and a towering figure in 20th century composition. Stravinsky. Copland’s slackness in rendering Stravinsky’s words offers us an opportunity to clarify our first (and important definition): poetics.m

Let’s start with taking a look at Stravinsky’s words themselves. In his Poetics of Music, Stravinsky tells his students at Harvard in 1938:

“I shall not forget that I occupy a chair of poetics. And it is no secret to any of you that the exact meaning of poetics is the study of work to be done. The verb poiem from which the word is derived means nothing else but to do or make. The poetics of the classical philosophers did not consist of lyrical dissertations about natural talent and about the essence of beauty. For them the single word techne embraced both the fine arts and the useful arts and was applied to the knowledge and study of the certain and inevitable rules of the craft. That is why Aristotle’s Poetics constantly suggest ideas regarding personal work, arrangement of materials, and structure. The poetics of music is exactly what I am going to talk to you about; that is to say, I shall talk about making in the field of music. Suffice it to say that we shall not use music as a pretext for pleasant fancies. For myself, I am too much aware of the responsibility incumbent upon me not to take my task seriously.”

Poetics comes from the word poiem which, as Stravinsky points out, is a verb which describes an action: to make. The only way to talk about making in music is through musical means. We make music, in other words, by making music. Two important clarifications must be made to Copland. First: Stravinsky does not say that music is an “object” or that it expresses nothing. Rather, he is offering that music is music and that it follows that music must express itself through musical means. All concrete musical expression in music is purely musical.

The Second point is that Stravinsky does “allow” for the “expressive plane.” Copland identifies two extremes which we should break down now. “Heaven knows” he says “it is difficult enough to say precisely what it is that a piece of music means, to say it definitely, to say it finally so that everyone is satisfied with your explanation. But that should not lead one to the other extreme of denying to music the right to be ‘expressive.”

Copland implies that Stravinsky endorses his second extreme, that of “denying to music the right to be ‘expressive.” Stravinsky does no such thing even on Copland’s “creative plane.” When Stravinsky says that he is not intending to “use music as a pretext for pleasant fancies” he is allowing that this is a possibility. He correctly sees this individual act of interpretation as inappropriate in the context of a lesson in which he is called upon to discuss the making of music. Copland’s first extreme, where one can “say precisely what it is that a piece of music means, to say it definitely, to say it finally so that everyone is satisfied with your explanation” is not an extreme but an impossibility. This impossibility applies to all the arts and is an eternal impossibility.

The impossibility owes itself to the fact that Copland’s “second plane” engages the perception of the listener, audience member or anyone else who is engaging with the artistic product in question. As long as there are individual human beings in the world, each individual will have their own mind, imagination and their own individual sense of perception. This is at the root of human individuality. One person listening to Beethoven’s 9th Symphony or reading Edgar Allen Poe’s poem, The Raven will conjure up different nuances of environment, imagery and meaning (among other things) from another. There’s nothing wrong with this, of course. It simply cannot be addressed objectively or taught to others because it is inextricably linked to the personal experience of the individual.

“The third plane on which music exists” continues Copland, “is the sheerly musical plane. Besides the pleasurable sound of music and the expressive feeling that it gives off, music does exist in terms of the notes themselves and of their manipulation. Most listeners are not sufficiently conscious of this third plane. It will be largely the business of this book to make them more aware of music on this plane.”

Copland now proceeds as he has written, with a book that seeks to make people aware of musical elements of music that composers deploy as techniques in designing and executing their works. To this extent, What to Listen for in Music is a valuable text. Copland’s misunderstanding of Stravinsky’s words warrant corrects but it must be kept in mind that even Copland’s “planes” cannot be said to be decisively “wrong.” They are rooted in his individual perception and seem to be expressed honestly and with good intentions at heart. There are many other “planes,” though; as many as there are perceptions and thoughts within people (an infinity of thought-possibilities within billions of people). But Copland’s “planes” are helpful to us in another way.

If we look at Copland’s “first plane” and strike out the bathing metaphor, we are left with this:

“The simplest way of listening to music is to listen for the sheer pleasure of the musical sound itself. That is the sensuous plane. It is the plane on which we hear music without thinking, without considering it in any way. One turns on the radio while doing something else and absentmindedly bathes in the sound.”


Having taken out the metaphor (which belongs to the “plane” of individual perception in any case), all that is left is to define the word “sensuous” since that is how Copland describes the first plane. Here it is:

adjective: sensuous

relating to or affecting the senses rather than the intellect.”the work showed a deliberate disregard of the more sensuous and immediately appealing aspects of painting”

attractive or gratifying physically, especially sexually.”her voice was rather deep but very sensuous”


Which makes this first plane (characterized as a primitive, almost narcotic, sort of brainlessness) the equivalent of what Copland considers the most sophisticated:

“The third plane on which music exists is the sheerly musical plane. Besides the pleasurable sound of music and the expressive feeling that it gives off, music does exist in terms of the notes themselves and of their manipulation. Most listeners are not sufficiently conscious of this third plane. It will be largely the business of this book to make them more aware of music on this plane.”

Considering the primary definition of this word we can now understand how the “third plane” which is music as music goes hand in hand with the senses. Experiencing music through the sense of hearing music requires us to experience it as music. That means the application of the two musical elements (pitch and rhythm) to make music that will be played on various instruments (this is where timbre comes in) all of which can be played in one of two ways: by activating sound vibrations by air (breathing) by striking (hitting, plucking, frictionizing) the instrument.

It should be apparent how profoundly simple things can be if reduced to their most elemental creative cells. It should be no surprise that the simplest way of listening to music is also the most truly engaged on a purely musical level.

Copland’s definition of the “first plane” is heavily tilted to the secondary definition above (attractive or gratifying physically, especially sexually) as eliciting a pleasure that is seductive and evocative of a narcotic or orgasmic euphoria. Copland confirms these suspicions in the rest of his discussion of the first plane:

“A kind of brainless but attractive state of mind is engendered by the mere sound appeal of the music.

You may be sitting in a room reading this book. Imagine one note struck on the piano. Immediately that one note is enough to change the atmosphere of the room—proving that the sound element in music is a powerful and mysterious agent, which it would be foolish to deride or belittle.

The surprising thing is that many people who consider themselves qualified music lovers abuse that plane in listening. They go to concerts in order to lose themselves. They use music as a consolation or an escape. They enter an ideal world where one doesn’t have to think of the realities of everyday life. Of course they aren’t thinking about the music either. Music allows them to leave it, and they go off to a place to dream, dreaming because of and apropos of the music yet never quite listening to it.

Yes, the sound appeal of music is a potent and primitive force, but you must not allow it to usurp a disproportionate share of your interest. The sensuous plane is an important one in music, a very important one, but it does not constitute the whole story.”

In the chapter immediately following this one, I will do exactly as Copland suggests and demonstrate the strike of a single note on the piano and explain what follows. Copland tells us that the presence of this sound will affect the atmosphere in a way that serves to “prove that the sound element in music is a powerful and mysterious agent.” I intend to follow up on this task in order to prove that the “sound element of music” (ie the pitch produced by the one note struck on the piano) is indeed a powerful agent but certainly not a mysterious one.

Though Copland uses the the word idiomatically and intuitively, I would like the reader to remember the word “story” as it appears at the end of the paragraph quoted above.

Finally, Copland’s derision of the first plane as a kind of brainlessness indicates that we must exercise our intellect in order to engage with art. He confirms this at the end of the entire book with this final paragraph:

“Music can only be really alive when there are listeners who are really alive. To listen intently, to listen consciously, to listen with one’s whole intelligence is the least we can do in the furtherance of an art that is one of the glories of mankind.”

It is Stravinsky’s statement on this that turns out, the clearest and most pointed. “The word artist” he points out, “as it is most generally understood today, bestows on its bearer the highest intellectual prestige, the privilege of being accepted as a pure mind this pretentious term is in my view entirely incompatible with the role of the homo faber.”

And then Stravinsky goes on to clarify the crucial matter at hand. A person cannot simply “think” and, in so doing, define himself as an artist. Art requires, by definition, the artist to demonstrate his or her thoughts through a creative act which makes them material and manifest so that everyone can perceive it (or sense it). “If it is true that we are intellectuals,” explained Stravinsky, “we are called upon not to cogitate but to perform.” He also points out the essential point of how new the concept of “artist as exalted and mysterious magician” is when he reminds us that “the Renaissance invented the artist, distinguished him from the artisan and began to exalt the former at the expense of the latter.”

This last point, it will be seen, is not a matter of abstract philosophical wandering. The following chapter will clarify the definition of art in simple terms. Imagination should not be confused with art because imagination alone is nothing to anyone other than the individual imagining the things that he or she is imagining. Imagination without a concrete surface sensual form is imperceptible and, simply put, has not been communicated by the “imaginer” in any way that would render his thoughts perceivable by other human beings. Artists must render their work concrete and perceivable through making sound, initiating motion, creating an image, sculpting wood, evoking an image, smell or anything else through the use of words or through any other perceivable form of expression.

Stravinsky goes on to explain the need for anything new to be found. As human beings, we must realize that everything we will make must be rooted in something that exists and that we perceive through our senses or through the divination of our mind. We must then go on to work our thoughts out and make them concrete. That concrete thing, whether a bed, a symphony, a video game, a lamppost, a tyre or an oil painting is the work of art. Here is Stravinsky’s explanation:

“Invention presupposes imagination but should not be confused with it. For the act of invention implies the necessity of a lucky find and achieving full-realization of this find. What we imagine does not necessarily take on a concrete form and remain in a state of virtuality, whereas invention is not conceivable apart from its actual being worked out.”

In the course of my labours, I stumble upon something unexpected. It strikes me. I make note of it. At the proper time, I put it to profitable use. Fancy implies a will to abandon one’s self to caprice. The assistance of the unexpected is quite different, it is a collaboration immanently bound up with the inertia of the creative process, heavy with possibilities which are unsolicited and come most appositely to temper the inevitable over-rigorousness of the naked-will.
“In everything that yields gracefully, there must be resistance”. – G.K Chesterton.

Stravinsky then goes on to address the dismissal of sensory pleasure that we saw from Copland as he extolled the “glories of mankind”:

“An accident is perhaps the only thing that really inspires us. A composer improvises aimlessly the way the animal grubs about, seek things out. What urges of the composer is satisfied by this investigation? The rules with which, like a penitent, he is burdened? No: he is in quest of pleasure. He seeks satisfaction that he fully knows he will not find without first striving for it.”

Consider what Stravinsky is telling us here: “The very act of putting my work on paper, of, as we say, kneading the dough, is for me inseparable from the pleasure of creation. So far as I am concerned, I cannot separate the spiritual effort from the psychological and physical effort; they confront me on the same level and do not present a hierarchy.”

He tells us that subjects which exist in the mind and the physical realization of those subjects are one of the same as far as art is concerned. Those ideas or subjects must be made into tangible things (objects; artistic “works”). Since making a work of art obvious prerequisite of art but I am not pointing this passage simply because this point is important to make nor am I quoting it because of the fact that it’s vitality will become increasingly apparent with the repetition of it and the observation of it from different angles. Consider the words which I have underlined above. The creative act of making something into an object could involve the creation of something as “useful” as a table or as “art-for-the-sake-of-art” as an oil painting but the object itself is secondary to the creative act itself. Regarding the creative act as a pleasure is something that human beings will respect as long as they are not destructively inclined or inclined toward chaos and the causation of disaster.

When we come to the exploration of the examples of “anti-poetics” (which I’ve outlined will be part of my “lesson plan” for this book) I hope that the examples impress a sense of urgency that we undertake this exploration and inquiry seriously not as a matter of intellect or speciality but as a concern to any life-loving and peace-loving human beings.

Stravinsky continues to tell his students that “If everything is permissible to me, if nothing offers me any resistance, then any effort is inconceivable, and consequently every undertaking becomes futile.” This should be noted since one of the recurring behaviors of those who assume the anti-poetic attitude I’ve described will be seen to be the “futility of everything” theory that would have all human learning, creation, enterprise and exploration (as well as the joy we derive from these things) be rendered pointless before we begin.

Stravinsky starts to introduce form to his students in this way:

“Will I then have to lose myself in the abyss of freedom? To what shall I cling in order to escape the dizziness that seizes me before the virtuality of this infinitude? However, I shall not succumb. I shall overcome my terror and be re-assured by the thought that I have the 7 notes of the scale and its chromatic intervals at my disposal, that weak and strong accent are within my reach, and that in all of these I possess solid and concrete elements which offer me a field of experience just as vast as the upsetting and dizzy infinitude that had just frightened me.
It is into this field that I shall sink my roots, full convinced that combinations which have at their disposal 12 sounds in each octave and all possible rhythmic varieties promise me riches that all the activity of human genius will never exhaust.”

I will show mathematical proof of the inexhaustibility of these roots which Stravinsky describes and I ask the reader to keep his unwillingness to succumb in mind as we explore examples of the “abyss of freedom” which says that art has no relation to design nor is it reliant on form, order or any rules whatsoever. The “virtuality of infinitude” is a formlessness and void that those who despise creation would like to induce resulting in the compulsion of all others so share in the lack of form that would come if we inhabit the darkness that preceded the birth of light and it’s consequent gift to us of recourse to being able to define reality and our relationship to one another and to everything we see or perceive.

“So here we are,” says Stravinsky, “in the realm of necessity.” He is advising his students to heed his lessons regarding poetic construction and the making of music.“Talking about art as the realm of freedom is an uniformly widespread because it is imagined that art is outsides the bound of ordinary activity.”

Throughout this book, I will show examples of persons advancing destructive ideas. One of the most destructive of these is the notion that art is outsides the bound of ordinary human activity. As the reader considers these examples, I ask that the simple premise behind this idea be taken seriously. What does it mean to believe that the human act of creating, constructing, making, adding or any other act that is positive or poetic is outside the bounds of ordinary activity? What are the consequences of preemptively accepting the notion that all construction is preemptively futile? I hope that the readers will consider the questions independently of any thoughts regarding religion, morality or legality or even decency. Consider the notion that human beings are only within the bounds of ordinary human behavior when they are being destructive or, at the very best, doing nothing at all.

Finally, I will give examples that show how my own work proceeds and what happens when I stumble upon an accident and find something that is true hiding in plain sight. When that happens, I am consumed by inspiration and a sense of euphoria. I work like an excited child. This is because what I have seen is true and I work tirelessly to demonstrate it as true. I don’t do this in order to prove myself to anyone or in order to satisfy ego or wallet. The communion with my fellow human beings that I hoped my publishers would understand as inherent to my humanity as it was to anybody else regardless of dollar sign is born out of an intense love that I have for true and beautiful things. I desire to share them with all around me that I labor with such intense devotion and excitement of a puppy who has found the most beautiful toy with which to play and proceeds to want to share it with everyone who will play with me.

Engaging in an act of artistic creation doesn’t guarantee it’s maker any sort of sublimity or even passibility in terms of quality or essentiality to human civilization. In the following chapter, I will define art and will proceed to demonstrate that there are no guarantees of sublimity, truth, intellectual exultation, immortality or any other sort of success, fame or transcendence that comes with making art. I will demonstrate this through examples throughout history and by diverse artists and I will not rely on vague abstractions or perspectives borne of my personal convictions or individual perception. I will show that the intellectual prestige or “goodness” lavished upon art is an illusion in cases of art has been made to be useful as well as art which has been made to demonstrate a thought or that art which is simply made for the purpose of pleasure and play. No matter the intent of the artist in making the art, I will show that sensitivity, observation, work and the application of work in realizing the creative act holds greater power than anything one might say about one’s thoughts, intellectual designs or intentions. The Emirati artist Mohammed Kanoo delighted me with a 2012 exhibition at Dubai’s Meem Gallery. The exhibit, titled Fun with Fen (“Fen” is the Arabic world for art), captured the sentiment I am expressing through a bold calligraphic statement in which calligraphy, an artistic discipline whose centuries of exquisite visual realizations were lent to some of the most ornate and sophisticated poetry in the Arabic language was purposed to bluntly spell out the line: “Don’t tell me. Show me.”

3. The Breath of Life and Living Souls

Artistic discipline is clearly defined and must be demonstrated through example (l will be demonstrating through concrete example as my primary way of “showing”). Each also expresses what is unique to itself and, while combinations of artistic disciples are common and can yield positive results, the mixing of poetics between one and the other has been shown to be a pointless exercise that yields failed or illusory results.

Shigeru Miyamoto, the creator of video games that have defined the craft in the relatively new history of this new artistic discipline recounted the creative work that emerged from the early 1980s (the period that saw the creation of the Nintendo Entertainment System as well as now-classic arcade games such as Donkey Kong, Mario Bros and for the newly created gaming system, Super Mario Bros). “It was at this time,” says Miyamoto, “that I became involved in the development of the Nintendo Entertainment System, which offered us an environment outside of the arcade for which we could create games. We put higher priority on developing two hand-held controllers rather than a single, ultrafunctional controller to open the door to games like baseball and Mario Bros. With the NES, the business of selling game play time transformed completely and evolved into the business of simply selling game play.”

The idea of creating “story” was not anywhere near central to the poetics of creating the now-classic games of the 1980. Just as music must be perceived by hearing it and visual arts by seeing the works, the video game is an art form with which the audience interacts through motion. The definition of this artistic discipline will be examined (with examples) in the following chapter. For the time being, I’d like to limit my definition to demonstrating the source of confusion. The fact that video games involves the movement of images on the screen has causes a lot of conflation between this art form and motion pictures. Video games are an artistic discipline that involve the player (audience member). This player interacts with the game through the use of a controller that causes the image or sound or other perceived object to change in some way pertaining to the simulation of motion. Video games and movies both have “moving pictures” but those are superficial similarities rather that don’t account for the techniques required for production in both disciplines.

While movies are bound and locked to time in a way that cannot be corrupted without pausing the experience, video games are reliant on the interaction of the player with the controller or another such motion-controller or device in order to simulate motion. Movies are kindred to opera, an artistic discipline in which the music and action are bound to time. After being arranged by the composer in much the same way that a director records the scenes that his script prescribe and then composes them together from the takes of various film footage that was obtained during production, the composer binds all the action on stage incorruptibly to the musical score. Music’s sensual perception is in hearing it A painting is sensually perceived by seeing it. Films involve a combination of hearing (the score and script), seeing (the action as well as everything else that is made for the film from the costume and set designs to the make etc) and following the story as realized dramatically and choreographically on screen. In a video game, the way that the audience interacts with the art form is through touch or physical movement. Any moving pictures or changes in music or special effects or scenery are reliant on the player engaging physically with the artwork at hand. Scripts and cinematic are not inherent to the poetics of video games nor do the fact that games now considered classics and best sellers have not engaged with cinematic sequences and dramatic narrative as primary to the “narrative.”

The Super Mario Brothers series of video games is an example of a sequence of works that have proven to be enduring over decades as well as successful in terms of sales and dissemination to an enormous public. This is all in addition to possessing industry-wide respect and, for what it’s worth, critical acclaim.

The creators of this series have refined the touch and motion (mechanics) of the titular “character” (object) with a focus on his jump and the way that his movements react to the interaction (through motion) of the audience-gamer. Their concern for the motion-touch interaction has eclipsed any concern that they have shown to focus on dramatic story-telling in the Mario series. The most important point to make here is that the design of an object’s motion as initiated by the sense of touch has never been explored in such an intricate way by artists and has only been presented as an opportunity because of the birth of this new artistic discipline. That should inspire us even more when we explore the masterpieces that have already been created in this new application of artistic media and it presents an exciting prospect for what can yet be accomplished by this art form if it is allowed to develop on its own terms rather than be forced to fit into the mold of another artistic discipline. The latter is unproductive and impossible to truly manage. The former path presents awesome opportunities for joy and discovery.

“Throughout these changes,” says Miyamoto, “I have maintained the same style of game design. Although I am not an engineer, I have always included in my designs consideration for the technology that will make those designs a reality. People have paid me a lot of lip service, calling me a genius story teller or a talented animator, and have gone so far as to suggest that I try my hand at movies, since my style of game design is, in their words, quite similar to making movies. But I feel that I am not a movie maker, but rather that my strength lies in my pioneering spirit to make use of technology to create the best, interactive commodities possible and use that interactivity to give users a game they can enjoy and play comfortably.”

Stravinsky speaks with the same childlike spirit. It is this spirit that must be retained by the artist and embraced by the audience. The artist must explore with purity of vision even as every other aspect of our hearts and minds and souls mature into adulthood and sophistication. When audiences embrace our childlike offerings of love, information and simple humanity with an open heart and mind to enjoying our demonstrations and finding use in them, it means a great deal to the creative spirit. This is an electric curiosity of an irrepressible nature within us and that force compiles us to learn and satisfy our need to know more and see more and experience as much as we possibly can experience of our world and our universe while we can still be grateful to call ourselves human and to be able to go on to celebrate another day. It is love that causes the artist to exert himself:

“One does not contrive an accident: one observes it to draw inspiration therefrom. An accident is perhaps the only thing that really inspires us, A composer improvises aimlessly the way an animal grubs about Both of them go grubbing about because they yield to a compulsion to seek things out

What urge of the composer is satisfied by this investigation? The rules with which, like a penitent, he is burdened? No: he is in quest of his pleasure. He seeks a satisfaction that he fully knows he will not find without first striving for it. One cannot force one’s self to love ;but love presupposes understanding, and in order to understand, one must exert one’s self.”

Copland’s intentions in writing What to Listen for in Music were born of the same love. Copland, a man of great intensity who lived in awe of the human spirit should be experienced as a composer. As far as his book is concerned, I am grateful to him for writing words that guided so many people to strip away the layers of complex pretense and see simple form and order in the mess of noise that is created by the insecure of our species. For those who accomplish nothing, this pretentiousness instills in them a sense of superiority over others. Copland was not of this ilk and I have his music to thank as my companion and friend. He meant the best when he implored the listener “to listen intently, to listen consciously, to listen with one’s whole intelligence is the least we can do in the furtherance of an art that is one of the glories of mankind.” His sincerity and intellect deserved my rational engagement and led me to the inquiry that I hope has been as fun for the reader as it has been for me to search through and to reason out.

There is a reason why I can say that I understand Copland’s true breadth of feeling and his awe for the simple creative gift which is the breath of life as well as his regard for the universal beauty of love. It lies in that choral work of his which sets the opening of Genesis. This work has been a companion to me has taught me about creativity and the creative act in a way that a few hundred theoretical texts and many years of undergraduate and graduate education (and all the cognition and “high” intellectual exercises that go with those things) could not do.

Here is the first page of the score in Copland’s handwritten manuscript:


One does not need to read music to see the fragility of the musical passage in which the following words are set to music for one sole voice singing these words as simply as one can conceive them being uttered. I will never forget how, when singing this work as a young man, I focused on the lone, low, deep and singular voice of the female rendered into androgyny that incanted them. I was so absorbed with what was being told to me that I forgot that I was standing there in the choir. I forgot the presence of the choir, of myself and of everything in the large choral rehearsal room other than the lone voice. Then the word “deep” stunned me as it was sung to an upward motion from the note d to the note d (an octave higher but still the same note). I did not expect the word “deep” to rise and it startled me. It filled me with the pleasure and gratefulness of someone hearing a familiar story as though for the very first time.

“And the earth was without form, and void; and darkness was upon the face of the deep.”



Just as I heard the word, I saw that the chorus was expected to sing so I looked down at my part and sang “And the Spirt of God moved upon the face of the waters.” I knew how Genesis began with God in the account of his creation of the heavens and the earth and that it was the Spirit of God that then “moved upon the face of the waters.” I knew about the word “deep” as I had just heard it and I know it as it exists in the Hebrew original (תְּהֹמוֺת). It is an absolute word but also an endless plural. In Hebrew, “the deep” is “confusion, empty place, without form, nothing, vain, vanity, waste” and it’s transliteration would be Tehom, a word which combines “Te” which means “chaos” with “huwm” which is a feminine word meaning “abyss.” The word itself has no etymology and was not used before it was applied to defining this abyss. As a child, I would obsess over collecting water into various forms and “making it take the shape of things” by putting it into a glass or a bowl. I also obviously understood that water was shapeless and could shift constantly until it was given form intuitively that “the waters” of Genesis is Mayin (מָ֫יִם) in the original, a word which connotes not only the word “waste” but also the active “wasting” and “wasted.” The word is the dual of primitive noun but it can be used in a singular sense. These words are almost exclusively reserved for poetic use where the poetic expression illuminates the very meaning of the word metaphor (composed as it is of “meta” and phor” or “transcending” “physics”). These are poetic words that do not express ideas that we can contain. Unlike a word like, say, “hydrogen” which expresses an idea that serves to define an atom that we have observed to exist, these purely poetic words describe an attempt at an idea. It is an idea that we cannot grasp from the human vantage point of having known only creation, form and order. And yet, we reach for what we cannot grasp. We poetically express an attempt at an idea that brings us closer to understanding the paradoxical and incomprehensible.

As an obsessive student of language and a lifelong devotee of the scriptures from the Torah and Gospel to the Quran, I came to this rehearsal with knowledge and learning. But linguistic knowledge and learning together with information about sources was un-required. Those aspects were so secondary to the evocation of spirit that Copland’s work made them seem forensic by comparison with the devotion that went into the musical creation at hand. I sang in awe of the constant cyclic motion that captured the most simple play-like motions of creation and definition that wound down in tempo to indication the completion of the first circle on the defining words: “And God called the light Day, and the darkness he called Night.”

Each statement that Copland makes to mark the cycles light and darkness created a rhythmic expression of those harmonic circles that resonated deep within the harmonic passage of my blood through arteries and veins as it cycled through me and gave rhythm, meter and order to my presence. With each statement of cyclical completion starting with the first “And the evening and the morning were the first day,” Copland played on tiny variations in the way we perceived his repetitions of musical “shapes.”

But it is the 26th line of Genesis’s First Book that shocked me the first time I heard it and then again the first time I sang it and it continues to shock me every time I listen to it:

“And God said, Let us make man in our image, after our likeness: and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creepeth upon the earth.”

The music is loud and rigid. The echoes of one choral part to another indicate a barbaric cruelty to the setting that frightened me. If this music was played as an alarm or siren warning me to stay away from this creature called “man,” I would heed it without question. The creation of man is an awesome moment but also a primitive and rough one. It is devoid of melody but rather consists of angular sounds that are more suggestive of rocklike formations than the airs of human songs. It is, after all, that very air and breath of life that gives us ability to sing and causes us to sing expressively.

It was then that I realized where song and soul and spirit actually begin and that man was created before man was truly created. Copland reiterates the cycle of time in one last repetition (And God saw every thing that he had made, and, behold, it was very good. And the evening and the morning were the sixth day) and then goes on to end the work with the final creative moment.

The creation is finished and the recreation of the seventh day is described. The generations of the heavens earth are recorded as are the generations of every plant and herb and yet, we have not experienced the first rain upon the earth because there was not a man to till the ground. As I sang of the mist rising from the earth and watering the whole face of the ground, I began to feel a sense of beautiful smallness and loving energy rise up in my stomach and into my chest. The waters were now defined into a cycle that took water through a process of evaporation, condensation and, finally, the first experience of precipitation. And the circle was complete. With that vital movement of water through the cycle that connects the ocean, land and atmosphere, I felt assured of life.

I sang of how God formed man of the dust of the ground and as I sang the brilliantly sent melody to that described the Supreme Being as he took man and “breathed into his nostrils the breath of life;” Copland accomplished what only a great melodist can in the sense appreciation I had for the song in my lungs. My eyes filled up with tears as I sang the words: “and man became a living soul.”


“Thus the heavens and the earth were finished, and all the host of them.

And on the seventh day God ended his work which he had made; and he rested on the seventh day from all his work which he had made.

And God blessed the seventh day, and sanctified it: because that in it he had rested from all his work which God created and made.

These are the generations of the heavens and of the earth when they were created, in the day that the LORD God made the earth and the heavens,

And every plant of the field before it was in the earth, and every herb of the field before it grew: for the LORD God had not caused it to rain upon the earth, and there was not a man to till the ground.

But there went up a mist from the earth, and watered the whole face of the ground.

And the LORD God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul.”

Copland’s sketches for the work show the choir coming into form with one another. The choir sings together on the second line of the manuscript.


And finally into unity as he evokes the reflection of God’s unity and oneness that struck me as so lonely when the work began. I understood the opening so much better having experienced this transcendent oneness with which the work closes:

With the end of the seventh day, another cycle was completed. I turned to the opening page of the score and looked at the composer’s performance direction written above the part of the solo voice who incanted the opening of the work. Copland asks the performer tasked with singing the melody of the lone Spirit at the star to recount this story to us “in a gentle, narrative manner, like reading a familiar and oft-told story”.

My soul is eternally grateful to the artists whose efforts helped me to find my way and learn about myself and remember things that have happened to humanity leading up to my arrival. I was born in the year 1985 and I have watched humanity show me signs that my species is increasing in unwarranted cynicism. On media broadcasts and in schoolyards and in the new books of sensitive poets and the recent accounts of sensitive artists, my sensitivities were alerted to a species that took to the habit of doubting everything that was not immediately perceived to be utilitarian, opportunistic or profitable in the most narrow sense. Words like “valor,” “honor,” and even “love” were scoffed at among young people and ignored by many elders.

I felt the movements of my own soul so acutely and piercingly that it hurt. Over time, I had to temper my inner flame but this process took a daily practice of focusing my energy as well as my feelings and speaking with a continuum of voices that joined me in spirit. These voices of the past were sympathetic to the harmonic motion of my soul. They offered me their thoughts through art but companionship of an accepting and loving intensity was a long way into the future. I saw and heard people who broadcast their voices onto the forums of international media and proclaimed, without a shred of irony, shame or remorse, that they were “dead inside.”

Of my closest “companions” was Leonard Bernstein, a composer who died when I was barely six years old (within a few months of Aaron Copland’s death). It was through recordings of concerts designed for young children that Bernstein, a composer who was Copland’s contemporary, offered young people no less than 53 Young People’s Concerts between January 1958 and March 1972. Through the recordings of those concerts, I witnessed the operation of music as only a musician could show me: through the example of music. As I grew older, I would become closer to Bernstein while also moving further away from this idea of “companionship” as my personality was subjected to artistic growth (which I will describe in lesson 3). But, as I child, I couldn’t help wondering what he was like and what those children who attended the “real” Young People’s Concerts were like. They looked so different from so many of the children and the adults that I observed on a daily basis.

Some of the kids who attended those concerts went on to be musicians while others went on to be bankers and all sorts of other things. Some have even, in their current years, become commissioners of art themselves. I have been the direct beneficiary of this. A child who had sonata form explained to him by Leonard Bernstein at a Young Person’s concert in 1969 grew up and, in 2011, commissioned me to write new musical works which I did with pride and which he cherishes with knowledge of what they contain. Commissioners like him desire to bring musical works into the world because of the love for the art that composers like Bernstein and Copland helped to encourage in them and in us.

Not all of the young people who attended the “original” live concerts went on to make a lot of money. Millions of human beings live in poverty and most of the human race will see their days on earth without ever possessing the luxuries that a Wall Street executive can afford. They, like the executives, have full human lives all the same. The sea-breeze is a pleasure to them both as is the experience of falling in love. And music, like the work that the aforementioned Wall Street executive has commissioned, is a multilayered joy to both the executive and the construction worker who once sat across the aisle from one another as kids in Philharmonic Hall as they heard Bernstein unravel the basics of musical form to them; the objective basics and the fundamental belief in a creative spirit or a soul. Without these basics of sharing knowledge and nurturing faith in oneself, each other and something larger than the self, it is so much harder to form individual perceptions of any artistic work in a full and focused way or to see the wonder in the expansion of scientific knowledge and develop a desire to commit forever to an eternal existence of learning and nurturing.

When Leonard Bernstein died in 1990, the United States’ arts institutions embraced the common rituals of a collective mourning the loss of someone they either considered to be one of their great artists or someone they thought they should consider to be great. The most standard of all gestures came from the New York Philharmonic and Carnegie Hall where flags were flown at half-mast and a week of concerts was announced respectively. Broadway engaged in ritual of lights when it dimmed its neon as it had done for Gershwin before. I was to come to know many of these administrators as the “judges of taste. These are the people whom I began this opening; the pracitioners who signed me into a publishing contract that pre-determined the audiences that would benefit from knowing me and my work based on a philosophical system of false definitions, inhumane categories and other factors that would claim to focus the actions and objects of inspiration, the soul and even just nice or pretty things to people who the judges had determined were deserving of such things by proving they sophistication and dedication to culture. The former (sophistication) is largely measured by ZIP code, post box or even global region. The latter (devotion) is almost always a matter of how much dedication could be demonstrated by the patron of the arts through their commitment of cold, hard currency and nothing else.

As I grew older, I felt compelled to read the letters of past artists (letters that are none of my business and that I regard myself as remiss for having intruded upon). As I became more literate in the ways of the judges, I found that they had tried their hand on generation after generation of artist and that their practice as has been well-recorded in artistic depositions would prove those depictions of the most absurd fictions to be truer to life than one might or could imagine. Leonard Bernstein, they had once said, would never amount to a serious composer and couldn’t ever be truly popular in any case. Some contemporary examples of writing that we will explore in this book actively call for the destruction of works by Bernstein even as the lights and flags continue to issue superficial signs of “respect.”

The choreography of lights and rites following Bernstein’s death will be repeated with every anniversary of birth and death that corresponds to an even number. The most since gesture of all was recorded by news organizations at the time who were following the intrigues of a dead man’s corpse as though it was something which fascinated their deepest fancies. They inadvertently captured a moment which, upon seeing it, made me cry just as I had during the invocation of the breath of creative life in Copland’s music. Bernstein had his moment and I was humbled and renewed in my faith that humanity always reaches humanity even if it has to go through a lot of barriers. It happened that shortly after the casket of the composer left his home at the Dakota on 73rd Street to begin it’s final journey out of Manhattan. It had been a couple of decades since the last Young People’s Concerts. But, when Leonard Bernstein’s casket was being taken to Greenwood Cemetery in Queens, the funeral procession passed a construction site on the East River. Along the side of the highway, construction workers stopped their labor and lined up along the side of the road. The workers then removed their hard hats with great dignity and called out, “Goodbye, Lenny!”

It had been almost two decades now since I had left my sat with my teacher in my last composition lesson. I had reached the millions I wanted to prove that I could reach and I was at work on music that I loved creating and was composing in a way that I knew was essential to my being. I could not live as a human soul without making and creating and, in fulfilling my nature, I was very happy to be alive and celebrate each day on earth. Every temporary struggle and every difficulty that I had faced was eclipsed by the kindness I had received and the help and loving knowledge imparted to my by generations of living and departed souls. It was an ordinary day in May 2015 when I sat down to read my email and happened upon this message. Only at the moment of reading it did I realize that these sorts of letters and words of kindness and support had been flowing from the hearts of good people to my heart for a few years now, I could tell how many exactly and I didn’t know who the personalities were behind these lovely notes.


And so I reinforced my spirit and renewed my faith in the immediate joys of celebrating work and recreation, night and day, the passage of one hour to the next and everything that is so elegently contained within the harmonic truth of musical beauty. The knowledge that I was achieving what I had set out to do as a little boy caused me to redouble my commitment to the art-form and encouraged me to reinforce my spirit so that I could continue my work and continue to realize and make my thoughts into real forms. In doing all this, I’d be able to carry on sharing my joy and partaking of this beautiful communion of the soul with my fellow human beings.

I invite the reader to join me on this journey.

4. Form

The reader may find the same quote presented more than once throughout the book, and this repetition is understood to express a different aspect of said quote in the different context in which it appears. Both instances are equally necessary to understanding the quote and the topic at hand which is supported by the use of the quote.

Presenting the words of exceptional individuals provides the reader with the opportunity to become familiar with the thoughts and work of those individuals, since their work and writings may not be readily available to the reader. These are perspectives from the best people in their chosen fields of work which, in the “digital world,” become lost in the massive amount of things which one has to sift through when searching the internet for information. Including these quotes is crucial to understanding the world in which we live, and through the work of these exceptional individuals, this is how we understand the world.

And including the anti-poetic quotes in full helps in understanding the perversion of poetics and how those anti-poetic practitioners deceive through their actions. It is an essential exercise to show the reader, step by step, a way to arrive at clarity. The reader will appreciate this fact when these cases are demonstrated and the anti-poetics undone to arrive at a sensible understanding.

It should be mentioned that publishers are often averse to the inclusion of extended quotes but as stated, presenting the words of the exceptional individuals and those of the practitioners of anti-poetics is requisite to understanding both. Each must be demonstrated and illustrated in order to fully comprehend what is achieved. Publishers and agents will often not print books of this size, however, if one takes these quotes out of context, it is dangerous. In order to undo this, one must read the entire passage quoted and follow through the process with the author, in detail. The publishers who are unwilling to publish “fat books,” only care for the end results, which may be valid in some instances but in the case of the arts, the process is as important as the end result(s). There is no way to untangle the anti-poetics and its damage when things are taken out of context. Therefore, the inclusion of the extended quotes is done out of necessity, rather than a desire. The reader should be comforted by the fact that these processes will be detailed and illustrated fully for their benefit, and not be intimidated because the material presented is done so in its entirety. This enables the reader and author to walk through the process together.

“Repetition” and “dogma” are much derided words in many academies (including ones that the present author has attended) that pride themselves on “creative expression” and “free thinking.” No creativity is even perceptible, let alone possible, without being given form and structure.

Form and structure make the boldest innovations and most brilliant strokes of ingenuity comprehensible. I have found through experience and understood from the practice and guidance of our greatest artists that repetition is key to comprehension if repetition is done well (this is not easy).

My comprehension of things that are comprehensible has not been clear cut. The delineation that is often confused is between comprehensibility and incomprehensibility. My comprehension of things are comprehensible ha\s not fallen into two stark categories; one marked “understood” and the other marked “not understood.” If something is comprehensible and if that thing is explained well (or at least clearly) then I, like most people, will comprehend that subject in incremental steps of understanding. No subject is instantly comprehensible “as a whole.” No subject will ever be comprehensible as a whole (we will never everything about any particular subject nor will we know everything about every subject there is to know).

When the reader finds certain concepts, excerpts from poetical or critical works, or anything else repeated in this text it will be re-contextualized in that repetition. The reader can be assured that the present author has taken great care to make sure that every aspect of this book (including references and repetitions) are not gratuitous but rather serve the purpose of aiding and understanding in the most genuine and demonstrable way.

While some sections of this book fall into the category of critical thought on a certain topic or another, most of this book is a poetics. I must emphasize that this book is not a philosophy of anything. NO part of this book is concerned with the nature of learning or with conceptual metaphysics. No part of this book is about the nature of knowing (inquiries into “how people know”). Every part of this book will be about something (either the poetical explication of a work of art in non-mystical and construction-based terms or, otherwise an unfolding of specific and characteristic anti-poetic writings).

In a work called the Muqaddamah (the text which introduced the study of history as a science in 1377) , Ibn-Khaldun warns against the reliance on brief handbooks which are presented to people as a “quick way” to knowing something or another. By bypassing repetition and extended quotations (and the parsing of extended quotations correctly) the authors of these handbooks (some well-intentioned and some opportunistic) create more problems than engaging with their proposed shortcuts is worth. Here is the relevant section from the Muqaddamah (titled “The Methods of Instruction”):

35. The great number of brief handbooks available on scholarly subjects is detrimental to the process of instruction

“Many recent scholars have turned to brief presentations of the methods and contents of the sciences. They want to know (the methods and contents), and they present them systematically in the form of brief programs for each science. These brief handbooks express all the problems of a given discipline and the evidence for them in a few brief words that are full of meaning. This procedure is detrimental to good style and makes difficulties for the understanding.

Scholars often approach the main scholarly works on the various disciplines, which are very lengthy, intending to interpret and explain (them). They abridge them, in order to make it easier (for students) to acquire expert knowledge of them. This has a corrupting influence upon the process of instruction and is detrimental to the attainment of scholarship. For it confuses the beginner by presenting the final results of a discipline to him before he is prepared for them. This is a bad method of instruction. It also involves a great deal of work for the student. He must study carefully the words of the abridgment, which are complicated to understand because they are crowded with ideas, and try to find out from them what the problems of the given discipline are. Thus, the texts of such brief handbooks are found to be difficult and complicated. A good deal of time must be spent on trying to understand them.

Moreover, after all these (difficulties), the (scholarly) habit that results from receiving instruction from brief handbooks, even when it is at its best and is not accompanied by any flaw, is inferior to the habits resulting from the study of more extensive and lengthy works. The latter contain a great amount of repetition and lengthiness, but both are useful for the acquisition of a perfect habit. When there is little repetition, an inferior habit is the result. This is the case with the abridgments. The intention was to make it easy for students to acquire expert knowledge (of scholarly subjects), but the result is that it has become more difficult for them, because they are prevented from acquiring useful and firmly established habits.”

If the reader finds that he or she does not fully comprehend a certain concept in this book after their first reading, do not worry; many concepts took me decades to comprehend to a satisfactory degree. To be perfectly clear, there will be no “complete” understanding of the entirety of a concept and the present author certainly can not (and does not) boast of having a “perfect” knowledge of any subject discussed in this book (my reference to “any subject,” includes those subjects with which I am intimately familiar).

This is not to say that anything in the present text will strike the reader as mysterious. A certain level of understanding will be attainable from the very first engagement with these subjects; that is the very basis (the foundation) on which one builds a greater and greater knowledge over the years and even over a lifetime.

A curious and eager reader (as I have always had the pleasure of being) will continue to learn and glean something after each successive reading and will know a concept more fully, but never perfectly. The reader should not be discouraged if, after the first reading, not everything is fully grasped but realize that something (and this is no small thing) will indeed be gained through the first reading.

In many instances throughout this book (and in the study of the arts), the reader’s lack of immediate understanding of a specific part of something will not be due to the complexity of the subject at hand but rather, to it’s simpleness. I have labored hard to make this book one which the reader can keep for many years; it is my earnest hope that I have succeeded in this effort.

The illumination of simple things which are hiding in plain sight is accomplished by many of the most brilliant artists throughout history. Things that elude us at first because they are hiding in plain sight are usually hidden for a reason. Many of the subjects in this book begin by addressing things which many readers will take for granted as every day occurrences or as common knowledge. Through a full engagement of each example which I present in this book from the start to the end of that example that each one will be fully comprehensible (and demonstrated). Over time, the reader’s full engagement of this book (from start to end), will yield an understanding of the whole.

I am confident that the experiences and work which I will demonstrate throughout this text will be fully understood both as individual section and in terms of their connection to one another. It is in the latter that the subject of the book as a whole will be fully illuminated. I have found that many readers of texts and listeners

Having said that, I would like to now define what this book is.

This is not a “philosophy book.” It is a poetics.

The reader will recall the passage from Stravinsky’s Poetics which I shared earlier in this lesson. It it, he reminded his students that “the exact meaning of poetics is the study of work to be done” and that the “verb poiem from which the word is derived means nothing else but to do or make.”

This book will be about the making of things; the making of art. In all cases, any statement or observation which I make about any work of art in this book will be demonstrate through example and direct reference to the work of art (the factual object) in question.

The word “philosophy,” it will be shown, is used in many ways. There are two approaches to the word which apply to our current inquiry. One is the original meaning of the word: “love of knowledge.” The other is the use of this term to describe oneself as a lover of knowledge without needing to make anything which is well-formed and coherent. All concepts are expressed and those expressions bust be coherent and demonstrable to others. Artists maintain this standard of making (“poetics”) and expressing through function.

The word “Techne” defines the works which are the primary subject of this book. These are works made and constructed. They are examples of contributions of thought and of function to humanity (poetics). These will include works by journalists, documentarians, scientists, surgeons, jurists, political scientists, artists, critics, educators and theologians and other men and women of inquiry and learning. All of their work will be crafted by art. We will define the differences in terms of intent and content. Method is where art meets with other disciplines:

“The poetics of the classical philosophers did not consist of lyrical dissertations about natural talent and about the essence of beauty. For them the single word techne embraced both the fine arts and the useful arts and was applied to the knowledge and study of the certain and inevitable rules of the craft. That is why Aristotle’s Poetics constantly suggest ideas regarding personal work, arrangement of materials, and structure.”\

Stravinsky’s reference to “dissertations about natural talent” are the secondary focus of this book. reference to what philosophers and critics are writing about when they propose to take a “personal approach” to artistic works. These approaches are sometimes demonstrated by the critic or philosopher in question; more often then not, they are not demonstrated or expressed in any coherent or comprehensible way. We will take apart examples of these dissertations in the current book and demonstrate their destructiveness (anti-poetics).

These examples imitate the work which is made by those which they choose to imitate. Anti-documentarians will imitate the work of documentarians in the style of presentation but not in the content. Anti-artists will imitate the work of artists, again, in style but not in substance. These anti-documentarians, anti-journalists, anti-scientists, anti-surgeons, anti-jurists, anti-politicians, anti-artists, anti-critics, anti-educators, anti-theologians and others are, strictly speaking, artists because their “works” imitate and mimic the works of their targets in the same way that artists represent reality through imitation (imitation will be explored in chapter jjjj). They are, in a sense, “bullshit artists.”

This practice of anti-poetics is, as I will demonstrate, coherent and predictable.

It is, furthermore, attempting to set a foundation for a “negative reality.” This negative reality is illusory and yet, it cannot coexist with reality itself without actively functioning as an anti-reality. Anti-poetic works seek to consciously or unwittingly negate reality and, therefore, that which is true.

I would like to emphasize that this book itself is a poetics in subject but also in form. The demonstrations included in this text are not my personal opinions because demonstrations cannot, by definition, be personal opinions. Some of the demonstrations will be based on the experiences of the author while others will be general demonstrations. All things will be supported by the work of a broad range of artists whose impact can also be clearly demonstrated (which I will do).

A person may say, “I do not see it,” (in reference to what an individual sees). That is perfectly valid. But that person cannot reasonably deny that it has been seen by another. One way or the other though, the person must use the word, “I.” If a lot of people see it, and a certain person does not, the burden is on that specific person who is exceptional in this case and not on everyone else. Nobody has the right to negate the sensory experience of others. The fact of something experienced by others must be believed or disbelieved but never denied to them. The fact of something which is made by a human being simply cannot be denied to exist unless certain conditions are met.

A scientist may conduct a certain experiment which proves or disproves an earlier hypothesis. He may do so time after time and prove the hypothesis at hand. An individual may not deny that the experiment is a success simply because they do not wish to acknowledge it. The scientist has proved the results through repeated experimentation which yielded proof beyond the shadow of any doubt. The scientist must have observed this experiment to yield specific results and to be consistent many times over. The scientist must then demonstrate this and communicate it. After all this is said and done, the scientific fact cannot be disproven or denied simply because it cannot be proven in absolute terms. No learning is absolute.

That which is expressed poetically (through the arts), however, is the closest human beings can come to truth which can be proven beyond the shadow of any doubt. I will demonstrate the various ways in which the expression of form, concept and function occur in works of art (from several artistic disciplines) throughout this book. The negation of artistic truth does not simply require skepticism (something which can be healthy). This negation requires a human being to do nothing less that deny the validity of things which they perceive with their own senses. It is a negation which requires a departure from common sense and a disengagement from reality. I will demonstrate examples of this negation throughout each chapter of this book.

The examples included in this book will be demonstrations of the concurrences, of the affirmation and illustration of that which is true.

There is a reason for why a composer is writing this book. To understand this reason, we must revisit the thoughts expressed by two of my predecessors: Stravinsky and Copland. Let us begin by clarifying Copland’s position in which he enunciates three “planes” of listening.

There are two “planes” of which we can speak. They are:

That which we sense
That which we perceive

Cognition is not a third plane. Cognition (any thought) must be expressed and made clear to the senses as well as to our perception if it is to exist. Stravinsky’s direct answer to this charge (that he claimed “music expresses nothing”) is illuminating:

“The over-publicized bit about expression (or non-expression) was simply a way of saying that music is supra-personal and super-real and as such beyond verbal meanings and verbal descriptions.”

The prefix “Supra” means “beyond that which is personal and unique to oneself.” Things which are described as “supra” are things which transcend the personal. By transcending that which is personal, the thing described as “supra” can be experienced by many people (an entire audience, for example).

The prefix “super” means “very.” By this, Stravinsky simply means that music is very real. It exists as music. It does not need to have personal meaning or any “meaning” assigned to it in order for it to exist.

Stravinsky states that music is capable of two things:

Transcending that which is personal.
Being very real.

That music does these two things is evident.

Stravinsky then says that his statement “was aimed against the notion that a piece of music is in reality a transcendental idea ‘expressed in terms of’ music, with the reductio ad absurdum implication that exact sets of correlatives must exist between a composer’s feelings and his notation.”

This means that the composer was writing music and not expressing other ideas in music which he could express in language (for example). Copland is partially correct in labeling music an “abstract artform” (remember that we are speaking only of music and not of music combined with other elements such as the words of a poem as in a song). Music is abstract in terms of words but it is not abstract in terms of music.

Of course music is real. We hear it. And it exists, not abstractly, but concretely as music.

Stravinsky ends with a reflection of the comment which explicitly affirms the expressivity of music:

“It was offhand and annoyingly incomplete, but even the stupider critics could have seen that it did not deny musical expressivity, but only the validity of a type of verbal statement about musical expressivity. I stand by the remark, incidentally, though today I would put it the other way around: music expresses itself.”

Stravinsky is correct that “even the stupider critics could have seen that it did not deny musical expressivity.” So why, it must be asked, did they not see it and why did those who did see it deny what they understood?

I said that Copland is partially correct in labeling music an “abstract artform.” In the absence of combining music with other art forms or elements (such as the words of a poem when writing a song), music can be perceived to communicate a story or some idea. Beethoven’s fifth symphony, for example can be felt as “fate knocking at the door” and Mozart’s 40th Symphony can be understood as the struggle against a tempest. These abstract stories can be thought of as the expression of the composer. These works can, as Stravinsky says, be thought of as the composer’s expression of “a transcendental idea ‘expressed in terms of’ music.” But there is no way of proving that this idea or story was in the composer’s mind or was the composer’s intention without knowing this from the composer.

Even when the composer communicates a certain intention, other people may have entirely different feelings and construct a different story to that which the composer declares to be his or her intention when they listen to the music created by that composer.

The story is imagined. It is a narrative or a feeling which is projected on the part of the listener upon the music. That is not to say that it is wrong for the listener to do this. Quite the contrary. It is impossible for a listener who feels anything when listening to music to not do it. How else would we feel or think anything when listening to music which, in reality, is simply a collection of rhythms and pitches which are organized by a composer, songwriter or musician?

I’m simply saying that we must realize that our own feelings are our own feelings and that they are not objectively present in the musical object itself. Please do not confuse this as a statement of the feelings (or story or anything else which is extra musical) being fake. These things are real. They are perceived; validly and fully perceived. That makes them real; as real as the musical object itself.

But, and this is the vital point, these perceptions which are real should not to be confused with the musical object which is real.

The two things which Stravinsky observes in music are, once again, that music:

Transcends that which is personal.
Is objectively real.

The feelings in a work of music must transcend that which is personal to the composer (or anyone else) if it is to be perceived as expressive to other people.

Those feelings and perceptions are perceptions of the musical object in question. The musical object (work of music) must be real in order for people to be moved by it. The musical work must be real in order for people to listen to it and think of a story or a concept or feel a feeling which they perceive in it.

Let us consider what we have learned:

The reality of the musical object is a precondition to the feelings and narrative which are projected on it.

Let us now reverse what we have learned:

The feelings and narrative which are projected upon a musical object must be perceived in order for that musical object to be “real” (sincere or genuine).

We have now come closer to discovering why Stravinsky’s passage was “over-publicized” and made to be accusatory of the composer’s lack of feeling. If we accept that “expression” is a precondition of music then this means something fairly major. It creates the following precondition:

“Music must express something in order for that expression to be present in the music itself.”

Whose expression are we speaking about? Stravinsky’s revisitation is important:

“Those feelings and perceptions are perceptions of the musical object in question. The musical object (work of music) must be real in order for people to be moved by it. The musical work must be real in order for people to listen to it and think of a story or a concept or feel a feeling which they perceive in it.”

It is not the composer’s expression (which cannot be ascertained or contained) which we are speaking about. Mozart doesn’t express the tempest which one hears. Beethoven doesn’t express the impending fate which one hears. “The musical work” says Stravinsky, “must be real in order for people to listen to it and think of a story or a concept or feel a feeling which they perceive in it.”

People feel the feelings and think up the stories and concepts which they perceive. By ascribing these feelings, thoughts and stories to the composer, however, they are expressing a very real emotional statement. This statement, if expressed in English, would read as follows:

“My personal feelings or emotions, even those which are unique to me are supra-personal and super real.”

This is a serious consideration. It’s manifestations led me to write this book. A primary goal of this attitude (which I will demonstrate in many artforms) is an escape from reality. The clearest accomplishment of this attitude is a negation of reality: an anti-reality.

It means that even those feelings or stories which are one’s own and may be shared by no other person can (and should) transcend that which is personal and be counted as objectively real.

The approach to Music which I speak of is not the subjective one; I am not referring to an approach which is based on perceiving stories or feelings or concepts in the music which one hears.
This approach to music consists of considering one’s perceptions (which are very real perceptions) as supra-personal and super-real. We have come, through music, to access the clearest entry-point into anti-reality and now it falls upon me to guide the reader through this zone by demonstration.

Mozart doesn’t express the tempest which one hears. Beethoven doesn’t express the impending fate which one hears. People in the audience hear feel these feelings and think up these stories and imagine these concepts. They perceive all of them. When they ascribe their own feelings, thoughts and stories to the composer, however, they are “making their perceptions objective.”

I imagine a journey through a hurricane while feeling an emotional effect (like heartbreak). By saying that this emotion is expressed in Mozart’s Symphony no 40 in g minor, I am saying that my emotions or thoughts are objectively real. They have been made fact.

The symphony which has been made fact is not what I perceive. The thing I perceive is my journey through the hurricane while feeling heartbreak. It is especially through ignoring the musical object (as something super-real) that I can focus on my own perception. I can forget about the musical object being made real and focus on my perceptions.

My perceptions are real but only as perceptions. By ascribing them to the composer, I am not claiming to have written the symphony. I ignore the symphony altogether other than to focus on the perceptions which the symphony makes real to me in my mind.

The thing which “has become real,” is my journey through the hurricane while feeling heartbreak. It has become objectively clear. I can point to the object (symphony no 40 in g minor) and say that Mozart expressed these things which I perceived.

The object which was made now serves to make my journey through the hurricane while feeling heartbreak into objective fact.

This process may register as devastating to anyone who values a commonplace (objective or subjective) reality. Doesn’t it all check out as follows?

“Mozart wrote it. The object which he wrote exists and is real. My perceptions are real (therefore they also exist). They are contained within the object and therefore have been manifested and shown objectively. My perceptions are objective.”

It all checks out except for one key step. The fact is that Mozart wrote the Symphony #40 in g minor. He did not write the journey through a hurricane while feeling heartbreak.

The work of art is a realization of the artist’s intent. By ascribing Mozart’s intent to him (he intended to express the journey and the hurricane and the heartbreak), I am saying that the realization of his intent (the symphony) is the realization of my perceptions; the objective realization of my perceptions.

Stravinsky’s statement, offhanded as he tells us it was, contains great potency. That which is accidental on the part of a great artist, says Dali, is not to be corrected. Indeed, it is often our accidents, our offhanded comments that contain the greatest levels of truth. Artists of the future can build upon such accidents and, I believe, it is important to revisit this “offhanded comment” from Igor Stravinsky and also what had seemed to be a strange diagnosis (which describes a sort of passive narcotic-induced listening) from Aaron Copland.

The application (of one’s own perception) onto the music and perceiving it as being the intent of the composer can be manifested in many ways. A few ways to express it:

“For something to be supra-personal (for it to transcend that which is personal), it must be super-real to me.”

“I have to see something or feel it as true in order for others to also see it and feel it as true.”

“My perceptions are reality. They are objective reality.”

This entrance, granted by music, pervades many things that pervade many lives every single day. There are other realities and universes which we will examine through this book. We will examine instances in which lies are treated as realities and “subuniverses of meaning” are attempted.

Here is the musical object in question is Mozart’s 40th Symphony which we will represent using the button below (please press play):




We will now, for the sake of convenience, represent the musical object using the image of the button above. The reader may play the sample at any point using the “audio-play” button above which I think will be easier and less cumbersome than presenting the same audio sample to be pushed below again and again. It should be understood, however, that the button (as it appears below) represents the music itself.

The musical object must be heard by an audience member in order to be perceived by an audience member (triangle):

Here is a small audience attending the symphony at hand (and hearing the opening of Mozart’s 40th Symphony):


In reality, each audience member is a unique person, so let us represent this fact using different colors for each “person”:


And, as a result of this fact (our individuality), each person will perceive the music at hand differently from the others. Here is our small audience perceiving the music (each in their own way):

Please note that, although each person will perceive the music at hand differently, the musical object itself remains the same (the audience is objectively experiencing the same notes and rhythms as well as the same orchestrations (and everything else) that Mozart composed; they are also experiencing the same performance):


Now we are in a position to begin understanding the inherent impersonality of music. This is a fact; not a “value-judgement.”

Music can never be personal. Stravinsky’s definition applies to all music. Music is supra-personal universally and without exception.

Even in an imagined case in which one audience member would listen to the symphony all on their own (and, in this case, we also theoretically blocked the ears of the performers so that they would not be able to hear the music which they are performing), music still remains supra-personal.

Allow me to explain.

Here is a visualization of the hypothetical case we’ve just invented:

Notice that the musical object still has not changed. This means that others will still be able to perceive the object at hand in their own ways once they hear it.

Music can only truly be personal in a case where the person experiencing it is the only person of the planet. Music can’t be personal. It can, however, be perceived to be personal. If the audience member intuits that they are the only person in the audience or the only person alive then their self-absorption can readily convince them of that delusion.

In our hypothetical concert of six, the musical object is real and objective:

In the same situation, the individual perception of the audience members are also real and subjective:


I wrote “and subjective” rather than “but subjective” because that which is subjective is just as real and valid as that which is objective and vice versa. Having said that, the point at hand is clear. This is how music can “become personal” (ie be perceived as personal) only as follows:


That is, if the “green man” denies the validity (or even the existence) of the subjective perceptions of all the other “persons” in the audience, they can handily perceive their own point of view as “personal.” This is the situation that is illustrated above.

The last step, a quantum leap of the self, which is required in order for the green person to make their personal vision of reality into an objective fact of reality is as follows:


One has to deny the intentions of the composer (in terms of “story,” “narrative,” “ides,” “concepts” and so on). The green man also has to deny that the music contains any subjective or objective content. The music must be perceived to have no meaning aside from the meaning which is ascribed to it by the green man.










One has to deny the intentions of the composer (in terms of “story,” “narrative,” “ides,” “concepts” and so on. The green man also has to deny that the music contains any subjective or objective content. The music must be perceived to have no meaning aside from the meaning which is ascribed to it by the green man.

The music is doubly assaulted by the following requirement:


The illustration above demonstrates the double rejection of meaning. Objective meaning has been negated and, now, subjective meaning is negated from the music as well. This is to say that the music cannot mean anything to any other audience members not simply by negating the audience members but also by negating the meaning which they find in the music.

An important distinction must be made here. The green man is not satisfied to simply show disregard for what anyone else might think:


Nor is the green man saying that the music itself has no meaning. He is not depriving the music of meaning. If he did this, he would not be able to apply his own meaning to the music. He allows the music to have meaning in order for the function highlighted below to occur:


It’s not that the green man doesn’t care what his fellow human beings think. He is not content to simply not care. It’s not that the music has no meaning to him. It has meaning and desperately important meaning to him. He ascribes meaning to the music that is his own. His own meaning is not the subjective meaning of the music (that meaning cannot be contained). The absolute meaning which is imposed upon the music is not simply a difference in perspective but a personal conviction:




The green man is not telling his fellow audience members that he doesn’t care what they think. He is actively telling them that they wrong. This is a subtle difference between the situation which I describe in figure Y and the situation which I describe figure X. Among the important differences are those that I have listed below.

Here is Figure X:


In Figure X:

The green man is an obnoxious individual
The green man believes himself to be alone in the experience of the music
The music is still understood to have objective material
The music is still understood to have intent (though he does not care about that)
He disregards other people
The music is still understood to have meaning (though his meaning is best)


Here is Figure Y:


In Figure Y:

The green man is deluded
The green man is unaware of the shared experience at all (one must be aware of others in order to believe that on is having a unique experience
The music is not understood to contain objective material beyond the score of the green man
That the music is composed with any intent is not a notion which even occurs to the green man
There is no meaning outside of the green man that the green man can perceive
There is a meaning to the music. That “meaning” is the personal vision of the green man. That meaning is also there whether anyone else likes it or not. The green man is not saying “I don’t care what you think.” He is saying that his meaning is objectively real and that it is the only meaning which exists as real. The green man’s personal vision of reality prevails “whether you like it or not.”


This is a world in which multiple things can co-exist and thrive (an additive reality in which humanity can be “fruitful and multiply.” This reality is exemplified by functions which are additive or multiplicative. It is a poetic reality. It allows for debate and discourse as well as growth:


In order for this reality to exists, the Green Man would have to understand that there can be multiple things in the world which can be correct and valid without negating one another. The green would also have to understand that the works of past generations can be built upon rather than superseded. He would, in short, require the capacity for mature critical thought.

In contrast, an anti poetic reality contrasts with the poetic reality above in tangible ways. This is a reality of destruction and uncertainty in which constant revolutions cause intellectual and emotional upheaval as well as a lack of historical continuity. That is the difference between saying “I don’t care what you think and I will disregard it because I consider myself better than you” on the one hand and saying “my personal vision of the world cannot exist together with yours; I must actively negate your experience of the world in order for mine to exist.” Or, to put it another way, “this town (or universe) aint big enough for the both of us (or anyone other than me)”:

One will find that such persons are truly unable to be challenged and one should not attempt to challenge them. Please understand that the apparent subject of contradiction does not matter. Nothing matters but the green man. Any contradiction is a threat to his existence but I do not mean this in the conventional sense (as a threat to his survival).

Critical thought and measured debate is a challenge to their personal vision of reality and to their very personality and personhood. Their personal vision of reality is the only thing which they regard as their personality (their self). Construction or any other additive activity is a threat to the existence of their person.

Consider the following (very simple and very beautiful) mathematical formula:

[a,b] [b,a]

Place any number (positive of negative) as “a” and any number (once again, positive or negative numbers are find) as “b.” The formula will yield positive results if (and only if ) the operation performed is positive (ie additive or multiplicative). It will not yield positive results if the operation performed is one of negation (subtractive or divisive).

This problem cannot simply be left alone. Even in purely practical terms, the problem at hand is corrosive. The green man might decide that you have committed “a crime” (as he defines it) and proceed to act as judge, jury and executioner in order to bring you to “justice” (as he defines it).

So, in the absence of two options (“leaving the Green Man alone” on the one hand and “engaging with the Green Man” on the other) what does one do? Here I can only recommend one course of action: the active application of reason and common sense.

This is why (often long-winded) anti-poetic texts are printed and taken apart in this book (the demonstration is important and the process is more important than the result). In taking these examples apart, my goal is not simply to show the consistencies (one could call it the “dogma”) of anti-poetics. I also aim to provide examples of those formal patterns and schematics of anti-poetics which recur endlessly (and can be found to occur across the centuries).

I do this because the reader will most likely be confronted with anti-poetics at some point or another. One will encounter this practice if one leaves the house or, failing that, if one simply turns on the television or, failing that, if one ventures to watch YouTube videos, surf the internet, follow the “news,” go to a museum… If one lives, one will encounter anti-poetics (which, as a practice, extends beyond being lied to and into the realm of a discernible pattern which one can avoid).

I would like to end with one last thought on my motivations for writing this book.

In a 1963 speech at Amherst College, John F Kennedy said the following words:

“The artist, however faithful to his personal vision of reality, becomes the last champion of the individual mind and sensibility against an intrusive society and an officious state.”

“The artist” has no personal vision of reality by the time that he becomes “the artist.” After following one’s personal vision of reality, the artist in question must transcend that (become supra-personal) before he can hope to “become the last champion of the individual mind and sensibility.” If the work of an artist is not supra-personal then it does not mean anything to any society or state let alone an intrusive society and officious state.

The artist can create a work which demonstrates truths regarding political overreach and social intrusion but if the artist is the only person who perceives that political overreach and social intrusion then his work will not be objectively or subjectively expressible to any audience (other than himself). That’s the domain of narrowly deluded conspiracy theorists and hardly the practice of an artist who wishes to commune with his fellow man as well as to be comprehensible to his fellow man and meaningful to the ages.

Kennedy’s speech, incidentally, is one of his finest and I hope he will not mind the posthumous adjustment which I have made. I think his spirit will be pleased with it. Later in the same speech he says the following, speaking of Robert Frost following the poet’s death:

“If Robert Frost was much honored in his lifetime, it was because a good many preferred to ignore his darker truths. Yet in retrospect, we see how the artist’s fidelity has strengthened the fibre of our national life.”

Kennedy is correct about Frost having strengthened America’s national life. Perhaps, in the absence of denial, the United States (like many societies of the past and many which will emerge in the future) might be able to appreciate this strengthening force or even be able to see a priority in augment it (and in so doing augment true and enduring national strength). Such an approach would allow the poet to see the fruits of their labor in terms of their communion with their fellow man and, in turn, it would allow society to engage with a poet and his work directly and discursively rather than having to appreciate the truth of the poet’s aspirational criticism in retrospect.

But that, too, is up to the individual citizen and the appreciation of any expression should not fall to any government agency or entity nor should expression be limited by the state.

Kennedy did include lines which reveal an important motivation behind my writing this book. Kennedy’s words, if taken to address something wider than (but inclusive of) “our society” and “our nation” speak of humanity’s unbounded potential:

“If sometimes our great artists have been the most critical of our society, it is because their sensitivity and their concern for justice, which must motivate any true artist, makes him aware that our Nation falls short of its highest potential. I see little of more importance to the future of our country and our civilization than full recognition of the place of the artist.”

The “place of the artist aside,” I yearn to see that human potential which I have seen unleashed in my travels and work. From a schoolroom in Kansas to the stage of Carnegie Hall, I have created and taken part in the joy of that artistic journey of creation and communion; in it I have found boundless joy for myself and for others. It is a great way to live.

Allow me to address one final question: What’s in it for me? Am I offering polemics? What are my motives here?

Our (the human race’s) potential is primed in such a way that only the opportunities of our age could provide. It is my earnest hope (and my current feeling) that mankind is on the brink of a boundless unleashing of beauty and creativity which, for the vast majority of humanity, means having access to that beauty and creativity (mission accomplished) and then being able to move the clouded misconceptions of a few passionate and loud voices out of the way so that the aforementioned humanity can more easily perceive beautiful things and know where and how to find those things (this is our current mission).

On poetics: this book will provide (through demonstration) an insight into my own work as a composer as well as the work of other composers and artists (again through demonstration). There is a reason for this demonstration and example.

While some readers will, I am sure, wish to pursue an advanced engagement with works of art, other persons (the vast majority) tend to simply satisfy themselves with enjoying and using works of art (at face value). This latter approach is not simply “fine.” It is essential, beautiful and pleasurable to the audiences for good works and the consumers of good works; I have never “understood” a measure of music as much as I have loved a musical work. That is the essential motivation behind the creation of art which is not exclusive to private use.

For those readers (the vast majority), my hope is that the examples, demonstrations and connections which are made in this book will give enough of an insight into artistic practices for the reader to find it reasonable to shun the pervasive cynicism and misrepresation of reality (and belief) which threatens to bedevil a human race that is, in reality, enjoying a greater flourish of success than we have known at any point in our history. What is more, we are primed to enjoy even greater prosperity in the years to come; the opportunity is there for the taking.

In order for that greater prosperity to be fully taken advantage of, a foundation of trust, belief (in ourselves and in other things) and construction have to abide as pre-requisites. Blind skepticism and cynicism are, it will be seen, often promoted as “intelligence.” They are, far from simply being unintelligent attitudes to allow or embrace, anti-intelligent.

The blind skepticism and cynicism (as well as the denial of the human spirit as fact) is corrosive to free thought and also to the understanding of reality and our place in it.

As an artist, it is my personal conviction that no artist (or any person for that matter) should ask others for blind trust in one’s work. If one believes their work and discipline to be worthy of rational engagement (I do) then one should engage rationally with people on the only basis we know: a human basis.

I am speaking of building an earned and rational communion of trust in the work of good artists and craftsmen (as earned by those artists and craftsmen) as well as a building of trust in one’s own sensory perceptions of reality, beauty and also a building of trust in work (as redefined to cohere with it’s true constructive definition and not with the anti-human destructive “business” which passes as work in our life-times which have been marked by, it is true, an excess of prosperity but also an excess of sham).

On anti-poetics: This book is, in no small part, devoted to detailed demonstration of the pervasiveness as well as the methods of anti-poets. My business in this book is not a moral or ethical one nor is it a political one. I will never run for office and am not interested in governing; I do not want anything from the majority of readers since I am not in the habit of asking for favors or acts of kindnesses from those whom I do not know.

I am simply making an offer of some general guidelines that will allow you to decipher counterfeit money when it is pushed upon you. This knowledge will empower you to be on the alert against the things that you should be on the alert about: false wares. With this alertness, you then have the capacity to reject that counterfeit money should you so chose to do so.

Everyone has a responsibly in the flow of monopoly money and, should you choose to reject it and insist on better wares (useful currency) then we will all benefit. When it comes to the decisions that individuals human beings make regarding their choices between buying bullshit and insisting on being offered well-crafted things, we are all in the market together, so to speak.

Acts of construction circulate. So do acts of crime and destruction.

I want to see the practice of construction, creativity and poetics be the defining practice of our age; one person and one work at a time.

That is my openly stated position and a full disclosure of my motivation for asking the reader to lend their time to a sensitive reading of this text; a text, I must emphasize, that is much bigger in the thoughts presented and the works demonstrated than the present author (personally) or the author’s work (my work, as a single composer, is indebted to many artists who are represented in these pages and many who are not).

Nothing gives me greater joy than the communion of work, pleasure and love which are at the height of human creativity. Let us now leave the “Green Man” behind and continue on our creative journey through the lessons of this book.

































1. First Symphony
When I presented an early draft of these lessons to people who work in fields that are far from those which are currently define as “artistic,” those people expressed surprise that I would ask for their perspective on the current text or (that I would take such a perspective seriously). Before the book is read until the end, these questions are understandable. I will sum up the reaction in the following terms: “What does art have to do with me and what involvement do I have in the arts? That’s your field.”

In this book I will offer ideas through explanation. I will only share findings that I have been able to ascertain through my testing of these findings. I will share my process of verification with the reader in all instances and will accomplish this through demonstration. The word explanation is derived from the Latin word “Explicare” which means “to unfold; to develop.” The reader can be assured that I will put forward only that which I have verified and which the reader can verify with ease. The explanations contained within these lessons are the result of my own personal observations as well as those of a great many artists. The artists in question are quoted at length. This will allow the reader to read their thoughts from the source. Having said this, it is now incumbent upon me to address the question: “what criteria must be met in order for someone to be considered an “artist?”

The definition what it means to be an “artist” has been corrupted. The reader will be shown the ways in which many definitions have been corrupted into their exact opposite with devastating consequences. The reader will also appreciate that definitions which have been corrupted can lead to misunderstandings and misperceptions. When someone corrupts the definition of a word, that person is, wittingly or unwittingly, engaged in an assault on objective truth. What is more, the person who would seek to corrupt definitions (or do nothing to remedy the corruption) are also engaged in an assault on common subjects. Understanding that which is objective is vital to common sense among human beings. People also need to possess a common understanding of the subjective lessons that are taught in schools (such as history or civics). This is not to say that everyone must have a common subjective idea of the world. That would be impossible and also tyrannical to the development of individual sensibilities. It is simply to suggest that students who learns about, say, The Gettysburg Address or the context of Martin Luther King’s I have a Dream Speech within the context of the Civil Rights Movement must arrive at a common understanding based on being in the same ball-park as their fellow citizens or classmates. The loss of the objective means the loss of our grip on reality; the liar attempts to obscure common sense. The loss of common subjects means the deterioration of a coherence that societies rely on in order to have an identity and also in order to cohere in that identity (this coherence can also be thought of as “the definition of identity”). The reader will now appreciate the seriousness of the task at hand. An artist must create something true and show it to be true by giving the work in question definition. When lies or superstition are applied to definitions, it misleads those who are subjected to the lie. The result is the misperception of that which should be defined. When definitions are abandoned (or when they are not understood to have a common meaning) the result is disastrous to maintaining common sense (objective reality) or common identity (subjective understanding). The reader will appreciate that the attack of the objective and subjective is an attack on everyone. The profession of the reader is of no consequence. The reader will understand that the forms, experiences and definitions that are being corrupted belong to a shared space in a certain world. The subjects and objects that are being perverted do not belong to those who pervert them. They belong to all of a society and, in many cases, are the universal property of the human race. (replacing it with chaos) as well as the corruption of definition (replacing that which is defined with ill-defined lies). If only for this reason alone, the reader should care about the subject at hand and care deeply.

When I presented an early draft of these lessons to people who work in fields that are far from those which are currently define as “artistic,” those people expressed surprise that I would ask for their perspective on the current text or (that I would take such a perspective seriously). Before the book is read until the end, these questions are understandable. I will sum up the reaction in the following terms: “What does art have to do with me and what involvement do I have in the arts? That’s your field.”

In this book I will offer ideas through explanation. I will only share findings that I have been able to ascertain through my testing of these findings. I will share my process of verification with the reader in all instances and will accomplish this through demonstration. The word explanation is derived from the Latin word “Explicare” which means “to unfold; to develop.” The reader can be assured that I will put forward only that which I have verified and which the reader can verify with ease. The explanations contained within these lessons are the result of my own personal observations as well as those of a great many artists. The artists in question are quoted at length. This will allow the reader to read their thoughts from the source. Having said this, it is now incumbent upon me to address the question: “what criteria must be met in order for someone to be considered an “artist?”

The definition what it means to be an “artist” has been corrupted. The reader will be shown the ways in which many definitions have been corrupted into their exact opposite with devastating consequences. The reader will also appreciate that definitions which have been corrupted can lead to misunderstandings and misperceptions. When someone corrupts the definition of a word, that person is, wittingly or unwittingly, engaged in an assault on objective truth. What is more, the person who would seek to corrupt definitions (or do nothing to remedy the corruption) are also engaged in an assault on common subjects. Understanding that which is objective is vital to common sense among human beings. People also need to possess a common understanding of the subjective lessons that are taught in schools (such as history or civics). This is not to say that everyone must have a common subjective idea of the world. That would be impossible and also tyrannical to the development of individual sensibilities. It is simply to suggest that students who learns about, say, The Gettysburg Address or the context of Martin Luther King’s I have a Dream Speech within the context of the Civil Rights Movement must arrive at a common understanding based on being in the same ball-park as their fellow citizens or classmates. The loss of the objective means the loss of our grip on reality; the liar attempts to obscure common sense. The loss of common subjects means the deterioration of a coherence that societies rely on in order to have an identity and also in order to cohere in that identity (this coherence can also be thought of as “the definition of identity”). The reader will now appreciate the seriousness of the task at hand. An artist must create something true and show it to be true by giving the work in question definition. When lies or superstition are applied to definitions, it misleads those who are subjected to the lie. The result is the misperception of that which should be defined. When definitions are abandoned (or when they are not understood to have a common meaning) the result is disastrous to maintaining common sense (objective reality) or common identity (subjective understanding). The reader will appreciate that the attack on the objective and subjective is an attack on everyone. The profession of the reader is of no consequence. The reader will understand that the forms, experiences and definitions that are being corrupted belong to a shared space in a certain world. The subjects and objects that are being perverted do not belong to those who pervert them. They belong to all of a society and, in many cases, are the universal property of the human race. (replacing it with chaos) as well as the corruption of definition (replacing that which is defined with ill-defined lies). If for this reason alone, the reader should care about the subject at hand and care deeply.

“The word artist, which, as it is most generally understood today, bestows on its bearer the highest intellectual prestige, the privilege of being accepted as a pure mind this pretentious term is in my view entirely incompatible with the role of the homo faber.”

Of the many correct definitions of art that I have read, Samuel Johnson’s Dictionary of the English Language (1755) is the most succinct and accurate:
“ART  (ART)   n.s.[arte, Fr. ars, Lat.]1. The power of doing something not taught by nature and instinct; as, to walk is natural, to dance is an art.”

Plant begets plant and tree begets tree but bed does not beget bed. The wood of the tree would need to be appropriated by an artist in order to fashion a bed by design and not of it’s own kind. The making of the bed is an example of artistic rather than natural creation.

“At this point” says Stravinsky, “it should be remembered that, what-ever field of endeavor has fallen to our lot, if it is true that we are intellectuals, we are called upon not to cogitate but to perform.”

“Art in the true definition is a way of fashioning works according to certain methods acquired either by apprenticeship or by inventiveness. And methods are the straight and predetermined channels that insure the or by inventiveness. And methods are the straight and predetermined channels that insure the rightness of our operation.”

A thing done; an effect produced; something not barely supposed or suspected, but really done.
Reality; not supposition; not speculation.
Action; deed.

When it comes to music, Stravinsky offers a lucid example. “I shall take” he says, “the most banal example: that of the pleasure we experience on hearing the murmur of the breeze in the trees, the rippling of the brook, the song of a bird. All this pleases us, diverts us, delights us. We may even say: What lovely music! Naturally, we are speaking only in terms of comparison. But then, comparison is not reason.”

“These natural sounds” he explains, “suggest music to us, but are not yet themselves music. If we take pleasure in these sounds by imagining that on being exposed to them we become musicians and even, momentarily, creative musicians, we must admit that we are fooling ourselves.” This is an important distinction between the happenstance of being inspired by sounds of nature on the one hand and creating art on the other. The two are not equivalent since art requires a process of creation.

Speaking of nature’s offerings, Stravinsky observes that these sounds “are promises of music; it takes a human being to keep them: a human being who is sensitive to nature’s many voices, of course, but who in addition feels the need of putting them in order and who is gifted for that task with a very special aptitude. In his or her hands all that I have considered as not being music will become music. From this I conclude that tonal elements become music only by virtue of their being organized, and that such organization presupposes a conscious human act.”

“It is no secret to any of you that the exact meaning of poetics is the study of work to be done. The verb poiem from which the word is derived means nothing else but to do or make. The poetics of the classical philosophers did not consist of lyrical dissertations about natural talent and about the essence of beauty. For them the single word techne embraced both the fine arts and the useful arts and was applied to the knowledge and study of the certain and inevitable rules of the craft. That is why Aristotle’s Poetics constantly suggest ideas regarding personal work, arrangement of materials, and structure.”

This conscious human act is a poetic act: one of making. I’d like to start by describing elements of construction in my own art-form, music. I choose this as a point of departure because of music’s proximity to universal forms. Music is one of two art forms that is bound to time (the other art form being film). The construction of music is inseparable from music’s interaction of matter, energy, time, and space.

In his Poetics, Aristotle defined the two methods by which we can cause musical instruments to make sound. He describes a process where “by conscious art or mere habit,” people “imitate and represent various objects through the medium of color and form, or again by the voice; so in the arts above mentioned, taken as a whole, the imitation is produced by rhythm, language, or ‘harmony,’ either singly or combined.”

“Thus,” continues Aristotle, “in the music of the flute and of the lyre, ‘harmony’ and rhythm alone are employed; also in other arts, such as that of the shepherd’s pipe, which are essentially similar to these. In dancing, rhythm alone is used without ‘harmony’; for even dancing imitates character, emotion, and action, by rhythmical movement.”

Aristotle’s use of the words “flute and lyre” should be understood to encompass all instruments that are activated either by breath (“flute” meaning all aerophones or wind instruments) on the one hand or all instruments activated by being struck (“lyre” meaning string instruments, percussion instruments and anything else that is struck with the hand, bow, plectrum, mallet or any other object in order to produce sound). This is a simple basis that encompasses all the musical instruments known to humanity. This is how musicians cause their instruments to produce “energy in vibratory motion” by effect of those instruments being beaten, blown, plucked, struck, or frictionized with a bow.

One of the universal elements of musical construction is what we call “harmony.” Here is one of the most common chords; one that any listener of any music whether traditional or synthetic, will find to be familiar [AUDIO EXAMPLE 2.1]:

But how did people arrive at this chord and why does it sound so familiar and universal?

The acoustical phenomenon behind the musical elements such as the chord above is called the harmonic series; also known as the overtone series. It is not hard to understand this phenomenon if you remember the basic high school physics lesson in which we learned that all sounds are produced by vibrating bodies. These bodies send out waves. If such a vibrating body is irregularly constituted, (like fire)… it will when struck emit waves which are irregular, and our ears will perceive them as noise. But if the source of vibration is of a consistent structure, like any one of the strings in a piano, it will emit regular waves, and we hear them as a musical tone. Of course, the source doesn’t have to be a string:can be a column of air, as in a clarinet, or a column of steel, as in a tubular bell, or a stretched animal hide, as in a kettle drum.

Let’s play the following note (C) on the keyboard of a piano and cause the hammer to strike this particular piano string:


The string outlined above is of a particular length, tension, thickness, and density. When struck by its hammer, it produces sound waves at a frequency of 64 vibrations per second, and is known to the world as the note C [AUDIO EXAMPLE 2.2]:


Now comes the interesting part. If I sit at the piano and play that low C, you may think you’re hearing only that one tone—a dark, rich bass note—but you’re not; you are simultaneously hearing a whole series of higher tones that are sounding at the same time [AUDIO EXAMPLE 2.3]:

These are arranged in an order preordained in nature and ruled by universal physical laws. If this is news to you, I hope it’s good news.

All these upper notes of which you may be unaware result from a phenomenon of nature whereby any “pitch-producing source,” such as that piano string, vibrates not only as the whole string sounding that low C:


The string also vibrates in fractional segments of itself— with each fractional segment vibrating separately:


It’s as though the string were infinitely divisible, into two halves, into three thirds, four quarters, and so on. And the smaller those segments are, the faster they vibrate, producing higher and higher frequencies and therefore higher and higher tones—OVERtones.

These overtones, or harmonics, as they’re also called, are all sounding together with the fundamental sound of the full string. This is the basic principle by which the entire harmonic series is generated, starting on any fundamental tone.




The higher overtones are naturally less apparent to the ear than the fundamental, which is in this case low C [AUDIO EXAMPLE 2.4]:

The overtones continue to sound more and more faintly as they go higher.

Any note I strike will contain its own series of overtones, but the lower the note I strike, the more abundantly audible will be its harmonic series, which accounts in part for the comparative richness of that low C.

Now remember, I spoke of a preordained sequence in which the overtones appear. Let’s see if I can make you actually hear some of those overtones in that order.

Here is the first overtone of the series:


According to the laws of physics, this first overtone must be exactly an octave higher than the fundamental C we have been hearing. Here is the fundamental C [AUDIO EXAMPLE 2.5]:

And here is the first overtone (the C one octave higher than the fundamental) [AUDIO EXAMPLE 2.6]:


Demonstrating the proximity that the higher C has to the fundamental on the harmonic series is simple. Silently press down the key of this higher C on the piano and hold it down (so that the string is free to vibrate) and then abruptly strike the fundamental C an octave lower [AUDIO EXAMPLE 2.7]:


You should clearly hear the first overtone vibrating sympathetically an octave above its fundamental:


This upper C is an integral part of the C an octave below. It’s a built-in harmonic, sounded by the two halves of the lower string vibrating independently. The reader will find the proportions illustrated below:

A fact that I find to be fascinating and beautiful is evident here: each single note that we hear only appears to be one single note. In reality, when you play the “C” fundamental, you’re hearing all it’s harmonics contained within it by virtue of the simple fact that the “C” (or any other note) also sounds it’s sympathetic vibrations. These harmonically sympathetic vibrations are not simply relatives of a note. They are part and parcel of what gives every note it’s individual sound. They are part of any note being struck or played

Each note, therefore, is a harmony; a naturally preordained “chord”.

The next overtone of this preordained sequence results from that same fundamental string vibrating in three parts: and this one will be the first different overtone—that is, the first one you’ll hear other than a C. It’s going to be a G (as follows) [AUDIO EXAMPLE 2.8]:


The first different overtone is always a perfect 5th away from it’s fundamental.

And now, we may repeat the experiment. Press this new note (G) down silently. Now, again, strike the fundamental (C) as illustrated [AUDIO EXAMPLE 2.9]:



The reader should now hear the G sounding clearly. This is a new tone (G) which should sound clearly in sympathetic vibration with the note which is struck (C). And with that we have arrived at a significant point.

The fundamental tone and its first overtone are really the same note, C, but an octave apart. This new overtone, G is a fifth away from C . So we now have two different tones; and once they are established in our ears, we are in a position to understand the invisible workings behind all pitches and tones found in every music on the planet. The C an octave above the fundamental is always proximate to the fundamental.

The harmonic series is the natural explanation for universal instincts among musicians all over the world. It provides tonal infrastracutre of all “keys,” “modes,” “ragas,” “maquamat,” etc. The function of the fifth (G) in tonal music has been felt as a force which has drawn and continues to draw all musicians to a “home-tone” when making a musical work. Owing to it’s proximity to the fundamental (in the sequence called the harmonic series,” the 5th provides us with a naturally occurring device that we can utilize in order to begin and end a musical work with a sense of “departure”from a tone and end the work with a “return” to that tone. The vibrations inherent in harmonic motion provide the composer, songwriter or bard with the natural resource needed to design a musical work which is oriented and centered. While the octave characteristically offers a finality, the fifth offers a sense of inevitability which draws the listener to the final tone or harmony (which is related to it by virtue of it’s being the first discreet not in the celestial sequence) [AUDIO EXAMPLE 2.1.1]:


On to the next overtone, which is again a C, a fourth higher than the G we just heard. But the next one is again a new pitch, this time a third higher than its predecessor—(notice that the intervals are getting progressively “smaller” as we ascend the harmonic series—which began with an octave, then a fifth, a fourth, and now a third), and this new overtone will be this note E. It’s a bit fainter, but it’s there for all to hear [AUDIO 2.1.2].

We have the first four overtones of the series: the fundamental, plus one, two, three and four [AUDIO 2.1.3]:



Three of these pitches (highlighted above in red, green and blue) are actually different pitches. Let us now isolate those pitches as follows [AUDIO EXAMPLE 2.1.4]:


Now we will arrange the three notes above so as to cause them to correspond to the order in which they would appear in a scale AUDIO EXAMPLE 2.1.5]:

They constitute the chord we were looking for (this constellation is known as a major triad in this context) [AUDIO EXAMPLE 2.1.6]:


This is the chord with which my Fifth Symphony begins as can be seen clearly in the trombone part. I have highlighted the part in question in yellow. Here is the first page of the score:


2. Second Symphony: Making Harmony

Before getting into the form of my Symphony, I would like to clarify some definitions about music in general and, specifically, about the way in which human beings have utilized the harmonic motions of the planet (which all human beings are aware of either implicitly or explicitly) in order to make music.

There are two types of music. All other descriptions and categories that one might know or hear about describe one or another (or both) of these basic types. They are as follows:

1) Traditional Music
2) Technical Music

technic (adj.)
1610s, “technical,” from Latin technicus, from Greek tekhnikos “of or pertaining to art, made by art,” from tekhne “art, skill, craft” (see techno-).

As a noun, “performance method of an art,” 1855, a nativization of technique.


We can now turn to my Symphony. The “Symphony” is said to “intimidate” people but there is certainly no need to be intimidated by the familiar. My first four symphonies have been among my most well-received works. The way that the “symphonic form” is taught by “academics” who, from my long experience with them in my conservatory years and beyond, have evidently never contemplated the undertaking of settling down to compose a symphony (in even an amateur capacity), perform in a symphony or, failing any of those viable options, simply making allowances of time and convenience for those of us who were engaging in the business of composing our own symphonies (to say nothing of arranging performances of said works in conjunction with our instrumentalist colleagues whom, it must said, would have also appreciated their “allowance” so that they could get on with the task of playing symphonies)without being subjected to their unhelpful intrusions and misinformation. Their motive bewilders and confounds me. Suffice it to say, Mozart, Haydn, Takemitsu, El Dhab, Bernstein, Beethoven, Mahler, Schubert, Tchaikovsky, William Grant Still, Bartok, Stravinsky and many, many other composers who have written symphonies do not have a “mold” or utilize retrospectively applied theories such as “the circle of fifths,” “sonata form,” “expositions,” or any other such definition which implies a “common practice.” The diversity of the named group alone should testify to the lack of existence of any inherited cookie-cutters or other such baking utensils (I say “inherited” because there were also those who invented their own jargon and taught it as gospel.) Pozzi Escot/Zuritsky

Of course, “academics” are not academics (there were several good teachers to speak of) and “critics” are not critics (the insight and sympathetic advice of true critics is one of the most stimulating, touching, and alas, all too rare experiences I have known). Since I have informed the reader that systemic approaches to understanding “symphonies” are not productive, I would now like to offer the reader a different approach to the parsing of a symphony. Let us begin by putting the present author under the “microscope” (at my own hands of course) by which I mean that I will show you how my 5th Symphony is constructed utilizing a method which is poetically-oriented (concerned with the demonstration of craft). I am embarking upon a demonstrative technique which is new and certain. Rather than appreciate the “whole” after it is finished, I will start at the “atomic” level and proceed cyclically outward from the “center.” This process will manifest and reveal itself more and more clearly as we progress in parsing the Symphony.

I will now proceed keeping the following sequence:

The symphony in the elemental (Form and Movement)
The symphony in the structural (Form and Movement)
The symphony in the phrase (Form and Movement)
The symphony in the phrases (Form and Movement)
The symphony in the symphonic (Form and Movement)
The symphony in the duality (Form and Movement)

A Chorale is a hymn or psalm which is sung by the human voice (as opposed to played on instruments). Chorales can be secular or sacred and they can be based on traditional melodies as well as on composed melodies. Chorales can also be newly composed altogether. The one thing that all “standard” chorales have in common is that they are sung in parts (usually four parts which come together to make up a chorus).


From the Alhambra to Istanbul’s Blue Mosque, India’s Taj Mahal and the Mosques at Medina and Mecca, sacred art made by Muslims tends to express attic shapes. This is not due to any “tradition” or “edict” (Islam has neither a tradition nor does it allow for a theological authority to issue edicts). Muslim artists have worked in various traditions on all five continents and have rendered the world in a variety of ways. All of these renditions are, in fact, figurative and (contrary to popular belief) the Quran contains no “Islamic edict” prohibiting figurative renditions of the figures described in the Old Testament, New Testament or the Quran itself. The majority of artists, however, have preferred eternal and abstract forms such as words and their calligraphic representations, poems (Yusuf and Zuleikha or the Conference of Birds come immediately to mind), architecture and many other purely figurative art forms to the representation of man.

These cold and attic shapes of unending time flourished and the divine infinity of representing geometric forms gained favor over the placement of the explicit representation of mankind and our own likeness at the center of the universes.

This is especially true of the art created for places of worship and meditation (such as mosques). The first words revealed in the Quran consist of a command: “Read!” This is followed by the following four lines:

“Read! Read in the name of thy Lord and Cherisher, Who created-
Created man, out of a clot of congealed blood:
Read! And thy Lord is Most Bountiful,-
He Who taught through the use of a pen,-
Taught man that which he previously knew not and perceived not”



This should explain why many Muslim artists have chosen to render higher things through the realization of forms which express the recursive spheres of heavens and earth in a way that was formerly abstract.

This art is expressive of pure form in which all is form and all is content. Form and content are one.

These arches, for example, are certainly not metaphysical. They have been made into fact. While we could not previously perceive these shapes, we can now sense them in the most immediate way: they are physical shapes.

And so, what was once metaphysical has now been made physical.

This is why I have chosen to express higher things through the use of music without the addition of words (or any other art-form). It is the art of pure form in which all is form and all is content which compels me.

The first section of the Symphony is called Chorale of Columns. It is inspired by the way in which harmonic motion is actualized in the columns above. An understanding of how I am constructing my Symphony in relation to the columns which are recorded in the picture above is best attained through demonstration.

Let us, first, visualize the fundamental note of our chord, “C” as one of the three sections which can see in the picture of the columns above. This column (highlighted below) represents the first “note in our triad”: C.





Now, it is important to understand that all of the columns which follow into the distance are not identical to the column highlighted above even though they are structurally the same. The columns are the same and yet they take on a different form to the observer because of the way that they are arranged according to where we are standing.

Relativity dictates that objects which are further away from us will look smaller than those which are closest to us. But this is not all that will happen as we stand at this vantage point in the Zayed Mosque. From where we are standing, a column will not only be perceived to be more and more distant if it is further away from our vantage point. It will also form a shape in relation to the other columns and in relation to the structure as a whole.

These columns are similar to one another but must be perceived as an expression of harmonic motion because of the artistic construction of the Mosque itself. This expression renders the columns above akin to harmonics as we saw within that single piano string “C”:


It does not matter how a musician happens to tune, where he happens to play (or sing) the note or what he happens to call the note. Nor does it matter whether the musician is playing a sitar or a timpano or an Ud or any other instrument. It doesn’t matter what the musician happens to call the note in question, as long as he plays a note, the relationship between the note and it’s overs will always be the same as will the sequence of harmonic motion (meaning the harmonics will retain the same constellation in relation to one another. What and how we see is determined by the vantage point (relativity of series) as far as our own sensory relationship with the objects in question are concerned.

This all means that what we “see” in our mind’s eye is determined by the angle from which we sense the object(s) which we are observing.

If this note happens to be “C,” then C will be our Fundamental (as follows)And, after that, the harmonic constellation presents itself in relationship to the note itself. Everything begins with, and is contained within, that single note.

Here is how the constellation of overtones would appear and how it relates to the pillars which follow our “fundamental” (C an octave above, G, C, E, G etc):


This fundamental “C” happens to vibrate at 64 vibrations per second. This means that the “C” an octave above it will vibrate at 128 vibrations per second (twice as fast) and the G above that would continue as we have represented in the outline below. One can insert any number (in terms of vibrations per second) into the graph-outline below and it will follow harmonically in terms of the fractions outlined here (starting with the insertion of our 64 HRZ “C” as the Fundamental “1”:


But our “Fundamental 1” is not really “1” at all. Al, Kindi, who gave us the word “Music” by composing his “Grand Book of Music” expresses the instant multiplicity of everything that we can see or perceive, make or study in the following terms:

“The true One possesses no matter, form, quantity, quality, or relation. And is not described by any of the other terms: it has no genus, no specific difference, no individual, no proper accident, and no common accident. It does not move, and is not described through anything that is denied to be one in truth. It is therefore only pure unity, I mean nothing other than unity. And every one other than it is multiple.”

And so, the very first note of my Symphony or any symphony or song is (like this “C”) already a Symphony. The word “Symphony” is a combination of syn- (“together”) + phone (”voice, sound,”). The single note “C” contains within it all of the relationships above and more which I will explain.

The first note of my Symphony, what is often described as a “single” note contains a binary-based multiplicity which is expressed so beautifully in the physical structure of these Columns in the Zayed Mosque. Here is an image which shows the fundamental as well as the first three harmonics:


That single note contains within it, a universe of notes which vibrates as a part of that note itself. Just as the “harmonic series” which is presented in the columns above is based on our perception of the columns (relativity-based perception) depending on where we are standing, so is our ability to perceive the note “C.”

When I write the note “C”, I am asking for a specific pitch. A pianist who sees the following note in one of my scores will play this note on the piano:

And we will hear the note which I have written “C.” But, in order to hear this “single” note, we actually hear a symphony which is visualized as follows:

The first note “alone”, then, is the first “symphony” in my Fifth Symphony. Every note which follows will contain within it a Symphony of harmonic movements that inform every intention that every composer makes when sifting through the materials of the universe in order to arrange the music of a symphony. This “listening” to the invisible but sense-able sound of the planet (and all other celestial bodies) is also an influence to everyone who has ever heard or sung a song or made a musical sound. Musicians imitate these movements on many levels which are conscious and many more which are intuitive (we will see examples of these imitations throughout the book).

All music is, built from two elements:

1) Pitch

Every pitch is naturally beholden to the Harmonic Series and to Harmonic motion. There are no such things as “monophonic music,” “Polyphonic music,” “Harmony” (in the sense of “chords”), “hetero-phony,” and the many other terms which one will find presented and defended in order to justify one musical “tradition” (or similarly ill-described thing) or another.

This is not to say that these terms are useless. Quite the contrary. They are useful if one knows their meaning and proper application (in terms of what they refer to). Suffice it to say, these terms are used to describe the musical practice of human beings who make music rather than the natural elements of music on which that practice is based. By this I mean all music which is made by human musicians universally and without exception adheres to a “common practice.” There is an astonishing and complimentary diversity to be found (and loved) within that “common practice” but the elements remain the same.


The realization of the Symphony contained within a single note allowed Al-Kindi to map an inward spiral and outward spiral of pitches as follows:


I will show direct uses that composers have found in this “braiding” phenomenon that span centuries and continents. By the later 1200s, Safi al-Din ‘Abd al-Mu’min mapped out the Pitch alignments of the twelve shudud modes, as follows in his Kitab al-adwar (the Book of Cycles):


And here are the Khafíf al-thaqīl (rhythmic cycles) as represented in the same text:


These cyclical forms are the first form of my Symphony and are to be found in every single note. I will later show how these cyclical forms actually operate in a powerfully artistic way by showing an example from the body of symphonic works which were composed by Ludwig Van Beethoven. These works were preserved for us to enjoy and also for musical youth to learn from their playful mastery find inspiration in their sublime humanity. This is why I hope that the reader will not mind if I share music in which I find great joy so that I may share that joy with the reader and others.

These cycles express the elemental art and inspiration which is present in my Fifth Symphony as well as the rest of my works and the works of my fellow composers and musicians.

We have just discussed the two factors of movement and form in the most elemental way: by visualizeing the first note of my present work. We have illustrated movement in harmonic motion. We have illustrated form in spherical cycles. This is the meaning of the word symphony when used to describe a great but minute sounding together which is all contained within the starting note of my symphony: “C.”

And so we have concluded with the first “symphony” in my Fifth Symphony.

Let us now move “outward” traveling along the same circular path which describe movement on the one hand and form on the other. I would now like to consider the opening of the work which, the reader will recall, opens with not a single note but a chord. In particular, we are referring to this triad:


Having demonstrated how humanity arrived at this form, I would now like to explain it’s construction and purpose in such a way that will expand the microscopic circle with which we have just begun exploring my Symphony. This step of examination reveals a fact that

This next step in my explanation of the form of my Symphony involves the demonstration of a fact that demands an explanatory aside before we launch into an examination of the form and craft proper. While the harmonic series and harmonic motion are naturally occurring physical phenomena, the chord above (sometimes called a “harmony”) is not naturally occurring but rather it is synthesized by human beings.

The chord above is made by art. The harmonic series occurs in nature. To put it another way, the Mona Lisa was painted by Da Vinci. The oil which forms the base of the paint was attained from nature. We cannot say that Mozart, for example, “created” the harmonic series any more than we can claim that Rodin created bronze.

This is a crucial difference because knowing this fact means that one also knows that the study of music as a study of that which is naturally occurring is a science (called “music”). The making of music is an art (also called “music”). Al Kindi and Aristotle study music as a science and, in their poetics, they comment on the practice of artists as far as this practice pertains to the construction of music. Musicians (and artists in general) have also written about their practice. These writings which involve poetics (making) are not rumination on pleasant facies and imaginative stories but they are very pleasant indeed in that poetical works can inform artists and others of illuminating discourse having to do with the construction of an art-work or art-works in general. Poetics is not “Theory” nor is it “Philosophy” or “Aesthetics.” Moreover, poetics (and criticism) should not to be confused with those things which, more often than not, are the genres of persons who will offer their personal (and often very private) feelings and not much else. I must also discard of the notion that artists do not read the works of those scientists who study art from a scientific perspective. This would imply that artists do not comprehend the basic building blocks with which they construct objects which, if made by a good artist, are held to be the standards of human technical accomplishment in those particular areas with which they engage.

The myth of a great series of divisions (and competitive one’s at that) that is proposed or supposed to exist in a conflicted “war” between broad branches of knowledge is a lie. It is also damaging in addition to being repulsive to every true lover of knowledge; it is especially sad that the destructive persons who promote such division also proclaim themselves to be “lovers of knowledge.” We will look at examples of this phenomenon and, in examining such examples, we will understand that they may also believe themselves to be that which they falsely advertise themselves to be,

With this explanation behind us, let us look at the chord (or “triad”) with which my Fifth Symphony begins. I have magnified the chord (which is played (by three trombones) in the first page of the score:

Let us now assign each of the three “rows” created by the columns with a pitch (note) which corresponds to a note in this chord. Knowing that we need the notes C, E and G, and that these notes are intended to form a harmony (chord), let us proceed in accordance to the sequence of the notes as they appear in the harmonic series. Here, for reference, are notes as they appear in the harmonic series (on the left). On the right is the C Major chord, fully labeled, as it would appear if we derived the chord from the harmonic series:

This means that the first note (which I have marked red in both the harmonic series and in the chord) is “C” and this would be followed by G (marked in green in the series and in the chord above). Let us now assign the “C” to one row of columns and then assign the “G” to another row of columns.


As we can see, there is a gap in our “triad” which needs to be filled. This “gap” results from the fact that the notes (in order to form our c major chord) need to appear in a certain order. We read the order of chords from “bottom” to “top” because of the fact that the harmonic series proceeds from a fundamental tone in an “upward” direction (with regards to harmonic motion and sympathetic vibrations).

This means that we need to derive the notes “C” “E” and “G” from the natural harmonic sequence in the following order: The C which occurs first in the series is also the first part (bottom to top) of our chord. The G which occurs second in the series is the third portion of our chord (at the top of our chord). The E which occurs fourth in the series becomes the second part of our chord.

Simply put, “1, 2, 4” is rearranged into “1, 2, 3” in order to form our chord. This is easy to understand and I have illustrated the process here:

Now that we have synthesized a “C Major Chord,” let us attach each note to a “row” of columns in the Zayed Mosque:

The reader will recall the fact that the harmonic series is natural but the C Major chord is made by art. This is the case with all manmade music and it’s arrangement. Therefore, the only symphony which is naturally occurring in my work is the symphony of notes contained within each individual note. All other constellations and arrangements from here on out are synthetically made.

Each of the notes of our C Major Chord will contain a “symphony” of harmonics within itself and each series will correspond to the same relationship between the fundamental and it’s harmonics. The reader can attain all the harmonics by following the same sequence for any given note or harmonic frequency. Take the “E” as 1 (in the example below) and chart out the same sequence of notes from that E. The only thing that changes is the note. The relations and proportions between the notes stay the same.

The columns of the Zayed Mosque prove a perfect way to understand this relativity.

The only thing that changes is the one object that is variable: you. The relations and proportions between the columns stay the same. When one substitutes “E” for “C” the harmonics derived from the E will be the same. The individual note (“E,” “G,” “441 HZ” or anything else) is the only variable. The only thing we can “change” as far as which notes of the harmonic series we hear more clearly, is the note (or notes) which we play and the way in which we play them. In other words, the series remains the same; it is only our perception which changes based on our fundamental (vantage point).

The columns of the Zayed Mosque are a marvelous representation of the harmonic series (and harmonic motion more generally). They are a manmade representation of the objects which we perceive as well as what we subjectively perceive (in our mind).

When visiting the mosque, one will appreciate that the columns, though immovable, are “moving” in the perception of our mind. The only object which physically moves is you (the person viewing the columns and the mosque).

The two individual pillars which I have highlighted below are objects. They exist and are clear to the senses as manmade objects:


These physical shapes are complimented by shapes which are formed by looking at areas such as the one which I have roughly highlighted here:


The shape which I have highlighted is not really “there.” It is outlined by the objects which are there. This shape is formed and perceived by our mind. This is true of other perceived shapes as well as their “harmonics” which follow in the “series” as the columns progress. These mental “shapes” affect the way we perceive the physically “real” shapes as well as the way we “see” them as they will change based on our position.

The columns also provide the best representation of the structure which exists in the “triad.” The needed constellation is instantly clearer if reader keeps in mind the following image in which I have applied the notes of the triad to the three rows of the vestibule in the Zayed Mosque.

The two adjacent pillars (marked C and E above) are vital to the structural cohesion of the three columns above. They join one column to the next in order to form the whole. The first row of columns in the “pillar of C” is joined to the second row of columns (“pillar of E”) as follows:

The E is then joined to G as follows:


But, in order to build our whole triad “from the bottom upward” we must stack “E” on top of “C” and “G” on top of “E.” If we prefer to be clearer, we can read the chord from the top and move downwards (G, E, C). In this case, we simply put “G” on top of “E” and put “E” on top of “C.”

Either way you cut it, the very semantics which describe the construction of the triad contains two mentions of the note “E”:
Place “E” on top of “C” and place “G” on top of “E.”
Place “G” on top of “E” and place “E” on top of “C.”

We can read the c major chord in two ways (bottom to top or top to bottom). I prefer the second description as it even allows us to understand how we have arrived at our “home note” (“C”).

Either way (up or down) is fine as long as we are reading from top to bottom or from bottom to top. This is a cycle after all but it is a cycle which proceeds vertically. We cannot read (or hear) chords horizontally. They must be heard as a simultaneous group of notes which are all played together. These component notes of a chord can be singled out and described in the following two ways:

1) from bottom to top (C, E, G)

2) from top to bottom:

Music in general, however, must be read from left to right (as is the case with the mathematical system of notion used by most composers around the world) or from right to left (as many other notional systems used in all parts of the world). This is because music progresses through time. Take the following work of mine (called Domination of Darkness) which is written for two performers: one flute player and one singer. In it, the singer would read the music from left to right as it progresses in time:


The flute player will similarly read the music from left to right. Together, they will perform their parts simultaneously as follows:

If I “drop the pin” on any simultaneous sounding of two or more notes in my work, we have a “chord” which is produced by freezing the moment and parsing the notes in question. For example, the coincidence of the notes “E” and “C” in the highlighted section of music which follows is an example of a chord:

The motion of music (moving through time as above) does not yield a chord. The frozen “moment” of music I’ve just quoted actually lasts for less than a second since we are metrically progressing through time at 72-76 beats per minute (which can also be seen if one looks at my indication of the speed of the pulse in the excerpt). If we view the columns of the Zayed Mosque vertically (as music progresses through time), the relation of notes in our triad would look like this.


The movement of notes in this image would correctly translate into the following:


Since this does not correspond to anything which is objectively present in the picture, how does the harmonic motion which is represented in the picture correspond to the triad of my symphony. To answer this we must fist connect that which is objective to that which we perceive. The “C” corresponds to the column (“C”) as follows:


If one was moving through time (as music does), the next step on our journey to “G” would involve this:

This movement would mean that “E” and “E” would repeat on the same column and therefore at the same pitch (not the octave) but the very same pitch played once:

This motion is not possible when dealing with any “harmony” or chord which is manmade.

To form the triad, we must first connect the notes together with reference to the objects that I am representing and which are concrete in the Mosque:

We have now connected “C” to “E” and “E” to “G.”

Having done this, we are ready to make the connection between the three notes of the C Major triad as a triad. The final step in forming a true triad which corresponds to the harmonic motion seen in the columns at the Zayed Mosque is to connect the three notes using the two-note “dyads” which connect them. This results in the following connection of “C” “E” and “G”:


That the “triad” which we have brought forth reveals a triangle should be of no surprise to anyone as an illustrative point. The TRIad as well as the TRIangle are structures which contain three constituent points. In order to form a single unit these points must be connected. The “E” is the central point which connects the triangle that can be drawn if a common point is sought between the two columns which connect “C” and “E” (which I have pointed out using a black arrow) on the left and the other two columns which connect “E” and “G” (pointed out using the orange arrow) on the right:

And so we have discovered the second “symphony” in my work. This “symphony” is a human creation called a chord (or “triad”), the very first simultaneous combination of notes in my symphony:



We are now ready to move forward through time together with the music of the Symphony. Before we conclude our discussion of this second “symphony within a Symphony,” I would like to offer two crucial observations.

I observed earlier that the objects such as the two individual pillars (highlighted below) are physical objects. They exist and are clear to the senses. They are manmade objects:

I also noted that these physical shapes are complimented by shapes which are formed by looking at areas such as the one (highlighted) here. This “shape” is made in the mind of the viewer; not by the creator of the columns.


Similarly, all the things which are not linked to actual physical objects which human beings can perceive are not imperceptible. They are perceptions that belong to our minds. This is why the Columns at the Zayed Mosque are a physical representation of harmonic motion. These columns are not harmonic motion itself (something which cannot be seen but must be made visible by man). This is also the case with the triangle which illustrates our triad. It is seen in the mind’s eye but is not seen as a physical form. This does not mean that the triad is not there. The triad is there and there for all to see.




The Mosque itself represents harmonic motion and the harmonic series. The triad derives from harmonic motion and the harmonic series. This is an explicit and intentional representation of the harmonic Series on the part of the builders of the Mosque. It is the harmonic series itself that makes the motion of the mosque sensible as well as sense-able to the observer. I am simply saying that the stuff of metaphysics is not the stuff of physics. We make the metaphysical clear to the senses through the rational and logical demonstration of it’s presence. The triad which I heard in my “mind’s ear” was as palpable to me as the derived shape which I have highlighted and placed beside it.


That which was once part of my speculative volition is now here for all to hear in my symphony and it is also here for all to see how I have arrived at the realization of what was previously inspiration and thought:

There are many useless studies of music that are as confusing to the musician and listener of music as they seem to be confounding to those who impart them. The vast majority of individuals who define themselves as “music theorists” (by this they mean that they study the musical works produced by composers; this is not the study of “music” in the scientific sense) are confused about harmony. There are many “theories” of “tonal harmony” which exist and can be perused online. The study of “Harmony” is the study of chords which are frozen in time and analyzed in too many ways to describe here. These studies do not take the work of any specific composer as an example but elect to, instead, derive a “common practice” that is theorized to have existed and spanned the work countless human beings over the centuries. One of the texts still used by these theorists in professing their theories begins as follows:

“Melody existed before Harmony (using both words in their modern sense); the sounds, therefore, which were first used for the purpose of harmonization must have been taken from the component parts of the melody, that is to say, from the Scale.”

A Chord, therefore, is defined as “a combination of notes taken from a scale, or sometimes (but rarely) from two closely-allied scales.”
I have shown the reader how the triad which we have been discussing is derived and how naturally it follows from the harmonic series. The statement “Melody existed before Harmony” is spurious. The theorist has no way of ascertaining that humanly-constructed harmonies preceded humanly constructed melodies while there are countless instances and physical proof that demonstrates the facts: melody and harmony existed together from the very beginning. He tells us, however, that his use of the word (presumably to mean the study of human beings’ harmonies attained by freezing the music contained within the scores created by human beings) is “modern” and, we are to assume that this grants the author the viability required to command continued reading of his text. The idea that people sang together or played together and then removed harmonies which are “taken from the component parts of the melody” depicts human beings who do not hear the harmonic series in their minds. These people just tried whatever they could and then proceeded to take harmony “from the component parts” of their communal music-making when they happened upon something reasonable. That is an insult to the amount of richness contained in the harmonies which we hear in nature and the world from the earth’s motion to the songs of birds. It is also an insult to the rational capacities of human beings to hear and sift what they hear.
The author continues. Here is another sample:
“As all chords are made up of thirds, inversions are reckoned and named from the distance of the bass note from the root, in thirds: thus the bass of the first inversion is one third from the root; that of the second inversion, two thirds ( = a fifth) from the root, and so on.
It is evident that every chord has one inversion fewer than the number of notes required to form that chord.”
Why would anyone depend on the need to “reckon” when one can hear? The next step which the author takes is at the beginning of a new chapter. “Having defined a chord as a combination of thirds taken from a scale,” he says, “it is necessary to exhibit a scale in thirds…” He then goes on to demonstrate some of the most cyclopian forms laid down by man and which I (and many other talented musicians) have been subjected to as part of a conservatory education:


The first key to understanding the harm that this understanding demonstrates is to realize that such a mind is having trouble telling the difference between that which is created and that which is simply in his mind. The two divinations below are made fact because they are rational and constructible in the first place:


There reader will find no instances of the use of the chords above in the entire canon of musical scores composed by any composer anywhere. The reader will find even less that no example (if such a thing is possible) of the above theory being put into practice by a composer (because it cannot be).

The second problem is one which the Zayed Mosque can help us to navigate. The study of “Harmony,” as defined by these “theorists” is involved in taking a beautiful work of musical art, such as the following Sonata by Beethoven, and identifying moments in which more than one note happens to be sounding at the same time. They freeze the music at a given moment (I have selected one such moment at random below) and proceed to “analyze the work by freezing moment after moment:


As though this was not enough, the theorists proceed to divide and subtract; reducing the work in question into pointless formulations. They look like this:



That is the entire movement which Beethoven has composed, a movement of great beauty, masterful rationality and, above all, human heart. It is reduced to nonsense in the hands of these theorists. The nonsense, of course, is not performable (thus useless to performers of the works) and will teach one nothing about the art of constructing such a thing (thus useless to composers who are studying the works of the master with the intention of applying what they have learned).

There are three problems which I would like to address.

The first is regarding understanding.

One must understand that the harmonies which humans create are imitative of the Harmonic Series. The configuration itself, though must be a combination of more than one element. We must combine two or more notes in order to form harmonies of our own. The triad is a three-part combination:


The person moving through the Mosque has not created anything in the Mosque when he divines the shapes which are implied and not explicitly made into physical objects. It is an insult to the labor of the maker as well as to the sixth sense (that of rational speculative volition) of the viewer to suggest such a thing. It is the person who moves and not the Mosque.

To the theorists, on the other hand, the relationship of the theorist to the maker is one between them and me (or Beethoven) but it is not only between them and me (or Beethoven). The insult to the composer is simply the first insult. When musicians make (and use) the elements of their style, those elements must be coherent if a symphony (or any musical composition) is made.

To use our current terminology, every single element must be coherent in my Fifth Symphony; from the “first symphony” to the “last symphony” in order for the symphony to cohere let alone be beautiful and true.

And we must understand, and understand very well, the difference between this (a melody; scale; anything horizontal):


And this (harmony; chord; anything vertically derived):


The comprehensible way to construct the triad above must be as follows:



The commonalities which theorists see (or think that they see) are materially inconsequential. The implications which theorists see (or think that they see) are just as inconsequential. If the composer (as human imitator sifting through the music of nature) failed to make this conceptual connection, then humanity would not simply end up with a gap like this:




Composers would have a basic result of our attempt to mirror the naturally symphonic harmonic series found in every note with a human-made harmony in which the center cannot hold:

How, then, are we composers to attempt our hands at a symphony when the basic elements of harmonic construction do not simply imitate the natural series poorly but actually fail to imitate the creation of the Supreme Being in any coherent fashion?

As I said, it is the person moving through the Mosque, who has not created any part of the Mosque who divines the shapes which are implied and not explicitly made into the physical objects which inspire him. In our harmony, we imitate harmony through the use of multiple parts which can be frozen but never captured. This relationship which the composer has to time is the closest thing which I know to unity. Unity is in the present which always is and never is. This is not as mystical a concept as it might seem. There is a point in time where the past (that which has just passed) and the future (that which is about to pass) coincide for an infinitesimally ephemeral point. It is at this indefinably ephemeral point that the past (everything we have known) and the future (everything which we will know) blur into one another but can never be captured.

In my “second symphony” within my Symphony, I have shown how human beings combine notes to form chords. Now we must depart from the start of the Symphony and start moving through time.

Each part of the orchestra will “move” in this way; akin to a human being moving among the immovable columns of the Mosque which inspired it. We will all move through time together (another “symphony”):


There is only one way of moving through time. The flutes must move with the basses and the trombones with the harp… the whole orchestra must move in one direction; but they will move together, symphonically.

The vertical coincidences (those things which make up harmony) are meant to be “frozen” only one; by the hand of the composer who is composing the score as he attempts to capture this “slow time” of the attic shapes which we are given as our gift and companion. I have shown all the coincidences of harmony which I have composed, with the utmost care and precision, in the first page of my Symphony. This exact formation should be my business and mine alone; it is not to be found in the work of any other composer nor is their touch to be found in my work. This is the work of my own hand. This is the product of my own reason. This is the harmony of my spirit. My hope is that anyone who looks at this page closely can see how much are I have put into the harmony alone in the first 45 seconds of music.

There is no place for the arbitrary in that which is purely form.

I take a particular pride in the layers of “symphonies” which I am revealing to you. As a composer, the underpinnings of my art is sublime. If we work our way inward (rather than outward as we are currently doing) from the whole symphony as symphony, to the form and movement of the individual notes, we chart a path as follows:

6) The whole Symphony
5) The movement of the Symphony
4) The parts of the movement of the Symphony
3) The phrases of the Symphony
2) The harmony of the Symphony

This artificial harmony, what I have called the “Harmony of the Symphony” joins me to my fellow composers (those who worked with this synthetic constellation of chords as well as those who worked with other tonalities and those who invented systems of their own are all alike and alive.

But beyond this point (2), I cannot claim any authorship in my Symphony nor can I enter. This is a place of each individual note which I arrange. Here, there is only the individual note within which is infinity.

There is only one sort of harmony which results from one note and is, at the same time, contained within that note. This is something which we can understand as unity as infinite variety as unity as infinite variety as unity. The harmony is that note.


The Symphony is indivisible. The work of the composer and musician is indivisible. Every note with which I work is a harmony crafted by God. I honor this harmony though my attention to ensuring that the unity of the whole honors the particle which we have been given as the basis of our craft. The cycle of the symphony (in all of it’s constituent “symphonies”) is never ending. Once it is closed, it begins anew just as the celestial bodies and heavenly spheres start their course anew; just as the respiration and circulation which gave us the breath of life and the gift of our living soul begins and ends in eternal renewal.

“For the unity of the work,” said Igor Stravinsky, “has a resonance all its own. Its echo, caught by our soul, sounds nearer and nearer. Thus the consummated work spreads abroad to be communicated and finally flows back towards Its source, The cycle, then/is closed. And that is how music comes to reveal itself as a form of communion with our fellow man and with the Supreme Being.”


3. Third Symphony: Making Themes

The Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque’s minarets are the first subject of my Symphony’s First Movement. The minaret is the most distinctive feature of a mosque as far as that which can seen from great distances away. Each minaret of the Zayed Mosque is made-up of three different “towers”; each “tower” is the physical expression of a geometric shape as well as a new application of an historically distinct architectural style.

Here is a view of one of the minarets:

Here is the first theme of my Symphony. In this theme, I represent the minaret. The theme is played by the brass section of the orchestra. Here is the theme as played by two trumpets and three trombones [AUDIO EXAMPLE 2.3.1]:


The theme itself is made up of three distinct sections. These sections can be heard as distinct because of the rhythms which I use in order to build each section. Here is the first section (A) [AUDIO EXAMPLE 2.3.2]:


Here is the second section (B) [AUDIO EXAMPLE 2.3.3]:

Here is the third section © [AUDIO EXAMPLE 2.3.4]:


I have constructed these three sections into one theme. The three building blocks come together to form this:

Each portion of this theme is unified by a rhythmic motive. The first part is bound by this rhythm (three notes which take up two beats):

This rhythm can be heard throughout this section of the theme. By applying it to any part of “a,” we can see (as well as hear) that it is present throughout:


The following rhythm is the defining attribute of (b):

This two-note rhythm occupies one beat. It is to be found in all 6 beats of this section:

As our search for “1” progresses from “A” (three notes expressed in two beats) to “B” (two notes expressed in one beat), the listener may be surprised to find a rhythm that appears to be more complicated as the basis of “C”:

Let us take this rhythm together with the melody to which I have attached it:


We can see that the search for ONE. The two beats of “A” (made up of three notes):


Is followed by the one beat (of two notes):


And the phrase structure of “C” is just as much of a search for “1”:


To understand how this three-part theme relates to the formal structure of the minaret, let us observe the minaret’s construction in the same way as we have just outlined the construction of my phrase. Here is the minaret


The parts of the minaret from bottom to top are on the left. The parts of the minaret (from top to bottom) are on the right. Let us view them simultaneously.

The first (a) “tower” is a square. This forms the minaret’s base. It is built according to the Arabic Maghrebi architectural style, as well as the Andalusian and the Mameluke styles:


The second (b) “tower” has an octagonal shape. This form is characteristic of Mameluke era architecture.

The third (c) “tower” holds a cylindrical shape, which emerged during the Ottoman era:


These three “towers” are, of course, objective “towers” in themselves but they cannot stand as single towers since they are all combined in order to form one single tower which, in essence, represents not three distinct shapes but rather a new shape and a new style. The “three minarets” are rendered into one single minaret by virtue of the act of seamless composition which binds them together.



So far, the three discreet sections of the minaret combine to give us the following combination of musical sections (“a” “b” and “c”) which I combine to form the first theme of my Symphony:

This three-part minaret (or “three-minarets as a single minaret”) is crowned with a radiant “lantern.” This shape is sun-drenched by virtue of it’s gold-glass mosaic veneer, a characteristic of Fatimid architecture:


To understand how the Symphony comes to incorporate this beacon as a structure, we must look at how the first theme is presented in it’s entirety. The Zayed Mosque has four of these minarets They frame the main courtyard (as highlighted below):


This is why the theme is presented in a four-part unfolding.


Each presentation of the theme (representing each minaret) is played by one of the four choirs of the orchestra (in an additive fashion). The brass instruments play the theme first.

Here is the first presentation of my first theme played by the brass instruments (trumpets and trombones) [AUDIO EXAMPLE 2.3.5]:



The theme in the brass instruments is then joined as the strings (violins, violas, cellos and double basses as well as harp) begin to play with the brass. The strings (marked 2 above) join the brass. The strings continue to play (as below) together with the brass [AUDIO EXAMPLE 2.3.6]:



The brass (1) and the strings (2) are now joined by the woodwinds (3). The entrance of the woodwinds is marked by the arrow below and the winds continue to play together with the brass and strings. The orchestra is becoming symphonic before our very ears [AUDIO EXAMPLE 2.3.7]:


All that is left is the percussion section. With the entrance of the piano (marked above), the percussion section finally enters. They join the rest of the orchestra in the final statement of my first theme [AUDIO EXAMPLE 2.3.7]:


The “three minarets” that form each minaret are crowned by a lantern. They combine into a single luminous minaret:

We can now understand the luminescent minarets in relationship to one another. The final image (far right) shows the result: a shimmering minaret which reflects the sun’s radiance and broadcasts the resultant reflective light with brilliance. The word “Minaret” derives from the Arabic word “Manarah,” which means “lighthouse.” This Minaret is where the Azan is issued as a call to human beings lost at sea or in the wilderness.

Those lost in the deserts of the heart are invited to a healing fountain of light and solace. Like the bells that ring from a bell-tower of a great cathedral, the light and voice has denoted “sanctuary” across the centuries and, now, across the millennia.

By presenting my theme in four parts, I invoke the figure of the crescent moon combining into a brilliant light.

This figure is placed at the tip of each minaret:

At the outset, the crescent moon itself is a figure which represents two things:
1) The Moon as it appears early in its first quarter.
2) The Moon as it appears late in its last quarter.
By combining one “minaret” to another, I am presenting the crescent moon in the “additive” portion of it’s cycle. By “additive,” I mean the cycle of the moon as it reveals more and more to human eyes.

And so a brilliant frame of celestial light is formed. The four minarets frame the great square of the Zayed Mosque. It is this courtyard which hosts the human beings who gather within it. The four minarets also form a heavenly canopy which mirrors the grand square of the courtyard. The canopy is one of heavenly light. We can see the “square of earth” above, we can now sense the “square of heaven” as follows:

This is the “form” that inspires the brightest measure of music that we have yet heard in my Symphony (highlighted in yellow below). The four “choirs” of the orchestra join this grand statement of the C Major triad which opened the work. The triad is formed and set into motion:


This brilliance is stated and then it is heard as an extension of itself [AUDIO EXAMPLE 2.3.8]:

The first theme of my Symphony has ended.

And thus, the four minarets are presented symphonically. Just as the four objects, taken together, represent the shape of light; the heavens that shelter the earth:

The first theme (and large statement of C Major) ends and is followed by a brief transition in which the double basses are used to establish our movement to a new theme [AUDIO EXAMPLE 2.3.9]:


This is the opening of the second theme; a theme which evokes “Organic Shape” [AUDIO EXAMPLE 2.3.10]:


This theme contains three tempo changes and also is expressed in 9 measures (more expansive than the slightly less than 8 measure first theme). It is inspired by the organic shapes which are formed within the “earth” of the grand square:


The two part first theme will combine into a “first section” (which we call the “exposition”) of the Symphony. Sections will combine into three sections which will form the first movement and then movements will be formed (this Symphony itself is in four movements) to follow movements. This endless expansion of “Symphony within Symphony within Symphony within…” will continue outward and circle back to where it began only to continue outward again from it’s source.

I will end my discussion of the Fifth Symphony here and will now present the reader with a recording of the entire first section of the work (from the opening chord to the end of the second theme).

“… So it is the originator of all things that are brought-to-be, and since there is no being that is not caused by unity, and its being-made-one is its being-brought-to-be, it is thus through unity that all things subsist. If unity were taken away, they would depart and disappear, as soon as it was taken away, in no time.”

These words are echoed in the following poem. I would like to close this lesson with it since poem was the basis of my very first musical setting (which I completed as a small boy). And so another circle is closed.

Here is The True Knowledge by Oscar Wilde:

… ἀναyκαίως δ’ ἔχει
βίον θερίζειν ὥστε κάρπιμον στάχυν,
καὶ τὸν yὲν εἶναι τὸν δὲ yή.

Thou knowest all; I seek in vain
What lands to till or sow with seed—
The land is black with briar and weed,
Nor cares for falling tears or rain.

Thou knowest all; I sit and wait
With blinded eyes and hands that fail,
Till the last lifting of the veil
And the first opening of the gate.

Thou knowest all; I cannot see.
I trust I shall not live in vain,
I know that we shall meet again
In some divine eternity.


4. Fourth Symphony: The Elements of Style

“Musical form is, at any rate, far closer to mathematics than to literature— not perhaps to mathematics itself, but certainly to something like mathematical thinking and mathematical relationships. (How misleading are all literary descriptions of musical form! ) I am not say- ing that composers think in equations or charts of numbers, nor are those things more able to symbolize music. But the way composers think— the way I think —•is, it seems to me, not very different from mathematical thinking. I was aware of the similarity of these two modes while I was still a student; and, incidentally, mathematics was the subject that most interested me in school. Musical form is mathematical because it is ideal, and form is always ideal, whether it is, as Ortega y Gasset wrote, “an image of memory or a construction of ours.” But though it may be mathematical, the composer must not seek mathematical formulae.”
—Igor Stravinsky, Conversations with Igor Stravinsky

As we have seen, there are two basic elements in music. They are:

Any reference to “harmony” that the reader may find are, in fact, simply referring to pitch (for example, when Aristotle speaks of “harmony” in his Poetics, he is referring to all pitch from a single note that contains the harmonics within it to any combination of notes either sounding together or consecutively or both).

One cannot name the first composer but composition can be traced as a “new art” or “ars nova” to the writings of Claudio Monteverdi.

Our system for notating technical music is designated onto staffs which consist of five lines:

The pitches available to human beings are grouped into a five-note scale (commonly called the “pentatonic scale”). These five notes are the only combination of pitches that can be arranged in scalar order without breaking the unity of any individual pitch.

There are five and only five pitches that have ever been known to (or utilized by) humanity. To illustrate this point, let us consider the note middle C which, on an 88-key piano, is attained by pressing down the following note:


Let’s now zoom in to the general section of the piano and:

In the figure below, I have highlighted the note (which is marked “C4” above) in green:


This note resonates at a frequency of 261.63 vibrations per second.

In order to attain the same pitch (C) an octave higher, one must simply divide the string at the halfway point as follows:


By dividing the string one obviously decreases the length of the string (into half of it’s original length) but one also increases the vibrations per second of the second string (resulting in double the vibrations per second of the lower string). In other words, we get twice as many vibrations per second by diving the string into half of it’s size.

This is an equation for the process which I have just described: (½ of the string on a given note) = (vibrations per second of the note × 2). Let us use it to attain the vibrations per second of the higher C.

Our lower note (C) sounds at 261.63 vibrations per second, and so it follows naturally that the C above it will sound at 523.26 vibrations per second as follows: (C4 ÷ 2) = (261.63 × 2). Here is a visualization of the interval between the lower C and the higher C:


One can attain this interval from any starting note by multiplying the vibrations of the starting note by 2 (doubling the number of vibrations per second). This fact holds true for every single note there is whether or not that note is found on the piano or found on any other instrument and regardless if the synthetic scale built around that note is a five, six, seven, twelve or 324 note scale.

This interval frames the octave in question in the absolute terms outlined by the ratio below (1:0.5):


Starting on this C, let us now chart the five notes which are available to us; they are C,D,E, G and A as follows:


If we play the next note after that A, the sequence will bring us back to the note C (this time an octave higher) and we can repeat the series again:

When a musician reads a sharp symbol, they will understand it to raise the tone to which it is attached by a half step And so C raised by a half step becomes C sharp or C♯ as follows:

Let us now continue in this direction; step-by-step moving upward.

If we play every note between the low C and the higher C in a scale moving upward one note at a time, the result is the following scale:


When a musician reads a flat symbol, they will understand it to indicate a lowering in pitch of the tone to which it is attached; lowering the tone by a half step.

And so, the note “D” is lowered by a half step to become D flat (or D♭) as follows:


The same chromatic scale moving downward is “spelled” like this: Higher C, B, B♭, A, A♭, G, G♭,F, E, E♭,D,D♭, Lower C

It should now be clear that I have described two ways to “spell” one note and that the decision is made depending on where the note leads in terms of the note which follows it (as the music progresses in time).

This is called “voice-leading” and it makes perfect sense. Notes which proceed upward will generally be raised (using the sharp symbol) in order to lead to the destination note if that note is higher than the note of origin. Similarly notes in a melody which proceed downward will generally be lowered in order to lead to the following note if the note of destination is lower than the note of origin.



It should be clear now that the five notes which we have are the ones which do not derive from other notes: C, D, E, G and A:

Here are the five notes with each of their derivative “notes” marked on the piano keyboard:
An online image search for the notes of a scale marked on the piano keyboard will reveal that most sources neglect to mark the equivalence of the note “E sharp” with the note “F” and they also neglect to mark the equivalence of the note “C Flat” with the note “B.” This fact is also neglected in most books on “Music Theory” which propose to discuss the harmonic practice of many composers:

The notes of our scale would, therefore, properly need to include the two “adjustment-notes” which result from raising the “E” and lowering the “C” by half-steps. Here is the keyboard complete with the raising of the E by a semi-tone to result in an E# (circled in red) as well as the the lowering of the C by a semi-tone to result in a C♭ (circled in blue):


These two distinctions are inconspicuously missing from most texts written by “theorists” and taught to musicians in training (from the earliest levels printed in texts by, for example, the Associated Board of the Royal Schools of Music to the “advanced theory” taught in conservatories).

Even Leonard Bernstein, a great composer who understands the five-note scale perfectly-well blunders in representing “two forms” of the five note scale:

“Indeed, as we ascend further in our harmonic series, more and more fascinating and incontrovertible universals keep appearing. For, instance, this next new overtone is D. And so, we now have five different tones to play with, which we again put into scalar order, and presto, a new universal is given us-the five-note, or pentatonic scale. Now because of that dubious last note, the scale can take either of two forms, one culminating in B flat [74) and the other in A. Let’s opt for the second of these, the lower one, which is by far the more common of the two [76]. This is humanity’s favorite pentatonic scale, and by the way, this is the scale you can find so easily on your own piano by playing only the black notes. In fact, the universality of this scale is so well known that I’m sure you could give me examples of it, from all corners of the earth, as from Scotland, or from China, or from Africa, and from American Indian cultures, from East Indian cultures, from Central and South America, Australia, Finland . .. now, that is a true musico-linguistic universal.”

“Now because of that dubious last note, the scale can take either of two forms, one culminating in B flat” writes Bernstein. The “B flat” he speaks of is simply a raised A. There’s nothing “dubious” about that last note; it is just an A sharp.

How did this complication of the simple and concrete become so pervasive?

We will address that phenomenon at the end fo the present section; for the time being, it is enough to remember that there are five tones available to humanity. Sun Tzu expressed the relationship between these basic elements on the one hand and the infinite variety of human creativity on the other very movingly in the following passage from The Art of War:

“There are not more than five musical notes, yet the combinations of these five give rise to more melodies than can ever be heard. 8. There are not more than five primary colors (blue, yellow, red, white, and black), yet in combination they produce more hues than can ever been seen. 9 There are not more than five cardinal tastes (sour, acrid, salt, sweet, bitter), yet combinations of them yield more flavors than can ever be tasted. 10. In battle, there are not more than two methods of attack – the direct and the indirect; yet these two in combination give rise to an endless series of maneuvers.”

The second element of music, rhythm, is dependent upon the Arabic numeral system as far as the practice of composition is concerned. It was in the 840s that numbers became numbers as we know them today; in a work by Al Khawarizmi which is titled, The Book of Addition and Subtraction According to the Hindu Calculation.

The system of music notation using what we call whole notes, half notes, quarter notes (and so on), is possible because of this Arabic numeric system. These note-values relate in terms of fractions (e.g. a whole note divided into two half notes, or a half note divided into two quarter notes; a quarter note divided into two eighth notes, or a quarter note divided into four sixteenth notes). These values are subdivisions and multiplications.

As far as time is concerned, the composer works with two basic elements. The elements of rhythm are note-duration and meter. The duration of a note is simply defined to be the “length” (in time) that the note is held. The note marked in blue below () is divisible into two of the notes marked in red ( ) and, in turn, four of the notes marked in green ():


The quarter is the lowest common denomination in any metrical fraction in which “4” is the denominator (such as the following):


Beyond the quarter notes, the composer may subdivide the single beat further into fractions. This includes fractions of [1/2] (half of a single beat) as follows:



Subdivisions of these subdivisions follow such as those of the [1/4] (quarter) division of the beat



And so, to the fraction of the beat into halves (1/2 of a beat) and other such fractions, further subdivisions may be similarly derived such as those subdivisions which denote fractions of “sixteenths.” By “sixteenths”, we are referring to the fraction of a quarter beat (1/4) in a measure of music in which the metered pulse is notated as 4/4. This would look like the following:


The lowest denominator of subdivision (the “sixteenths” above) are as follows:


They are sixteenths of the whole.

Since musical notation relies on a mathematical (and therefore relative) system, the names which are commonly taught to musicians and, therefore, assigned to note durations by musicians in the English Language are misguided and misguiding. Here, for example, is a table of note durations from a textbook called Music In Theory and Practice (now in it’s eighth edition):

This list labels the American names for note durations: Whole Note, Half Note, Quarter Note, Eighth Note, Sixteenth Note, Thirty Second Note, Sixty-fourth Note, One Hundred Twenty-eighth Note and so on. The list confusingly places the British name for the “Double Whole Note” (the Breve) at the top of their list. This illuminates a basic error which I will explain simply.

This is a whole note:


That whole note can be divided into two notes which are half of it’s duration (half notes):

The whole note can also be divided into four equally long notes which relate to the whole note as quarters of the whole note (quarter notes):

Yet these “quarter notes” above are often called quarter notes in general. If the music happens to be written in ¾, for example, then the upper number designates three notes to be the whole measure (basic meter) rather than four notes:


And so, this note (which designates three beats) is a whole note in a ¾ time signature:

It follows that the half note is to be the following

Which can be evenly divided into one half (highlighted in green) and another half (highlighted in blue) as follows (half notes):


A quarter of the above would arithmetically follow to be notated like this:

The quarters above would give us true quarters which appear in genuinely quarterly fashion (four parts) as follows:

Naturally, this also relates to the half notes by giving us a representation of the symmetry as it pertains to a measure of music that is notated in a meter of ¾:


How could the authors of Music In Theory and Practice (and the very many like them) label these divisions correctly? Recall that their listing of note durations made no mention of the meters to which these note durations relate. I ask that the reader take a moment to appreciate the density of this situation. The authors provide a list of durations removed from the meter in which they operate!

And even worse than this alone, they provide a series of composites (which they call “equivalents”) to boot. It is like being presented with a series of divisions which are absolute and held to be absolutely correct without ever mentioning the number that we are dividing:

The British labels which are used for note durations are quite different from the American labels. They consist of names such as Breve (which is equated to a Whole Note), Semibreve (half note), Crotchet (quarter note), Quaver (eighth note), semi-quaver (16th note), demi-semi-quaver (32nd note), demi-semi-hemi-quaver (64th note) and so on. Where do these names come from?

Music in Theory and Practice includes the following on the “history of notation”:

We can see now that the authors equate the brevis with the Breve and the Semibrevis (as it would follow) equates with the semibreve and so on:


And yet where, in all of “Figure 1.16” is any mention of the denominator? The authors make no mention of meter at all. Two Sixty-fourths make a Thirty-second, we are told. The authors never ask themselves the basic question: “a thirty-second of what?”;“a quarter of what?”;“a half of what?”

In another textbook, titled Music in Western Civilization, (note the impossible ambiguity which renders the subject unmeasurable) the authors reveal the extent of their own illiteracy as well as that of their fellow text-book writing theorists:

“But Franco is not only among the first to discuss symbols that indicate the duration of sound; he posits symbols for the absence of sound as well. In thirteenth century Paris the existence, or lack thereof, of the rest became a matter of philosophical debate: how does one, and should one, measure the absence of a quantity (remember, there is no zero in the Roman numerals then in use).”


In my introduction to rhythm, I said the following:

“The second element of music, rhythm, is dependent upon the Arabic numeral system as far as the practice of composition is concerned. It was in the 840s that numbers became numbers as we know them today; in a work by Al Khawarizmi which is titled, The Book of Addition and Subtraction According to the Hindu Calculation.

The system of music notation using what we call whole notes, half notes, quarter notes (and so on), is possible because of the Arabic numeric system. These note-values relate in terms of fractions (e.g. a whole note divided into two half notes, or a whole notes divided into two quarter notes; a quarter note divided into two eighth notes, or a quarter note divided into four sixteenth notes). These values are subdivisions and multiplications.”

The author of Music in Western Civilization tells us that “In thirteenth century Paris the existence, or lack thereof, of the rest became a matter of philosophical debate: how does one, and should one, measure the absence of a quantity (remember, there is no zero in the Roman numerals then in use)”

Al Khawarizmi’s system of calculation relies on the zero in order to provide a relative and conceptual way of calculating which uses only ten digits as follows:


It is, of course, silly to suppose that the numeral “zero” indicates the “absence of a quantity”; after all, the “larger” numbers (starting with 10) as well as the “smaller” decimals (0.5 or a half for example) rely on the numeral 0. Beyond this, how does one speak of thirty-second notes and sixty-fourth notes let alone indicate divisions and multiplications without the concept of the zero and the system of calculating numerals according to Al Khawarizmi’s text?


In the absence of any meter to designate arithmetic meaning to these names, the labels in Music in Theory and Practice are mere forms which are not simply harmless in their meaninglessness and misguided in their presentation. These are forms:

We have the notes in the figure above and we are given, it seems, their relations to one another. But in truth, there is nothing being offered; the figure is an act of division. Ask a musician to play the figures above or to tap the rhythms on a desk. They will not be able to do so because there are no time signatures to be found. Figure 1.16 divides the notes from the time signatures which they appear in tandem with and are inseparable from; time signatures like this:


…or this:


…or others like them (including works by some composers in which they do not indicate a time signature but make it understood how the progress of music through time is to proceed in other ways; without this progress of music through time there is no music).

It is these time signatures (and other such indications) which allow the forms above (the notes) to be seen by a musician in such a way that would allow them to understand what they see and thus realize the notes and enable them to move through time; this is because the notes come to mean something to the musician based on the meter or time indication which is established.

Without the meter, the forms in Figure 1.16 are not simply meaningless, they are a representation of immobilization and paralysis that have been disfigured as forms because they are rendered unrecognizable to the musicians who would need to recognize them in order to bring them to life (in re-creating the phenomenon of music from the composer’s score); these forms are unrecognizable faces.

They are vacuous in the true sense because they operate as vacuums which misguide musicians and prevent them from experiencing time and it’s subdivisions correctly.

The authors of Music in Western Civilization also betray a lack of historical capability in telling us to “remember, there is no zero in the Roman numerals then in use” since the rules for manipulation of the Hindu-Arabic numerals 1, 2, 3, . . . and 0, otherwise known as algorism, became widely used in Europe through Latin translations of Arabic from the 12th century (a full century earlier than the “13th Century Paris” that the authors invoke. As if all this is not enough, they go on, in the very next paragraph, to speak of meter and subdivisions:



In Music in Theory and Practice, the authors tell us that from “about 650 to 1200, music notation consisted of a set of symbols called neumes” and proceed to chart an (imaginary and unlikely) “evolution” of musical notation. They tell us that “nuemes (pronounced “newms”). These symbols took their name from the Greek word forgesture. Written above the Latin texts associated with the liturgy of the Christian church, neumes could not convey pitch or duration, but rather served as a memory aid in recalling previously learned melodic lines.”


These examples demonstrate an ignorance which transcends lack of attention or lack of intellectual power. These authors (and the editors and institutions which support them) are missing things which are simple; they are not lacking in comprehension regarding complex issues. They are, in fact, complicated the very simple and obvious.

What, then, is going on here?

Pitch and duration (pitch and rhythm) are the two elements of music without which there is no music. How, then, the authors suggest that something can qualify as “music notation” when it “could not convey pitch or duration” defies reason entirely. That the authors state, in the same breath, that their given example of music notation “served as a memory aid in recalling previously learned melodic lines” is astonishing. Where and how would people have “previously learned” the music? By listening to others teach it to them and repeating what is taught to them. Why would people engage in this style of rote learning if they had musical notation and could simply read the music and learn the music from the printed page?

The display which we have examined is not limited to the basic lack of knowledge regarding pitch and rhythm (the fundamental elements of music) among people who profess to “educate” others (including musicians). The examples transcend simple ignorance of the given subject which one is professing or “composing a textbook” in order to “teach” that subject. They betray a lack of ability to comprehend numbers and arithmetic (including the way in which basic division and multiplication work). These examples are formed by the sort of people who think of numbers in terms of forms (big things and small things) and who fall into the category of individuals whom Auden said should simply “stick to faces” (or forms). We are in the realm of flat-earthers and, if any theory is to be invoked here, conspiracy theorists.

These texts, like those of other anti-poets, are written by individuals who cannot seem to think conceptually or understand the notion of relativity even when it comes to fractions.

These are halves


These are also halves:

In order to understand this, the authors would have to possess critical faculties which are taken for granted as being in the possession of any adult person; any person who is capable of understanding that one thing can be correct and another thing can also be correct even though the two things are not the same as one another. It takes an ability to think additively (not in terms of “evolution”) and an ability to understand that all things cannot be reduced to black and white.

“The Kingdom of Number,” writes Auden, “may be beautiful and must be true” in a poem called Numbers and Faces. Those who think of numbers as formal figures (things they can touch and see) should “stick to faces” (that which they recognize). I will end the current section with Auden’s poem before proceeding to the final part of our discussion in which I will explain symphonies and cycles as forms which bring us closer to that “divine eternity” that Oscar Wilde wrote about in The True Knowledge and closer to the infinity which Auden speaks of in Numbers and Faces:


The Kingdom of Number is all boundaries
Which may be beautiful and must be true;
To ask if it is big or small proclaims one
The sort of lover who should stick to faces.

Lovers of small numbers go benignly potty,
Believe all tales are thirteen chapters long,
Have animal doubles, carry pentagrams,
Are Millerites, Baconians, Flat-Earth-Men.

Lovers of big numbers go horridly mad,
Would have the Swiss abolished, all of us
Well purged, somatotyped, baptised, taught baseball:
They empty bars, spoil parties, run for Congress.

True, between faces almost any number
Might come in handy, and One is always real;
But which could any face call good, for calling
Infinity a number does not make it one.


5. Fifth Symphony: The Applications of Style

The image which faces me as I start to compose is a stark one.

I am speaking of the same image; that of a page containing a series of lines and nothing else. In the case of most of my works, this page is where I start. It doesn’t matter whether we are talking about the largest-scale works (operas for hundreds of instruments and voices together with stage and scene directions) or the most intimate ones (miniatures for one instrument which last for a few seconds at most). All of my works did not exist at one point. I start like this:

The opening measures of Beethoven’s 5th Symphony are now familiar to millions (if not billions) of people throughout the world. I have found that this musical phrase is recognized by people whether or not they are aware of it’s composer (and the the work from which it is derived).

Others do not know the phrase at all.

In either case, humanity as a whole cannot “remember” a world in which Beethoven’s 5th Symphony did not exist. By that I mean that nobody’s grandparents, great-grandparents, or even great-great-grandparents has memory of the world as it existed in a “pre-Beethoven’s Fifth” era.

But indeed there was a time when people did not know the 5th Symphony or how it sounded and could not know it. Beethoven himself had to create the Symphony. This is obvious but it is easy to underestimate how much our perceptions are altered by the fact of a creation (whether large or small; well known or little known) being made into fact by it’s creator.

After this fact, one might think, “of course, this is how the music goes, it doesn’t take any effort to realize that.” But the music of Beethoven’s symphony only sounds effortless—there was a time in the world in which the music did not exist and Beethoven had to will it into existence. He also had to work it into existence. The act of creation (of a symphony or a song; a cabinet or a carpet; a poem or a motion picture film or any other creation) is a laborious process.

If the listener is inspired when listening to Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony, the listener should know that the composer (and every other artist) cannot force the function of art from inspiration. I imagine that many artists are gratified by the fact that an audience would be inspired by their work. As Salvador Dalí put it, “:

Now let us put ourselves in Beethoven’s shoes and commence with “writing a symphony.”

We have the blank page with the staff lines before us. Let us decide which sort of ensemble we want—one would say, “an orchestra, of course.” But the orchestra as a group has no standardized or specified number or type of instruments and instead, the make-up of the orchestra is dependent upon what the composer chooses to do for the specific piece he or she is composing. In the instance of Beethoven’s 5th Symphony, his choice of instruments for the orchestra are as follows: piccolo, two flutes, two oboes, two clarinets, two bassoons, contrabassoon, two horns, two trumpets, three trombones, timpani, and strings.

The orchestra is then arranged (according to the four choirs of instruments) as follows: Woodwinds, Brass, Percussion and Strings:

And a time signature must be selected; in Beethoven’s case, the initial time signature in his 5th symphony is: . This gives us an indication of 2 individual beats per measure with the denominator of the beat being a quarter note.

Now we must arrive at the theme. We will take the following two pitches (G and E Flat):


Let us begin by writing the theme in the violins. The first and second violins play together at the opening of the symphony and so here is the theme as played by the first and second violin parts of the orchestra (this can be a chorus of any number of violins from a small handful of players to tens of violins per part):

We will now add the violas to the violins.

The violas, as Beethoven writes them, are playing the same notes as the first and second violins at the same pitch (in unison). But listen to the subtle difference in tone and in harmonics; to the richening of sound as it were, once we add the violas to the mix:


Now let us complete Beethoven’s orchestration of these notes at this particular pitch by adding the Clarinets. Beethoven adds the clarinets as a way of defining these notes:

Two final steps remain before us in order to arrive at Beethoven’s opening as he arrived at it. First we must write the notes, as Beethoven does, in the cello part. Beethoven writes this part an octave below the viola, clarinet, first and second violin parts as follows. Listen to the richness which is added through this singular move:

Listen, alternatively, to the sound which would have resulted had Beethoven written the viola parts an octave lower than the violins and clarinets (as he wrote the cello part); the violas are capable of playing the same pitches as the cellos but the effect would be relatively anaemic as compared to the richest which they add in Beethoven’s version and which serve to simply enhance the richness which the cellos bring to the table. Here, for the heck of it, is an example of something which (rightly) didn’t make the cut:



Oh how the very same notes in the very same register with only a slightly altered distribution in terms of orchestration makes such a difference in richness! Now, for the final touch of richness, let us now revert to Beethoven’s distribution of his orchestra and add, as Beethoven does, the double basses which play an octave lower than the cellos (and two octaves lower than everyone else).

And we have arrived, additively and yet through the application of only that which is needed, at the opening of Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony:


One is able to hear the “silence” or absence of a note when it is played for a second time but we are not conscious of it the first time it is played (highlighted in blue below). This is because the motion of the music (as note durations moving through time in a certain meter) is established by the time that we arrive at the second quarter rest (highlighted in green below):














“What is fascinating about the opening motto in terms of harmonic implications is that it is actually harmonically ambiguous. There are in the first five bars no unequivocally clear, explicitly stated harmonic specifications—to put it another way, no clarifying chords. We see simply unison octaves which theoretically could have any number of harmonic associations. The first pitches, G and E, could for example be heard in the key of E, and indeed are apt to be heard that way, since, again, there is no previous clear-cut harmonic reference point. I can well imagine that someone hearing those first two measures for the very first time could very likely think and hear the key of E. But we know, of course, that Beethoven’s Fifth is in C minor; and after having heard the piece dozens or hundreds of times, we tend to hear those opening measures in that “those opening measures in that key, simply by prior association, by previous reference and memory. The next two pitches, F and D, are also harmonically ambiguous because they could be heard, for example, as belonging to the key of B, especially if one has heard the first two pitches (G and E) in E major. If Beethoven had on the other hand written F and that would have confirmed for us the E-ness of the first two bars. The F and D, however, strongly imply by prior association a dominant (G), with F its seventh, D its fifth, and thus set things up for the real beginning of the body of the movement in mm.6 and 7 in a very clear, unmistakable C minor.”

There are two types of music: traditional and synthetic. Here again are the definitions for the two:

1) Traditional Music

2) Technical Music

technic (adj.)
1610s, “technical,” from Latin technicus, from Greek tekhnikos “of or pertaining to art, made by art,” from tekhne “art, skill, craft” (see techno-).





Let us now take the opening of Mahler’s final movement from his symphonic song cycle titled “The Song of the Earth.”

So far, to start off with, Mahler has only one note which is actually notated in the score (that note is C):

\With the turn, Mahler moves outward from the home-note (C) in the most organic way possible:


Mahler then shifts his focus to the first harmonic which denotes a different pitch (In relation to C, this is the 5th degree of the scale: G):



Now that Mahler has established the first degree and the 5th degree, he starts moving outward from both C and G.

Here, on the keyboard again, is a demonstration of the notes have covered which are organically moving outward from their source


III. Work and Play; Play and Work

































1. Man as Maker: Function and Play

At the outset, allow me to clarify things which may seem familiar. Revisiting those concepts which may seem rudimentary at first allow allow us to re-contextualize basic definitions which have been corrupted and are, thus, the most difficult errors in definition to correct. We will rehearse that which is basic only in order to begin a process and work through this process together. Let us begin by answering two questions:

1) What is an object
2) What is a subject?

If the reader is reading this book as a “hardcover or softcover book then they are holding an object (the book). If the reader is reading this on his iPad or other electronic device, the reader is holding or interacting with that object (the iPad or monitor etc). If the reader is sitting at a table, the table is an object and so is the chair on which the reader is sitting. Objects are things which can be sensed or touched (as items). From here, we can define the word “objective”: Belonging to the object; contained in the object.
When we go to school, we are given a schedule which tells us that the first period of the day is Mathematics followed by English 45 minutes later followed by History 45 minutes after that. These three periods of study are then followed by a recess. Those three subjects (Math, English, History) are not objects that one can touch (like a cup, table or chair). They are subjects on which human beings perform an operation (studying). These subjects can be material (physics or chemistry class have us interact with material things in order to study them) or immaterial (“English” is a language and not a material object). These are things which we cannot touch but which are understood as common subjects. A subject is defined as “That on which any operation either mental or material is performed.”
The difference between art and other bodies of knowledge is that art is fundamentally true through the making of an object (the work of art) by an artist or artists.

The object in question, like all objects is objectively true. How is it true?

The object is true because of the very fact that it exists. The existence of an object can be proven through the ability of human beings to perceive the object which is made. The subjective truths contained within the object in question (any work of art) are subject to the perception of other human beings based on human experiences are shared by those human beings either locally (as is the case with much traditional art) or universally (things that are basically true and that will be perceived as true no matter where or when the work in question is presented). That which is locally true and that which is universally true often overlap because of the fact that universal truths concern themselves with the basic nature and behavior observed in, among and around all human beings.

Here I must add a brief but necessary note. By “universal truths,” I mean to describe anything which is known to all human beings beyond the shadow of any reasonable doubt. This clarification is necessary due to the existence of a tendency among certain persons (we will examine these persons through examples which will be found throughout this book) to demand “absolute”, “abiding” or “fail-safe” guarantees of a certain fact or another.

No artist can provide “absolute,” “abiding” or “failsafe” truths. No scientist can provide these “guaranteed facts” either. No person of learning provide “abiding” and airtight truths.

This does not mean that a truth which is presented is not true as a consequence of it’s not being absolute, abiding and airtight. It simply means that perfection is impossible and, as such, the truths that one person attests to can be built upon by another person who comes after him. I speak for myself (though I suspect that many artists, scientists and other men of learning share my feeling) when I say that I can do without the discovery of “absolute,” “abiding” or “final “truth. Such a revelation would mean the end of human inquiry as we know it since humanity would have nothing more to know and nowhere left to go on a given subject.

Having understood this, let us now consider an example of something which is both locally and universally true.

The following fragment of music is from a composition for piano and small orchestra called Oiseaux Exotiques. The work was written in 1955 by the composer Olivier Messiaen and is filled with musical examples that testify to Messiaen’s lifelong devotion with which he studied bird songs and found inspiration for many of his works in those songs.

The musical gesture which I have highlighted below (in green) is inspired by the whistling song of a blackbird native to the Americas (therefore “Exotique” to Messiaen; a Frenchman). This bird is called the Baltimore Orieole:


Here is a closer view of the musical detail in question:



And here is the musical detail in question with each note and frequency identified against a sonogram of the call of that same bird (as it was recorded in the wild). The arrows show how each note from the sonogram, (which is above the music and highlighted in red) is “translated” by the composer into musical notation (below and in green):

I would like to emphasize that there is an essential difference between a recording of the bird (that is best represented through the sonogram) on the one hand and Messiaen’s composition (below) which is an artistic representation. This distinction is even true in small fragments such as the one which we are examining. In other words, it is not just the fact that this fragment is part of a larger work which makes the composition a work of art rather than a recording or transcription. Every detail, no matter how loyal to reality, is a representation rather than a recording. Messiaen explains this in his own words:

“Birds sing in exceedingly fast tempos, which are absolutely impossible for our instruments, and so I have to transcribe the song in a slower tempo. Moreover, this speed is bound up with an extreme sharpness, birds being able to sing in exceedingly high registers that are inaccessible to our instruments, and so I notate them one, two, three, or four octaves lower. And that is not all: for the same reason I have to suppress very small intervals that our instruments cannot execute. I replace these intervals of the order of a comma or two by semitones, but I keep the same scale of values between different intervals, which is to say that if a few commas correspond to a semitone, a true semitone will correspond to a whole tone or a third. Everything is enlarged, but the relationships stay the same, so that my version is still exact. It is the transposition of what I have heard on to a more human scale.”

This statement is not difficult to understand. Messiaen is simply telling us that he is dealing with proportions. He is saying that that birds sing in such a way that is too fast to be played on human instruments and too high to be played on human instruments.

This means that each note which Messiaen writes is a transcription of the bird song only in as far as the way in which the notes relate to one another; the notes that the birds sing stay the same as they relate to each other.

It is the distance between notes is enlarged proportionately by Messiaen so that human beings can hear them. He is also telling us that he has brought certain sounds into the spectrum that we can hear and that people can perform. He also slows the bird song down so that we can hear a set of consecutive notes that would ordinarily be too fast for human ears to distinguish. All of these things are done because he is representing the way that human beings (himself included) hear bird songs rather than recording the bird songs themselves (that is, with no alterations whatsoever from nature).

Nevertheless, the shape of the gesture is recognizable and remains loyal to the actual song of the blackbird in question. Had I just described the bird song using word “real” instead of “actual” (“the real song of the blackbird in question”) this would be understood by most readers as referring to the bird song which occurs in nature. But it does open up a problematic ambiguity which is readily (or unconsciously) exploited those who are disposed against making distinctions between reality and art. While the bird song which occurs in nature is, of course, “real”, Messiaen’s composition (Les Oieseux Exotiques) is also “real” by virtue of it’s existence as a “real” object (a “real” work of art). The bird exists. The bird’s song exists. Messiaen existed as a physical human being. The composition created by Messiaen also exists (and continues to exist) as a musical composition. The distinctions between these things are easy for most people to make. They are, however, much harder to decipher once they have been obscured by convoluted persons whose messes can only be understood after a lot of untangling. Prevention, here, is better than the cure.

The recognizability of Messiaen’s musical fragment (in terms of how it exactly it coheres to the song of the Baltimore Oriole) would mean that an inhabitant of central America who lived in, say, 1782, could decipher these sounds as representative of the Baltimore Oriole as long as that person was paying attention to this bird and it’s songs. Messiaen and the Central American from 1782 are exotic to one another and are separated by continents and by time but the hypothetical person can identify this gesture from this composition with the blackbird even though they live in an entirely foreign environment than the composer who wrote it and also a few centuries away to boot. This recognizability is a simple by-product of the fact that Messiaen and our central American from 1782 are able to observe an object in their surroundings. This object, namely the song of the bird in question, is universally and objectively true.

It is important to also note that Messiaen informs us of his intent as well as his process. He does not present his work as a recording of the bird song but is, rather, upfront about the alterations that he is making. This is in addition to Messiaen being upfront about his intent (or motive) as to why he chose to make the alterations in question (to transpose what he has heard on to “a more human scale”).

Let us now recall the strictest definition of art:

ART  (ART)   n.s.[arte, Fr. ars, Lat.]1. The power of doing something not taught by nature and instinct; as, to walk is natural, to dance is an art.”

It would be natural for the reader to now surmise that photography, because it is not learned in nature, is to be counted as an artistic discipline. It is similarly reasonable to surmise the same of jurisprudence, science, mathematics, the medical arts, politics and philosophy. None of those things are learned in nature or occur naturally. What, then, separates art from all these other disciplines? The answer is simple: the artist makes.

The scientist does not “make” science (he adds to that body of knowledge by observing that which already exists). The photographer does not make photographs (he records that which already exists). The prosector, judge (or any other practitioner of the law) does not “make” the law; they observe covenants which are socially contracted and which have their bases in common notions of ethics which exist in the society in question (as well as ethical universals).

An artist must make something (as a fulfillment of the basic and most elemental function of art). The artist must also be clear about his or her intent to begin with. This is a crucial difference in definitions which must be maintained and observed. Anybody who blurs this line is fooling themselves. Those persons who blur these lines also demonstrate a fundamental failure as far as maintaining a solid grip on reality is concerned.

The act of identifying, defining and understanding one’s intent (and being open about that intent) is fundamental to any discipline. Every professional who would like to succeed on even the most basic level must, like Messiaen, be aware of their intent. They must also be clear about the function of how they are go about achieving their goal. Last but not least, they must be open about their intent and method.

A journalist who says that he is a doctor and performs surgery is likely to be committing a crime as well as engaging in fundamental malpractice (to say nothing of the fact that he will fail in fulfilling the function of performing surgery). This failure to fulfill the function at hand is not simply due to the fact that the surgeon is trained to fulfill the function of surgeon but also because one who trains in a field understands the function in order to fulfill that function. One who says he is doing one thing but, in reality, is doing something else fails even before we factor differences in training or expertise. He fails because the idea that a person is doing one thing (performing surgery) while he is supposed to be doing something else (journalism) is an indication of an unawareness of the two functions at hand (journalism and surgery) and is therefore unable to fulfill either function due to a lack of clarity on the part of the confused practitioner-to-be. By the mere act of mixing up the two disciplines at hand, this person demonstrates a failure to understand what they intend to do as well as what is expected of them before they have even begun.

Journalism must function as journalism in order to function at all. Surgery must function as as surgery in order to function at all. Art must function as art in order to function at all. Blurring the lines between these disciplines simply negates the function of the discipline in question.

Another important (albeit secondary) concern is that intent and function must line up with people’s expectations. People expect that which appears in a photograph to be real because people understand photographs to be a recording of reality (one does not “make” photographs). People expect the artist to make art. This is why the audience attending Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar understand that nobody is “really” being assassinated on stage. People expect journalists to record daily events and to record these events factually and accurately. No sensible person can expect a journalist, photographer (or any other professional who is concerned with recording reality) to be omnipotent and omnipresent. This is why nobody expects a recording of reality to present all of reality at once. This is understood to be impossible. No sensible person, however, expects journalists to “make news” or would deem it acceptable for a journalist to engage in such a practice. People also understand that an operating theater is not a play theater. The operating theater operates in order to serve a function (the surgeon performs surgery in this theater). The play-theater (or play house, opera house, movie theater etc) is intended to stage plays (thus serving the function of the recreation of the mind).

Universal functions, universally-observed behaviors, universally recognized emotions, universal attitudes towards certain ethical/unethical behaviors (such as killing or lying) as well as other generally-defined subjects all serve toward the common experience of art as true. These subjective truths exist in addition to the truths which make an object (the work of art) objectively true. Any work is objectively true through its mere creation. Once someone makes a thing, that object which he has made can be seen by it’s creator and identified as something that now exists in it’s current form. The object can also be shown to others who can also see it and see that it exists in it’s current objective form.

This level of objective truth is the very definition of all that human beings consider to be “factual.” Here is the definition of the word “fact”:
A thing done; an effect produced; something not barely supposed or suspected, but really done.
Reality; not supposition; not speculation.
Action; deed.

If a cup is made, it is understood to be a cup. The same can be said of a carpet or an urn. Note that the definition of “fact” also makes allowance for direct imitation when it is practiced by an actor (ie without much interpretation). The imitation of an action or deed should be universally understood as referring to that action or deed if that action or deed is universal. When an actor “murders” someone on stage or screen in France, everyone in China should be able to understand that, while the actor is not murdering someone in reality, that actor is committing an act of fictional “murder.” They recognize the action itself and therefore recognize the imitation of the action. Any universal action can be recognized as fact by means of an actor’s imitation of that universally understood action.

This is also true of motion in general which is how one can create a pacifier (through the observation and imitation of an infant’s motion made while suckling). It is also how all people, even infants are able to intuitively learn how to use a pacifier without extensive tutorials or cognition.

The object can also be objectively true by virtue of it’s function. A jug meant for pouring liquids can easily be understood to function as a jug meant to pour liquids due to universally shared anatomy among human beings as well as the need to drink water or other liquids (another universally shared human trait). We can add other universal human traits that denote function to these.

Other paths of human inquiry in search of knowledge elucidate the truth and demonstrate that which is true in different ways. A photographer records a still image with a camera. A videographer can record moving images with a video camera. A journalist keeps a journal of daily accounts or transactions that are then published as a record of daily events. A scientist begins his inquiry into knowledge with a hypothesis or theory and then works methodically with the intent to prove (or disprove) his hypothesis thus adding to knowledge (that which is known). He acquires knowledge (of something) through study, the collection of relevant information, the searching of records and observations which have been made as well as through making observations and conducting relevant experiments of his own. He records the information and knowledge gained throughout the process and through the results of the methodological inquiry and shares relevant information with his peers as well as with humanity in general. All of these modes of learning and adding to the body of human knowledge involve inquiry into facts. These facts can be those which are created by art (artistic objects) or facts which are found in nature (these things can been seen as generated by nature or a Creative Being but, in any case, are understood as things which are not created by human beings). A bed is created by human beings and it is perceived as well as defined by human beings (through the perception of the bed as something which factually exists as well as through the function of the bed and by other means). A tree is not created by human beings but can be perceived as a fact (the tree exists) and understood to be a tree through perception of the fact as well as through definition, function and study. One can point out the presence of a bed or a tree without extensive study, definition, categorization and inquiry into the function (or making) of either one.

As we have already established, all of these modes of learning involve inquiry into facts. This is not applicable to art. Art involves making. Any cognition or cognitive inquiry that a work of art might express is expressed through the object which is made (the cup; the novel; the song; the carpet etc). Without an object which is made, there is no work of art to speak of or perceive. In other words, there is no fact to appreciate without it having been made and having been made apparent. I will now illustrate a vital point which follows closely from what we have established. In order to make the point clearly, the reader will see the following. This is the definition of the word “aesthetic”:

1798, from German Ästhetisch (mid-18c.) or French esthétique (which is from German), ultimately from Greek aisthetikos “of or for perception by the senses, perceptive,” of things, “perceptible,” from aisthanesthai “to perceive (by the senses or by the mind), to feel,” from PIE *awis-dh-yo-, from root *au- “to perceive.”

Popularized in English by translations of Kant and used originally in the classically correct sense “science which treats of the conditions of sensuous perception” [OED]. Kant had tried to reclaim the word after Alexander Baumgarten had taken it in German to mean “criticism of taste” (1750s), but Baumgarten’s sense attained popularity in English c. 1830s (despite scholarly resistance) and freed the word from philosophy. Walter Pater used it (1868) to describe the late 19c. movement that advocated “art for art’s sake,” which further blurred the sense. [Whewell had proposed callesthetics for “the science of the perception of the beautiful.”

As an adjective by 1798 “of or pertaining to sensual perception;” 1821 as “of or pertaining to appreciation of the beautiful.”


One can see from the dates that Alexander Baumgarten’s definition of the “Aesthetic” as “criticism of taste” dates from the 1750s and that Baumgarten’s idea attained popularity in English around the 1830s. We then learn that “Walter Pater used it in 1868 to describe the late 19 Century ‘movement’ that advocated ‘art for art’s sake’ which further blurred the sense.”

The aesthetic “movement” which is being described in the passage which I have underlined above is an invention of historians and critics to describe trends which they perceive. All “movements” are similar inventions which are created in order to illustrate something that critics perceive either through their senses or otherwise. Those artists who wrote and created works of art and criticism that advocated treating the creation of art as an activity which was justified by and in itself were merely saying that art did and does not need to be utilitarian in order for it to be made.

The phrase “art for arts sake” denotes the desire that art should be created because creating art is something that human beings do and that art should not be created to simply justify a commercial or utilitarian end. There are two important points to be made here.

The first point which must be made is that all art is “art for arts sake.”

Whether a work is expressly made to be used (and thus justified by it’s function) or expressly made to be presented to an audience (and thus perceived by it’s audience), the artist is making for those purposes. Art which is made to in order to sell and make money is less true to the function for which it is advertised than art which is made in order to fulfill a function and which then might be advertised to those who have use of such a thing

Consider the following procedure. An artist first creates something that functions in a certain way (either because they want to create it or because there is demand for such an object). The artist then (with or without the assistance of marketing executives) advertises the object (and it’s function) to those who would have use for such an object. The artist (and executive— if any) finally sell the object to those people who would like to use it. If this scenario is followed and followed in the order which I have described (1. create something; 2. make the existence of it known; 3. sell the thing which has been created), then the object is likely to correlate to it’s function rather than to the profit of a third party (or the artist himself).

To take an example: I recently opened a small glass bottle of Canada Dry Club Soda when the bottle itself exploded close to my face (I was not harmed in case the reader is curious to know). Had the object in question (the bottle) been created to serve the function at hand (the function of containing carbonated water) rather than to meet a financial quota, then the artist would have selected his materials and created the object to serve it’s function.

The bottle’s function is not to blow up but rather to contain water which could then be consumed.

The disclaimer on the bottle (below) demonstrates that the executives (and their legal representatives) knew of the explosive potential of the bottle they had sold to me (WARNING Contents Under Pressure Bottle May Burst Causing Eye or Other Serious Injury):



These “makers” were pushing a product which they knew hand the potential to be a grenade rather than a water bottle. This is why they preemptively elected to spend money on ink and print a disclaimer in order to protect themselves against legal action from myself and others (there are similar explosions which the reader can find to be recounted by engaging in a quick online search). If the artwork in general was made to fulfill it’s function and not fulfill a function that is, arguably, detrimental to it’s supposed function (had my mouth been scarred, I would consume less water and therefore the object would not be as useful) then it would be “truer” to what it purports to be.

This is how negating “art for art’s sake” is an affront to all that is objective.

This six-post huanghuali canopy bed from Jiazichuang dates from the late 16th Century. It functions and remains beautiful at the time of writing:


This early 17th century Southern German, Augsburg cabinet made from Pine carcass and gilded metal also functions and remains beautiful at the time of writing:


Such well-made works of art are not to be dismissed as the work of “mere cabinetmakers” (I have seen such dismissals). They are the work of artists. Cabinets can be made well or badly just as symphonies can be made well or badly. Those works of art which are made well should serve as an example to those who would seek to get away with selling objects that are abysmal in their form and function or even dangerous.

The second point to be made about the misappropriation of aesthetics (when it is used to mean anything beyond that which “pertains to sensual perception” in the most objective sense) is to be made when philosophy is applied to “criticism of taste.”

When aesthetics becomes a study of human senses (“of or pertaining to the appreciation of the beautiful”) the results are judgements as to what should resonate as true to human beings in general. Since human beings are individuals, such a study is not possible unless it is conducted as the speculative impression of the writer in question. These speculative impressions of how a work of art is perceived by an individual may ring true and be brilliant but they can never be more than the speculative impressions made by that individual. Universal truths (truths which are widely held to be true) must be demonstrated. If they are not demonstrated then the person presenting their impressions is left with one option: simply present your impressions and leave it to others to decide whether those impressions are useful to them. Any “science of the perception of the beautiful” is to be discounted because of the fact that such a thing blurs the definition of science by misrepresenting itself as science. It must also be discounted because the attempt to create a methodologically driven set of axioms regarding the “perception of the beautiful” is an officious imposition on individual perceptions of beauty.

This is how negating “art for art’s sake” is an affront to all that is subjective.

As far as the idea of making “art for arts sake” is concerned, I would like to now draw a parallel to another discipline.

Far from intending to blur any lines, I hope that this parallel will be found to illuminate the current lesson by making the connections across the work that all practitioners of curiosity and creativity share explicitly.

In 2007, a Mathematician named Ian Stewart articulated his understanding with regards to the treatment of mathematical ideas as utilitarian function. It is germane to inform the reader that Stewart is one of the world’s most authoritative researchers on mathematics and has authored over 120 books on mathematics of which I have read several which I will recommend without reservation in Appendix B of this book. Dr. Stewart expresses his understanding (as well as informs the reader of the source of his understanding in the repeated example shown through study of the history of mathematics) as follows:

“The history of mathematics shows repeatedly that it is dangerous to dismiss some clever or beautiful idea merely because it has no obvious utility. Unfortunately, this does not stop people from dismissing such ideas, often because they are beautiful or clever. The more “practical” people consider themselves to be, the more they tend to heap scorn on mathematical concepts that arise from abstract questions, invented “for their own sake” instead of addressing some real-world issue. The prettier the concept is, the greater the scorn, as if prettiness itself were a reason to be ashamed.
Such declarations of uselessness are hostages to fortune. It takes only one new application, one new scientific advance, and the despised concept may suddenly plonk itself down on center stage—no longer useless, but essential.”

Dr. Stewart is essentially correct.

I will now make two observations in addition to, rather than instead of, what he has expressed in the paragraph which I have quoted. Human beings make art because we learn about ourselves and about our functions and interactions with the world in which we live by making art. They are as follows:

“The more “practical” people consider themselves to be, the more they tend to heap scorn on mathematical concepts that arise from abstract questions, invented “for their own sake” instead of addressing some real-world issue.”

There is only one world which we all inhabit and perceive. There are other planets (and celestial objects) which we can perceive through our senses and are beginning to explore in order to study these bodies more deeply. This is all part of the “real-world.” Human beings study mathematics in order to satisfy the same urge that Aristotle describes to be “deep in our nature” when he discusses it in his Poetics. This is, namely, the urge to learn.
It takes only one new application, one new scientific advance, and the despised concept may suddenly plonk itself down on center stage—no longer useless, but essential.

One does not need to maintain a trust that knowledge will one day prove that it has utility in order to seek it out. One does not need to trust that a human being will be, as Victor Hugo’s character named Claude Frollo articulates in Disney’s excellent adaptation of his novel, The Hunchback of Notre Dame, that a human being will one day be “of use to me” in order for human beings to cherish a human being’s life. Here is the sequence: 

(Frollo finally catches up to her on the steps of the cathedral. He rips the still covered bundle from her arms, and kicks her, sending her crashing to the cement steps, where she is knocked unconscious. The baby begins to cry.)

Frollo: A baby?

(Frollo uncovers the baby’s head, seeing the deformed infant.)

Frollo: A monster!

(He looks around, searching for a way to dispose of the creature. He sees a well, and rides over to it. He is about to drop the baby down the well when a voice (a lightning flash between Clopin and the Archdeacon shouts out.)

Archdeacon: Stop!

Clopin: Cried the archdeacon.

Frollo: This is an unholy demon. I’m sending it back to hell,
where it belongs!


Frollo: I am guiltless–she ran, I pursued.


Clopin: My conscience is clear!



Frollo: What must I do?

Archdeacon: Care for the child, raise it as your own.

Frollo: What? I’m to be saddled with this misshapen–

(He pauses as a thought creeps across his face.)

Frollo: Very well. Let him live with you, in your church.

Archdeacon: Live here? But where?

Frollo: Anywhere.


The bell tower, perhaps. And who knows–our Lord works
in mysterious ways.


This early enunciation on the part of Frollo serves to seal his character as unlikable to any viewer of the movie just as he was in Hugo’s novel. 

The appropriate questions here are as follows: What business do people have “despising” a concept?” What business do people have “heaping scorn” on mathematical concepts in the name of their supposed “practicality”? If the persons in question are so “practical,” why do they not go and work on elucidating the concepts which they deem to be needed or useful rather than spend their time “heaping scorn” on and “despising” the work of others? 

Nobody needs permission to be human. Nobody, by extension, needs permission to learn. No human being should ever be under the impression that their access to mathematics or art are subject to the approval of others. These are two things which are unique to human beings. They are essential factors of what makes human beings human beings. No animal yet known to man displays a need to justify it’s essential principle of being. Human beings should not be the single exception to this rule. 

 The practitioners of anti-poetics, may convince one of their genuine desire to create. One reason why so many people fall for even their more blatantly ridiculous arguments is that those who make confounding and destructive works may actually believe that they are creating or contributing to humanity. That is what makes their disregard for truth, their statement of false things as true or their convolution of the truth with lies hard to decipher for even the most seasoned practitioner of any field. This is destructive in that it negates the knowledge that humanity at large shares or delays the arrival of knowledge to as many people as possible. This is detestable because knowledge is the birthright of every human being; every human being has the right to deny it to themselves but nobody has the right to deny access of it to others. What makes art so appealing to these people is that art makes things true by making them fact. But the inherent “fiction” in art works because of the fact that artists are open about the basic fact that art isn’t natural but artificially made by human beings. This is as true of a couch as it is of a symphony. It is only following the establishment of that covenant between artist and audience that the artist can function as an artist but also in communion with his fellow man. Artists and audience alike know art to be fiction. This is how people understand art is able to make the sacred palpable to the senses. There is an underlying and universal truth in the simplest element of every useful work of art. If a water bottle does not function as a water bottle then it’s failure will be self-evident. Similarly, if a song does not function as a song, then it will fail in it’s fundamental function (as a song) and this, too, will be self-evident to all.



2. Jump-man

“Games are a trigger for adults to again become primitive, primal, as a way of thinking and remembering. An adult is a child who has more ethics and morals, that’s all. When I am a child, creating, I am not creating a game. I am in the game. The game is not for children, it is for me. It is for an adult who still has a character of a child.”
—Shigeru Miyamoto

“My music is best understood by children and animals.”
—Igor Stravinsky. The Observer, Oct 8, 1961

The instrumental compositions of Mozart and Beethoven and the ballets of Tchaikovsky and Bernstein as well as the majority of Fritz Freleng’s animated Pink Panther shorts (to say nothing of many Looney Tunes cartoons that were created at Termite Terrace) are now enjoyed by audiences throughout the world. They are also understood by people of all languages and ages without the need for a translator or an interpretive ‘guide.’”

With the creation of Pong in 1962 as well as the video games such as Pac Man and Space invaders, we began to see people engage with video games on an international scale. The three games I have just named are examples of games that shared a transcendence of linguistic barriers with the animated works and musical compositions that I have just named. This universality is made possible by the relationship that these artistic disciples maintain with motion.

Music, dance, animation and video games imitate motion in different ways. It is helpful to understand the primary sense that each of the following arts engage with:

Music— Hearing
Animation —- Sight
Dance— Motion/movement of the body
Video Games — Touch

The first game I would like to look at is Shigeru Miyamoto’s Donkey Kong (1981). This game is composed of four different levels and introduced the now-renewed character named “Mario” to the world. At his debut, Mario was named Mr. Video. The name of the character was changed to “Jumpman” when it was decided that he would jump over barrels in the game:

This point (regarding the naming of the character-sprite) is illustrated in the following portion of an interview from the first episode of Iwata Asks:

Iwata: So the fact that Donkey Kong is played over four screens stems from your original desire to make it scroll?
Miyamoto: Yes, that’s right. The technical supervisor at the time asked us what on earth we were thinking: “One screen is plenty for a regular game! But you’re making four separate screens! You might as well ask us to make four different games!”
Iwata: But you were dead set on doing it that way.
Miyamoto: Yes, I was. I also recall that the cabinet we were making the game for had one joystick and one button, but initially I intended it to be controlled using only the joystick.
Iwata: So what you’re saying is that if that cabinet hadn’t happened to have a button, Mario wouldn’t have jumped? You can’t imagine Mario now without thinking of him jumping! (laughs)
Miyamoto: Well, that might have been the case. Originally it was a game where you had to escape from a maze. To have allowed players to jump and avoid dangers would have spoiled the strategic element of the game. But then we thought: “If you had a barrel rolling towards you, what would you do?”
Iwata: Naturally, you’d jump over it! (laughs)
Miyamoto: Of course you’d jump over it! (laughs) So we decided to use the button to allow players to jump and when we made a prototype to try it out, it worked really well. I think that if we hadn’t allowed Mario to jump, it would have most likely proved to be a horrendously difficult game to play.
Iwata: You’d have had to focus on avoiding the barrels while climbing up through the maze. That would have required a huge amount of grit and determination.
Miyamoto: Also, if we’d made it so you’d been able to jump by pressing up on the joystick, the name “jump button” would never have come about! On the 2nd stage, we had vertical lifts and we were concerned as to how the player would be able to get on them. But if Mario jumped…
Iwata: Then getting on and off them would be a breeze! (laughs)
Miyamoto: It was then that we decided to go with jumping, which worked out for the best.
Iwata: By allowing Mario to jump, you were able to solve multiple issues at the same time.

Each level consists of one screen. Each level of the also game corresponds to a height measurement in meters. The four main levels of Donkey Kong are each captured in a single screen. The first two screens that the player interacts with are as follows. The left screen (as represented below) is the opening level of the game. The screen on the right is the second level of the game. Screens one and two represent Jumpman’s ascent of 25 meters (L) and 50 meters (R) from the ground (the vertical position at which Jumpman is situated at the start of the game) respectively. The starting point at which the character-sprite appears (the point at which the player activates the sprite into motion) can be seen in the lower left corner of Screen 1 beside the barrel of oil. Here are the four screens of Donkey Kong (1981):

The last two screens (those representing the 75 meter and 100 meter marks of our “ascent”) are as follows:

We don’t actually experience “verticality” in Donkey Kong as the screen never moves. We don’t ever “see” the building as a whole. The ingenious part of all this is that we do not need to. Miyamoto relies on impressions that we retain in our mind’s eye and our inner sense of motion. By stacking the four static level-screens in the reverse order to which the levels are actually experienced he clarifies the vertical motion of the chase (upward) as well as the form of the building that we are scaling:


Here is the entire “building” which I have pieced together from the four static screens of Donkey Kong:


In Donkey Kong, Miyamoto deploys a series of masterfully executed visual movements which cause the player to put the building together in his or her mind’s eye. I will demonstrate two examples and the reader can find many more. In the first example, one will appreciate how two levels (the first and second) which appear to be so different are, in fact, so minutely connected. Here are the two levels:



They are connected by a series of mental images which the player draws between the two through his or her own memory of the diagonal inclines which are scaled in level one (and which I have highlighted in yellow) as below:


These “diagonals” evoke the following correlation in the mind’s perception which I show in the following detail from level two through a series of similar yellow lines:


To make the correlation more explicit, here are the two levels in question:


And here are the same levels with the connections drawn out explicitly between them (I have also altered the colors slightly in order to see the arrows more clearly):



In the following example, one can see the exactitude of the (again imagined) connections with are drawn between the ladders (I have connected them below using six arrows of differing colors) as well as the connections between the lines which outline the ladders (and which I have drawn with a dotted yellow line) below:


One can start to appreciate how Miyamoto accomplishes the experience of verticality which makes the scaling of a building in a video game (as opposed to experiencing such a thing in a movie like King Kong) function:


Donkey Kong Jr. (1982) followed. In this game, also consistent of four screens, the player controlled Donkey Kong Jr. and had to save Donkey Kong from Mario. Where Donkey Kong is set in the city, Donkey Kong Jr. game starts off in the jungle. The first game has the ape intruding on the human habitat (Donkey Kong in the city). The second game has man intruding on the apes’ habitat (Mario going into the Jungle).

Before moving on to Mario’s next video game “appearance”, I would like to discuss his actual appearance as it relates to his construction. The original Mario was a 16 x 16 pixelated image. He looked like this:


Miyamoto describes here how the character was the result of function.
Miyamoto: I thought it was most likely that it was the programmer who was drawing these figures. But I thought: “I know how to draw!” I mean, I’m not saying I can draw as well as an artist, but I was confident that I was better at drawing than a programmer. That’s why I started by saying: “Right, let’s draw something that actually looks like a person’s face!” So I drew the eyes, the nose, the mouth and…

Here, we are introduced to Mario’s mustache:
Iwata: There’s absolutely no way that you would have had enough pixels, right?
Miyamoto: Right, there weren’t enough. Before you know it, you’ve used up 8 X 8 pixels. But if you draw a nose then a moustache, you don’t really know if it’s a mouth or a moustache, and it saves pixels.
Iwata: So if you draw a moustache, you don’t have to draw a mouth.
And his hat:
Miyamoto: You don’t have to draw a mouth, which makes a big difference. You only need one pixel for the chin and if you draw two vertical pixels, you’ve got eyes that hopefully look quite cute. (laughs) Also, because you can’t fully draw hair, by making him wear a hat, you can reduce the hair to only a couple of pixels.
Iwata: So you made Mario wear a hat in order to keep the number of pixels you were using down?
Miyamoto: Well, if you have hair, it also presents problems to animate it. And if you draw a hat, you can have the eyes directly beneath it.
Iwata: And with that the face is complete.
Miyamoto: But when you come to draw the body using the remaining pixels, there’s a limit to what you can do. Furthermore, because we wanted him to run properly, we needed to animate him and we were only able to use three different frames for this. When Mario is running he moves his arms, but in order to make that movement easier to see, I thought it would be best to make his arms and his body different colours. So I wondered whether there was a type of outfit which was like that…
Iwata: And that’s how you came up with overalls! (laughs)
Miyamoto: Right! Overalls were the only option! So that’s how we ended up giving Mario overalls. Fortunately, the game was set on a construction site so we thought we had no other option but to make him a carpenter! (laughs)

Iwata: There’s a sense of inevitability about all of this! (laughs)
Miyamoto: Then we gave Mario a pair of white gloves, in order to make his movements easier to spot when he jumped.
Iwata: So the entire design was a case of form being dictated by function. You can really see that your specialist field, design is evident in the final result.

Then, because he jumped up and down, he became known as “Jumpman”, right?
Miyamoto: Well, I called him “Mr. Video”. My plan was to use the same character in every video game I made.
Iwata: So you had that plan right from the start? Why did you intend to use him in every video game you made?
Miyamoto: Well, I thought the way Hitchcock cropped up in all the films he directed was really cool! (laughs) Or take manga artists like Osamu Tezuka8 and Fujio Akatsuka who have the same characters popping up in a variety of different works. I think I was probably influenced by that at the time.

The overall structure of World 1; Level 1 (properly called World 1-1) looks like this (starting from the left and progressing to the right) if the level was to be perceived visually in one screen:

The level is never is seen in one fell swoop on the audience member’s television screen (or any other device on which the visual cues are displayed). It is seen just as it was made to be seen: one cell at a time.

The opening of World 1-1 is pieced together from individual panels which are combined as follows:


We can now start bringing the panels together to form Level 1-1. Let us now see the panels in closer proximity to one another. I have altered the exposure and saturation of each panel in order to create a color difference between the three so that the reader can keep track of the divisions even without the presence of lines:


Placing these panels together will cause the reader to appreciate how seamless the connections are between them. The player did not actually experience “verticality” in Donkey Kong as the screen never moves in that game but here is an example in which the screen as well as the player “moves”:

World 1-1 is divided into 14 individual panels. Please note that I manually inserted the divisions which follow and did so for the purpose of demonstration only. They are, therefore, not exactly as programmed in the game. This means that one would have to calculate the divisions to a finer decimal point or receive the original program for the cartridge of the game in order to correctly imitate the level by programming it from scratch. Nevertheless, for all purposes of demonstration, the divisions as drawn by my eye alone are close enough to the purpose in order to demonstrate the level’s 14 screens. I point this out not only in order to disclaim those who may wish to use my diagram as a “programming guideline” but also because the reader will appreciate how close to the correct programming dimensions one can come by mere perception alone. This is a testament to the programming of the game.

Here are the 14 panels which make up World 1-1:

On this map, Mario (the character-sprite formerly “Jumpman” and, before that, “Mr Video) begins at the left of the screen (panel 1) and progresses to the flagpole (and castle) in at the right-hand side of the screen (panel 13) as follows:

The screen itself “scrolls” seamlessly to the right functioning as a “camera” which follows Mario as he moves across the level.

This is not difficult to understand and the imagery of a “scroll” is actually a helpful metaphor for the unfolding of the level itself together with the motion of the character across the level. I would like, however, to demonstrate the “scrolling” of this level through demonstration rather than metaphor.

Let us begin by placing Mario at being at the following position in World 1-1. I have captured this image in a single screen-shot from my own television screen so that the reader will appreciate the dimensions of a single cell. This is what I perceive on my video screen:

The “cell” which I am looking at on my television screen contains sections from several panels; namely, one can see the right-most section of panel 1, the entirety of panel 2 and a small section from panel 3 as follows:

Mario (magnified below in order to show his current position) moves to the right (as shown by the red arrow below). The cell also moves to the right and functions as the player’s field of vision (as shown by yellow arrow below). This is as follows:

This cell is akin to our perception when reading a comic book. It is our field of vision, our eyes moving from one panel in a comic book to the next. The following comic strip, by Jim Davis, is composed of three panels (which are delineated as part of the art form):


The panels themselves do not move and the “cell” that we have as our field of vision in Super Mario Bros is akin to our eyes moving from left to right as we read the strip.

Much in the same way that the composite building (and the illusion of scaling the building) is accomplished in Donkey Kong, composite structures and illusions of motion are often ingeniously created in comic books.
Though there is no convention for direction-of-reading in comic books (many comics have no words and are read as understood through their visual cues while others, as we will see, can be read from top to bottom), they are written (even in the case where a comic book has no words in it, a storyboard is written). That is what Art Spiegelman means when he characterizes an interest in narrative as part of the job description for cartoonists:

“Composers often don’t share Mr. Fairouz’s interest in narrative (something that’s just part of the job description for us Cartoonists)”

Though no convention exists, comic books will often be read in a way that corresponds to conventions that govern the language in which they are written (or the language spoken by the persons reading the comic book if the comic is purely visual). Namely, a comic book will be read instinctively in the direction one reads as in the case with an Arabic comic:


Since Arabic is read from the right to the left of the page and from the top to the bottom of the page, one will properly read the comic strips above accordingly:


One can tell that the following example is the same strip because of the correlation of images and yet, in English, the strip will properly be read as proceeding from the left to the right hand side of the page and (as above) from the top to the bottom of the page:


Motion is not contingent on language and so a video game character can properly proceed to move from the left to the right (as is the case in Super Mario Bros) or from right to left (as in Saturo Iwata’s 1984 game titled Balloon Fight):


Or, in the case of three-dimensional games such as Super Mario 64 (shown below) one can create sprites which can move in any imaginable direction.

Since, as far as a composer’s practice is concerned, Music progresses through time linearly, it is mathematically mandated that music be notated from the left to the right (in accordance with the way in which Arabic numerals are notated (from the left to the right).

Music in which a composer sets texts which are not ordinarily read from left to right offer an illuminating number of possibilities. Schubert, setting Hebrew, chooses to transliterate the words into Latin letters as follows:


In the following example, from Abraham and Isaac by Stravinsky, the composer sets the Hebrew using the original letters (I have highlighted the letters in pink; Stravinsky sets them one syllable at a time). He then provides a transliteration below the Hebrew in which he spells out the Hebrew syllables as they are to be pronounced with each note (highlighted in green):


Above the music, Stravinsky includes the translation which is readily accessed (highlighted in yellow). These words are rendered in language (“Here I am”) and are to be understood as language. Stravinsky separates the words which are language (“Here I am” in English) from the syllables which are set (the original Hebrew) and the Latinization of the syllables (the transliteration below the original letters) by placing the English language above the line and the sounds which are set below the musical line. He also is sure to make the words “Here I am” appear as specially separate from the syllables which are set (the clarity is required because of the fact that each of the three words “here I am” happen to consist of a single syllable.

No matter the approach taken by a composer, the music itself must always progress from the left to the right regardless of it’s joining with language (or in all cases of music being composed where no language at all is involved):


This is because Music progresses through time, and we indicate this motion through arithmetic procedure in our notation. It is mandated that music be notated from the left to the right in accordance with the way in which Arabic numerals are notated and progress (from the left to the right).

I nevertheless maintain a desire that attention be paid to Stravinsky’s approach by all composers who engage with art song and choral music (any sort of music that is not theatrical). This is because of the fact

In the following example (the opening of a “festival cantata” called Rejoice in the Lamb by Benjamin Britten) the words which are set to music on the first line are as follows: “Rejoice in God, O ye Tongues/ Give the…”


But the words are not joined to the notes. The syllables are joined to the notes. The syllables, therefore, which are sung are as follows: “Re/ – /joice/ in/ /God /O /ye /tongues; /Give /the…”

This is a basic fact that is all to often forgotten (and even by even some professional composers) today: Syllables are set to music; not words. The syllables can mean something (if a single syllable happens to form a word which means something) or nothing at all.

This is what accounts for the effect of ebullient “laughter” which I described as my impression from Bach’s Gloria in Excelsis (from his B Minor Mass). In the following example, the first word which is set on the line in question is “Gloria” and not the following: “glO- O- O/ O-o-o-o-o/ O- ri-i-a-a”:

The only two questions that matter when it comes to words (as far as music concerned) are the following:

Is the syllable a consonant?
Is the syllable a vowel?

“Glo” is not a word and neither is “ri” nor is “a” a word (in this context). In “glO- O- O/ O-o-o-o-o/ O- ri-i-a-a,” vowels are being utilized to expressive effect and consonants are being used for the same reason (but vowels are being elongated and consonants are not). This misunderstanding (syllables and not words are being set) is the cause for much confusing and even substandard musical settings of texts.

More importantly, to the matter at hand. The misunderstanding neglects the basic truth: music always progresses through time. If music is activated, it progresses through time (because it is bound to time).

When a video game is activated it, like a couch, is not bound to time. It exists through time and does not progress through time.

This is why we must understand the panels in a video game as analogous to comic book panels and not to musical measure (though the roles that tempo, touch and time play in Video Games can cause understandable confusion since video games appear to move).

If we were to use Mario as a “counter” (he is indeed used in this way if one engages with the “composer” feature contained in the game-program hybrid which was made by Nintendo for the Super Nintendo called Mario Paint) and Mario was to stop at the point marked by the blue line below then the effect on the Video Game would be different to the effect on the music. In the video game putting down the controller would make Mario stop in his tracks. Provided that nothing causes him to die and that the “time” in the game was infinite (it can easily be made so) then Mario will stand there till I return. The video game has not ceased just because I’ve put down the controller. I can still engage with it (seeing the visuals as one would see a poster or painting hung in the room or hearing the audio as one would hear a piece of music).

When I decided to reengage with the controller, Mario would be waiting by the pipe where I left him (as highlighted below):

Were I to stop the music at that point, however, the music would no longer be there. We would stop singing or listening right at the point where the syllable “ex” occurs as below:


Please note that I do not mean “stop listening” but rather “stop the music.” If I left the music on “in the background” as I did with the game when I put down the controller, the music would still be there. I would be able to hear it played by instruments or through my speaker system (if I was listening to a recording). Just as I would be able to hear (and see) certain elements of a movie if I left it on in the living room while I went to the kitchen to get a drink.

But the moment I stop time (in the movie or the music), the movie (or music) will cease to exist as such. The movie may be paused but, at that point, what is retained is a picture and not a moving picture. The music may similarly pause on a single stalled microsecond but, if it does to, it is not functioning as the music which was created or performed (even music which consists of a single long drone or music which is as “atmospheric” as Georgy Ligeti’s orchestral work called Atmosphere’s is created, composed or made in that way). Music is bound to time (in addition to progressing through time) in a way that should not be confused with video games which simply progress through time.

In order to understand the “nature” of Mario, let us remove our lines which we made in order to demonstrate the cell and panel divisions for a moment.

As I had mentioned earlier, the level is created in order to form a single continuous journey (experience) from beginning to end:


The extent to which the The Nintendo Entertainment System for which Super Mario Bros was made was also, in turn, made for Super Mario Bros can be seen if we look at the console’s controller:


Here, the extent to which the controller’s directional pad integrates a flow of function with the game itself is clear:


Mario, it is vital to note, does not simply progress in a line across the level as we had in our illustration (again below):


World 1-1 (World 1; Level 1) begins with the following dilemma. Mario can do one of two things at the start of the game:

move to the right
stay still (should the player not touch the directional pad on the controller)


Should Mario chose to do either of these things, he will “die” (the game, in other words, will not proceed) and the player will have to start the game over. This is because a goomba enemy is programmed to walk towards Mario and, should Mario touch the enemy, he will die.



In option 1 (move to the right), Mario would move toward the Goomba and die (at the point marked by the skull and crossbones):

In option 2 (do not interact with the controller at all thus staying still), Mario would remain in place as the Goomba moved towards him and he would meet the same fate (at the point marked by the skull and crossbones):

A third option must be had. The player will press any of the buttons on the Nintendo Entertainment System’s controller and, as there are only five buttons, he or she will quickly find that the “B” button initiates a jump by which the player can jump over the goomba as follows:


Here we have yet another example of the extent to which the controller’s flow of function is aligned with the game:

Just as vitally, though, we have an entry into understanding the extent to which function is connected with existence as far as artistic objects are concerned. Super Mario Bros, it is often noted, is the “true birth” of Mario as a video game character even through, as it is also often noted, his first appearance was made in Donkey Kong (1981) and not in the Super Mario Bros (1985).

The question which is not addressed by the few critics who have engaged with this art-form is a question which lies at the poetic crux of Miyamoto’s art and, in a vital way, the poetic nature of video games in general. It is: “Why is Super Mario Bros regarded to be the “true birth” of the character even though he appeared in previous games (which were also popular in addition to being masterfully made in their own right)?

If Mario does not jump, he “dies” (the very game which he exists to function within cannot proceed). That is what makes Jumpman what he is. Mario’s jump is why Miyamoto called him “jump-man” as soon as he made the character jump over the barrels in Donkey Kong.

We will recall this from Iwata’s conversation with Miyamoto about the moment:

Iwata: So what you’re saying is that if that cabinet hadn’t happened to have a button, Mario wouldn’t have jumped? You can’t imagine Mario now without thinking of him jumping! (laughs)
Miyamoto: Well, that might have been the case. Originally it was a game where you had to escape from a maze. To have allowed players to jump and avoid dangers would have spoiled the strategic element of the game. But then we thought: “If you had a barrel rolling towards you, what would you do?”
Iwata: Naturally, you’d jump over it! (laughs)
Miyamoto: Of course you’d jump over it! (laughs) So we decided to use the button to allow players to jump and when we made a prototype to try it out, it worked really well. I think that if we hadn’t allowed Mario to jump, it would have most likely proved to be a horrendously difficult game to play.

This is far from insignificant. They make the function and form of Mario contribute to a core reason for why Donkey Kong is a such a fine work of art. But what, if such an important and pleasurable question can be asked in such a trite way, makes it great?

“Horrendously difficult” is not the same as “impossible.”

As previously noted, Mario begins his journey to the top of the building in Donkey Kong at the point which I have marked with a star below:

At the start Donkey Kong, the ape hurls a barrel directly downwards thus igniting the oil barrel at the base of the building:


Mario, as it turns out, happens to be standing next to this oil barrel at the start of the game:

This makes it imperative for Mario to walk to the right (as shown by the yellow arrow). This motion is necessary if he is to survive and if we are to have a game at all:

Should Mario fail to move to the right, he will be crushed by the very first barrel and die as follows:


Let us now recall Miyamoto’s words on the invention of Mario’s jump :

“Miyamoto: …But then we thought: “If you had a barrel rolling towards you, what would you do?”
Iwata: Naturally, you’d jump over it! (laughs)
Miyamoto: Of course you’d jump over it! (laughs) So we decided to use the button to allow players to jump and when we made a prototype to try it out, it worked really well. I think that if we hadn’t allowed Mario to jump, it would have most likely proved to be a horrendously difficult game to play.”

That which is expressed through the use of the words “horrendously difficult” is different from what the word “impossible” expresses. A “horrendously difficult game to play” is different from “no game to play.”

Mario will die if he does not jump over the barrel as follows:


But jumping over a barrel is not a pre-condition to the very existence of the game itself. Mario can survive without jumping over a barrel and the player can experience quite a bit of game before he or she has to jump over a barrel at all.

By the point at which jumping over the barrel above is required in order to proceed with the game, the player can, for example, have made Mario continue to move to the right (pink arrow and the player also could have controlled Mario to climb a number of ladders (white, red and orange arrows) as shown here:


By the point at which jumping over the barrel above is required in order to proceed, the player must have jumped over the fireball (blue arrow). He or she has encountered an obstacle already provided that the player has initially moved to the right (green arrow). These are functions of necessity in order for the game to begin (green arrow) and in order for the game to continue (blue arrow):


We may now answer the question: “Why is Super Mario Bros regarded to be the “true birth” of Mario even though the character appeared in previous games which were also popular games in addition to being masterfully made?

In Donkey Kong, Mario must move to the right in order to survive. Without walking to the right, we arrive at “Game Over.” If Mario does not walk to the right in Donkey Kong, the very game in which he exists to function cannot exist.

In Super Mario Bros, however, Mario dies if he does not jump over the very first goomba. If Mario does not jump, the game in which he exists to function cannot exist.



Let us look at the conditions for the game to exist in Super Mario Bros. Just as in Donkey Kong, standing still would mean that the game could not begin:


Walking to the right was needed for Donkey Kong, the game, to begin. And yet, this is not enough to satisfy the conditions for the game to begin in Super Mario Bros:


Mario’s jump is why Miyamoto called him “jump-man” as soon as he made the character jump over the barrels in Donkey Kong and yet Donkey Kong is not considered Mario’s true “birth.”

No game is possible in Donkey Kong without walking to the right. And yet all of the following gaming is possible once one meets that condition.


Let us remember clearly that Miyamoto called the character jumpman in Donkey Kong (not in Super Mario Bros). More specifically, Miyamoto named Mario Jumpman at this moment which he created in 1981:










Subconsciously (I believe it is subconscious), Miyamoto makes the walking prerequisite doubly clear. Even if Mario was programmed so survive the blow of the barrel (he isn’t), he would still die a few microseconds later. As a result of the barrel igniting the oil, Mario would burn to death:

Donkey Kong is a supremely fine (and enduring) game in which function and conditions of artistic existence meet in the moment above. Yet the game itself is not predicated on this function.

Donkey Kong, as a game, can proceed to exist and be a game if Mr. Video walks. And yet, Mr. Video became JUMPman when he jumped over the barrel in the moment captured above. He did not become WALKman when he walked to the right as a pre-condition for beginning to play Donkey Kong.

Music and video games imitate and create the illusion of motion. Video games create the illusion of motion visually and music creates that illusion aurally.

And yet, in music something really does move: the vibrating body which emits the sound waves moves and, more vitally, the harmonic motion within the activated body (the low “C” String on our piano as in the previous chapter) moves infinitely with the frequency of a normally imperceptible number of vibrations per second.

In video games, something actually moves as well. It is not the illusion of motion created by the visual objects on a screen moving at a maximum of 60 frames per second. It is the player who must move in order to play a game using the touch-interaction with a controller or the motion controls in other cases or the simulation of shooting a gun as is the case with the NES Zapper and other “guns” in video games or any number of other motions. We must move in order to play the game.

We interact with a video game like Donkey Kong or Super Mario Bros through the manipulation of touch and the consequent action we see on the screen. Also, and perhaps most importantly, the element of play draws us into this illusion—we play games and we play instruments and the exploration of the two brings one closer into the process to the realization of the art itself.

Any skills which are honed are those which make the continued exploration and play in these art forms ever more rewarding. The audience for both art forms interact in real time to the expression and schematics of the game or musical score in question. My feeling towards music exist as a professional composer who loves the work that I do. In the case of video games, my feeling is one of a life-long spectator who wishes to express the unbridled joy I have taken in watching, listening and playing games.

Play, in music and games, is about motion and perpetual dynamics.

Miyamoto’s success (as well as the success of any video game creator) is inevitably going to be contingent upon finding the right movement.

Miyamoto: Yes, I was. I also recall that the cabinet we were making the game for had one joystick and one button, but initially I intended it to be controlled using only the joystick.

Iwata: So what you’re saying is that if that cabinet hadn’t happened to have a button, Mario wouldn’t have jumped? You can’t imagine Mario now without thinking of him jumping! (laughs)

In Donkey Kong, Miyamoto exacted the right movement for Mr Video and that is why Mr. Video became Jumpman at this moment 1981:

“To have allowed players to jump and avoid dangers would have spoiled the strategic element of the game” said Miyamoto in his interview with Saturo Iwata.

“So,” he said, “we decided to use the button to allow players to jump and when we made a prototype to try it out, it worked really well. I think that if we hadn’t allowed Mario to jump, it would have most likely proved to be a horrendously difficult game to play.”

Jumping over the barrels (and other objects which are hurled at Mario by Donkey Kong) is also the primary source of the fun in the game. Without Donkey Kong hurling objects which Mario could jump over, the game would consist of:

walking to the right and to the left
Climbing the ladders

Engaging in those two actions are far less fun than the avoidance of obstacles. Even if the video game in question turned out to be a strategic mind-bender, what then would functionally distinguish this video game from the fun of doing a crossword-puzzle. If the objective of this video game was the navigation of a maze, what would have made it more pleasurable than going to an actual maze?

There are answers to those questions, I am sure but, as far as touch and interaction is concerned, Mario’s jump is the only way most of us will (and the only way in which most of us will want to) interact with an infuriated ape like Donkey Kong who is hurling objects at us.

Miyamoto: Well, that might have been the case. Originally it was a game where you had to escape from a maze. To have allowed players to jump and avoid dangers would have spoiled the strategic element of the game. But then we thought: “If you had a barrel rolling towards you, what would you do?”

Iwata: Naturally, you’d jump over it! (laughs)

One could also shoot the barrel or, as is possible in Donkey Kong, avoid a barrel by partially climbing a ladder. The jump, again, was not simply the natural choice. It was the best natural choice for the artistic medium in question.

Miyamoto: Of course you’d jump over it! (laughs) So we decided to use the button to allow players to jump and when we made a prototype to try it out, it worked really well. I think that if we hadn’t allowed Mario to jump, it would have most likely proved to be a horrendously difficult game to play.

Iwata: You’d have had to focus on avoiding the barrels while climbing up through the maze. That would have required a huge amount of grit and determination.

If the game did take place in a maze the player would, as Iwata then says “have had to focus on avoiding the barrels while climbing up through the maze. That would have required a huge amount of grit and determination.”

It could have been fun but the reason for the correctly perceived “focus on avoiding the barrels” is that the avoidance of the barrels by jumping is what makes Donkey Kong a pleasurable game. It is Mario’s only active interaction that exists with the ape in the entire game. Were it not for the jump and the avoidance of the barrels and objects which Donkey Kong hurls at Mario, then the only reason for the game to be what it is (Donkey Kong); that is, for it to feature the monkey and the building in question. Otherwise Mario’s interaction with Donkey Kong (the character) would be limited to the initial walk rightward which is prerequisite to gameplay in Donkey Kong (the game).

Saturo Iwata, an artist of note in his own right, created such classic games as Balloon Fight but hailed Miyamoto as being on another level of artistry altogether because of his “imagination.”

Iwata is correct. It must be mentioned, the word “imagination” has been misunderstood by many to mean praise for Miyamoto’s “story-telling” or “narrative capabilities.” Game critics who say this often proceed to launch into an explanation of the “story” in Super Mario Bros.

But saving a princess Toadstood from a lizard named Koopa in the Mushroom Kingdom while avoiding malignant turtles and “goombas” as well as spines thrown from cloud-dwelling turtle named Lakitu and collecting coins and mushrooms which make Mario (who is now a plumber from Brooklyn) is not only a “story” which is largely made-up after the fact. It is also not the greatest narrative material.

Iwata’s most revealing moment (and one in which he reveals his truest passion as a programmer) is this one in which he contends with Miyamoto’s inspired decision. “So what you’re saying,” posits Saturo Iwata, “is that if that cabinet hadn’t happened to have a button, Mario wouldn’t have jumped?”

“You can’t imagine Mario now without thinking of him jumping!” adds Iwata, also correctly.

Many reasons can be thought up for Mario’s jump. Many ways exist to avoid a barrel. Many strategies and scenarios and movements and ways to initiate that movement are possible; an infinite number of these possibilities and more are, in fact, possible. Miyamoto’s task (and that which remains every artist’s eternal challenge) was simple and stupefying: out of the dazzling infinity of possible options find one; the right one.

Miyamoto, as we saw with Beethoven in the exercise on the construction of the opening of the 5th Symphony, found the right one; the natural thing that could not, in retrospect, have been done in any other way. Mario’s jump is so natural that it seems as though it’s always been this way. But it hasn’t. Miyamoto had to find it.

Miyamoto christened Jumpman at this moment which he found and which makes Donkey Kong the inspired and enduring work of art that is is:

Donkey Kong is a supremely fine (and enduring) game in which function and conditions of artistic existence meet in the moment above. Yet the game itself is not predicated on this function.

Donkey Kong, as a game, can proceed to exist and be a game if Mr. Video walks. And yet, Mr. Video became JUMPman when he jumped over the barrel in the moment captured above. He did not become WALKman when he walked to the right as a pre-condition for beginning to play Donkey Kong.

Donkey Kong, as a game, can proceed to exist and be a game if Mr. Video walks. It can be a fun game (it is). And yet, Mr. Video became JUMPman when he jumped over the barrel in the moment that made Donkey Kong the game that it is. He was never meant to be WALKman when he walked to the right as a pre-condition for beginning to play Donkey Kong. The jump is natural in Donkey Kong; it makes Donkey Kong the game need to be Donkey Kong.

That is why Donkey Kong is a fine work of art by a great artist.

If Mario does not jump in Super Mario Bros, however, the game in which he exists to function cannot exist. And, in this meeting of necessity and nature, Jumpman got his first game that transcended the rare accomplishment that is fine artistic work to inhabit the inspired realm of truly great works of art; works which we cherish and without which we cannot imagine our world as our world (the world we know today).

That is why Super Mario Bros is, and should be, regarded to be the “true birth” of the character even though he appeared in previous games (which were also popular in addition to being masterfully made in their own right).

This is also why Super Mario Bros is a great, and not simply good, work of art.

In any case, our journey begins here:


3. Additive Functions


Once the “cardinal movement” (that of jumping) is accomplished, a series of motions are set into inevitable motion in Super Mario Bros. If, at the point which I have marked “2” below, Mario initiates his jump, the arch of his jump will cause him to hit the question mark block (which I have marked with a red dot):


This action (hitting the block from below) results in the emergence of a Mushroom which is programmed to move to the right (as shown by the arrow below). The mushroom then reaches the end of the suspended platform and falls. When one sees this, one understands how gravity works in this particular game (the same as in our world; ie things fall downward in the Mushroom Kingdom):

Once the mushroom hits a new plain (the ground) it continues to move to the right (as I have indicated by the green arrow below):


Once the mushroom collides with the green pipe, it ricochets against the pipe and moves in the opposite direction of it’s default programming (which is to move to the right) The point of collision is as shown below:


And, following this, the mushroom is sent right back to Mario (provided he is static). The player does not need to do anything in order for Mario to receive it


The effect which the mushroom has on Mario is to turn him into “Super Mario” (Super being the Latin for “greater than” or “bigger” or “above”) and when used in English as a prefix is as follows:

above, over, or upon
superior in size, quality, number, degree, status, title, or position
(physics) supersymmetry
(fiction) superhero


For the definition of the “Super Mushroom as it applies to the game in question (Super Mario Bros) I have used the Super Mario Wiki definition here because of the lack of critical or poetic works which cover video games (though I have checked the definition against books and research in other arts). Here is the relevant portion of the definition:

“Super Mario Bros. is the first Mario game to feature Super Mushrooms.

Touching one will turn Mario into Super Mario, making his body grow. While Super, he gains the ability to break Brick Blocks and allows him to take one more hit from an enemy (shrinking down to Small Mario before losing a life). Also, when Super Mario gets hit, his image will flicker and he will be temporarily invulnerable during this time.

…if a Super Mushroom comes in contact with a wall, it will turn around. Just like 1-Up Mushrooms, players can make …”

Additively, Mario becomes “Super” or “superior” in size (as can be seen below) as well as superior in strength (he can now break blocks) and in endurance (he can take a “hit from an enemy and revert to his smaller size where Mario (the original Mario) would die if he sustained a single hit) amidst a host of other things… But the equation at hand, in the simplest sense is “Mario + Mushroom = Super Mario”:


If the player does nothing in this situation (and Mario stands still) the mushroom will quickly arrive at his position and, upon colliding with him, cause him to become Super Mario (as below):

What, then, would happen if the player did something?

If the player does decide to move Mario in the two ways which we have learned to move him thus-far (to the right and/or jump) the mushroom will still reach Mario in all but the most unlikely conditions.

If Mario jumps then he will hit the blocks and return to the ground where he will receive the mushroom (remember that Mario is still small and cannot break the brick blocks above him yet):



If Mario walks (as shown by the pink arrow below) he will eventually run into the mushroom all the same:

The invitation to “upward motion” which begins in Donkey Kong (scaling the building) nevertheless is synthesized in Super Mario Bros. The “invitation up” pervades every aspect of Level 1-1 and, indeed, the entire Mario Series of games (it is a “defining feature” in the real sense of those words).

If we zoom out and, once again, look at the entire landscape of Level 1-1, we can immediately see the trajectory from Mario’s beginning (as small Mario) to the top of the flag pole:


On a more local level, this upward diagonal is omnipresent. The pipes moving in an upward slope lead Mario upward to the highest plane in World 1-1 as can be seen here:


The second half of the level is similarly built with upward momentum which is especially punctuated by the two “upward” and “downward” stair-cases followed by the final “upward” staircase (one which is not followed by a “downward” equivalent).

In this case, the long line which we can chart to the flag-pole is as follows:


Ever upward.

It is not just these macro structures which demonstrate synthesis, unity and simplicity. Everything in World 1-1 is accomplished with a profound economy of means which is often described as having been motivated by the lack of “power” in the technology which was available to Miyamoto at the time when he created Super Mario Bros.

This argument is flawed if one only considers his vocal (and decades-long) favor of techne and art (wile) over “graphics” and “horsepower” alone. The argument becomes ludicrous if one considers how much harder it is (as, again, it was for Beethoven in his Fifth Symphony) to simplify everything to the most basic and satisfying atomic elements of inevitability and pleasure.

Let us examine two visible details which will illustrate this point. Here is the opening shot of Level 1-1 which we considered earlier:


The small cloud (1) and the small bush (2) are modifications of the same form. The mushroom (3) and the Goomba (4) are also variations on the same form. This is also true of the three part bush (5) and the three part cloud (6).

I have highlighted and extracted these elements in the diagram below in the hopes that the reader will immediately appreciate just how much of the variety contained within this detail is derived from fundamentally unified elements.

Throughout the level, too, every element can be traced to an atomic root. The invisible panels and cells which define the level (as well as the fact that we see the level with a square (or rectangular) frame (a television or a digital frame) as our point of reference is mirrored in every minute detail of the visual design.


The floor (1) question mark blocks (2), brick blocks (3) and stair-case blocks (4) are all made of the same stuff (they are all blocks) with only the veneer adding variety to the fundamental unity:


In the case of the two “upward and downward” staircases, the function of the landscape is similarly jump-oriented:

Mario’s jump is required to get from one staircase to the other (I’ve marked these with arches below):


Should the player control Mario in such a way that would fail to execute a jump with the desired arch (desired in order to proceed), on the first attempt, then the player would fall into a crevice as follows:


All one would then need to do is have Mario jump out of the crevice and try again. Should the player fail on the second attempt, however, Mario will fall into a “bottomless pit” and die (the “bottomless pit” is antithetical to the essence of the character of Mario who is upward-driven and thus makes perfect sense as a cause for “instant-death”):


In the second instance, however, two blocks rather than one are given in order to increase the variety of jumps available to the player (in terms of momentum built by walking/running on the one hand and the intensity of touch on the controller as it correlates to the height of Mario’s jump on the other.

One now begins to understand how much variety of potential and richness is contained within Miyamoto’s initial choice of movements in Donkey Kong (walk/run on the one hand and jump on the other). The following are all possibilities which I have traced from actual gameplay (there are literally countless other possibilities):




In Super Mario Bros 2 (1989) this defining upward momentum is maintained and expanded upon through the integration of an astonishing level of vertical motion as well as through the elegance of it’s interaction with the four selectable character-sprites (Mario, Luigi, Toad, Princess) who are distinguished from one another through an array of differences in their jump and speed (the walk/jump combo once more) capabilities.

Here, for a sense of perspective is the entirety of World 1-1 in Super Mario Bros 2:




Another detail captures the extent of the vertical upwardness which is a distinguishing feature of Super Mario Bros 2:


And that’s not all; far from it. We continue to climb upward beyond this moment (white arrow) until we reach the grand finale of Level 1-1 in Super Mario Bros 2: a battle with the often-faced nemesis/guardian of several gates throughout the game. He goes by the name of “Birdo” (according to the official materials for the game) but would like to be called “birdetta” (also according to the official materials for the game).

Here is Birdo:


“He thinks he is a girl and he spits eggs from his mouth. He’d rather be called ‘birdetta.’”

Here he is (as reached by a continued climb upward (shown by the white arrow below) followed by a final upward incline (shown by the pink arrow below):


Here, if we take it all in at once, is a prime example of how the simplest of elements can be synthesized to make a whole that boggles the mind when seen (because of how intuitive it is to navigate the labyrinth one cell at a time); World 7-2 from Super Mario Bros 2:



Released in 1989, Super Mario Bros 2 contains several levels which hearken back to Miyamoto’s now decade-old aspiration to scale the Empire State in Donkey Kong.

Here’s what Miyamoto said about scrolling the building in Donkey Kong :

Iwata: So the fact that Donkey Kong is played over four screens stems from your original desire to make it scroll?
Miyamoto: Yes, that’s right. The technical supervisor at the time asked us what on earth we were thinking: “One screen is plenty for a regular game! But you’re making four separate screens! You might as well ask us to make four different games!”
Iwata: But you were dead set on doing it that way.

Here is an example that shows the fulfillment of that aspiration (World 7-2) in Super Mario Bros 2.

In (A), the reader can compare a section from Super Mario Bros 2; World 7-1 to the additive nature of verticality from Donkey Kong. In section B, the reader will find a detail which highlights the interlocking ladders from Donkey Kong and compares them with the same interlocking ladders from the detail in Super Mario Bros 2; World 7-1.



It only took ten years, but how moving is it to see Mario now scrolling upward!

Mario’s upward ascent is a feature on all the covers which were made for Super Mario games thus-far. Here are the covers of Super Mario Bros, Super Mario Bros 2 and Super Mario Bros 3:

Super Mario Bros 2 introduced the Desert World and the Cloud World as well as the Ice World.

The Worlds in Super Mario Bros 3 (as follows) include Grass-worlds (Super Mario Bros), Desert Worlds (Super Mario Bros 2), Underwater World gameplay (Super Mario Bros), Ice-World game play (Super Mario Bros 2), Sky or Cloud World gameplay ( Super Mario Bros 2) are all derived additively from the first two games.

Only the Giant World gameplay and Pipe World gameplay are themes that are introduced as essentially new to Super Mario Bros 3.


In Super Mario Bros 3, the idea was had that Mario (bound ever-upward) should finally be given the ability to fly. This is accomplished according to the following control scheme:


Here is the trajectory of Mario’s run and his subsequent take-off into the air (which he accomplishes while equipped with a Raccoon Suit complete with propellor-tail) from Super Mario Bros 3’s World 1-1:


And here is how Mario’s initial flight works in Super Mario Bros 3’s World 1-1:


And yet, Super Mario Bros 3 also incorporated the movement of picking up objects and throwing them from Super Mario Bros 2 as follows:


Like a composer having written Symphony #1, Symphony #2 and Symphony #3, the Mario Series is a “tradition” of it’s creators’ making; one which is influenced by those things which influence it’s creators but one which is entirely synthetic in the best and truest sense of that word.

In 2008, Super Mario 3D World reinvented and re-perfected the four-character formula which was one of the unique and defining features of Super Mario Bros 2. It also introduced a Cat power-up for all four characters by which the defining upwardness of the Mario Series could be re-experienced anew:


Super Mario Odyssey, to take another example, incorporated a number of costume changes based on Mario’s many appearances in many games (too many to recount here as a detailed history of all of Mario’s transformations would likely merit an entire chapter of it’s own). Here are a few of them (the costumes refer to games as diverse as Mario Picross; Super Mario 64; Golf; Yoshi’s Cookie; Super Mario Maker among other):


From the very first transformation which the player must make in Super Mario Odyssey (into a frog) to the very last challenge (Culmina Crater on the Moon), the emphasis is on Mario’s continued jump, his motion upwards and his defiance of gravity.

Culmina Crater features the “highest” peak in Super Mario Odyssey; a movement to the top of a building in a place where all of Mario’s friends are waiting for him; everyone whom he has met in the journey throughout the worlds of Super Mario Odyssey is present here and encourages him onward to a final climb to the top of a familiar building which is mysteriously placed against a beautiful cosmic backdrop.

Culmina Crater is a culminating point in Super Mario Odyssey and in the Super Mario Series in general. It is described in the game as “every traveller’s final stop.”



4. A Traditional-Technical Festival!

In this section, we will complete the circle of our look at video games. I would like to begin by discussing work and play as opposed to play and work (where we started our discussion). We will find both work and play (as positive, additive and multiplicative elements) do not simply coexist but are necessary to the existence of one another; the interaction of mere technology and techne is central to all the arts. Where we had begun our discussion with a demonstration of play as work, I would now like to discuss work as play.

Speaking to a Game Developer’s Conference, Shigeru Miyamoto, who began his discussion in the opposite way to mine, said the following: “Though I have talked mostly about the technical aspects of game creation,” Miyamoto said, “I would now like to talk about something on the opposite end of the spectrum. We must not forget the importance of human ingenuity and creativity in game design.”

“Naturally,” said Miyamoto, “it is new and unique expression of ideas that gives birth to new games. Recently, I am very sorry to see that the uniqueness of many titles has been dependent upon new technology and specialty development tools, while the personalities of the creators have been diluted. For me, game creation is like expression through music. When I am working as a director on a game, while I always try to hit upon new plots, I place great importance on the tempo of the game and the sound effects. I feel that those directors who have been able to incorporate rhythm and emotional stimuli in their games have been successful. When I am holding the controller and setting the tempo, I feel that my own personal game is in the midst of creation.”

“I have never created a game that has been of a level that I could be satisfied with,” concludes Miyamoto.

A “necessary element of design” says Miyamoto “is skillful management of the memory map and accurate estimation of the processing speed. When we make games for consumer game consoles, it is important to take into account the limited ability, processing speed and transfer rate of the console.”

There is hardly a clearer analogy to this situation than the one which is to be found among inexperienced composers and songwriters attempting to orchestrate or set text to music with little experience in the practice of voice-leading, text-setting, orchestration, instrumentation, counterpoint and other technical matters (note that. I say the practice of these things rather than the theoretical or speculative study of these things; it is only through the repeated practice of these things through the unique application of them into one’s own work that one can gain a grasp on them— no study of these matters either scientific or through the observation of the practice of others (important as those things are) can substitute for one’s own practice through the making of one’s own work).

Miyamoto continues his discussion. “For users and company management, said Miyamoto, “who do not have a technical grounding, it is taken for granted that the virtual world exists in the game. This is a matter of course. If we see a man running and there is a hill in front of him, naturally, he will run up the hill. If a car is bearing down on him, we can guess that it will hit him. We assume that the cars wheels will turn when the car is moving and stop turning when the car stops. For the users and management, these are the laws of nature, but they don’t realize that we are the ones who have created this virtual world. When problems arise in the end, they ask ‘Can’t you do this? Does the processing speed have to be so slow? Why do I have to wait so long at this point?’ But at that stage of development, such areas can not be fixed.”

The following illuminating insight of the poetics of motion and tempo is given by Miyamoto:

“When we were making games for the NES, sounds in the game consumed CPU power, so in early development we would include dummy sounds so that we could estimate the processing speed of the final product. There were days when we were playing Super Mario Bros. to the music of Excite Bike, and Mario’s jump didn’t have its characteristic “boing,” but rather the rev of a motorbike. [Miyamoto imitates the “wrooom” sound for the audience, which results in laughs and cheers.] This kind of consideration is necessary for taking the interface into account and in order for us to focus our attention on the areas of the game that we have placed our creative priorities on.”

Miyamoto now comes to his summa. The statement which I am about to quote is a clear example of what many serious students of composition realize early-on in attempting to create works which will succeed in musical terms. Orchestration alone, for example, is never noticeable as orchestration if it is successful orchestration. It is noticeable if one takes it away but, when present as part of a great symphony, it is taken for granted as one focuses on the music and the music as a whole (the orchestration and every other singular element operates in the background to the music).

Here is Miyamoto:

“Understanding the technologies is the requisite if we want to fully realize our expression. Game designers are apt to boast of the technical aspects of their games, and I, too, have fallen into this trap. Speaking of my own case, I tend to highlight new technologies when I am less confident about the new ideas I am putting forward in the game, and later, I always regret doing this. It is important for us to remember that technology can inspire new ideas and help us realize those ideas, but it should do so from the background.”

A composer with any experience must emphatically agree with Miyamoto’s statement if only because of the fact that the extent to which technology (by which I mean mere technology) and play are integrated in video games and in music cannot be understated or underestimated.

Mere technology (like the cabinets we examined in the first part of this chapter or my television, for example) are works of art which satisfy themselves through fulfilling their function.

My piano is another example of mere technology. Every work written by every composer who has ever written musical compositions for the piano has interviewed their work with the piano to an almost indescribable level.

Here is the opening of Mozart’s A minor Piano Sonata (K 310):


Every decision that Mozart made about every single note and every single rhythm and every single indication of loudness, softness (dynamics) and every single imaginable musical decision was influenced by two pieces of technology:

The piano
The human hand

There is not a single musical idea or element in this entire piano sonata that does not take into consideration (and is therefore informed by) those two technological considerations. Everything Mozart did in this piece js touched by the possibilities and limitations of these two instruments (the piano and the human hand).

This is true of every musical element in every piano work which was ever composed by any composer who has written for the piano. It will also be true of every work which shall be composed by composers who will write for the piano.

This is true of every other instrument also as well as every combination of instruments from the most simple duet to the most layered symphonic orchestration.

The flow also holds true for every game console which works with the games which it was created to play and which are created to play on it.

For Nintendo, the Mario Series (and others such as Zelda, Metroid, StarFox, Pikmin) have gone hand in hand with a series of consoles that were made in order to play these games.

Unveiling, Nintendo’s newest console, the Nintendo Switch, in 2017, Shinya Takahashi (director, member of the Board, Managing executive officer, general manager, entertainment Planning & Development Division at Nintendo) had this to say:
“Nintendo Switch has inherited DNA from each of the many hardware systems Nintendo has released to date. The Nintendo entertainment system included two controllers in the base system, GameBoy made it possible to bring video games out the home, Super NES added the ‘x’ and ‘y’ buttons and the ‘L’ and ‘R’ buttons to enhance the fun, Nintendo 64 offered the world’s first analog control stick and it introduced a rumbling controller with the development of the rumble pack, we put a handle on Nintendo GameCube so that it could be carried around. Even at that time we were considering a home system that you could take with you but it seems we were a little too soon. Nintendo DS added a touch screen with the Wii Remote motion control became possible and the WiiU gamepad enabled you to play games off the TV and now, Nintendo Switch has inherited all of Nintendo’s entertainment DNA and we have packed each and every one of these features into the system Nintendo is constantly pursuing new forms of entertainment to bring more fun and more smiles to the world…”

In order to understand Takahashi’s sentiment more clearly in terms of the sheer additive function which it expresses, let us now take a look at the sequence of Nintendo gaming consoles as they were created and brought into the world in their chronological order of release.

The Nintendo Entertainment System is released in 1983 (“The Nintendo entertainment system included two controllers in the base system”):



The Nintendo Game Boy is released in 1989 (“GameBoy made it possible to bring video games out the home”):


The Super Nintendo Entertainment System is released in 1990 (“Super NES added the ‘x’ and ‘y’ buttons and the ‘L’ and ‘R’ buttons to enhance the fun”):


The Nintendo 64 is released in 1996 (“Nintendo 64 offered the world’s first analog control stick and it introduced a rumbling controller with the development of the rumble pack”):


The Nintendo Gamecube is released in 2001 (“we put a handle on Nintendo GameCube so that it could be carried around. Even at that time we were considering a home system that you could take with you but it seems we were a little too soon”):



The Nintendo DS is released in 2004 (“Nintendo DS added a touch screen”):


The Nintendo Wii is released in 2006 (“with the Wii Remote motion control became possible…):


The WiiU is released in 2012 (“…and the WiiU gamepad enabled you to play games off the TV”):

And the Nintendo Switch was released in 2017. It is not difficult for anybody to see how those features enunciated and introduced additively with each new Nintendo System are all present in the Switch itself; the Switch is a home console which can also be taken outside the home; it’s screen features touch control; it can be played on the television and off-TV; it’s controllers feature HD Rumble technology and advanced motion controls; it’s two built-in Joy-Con controllers resemble the two-controller system found on the NES (and which came together with the NES’s Japanese counterpart); the bottons on the Joycon are those which were codified on the SNES).

Here is the Nintendo Switch:


The flow of play between the technology also continued to develop seamlessly and additively even as both the hardware and the software (the instruments and the musical scores, so to speak) continued to be built additively each in their own way.

In the chapter section titled Jump-man, we looked at the flow of play between the NES Controller’s directional pad and the movement of Mario in Super Mario Bros on the NES. Let us take, for a second example of this flow between the hardware and software elements of techne, the Nintendo 64.

The Nintendo 64’s analogue stick provides natural access to movement in 360 degrees so as to coincide with 3D environments such as those created in Super Mario 64; a game which was bundled with the console upon release.



In Super Mario 64, the extent to which the analogue stick was integrated to work in tandem with Mario’s flow is every bit as “natural” as the integration of the directional pad was in Super Mario Bros. Mario is created to move in a three dimensional environment and 360 degrees of motion are enabled as follows:

But it is the shape at the center of the Nintendo 64’s controller that is ingeniously harnessed by Miyamoto in this game. I am referring here to the 8-sided polygon:


This shape is cellularly (atomically) central to every element of Super Mario 64. It informs most everything from the design of Mario himself (left) to the central motif of Princess Toadstool’s castle (right):

The 8-sided polygon is central to the design of the Nintendo 64’s controller and interacts seamlessly with the circle. The polygon gives the circle tactile dimension (so to speak):


The interaction between the 8-sided polygon and the circle is a masterfully wielded force which distinguishes Mario’s encounter with Koopa (Bowser) in Mario 64.

In this encounter, Mario must hold Bowser by the tail and swing him in consecutive 360 degree rotations speeding up as he goes along.

Mario does this until enough momentum is gained in order for Bowser to be thrown off the polygonal stage and into one of the eight bombs which lie off-stage and yet within intuitive reach because of the fact that the circle on the controller is felt to be operating within the polygon and also because the polygon is the implicit circle in the visual structure which the player sees on the television (in the game itself):


The touch of the polygon as well as the circle on the Nintendo 64’s controller is a sensory masterstroke and an important part of what makes Mario’s movements in three-dimensional space feel so intuitive that they seem to spring as an extension from the player’s own body:

In 2017, twenty years after Super Mario 64 introduced Mario to three-dimensional space, Super Mario Odyssey was released for the Nintendo Switch. Introducing the new game, the producer Yoshiaki Koizumi said the following:

“While I am the overall producer for the Nintendo Switch hardware, I simultaneously have a hand in the newest Mario game, Super Mario Odyssey. This is the first time since Super Mario 64 and Super Mario Sunshine that we have created a large Mario sandbox world like this for you to run around in. The theme for this game is that Mario is on a journey to an unknown world and Mario has jumped out of the Mushroom Kingdom to go on an extraordinary adventure. I said ‘unknown’ but perhaps you noticed some landscapes that look familiar from the real world…”

Koizumi goes on to add another layer of self-critical illumination which sheds light on the direct connective thread which links Super Mario 64 to Super Mario Odyssey. “In the 20 years since we made Super Mario 64,” said Koizumi, “I have been on a long, long journey together with Mario and we are working on this new journey called ‘Nintendo Switch’ with the excitement one feels when visiting unknown countries for the very first time. I’ll be very happy when you can all join me in departing on this new Mario journey on Nintendo Switch.”

Koizumi then showed a diagram of two concurrent additive series within the Super Mario Series’ three-dimensional games. The upper arrow demonstrates a series of games which are more linear and goal-oriented in their approach to level design while the lower arrow demonstrates a series of games which feature multi-linear and multi-goal-oriented levels.

The games in the former category are Super Mario Galaxy (2007), Super Mario Galaxy 2 (2010), Super Mario 3D Land (2011) and Super Mario 3D World (2013). The games in the latter category are Super Mario 64 (1996), Super Mario Sunshine (2002) and, now, Super Mario Odyssey (2017).

And so we see how a tree can grow through additive and multiplicative means. The two-dimensional games that started with Donkey Kong (1981), Super Mario Bros (1985), Super Mario Bros 2 (1988), Super Mario Bros 3 (1988) and Super Mario World (1990) continued with a slew of beautifully crafted two dimensional Mario games such as New Super Mario Bros Wii (2009) and New Super Mario Bros U (2012) at the same time that the three-dimensional games continued and flourished. The Super Mario Series is additive. Nothing needed to be sacrificed and nothing is. Here are the three-dimensional games as broken down by Koizumi. The arrow, placed subconsciously, indicates an additive continuity that will ever continue to grow:


May it be so. There is good reason to hopeful for the creative health of the series.

It is, after all, in Super Mario Odyssey (2018), we have the most simple interplay of two-dimensional and three-dimensional gameplay which we have yet seen. In New Donk City, the heart of Super Mario Odyssey’s Metro Kingdom (one of the fifteen worlds or “kingdoms” in the game), a trio of artists (clothing-makers from the artistically inclined lake kingdom) sit atop a building which resembles New York’s Flatiron building and speak of how inspired they are by New Donk City:


It’s not difficult to understand why.

Here is Mario standing at the bottom of the “flatiron” building as seen from above. If we place Mario along either the line which is highlighted in red below or the line which is highlighted in purple below, one can imagine Mario moving along a two dimensional platform:

This platform is, nevertheless, extended into a three-dimensional environment as illustrated below:

One can see the interplay of three-dimensional and two-dimensional spaces in Super Mario Odyssey.

It is striking to see how intuitively the three dimensional environment of New Donk City (one of the environments Koizumi was referring to when he spoke of “landscapes that look familiar from the real world”) can be interpreted into the two dimensional landscapes in the worlds of Donkey Kong and the Mushroom Kingdom of Super Mario Bros:

And then, there are sections in Super Mario Odyssey which interpose literal two-dimensional “side-scrolling” gameplay landscapes with three-dimensional “sandbox” gameplay landscapes.

Here, for example, are two sections of gameplay in one frame captured from Super Mario Odyssey.

In the first instance, Mario is moving through a three-dimensional landscape which is pictured in the foreground while a two-dimensional landscape exists (as though it is a mural) on the wall in the background:


But the player is able to move Mario into the pipe on the right (above) and, in so doing, Mario is seamlessly transported into the two dimensional environment:

Later, in New Donk City, another world from Super Mario Odyssey, there is a line forming on one of the streets. If the player moves Mario close enough to the line, a text-bubble will appear above one of the characters who is waiting in line and who tells us what all the buzz is about: “The Theater’s playing one of the all-time greats right now!”

The player can cause Mario to rush to the front fo the line and have Mario enter the theater. Upon entering the theater the player will see the title screen from Super Mario Bros (1985). In an inspired moment, Mario is able to access the game (Super Mario Bros) from the parent game (Super Mario Odyssey) by entering the pipe on the left-hand side of the screen in the theater:


The player is then able to play through the entirety of World 1-1 from Super Mario Bros (1985) while, of course, playing Super Mario Odyssey at the same time:


Upon completing Level 1-1, Mario re-emerges into the three-dimensional theater of Super Mario Odyssey (proper) from a pipe on the right-hand corner of the “screen” within our screen; of course Mario has “never left” Super Mario Odyssey:


This is one of the most striking examples of interaction between two-dimensional gameplay and three-dimensional gameplay in Super Mario Odyssey and it provides a unique and delightful example of a game and a meta-game (in which this “meta-gameplay” allows us to play a game within a game).

Having cycled back through a 2018 game, to Super Mario Bros of 1985, we are now ready to take the final leap which will bring us full-circle: to 1981 and Donkey Kong.

The cumulative sequence at the center of Super Mario Odyssey is called “A Traditional Festival!”:


In order to get a better feel the counterpoint of buildings in New Donk City and the building which we scaled in Donkey Kong let us take a look at a game called Captain Toad Treasure Tracker.

In Captain Toad, Treasure Tracker, the Japanese technique of gardening called Hakoniwa (箱庭 “box garden”) serves as the fundamental inspiration for the self-contained “boxes” which each level of the game is built within. Each level is a box which can be manipulated as one would manipulate the “camera” (point-of-view) in a three dimensional environment within a video game. Here is a level of Captain Toad Treasure Tracker (on the left) and a Hakinowa Box Garden (on the right):

These gardens can, of course, also be viewed from above as well as from various rotational angles and inclines:


Taking into account various points of view and perspectives is an illuminating feature of Hakoniwa which is elegantly translated into the camera-level gameplay interaction of Captain Toad Treasure Tracker. One is able, for example, to view the Hakoniwa gardens from many different stories and planes if placed within a building:

This results in camera perspectives that enhance the involvement of multilayered levels such as this one, based on a city-scape (New Donk City from Super Mario Odyssey) as well as the castle in the sky on the right:


In Super Mario Odyssey’s Traditional Festival, we can see the squares formed by the girder and imagine the path the Mario will scale around a building even as he remains in a two-dimensional space. The obstacles feature a combination of the oil to be avoided in Donkey Kong (1981) and the bottomless pits to be scaled in Super Mario Bros (1985):


And yet, if one looks at the New Donk City skyline (taken as a whole), one can see how far up we have come if we allow our eyes to turn to the top of the central tower we started scaling all that time ago in 1981):


Here are the sections of gaming platforms inspired by Donkey Kong as interposed on the building structures of New Donk City:

One can appreciate the interplay of interpositions; of shapes and functions; the counterpoint of dimensions:


The image above demonstrates how the first level of Donkey Kong might be seen from the reverse if we were to imagine the level from Donkey Kong (25 Meter) superimposed onto the building:


The picture above shows the first level of Donkey Kong as it would appear to us if we were viewing it on the building as a projection or if the screen was superimposed onto the front of the building. Here is a side-by-side comparison with us looking at the level from behind in Super Mario Odyssey (2017) on the left and Donkey Kong (1981) on the right:


And here, at long last, is a view of the moment in which Mario and Donkey Kong finally meet again; the level (25 Meter which began Donkey Kong in 1981) is now placed at the top of the building. 40 years after Donkey Kong was made in 1981, we have “leveled up” quite a few times to reach this moment in Super Mario Odyssey; but reached it we have:


In reaching this summit, Miyamoto and his fellow makers at Nintendo have made themselves a tribe out of their true affections. And in their making and sharing their truest affections, the world has gained a new and already much-cherished tradition.

May this art form flourish in the true affections and human ingenuity in generations of video game creators to come.

5. Comix

There are two instances of cartoon music that I would like to discuss in this final section on animation, motion and emotion.

As with all the arts, we will learn how the optical illusion of animating pictures works by “doing” rather than “explaining”. As a composer, my artistic discipline is quite different from that of the great animators but the artistic principle of “doing” rather than “thinking” remains the same across all the arts. When I was a child, my fascination with the work of great animators like Chuck Jones, Friz Freleng, Mike Maltese and others led me to this experiment as a way to understand their craft.

I assure the reader that my skills in drawing, painting and in the visual arts more generally, will leave much to be desired but I can attest that this is the only way to attain a genuine and real understanding of the art form. This simple exercise brought me joy as I learned about the mechanics behind my favorite cartoons when I was a child. There is nothing to be intimidated by in this process.

The first thing that you will need is a pad of paper suitable for animation. The animators I just mentioned would have used animation paper cells (cellulose acetate clear sheets) for their works, we can accomplish our task with any pad of tracing paper (as long as the paper is not too thin). Now you’ll need something to draw with. When you select an instrument, make sure that it is one that does not bleed through one sheet of paper in your pad and onto the next. A pencil is ideal. If you want to draw in color, I recommend water based markers.

Open the pad to the last page of the pad and begin to draw a simple picture. Anything will do and even a simple geometric shape such as a circle or square is fine. Once you are finished drawing the first image, turn the page and trace your image onto the penultimate page in the pad. You must move the image slightly but be careful to move the image only slightly. Continue this process on the subsequent pages, of the pad and work your way to the first page. Remember to shift your picture gradually and, if you choose to incorporate any other changes in your subsequent drawings, please remember to make these changes subtle and slight. If you focus your drawing on the bottom section of the pad, this will make it simpler to flip the pages with ease which you will need to do using only your thumb (as in the image below) and, behold, our images are moving:



Let us now freeze our animated cells in order to delve into the structure and function of comic books. The comic book writer Dennis O’ Neil described Batman’s Gotham City as “Manhattan below Fourteenth Street at eleven minutes past midnight on the coldest night in November” to which William Safire, writing in The New York Times adds: “from SoHo to Greenwich Village, the Bowery, Little Italy, Chinatown and the sinister areas around the base of the Manhattan and Brooklyn Bridges.”
In this chilling environment, Bob Kane created arguably the most colorful rogues gallery of villains in any comic book series. I selected four of these figures as the basis for my 14th-17th Piano Miniatures, a series of character pieces in which I sketched out attributes of these extreme and compelling characters.

I would like to look at these miniatures, designed to be performed as a set titled The Rouges Gallery, as my first example of my composedly animation of “structural cartoon music.”

Mr. Freeze (Piano Miniature #14)

Mr. Freeze is a tragic character. Driven by a desire to cure his terminally ill wife, Nora, he cryogenically freezes her in an unauthorized experiment only to have his employers pull the plug on the whole affair and, in the process, trigger an industrial accident that leaves him in his current cold state. Freeze’s condition also slows down his body’s aging process basically making him immortal.
Much has been written about the symbolism of cold for Mr. Freeze (that molecules slow down when colder). As a result, the music of this miniature is extremely slow and makes use of the high registers traditionally used to evoke coldness in music. The music is stoic but tinged with tragedy and loss. In the middle of the miniature, we hear a tinkling melody that I wrote to evoke Nora in the extreme high range imitating the sound of a music box. This is a reference to the makeshift music box that Mr. Freeze creates featuring an ice sculpture of his wife. It is his only source of happiness during his incarceration.
Scarecrow (Piano Miniature #15)

Originally a student of phobias, Scarecrow uses his psychological knowledge as well as his signature fear-gas to exploit the fears of his victims. The music of this miniature is extremely fast and relentless imitating the increased heartbeat of a terrified victim. There are echos of the Dies Irae (Day of Wrath) throughout. Just as it seems to calm down, this minute-long panic attack comes to a tumultuous close.
Two-Face (Piano Miniature 16A/16B)

Once Gotham City’s dashing and idealistic district attorney, Harvey Dent is driven to insanity when the left side of his face is hideously scarred by acid. This unleashes all of his inner demons and obsession with dualities. Believing that justice is arbitrary, Two-Face makes all his decisions with the flip of a coin.
At this point in the set, the pianist flips a coin to determine whether the audience will hear miniature 16A (Harvey Dent) or 16B (Two-Face). Miniature 16A sets the calm and magnanimous spirit of Dent centered around an starry-eyed chorale ever reaching upward. There is only a hint in this music that things could go terribly wrong.
Miniature 16B takes Harvey’s musical motifs and transforms them into violent blackened sounds invoking Two-Face’s ruthless and psychotic character.
The Riddler (Piano Miniature #17)

The Riddler is my favorite of Batman’s Rogues. The master of puzzles leaves clues to his deadly crimes in the form of Riddles to challenge his opponents and prove his intellectual superiority. The music is obsessively punctuated with a seven note motif that spells out
“R-I-D-D-L-E-R” using a modified version of the (cryptic) 19thcentury “French” system of generating musical cryptograms:
The flamboyance of the music is inspired by Frank Gorshin’s depiction of the character as well as Jim Carrey’s interpretation (inspired by Gorshin) in Joel Schumaker’s 1997 movie, Batman Forever.

At the opening of the score, a riddle is presented from the comic book Batman #23.2: Riddler #1, one of my favorite Riddler comics: “My servants cannot leave me, In all they number five. They bring me everything I want, and I keep them alive. What am I?”

The answer is presented cryptographically in counterpoint to the “R-I-D-D-L-E-R” motif and then as a second theme of its own. A hint to the answer is also given in the fact that this is a piano piece: “H-A-N-D”.

In Batman #23.2 Riddler #1, the events involve scaling the most secure building in Gotham City (Wayne Enterprises). The Riddler begins with a clear demonstration of why he is scaling the building: “TIME TO PLAY.”


One can see the “blocks” of the building that we are scaling. The Riddler describes it in terms of mere “schematics.”

The events are set into motion right at the start of the comic which begins “four years ago” in Arkham Asylum with an abusive episode: with the words, “Hey psycho. “Riddler!” the reader is introduced to the character and sympathizes with him:

Time is fast-forwarded to the present day (“now”) and the reader is confronted with five riddles. These five riddles are the foundation for the entire comic and as they play out with mechanical force, the reader feels the inevitability of the Riddler’s game (as though we are solving the riddles at the opening with retrospective knowledge of recognition, we seem to know what his next step is but he is always just a step ahead of us which is, of course, the point). 8:44


The Riddler comic is an excellent example of time suspended and yet set into the illusion of motion In the excerpt below, the first panel contains an inevitable direction of motion in the first cell (Upward) and the very motion of breath is paced in the second cell (Breathe in) and the third cell (Breathe out):

We hear the words “HEY PSYCHO” once again and, without seeing the Riddler’s eyes, the reader is prepared for the menace that is to surely come.

For my second example of animating “structural cartoon music”, I would like to move from the figure-sprite scaling a building and set my focus upon the building itself. We will do this through a look at my Fourth Symphony. In the Shadow of No Towers (Symphony #4 for Wind Ensemble) takes its inspiration from details in Art Spiegelman’s comic book of the same name. Like Poems and Prayers, my Third Symphony for Chorus and Orchestra, the work engages serious ideas. In the case of my Fourth Symphony, each movement takes as its point of departure a graphic detail, a panel removed (so to speak) from Spiegelman’s book.

The first movement, The New Normal, takes us back to September 11th 2001 and, in its three large sections, literally depicts the events of that day as Spiegelman explores them in the following sequence:


The events are not “seen” but they are understood sonically.

The music begins by depicting the electronic monotony of the first panel. When the calendar turns to 9/11 in the second panel the music explodes reflecting the sense of shock and awe that wakes the “anyone” viewers from their complacent sleep. After a cold and quick funeral march, the music does not stay “awake” but is lulled back into the repetitive sleep of the opening. But in the final panel, the calendar is replaced by a flag, the effects of the shock are still apparent on the people and the music is not quite “right” with a dissonant trumpet line that is decidedly out of place. It seems that nothing has really changed. Everything is the same, but not quite.

The music progresses, as it should, through time (linearly) from the start of the movement to the end of the movement:



I’ve seen a description by one composer of the “three-part form” which is often called “Sonata Form” or even “Sonata Allegro Form” by “scholars and “academics” which looks like this:


Though I cannot understand the need attempt to codify a “form” that is supposed to somehow describe the first movements of countless instrumental works by countless composers across the centuries (the attempt, like all attempts at codifying human behavior, has failed for all practical purposes and produced tens of exceptions to the “rule” for every interpretation of the rule itself) I found the structure above compelling for use in my Fourth Symphony.


Panels are, after all, things that fall from buildings.

An artificial structure had to be imposed (one which would immediately be understood in terms of the comic book that I was extracting panels from).

Notes of a Heartbroken Narcissist (below) is the inspiration for the second movement of the work. Like the comic book sequence, it relies on limited “colors” (instrumental timbres) that I selected from the larger wind ensemble. Here I decided to use only the instruments that do no “breathe.” It is music of deep reflection and, like the sequence, registers through time in descending order.

Time, in other words, begins to be vexed.

The page from Spiegelman’s comic book (on the left) is one which I did not incorporate into my Symphony but which I am placing side by side with the panel (on the right) which was the inspiration for the second movement of my symphony.

Here we have no jump-man but the most terrible of images (that of the eternally frozen in photographs) falling man:



There are four different sections in this movement. Each section starts at a high pitch and descends slowly and inevitably to the lowest pitch and the richest set of harmonics that I could compose into a profound dissonance.

The third movement, One Nation Under Two Flags, serves the role that a “Scherzo” would in a four-movement “classical” symphony. This movement responds to Spiegelman’s image which reflects a divided nation in the detail to which follows.

Spiegelman draws a portrait of the United Blue Zone of America versus the United Red Zone of America to which I responded by literally breaking the wind ensemble into two different bands (I’ve reproduced the score layout to the first page of this movement in my manuscript below it).


The movement begins with grotesquely Souza-esque gestures from the Red Zone as follows:


Those gestures dovetail into a blathering “resistance” from the Blue Zone as follows:


This leads, inevitably, to the two “sides” coming together to clash in music which is best enjoyed by those men and women who, blighted by noise, seek to make sense of the meaningless chaos:


The music of each “band” is pitted relentlessly against the other with the two “sides” not listening to one another (remember that this is, in reality, one band and that it should function as such). This scherzo develops themes of “political satire” (the sound of bad behavior) that I also incorporated much less explicitly in Poems and Prayers.

There’s a generally quick, breathless and outraged feel in the music of the “urban Blue Zone” and a jingoistic, fanfare-y thrust to the music of the “Red Zone.” The two “musics” and the two “bands “sometimes comment on one another while, at other times, they “shout” over each other to form a concerted chaos (which is really very ordered). This is my most explicit musical representation of loudness as “nationalism.”

There is a moment in this movement however where the two sides come together to sound “as one” in an over-the-top exultation of “patriotism” (complete with sounding bells and whistles) before diverging again to the same breathless and overblown rhetoric only to finally spin out of control and into a tumultuous conclusion.

Apart from this moment (a meeting of two-arrowheads), time “moves” throughout this scherzo in this way:



The final movement of the work, Anniversaries, starts with a ticking that will stay with us throughout the movement. It is, in its first part, inspired by the following graphic detail about the passage of time and the ticking of a time- bomb. There is a general anxiety that underlies this music and the constant ticking of the movement. This is music that is unable to mourn, instead concerning itself with the passage of time and the commemorations of each “anniversary.”


In his note on my Symphony (which I quoted earlier in the chapter), Art Spiegelman said the following:

“Mohammed Fairouz and I are both from different tribes (though we are both thoroughly Rooted Cosmopolitan New Yorkers). He belongs to the Composer Tribe (a group that devotes itself to keeping time, while we comix artists find ways to represent time spatially). Composers often don’t share Mr. Fairouz’s interest in narrative (something that’s just part of the job description for us Cartoonists) but he and I seem equally obsessed with structure in our respective mediums—and clearly we both were shaken by the tumbling structures that struck Ground Zero back in 2001.

Though my idea of a wind ensemble is something often made up of kazoos and jugs, I’m moved by the scary, somber and seriously silly symphony he has made (especially that martial schizo-scherzo he built around “One Nation Under Two Flags!”) I’m honored that the composer found an echo in my work that allowed him to strike a responsive chord and express his own complex responses to post 9-11 America. He emerges from the rubble with a very tony piece of highbrow cartoon music.”

The Composer Tribe (Speigelman aptly says) are are devoted to keeping time. We (to the extent that I can speak on behalf of my Tribe) are also interested in creating houses of memory in times which demand that humanity recover lost time.

My interest in narrative here is, perhaps, more of an interest in structure, de-structure and the effects of destruction. Throughout the final movement of my Symphony, the music grows louder and louder and the memory of the towers come to loom far larger than life. With each anniversary, there is both a fading of the true memory and an enlargement of mythic status. This is captured on the album in a way that only music which is created after the advent of recordings gave us the ability to look at visual cues that told us the exact timing of the music made it possible to (and often impossible not to) see the exact timing of each song and piece of music which we were listening to.


Much in the same way that the key of Beethoven’s 5th Symphony was pre-empted by printing it in the program (how else would one know that one was about to listen to a Symphony “in c minor”) this information is often unwelcome (especially when it is a time bomb counting down the seconds to destruction).

We have four ways of keeping time in my Fourth Symphony. The final movement, like Yeat’s Gyre is constant amplification (of noisy anniversaries) and constant receding (of memory). Time progresses like this; frozen constantly (at 9:11):


All accusations of interest in narrative aside, my relationship to Spiegelman’s cartoon is musical and, here, music provides one with more than enough (perhaps it is all that is enough) to capture the immobility of anxiety.

I calculated the musical timing for my work to a minute and detailed level. I then wrote a symphony and would like to offer it to those interested in the visual and narrative-oriented tribe of cartoonists (a tribe that must “freeze” the motion of time in order to capture it in another artistic disciple. I offer it with no mind to competition or correction (there is no competition among artists when it comes to our disciplines but only love for the arts). I offer it as my own way of preparing a visual cue (and a clue); this is a visual cue from the tribe devoted to keeping time.

My symphony contains a series of demonstrations (in time) of the temporal mechanics by which those men and women who are more inclined to destruction than any form of art render themselves and those susceptible around them into a stupor.

I have attempted to render this immobilized state, as attained through the schematics of failure and destruction and other traits of human anti-making, is a state which I have rendered through the composition of a symphony which (bound to time) takes active time itself into consideration in the representation of a vile search for frozen and immobilized “time.”

IV. High Definition
































1.The House of Memory

In a 2012 documentary called Never Sorry, the filmmaker and journalist Alison Klayman followed Chinese artist Ai Weiwei through processes of artistic labor. Taken as a whole, the film provides a glimpse into the slow and patient work of compiling artistic structures that are intrinsically meaningful in their interactions with their social environments. There were more than one existentially important concepts and ideas that Weiwei’s art engaged that were seen throughout the documentary. We are given the opportunity to witness laborious working out of the sort of artistic engagement that sheds light on dark corridors that should be examined as humanistic issues of concern to the entire species. Witnessing them is up to our ability to look beyond the commentary and intrigue that the film’s narrators and talking heads project.
Throughout the two hours of this documentary, we see Wewei on tour and in China where a sprinkling of reporters would materialize from time to time eager with questions. They had the opportunity to ask one of the most distinguished artists we have about the formal considerations of compiling a human portrait comprised of children’s backpacks in order to demonstrate the movement of seemingly endless arrays of tactile things that initially speak of brightness. These uniform objects were the burdens that children who had lived innocent lives carried on their last day on earth before they walked into the school houses that would buckle and collapse under the weight of careless construction goaded by the forces of nature. Weiwei spoke and wrote about the inception of his artistic method which mirrored the initial glimpse of the work from afar.


The sheer size of the work and it’s bright clarity telegraphs a resonance with the innocence of youth. It draws the passerby in with it’s brightness. The closer we come to the thing of beauty that drew us here, the more we are able to decipher about the construction of the design sequestered into thousands of tufted rectangles. There are so many. It’s only when we get close enough to the building for our eyes to focus that we realize that these are children’s backpacks and that there are thousands of them. We wonder about the text that was projected out to us from a safe distance and, while we are in the midst of this increasingly horrific epiphany, we are offered the translation. These incomprehensible words come out of the mouth of a mother who lost her young daughter:
“She lived happily for seven years in this world. ”
Those words really are incomprehensible. Once you start to decipher the form, you’ll see that there are 9000 repetitions of these backpacks. Weiwei places them carefully. One backpack for each senseless death of a child. That’s more senselessness than most can take in. But take it in we must.
Several instances of Ai Weiwei’s practice show an exemplary commitment to the patience of an advanced artistic discipline. He isn’t interested in circumventing the accepted systems of accountability in the Chinese government. If one does not go through the available avenues of government in order to lodge complains then one is not only going to fail at changing a system in the only way most systems will allow (by working within said system). Anybody who does not begin the task of improving the world around them by exploring available options can expect to also be regarded as absolving any government or power-structure of their commitment to even respond, to let alone act on complaints.
Civilized nations record their losses from the most vulnerable child to the boldest soldier. But sometimes, civilized nations choose to take a pass on civilization and any artist who is worthy of his practice must understand the need to take on a corrective task to the best of his or her abilities.
So Ai Weiwei faced down the site of damaged cities, wrecked schools and lost children. He wrote down the names and looked the parents in the face. He built a memorial.
Weiwei’s account of the disaster is an explanation of his artistic intent:
“During the earthquake many schools collapsed. Thousands of young students lost their lives, and you could see bags and study material everywhere. Then you realize individual life, media, and the lives of the students are serving very different purposes. The lives of the students disappeared within the state propaganda, and very soon everybody will forget everything.”


He’s right. And that’s exactly why the artist must not be confused for an activist. Artists embark on missions intended to synthesize the fabric of history that cannot be left unrecorded if nations wish to remain nations after their greatest failings of memory.
Human beings can construct music that is capable of cutting through the roaring of beasts that, taken in large numbers, produce what Auden called the “importance and noise of tomorrow” back in his elegy. Can we be human beings or must we settle with falling short? For his part, Weiwei had some advice for his compatriots who embraced the familiar indulgences of hugging and gathering while others deal with the ideological ramifications of their apathy:
“Silence please. No clamor. Let the dust settle, let the dead rest.
Extending a hand to those caught in trouble, rescuing the dying and helping the injured is a form of humanitarianism, unrelated to love of country or people. Do not belittle the value of life; it commands a broader, more equal dignity. Throughout these days of mourning, people do not need to thank the Motherland and her supporters, for she was unable to offer any better protection. Nor was it the Motherland, in the end, who allowed the luckier children to escape from their collapsing schoolhouses. There is no need to praise government officials; for the lives that are fading just as we speak need effective rescue measures far more than they need sympathetic speeches and tears. There is even less need to thank the army, as doing so would be to say that in responding to this disaster, soldiers offer something other than the fulfillment of their sworn duty.
Feel sad! Suffer! Feel it in the recesses of your heart, in the unpeopled night, in all those places without light. We mourn only because death is a part of life, because those dead from the quake are a part of us. But the dead are gone. Only when the living go on living with dignity can the departed rest with dignity.
Live frankly and honestly, respect history, and face reality squarely. Beware of those who confuse right and wrong: the hypocritical news media so adept at stirring passions and offering temptations; the politicians parlaying the tragedy of the departed into state craft and nationalism; the petty businessmen who trade the souls of the dead for the false wine of morality.
When the living stray from justice, when their charity is only meager currency and tears, then the last dignified breath of the dying will be erased. A collapse of will, a vacancy of spirit renders the fine line between life and death’s realm of ghosts.
This emptiness of collective memory, this distortion of public morality drives people crazy. Who exactly died in that even bigger earthquake of thirty years ago? Those wrongly accused in the political struggles of recent history, those laborers trapped in the coalmines, those denied medical treatment for their grave illnesses who are they?
What pain did they endure while alive, what grief do they provoke now dead? Who before them cried out for these suffering bodies, these troubled souls? Where are the survivors who belong truly to them?
Before we let murky tears cloud our already unclear vision, we need to face up to the way the world works. The true misfortune of the dead lies in the unconsciousness and apathy of the living, in the ignorance on the value of life by those who simply float through it, in our numbness toward the right to survival and expression, in our distortions ofjustice, equality, and freedom.
This is a society without citizens. A person with no true rights cannot have a complete sense of morality or humanity. In a society like this, what kind of responsibility or duty can an individual shoulder? What kinds of interpretations and understandings of life and death will he have? The samsara of life and death in this land has it any connection to the value of life in the rest of the world?
As for all those organs of culture and propaganda who subsist on sucking the blood of the nation what difference has their largesse from larceny? No one wants for the charity of parasites; their greatest kindness would be to let themselves die off just one day sooner. ”
Back in Klayton’s documentary, those journalists who occasionally sprinkled in to speak with Weiwei had the opportunity to shed light by asking vital questions such as why there was such an urgent artistic (rather than activistic as it was described) demand for Weiwei to record the names of those children himself. Robert Frost answered that decades ago through descriptions of pride and hope in The Death of the Hired Man.
The artist must build a house of memory where society elects to leave history blank.
And yet, on more than one occasion we heard discourse like this from the questioners:
“Question: You don’t have children, do you?
Ai Weiwei: I have a young boy, a year and a half old. Not with my wife, but with a friend, which is also crazy but…
Q: You ’re an artist, you are allowed to do that, right?
AWW: Not really, you are not really allowed to do that.
Q: Does your wife mind?
AWW: Of course. But not to a degree. She understands that, well, this kind of situation, what… I cannot really guess what it is about. I guess it is not desirable, but it happens.
The entire unnecessary intrusion into personal affairs is significant beyond it’s casual assumption contained in the statement-question-assumption “You’re an artist, you are allowed to do that, right?”
On the surface, that sentence would seem to presume that the (presumably vogue and eccentric) world of art coincides neatly in finding it’s social expression with the beats of gossip columnists and little more. That would be bad enough but for the fact that it reveals an even bigger problem. In chapter 3, Part 5 of Dostoevsky’s Crime and Punishment, the protagonist, Raskolnikov, is engaged in a conversation during which he is presented with a corruption of his own essay on criminality:
“There is, if you recollect, a suggestion that there are certain persons who can… that is, not precisely are able to, but have a perfect right to commit breaches of morality and crimes, and that the law is not for them. ”
The idea is that those who are deemed to be “exceptional” are entitled, by virtue of their superiority, to transgress moral norms. It is through the simple extension of this premise (one that Dostoevsky describes as “unpublishable”), that we can imagine a person with no distinction whatsoever believing that they can attain the quality of becoming exceptional by simply committing a crime. And once they transgress, by virtue of the transgression alone, they see themselves as immune to the moral codes that are binding to the inferior masses. The “exceptional ones” have become part of a superior echelon.
This suggestion would be perverse enough if it postulated that a person who did nothing could attain exceptional standing but what it says is that the unexceptional person can do less than nothing. They could commit a crime and become “extraordinary.” The journalist’s nonchalant question would be bad enough if it was directed at an “ordinary” person. But posing this question to Ai Weiwei, a man whose artistic distinctions are real and result from a lifetime of labor and thought, adds an extra layer of distastefulness to the assumption. The question unwittingly aims to indict artistic labor itself.
That answers the question I implied at the start of this chapter:
“Throughout the two hours of this documentary, we got to see Weiwei on tour and in China where a sprinkling of reporters would materialize from time to time eager with questions. They had the opportunity to ask one of the most distinguished artists we have about the formal considerations of compiling a human portrait comprised of children’s backpacks in order to demonstrate the movement of seemingly endless arrays of tactile things that initially speak of brightness. ”
“We are given,” I said, “the opportunity to witness laborious working out of the sort of artistic engagement that sheds light on dark corridors that should be examined as humanistic issues of concern to the entire species.” But how could this reporter ask about the artistic work? Weiwei’s accomplishments are not the result of mindless transgression or crime (we will examine examples of that corruption in the following chapter); they are the result of an artistic life devoted to creation. How could this reporter, whose statements assume to see only laziness or ignorance, ask questions about work that he literally cannot see to appreciate?
The artist’s response to the reporter is clear but the questioner cannot relent. The result is simple awkwardness.
2. Function

In a 2017 essay to some fellow composers, I wrote the following as an explanation of the basic function which relates art and journalism:

“Journalism and art are essentially about illuminating truth to the best of our ability.”

I am far from alone as an artist in appreciating the truth which art and journalism provide to human beings. My first opera, The New Prince, was composed on a libretto by David Ignatius; a journalist who is also one of America’s finest novelists. My second opera, Bhutto, was composed on a libretto by Mohammed Hanif; another journalist who is also one of the finest novelists in the world today.

And I follow in a long line of artists who have also contributed works of art through the consideration of a lens which is more akin to the practice of journalism. A range of artists from Charles Dickens and Emile Zola to Norman Mailer and Gore Vidal and Henry Mencken and Tom Wolfe (and many others), artists have clearly drawn together their long arcs of creativity through their investigations into the daily lives of human beings as social creatures.

In his 1846 essay titled The Philosophy of Composition, Edgar Allen Poe wrote:
“There is a radical error, I think, in the usual mode of constructing a story. Either history affords a thesis — or one is suggested by an incident of the day — or, at best, the author sets himself to work in the combination of striking events to form merely the basis of his narrative — designing, generally, to fill in with description, dialogue, or autorial commentary , whatever crevices of fact, or action, may, from page to page, render themselves apparent. ”
Poe goes on to note that “it is an obvious rule of Art that effects should be made to spring from direct causes — that objects should be attained through means best adapted for their attainment.
Technique and result; the artist who creates it must have skill in order to do it well and, above all, one who is writing fiction should know that they are writing fiction. This involves a methodology and, above all, intent. A work of art has to be intended to function as fiction in the first place and, following that, the fiction must have an intent of its own on the part of the author. The intent itself may be intentional or unintended on the part of the author but it serves the purpose of imbuing every work of human creativity with meaning.
Take these three vessels as an example:

They originate (left to right) in 6th century Greece f art/1997.158/). Goryeo Dynasty Korea t and the Amama Period as it coincided with the reign of Akhnaten in Egypt /https ://
The formal similarities between these objects is not surprising in the least even though they were developed on three different continents and in a time period rendering them apart by several millennia.
I am leaving aside all deeper meaning of ritual, rarity of contents to be stored, symbology or an infinite number of other considerations that inform these vessels’ meaning as artistic objects. All I’m talking about is the surface meaning; the meaning that reaches for these objects’ universality and their relationship to the universal human circuitry. That meaning should not be hard to abide by.

There are not a million ways to store liquid in a vessel and pour liquid from that vessel. That is the essential principle of being for these objects. They were created in such a way that their technique and form are self-evident to one another; the intent is clear and the method of execution works in elegant consort with the craft.
What these object are and how they work, is revealed through their function. Why these objects exist is also revealed through their function.
An October 2017 study (http://www.joumalism,org/2017/10/02/covering-president-trump-in-a- polarized-media-environment/pj_2017-10-02_trump-first-100-days_0-01/l conducted by the Pew Research Center surveys coverage of Mr. Trump in terms of those that provide a “positive assessment”, a “negative assessment” or “neither” in three further categories depending on the political predilections of the outlet’s audience:

The graph shows that a healthy majority of press provide an assessment of Mr. Trump’s performance by men and women who call themselves journalists rather than simply reporting the facts as dispassionately as possible and letting the readers and viewers form their own opinions based on the facts. Journalists, like artists, must tell the truth and then “let the chips fall where they may.”
Sermons and rallying speeches are not the function of journalism. In other words, “fiction,” as the word is generally understood, implies the making-up of stories. “Fiction,” therefore, is not a function of journalism nor is it a function of art. The journalist shouldn’t be making anything but, rather, reporting facts as they are. The artist cannot not be engaged in fiction because the fact that a work of art is not factually true to reality is understood by the artist and audience alike. 

It is through the use of words that journalism (as well as history, the sciences and other forms of learning) meet with the arts. Method is where making and other forms of human inquiry meet. Let us start then with exploring the function of the novel, a literary form which is often categorized under “fiction.”
What is the function of the novel? Let us begin with a vital artist, Maya Angelou, who made it clear that it is not the function of a novelist to lie:
What, then, is the function of a novel? In a “Aren’t you tempted to lie? Novelists lie, don’t they?”
I don’t know about lying for novelists. I look at some of the great novelists, and I think the reason they are great is that they’re telling the truth. The fact is they’re using made-up names, made-up people, made-up places, and made-up times, but they’re telling the truth about the human being—what we are capable of, what makes us lose, laugh, weep, fall down, and gnash our teeth and wring our hands and kill each other and love each other.”
Angelou then discusses her poetical work in autobiography (making autobiography as a means of truth telling):
I really am trying to do something with autobiography now. It has caught me. I’m using the first-person singular and trying to make that the first-person plural, so that anybody can read the work and say, Hmm, that’s the truth, yes, uh-huh, and live in the work. It’s a large, ambitious dream. But I love the form.
Aren’t the extraordinary events of your life very hard for the rest of us to identify with?
Oh my God, I’ve lived a very simple life! You can say, Oh yes, at thirteen this happened to me and at fourteen . . . But those are facts. But the facts can obscure the truth, what it really felt like. Every human being has paid the earth to grow up. Most people don’t grow up. It’s too damn difficult. What happens is most people get older. That’s the truth of it. They honor their credit cards, they find parking spaces, they marry, they have the nerve to have children, but they don’t grow up. Not really. They get older. But to grow up costs the earth, the earth. It means you take responsibility for the time you take up, for the space you occupy. It’s serious business. And you find out what it costs us to love and to lose, to dare and to fail. And maybe even more, to succeed. What it costs, in truth. Not superficial costs—anybody can have that—I mean in truth. That’s what I write. What it really is like. I’m just telling a very simple story.”
Angelou’s popularity is all the ascertainment which one would need of the universality of her tales. In the construction of autobiography where composite characters are created (a character made from two or more real people) Angelou was particularly illuminating.“Is there a thread,” asks the interviewer, “one can see through the five autobiographies? It seems to me that one prevailing theme is the love of your child.”
Angelou’s response is as follows:
“Yes, well, that’s true. I think that that’s a particular. I suppose, if I’m lucky, the particular is seen in the general. There is, I hope, a thesis in my work: we may encounter many defeats, but we must not be defeated. That sounds goody-two-shoes, I know, but I believe that a diamond is the result of extreme pressure and time. Less time is crystal. Less than that is coal. Less than that is fossilized leaves. Less than that it’s just plain dirt. In all my work, in the movies I write, the lyrics, the poetry, the prose, the essays, I am saying that we may encounter many defeats—maybe it’s imperative that we encounter the defeats—but we are much stronger than we appear to be and maybe much better than we allow ourselves to be. Human beings are more alike than unalike. There’s no real mystique. Every human being, every Jew, Christian, backslider, Muslim, Shintoist, Zen Buddhist, atheist, agnostic, every human being wants a nice place to live, a good place for the children to go to school, healthy children, somebody to love, the courage, the unmitigated gall to accept love in return, someplace to party on Saturday or Sunday night, and someplace to perpetuate that God. There’s no mystique. None. And if I’m right in my work, that’s what my work says.”
-The Paris Review Interviews, IV.
In 2015, the 43 year old Peter Frankopan published a 505-page book titled, The Silk Roads: A New History of the World. which he called his “magnum opus.” Some chapter titles include “The Slave Road,” “The Road to Hell,” “The Road of Death and Destruction,” “The Road to Crisis,” “The Road to War” and many others. There are 28 mentions of artists in the entire tome. Composers like Bach and Mozart are missing entirely while artists like Leonardo Da Vinci are discussed briefly and only in their (indirect) role in the creation of gunpowder. When it comes to entire nations, American founders like Jefferson and Adams are missing entirely while humanitarians like Martin Luther King Jr are also absent: the result is a portrait of a savagely imperial nation with little to celebrate in terms of values and much to lament in terms of militarism. How could we expect anything different if the architects who drafted those values and the moral leaders who taught us to remember them are missing from the picture.

Bach created over a thousand works of musical art and dramatic art and they have revealed layer after layer of their richness to me over the course of my young life. I couldn’t imagine life without that sort of richness and yet Bach and so many pivotal creative forces are absent from Frankopan’s world (where Hitler is given 28 pages). Luckily, I do not have to live in that world and neither does anyone else who is willing to learn about the entire kaleidoscope of history and not just a record of the destroyers and conquerers.

All Art that is able to transcend it’s locality or age must be, as Ezra Pound said of literature, “news that stays news.” That’s why Mozart, Shakespeare, Basho and Mahfouz have produced work that is as true to an audience in Shenzhen today as it was to the audiences of their own respective centuries and locales. The world is full of art that has withstood the daily fluctuation of markets to the reorganization of the national borders and the cataclysms (revolutions, genocides etc) of history. The works remain because they ring true.

One of the most pragmatic reasons that every culture on the planet teaches children not to lie is that the tangled web we weave through deception is simply not sustainable. “You can fool all the people some of the time, and some of the people all the time” says President Lincoln, “but you cannot fool all the people all the time.” That explains why a large portion of the American public is willing to accept President Trump’s assertions that the American press is, by and large, “fake news.” The final part of Lincoln’s statement should be considered as applied to art. Works of art prove to us, through their continued existence, that they cannot, by necessity, abide lies. If a politician’s lies can be debunked the following day, how is an artist who supposedly lied or expressed themselves in ill-defined terms though to have created a body of work that survives centuries or (as is the case with many of the work in this book) millennia? 

I cannot think of an example of an artist who has successfully co-opted form and order to create conflations, confusion and inexplicable chaos and still go on to produce a work that has survived or any work of art at all.

A work of art must be searingly clear and defined; even it’s profoundest abstractions and ambiguities must be brought to the surface and expressed for all to see. Only through expression does the artist accomplish that “raid on the inarticulate” which T.S. Eliot spoke of in his poem Little Gidding (the last poem from his Four Quartets).

The intent of this inquiry, as Eliot’s poem tells us, lies as far from the gains and losses of the marketplace and “human progress” as can be imagined:

When writing for newspapers, I have dealt with the manipulation of my own essays and the process has been informative. I have learned more about the persons in journalism with whom I’ve dealt. I will explain the factors which affirmed my reasons for having continued to write essays for journalistic publications. I will also share the reasons for ceasing my work with these publications.

When I have written for these newspapers, many of the titles of my essays (as they appear in those newspapers that publish them) are selected by the editors and are not my own. Titles are then attached to my writing without my consent. In many cases the titles coercively impose a meaning on my writing that is not present in the content of the essays themselves. I would find out the title selected by the editor only after the essay was published. There were cases in which my editors selected titles in order to project a divisive or polemical tone deliberately. This tone, it was sometimes explicitly explained to me, was chosen to provoke engagement from prospective readers. I believe that the “provocative engagement” which editors have sought carries the worst attributes of sensationalism and is always far from my intention. There have been cases in which editors have imposed words and ideas that have had the effect of changing the meanings of my words and, therefore, misrepresenting my thoughts. In those cases, I have entered into lengthy conversations with editors in order to have them amend their selected titles (or added content) so as to maintain the integrity of my own thoughts in my written work. Despite all this, cases have still persisted in which editors have maintained their additions to my thoughts and so have corrupted my thoughts themselves and impinged on my right to speak freely and directly to the reader and to represent my thoughts to the reader as my own thoughts. Attaching a name to written text is a matter of honestly to the reader as well as a matter of self respect. This is the reason why these misrepresentations have caused me to limit my press appearances to giving interviews and only to write when I am given assurances that my words would not be altered. 

When confronting editors and journalists over the concerted misrepresentation of my work, these individuals have provided me with several “rationalizations” for why they insist on this practice. These have included written correspondence in which they have explicitly stated political or financial motivation for their behavior.

While some of my attempts to amend destructive editorial decisions had been successful, many have not been successful. The content of my published essays, I am grateful to say, remains mostly my own and I therefore generally encourage readers to disregard the titles entirely and approach the publications with a critically awake and cautious mind.

The editors who have openly stated that they are motivated by particular political considerations have blocked my essays from publication when they have deemed those essays as unhelpful towards their goals. Their stated political considerations are false. To be clear, this practice has included their refusal to publish essays in which I have provided researched and documented corrections to explicit lies that have appeared in their publications. In many cases, the lies which I have taken pains to correct continue to appear in the same publications to which I have delivered my researched corrections.

That situation does not speak of political considerations or partisan biases. When clear corrections are presented and ignored (and by “ignored,” I mean not even engaged) one is practicing a dissent not from any political point of view but from the value of engaging with simple truth itself.

These editors have persisted in this practices even in cases where they gave me their assurances (even as they continued to exploit my previously submitted work by re-publishing those essays when it satisfied their “needs”). You will find hearty critiques of practices that have taken and take place in many different circles and forums of leadership. For the sake of added clarity, my constructive critiques have not been limited by political party (in the United States or elsewhere) or any other political entities throughout the any region of the world that I engage with and know about. My essays also highlight the necessary points of positive light that need to be shed on the many good practices that I see every day and which define the bulk of humanity in the most prosaic and immediate sense. These writings are often the first to be disregarded all-together.

I have had to write essays that correct prevalent lies in many different publications depending on such factors as which policy, party, government or group I happened to have been engaging a given essay. This is nothing to do with a purported political perspective on the part of a newspaper (a fact which is already anti-journalistic in itself) but due to the desire of many news outlets to simply oppose other outlets or individuals whose they do not (collectively) “like.”
It is notable to the current lesson for me to point out that those essays of mine which have reported on the creative endeavors which are actually taking place throughout the world were usually met with total and summary dismissal by journalists and editors.
For a time, I had made a conscious decision to continue publishing my essays if editors agreed to treat the content itself (beyond the title) with integrity and if my text could be left uncorrupted. I have found that attempting to work through any concept or present any truth was regarded as utilitarian. From researched and sourced facts to even those simple and self-evident universal truths (which are my main concern and which I seek as an artist) would be interpreted by editors as being “useful truths” or “useless truths.” National Public Radio would accept publication of an observation or fully developed and demonstrated thesis while an equally valid, researched or sourced truth would be rejected and then need to be placed in On Being or in The New York Times (and so on). This depended on the editors perspective in terms of what they deemed to be “useful truths.”I have also found that this editorial flexibility extends to ethics and intelligence. 

It was for those reasons that I decided limit my engagement with those journalists and journals who are counted as “mainstream media” (a meaningless moniker which deflects the need to define which particular newspapers or news outlets we are speaking of at any given time).
I continue to engage many major newspapers and television stations by granting interviews to their journalists and would consent to being interviewed as long as I was able to speak for myself and not be the subject of a “story” in which my words would be edited into a distorted meaning. 

When the Huffington Post published stolen emails belonging to the Ambassador from the United Arab Emirates to the United States, a man named Yousef A1 Otaiba, I wrote to the chief editor who ignored my corrections despite the significant time I had spent writing well-researched and documented essays in the Huffington Post. I later recounted the experience in The National:
“I’ve written for Huffington Post for years and that is why I recently wrote an email to the new editor, Lydia Polgreen, expressing my concern at the repeated publication of articles over the last week citing documents that were stolen from Mr A1 Otaiba. I explained to her that this was a violation of my own national sovereignty and expressed my regret that, despite my studious work for the publication she now stewards, this was a violation of my will as a citizen of a sovereign nation. I also pointed out the process that I go through every time I write an essay for the Huffington Post or any other publication. I cited the use of stolen material as journalistically unsound.”
This event caused me to end my relationship with the Huffington Post. For added perspective, allow me to say that I could not value my own work in the same way when I re-read it as it was published in the company of writers and editors who disregard principles of basic integrity or fact-checking. The simple option would be to commit to publishing only that information which is honestly retrieved and which might be verified. The Huffington Post could not abide by this basic standard.

The reason for my having persisted in my essay writing despite knowing about cases which were spoken about as “lesser editorial malpractices” is that it has meant that I have been able to reach readers with news of the many affirmations that most major American journalistic enterprises are happy to disregard on a daily basis. In 2013, I wrote:
“All of this shifts the focus away from the emphasis on advancements in the humanities, the sciences and the arts that we desperately need. This may sound like hopeless optimism but I do know there’s a vast universe that we need to continue exploring (in fact it’s likely to be vital to our future). There are human bodies that need to be cured through advancements in medical research and whole human beings that need to be inspired by a new poem, sculpture or piece of music.”
Five years later, I’m grateful to say that my basic perspective hasn’t changed. The experience of navigating the unnecessary labyrinth, however, forced me into a more extended inquiry into the behavior which I was encountering. This daily-practiced sort of anti-poetics is the subject of the current lesson.
Let us begin with an instance in which the forced manipulation of a title has lead to the widespread misrepresentation of my thoughts was when The Independent took my recollection of an incident of dysfunction at New York’s JFK airport and labeled it as a case of religious profiling (something I had said I had no suspicion of) through the application of the title “I’m an American with a Muslim name who was detained at JFK Airport for hours – I want an explanationf jfk-airport-airlines-donald-trump-mohammed-fairouz-a7708206.htmn
Anticipating that this was an article that would most probably be levied for “clickability,” I wrote to the editor before it’s publication asking that the words “Trump” and “Muslim” not be added to the title. After it was published with the present title, I appealed to the editor who defended the decision of the publication. She told me in an email: “remember the personal story is what will pull readers in and if you want this to explode, you need to get people involved in your story.”
But I didn’t want anything “to explode.” I had written the article with the intent of shedding light on a dysfunctional system and so I suggested the title: “US Border Patrol Detained Me Then Asked For A Complaint. Here It Is.” The editor refused to change the title once more. Her reasoning, which she conveyed to me in another email was that my suggested title “doesn’t tell a huge story there.” A few hours later, the editor reached out to my with a happy email saying that the article was “getting lots of love on the Twitter and Facebook right now.”
I didn’t write the account to “tell a story” and “get lots of love.” Nothing I could say or do would change the editor’s mind. All I could do was speak for myself when asked about the incident. In the following months, I gave interviews in which I continued to offer my record of what was and wasn’t the problem at hand. When I was interviewed for a May, 2017 profile (https://www.s- I said:
“Now this is not a grand romantic tale, it’s not the diaries of Anne Frank; not a historical moment in music history — no matter how much editors may try to attract attention with heads and titles that include the word, ‘Trump’ or ‘Muslim.’ Which is why SEO [search engine optimization] is ruining the world. I really think that what happened to me was just a mundane clerical error that happens every day. The most sinister explanation is that they have a quota to keep this self-sustaining ecosystem alive.”
Fairouz wanted to be clear on the point that he didn’t think Trump had anything to do with what happened to him, “But that’s the point, it’s hard to talk about anything these days without assuming he’s in some way involved.”
“The larger question… is whether we’re at the point where the discourse that’s followed this election has seriously debilitated us from having a conversation about how we can fix these broken systems. If we are at that point, then I think we’re screwed. And the fact of the matter is that it’s not just our border patrol system, it’s our education system and our healthcare system. We’re in a dark place right now and if we can no longer talk to one another, then we’re not going to be able to solve problems. That’s really what this all about: solving problems.”
When the AFP reached out to find out more about the incident, I clarified my position once again which was reflected in their t seeks-answers-US-airport-detention.htmn report:
“The composer, who was returning from a string orchestra recording session in Britain, hesitated to allege he was singled out because of his Muslim name. He said that most of
the dozens of others in the detention room were from Latin America owing to flight timings”
But despite all this, the many interviews in which I explicitly restated my position that that this incident was not racially or religiously motivated, the original lie perpetrated in the editor’s title stuck. Most recently, the event was cited (‘ /Communi- ties-on-Fire.pdf) on page 22 of a report by South Asian Americans Leading Together (SAALT):
“On May 1, 2017, Mohammed Fairouz, an American composer, was detained at JFK airport in New York City, apparently without reason with the exception of his Muslim name. U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) subjected him to extensive additional screening that included intrusive questions relating to his finances, career, and personal life. During those hours, he did not have access to his phone or belongings.”
SAALT seems to have presented my case without reading the content of my article, any of my followup interviews or contacting me. They decided to include the incident in a collated database of events outlining examples of racial profiling which they describe as “a widespread institutionalized practice by law enforcement, which suspects a person or community of a criminal offense based on their actual or perceived race, ethnicity, or national origin.” They also included the incident despite the fact that I had publicly said that I did not believe myself to be the victim of any actions that were motivated by my race, ethnicity or nation of origin. SAALT is organization that, among other things, “connects with elected officials, media, and government agencies to highlight issues that affect South Asian Americans.” “Our work,” continues their mission statement, “includes regular briefings and meetings with the White House, Department of Justice, and Department of Homeland Security, as well as our Advocacy Days that bring advocates and community members closer to decision makers in D.C.” (‘
All this means that the lie, as it was forcefully projected by the editor upon my text would mislead in order to cause pleasure. The title would now be added to a database. As we have just seen, this database could, and in my case was, used as an “analytical” justification for demanding changes in policy from civic leaders in Washington.
One might now reasonably come to the following conclusion: “Obscuring the truth does nothing to solve problems.” 

These misrepresentations cause people and organizations to put their resources into solving problems that doesn’t actually exist. That sort of activity towards dysfunction was the exact opposite of what I was hoping to engender when I made more people aware of a fairly mundane and clerical problem by composing an essay. I wrote my essay to make a journal-like account of an incident that was of concern to me as a frequent traveller and that I thought would concern others (not least because I stand in immovable airport lines with many, many other people every time I reenter the United States). This was journalism rather than poetics. I reserve my poetics for my work as a composer and I keep the mundane out of my artistic work which, if it is to mean anything to others, must embrace subjects and objects which are common and, ideally, universal.
This brings us back to “poetic journalism.” This term is a negation of the poetic and that which is journalistic. But rather than consider this as just another confounding statement that that must be undone, I would like to attempt an understanding of it.
If this was the case, the editor’s comfort with misleading her readership should be understood as an active decision that causes things to happen. The intent of the editor may have been to make the incident more “intriguing” to curious readers. The reality is far more actively destructive but it is the arrival at this reality through demonstration that will allow us to appreciate a vital source of the catastrophically inclined journalism of which we have seen example after example. More importably, this leads us to an important source of the anti-poetic idea. Understanding this source will help us understand the profundity of it’s destructive world-view.
To begin, we must remember that Aristotle writes of poetry (art; craft; making) as springing from two causes. Let us look at the first of these causes in the present context. Human beings imitate (mimic) and are the most imitative of all animals.
“Poetry in general seems to have sprung from two causes, each of them lying deep in our nature. First, the instinct of imitation is implanted in man from childhood, one difference between him and other animals being that he is the most imitative of living creatures, and through imitation learns his earliest lessons; and no less universal is the pleasure felt in things imitated. We have evidence of this in the facts of experience.”
The reader will pay special attention to Aristotle’s explanation of the fact that human beings learn our earliest lessons through imitation as it is important to the issue at hand.
“The cause of this again is, that to learn gives the liveliest pleasure, not only to philosophers but to men in general; whose capacity, however, of learning is more limited. Thus the reason why men enjoy seeing a likeness is, that in contemplating it they find themselves learning or inferring, and saying perhaps, ‘Ah, that is he.’ For if you happen not to have seen the original, the pleasure will be due not to the imitation as such, but to the execution, the coloring, or some such other cause.”
On the other hand, Aristotle points out a difference in technique which he observes to accompany the representation of things that people view with pain or discomfort. These works of art are not evocative of the commonplace or the mundane. Examples of artistic objects such as Darth Vader, Cthulhu, are not commonplace or mundane.
When people experience an artwork that represents a familiar thing, they can “learn” through recognition of the familiar. This discovery is heightened if the artist reproduces something familiar as a “likeness” and increases the level of ambiguity in his recognition. This comes through pleasure of recognition of the familiar in a form that is not familiar. Aristotle describes the moment beautifully in the Poetics and he does this through demonstration of a reaction:
Thus the reason why men enjoy seeing a likeness is, that in contemplating it they find themselves learning or inferring, and saying perhaps, ‘Ah, that is he.’ For if you happen not to have seen the original, the pleasure will be due not to the imitation as such, but to the execution, the coloring, or some such other cause.”
When an artist’s chooses to represent something as a likeness of what he senses (in the “real world”), this choice enables him or her to employ ambiguity and even to render that which is abstract. Let us visualize the spectrum of representation as a line.
The artworks that appear further to the left of this spectrum are more and more abstract and render that which is imagined and fantastical.
In those works that appear further to the right on this imaginary spectrum are works in which the artist represents the subject with a fidelity that renders it as close to objective reality as possible.
Here is the spectrum of artistic expression:

With that in mind, let us consider Aristotle’s view of how artists tend to represent things that are fantastical, imaginary and unknown. This is especially true of those subjects that could cause us great pain and discomfort if we were experiencing these things in reality. This is because we know that these events and subjects are real or can be real. In the case of that which is real, we know this by the fact that human beings have witnessed them and they have been recorded either historically or journalistically (being led into a crematorium at Auschwitz; being the victim of a nuclear disaster; perishing at sea upon a sinking ship; jumping from the North Tower as it collapsed on 9/11). In the case of those things which could be “real,” or terrify us in concept we believe in their veracity through the artists ability to imagine things that occupy the more nightmarish workings of human fancy (Chucky the Doll, Cropsy, Cthulhu) and render those things in a way whose veracity is demonstrated not least because of it’s ability to frighten the audience of that work (or affect our emotions in other ways).
“Objects which in themselves we view with pain, we delight to contemplate when reproduced with minute fidelity: such as the forms of the most ignoble animals and of dead bodies. The cause of this again is, that to learn gives the liveliest pleasure.”
The very fact of our inability to be close to something which we either know to be real makes us want to render the thing in question with as much fidelity as possible. This is because it is our only way to discover more about it without being harmed.
In the case of that which is imagined but which the artist is capable of persuading us to believe is real (even though our common sense —objective sense— tells us that it is not real) the work of art is our only recourse to learning about it. We yearn for as much information as possible on the creature or thing that is “hiding in the dark.” Ironically, these objects and subjects are exactly the things that we cannot truly define. We cannot define, in any serious detail, those things which we cannot examine closely without being hurt. This is also true of things which present themselves to us as nightmares, omens or other premonitions and negations of the imagination.
We are repulsed and frightened away by those painful things which present themselves in objective reality (terrorist attack; sinking of a vessel; sucked into vacuum of space). We attempt to escape these unpleasant things even when they are not “real.” We do this by warding them off when they obsess our imagination. The reader will bear in mind that these facts are not merely explained by statistics such as those which would rank the “scariest horror movies of all time” or through the absurd attempts at deriving statistics on phobias. We have seen these attempts in the destructive person’s tendency to extoll the subjective while forgetting that human beings are individuals in the fullest meaning of that word and that the “subjective” is not to be defined, as they understand it, to mean “incomprehensible”.
What I am presenting is not fanciful. The human repulsion away from objects of pain and fear is instinctual. It can be caused through the activation of our fear, the insecurity of our footing, the need to resist pain or simply the need to flee death. We risk being hurt or killed if we experience such a thing or event but we must know about it precisely. The pleasure of our knowledge is rooted, not least, in the workings of the human instinct to survive.
We will now draw our spectrum of expression once again. This time, we will add the information that we have just worked out:

Now, let us apply our same spectrum of expression to journalism, photography (video and still photos) as well as any other way of recording reality (day-to-day reality). Before we do this, it would be wise to define journalism.
A journalist is defined in the earliest English Dictionary as follows:
JOURNALIST  (JO’URNALIST)   n.s. [from journal.] A writer of journals.
And a journal is defined as follows: 
“JOURNAL  (JO’URNAL)   n.s.[journal, French; giornale, Italian.]1. A diary; an account kept of daily transactions.
2. Any paper published daily.”
A journal is: 
“JOURNAL  (JO’URNAL)   adj. [journale, French; giornale, Italian.] Daily; quotidian. Out of use.
The more abstract or obscure end of the spectrum involves fantastical reports or misleading reports. False leads that turn out to be false news and other such tangled webs which great journalists have worked hard to untangle in the name of discovering the truth and telling it to others. The right side of the spectrum involves accurate reporting. Presenting the news of the day as news (regardless of conflicts of interest and, in many historical cases, great risk to personal safety and career advancement). Journalists record the facts as they perceive them with the five senses that they have. They do not rely on speculative volition or the ability to form creative plots or connections between events that are disparate.
Things which are abstract and unclear must be clarified and presented in a concise and comprehensible style (one which is devoid of “self-expression” or the use of such things as metaphor. Fantastical and unbelievable information is verified through fact-checking and extensive copy-editing. Unknown or speculative events (or “non-events”) are not anticipated in reporting. The journalist is tasked with clarifying daily events and recording them in the clearest and most direct way possible. Anything cryptic will be clarified or left to further observation “once the dust settles.” Unsourced or sensitive information which is provided to journalists will be weighed against what the release of this information means in terms of public well-being and will only be released in extraordinary cases. It will be released if the failure to do so will result in certain and known disaster or public harm. The journalist will only report on things which are relevant to the public sphere and will not pry into things which do not count as news (such as reports that record events in people’s private lives and that have no bearing on the citizenry at large).
The artist’s expression can encompass the more abstract as well as the more minutely realistic (as follows):
That arrow should only move in one direction (from the murky and cryptic to the clear and verifiable) when it comes to the practice of proper journalism (recording the daily facts). Here is how the journalistic (or record-based) chart would properly look:

Now, let us apply our same “spectrum of expression” to science which is the study of anything that exists (including archeology and other studies of things which were previously crafted or made by artists or artisans) through methodological means of inquiry. This scientific method involves beginning with an observation and, through speculation, forming a hypothesis which is then subject to experimentation. Following this, the stages of hypothesis and experimentation are repeated until a consistent and constant proof is obtained.
Once again, the full spectrum of expression which is available to an artist (from the wildly abstract to the minutely detailed rendering of reality) is not to properly applied to the sciences. Here, once again, is the “artistic spectrum of expression”:

This movement towards the more abstract as well as the movement toward the clearer and more defined is not to be properly applied to the sciences. Therefore, scientific inquiry should not look like this:

It should, on the other hand, only move in one direction; from the murky and cryptic to the clear and verifiable. This method can be employed in the way that was codified by Ibn Al-Haytham in the 10th Century (which is essentially the reliance on demonstration through experimentation and proof as outlined below):

The scientific method can also be employed to the study of history. Here it is as it was codified by Ibn Khaldun in his Muqaddamah (“The Introduction” or “The Prelude”) of 1377; a book in which he introduced the “new science” of history. Ibn Khaldun states that “All records, by their very nature, are liable to error” and then goes on to describe a seven-part process of critical sifting in which he mentions seven items which must be avoided by the historian:
1…Partisanship towards a creed or opinion…
2…Over-confidence in one’s sources…
3…The failure to understand what is intended…
4…A mistaken belief in the truth…
5…The inability to place an event in its real context
6…The common desire to gain favor of those of high ranks, by praising them, by spreading their fame…
7…The most important is the ignorance of the laws governing the transformation of human society.

Since Ibn Khaldun already states that “all records, by their very nature, are liable to error,” it should go without saying that no proof is 100% accurate or correct in this context either.

Now we must cross-examine the arts against other disciplines. Let us start with Journalism.

The artist, it will be recalled, is properly enabled the full spectrum of expression (from the most abstract stylings to the most realistic and concrete ones). This is, in no small part, because the truth of a work of art lies in it’s function and in it’s self-evident existence.

I would like to reiterate Aristotle’s explanation of the reason why men derive pleasure from that which is commonplace being rendered as abstract, startling and “new”:
“The cause of this again is, that to learn gives the liveliest pleasure, not only to philosophers but to men in general; whose capacity, however, of learning is more limited. Thus the reason why men enjoy seeing a likeness is, that in contemplating it they find themselves learning or inferring, and saying perhaps, ‘Ah, that is he.’ For if you happen not to have seen the original, the pleasure will be due not to the imitation as such, but to the execution, the coloring, or some such other cause.”
Aristotle also pointed out a difference in technique which he observes to accompany the representation of things that people view with pain or discomfort. These works of art are not evocative of the commonplace or the mundane. Examples of artistic objects such as Darth Vader, Cthulhu, or an apocalyptic scene from a movie like Independence Day are anything but commonplace or mundane.
When people experience an artwork that represents a familiar thing, they can “learn” through recognition of the familiar. This discovery is heightened if the artist reproduces something familiar as a “likeness” and increases the level of ambiguity in his recognition. This comes through pleasure of recognition of the familiar in a form that is not familiar. Aristotle describes the moment beautifully in the Poetics and he does this through demonstration of a reaction:
Thus the reason why men enjoy seeing a likeness is, that in contemplating it they find themselves learning or inferring, and saying perhaps, ‘Ah, that is he.’ For if you happen not to have seen the original, the pleasure will be due not to the imitation as such, but to the execution, the coloring, or some such other cause.”
And so, if a “journalist” desires to evoke pleasure or sensation in their readers (or viewers), thy would have to do so within the province of expressing the commonplace or day-to-day (by definition). Here, once again, is the definition of “Journalist” as well as the pertinent sub-definition (“journal”):

JOURNALIST  (JO’URNALIST)   n.s. [from journal.] A writer of journals.
And a journal is defined as follows: 
“JOURNAL  (JO’URNAL)   n.s.[journal, French; giornale, Italian.]1. A diary; an account kept of daily transactions.
2. Any paper published daily.”
A journal is: 
“JOURNAL  (JO’URNAL)   adj. [journale, French; giornale, Italian.] Daily; quotidian. Out of use.

Art which depicts the day-to-day cannot do so in a forensic or “dry” way without seeming didactic and overwrought. In order for people to find pleasure in what they see every day, those things need to be represented as abstract, fantastical and “new” (otherwise people would be startled by seeing a fire hydrant which they see every day or an old lady at the supermarket which they see every day). This creates a problem for “poetic journalists” since the “day-to-day” quotidian element of journalism cannot be circumvented without a complete and obvious betrayal of reality.

Therefore, “poetic journalists,” like the “new journalists” before them, cannot occupy this sphere (the practice of depicting the every-day happenings about town in an abstract or fantastical style). They would be discovered very quickly as practitioners of gossip or fairy tales rather than serious recorders of hard facts:




The urgency of “today’s headlines” can, however, be utilized to relay a sense of “stakes” and “now-ness” to the news-story which is being broadcast.

This works well with the only “artistic” option that remains to the journalist who wishes to express him or herself in a way that proves to be sensational and pleasurable. The journalist must render the day-to-day events with the reality of minute detail expressed in mimicry of the stylistic attributes of serious journalism. They must then apply that style to communicate that which is not every-day or common place. The style of “serious and fact-based reporting” is used to communicate the disastrous, painful, unpleasant, catastrophic and “out of the ordinary.”

This means that the viewer will find pleasure by “needing to click on the story” or receiving “urgent news” which they must read on pains of life-or death. The audiences for this sort of “poetic journalism” are beholden to a constant state of crisis in which they must stay “up-to-speed” on all the latest details in order to remain “informed.”

Real subjects that could cause us great pain and discomfort if we were experiencing these things in reality cause sensation and intrigue as well as a “need-to-know” obsession on the part of a public which needs to “stay informed”. We know that the events and subjects that are being communicated to us are real or, at the very least, could be real.

We know about the things that are real because of the fact that human beings have witnessed them and they have been recorded either historically or journalistically. This is how we know that Jews were led into crematoria at Auschwitz or the day-to-day banalities of Adolph Eichmann’s trial in Jerusalem. We have seen victims of nuclear disaster holocaust at Hiroshima as well as civilians jumping from the North Tower of New York’s World Trade Center as it collapsed on September 11th, 2001.

But it is the case of those things that could be “real,” which provides the opportunity. These things terrify us in concept and we believe in their veracity when we are placed in the hands of skilled artist. The artist’s ability to imagine things that occupy the more nightmarish workings of human fancy and render those things real and believable enough to keep us up at night is demonstrated not least because of it’s ability to frighten the audience of that work (or affect our emotions in other ways). This is done by design.

One of my favorite examples of terror by artistic design comes from Dan O’Bannon, the screenwriter for the movie Alien. In describing the design of the “Facehugger” creature (a design which evokes make and female genitalia as well as rape in the (correct) sense: entirely devoid of anything “sexual” and driven by violence and ripping apart of one’s body. “One thing,” says O’Bannon, “that people are all disturbed about is sex… I said ‘That’s how I’m going to attack the audience; I’m going to attack them sexually. And I’m not going to go after the women in the audience, I’m going to attack the men. I am going to put in every image I can think of to make the men in the audience cross their legs. Homosexual oral rape, birth. The thing lays its eggs down your throat, the whole number.”


This is a case of terror which is imagined but which the artist persuades us to understand and glimpse a possibility: that the horrible object of our fears is real. We abandon common sense —objective sense as well as our rational faculties. The work of art becomes our only recourse to learning about the dark nightmares which we would like to uncover and bring “into the light.” And so, pained as we might be, we watch with eyes wide open and we scream.
While human beings yearn for information on the creature (or thing) that is “hiding in the dark,” it is, these very objects and subjects are exactly the things that we cannot truly define, touch or understand. We cannot define, in any serious detail, those things which we cannot examine closely without being hurt. This is also true of things which present themselves to us as nightmares, omens or other premonitions and negations of the imagination. And so it is that children afraid of the night who have never been happy or good cannot resist learning more about the objects of their worst nightmares only to discover reason after reason to stay away from that very object of fear and repulsion.
These actions of fear, anger and repulsion are observable, impulsive and form the foundation of countless stories which span millennia and cultures of expression by artists of all stripes.
The human repulsion away from objects of pain and fear is instinctual. It can be caused through the activation of our fear, the insecurity of our footing, the need to resist pain or simply the need to flee death. We risk being hurt or killed if we experience such a thing or event but we must know about it precisely. The pleasure of our knowledge is rooted, not least, in the workings of the human instinct to survive.
And so, “poetic journalists” can create instant-stakes and human investment in a story no matter how exaggerated (or even flat-out-false) that story may be. They do this by co-opting the style that artists deploy in order to bring us close to the terrible (from the cyclops and the sirens to the destruction of Pompeii, Cropsy, a disfigured burn victim who is bent on revenge and the figure of a clown with all the merriment and polity that figure commands revealing itself to be the most terrible and indescribable shape of Stephen King’s “It”). They render the terrifying with exaggerated detail by co-opting the style of journalism and melding it with the subject of much detailed and realistic art.
Let’s put the observations which we have made on Object and Subject together one step at a time.
Here, there is no ambiguity possible if we are to remain within the circle of sensible human beings. What I am describing is something that we can be certain about if we are to be certain of anything in existence. There is not even a disclaimer to be given here. I cannot say that “there are exceptions to the rule” because there are no “rules” here at all. Here are the points on which I am speaking:
1) There exist art-works which are made by human beings.
2) This includes all things made by human beings; ie all things not found in nature.
3) Everything which is made by mankind (all art-works) relate to reality in some way or can be related to reality.
4) There is no limit to the number of ways in which any art-work relates to reality. There is no limit to the “way” of ways in which an art-work relates to reality. Indeed, this can and should allow for a great diversity of perspectives within a single human being and, certainly, from person to person.
4) By “reality,” I mean all reality. This includes that which can be perceived (the physical) as well as that which cannot be perceived (the metaphysical) and is then rendered perceptible.
5) Artworks depicting objects which did not exist in reality but existed in the imagination of the artist were metaphysical when they existed in the imagination of the artist. They have been made physical by virtue of the artist having made the object which realized that which previously existed in his or her imagination. If a “work” exists in the imagination of a person but is never made into a work of art then that “work” does not exist.
6) All these works will relate to reality on an infinite (and infinitely diverse) spectrum. This is the spectrum:

7) The further “left” we move, the more esoteric (“More Abstract; “More Fantastical”; “More Unknown or Unknowable”; “More Obscure”) are the works of art. The further “right” we move, the “More ‘real’ (correlating to reality as it is perceived); the “more explicitly detailed” etc. the more “convincing” and “credible” (in the daily factual sense) are the works in question.
There exist many more adjectives than those which I have used above to describe how “realistic” or “fantastical” objects are. The purpose of the descriptive language above to simply suggest a range of expression as we perceive that expression through artistic works which are made. There is no “middle point” to this spectrum. There is no (known) beginning or end to this spectrum. It allows for all human imagination.
Art-works cannot meaningfully be declared to be “realistic” or “abstract” nor can they be declared “figurative” or “non-figurative.” These are descriptive terms which are only useful to the critic or audience if they are clearly defined and used within a meaningful and clear context. One cannot say that Beethoven’s Piano Sonata, Op. 111 is an “abstract” work nor can one label the Sonata “figurative” or “non-figurative”; one cannot say that a piece of music such as the Sonata in question is “realistic” either. The spectrum of artistic expression would best be demonstrated as a circle rather than a line which moves in opposing directions from a presumed source. There is no middle-point and the reason for my use of a line in my diagram is for the sake of clarity.
This spectrum is, more accurately, to be thought of as one would think of a clock. Here it is. That which that which is on the left side of my diagram (works which are more abstract) is rendered in green while everything to the right of my linear diagram (more “realistic”) is rendered in red:


That would result in an overlap of that which is “realistic” and that which is “abstract.” How would that work?
I have already explained that “art-works cannot meaningfully be declared to be ‘realistic’ or ‘abstract’ nor can they be declared ‘figurative’ or ‘non-figurative.’” What, then would it take to give these words meaning?
Is the following painting (Autumn Rhythms) by Jackson Pollock “realistic” or “abstract”?

We must now answer the following question: What does the painting imitate (or what do I perceive the painting to be imitating)?
If one perceives the painting as an imitation of an autumn landscape, most people will deduce that the painting is not a realistic representation:

If the painting is perceived to be imitating the accidents resulting from the motion of paint as it spills, it will be seen as very realistic:

The painting can be perceived to be expressing countless other things by countless observers.
Let us take another example; a painting called Woman with Ribbon by Roy Lichtenstein:

The answer is to be found in looking at the Ben-Day dots printing process technique. Depending on the effect, color and optical illusion desired, small colored dots are closely spaced, widely spaced or overlap in print. Magenta dots, for example, could be widely spaced to create pink.
Pulp comic books of the 1950s and 1960s used Ben-Day dots in the four process colors (cyan, magenta, yellow and black) to inexpensively create shading and secondary colors such as green, purple, orange and flesh tones. Here is an example of the dots magnified:


The following painting by Liechtenstein imitates the printing style used to depict something fairly common place (a woman) in a new light:

Here, for example, is a comic book which is printed using Ben-Day dots:

If we compare a detail from the comic book to a detail from Liechtenstein’s painting, it is easy to see that the painting is a very realistic imitation of the printing style (not a woman). Here is a magnified detail from the comic book presented against a magnified detail from the painting:

Lichenstein’s painting is not realistic as far as it aims to depict a woman. It is, however, extremely realistic in terms of reproducing the Ben-Day printing method. It is the recognition of the printing method and not merely a recognition of a woman that gives us pleasure in viewing Woman with Ribbon. Thus Liechtenstein renders the everyday object (a woman) in a new light through the imitation of the printing method.
The painting is an abstract representation of a woman’s skin and figure which gives us pleasure because this everyday figure is rendered in a new light through the realistic representation of the Ben-Day printing method.
And so, we are able to look at something which we see every day (our skin) in a new way.
One cannot simply declare an artwork to be “figurative” without asking “ in relation to what figure?” One cannot simply declare a work of art to be “realistic” or “abstract” without asking “in relation to what exactly?”
The use of these terms without relating them directly to objects and subjects is counterintuitive. The mind will draw connections and relationships automatically as soon as a person perceives a work of art or any object in the world. A person will also naturally draw comparisons, contrasts and relationships between subjects which one already knows about and those subjects which one is newly perceiving or learning about.
Let us place a person (me) as an audience member. I am, for the purpose of this exercise, the “blue dot.”

I have shown two clearly different perspectives of looking at the poem which are perfectly reasonable and valid. By valid I mean really valid; valid enough for me to feel comfortable printing the interpretations in the present book and believing that most people will easily understand my point of view as reasonable and, by virtue of possessing reason, illuminating.That gives us two points of view which we can add to the “clock”:

The image below is abstract to most people viewing it:

But it is only abstract until we hear what the sound wave represents:


Now that I’ve told you that the above is a representation of the entirety of the first movement of Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony, the sonograph above is no longer abstract. But one can hardly consider the sonograph to be a work of art. Isn’t it a recording? It is a visual representation of the sound waves which were recorded. The sound recording is the recording of Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony. The waves are a representation of the sound which has been recorded. How about this image?

It is, in mathematical figures which we call musical notation, another representation of the Symphony’s sounds. This representation is in Beethoven’s own handwriting and was made in order to notate the pitches and durations of the symphony as well as to score it so that an orchestra can perform it (from their parts which are extracted from Beethoven’s score). 

To the vast majority of persons, the recording of the Symphony (or a live performance) is much more meaningful than either the sonic recording (made after the fact of the music) or the score (made as part of a process which exists in order to make musical compositions fact). 

And yet, I do have a composer friend who has the following hanging in his studio above his piano:

It is meaningful to him because he knows what the representation is (a visualization of a recording of the First Movement of Beethoven’s 5th Symphony). I cannot imagine it hanging above many executive desks or, frankly, in our own studios or homes even if we do know what the sonogram represents.
But it is a representation (not a recording). And it does mean something to someone (my friend). And so the subjective is introduced.
The blue-dot-person we placed into that spectrum can now contend with many points of view which are all reasonable and which he can see and map on the “clock”; an embarrassment of (subjective) riches!

Let us begin with the left side of the artistic spectrum (“More abstract”):
We can now answer the question: “Art-works,” I said, “cannot meaningfully be declared to be ‘realistic’ or ‘abstract’ nor can they be declared ‘figurative’ or ‘non-figurative.’” What, then would it take to give these words meaning?”
The terms are relative. They are, specifically, relative to the object (the work of art) and the subject which is being depicted. They are also relative to the perspective as well as the
The work must be seen in relation to the object it is representing and/or in relation to the subject which is viewing it.
These are works of art are more abstract. In other words, these are works of art where the artist made his or her work using technique which renders the artworks more obscure or abstract:
Abstract Works of Art (Objects) are overwhelmingly produced by artists when we are engaging with subjects that are commonplace, everyday or non-existent. If I render that which is unknown, I have to make it known and evident; I have to describe the unknown in order for my subject to be comprehensible to anyone. I cannot take that which is unknown and render it abstractly as such a subject would never be recognized.
They must be rendered as “more familiar” or “more realistic” in order to be known.
If a subject is unfamiliar, as follows:






The pleasure of recognition will come from the creation of objects which provide a detailed depiction of the subject. This is as follows:

This creates the following correlation (less familiar things are depicted as explicit and detailed):

If a subject is familiar, as follows (everyday things):

The pleasure of recognition will come from the creation of objects which provide an abstract or more ambiguous depiction of the subject. This is as follows:

Which gives us the following correlation (things which are “everyday” are depicted as more fantastical and obscure):

In the Lichenstein painting, for example, the object which is being represented is recognizable (a woman). The key to our pleasure is, therefore, due not to the imitation as such (“the imitation of the object as such” meaning the “imitation of the woman”) but to the execution, the coloring or some such other cause,” as we will recall from Aristotle:
“The cause of this again is, that to learn gives the liveliest pleasure… Thus the reason why men enjoy seeing a likeness is, that in contemplating it they find themselves learning or inferring, and saying perhaps, ‘Ah, that is he.’ For if you happen not to have seen the original, the pleasure will be due not to the imitation as such, but to the execution, the coloring, or some such other cause.”
In the case of Woman with Ribbon, the “other cause” is Lichenstein’s imitation of the Ben-Day Printing method. We don’t know the specific woman in order to recognize her. We know the Ben-Day printing method and we know how a woman’s skin should look. We put together the pleasure of recognition based on such factors as these (those things which we know and that which we do not know). There are many such factors in addition to the ones I’ve listed here.
This is also the case with the following painting, “The Road to York through Sledmere” by David Hockney:

In 1905, Picasso asked Alice B Stein to sit for a portrait, and the results were not “Cubist” but representational of it’s subject:


The painting was dark in tone and brooding. Picasso famously stated:

“Everybody says that she does not look like it but that does not make any difference, she will.”

This was quoted by Stein in “The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas.” Stein said later, “I was and still am satisfied with my portrait, for me it is I, and it is the only reproduction of me which is always I, for me.” The completion of the portrait marks the beginning of Stein’s interest in portraiture and “resemblance,” concepts that would come to influence her writing indelibly.

These two book are not histories or historical biographies but novels:

This book is not a theological dissertation but, once again, a novel:

In the film, Alien, directed by Ridley Scott, the unfamiliar (because non-existent) Xenomorph as well as the ship Nostromo are depicted with great attention to detail. That which is everyday and familiar is depicted in a obscure and abstract way. “I’ll reshoot a corridor 13 different ways,” says Scott, “and you’ll never recognize them.”
A corridor is, of course, an example of something which we see every day. The Xenomorph or the Nostromo do not exist and are, therefore, things which we cannot see every day.
This is one of the most important reasons for the co-existence and overlapping availability of expression which is ambiguous and concrete when it comes to art.
That that which is ambiguously expressed is often found together with that which is explicitly expressed in a single work of art. Many works of art are a multilayered objects.
The success of Alien as a sensational experience is due to the detailed depiction of that which is unknown to us but also to the ambiguous depiction of that which is known to us. We derive the pleasure of learning through both approaches.
We may, for example, return home from the film and see our corridor in a new light. This causes us a thrill when walking down the corridor to use the bathroom late at night. 

In Alien the following, as one example of many, applies:

In science, there should be no movement towards the more ambiguous and less clear. The pleasure of all scientific knowledge is derived from clarifying that which was previously unknown or unclear:

A work of journalism must employ expression which is explicitly detailed; a journalist is not a camera and therefore cannot (and should now) record reality. They must, however, reproduce reality with minute fidelity. The journalistic object must correspond to the following in terms of presentation:

The journalist must report that which is real. The journalist’s subjects are as follows (everyday reality):

Here is the chart of artistic expression. The journalist must avoid the following things.

Subjects which are made up:

2) Reports, investigations, books, news broadcasts or any other sort of news coverage which is ambiguous, abstract, lacking in sources, or unverified:


The pleasure of learning in journalism comes from the movement away from that which is fantastical towards that which is concrete; verified and verifiable facts:

Here is the correct correlation in Journalism (that which is real is presented as such; that which is ambiguous is clarified and presented as it really is):

Journalists who present things poetically are engaged in the following process. Those things which are familiar and real (in an everyday sense) have to be depicted as familiar and real in an everyday sense. They cannot give us pleasure through abstract representation because the journalist’s implicit contract with their readers or viewers is that they are being given facts. No suspension of disbelief is required or expected by journalists or by those who read or view the news. The pleasure of learning is based in the unveiling of facts. This expectation of style means that the viewer or reader of journalism expects explicit detail, minute fidelity and facts. This expectation means that the familiar or factual cannot be rendered as abstract without being immediately perceived by the reader or viewer to not be journalism.
This is what a journalist must accomplish (as placed on the artistic spectrum):
That which is less familiar or unfathomable can only give us pleasure when rendered more abstractly. That line does not correlate with journalism’s function. Nor can the abstract or made up be rendered in a sensational way (thus closing off another path):

In other words, those subjects which should be avoided by the journalist find their expression as most concrete in works of art which give us pleasure of learning because of the fact that they are made ambiguous.
Those familiar subjects which give us pleasure in the arts when rendered fantastically must be rendered explicitly by the journalist:

While those unfamiliar subjects which give us pleasure when depicted realistically by the artist must be avoided by journalists altogether:


The result is a fundamental incompatibility as far (as pleasure of learning is concerned) between the function of journalism (facts which are reported) and art (facts which are made):

Those things which are less familiar give us pleasure of recognition when represented as more “real” (orange arrow):

Those things which are more familiar give us pleasure of recognition when represented as less “real” (pink arrow):

A “poetic journalist” wishing to express himself as such must first think of the fantastical or less familiar and translate it into the artistic spectrum of that which is fantastical and less familiar (1). He will then express himself as it correlates artistically (2), whereby the less familiar is depicted more realistically. This would have us arrive at the desired result (3):

In order to express the factually accurate as such but using an artistic model, a journalist would need to take that which is more familiar (1) and think of it in terms of realistic artistic expression. The correlation would then bring us to the desired result (2) thus arriving at the desired outcome (3):
Either method of thinking requires a crossover. The first betrays the natural correlation in the art which is shown by the initial diagram (reproduced below):

The second method would amount to journalism but merely adds an additional (and unneeded) conceptual step. But this process would have us arrive at the same result (rendering the factually accurate and everyday as such):

Since the method on the right (that which is indicated by the pink arrow) is available to us, journalists do not need to go to the extra effort of using the artistic model in order to arrive at the results which can easily be achieved using the journalistic model.
In a book titled Beyond News: The Future of Journalism,” Mitchell Stephens takes the mailability of truth for granted. He posits that “facts don’t matter” because it is impossible to abide by them in an absolute sense:
“Stephen Ward, a philosopher turned journalist turned journalism professor, defines traditional journalistic objectivity as “the avoidance of all evaluation and judgment, the use of only facts and perfectly neutral chronicles of events.”⁴ This is, of course, impossible, as Ward understands.” (“Beyond News: The Future of Journalism” by Mitchell Stephens.”

At first one will note two absolutes which place the passage in the company of much extremist rhetoric; arguments which cannot be opposed unless the response is equally extreme, un-nuanced and uncritical:

“Stephen Ward, a philosopher turned journalist turned journalism professor, defines traditional journalistic objectivity as “the avoidance of all evaluation and judgment, the use of only facts and perfectly neutral chronicles of events.”⁴ This is, of course, impossible, as Ward understands.”

People do not expect journalists to possess the entire and perfect truth about anything. If journalists did have such an avenue of access to the sort of perfect and absolute truth that would give us a perfectly factual chronicle of things, they would be unique among human beings.

What is expected (and this seems to be lost on many writers) is a fidelity to the facts and to truth. In the description of a practice which entails “the avoidance of all evaluation and judgment, the use of only facts and perfectly neutral chronicles of events” the question that comes immediately to mind is centered around the writers reference to “the use of only facts.” What are these mere facts being used for? The “use of only facts” to what end?

The definition is a perversion. A journalist (or any seeker of truth) cannot and should never attempt “the avoidance of all evaluation and judgment.” A journalist, unlike a historian studying an ancient and long-gone civilization, reports on events which are contemporary to them. This is why an “avoidance of evaluation and judgement” must be applied to the facts at hand. Events occur on a daily basis and, once they happen, these events are there whether one likes it or not. The journalist can only report these facts (the truth) if he or she does not apply their personal evaluation and judgement to the facts (which exist regardless of one’s personal feelings about them).

The journalist’s critical evaluations and judgements of any situation or subject should be applied towards seeking the truth and not towards obscuring it with one’s personal feelings about the truth.

The final point which must be questioned in the definition provided by Mr Ward and quoted by Mr Stephens (“the avoidance of all evaluation and judgment, the use of only facts and perfectly neutral chronicles of events”) is the idea of using or generating “perfectly neutral chronicles of events.”

This is another case for the journalist to make use of their critical faculties of evaluation and judgement in order to create a chronicle of events that is loyal to the truth and not one that treats materials which as reasonable as equal to sources which are clearly suspect. The journalist must apply their rational sensibilities as a human being to sifting through the dazzling diversity of daily events in order to bring facts of public concern to light.

I would here like to attempt a comparison between a journalist named Simon Kuper and an art critic named Jerry Saltz. The reason for this comparative evaluation is that it will illuminate a commonality of anti-poetic practice which, once understood, the reader will find to be very common.

In the Financial Times, the journalist (Simon Kuper) reports on the motivation of his colleagues. It is not timidity or avarice which guides them but, rather, the quest for attention and sensation; these people are journalists because of “failed literary ambitions”:

“Individual journalists have almost no influence. Nor do many crave it. Most journalists I know entered the profession for other reasons: frustrated literary ambitions, the adrenalin rush of newsgathering, or a desire to describe their era. Day by day, we are driven less by do-goodery than the quest for scoops, attention and fun.”

Many journalists, we are told, do not crave influence (which means that some of them do crave it). Speaking from first hand experience, this writer tells us that, other than frustrated literary ambitions, other reasons for his colleagues to enter the profession of journalism include “the adrenalin rush of news-gathering… a desire to describe their era” and “the quest for scoops, attention and fun.” This passage recalls an article by Jerry Saltz (the art critic) who speaks of his failure as an artist and his discovery, in that failure, of his destiny as a critic:

“Of course, I often think that everyone who isn’t making art is a failed artist, even those who never tried. I did try. More than try. I was an artist. Even sometimes a great one, I thought.

I wasn’t totally deluded. I was a lazy smart-aleck who felt sorry for himself, resented anyone with money, and felt the world owed me a living. For a few years, I attended classes at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, although I didn’t always pay tuition and got no degree. But I did meet artists there and saw that staying up late with each other is how artists learn everything — developing new languages and communing with one another.”

Here also, there is no mention of cognition. It may not occur to Mr. Saltz that “developing new languages and communing with one another” is also known as “socializing” and that socializing is quite different from the work and practice required to hone one’s craft as an artist. “If people knew how hard I had to work to gain my mastery,” said Michelangelo, “it would not seem so wonderful at all.”

Reading those words from such an esteemed master as Michaelangelo is enough to inspire humility in most of us. Not so for Mr. Saltz. “In 1973,” says Mr. Saltz, “I was 22, full of myself, and frustrated that I wasn’t already recognized for my work.”

“But then I looked back, into the abyss of self-doubt. I erupted with fear, self-loathing, dark thoughts about how bad my work was, how pointless, unoriginal, ridiculous. “You don’t know how to draw,” I told myself. “You never went to school. Your work has nothing to do with anything. You’re not a real artist. Your art is irrelevant. You don’t know art history. You can’t paint. You aren’t a good schmoozer. You’re too poor. You don’t have enough time to make your work. No one cares about you. You’re a fake. You only draw and work small because you’re too afraid to paint and work big.”

“Every artist does battle,” says Mr. Saltz, “every day, with doubts like these.”

I can attest from personal experience that this claim is thoroughly false. I have never thought that I was a “fake” nor have I had doubts as to whether or not I am a “real artist.” Anyone who feels the almost painfully acute sensitivity which I have felt resulting in heightened perception of reality and the irresistible urge towards expression will attest that one does not doubt such a feeling. It is simply too real to be doubted or denied.

“I lost the battle. It doomed me” says Mr. Saltz. “But,” he adds, after demonstrating a complete disregard for the work, humility and sensitivity which are essential to the artist, “it also made me the critic I am today.”

Back in Mr. Kuper’s article, he complains about the scrutiny which every reader has the right to place upon the work by journalists which they read and which are deemed to be suspect by the reader:

“One oddity of being a journalist these days,” says Mr. Kuper, “is that non-journalists are always critiquing the profession.” Such a fact would concern a true journalist who is, by nature of their profession, aware of their importance in speaking the truth and sharing it with their readers.

“It isn’t only Donald Trump,” continues Mr Kuper. “Many,” he says in an accusative tone without identifying who these “many” complainers could be, “see broadsheet newspapers and public-sector broadcasters as a liberal cartel that cooks up ‘fake news’”.

Mr. Kuper then goes on to label the critical readership as “accusers” and offers to educate us in response to our allegedly “common charges” which he says are being lodged against “contemporary upmarket journalism” (a perspective that dos not account for those of us who do not regard the truth or ideas as being the province of any marketplace whatsoever but rather the cherished right and need of all reasoning human beings):

“But few of our accusers understand our everyday working practices. That’s normal: hardly anyone knows much about life in other professions. I’ve only the vaguest idea of how people in construction or advertising do their jobs, or how they think of themselves. Below I have responded to common charges against contemporary upmarket journalism by explaining how it actually works day by day.”

In another passage, Mr. Kuper describes the adherence to the truth while refuting the claim of “you made that up” (which is another way of saying “you lied”). The desire to be correct is portrayed as rooted in a fear of being caught rather than any fidelity to the truth:

“You made that up.” In the era of Google and social media, making stuff up is now a route to rapid humiliation and dismissal. Readers will catch you. It was much easier to distort before the internet. Think of Walter Duranty, The New York Times correspondent in Stalin’s USSR, who in 1933 denied there was a Soviet famine. Few Ukraine-based readers wrote in to correct him.

“Anyway,” says Kuper, “Google — along with millennials working for media organisations as low-paid fact- checkers — has vastly improved journalistic accuracy.” The knowledge of the presence of a group of millennials who are engaged in looking up one’s lies online should be a source of embarrassment but it does not register as such to Mr. Kuper. Less than a year after the New York Times saw it fit to dismiss their entire desk of copy-editors, Mr. Kuper goes on to imply that the millennials are doing a better job than the copy desks used to do. “When I recently researched a historical biography,” he says in a mixing of disciplines which renders Mr. Kuper’s sentiment still-mysterious to the present writer, “I was aghast at all the howlers in 1960s newspapers.”


“Just give us the facts, not your opinions.” Before the internet, most media devoted most of their energy to reporting events: “Wildfires killed 20 people”, or “Interest rates rose 1 per cent”. But nowadays news is instantly free online. Journalism therefore needs to add analysis.

“‘Facts’ aren’t neutral in any case. Do you lead with the presumed terrorist attack on Westminster or the scientific report saying that air pollution kills thousands of Londoners a year?

Even accurate reporting distorts reality. As the Harvard psychologist Steven Pinker notes, ‘news’ often focuses on events (today’s bridge collapse or a politician’s lie) at the expense of cheerier trends (such as the long-term rise in life expectancy). Pinker says: ‘The papers could have run the headline, ‘137,000 people escaped from extreme poverty yesterday’’ each day for the last 25 years.’”

Facts, are, in fact, neutral. Our perception of them might not be. That is yet another reason why the journalist requires a self-aware impartiality and a finely tuned sense of critical and self-critical evaluation. Because facts are facts and they don’t have the capacity to know an individual.

In the fourth lesson, I addressed the question of that which we can know from art and that which we can know from science:

“What can we know from art that we cannot know from science? The answer is to be found as follows.

I go in to see my physician. After a skin test, an x-ray and a blood test my doctor ells me that I have been infected with Tuberculosis. The doctor can make this diagnosis because of the fact that he knows the bacteria in question (Mycobacterium tuberculosis bacteria), can recognize it. As it turns out, he can also prescribe a treatment.

The doctor can know and study the mycobacterium tuberculosis. The mycobacterium, cannot and does not know the doctor.

Any subject which is studied scientifically cannot also study the scientist. The historian can study the Battle of Hastings. The Battle of Hastings cannot know the historian. The Astronomer can know about the rings of Saturn. The rings of Saturn do not know about the astronomer.

On the other hand, there is the kind of knowledge which is meant by the following verse (from the Bible):“AND Adam knew Eve his wife.”

This is the sort of knowledge which I describe when I say that “I know Brian Smith” very well. In order for me to know Brian Smith very well, Brian Smith must also know me (and he must know me well if not very well). I have to be a part of a human beings’ life if I am to know that person. In order to know a human being, one must also be known to that person. This is the basis of the relationship between the artist who makes a work of art and the audience interacting with the artwork in question.

On the most basic level, this also means that the artist must reveal himself (his personal vision of reality) in creating the work of art. This level is not a personal level and a personal vision of reality should not be confused with the personal life of the artist.”

The facts cannot know us. We can, however, can know the facts. If an array of intelligence intelligence data is stolen from the NSA, for example, and a distinguished journalist like Edward Jay Epstein launches his own journalistic inquiry in order to investigate the theft and the man who stole that data, there is only one way in which the knowledge which is found can be known and communicated.

The theft, as well as the many events and facts which are outlined and uncovered in Mr. Epstein’s book titled “How America Lost it’s Secrets; Edward Snowden, The Man and the Theft” are facts which we can know but these facts cannot know us.

That is one reason why it is deemed to be wise (as well as good) to keep a close check on one’s biases when reporting the facts; because the facts don’t “care” about one’s own personal biases nor to they “give in” to distortion because they are perceived through the lens of personal, personality-tinged or self-interested distortions.

Mr Kuper tells us that the people who report with a bias actually believe their own biases and embrace them (rather than treat them as something to be aware of in their striving for the truth):
“In fact, almost all journalists I’ve encountered in liberal media genuinely believe the liberal stuff they write. Most journalists are liberals, not because of outside pressure but because upmarket journalism has become a highly educated profession — and highly educated urbanites tend to be liberals, who oppose Trump and Brexit and populism generally. A greater proportion of New York Times journalists than Fortune 500 chief executives attended elite universities, write Jonathan Wai of the University of Arkansas and Kaja Perina of Psychology Today; New Republic journalists have fancier educations than American billionaires. Liberalism in journalism is a cohort effect.”

There is a striking absence of any mention of human thought, reasoning and critical evaluation in the paragraph above. In her essay titled “The Missing Link,” Ayn Rand described the need for tribalistic “protections” from people who, having no tribe in the primitive sense and, finding themselves unable to make conceptual associations with others (connections with other people based on shared ideas), create cohorts which grant the safety of a primitive collective without the need for shared culture or thought:

“Observe that today’s resurgence of tribalism is not a product of the lower classes—of the poor, the helpless, the ignorant—but of the intellectuals, the college-educated “elitists” (which is a purely tribalistic term). Observe the proliferation of grotesque herds or gangs—hippies, yippies, beatniks, peaceniks, Women’s Libs, Gay Libs, Jesus Freaks, Earth Children—which are not tribes, but shifting aggregates of people desperately seeking tribal ‘protection.’”

The common denominator of all such gangs is the belief in motion (mass demonstrations), not action—in chanting, not arguing—in demanding, not achieving—in feeling, not thinking—in denouncing “outsiders,” not in pursuing values—in focusing only on the “now,” the “today” without a “tomorrow”—in seeking to return to “nature,” to “the earth,” to the mud, to physical labor, i.e., to all the things which a perceptual mentality is able to handle. You don’t see advocates of reason and science clogging a street in the belief that using their bodies to stop traffic, will solve any problem.”


“Back when there were fewer voices in media,” says Mr. Kuper in his report, “certain journalists could shift mass opinion.” He continues:

“From the 1930s through the 1950s, Walter Winchell’s gossip column and radio broadcast jointly reached tens of millions of Americans a day. In 1968, a single broadcast by TV anchor Walter Cronkite arguably helped turn American opinion against the Vietnam war. But the internet splintered the media. Today each of us has a minute audience. Trump’s obsession with CNN TV news is bizarre, given how few people watch it. And viewers and readers already have entrenched world views, shaped by their life paths and years of consuming information. Each individual article barely has an impact on their outlook.”

The idea that one should report the truth and, in so doing, one’s work would have all the impact in the world is simply not an idea which occurs to Mr. Kuper; at the very least he fails to communicate the value of truth if it does occur to him.

The following passage puts it more directly:

“Even when journalists influence opinion, it’s often inadvertently in an illiberal direction. Whenever liberal media push an agenda (for instance, that climate change is a problem), many rightwingers instinctively believe the opposite. If The New York Times decided tomorrow that climate change was a hoax, many Trumpites would probably become tree-huggers.”

Mr. Kuper is speaking of a reflexive reaction against anything which the “liberal media” (of which he says that he is a member) might report. If those people who are tasked with the reporting of truth not only took a “side” in acrimonious politics (“liberal” or “conservative” media) but actually showed no regard whatsoever for intellectual integrity or the reporting of commonplace truths in their work, I would “instinctively believe the opposite” of everything that they reported.

Journalism itself is defined in the following terms by the American Press Institute:

“Journalism is the activity of gathering, assessing, creating, and presenting news and information. It is also the product of these activities.

Journalism can be distinguished from other activities and products by certain identifiable characteristics and practices. These elements not only separate journalism from other forms of communication, they are what make it indispensable to democratic societies. History reveals that the more democratic a society, the more news and information it tends to have.”

Let us now re-consider an excerpt from Mr. Saltz’s self-review with the perspective we have gained from Mr. Kuper and the American Press Institute:

“When I arrived in New York in 1980 to become part of that world, I didn’t know what hit me or how much of the deep content in my art had to do with Chicago, my own naïveté, and isolation. I was so out of step. Chicago was still involved with 1970s Conceptualism, straight photography, regional ideas of hard-edged abstraction, process art, and Pluralism. Things in New York were so different: The city was exploding in Neo-Expressionism, Pictures, and graffiti art. The first of these was out of my painterly and scale reach; the second, out of my intellectual depth; the last was nothing I was involved with, and I could never stay up late enough or do enough drugs to really participate in clubbing.”

Staying up late and clubbing may be something of a lifestyle choice but it has no relation to being an artist. But Mr Saltz informs us that he did not move to New York in order to become an observant student of art and, eventually, a working artist. At the opening of the paragraph above, he says that he “arrived in New York in 1980 to become part of that world.”

“I was in shock, unable to muster what real artists use to fortify themselves when faced with situations like this. When I teach today, I often judge young artists based on whether I think they have the character necessary to solve the inevitable problems in their work. I didn’t. I also didn’t understand how to respond to an outer world out of step with my inner life without retreating into total despair. Oscar Wilde said, “Without the critical faculty, there is no artistic creation at all.” Artists have to be self-critical enough not to just attack everything they do. I had self-doubt but not a real self-critical facility; instead I indiscriminately loved or hated everything I did. Instead of gearing up and fighting back, I gave in and got out.”

Mr Saltz tells us the following: “I often judge young artists based on whether I think they have the character necessary to solve the inevitable problems in their work. I didn’t.”

Solving problems in artworks requires hard work, discipline and a commitment to things which are true and which stay true. Mr Saltz never mentions hard work. He then goes on to misunderstand Oscar Wilde:

“Oscar Wilde said, ‘Without the critical faculty, there is no artistic creation at all.’ Artists have to be self-critical enough not to just attack everything they do. I had self-doubt but not a real self-critical facility; instead I indiscriminately loved or hated everything I did. Instead of gearing up and fighting back, I gave in and got out.”

The critical faculty of reason and evaluation eludes Mr Saltz, who goes on to conclude:

“But I learned so much about being a critic.”

Mr. Saltz is a great example of an “anti-critic” just as Mr. Kuper is a prime example of an “anti-journalist.” The anti-critic and anti-journalist is an artist in a sense (what one would call a “bull-shit artist”). They imitate the behavior of great critics and journalists and, in their written work, tend to imitate the language used by outstanding individuals who have contributed to criticism or journalism.

In the case of the anti-journalist, a common behavior which is imitated is that of a great journalist who “stops the presses” and declares that he has “breaking news.” Networks like CNN and Fox News as well as print outlets like the New York Times and Washington Post have committed themselves to BREAKING NEWS stories on a daily or nearly daily basis.

How is interest or pleasure (the “sensation and adrenalin-rush of news-gathering to form a breaking news story or a scoop”) to be maintained here?

The anti-journalist, if “making things” would have to abide by the artistic correlation of “making things” (poetics) which, as we have explained, creates a mixed message because in the arts:

1) Subject matter which is familiar must give us pleasure through another means than recognition (that which is familiar is familiar).

2) Subject matter which is otherworldly and abstract, surreal, catastrophic or painful (or non-existent) creates pleasure when depicted with minute fidelity to reality because it satisfies the desire to learn and get close to things which we might otherwise never be able to experience.

The anti-journalist is left with pursuing Option 2


How then are the “minutely realistic and detailed” expressions of the most terrible catastrophes made to be believable in reality by anti-journalists? How do people who are more engaged with the arts and journalism as a mere lifestyle choice than as a serious set of disciplines pull of this difficult artistic and journalistic methodology in practice?
It is here that I must reveal something to those readers who are not familiar with my body of work as a composer. I have been a lifelong student of lies and lies and disfigurement. Some of the most prolific liars and victims of various self-inflicted woulds have provided me with a source of inspiration (if one can call it that) as well as almost three decades of amused study. I am not alone among artists who have made lies a focus (Shakespeare comes to mind). But, as far as I know, I am lucky enough to be the latest student of this particular type of error and failure.
The reality is that liars (or anti-poets of any stripe) do not sustain the lies which they peddle for very long. To illustrate this, I’d like to share a few case studies in the spirit of true reporting (I’ve been observing and recording such practices since my early teens).

Consider the case of Juan Thomson who wrote a story about a White Supremicist named Dylan Roof whose cousin, the story said, picked a black man over him:

“This scenario recalls a manifesto written by Elliot Rodger, who on May 23, 2014 gunned down six people in Isla Vista, California: “How could an inferior, ugly black boy be able to get a white girl and not me?”
“Dylann liked her,” Scott Roof said. “The black guy got her. He changed. I don’t know if we would be here if not …” Roof then abruptly hung up the phone.”

In another instance, Mr. Thompson printed a story about Black Lives Matter Activists being banned from a Trump Campaign rally. One paragraph, picked at random reads as follows: 

“‘They need to be monitored and surveilled,’ said the woman, who was only willing to be identified as Kathy from Buckhall, Virginia. ‘We don’t need an influx of this in America. We’ve got to stop it.’ Her husband noted, ‘That’s what we like about Trump, he’s not afraid of the backlash. He tells the truth.’”

The editors, who allowed the story to run, printed the following well after the article was published: 

“An earlier version of this story included quotes attributed to a woman and her husband, described as Trump supporters. The woman was identified by her first name, Kathy, while the man was identified only as her husband. The reporter had provided a real individual’s full name and identity to editors but said the source did not want it to be used. When contacted, this individual said she did not support Trump, had not attended his rally, and had never spoken to our reporter.”

Another article emerged soon thereafter:

“‘There is a serious problem with black homicide in St. Louis, and when black people get a cold, black women get the flu.’ [She] echoed the Violence Policy Center Missouri, noting that most of the black women murdered in St. Louis are killed by male acquaintances. ‘Domestic abuse, sexual assault, gender-based violence is a huge problem here,’ she said, ‘and until we deal with that and get people the help and resources they need, black women will continue to be murdered at alarming rates.’ … ‘No matter what anyone does in life, her life doesn’t deserve to be ignored and forgotten,’ [she] said. ‘It’s a clear, sad truth that the lives of black women don’t matter.’”

The publication ran the following after the article had been published (as it remains published today):

“An earlier version of this story included a quote falsely attributed to an individual identified as a criminal justice professor. The subject told us that she had not spoken to our reporter, had never taught criminal justice, and had no expertise in the matters on which she was quoted. She requested that her name not be used.”
In February of 2016, the editors at The Intercept finally let Thomas go. The editor discovered that he had fabricated many emails (including her own) as well as multiple instances of attributing quotes to people who were fabricated or, if real, claimed to have never spoken with him:
“The Intercept recently discovered a pattern of deception in the actions of a staff member. The employee, Juan Thompson, was a staff reporter from November 2014 until last month. Thompson fabricated several quotes in his stories and created fake email accounts that he used to impersonate people, one of which was a Gmail account in my name.”
“An investigation into Thompson’s reporting turned up three instances in which quotes were attributed to people who said they had not been interviewed. In other instances, quotes were attributed to individuals we could not reach, who could not remember speaking with him, or whose identities could not be confirmed. In his reporting Thompson also used quotes that we cannot verify from unnamed people whom he claimed to have encountered at public events. Thompson went to great lengths to deceive his editors, creating an email account to impersonate a source and lying about his reporting methods.”
The most startling part of the entire affair was not that Thompson had spent over two years engaging in this practice (he was welcomed warmly at The Intercept in 2014) What caught my attention was the following paragraph which was published in late 2016 at Thompson’s dismissal (following many instances such as those which I have outlined above). Here is the paragraph in question:
“Thompson wrote mostly short articles on news events and criminal justice. Many of these articles relied on publicly available sources and are accurate; others contain original reporting that held up under scrutiny. Thompson admitted to creating fake email accounts and fabricating messages, but stood by his published work. He did not cooperate in the review.”
In December of 2017, after thinking that my case-study would not turn up again, Mr. Thomspon ’s name appeared on my desk in the context of a memo from the Southern District of New York’s Department of Justice. Here’s the gist of it:
“In July 2016, THOMPSON began a months-long campaign of harassment targeting Victim-1 after Victim-1 ended their relationship.  THOMPSON’s conduct culminated with a series of hoax threats, including hoax bomb threats, targeting JCCs, organizations that provide service to and on behalf of the Jewish community, schools, and police departments.
THOMPSON started his campaign of harassment of Victim-1 in 2016.  In July of that year, an email was sent to Victim-1’s employer, which made false allegations about Victim-1, including that she had broken the law, using an internet protocol (“IP”) address that THOMPSON had previously used to access his social media account.  On October 15, 2016, an IP address that traced back to THOMPSON’s residence was used to falsely report that Victim-1 possessed child pornography.  When confronted by law enforcement on November 22, 2016, THOMPSON claimed that his email account had been hacked a few weeks earlier.”
This is simply one case which caused me to become particularly intrigued. Add to this cases such as the 2011 incident of Fox reporter Mike Tobin who, as video shows, was tapped on the arm and promptly claimed that he was punched. ”It was a punch,” said Tobin. “A punch is a punch, but it was just a punch in my arm. I grew up with three older brothers, it’s not my first time being punched. I don’t want to overdramatize it for the sake of TV or anything like that.”
Then there’s the case of Stephen M. Glass, a man who, quite literally, lied for years on end and, in so doing, almost destroyed The New Republic magazine. He went on to take 

Mr. Glass then composed a first person account of his life complete with personal feelings. This was not a memoir or an autobiography. It was a novel called The Fabulist. This novel embodied nearly every technique of personality-tinged storytelling that every artist worth their salt would do anything to avoid. It was an embarrassing read (from a second hand perspective) but the teenage version of me gobbled it up for all the pathos of a liar who could become a very useful stock character in an opera or musical one day.
“When the first few fabricated stories were done and fact-checked and the articles were turned in,” writes the narrator of The Fabulist, “my editors loved them; more than that, they loved me — I felt it.”

An article which appeared in the New York Times on May 7th, 2003 apprised Mr. Glass’ novel and it’s background. “The novel,” said the Times, “closely follows Mr. Glass’s story, again blurring the line between reality and imagination.”

I read each and every page of The Fabulist (there are over 700 of them) and, while the book offered me insight, I can only assume that the insight which I gleaned from it was due to the fact that I was an artist who was researching a particular subject (lies) and approaching the author in question with a sort of scientific empathy reserved for my research subjects. I would not read Mr. Glass’ novel for the art of it. I’d certainly never accuse it of possessing “imagination.”
Mr. Kirkpatrick offered a choice quote from an editor at The New Republic (who almost went down with the ship that Mr. Glass would have sunk:
”The creep is doing it again,” said Leon Wieseltier, literary editor of The New Republic. ”Even when it comes to reckoning with his own sins, he is still incapable of nonfiction. The careerism of his repentance is repulsively consistent with the careerism of his crimes.’’
Mr. Wieseltier does not understand that one can fact-check a liar quite easily and, as a literary editor at the magazine that Mr. Glass almost destroyed, he might have done so and averted the scandal before it happened. Recording the facts as one sees them is an easy task in a free country (as long as journalists are not too busy worrying about other journalists “reckoning with [their] own sins” and the “careerism of repentance” whatever that might be).
To be capable of writing “good fiction”, however, is a tremendous gift which requires discipline and mastery of the art-form. To be capable of writing straight and simple journalistic records seems to be a rare skill to boot. When it comes to the “incapability of nonfiction,” I will leave the choice of whether one would like to read about the confounding application of negation and incapability to the reader’s discretion.
I would like to share two final lines from The Fabulist which I will never forget. 

First is this one:
”For me lying had become more than a vice, or a comfort, or a habit, or the easiest thing to do: It had begun to seem vital,”
I had a tape of Mr. Glass breaking down after a similar series of confrontations with a man named Charles Lane, then the editor of The New Republic.
Second is this one which occurs near the end of the “novel.” The “narrator” reflects on why he defamed real people. Here’s what the “narrator” says:
’’I saw it, suddenly: They were all successes, all people who were loved and respected. They had actually done what I’d only aspired to, and at some subconscious level, I must have wanted to bring them down, to prove they and I weren’t so different after all.”
And so Mr. Glass wrote a novel; a 700 and something page novel which was all about himself. He never wrote another novel again. I suppose he said all that he needed to say.
So how, do these people (men who are without artistic technique) use artistic techniques so badly in order to lie and get away with it? A couple of years isn’t that long a time. But, for the sake of assurance, there is a rational reason behind their relatively long (5 year max) lifespan.
We are, as I said, repulsed and frightened away by those painful things which present themselves in objective reality (terrorist attack; sinking of a vessel; sucked into vacuum of space). We attempt to escape these unpleasant things even when they are not “real.” We do this by warding them off when they obsess our imagination.
The byproduct that comes from constantly depicting the world as anti-journalists see it (disgusting and disturbing) or artists as anti-critics” see them (as monstrous aberrations) is that these anti-poets often “succeed.”
Anti-journalists repulse a good many people from actually wanting to have any contact with the world which they describe just as the artist’s work (as depicted by an anti-critic) causes many people to view the true artist as an agent of lies and “bullshit.” It’s a defense mechanism which is well-targeted (whether intentionally or not, I cannot say). An artist speaks truth through mere observation. What greater enemy can there be to those fearing the “exposure” of their lies as well as their failure and negation. 

People stay away from the site of a burning building or a car crash just as they (naturally and rightly) evade the chaotic and irrational. But, one fine day and by sheer happenstance, those people who have been repulsed by the lies of anti-journalists and the slander of anti-critics walk by a building only to realize that, per the news reports, it should have burnt down a long time ago and, per the anti-critical reports, it should not have had the requisite design to stand in the first place… or they might meet an artist or love a little piano piece or discover that a continent which, by all accounts, should be burning, is actually a nice place to visit.
And so, people find out that the world which they we told was terrible is really a wonderful world and that the art which they were told is not meant “for the likes of them” are, in fact, made for human beings. Finding the good which is under-represented by those who hate it all the more passionately because they cannot posses it, should please anyone who is weary of the negation and despair that so often undermine the trust and belief of those who need to trust and who yearn for belief and truth. These things give us pleasure in all branches of human inquiry.
In the first Lesson-Chapter, I amended Aaron Copland’s explanation of one’s sensory relationship to music to say that we perceive music in two ways (rather than the three “planes” which Copland wrote about). These two planes are:
The objective plane (the material which exists as music in the music— otherwise called “music”)
The subjective plane (that material which is perceived or imagined or felt by the listener when listening to the music)

We are now in a position to understand the phenomenon that Copland was trying to make sense of when he spoke of that third plane (the narcotic and soulless way of listening). For this, I will turn to Stravinsky who, in the Poetics of Music, puts it like this:

“Unfortunately, there exists still another attitude towards music which differs from both that of the listner who gives himself up to the working out of the music participating in and following it step by step and from the attitude of the listener who tries docilely to go along with the music: for we must now speak of indifference and apathy. Such is the attitude of snobs, of false enthusiasts who see in a concert or a performance only the opportunity to applaud a great conductor or an acclaimed virtuoso. One has only to look for a moment at those ‘faces gray with boredom’ as Claude Debussy put it, to measure the power music has of inducing a sort of stupidity in those unfortunate persons who listen to it without hearing it.”

Human inquiry gives us pleasure in satisfying our desire for knowledge and the rational capabilities that guide thoughtful persons to appreciate an instinct for the truth. Disciplines of learning and inquiry should be allowed to give human beings pleasure despite the efforts taken against them by those who, if one’s senses serve as an honest guide to navigating their words, cannot seem to take pleasure in much of anything.
V. From Form to Darkness; Void to Form
































1. Tempered Definition


What is an “artistic temperament”? How do artists who seem as though they are very nice people (if known on a personal level) sometimes create horrific and dark works of art? To answer, we must define negative capability.

John Keats’ explanation of negative capability is one of the clearest. When writing about the “poetical character,” he explains that there is no such thing as a “poetical character”:

“As to the poetical Character itself … it is not itself—it has no self—it is every thing and nothing—It has no character—it enjoys light and shade; it lives in gusto, be it foul or fair, high or low, rich or poor, mean or elevated—It has as much delight in conceiving an Iago as an Imogen.”

He then goes on to speak of the poet as a “chameleon.” The poet imitates the truth that he sees. He does not have to like or dislike the truth. In order to ring true with other persons, the artist must depict what is “there” (either literally “there” or “there” in the human imagination):

What shocks the virtuous philosop[h]er, delights the camelion Poet…. A Poet is the most unpoetical of any thing in existence; because he has no Identity—he is continually in for—and filling some other Body—The Sun, the Moon, The Sea and Men and Women who are creatures of impulse are poetical and have about them an unchangeable attribute—the poet has none; no identity….”

The poet has no identity of his own (as a poet). When Keats says that “a Poet is the most unpoetical of any thing in existence,” he means that the artist is the least artificial. He does not impose his personal virtue or personal judgements on his subject in terms of writing prescriptions to the world. To the extent that the artist depicts something which he believes to be “wrong” (such as rape, for example), his depiction of the act or thing as “wrong” will only resonate as long as other people also believe that it is “wrong.” To the extent that the artist depicts his own aspirations for the world or for humanity (or society or any other collective), those aspirations will only resonate if they are vaguely shared by many other people.

The artist who writes about himself will face a conundrum that will hinder his development; he will only be able to proceed with his career as an artist if he is able to overcome it.

The conundrum is, roughly: “when I am done writing about myself, what else will I write about? I cannot write about myself and myself alone for ever.” The distinction then has to be made between: “am I writing about myself and my own identity” on the one hand and “ am I writing about common subjects and objects which I sees from the perspective of my individual point of view?” on the other. If I choose the former then I consign myself to irrelevance very quickly. If I choose the latter, then I stand a chance at contributing an individual point of view to the anthology of human experience.

Choosing the latter is not enough. It is simply a prerequisite attitude of being an artist which has been demonstrated to be prerequisite by the example of the great artists who have come before us. Once one chooses this attitude, one also has to learn the craft and means of imitation and, most importantly, one has to develop a sensitivity for sifting through the madness in order to find a line or a way to the objects and subjects which should be presented or illuminated.

How, then, are artists different from certain animals who excel at mimicry?

Take the example of The raven. Ravens imitate the speech of human beings and also the tone of their speech with great fidelity and accuracy. These birds also mimic other noises, like car engines, toilets flushing, and animal and the birdcalls of other birds. Ravens have been observed to imitate wolves or foxes in order to attract them to a carcass of an animal that the raven finds but isn’t capable of breaking open on it’s own. When the wolf is fed, the raven swoops in and feasts on the leftover meat. The fact that this bird is able to imitate animals such as wolves and other birds is a testament to the accuracy of it’s mimicry. The wolves and other birds are not reasoning creatures. Like the raven, they are driven only by natural instinct and not by anything which is not found in nature or learned by instinct. There is no “convincing” a wolf of anything. The imitation is either “believable” (ie recognized as part of it’s nature) or not. Ravens quickly learn the sounds that exists in their environment in order to scavenge. The raven (just like every other animal) cannot reasonably be regarded as “evil” or “deceitful.” Any characterization which human beings place on animals is a characterization of attributes which are human.

The examples of cycles that consist of jealously, deceit and murder which we will explore in this chapter are human cycles within the human world and the behaviors which we will cite are human behaviors. The raven is true to it’s nature when it mimics in order to hunt. The words that the raven imitates are meaningless to the raven. They are sounds. The car engine, too, is not a “car engine” to the raven. It is a sound. The raven does not know what the “wolf” (as we have termed it) is a wolf. The raven does not know that it is a “raven.”

The meaning that results from study and definition are the sole province of human beings. In terms of this meaning, the raven is a vacuum. It is a void which might be terrifying to human beings but it is not terrifying to itself. It is as natural as the motion of an avalanche or a volcano erupting. Nature has a meaning which is it’s own and which is not answerable to human definition. Humanity is, in fact, a small part of that self-sufficient “meaning.”

The difference between the poet and the raven is simple. The raven’s imitation is practical. The poet’s imitation is playful. Shigeru Miyamoto put it in the following terms.

“Anything that is impractical,” says Miyamoto, “can be play. It’s doing something other than what is necessary to continue living as an animal.”

These are absolutely basic terms. It is necessary to eat and drink. It is not necessary to make a cup for drinking or learn about the elements that make up the water or juice which we drink. Science is not necessary. Art is not necessary. Learning, in general, is not necessary. Learning is, however, vital to our nature as human beings.

In that sense, learning is both essential and necessary. It is not essential and necessary to our survival as animals. It is essential and necessary to our humanity. “When it comes to other animals, they play to prepare themselves for hunting,” says Miyamoto. He continues:

“If you ask me why human beings play, well, I just don’t know. It must be just for pleasure. We generate chemicals in our brain so that we can have some pleasure, and by now we’ve come to understand that pleasure makes you happier, and being happier makes you healthier.”

Miyamoto is correct but let us take a step back in order to add something to his reasoning. What must happen in order for us to have that pleasure that Miyamoto refers to? The pleasure is the effect. What is the cause of this effect? What is the cause of our pleasure?

“Poetry in general seems to have sprung from two causes,” says Aristotle in the Poetics, “each of them lying deep in our nature.” These causes which lie deep in our nature are:

“First, the instinct of imitation is implanted in man from childhood, one difference between him and other animals being that he is the most imitative of living creatures, and through imitation learns his earliest lessons; and no less universal is the pleasure felt in things imitated. We have evidence of this in the facts of experience…”

Aristotle says the same about an instinct for harmony:

“Next, there is the instinct for ‘harmony’ and rhythm, metres being manifestly sections of rhythm. Persons, therefore, starting with this natural gift developed by degrees their special aptitudes, till their improvisations gave birth to Poetry.”

We can view this instinct for harmony as being the imitation of “unseen shapes.” We “hear” and sense these shapes through the harmonic vibrations all around us on earth (they are present throughout the known universe). In any case, the cause is the same or, to use Aristotle’s words: “The cause of this again is, that to learn gives the liveliest pleasure”

In both cases, the same is true: we learn. Learning is the cause of our pleasure.

Miyamoto is also right when he concludes that “by now we’ve come to understand that pleasure makes you happier, and being happier makes you healthier.” We do not need to understand the physiological aspects of the endocrine system and study the effects of stress on the body in order to understand that this statement is true. It is human nature to learn and to play (to recreate the mind). An animal that resists it’s nature (of which humans are the only example) is fighting it’s nature. That is a surefire strategy. What results is not simply unhappiness but self-destruction.

The raven imitates to hunt. The human being imitates to play. There is utility and inherent natural function to the raven’s imitation; it is practical. The human being imitates for impractical reasons. Curiosity never really did kill a cat. Human beings ascribed a character to the cat. Curiosity has, however, killed or damaged many human beings. That’s why the expression is so handy to us. The expression, of course, means nothing to cats who could simply “not care less.”

Here is the basic definition of Science:

Certainty grounded on demonstration.
Art attained by precepts, or built on principles.
Any art or species of knowledge.
One of the seven liberal arts, grammar, rhetoric, logic, arithmetic, music, geometry, astronomy. is well as of learning

Here is the basic definition of Philosophy (literally “love of knowledge”):
Knowledge natural or moral.
Hypothesis of system upon which natural effects are explained.
Reasoning; argumentation.
The course of sciences read in the schools.

The basic definition of art involves the making of things:

The power of doing something not taught by nature and instinct; as, to walk is natural, to dance is an art.

Or the study of things which are made (which is a science):

A science; as, the liberal arts.

The first case involves learning (by doing something which is not taught by nature or instinct). The second case involves learning (by learning about what is made through art).

The purpose of these disciplines are the same and can be expressed as follows: 

Discipline: Science
Purpose: to learn; to know; to seek out the truth
Discipline: Art 
To learn; to know; to seek truth

Discipline: Religion/Theology/ Free Thought
To learn; to know; to seek truth.

In a strict sense, Philosophy is common to all of these things. Knowledge is sought by those who love knowledge. The demonstration of their love for knowledge is that they seek it out and produce results that demonstrate their accomplishments or, at the very least. their attempts. No true lover of knowledge obscures knowledge by spreading lies or confusion.

Knowing this is essential to making real connections and inquiries within art and into art. The fundamental difference between knowledge obtained from art and knowledge attained through other disciplines is that artistic knowledge is attained through making; through invention. But one must still study and know and think critically. The notion that art is a natural event and that artists who engage in criticism and speculation about their own work or the work of others (or the universe) are “didactic” or “philosophers” is wrong. Artists as diverse as Ai Wei Wei, Bernstein, Rand, Auden DaVinci and Coleridge (and many others) have been defined as “philosophers” or “social thinkers” or “activists” (among a host of many other things. Their research, contemplation and critical thought is not a by-product. It is essential to the making of art.

Realizing this is also useful to audiences or users of works of art. This knowledge is the difference between falling for superficial connections and understanding the real human knowledge contained in the art.

Picasso illustrates both points clearly:

“Futhermore, it is the realization alone that counts. From this point of view it is true that cubism is Spanish in origin and that it was I who invented cubism. We should look for Spanish influence in Cézanne. He was well on the way; observe El Greco’s influence on him, a Venetian painter. But he is cubist in his construction.

“But all this is a matter of outer garb and you cannot invent something you don’t know!
The artist must realize something (or see something) in order to expresses anything. There is no simpler way to put this: “you cannot invent something you don’t know.” 

One knows something. One then expresses that thing. This is what is meant (or should be meant) when we hear that that an artist “has something to say.” If you see something, say something.

It’s that simple (in principle). What, then, makes the study of history a science while artworks (even those which depict historical events) are works of art? The words history and story (or tale) are similar and, if one looks at the French word for tale (as used, for example, in Stravinsky’s L’Histoire du soldat or The Soldier’s Tale), the proximaty is clear. Here is the definition of “history”: 

HISTORY  (HI’STORY)   n.s.[   historia, Latin; histoire, French.] A narration of events and facts delivered with dignity.
Narration; relation.
The knowledge of facts and events.

Here are Shakespeare’s Histories. They were categorized as such in the first folio of his works:

King John
Edward III
Richard II
Henry IV, Part 1
Henry IV, Part 2
Henry V
Henry VI, Part 1
Henry VI, Part 2
Henry VI, Part 3
Richard III
Henry VIII
These categories of the first folio have been set and accepted (with good reason) for centuries). “Contributors” on Wikipedia have nevertheless added six of the Tragedies to two new categories: “Roman Histories” and “Other Histories.”

Of particular note is the line about Titus Andronicus:

“Set in ancient Rome, Titus Andronicus dramatizes a fictional story and is therefore excluded as a Roman history.”

The category of “Roman History” was created and then immediately contradicted leading to further subdivision (Titus Andronicus does not actually receive a “category” as a result thus I assume that it reverts to being a “Tragedy” as the folio says; this means that the circular exercise is pointless). 

But it is understood that Titus Andronicus is a play. Plays do not “dramatize” anything. They are drama. This is understood about all of Shakespeare’s plays and all of every play that we attend to in a theater. 

In any case, setting doesn’t matter. Setting does not affect whether something is a drama or not. The USS Starship Voyager encounters the Videans, a race that suffers from a deadly virus (the Phage) on stardate 48532.4. Star Wars is set “a long time ago in a Galaxy Far, Far Away.” Johann Herman Wessel’s 1781 play called Anno 7603 is set in the year 7603. In Mark Twain’s 1889 novel called A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court, a man from Twain’s own time (the 19th Century) travels back to 528 AD. And in an episode called Times Arrow, (Star Trek The Next Generation) the crew of the Star Ship Enterprise is transported from their own present time (2369) to San Francisco in the year 1893 where they run into Mark Twain.

Henry IV by Shakespeare is a play and a poetical work. The second edition (1587) of Raphael Holinshed’s Chronicles, and Edward Hall’s The Union of the Two Illustrious Families of Lancaster and York are two acknowledged chronicles of history (The knowledge of facts and events) that Shakespeare turned to as sources for his play. Holinshed was a Chronicler and Hall was a lawyer, Member of Parliament and Historian while Shakespeare was a bard. The 1997 film Titanic (James Cameron) may be regarded as a history in the first two meanings of the word (1. A narration of events and facts delivered with dignity and 2. Narration; relation) but it is known to be a poetic work ( something which is made) and not a history or chronicle (concerned with relaying knowledge of the facts and events).

How do we know these things? How do we sift through these subtle differences with ease? The answer to both questions has to do with meaning, reason and common sense. These senses are the reason why, when we say that we are going to the theater to see Henry the II, we are not understood to be saying that we are going attend the play in an operating theater.

This (and many things which would otherwise require long-winded explications) is understood. It is understood implicitly without us having to explain the details.

What can we know from art that we cannot know from science? The answer is to be found as follows (I have built upon inquiry by W. H. Auden which to which I will return the final lesson of this book).

I go in to see my physician. After a skin test, an x-ray and a blood test my doctor ells me that I have been infected with Tuberculosis. The doctor can make this diagnosis because of the fact that he knows the bacteria in question (Mycobacterium tuberculosis bacteria), can recognize it. As it turns out, he can also prescribe a treatment.

The doctor can know and study the mycobacterium tuberculosis. The mycobacterium, cannot and does not know the doctor.

Any subject which is studied scientifically cannot also study the scientist. The historian can study the Battle of Hastings. The Battle of Hastings cannot know the historian. The Astronomer can know about the rings of Saturn. The rings of Saturn do not know about the astronomer.

On the other hand, there is the kind of knowledge which is meant by the following verse (from the bible):“AND Adam knew Eve his wife.”

This is the sort of knowledge which I describe when I say that “I know Brian Smith” very well. In order for me to know Brian Smith very well, Brian Smith must also know me (and he must know me well if not very well). I have to be a part of a human beings’ life if I am to know that person. In order to know a human being, one must also be known to that person. This is the basis of the relationship between the artist who makes a work of art and the audience interacting with the artwork in question.

On the most basic level, this also means that the artist must reveal himself (his personal vision of reality) in creating the work of art. This level is not a personal level and a personal vision of reality should not be confused with the personal life of the artist.

The raven can be studied and known while the student cannot be studied and known by the bird. In Edgar Allen Poe’s poem, there exists a student and The Raven. Only the student knows that The Raven is a raven (because he defines it as such). Only the student knows the meaning of the word “nevermore.” Only the student can ascribe meaning to the reality which the poem communicates. To The Raven, the word “Nevermore” and all words ever made by human beings are mere sounds; sounds without meanings. The Raven contains within it ever human sound of every human language that has ever existed and will ever exist. It will be able to imitate the words of all languages that have been, are and will be spoken by human beings. Within the void of The Raven, all human expression is rendered meaningless by a natural order which human beings exert power over through the application of definition and meaning. The Raven is a repository of all things which should mean something rendered meaningless.

It is a vacuum. With all these thoughts in mind, I would now like to look at The Raven with a view to meaning.
2. Upon a Midnight Dreary

The narrator in Edgar Allen Poe’s poem The Raven is, Poe tells us, a scholar. To understand some of Poe’s implications of what is meant here, we must look at the trajectory behind the composition of The Raven and his relationship with what is called “classical scholarship.” In an essay titled The Rationale of Verse, Edgar Allen Poe writes the following:

“So general and so total a failure can be referred only to radical misconception. In fact the English Prosodists have blindly followed the pedants. These latter, like les moutons de Panurge, have been occupied in incessant tumbling into ditches, for the excellent reason that their leaders have so tumbled before. The Iliad, being taken as a starting point, was made to stand instead of Nature and common sense. Upon this poem, in place of facts and deduction from fact, or from natural law, were built systems of feet, metres, rhythms, rules, — rules that contradict each other every five minutes, and for nearly all of which there may be found twice as many exceptions as examples.”

The scholar in the Raven appears to have a bust of the Greek goddess Pallas Athena “just above” his chamber door. Poe explains his choice: “the bust of Pallas,” he says, was “chosen, first, as most in keeping with the scholarship of the lover.” And now, turning back to the Rationale of Verse, one can read Poe’s thoughts on that which was termed “classical scholarship”:

“If any one has a fancy to be thoroughly confounded — to see how far the infatuation of what is termed ‘classical scholarship,’ can lead a book-worm in the manufacture of darkness out of sunshine, let him turn over, for a few moments, any of the German Greek Prosodies. The only thing clearly made out in them is a very magnificent contempt for Leibnitz’s principle of “a sufficient reason.”

With this in mind, I would like to now proceed with an approach to reading The Raven:

Once upon a midnight dreary, while I pondered, weak and weary,
Over many a quaint and curious volume of forgotten lore—
While I nodded, nearly napping, suddenly there came a tapping,
As of some one gently rapping, rapping at my chamber door.
“’Tis some visitor,” I muttered, “tapping at my chamber door—
Only this and nothing more.”

“Napping” is the action of sleeping.

Ah, distinctly I remember it was in the bleak December;
And each separate dying ember wrought its ghost upon the floor.
Eagerly I wished the morrow;—vainly I had sought to borrow
From my books surcease of sorrow—sorrow for the lost Lenore—
For the rare and radiant maiden whom the angels name Lenore—
Nameless here for evermore.

And the silken, sad, uncertain rustling of each purple curtain
Thrilled me—filled me with fantastic terrors never felt before;
So that now, to still the beating of my heart, I stood repeating
“’Tis some visitor entreating entrance at my chamber door—
Some late visitor entreating entrance at my chamber door;—
This it is and nothing more.”

Presently my soul grew stronger; hesitating then no longer,
“Sir,” said I, “or Madam, truly your forgiveness I implore;
But the fact is I was napping, and so gently you came rapping,
And so faintly you came tapping, tapping at my chamber door,
That I scarce was sure I heard you”—here I opened wide the door;—
Darkness there and nothing more.


Deep into that darkness peering, long I stood there wondering, fearing,
Doubting, dreaming dreams no mortal ever dared to dream before;
But the silence was unbroken, and the stillness gave no token,
And the only word there spoken was the whispered word, “Lenore?”
This I whispered, and an echo murmured back the word, “Lenore!”—
Merely this and nothing more.

This passage invokes an earlier work of mine (a work from 2004). This earlier work, for string orchestra, is called Memoriam.
The reason for this clear allusion lies in Poe’s stated intent which I relied upon to guided me here. The idea of “Mournful and Never-ending Remembrance,” as he puts it below, is clearly established in it’s relationship to “Memoriam.”

“It will be observed that the words, “from out my heart,” involve the first metaphorical expression in the poem. They, with the answer, “Nevermore,” dispose the mind to seek a moral in all that has been previously narrated. The reader begins now to regard the Raven as emblematical — but it is not until the very last line of the very last stanza, that the intention of making him emblematical of Mournful and Never-ending Remembrance is permitted distinctly to be seen:

And the Raven, never flitting, still is sitting, still is sitting,
On the pallid bust of Pallas just above my chamber door;
And his eyes have all the seeming of a demon’s that is dreaming,
And the lamplight o’er him streaming throws his shadow on the floor;
And my soul from out that shadow that lies floating on the floor
Shall be lifted — nevermore.”


The passage begins, however, with the words “Deep into the darkness peering.” The connection has to do with the following words which come from the prayer De Profundis:

De profundis clamavi ad te, Domine; Domine, audi vocem meam!
Fiant aures tuae intentae
ad vocem obsecrationis meae.
Si delictorum memoriam servaveris, Domine!

In these words I found Memoriam and the work was given it’s name. In Evermore, I wished to link the “Profundis” as in “the depth” with Poe’s initiation of the beginning of the end: Deep into that darkness peering, long I stood there wondering, fearing/ Doubting…” The doubting continues and the student turns back into the chamber taking the darkness with him. His

“Back into the chamber turning, all my soul within me burning,
Soon again I heard a tapping somewhat louder than before.
“Surely,” said I, “surely that is something at my window lattice;
Let me see, then, what thereat is, and this mystery explore—
Let my heart be still a moment and this mystery explore;—
’Tis the wind and nothing more!”

When the stillness is finally broken, another passage from Memoriam is evoked. Her his the moment in Evermore:

Startled at the stillness broken by reply so aptly spoken,
“Doubtless,” said I, “what it utters is its only stock and store
Caught from some unhappy master whom unmerciful Disaster
Followed fast and followed faster till his songs one burden bore—
Till the dirges of his Hope that melancholy burden bore
Of ‘Never—nevermore’.”

Here I hope to demonstrate tangibly that there are no “rules” that “scholars” and theorists can place upon music. I hope to do this by demonstrating the rules themselves and how they work in the theater.

In all aspects of a musical composition, there will be expectations which I will have built up through my engineering of the musical elements at my disposal in a particular way. The audience interacts with the rules and parameters and expectations exactly as one would do so while playing Super Mario Brothers or while watching Alien.

Here is the passage in Evermore:

Here is the passage in Memoriam to which I refer. It follows a section of developmental music which imitates chaos. The Order of the Burial of the Dead is at hand. This passage is a funeral march which cadences as everyone would expect and as all persons who march in order to bury the dead have developed in their music. It is eight measures long. Grief and meter order us. We move on through a metered and ordered remembering (Memento Mori) of our humanity:


The “rules” (expectations and intent) are essential here. In the corresponding passage from Evermore, the same impending mortality is established as we can hear.


And yet different “rules” have been established (they have been set by you, my audience, and by me, your composer). If I followed the rules, the passage would sound ordinary. Like this:

Instead, I offset the expected arrival (on the syllable “more”) by one beat. The narrator rushes to the end of the phrase and arrives at the cadence before the end of the measure:


But that’s not all. The bass (the very line which is meant to provide us with our harmonic footing, is removed entirely. I kick it out, so to speak, from under our feet:


And, despite all this, I do cadence according to harmonic-series expectations (and according to the expectations which I have built up through my use of the musical elements in a particular way throughout this work. The two elements at work here are the gravitational pull of the harmonic series on the one hand and the patterns established by musical practice of the composer in this composition on the other.

We have, on the beat of our cadence, all the material needed in order to create a C Major (C, E natural, G) chord as well as everything we need for a C minor chord (C, E flat, G). They occur within the same beat and under the same bow stroke; in a single gesture, the audience will hear what is expected and another version of what is expected as follows:

There is no violation of either one that is possible; negative capability is still capability. In order to create this work I could not render the expression of negation and void through the use of negation and void as “materials” or “forms” (just as Poe creates this poem which is a perfect evocation of nothingness and void through the use of meticulously applied form). The patterns one engages in are inescapable to all human beings (no matter whether an artist is DaVinci or Pollock). The natural thrust of the harmonic series is inescapable to human beings (no matter how “atonal” a musical work is said to be by those who use such prerogative language). I can, effect negative capability and the violation of reality in an expression of duplicity, though. How is this possible?

Well, one way would be (to take a crude metaphor) in the same way that an electric chair kills a man; by setting off all the neural signals at once and overloading “the circuit.” I can, in other words, give my audience what they expect and then give them something different which they also expect simultaneously.

The audience will hear what is expected and more. We also hear another version of what is expected in a manner that is not simultaneous but which creates the illusion of simultaneous expectations which oppose one another being heard at the same time. A pattern is established which plants the dissonance firmly in our ears Take a look at the pattern which I have connected with blue arrows below. The audience “hears” the dissonance in their mind’s ear and they hear it well. This is, of course, by design.

What I have just demonstrated is an example of a purely musical expression of duplicity. There is no dissonance here. Like the student, we hear dissonance even through there is no dissonance there. We hear it by divining a pattern which allows us to hear the dissonance. The audience, of course, does this because I have designed it this way.

The student (in the poem) divines patterns of destruction because he desires it. He always asks the same question desiring the same torturous answer.

There is no dissonance on the page. There, really, is no C Major or C Minor to be found on the page either. This is an aural illusion whereby the audience hears C Major (red arrow) and C Minor (purple arrow) on an imaginary plane as follows [AUDIO EXAMPLE 32]:













But the Raven still beguiling all my fancy into smiling,
Straight I wheeled a cushioned seat in front of bird, and bust and door;
Then, upon the velvet sinking, I betook myself to linking
Fancy unto fancy, thinking what this ominous bird of yore—
What this grim, ungainly, ghastly, gaunt, and ominous bird of yore
Meant in croaking

This I sat engaged in guessing, but no syllable expressing
To the fowl whose fiery eyes now burned into my bosom’s core;
This and more I sat divining, with my head at ease reclining
On the cushion’s velvet lining that the lamp-light gloated o’er,
But whose velvet-violet lining with the lamp-light gloating o’er,
She shall press, ah, nevermore!

Then, methought, the air grew denser, perfumed from an unseen censer
Swung by Seraphim whose foot-falls tinkled on the tufted floor.
“Wretch,” I cried, “thy God hath lent thee—by these angels he hath sent thee
Respite—respite and nepenthe from thy memories of Lenore;
Quaff, oh quaff this kind nepenthe and forget this lost Lenore!”
Quoth the Raven “Nevermore.”

“Prophet!” said I, “thing of evil!—prophet still, if bird or devil!—
Whether Tempter sent, or whether tempest tossed thee here ashore,
Desolate yet all undaunted, on this desert land enchanted—
On this home by Horror haunted—tell me truly, I implore—
Is there—is there balm in Gilead?—tell me—tell me, I implore!”
Quoth the Raven “Nevermore.”

“Prophet!” said I, “thing of evil!—prophet still, if bird or devil!
By that Heaven that bends above us—by that God we both adore—
Tell this soul with sorrow laden if, within the distant Aidenn,
It shall clasp a sainted maiden whom the angels name Lenore—
Clasp a rare and radiant maiden whom the angels name Lenore.”
Quoth the Raven “Nevermore.”

“Be that word our sign of parting, bird or fiend!” I shrieked, upstarting—
“Get thee back into the tempest and the Night’s Plutonian shore!
Leave no black plume as a token of that lie thy soul hath spoken!
Leave my loneliness unbroken!—quit the bust above my door!
Take thy beak from out my heart, and take thy form from off my door!”
Quoth the Raven “Nevermore.”

And the Raven, never flitting, still is sitting, still is sitting
On the pallid bust of Pallas just above my chamber door;
And his eyes have all the seeming of a demon’s that is dreaming,
And the lamp-light o’er him streaming throws his shadow on the floor;
And my soul from out that shadow that lies floating on the floor
Shall be lifted—nevermore!

3. Definition
Cain and Abel
Berenice I, and Ptolemy
Eleanor of Aquitaine (1122-1204), wife of Henry II

A thing done; an effect produced; something not barely supposed or suspected, but really done.
Reality; not supposition; not speculation.
Action; deed.

Once upon a midnight dreary, while I pondered, weak and weary,
Over many a quaint and curious volume of forgotten lore—

quaint | kwānt |
attractively unusual or old-fashioned: quaint country cottages | a quaint old custom.
quaintness | ˈkwāntnəs | noun

Middle English: from Old French cointe, from Latin cognitus ‘ascertained’, past participle of cognoscere. The original sense was ‘wise, clever’, also ‘ingenious, cunningly devised’, hence ‘out of the ordinary’ and the current sense (late 18th century).

curious (adj.)
mid-14c., “subtle, sophisticated;” late 14c., “eager to know, inquisitive, desirous of seeing” (often in a bad sense), also “wrought with or requiring care and art;” from Old French curios “solicitous, anxious, inquisitive; odd, strange” (Modern French curieux) and directly from Latin curiosus “careful, diligent; inquiring eagerly, meddlesome,” akin to cura “care” (see cure (n.)).
The objective sense of “exciting curiosity” is by 1715 in English. In booksellers’ catalogues, the word was a euphemism for “erotic, pornographic” (1877); such material was called curiosa (1883), the Latin neuter plural of curiosus

Curious and inquisitive may be used in a good or a bad sense, but inquisitive is more often, and prying is only, found in the latter. Curious expresses only the desire to know; inquisitive, the effort to find out by inquiry; prying, the effort to find out secrets by looking and working in improper ways. [Century Dictionary]

curious | ˈkyo͝orēəs |
1 eager to know or learn something: I began to be curious about the whereabouts of the bride and groom | she was curious to know what had happened.
• expressing curiosity: a curious stare.
2 strange; unusual: a curious sensation overwhelmed her.

Middle English: from Old French curios, from Latin curiosus ‘careful’, from cura ‘care’. curious (sense 2) dates from the early 18th century.

lore (n.)
Old English lar “learning, what is taught, knowledge, science, doctrine; art or act of teaching,” from Proto-Germanic *laisti- (compare Old Saxon lera, Old Frisian lare, Middle Dutch lere, Dutch leer, Old High German lera, German Lehre “teaching, precept, doctrine”), from PIE root *lois- “furrow, track;”


Let us now turn our attention fully to the following line:

“While I nodded, nearly napping, suddenly there came a tapping”

To understand Poe’s use of the word word “nod,” we must go back to Genesis; the chapter which recounts Cain’s murder of his brother Abel:

1And Adam knew Eve his wife; and she conceived, and bare Cain, and said, I have gotten a man from the LORD.
2And she again bare his brother Abel. And Abel was a keeper of sheep, but Cain was a tiller of the ground.
3And in process of time it came to pass, that Cain brought of the fruit of the ground an offering unto the LORD.
4And Abel, he also brought of the firstlings of his flock and of the fat thereof. And the LORD had respect unto Abel and to his offering:
5But unto Cain and to his offering he had not respect. And Cain was very wroth, and his countenance fell.
6And the LORD said unto Cain, Why art thou wroth? and why is thy countenance fallen?
7If thou doest well, shalt thou not be accepted? and if thou doest not well, sin lieth at the door. And unto thee shall be his desire, and thou shalt rule over him.
8And Cain talked with Abel his brother: and it came to pass, when they were in the field, that Cain rose up against Abel his brother, and slew him.
9And the LORD said unto Cain, Where is Abel thy brother? And he said, I know not: Am I my brother’s keeper?
10And he said, What hast thou done? the voice of thy brother’s blood crieth unto me from the ground.
11And now art thou cursed from the earth, which hath opened her mouth to receive thy brother’s blood from thy hand;
Cain, the anti-poet, has committed an act of destruction upon the creation of the Supreme Being (he has murdered a creature of the Lord) and, in the following passage is banished to a nether realm of eternal and endless wandering; he is driven out from the face of the earth and banished from the face and recognition of God:
12When thou tillest the ground, it shall not henceforth yield unto thee her strength; a fugitive and a vagabond shalt thou be in the earth.13 And Cain said unto the LORD, My punishment is greater than I can bear. 14 Behold, thou hast driven me out this day from the face of the earth; and from thy face shall I be hid; and I shall be a fugitive and a vagabond in the earth; and it shall come to pass, that every one that findeth me shall slay me. 15 And the LORD said unto him, Therefore whosoever slayeth Cain, vengeance shall be taken on him sevenfold. And the LORD set a mark upon Cain, lest any finding him should kill him.

And so, Cain is driven to the land of “nod”; Poe renders this state as a dimension of mind between wakefulness and sleep (“while I nodded nearly napping”)

16 And Cain went out from the presence of the LORD, and dwelt in the land of Nod, on the east of Eden.

In the original, this line is as follows:

וַיֵּ֥צֵא קַ֖יִן מִלִּפְנֵ֣י יְהוָ֑ה וַיֵּ֥שֶׁב בְּאֶֽרֶץ־נֹ֖וד קִדְמַת־עֵֽדֶן

I will here note that the Hebrew word “Nod” (נוד) forms the root of the Hebrew verb “to wander” (לנדוד); a fact that is relevant to the wandering “scholar” of this poem.

There is a beautiful connection to be found which completes another layer of explicit meaning in this circle. In Surah 5 of the Quran, the following passage makes the cyclical relationship between the biblical verse of Genesis and the Quran palpable. Poe is constructing an extremely vital chamber of meaning:

“27. Recite to them the truth of the story of the two sons of Adam. Behold! they each presented a sacrifice (to Allah.: It was accepted from one, but not from the other. Said the latter: “Be sure I will slay thee.” “Surely,” said the former, “(Allah) doth accept of the sacrifice of those who are righteous.
28. “If thou dost stretch thy hand against me, to slay me, it is not for me to stretch my hand against thee to slay thee: for I do fear Allah, the cherisher of the worlds.”

It turns out that the “sacrifice” or “victim” that Cain would offer was, in fact, his brother thus spilling the blood of his brother upon the soil. But blood, unlike the precipitation which saw man become a living soul in Genesis, makes nothing grow from the ground.

29. “For me, I intend to let thee draw on thyself my sin as well as thine, for thou wilt be among the companions of the fire, and that is the reward of those who do wrong.”
30. The (selfish) soul of the other led him to the murder of his brother: he murdered him, and became (himself) one of the lost ones.
31. Then Allah sent a raven, who scratched the ground, to show him how to hide the shame of his brother. “Woe is me!” said he; “Was I not even able to be as this raven, and to hide the shame of my brother?” then he became full of regrets-
32. On that account: We ordained for the Children of Israel that if any one slew a person – unless it be for murder or for spreading mischief in the land – it would be as if he slew the whole people: and if any one saved a life, it would be as if he saved the life of the whole people. Then although there came to them Our apostles with clear signs, yet, even after that, many of them continued to commit excesses in the land.”

We now know about Cain’s shame once again and more of the truth is made explicit to us. How is such a thing possible? Because of memory.

Memory, however is to be distinguished from regret which, as per the passage above, is what fills the mind of Cain and his tribe. CLARIFY

And so, through a look at part of one of the first revelations (in Genesis) and part of the closing of that circle of revelations (in the Quran), we have found the explicit connection to our raven; so explicit that one might ask why “scholars” are still searching through the abyss of chaos to find the most disconnected unlikihoods.

The narrator describes the raven in the most fantastical of terms; “for,” he says, “cannot help agreeing” that no person alive… no living being… has ever seen a bird above his chamber door. The narrator then goes on to imitate another layer of duplicity in qualifying that we are talking about a “bird” or beast” and then, without any indication of where he would have gotten such an idea, tells us that the bird or beast is named “Nevermore”:

“For we cannot help agreeing that no living human being
Ever yet was blessed with seeing bird above his chamber door—
Bird or beast upon the sculptured bust above his chamber door,
With such name as “Nevermore.”

But the Raven, sitting lonely on the placid bust, spoke only
That one word, as if his soul in that one word he did outpour.
Nothing farther then he uttered—not a feather then he fluttered—
Till I scarcely more than muttered “Other friends have flown before—
On the morrow he will leave me, as my Hopes have flown before.”
Then the bird said “Nevermore.”.


napping (n.) “action of sleeping,” Old English hneappunge, verbal noun from nap (v.).’

tap (v.1)
“strike lightly,” c. 1200, from Old French taper ‘tap, rap, strike’ (12c.), from a Gallo-Roman or Germanic source ultimately imitative of the sound of rapping.”

As of some one gently rapping, rapping at my chamber door.

Rap verb (raps, rapping, rapped)
1 [with object] strike (a hard surface) with a series of rapid audible blows, especially in order to attract attention: he stood up and rapped the table | [no object] : she rapped angrily on the
strike (something) against a hard surface with rapid audible blows: she rapped her stick on the floor.
strike (someone or something) sharply with stick or similar implement: she rapped my fingers with a ruler.

visit (v.)
c. 1200, “come to (a person) to comfort or benefit,” from Old French visiter “to visit; inspect, examine; afflict” (12c.) and directly from Latin visitare “to go to see, come to inspect,” frequentative of visere “behold, visit” (a person or place), from past participle stem of videre “to see, notice, observe” (from PIE root *weid- “to see”). Originally of the deity, later of pastors and doctors (c. 1300), general sense of “pay a call” is from mid-13c. Meaning “come upon, afflict” (in reference to sickness, punishment, etc.) is recorded in English from mid-14c.

visit (n.)
1620s, “friendly or formal call upon someone,” from visit (v.) and from French visite (n.). From 1800 as “short or temporary trip to some place.”

“’Tis some visitor,” I muttered, “tapping at my chamber door—
Only this and nothing more.”
“Ah, distinctly I remember it was in the bleak December;”

It must immediately be said that Poe is careful to ensure that his narrator does not reveal anything in terms that can be rendered certain; though the narrator says that he “distinctly” remembers the thing which he is relating, the reader is yet uncertain as to which December the author is speaking about. Just like “Once upon a midnight dreary” obscures the time in terms that give the impression of a specific time being related (upon a midnight dreary), this passage accomplishes the same effect of giving the illusion of certainty and distinctness (“distinctly I remember”) before going on to produce the same “twelfth hour” disfigurement of obscurity which leaves one asking the question: “which bleak December?”

The narrator’s response here is clear and ambiguous: “the bleak December”

December also happens to be the tenth month of the Roman Calendar which began in March and ended with December; it is, however, considered to be the twelfth month even though the name retains it’s indication of “ten-ness” (deca) creating a further example of duplicity because the latin word decem means “ten.”

IT is here that we start to get a sense of where, exactly, we are (or, more accurately the nowhere that we cannot define and which the narrator of the poem inhabits.

The winter days following the original month of December were not included as part of any month. Later, the months of January and February were created out of the previously “monthless” period and added to the beginning of the calendar, but December retained its name.

One cannot place something upon “a midnight” because midnight is not a designation of a specific time or date at all but rather the transitional phase between one day and the next (at midnight). The midnight is neither “am” nor “pm” on a 24 hour clock. It is a time period that is not on the clock and not marked as a scheduled time. The UK’s National Physics Labrotary correctly notes that it is common for transport schedules (it is, in fact, almost universally applicable) such as trains and airplanes to indicate 23:59pm and then skip ahead to 12.01am.

Our narrator inhabits that month-less and time-less zone (or non-zone):



Here is the definition of the word “distinctly” as well s the definition of the word “distinct”:

distinctly | dəsˈtiNGktlē |
in a way that is readily distinguishable by the senses; clearly: reading each word slowly and distinctly.
(used for emphasis) in a way that is very noticeable or apparent; decidedly

late 14c., “not identical, not the same,” also “clearly perceptible by sense,” past-participle adjective from obsolete distincten (c. 1300) “to distinguish one thing from another; make distinct,” from Old French distincter, from Latin distinctus, past participle of distinguere “to separate between, keep separate, mark off”

Keeping these definitions in mind, we can now understand that reader who asks “Which December??” only to be answered with the words “the bleak December” and, in turn, asks “which midnight” only to be answered with the words “a midnight dreary” is also being told these things are being recalled “in a way that is readily distinguishable by the senses” or “distinctly”… we are in the presence of a profoundly rooted duplicity.

Here, Poe’s use of the word “bleak” to describe the December is s masterstroke. Etymologists, philologists and other assorted “scholars” have been charting the “origin” of the word rendering us with an understanding that is duplicitous by adding uncertain terms to those which are studied with some certainty:

bleak (adj.)
c. 1300, bleik, “pale, pallid,” from Old Norse bleikr “pale, whitish, blond,” from Proto-Germanic *blaika- “shining, white” (source also of Old Saxon blek “pale, shining,” Dutch bleek, Old High German bleih, German bleich), from PIE root *bhel-(1) “to shine, flash, burn,” also “shining white.”

The original English sense is obsolete; the meaning “bare, windswept” is from 1530s; figurative sense of “cheerless” is from c. 1719. The same Germanic root produced Middle English blake “pale” (Old English blac), but this fell from use, probably from confusion with blæc “black” (the surname Blake can mean either “one of pale complexion” or “one of dark complexion”). Bleak has survived, not in the “pale” sense, but meaning only “bare, barren.”

It is impressive and terrifying to be engaged by the poet in such a way that places one in the textual company of individuals who are unable to distinguish between black and white.

Bleak is taken to mean blackness and that which is black:
“The same Germanic root produced Middle English blake “pale” (Old English blac), but this fell from use, probably from confusion with blæc “black” (the surname Blake can mean either “one of pale complexion” or “one of dark complexion”).”

And yet, it is also confounded to mean that which is “white”:
c. 1300, bleik, “pale, pallid,” from Old Norse bleikr “pale, whitish, blond,” from Proto-Germanic *blaika- “shining, white” (source also of Old Saxon blek “pale, shining,” Dutch bleek, Old High German bleih, German bleich), from PIE root *bhel-(1) “to shine, flash, burn,” also “shining white.”

Poe’s use of the word “bleak” also connects this early stanza to the later descriptions of the piercing beak that cuts eternally into the heart of the narrator (“Get thy beak from out my heart and get thy form from off my door”) at the end of the poem. These two words connect in terms of shared sound between them and this, the reader will remember, is the extent of the relationship that the vacuum of the Raven has to language— to the bird, language is sound which is divorced from all meaning.

The meaning of the word bleak to mean pallid (c. 1300, bleik, “pale, pallid,” from Old Norse bleikr “pale, whitish, blond,” from Proto-Germanic *blaika- “shining, white” (source also of Old Saxon blek “pale, shining,” Dutch bleek, Old High German bleih, German bleich) links this early stanza to the later description of the “pallid bust of Pallas.”

“And each separate dying ember wrought its ghost upon the floor.
Eagerly I wished the morrow;—vainly I had sought to borrow
From my books surcease of sorrow—sorrow for the lost Lenore—
For the rare and radiant maiden whom the angels name Lenore—
Nameless here for evermore.”
Poe goes on to write out his narrator’s attempt at making quantifications of the unquantifiable. The embers (another, more explicit, indication of fire to follow the implications in the word “bleak”) denote dying fires, the glowing of coals that cannot be measured. Again, in the following stanza, the rustling of each purple curtain cannot be distinguished.

The narrator describes Lenore as “rare and radiant.” The word rare means “unusual” and, in latin
rare (adj.1)
“unusual,” late 14c., “thin, airy, porous;” mid-15c., “few in number and widely separated, sparsely distributed, seldom found;” from Old French rere “sparse” (14c.), from Latin rarus “thinly sown, having a loose texture; not thick; having intervals between, full of empty spaces”
To which our scholars add the following:
from PIE *ra-ro-, from root *ere- “to separate; adjoin” (source also of Sanskrit rte “besides, except,” viralah “distant, tight, rare;” Old Church Slavonic rediku “rare,” Old Hittite arhaš “border,” Lithuanian irti “to be dissolved”). “Few in number,” hence, “unusual.”


It is clear that the narrator of the poem is seeking out the sensory thrills of “fantastic terrors never felt before” well before the raven, whatever that object of his own definition (and therefore ill-defined) might be as it appears. The raven appears either in reality or in the mind of the narrator as a hallucination in this duplicitous netherrealm of nod wandering between sleeping and semi-comatose wakefulness; in any case, it appears to fulfill the narrators need for the fulfillment of his ominous “prophecy” of doom; a non-confining confirmation of never-ending hell:

And the silken, sad, uncertain rustling of each purple curtain
Thrilled me—filled me with fantastic terrors never felt before;
So that now, to still the beating of my heart, I stood repeating
“’Tis some visitor entreating entrance at my chamber door—
Some late visitor entreating entrance at my chamber door;—

Poe’s narrator describes a “late visitor” which the reader can understand as a late-night visitor but also also as a late (or dead) “late visitor”: the “rare and radiant maiden whom the angels named Lenore.”

On top of all this, the narrator tells us that Leonore is “nameless here…” which can be understood in two distinct and equally applicable ways providing yet another duplicity:

nameless (adj.)
early 14c., “undistinguished,” from name (n.) + -less. Meaning “having no name” is early 15c.; that of “too abominable to be named” is from 1610s.

Lenore is either one who has no name or is too abominable to be named. And yet the narrator has just named her before telling us that she is “nameless here” (Poe’s emphasis) before ending the stanza with an indication of the eternal state of hellish terror in this unit of himself in which he will lie for ever. This closing of the second stanza is unique in the entire poem as the only (already negated) positive in the whole work.

Of Poe’s 18 stanzas which make up The Raven, six end with the words “nothing more” (in red below) and eleven end with the word “Nevermore,” a word to which Poe switches following the end of the seventh stanza and which becomes the constant cadence from there until the “never ending” end of the poem. The only exception is the line “nameless here for evermore.” Poe italicizes the word indicating emphasis on the part of his narrator without having him even attempt to answer the question: Where is “here?”
Here is how this plays out over the course of the poem as a whole (I have enlarged only the final lines of each stanza to show the structure of the cadences):



Where is “here?”

The reader is increasingly aware of this locale (a no-where which has general non-proximity and proximity to “the tempest and the night’s plutonian shore”); a place where one finds whirling tempests and floating shadows cast by streaming lamplights and the formlessness is only a further indication of the void expressed in the words “darkness there and nothing more.”

After all this, Poe’s narrator then simply adds:

“That it is and nothing more.”

Neither the “rustling” (rapid sounds) of the silken sad uncertain curtains nor the dying embers can be distinguished (when the author speaks of “each separate dying ember,” and the “silken sad uncertain rustling of each purple curtain” he is speaking of distinguishing that which cannot be distinguished).

Our scholars describe the word as being “uncertain of origin, perhaps imitative.” Since the Raven mimics the sound of human speech and cannot reason or speak because there is no meaning behind the void of the sound, this is appropriate.

rustle (v.)
“to emit soft, rapid sounds,” late 14c. (implied in rustling), of uncertain origin, perhaps imitative

Purple, being the color, of the curtains is significant as

purple (n., adj.)
Old English purpul, dissimilation (first recorded in Northumbrian, in Lindisfarne gospel) of purpure “purple dye, a purple garment,” purpuren (adj.) “purple,” a borrowing by 9c. from Latin purpura “purple color, purple-dyed cloak, purple dye,” also “shellfish from which purple was made,” and “splendid attire generally,” from Greek porphyra “purple dye, purple”

Here our scholars tell us that the word is of “uncertain origin, perhaps Semitic, originally the name for the shellfish (murex) from which it was obtained. Purpur continued as a parallel form until 15c., and through 19c. in heraldry. As a color name, attested from early 15c. Tyrian purple, produced around Tyre, was prized as dye for royal garments. Also the color of mourning or penitence (especially in royalty or clergy). Rhetorical for “splendid, gaudy” (of prose) from 1590s.”

“Silken” can mean that something is made of silk or that it is similar in texture to silk (one can speak of “silken hair”) while the curtains themselves are indicative of things which are made to conceal and keep outside observers from seeing what is being concealed as well as invoking meanings which connote that which is theatrical. That which is silken is understood to be soft, smooth and flowing (one can also say that speech is “silken” if it is subtle and flowing).

The mention of velvet is significant also as it is a synthetic and folded fabric which is associated with royalty and also occurs in nature. As far as the fabric is concerned, the Encyclopedia Britannica has this to offer:

“VELVET, a silken textile fabric having a short dense piled surface. In all probability the art of velvet-weaving originated in the Far East; and it is not till about the beginning of the 14th century that we find any mention of the textile. The peculiar properties of velvet, the splendid yet softened depth of dye-colour it exhibited, at once marked it out as a fit material for ecclesiastical vestments, royal and state robes, and sumptuous hangings; and the most magnificent textures of medieval times were Italian velvets. These were in many ways most effectively treated for ornamentation, such as by varying the colour of the pile, by producing pile of different lengths (pile upon pile, or double pile), and by brocading with plain silk, with uncut pile or with a ground of gold tissue, &c. The earliest sources of European artistic velvets were Lucca, Genoa, Florence and Venice, which continued to send out rich velvet textures. Somewhat later the art was taken up by Flemish weavers, and in the sixteenth century, Bruges attained a reputation for velvets that were not inferior to those of the great Italian cities.”

On the other hand, deer shed the “skin” of their antlers every year; this skin is called velvet and is similar in softness of texture and also provides an image of skin being ripped from a crown of thorns, (so to speak):



The origin of the word is charted clearly as follows:

velvet (n.)
early 14c., probably from Old Provençal veluet, from Vulgar Latin *villutittus, diminutive of Vulgar Latin *villutus “velvet,” literally “shaggy cloth,” from Latin villus “shaggy hair, nap of cloth, tuft of hair”

To which our scholars add the following: probably a dialectal variant of vellus “fleece,” from PIE *wel-no-, suffixed form of *uelh- “to strike”.


Presently my soul grew stronger; hesitating then no longer,
“Sir,” said I, “or Madam, truly your forgiveness I implore;
But the fact is I was napping, and so gently you came rapping,
And so faintly you came tapping, tapping at my chamber door,
That I scarce was sure I heard you”—here I opened wide the door;—
Darkness there and nothing more.

Deep into that darkness peering, long I stood there wondering, fearing,
Doubting, dreaming dreams no mortal ever dared to dream before;
But the silence was unbroken, and the stillness gave no token,
And the only word there spoken was the whispered word, “Lenore?”
This I whispered, and an echo murmured back the word, “Lenore!”—
Merely this and nothing more.

Back into the chamber turning, all my soul within me burning,
Soon again I heard a tapping somewhat louder than before.
“Surely,” said I, “surely that is something at my window lattice;
Let me see, then, what thereat is, and this mystery explore—
Let my heart be still a moment and this mystery explore;—
’Tis the wind and nothing more!”

The raven then enters, an object which is immediately linked to the “saintly days of yore” as well as to “classical scholarship” (through the bust of Pallas)

Open here I flung the shutter, when, with many a flirt and flutter,
In there stepped a stately Raven of the saintly days of yore;
Not the least obeisance made he; not a minute stopped or stayed he;
But, with mien of lord or lady, perched above my chamber door—
Perched upon a bust of Pallas just above my chamber door—
Perched, and sat, and nothing more.

Then this ebony bird beguiling my sad fancy into smiling,
By the grave and stern decorum of the countenance it wore,
“Though thy crest be shorn and shaven, thou,” I said, “art sure no craven,
Ghastly grim and ancient Raven wandering from the Nightly shore—
Tell me what thy lordly name is on the Night’s Plutonian shore!”
Quoth the Raven “Nevermore.”
But the Raven, sitting lonely on the placid bust, spoke only
That one word, as if his soul in that one word he did outpour.
Nothing farther then he uttered—not a feather then he fluttered—
Till I scarcely more than muttered “Other friends have flown before—
On the morrow he will leave me, as my Hopes have flown before.”
Then the bird said “Nevermore.”

fly (n.)
Old English fleoge “a fly, winged insect,” from Proto-Germanic *fleugon “flying insect” (source also of Old Saxon fleiga, Old Norse fluga, Middle Dutch vlieghe, Dutch vlieg, Old High German flioga, German Fliege “fly”); literally “the flying (insect)” (compare Old English fleogende “flying”), from PIE root *pleu- “to flow,” which is also the source of fly (v.1).

Startled at the stillness broken by reply so aptly spoken,
aptly (adv.)
early 15c., “by natural means;” 1540s, “in a suitable manner,”

“Doubtless,” said I, “what it utters is its only stock and store
Caught from some unhappy master whom unmerciful Disaster
Followed fast and followed faster till his songs one burden bore—
Till the dirges of his Hope that melancholy burden bore
Of ‘Never—nevermore’.”

dirge (n.)
c. 1200, dirige (the contracted form is from c. 1400), “that part of the Office for the Dead beginning with the antiphon for the first psalm of the first nocturn of matins,” from Latin dirige “direct!” imperative of dirigere “to direct” (see direct (v.)). The antiphon begins, Dirige, Domine, Deus meus, in conspectu tuo viam meam (“Direct, O Lord, my God, my way in thy sight”), from Psalms v.9.
Hence, broadly, “the funeral service as sung.” Transferred sense of “any funeral song or hymn, a song or tune expressing grief” is from c. 1500.

utter (v.)
“speak, say,” c. 1400, in part from Middle Dutch uteren or Middle Low German utern “to turn out, show, speak,” from uter “outer,” comparative adjective from ut “out” (see utter (adj.)); in part from Middle English verb outen “to disclose,” from Old English utan “to put out”

But the Raven still beguiling all my fancy into smiling,
Straight I wheeled a cushioned seat in front of bird, and bust and door;
Then, upon the velvet sinking, I betook myself to linking
Fancy unto fancy, thinking what this ominous bird of yore—
What this grim, ungainly, ghastly, gaunt, and ominous bird of yore
Meant in croaking “Nevermore.”

To understand the damage
This I sat engaged in guessing, but no syllable expressing
To the fowl whose fiery eyes now burned into my bosom’s core;
This and more I sat divining, with my head at ease reclining
On the cushion’s velvet lining that the lamp-light gloated o’er,
But whose velvet-violet lining with the lamp-light gloating o’er,
She shall press, ah, nevermore!

[T]he legitimate, English sense of this word is to conjecture; but with us, and especially in New England, it is constantly used in common conversation instead of to believe, to suppose, to think, to imagine, to fancy. [Bartlett, “Dictionary of Americanisms,” 1848]

Here is the word as defined in a current version of the Oxford Dictionary:

guess | ɡes |
verb [with object] estimate or suppose (something) without sufficient information to be sure of being correct: she guessed the child’s age to be 14 or 15 | [with clause] : he took her aside and I guessed that he was offering her a job.


Then, methought, the air grew denser, perfumed from an unseen censer
Swung by Seraphim whose foot-falls tinkled on the tufted floor.

It is here that we have the narrator speak of the density of the air increasing in his perception (“methought”) and, without speaking of fire, he relates the foot-falls of seraphim and the smoke emerging from an “unseen censer.”

He then shrieks, lashing out at the “prophet of evil” which he perceives:

“Wretch,” I cried, “thy God hath lent thee—by these angels he hath sent thee
Respite—respite and nepenthe from thy memories of Lenore;
Quaff, oh quaff this kind nepenthe and forget this lost Lenore!”
Quoth the Raven “Nevermore.”

In Isaiah Chapter 6, we have the only mention of the word “Seraphim” in the entire bible and, I will ask the reader to recall this fact for the coming chapters, we also have the appearance of the prayer which is known as the “Kaddosh” (“Holy, Holy, Holy”):

“IN the year that King Uzziah died I saw the LORD sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up, and his train filled his temple.
And above him stood the seraphim; each one had six wings; with two he covered his face, and with two he covered his feet, and with two he did fly.
And one called to another, and said, Holy, holy, holy, is the LORD of hosts; the whole earth is full of his glory.
And the posts of the door shook at the voice of him who called, and the house was filled with smoke.
Then I said, Woe is me, I am dismayed; for I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell among a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the LORD of hosts.
Then one of the seraphim flew to me, having a live coal in his hand, which he had taken with the tongs from off the altar;
And he touched my mouth and said to me, Lo, this has touched your lips; your iniquity is taken away, and your sins are forgiven.
And I heard the voice of the LORD, saying, Whom shall I send, and who will go for us? Then said I, Here am I; send me.
For the heart of this people is darkened and their ears are heavy and their eyes closed, so that they may not see with their eyes and hear with their ears and understand with their heart and be converted and be forgiven.
Then I said, How long, O LORD? And he said, Until the cities lie waste without inhabitants and the houses without men and the land be utterly desolate
And the LORD shall have cast off men far away and there shall be a great forsaking in the midst of the land.
And they that remain in it shall be a tenth, and again they shall be burned and shall be made like the terebinth or like an oak which is fallen from its stump. The holy seed is the source thereof.

seraph (n.)

1667, first used by Milton (probably on analogy of cherub/cherubim), back-formed singular from Old English seraphim (plural), from Late Latin seraphim, from Greek seraphim, from Hebrew seraphim (only in Isaiah vi), plural of *saraph (which does not occur in the Bible), probably literally “the burning one,” from saraph “it burned.” Seraphs were traditionally regarded as burning or flaming angels, though the word seems to have some etymological sense of “flying,” perhaps from confusion with the root of Arabic sharafa “be lofty.” Some scholars identify it with a word found in other passages interpreted as “fiery flying serpent.”

שָׂרָף noun masculine

Isaiah 14:29 a serpent, usually venomous (possibly from above v, from burning effect of poison); — absolute ׳שׂ Numbers 21:8 (J E; on Arabic parallels see JacobArabic Dichter ii. 93, iv. 10 f.), apposition ׳נָחָשׁ שׂ Deuteronomy 8:15, plural הַנְּחָשִׁים הַשְּׂרָפִים Numbers 21:6; a flying serpent, or dragon, שָׂרָף מְעוֺפֵף Isaiah 14:29; Isaiah 30:6.

II. [שָׂרָף] noun masculine

Isaiah 6:2 plural שְׂרָפִים seraphim (probably akin to I. ׳שׂ, as beings originally mythically conceived with serpents’ bodies (serpent-deities, compare Isaiah 14:29; Isaiah 30:6), or (CheComm.) personified of lightning, compare arts. SERAPHIM, StrachanHast. DB CheEncy. Bib.; Di Marti and others compare also

saraph: to burn
Original Word: שָׂרַף
Part of Speech: Verb
Transliteration: saraph
Phonetic Spelling: (saw-raf’)
Short Definition: burned

verb burn (70 t. + בָּאֵשׁ, 2 t. + בְּמוֺאֵֿשׁ) (Late Hebrew (rare) = Biblical Hebrew; Assyrian šarâpu; Aramaic שְׂרַף (rare); is absorb, consume); —2. a. with accusative of thing, usually to destroy, e.g. door Judges 9:52, house Judges 12:1; 1 Kings 16:18 (both with עַל person), Jeremiah 39:8 11t., compare passive participle Nehemiah 3:24, city Joshua 6:24; 1 Samuel 30:1,14 16t., compare passive participle 1 Samuel 30:3; Isaiah 1:7, chariots Joshua 11:6,9; 2 Kings 23:11; Psalm 46:10 (subject ׳י), idols, etc., Exodus 32:20 (accusative omitted), Deuteronomy 9:21 10t., roll Jeremiah 36:25,27,28,29,32, wood Isaiah 44:16,19 (both + בְּמוֺאֵֿשׁ), compare Psalm 80:17 (figurative), Jeremiah 51:32, hair Ezekiel 5:4; bones, to lime (as outrage) Amos 2:1; upon altars (in desecration) 1 Kings 13:2; 1Ki 23:16; 1Ki 23:20 2Chronicles 34:5; bodies, as funeral rite 1 Samuel 31:12 (rare custom, RSSemitic i. 353; 2nd ed. 372; but Klo Bu read יִשְׂמְּדוּ [= ׳יִס]; compare BenzArchaeology 163; Ency. Bib. DEAD NowArchaeology i. 188); ׳שׂ as funeral rite also (object omitted, probably spices, compare 2 Chronicles 16:14), with ל person mort. Jeremiah 34:5, + accusative of congnate meaning with verb שְׂרֵפָה2Chronicles 16:14 (compare שְׂרֵפָה); in ceremonial of P (never of burning sacrifice on altar, הִקְטִיר, compare הֶעְֶלֶה, but) chiefly (14 t.) of consuming refuse, especially unused portions of victims, etc. (to prevent use), and infected objects, Exodus 29:14,34 +, sometimes מִחוּץ לַמַּחֲנֶה Leviticus 4:12 (+ עַעֵָֿצִים), Leviticus 4:21 Leviticus 4:21 4t., etc., compare Ezekiel 43:21; also of burning red heifer (to produce ashes for purification) Numbers 19:5 (twice in verse); Numbers 19:3.

Back into the chamber turning, all my soul within me burning,
Soon again I heard a tapping somewhat louder than before.
“Surely,” said I, “surely that is something at my window lattice;
Let me see, then, what thereat is, and this mystery explore—
Let my heart be still a moment and this mystery explore;—
’Tis the wind and nothing more!”


The reference to the drug nepenthe is a beautiful correlation to Jeremiah calling out for an ointment and a balm and a physician to sooth the pain of his people:

nepenthes | nəˈpenTHēz |
1 (also nepenthe) | nəˈpenTHēz | literary a drug described in Homer’s Odyssey as banishing grief or trouble from a person’s mind.
any drug or potion bringing welcome forgetfulness.

ἔνθ᾽ αὖτ᾽ ἄλλ᾽ ἐνόησ᾽ Ἑλένη Διὸς ἐκγεγαυῖα:
αὐτίκ᾽ ἄρ᾽ εἰς οἶνον βάλε φάρμακον, ἔνθεν ἔπινον,
νηπενθές τ᾽ ἄχολόν τε, κακῶν ἐπίληθον ἁπάντων.

Then Helen, daughter of Zeus, took other counsel
Straightway she cast into the wine of which they were drinking a drug
to quiet all pain and strife, and bring forgetfulness of every ill.

—Odyssey, Book 4, v. 219–221

The narrator describes the raven in the most fantastical of terms; “for,” he says, “cannot help agreeing” that no person alive… no living being… has ever seen a bird above his chamber door. The narrator then goes on to imitate another layer of duplicity in qualifying that we are talking about a “bird” or beast” and then, without any indication of where he would have gotten such an idea, tells us that the bird or beast is named “Nevermore”:

“For we cannot help agreeing that no living human being
Ever yet was blessed with seeing bird above his chamber door—
Bird or beast upon the sculptured bust above his chamber door,
With such name as “Nevermore.”

But the Raven, sitting lonely on the placid bust, spoke only
That one word, as if his soul in that one word he did outpour.
Nothing farther then he uttered—not a feather then he fluttered—
Till I scarcely more than muttered “Other friends have flown before—
On the morrow he will leave me, as my Hopes have flown before.”
Then the bird said “Nevermore.”

In Charles Swainson’s 1886 book “The Folk Lore and Provincial Names of British Birds,” he describes the Raven as follows:

RED is mimicry or anti-phon.
GREEN is particularly strong case of anti-harmonic vocabulary in use
BLUE is Anti-attribution
Underline is anti-assumption
Pink indicates fake positives or anti-positives
BROWN is Anti-representation
YELLOW is adjoinment which should also be understood as anti-addition
GREY is anti-perception
PURPLE is Anti-factual

“Old English also used hræmn, hremm. The raven standard was the flag of the Danish Vikings. The Quran connects the raven with Cain’s murder of Abel; but in Christianity the bird plays plays a positive role in the stories of St. Benedict, St. Paul the Hermit, St. Vincent, etc. It was anciently believed to live to great old age, but the ancients also believed it wanting in parental care. The vikings, like Noah, were said to have used the raven to discover land. “When uncertain of their course they let one loose, and steered the vessel in his track, deeming that the land lay in the direction of his flight; if he returned to the ship, it was supposed to be at a distance.”


“Several reasons for Poe’s choice of bird for the harbinger of despair in “The Raven” are manifest: ravens can be taught to speak, they have a reputation for following armies and relishing death, and their dark plumage suggests melancholy and gloom. More subtle and ironic significance, however, can be found in the curious traditions which have accrued to this dark bird, associating him with wisdom, deviousness, and messenger service. In Hebrew folklore the raven, originally white, was turned black in punishment for not returning to the ark when Noah sent him out to check the flood conditions. His failure to return when he learned the waters were receding was attributed to bestial appetite, for which he was constrained ever after to feed on carrion.”

The story, as it is written in Genesis, is clear. Noah sent a Raven out which did not return until the entire earth was dry again. In the meantime, he sent out a dove twice to “check” on the condition of the flood. The dove did this by flying and returning when she could not settle down. The raven returned to Noah when the conditions were safe because the raven has a longer flight time than the dove.

Noah does not engage in any “punishment” of the raven nor does he condone anything of the sort.

“And the waters receded from the earth gradually; and after the end of a hundred and fifty days the waters abated.
And in the seventh month, on the seventeenth day of the month, the ark rested upon the mountains of Kardo.
And the waters decreased gradually until the tenth month; on the first day of the tenth month, the tops of the mountains were seen.
And it came to pass at the end of forty days that Noah opened the window of the ark which he had made;
And he sent forth a raven which went to and fro, but did not return until the waters were dried up from the face of the earth.
Then he sent forth a dove from the ark, to see if the waters had abated from the face of the ground;
But the dove found no resting place for her foot, and she returned to him in the ark, for the waters were still on the face of the whole earth. Then he put forth his hand, and took her, and brought her into the ark with him.
And he waited yet another seven days; and again he sent forth the dove out of the ark;
And the dove came back to him in the evening; and, lo, in her mouth was an olive leaf plucked off; so 

Noah knew that the waters had subsided from off the earth.
And he waited yet another seven days, and sent forth the dove; but the dove did not return again to him any more.”

It is essential for the reader wishing understand the vitality of the subject at hand to realize that the Raven is not depicted as a “harbinger of despair” or an “omen of despair.” One of the most disturbing aspects of Poe’s poem is, after all, the fact that the narrator is searching for an omen of despair and a bringer of bad-tidings well before Raven enters the poem.

At the opening of the poem, Poe’s narrator is seemingly unable to tell the difference between black and white and, here, we have an example of a man who cannot seem to tell the difference between a dove and a raven (that the two birds are white and black respectively and that they are mentioned distinctly in the Bible are facts that should make this definition easier to come by).

And yet, it is not the only place where this mistake appears as can be seen by looking at the echo which I highlight below (from the “allusions” section of the Wikipedia page for The Raven)


I have just written that these people cannot seem to tell the difference between black and white. Can they, in reality tell make the distinctions required for reason to unhinge them from their vaccum? Let us attempt to answer the question.

In a volume titled Origins a philologist by the name of Eric Parridge makes the disfigurements of time and space that we have been examining palpable to our senses. The work, subtitled “A short etymological dictionary of modern English” weighs in at 4,246 pages, is published by Routledge and opens with the following:

PROFESSOR W.W.SKEAT’S large and small etymological dictionaries were last revised in 1910; Ernest Weekley’s Concise Etymological Dictionary and Ferdinand Holthausen’s Etymologisches Wörterbuch der englischen Sprache, both excellent in their way, treat words so briefly and ignore ramifications so wholeheartedly that it was easy to plan a work entirely different—a remark that applies equally to Skeat’s Concise and, for relationships, almost as much to his larger book.
A man named A Bracht, writing in 1868, begins his Etymological Dictionary of the French Language by describing the work as a “natural sequel” to another work that he himself had written called “Historical Grammer.” He states his aim, as far as his cycle of “work” is concerned: “the completion of the full cycle of the history of the language” (by which he means French).
Why, we might ask, has this task not been accomplished to this point in human history? It is because, the author tells us, everything that came before him was idiotic and that he has arrived to put an end to this barbarism (he speaks of an “anarchial period” which he defines as existing between the sixteenth century and “our day” meaning September 3rd 1868 (when he penned those words).

In Skeat’s preface to the first edition of a book called English Etymology, he similarly, states that “I could find no single book containing the facts about a given word which it most concerns a student to know…” though he also admits to the genesis of the book:

“The idea of it arose out of my own wants.”

Regardless of what one might think of the statements, the two ambitions of satisfaction (“my own wants” and the need to provide others with what “most concerns a student to know”) are opposing statements. One says “I’m doing this for myself” and another says “I’m doing this for others.” Both are fine but not at the same time.


Skeat then speaks of many common mistakes (committed by others) including assigning meanings to words which are “incredible or misleading”:



And so, after producing an edition which turned out to be rife with his own “incredible and misleading” assaults on definition and meaning, Skeat published a second edition of the text (which Oxford University Press dutifully printed once again).

“In a work which, like the present undertaking, covers so much ground and deals with so many languages,” wrote Rev. Skeet following an encounter with reality and commonplace facts, “it is very difficult to secure complete accuracy; it can perhaps be only aimed at.”

Complete accuracy is only aimed at by the foolish; it is, in fact, impossible (something that Rev Skeat, a theologian, should understand). Many of us, however, work very hard and take great pleasure in creating works that do not reach the public replete with inaccuracies. We keep our works free from innacuracies by staying very closely within our limits and correcting our errors before they make it into the public sphere where they could mislead others.

“New facts,” writes Rev Skeat, “ are continually being brought to light” and then proceeds to characterize the “science of philology” as one which is “at this time still rapidly progressive.”


A Fact is, the reader will remember from the previous chapter, something which is done. An artist works on something until that work produces A WORK. At that point, the work of art is a fact:

A thing done; an effect produced; something not barely supposed or suspected, but really done.
Reality; not supposition; not speculation.
Action; deed.

Rev Skeat confuses that which is properly considered to be “a work” with that which is more properly described as an “undertaking.” This explains more than Rev Skeat’s disregard for authors like Dryden and Addison; poets who defined and illuminated so much through their creative works. It explains Rev Skeat’s disregard for the Supreme Being’s creative work; the Creation is, after all, a fact. It is here; a thing done; an effect produced and not simply something supposed or suspected. It is, in fact, the very reality which Rev Skeat inhabited and perceived. He did this on every single day that he (evidently) spent on planet Earth. The Creation is not speculation; it was created and that is why all that we have around us exists. A sensible atheist or non-beleiver (and there are many who allow for and flourish on free thought in the true sense) cannot deny that creative (additive and multiplicative functions) rather than negation and anti-functions is behind work that exists before us; in what is.

This, in brief, explains Rev Skeat’s relationship to reality.

After speaking of his encounter with facts, (“several errors have been detected by myself and kind friends have point out others”) Rev Skeat goes on to say that he stole the ideas of another author “I have carefully read this book and have taken from it several useful hints… I have, in some cases, adopted his views entirely wholly or in part”).

Remember that this man started out his first edition by saying that there was nothing available on the subject at hand which was satisfactory.

This brings us back to Mr Parridge who, in his forward states his intent (one of many opposing intents) as follows:

‘Exigencies of space’—not always a myth, nor always a mere excuse for laziness— preclude a large vocabulary. The number of entries in Origins is comparatively small, even for an etymological dictionary, but the system I have devised has enabled me, with the aid of cross-references, not only to cover a very much wider field than might have seemed possible but also, and especially, to treat all important words much more comprehensively and thoroughly. I have concentrated upon civilization rather than upon science and technology; dialect and cant have teen ignored; slang is represented only by a very few outstanding examples (e.g., phoney).”
Mr. Parridge is concerned with “civilization” rather than “science” and so he has now done what nobody else (of course) has ever thought to do before him… once again. He devised a system which basically amounts, he says, to check his references (“the system I have devised has enabled me, with the aid of cross-references, not only to cover a very much wider field than might have seemed possible but also, and especially, to treat all important words much more comprehensively and thoroughly”).

And so we have seen that the forward is not extraordinary or new but there is one extraordinary moment in which Mr. Parridge quotes from the poet William Cowper (who lived in the 18th Century and was not alive to see Mr. Parridge’s treatment of his verse in the 20th Century):



The lines, as extracted from Cowper’s poem, are printed in the dictionary as follows:

“Philologists, who chase
A panting syllable through time and space,
Start it at home, and hunt it in the dark,
To Gaul, to Greece, and into Noah’s ark;”

This is an extract from William Cowper’s poem titled Retirement; the excerpted is from a section that is called “What to Read.” Cowper tells the youth desirous of learning to steer clear of minds who are not interested in doing the work required in order to understand worthy subjects:

“A mind unnerved, or indisposed to bear
The weight of subjects worthiest of her care,

They are only interested in sensation:

Whatever hopes a change of scene inspires,
Must change her nature, or in vain retires.
An idler is a watch that wants both hands;
As useless if it goes as when it stands.
Books, therefore, not the scandal of the shelves,
In which lewd sensualists print out themselves;

Stay away, also from immoral and sinful persons:

Nor those, in which the stage gives vice a blow,
With what success let modern manners shew;

Stay away from the ungodly who sell God’s religions and disfigure his word:
Nor his who, for the bane of thousands born,
Built God a church, and laugh’d his Word to scorn,
Skilful alike to seem devout and just,
And stab religion with a sly side-thrust;

And stay away, say Cowper, from Philologists who chase into the dark abyss of abstractions which they cannot follow in order to find a “panting syllable”:

Nor those of learn’d philologists, who chase
A panting syllable through time and space,
Start it at home, and hunt it in the dark,
To Gaul, to Greece, and into Noah’s ark;

Now, let us take a moment to appreciate what has been accomplished here by comparing Cowpers’ lines from above to Mr. Parridge’s extraction from them which I now present once again:

“Philologists, who chase
A panting syllable through time and space,
Start it at home, and hunt it in the dark,
To Gaul, to Greece, and into Noah’s ark;”

In order to accomplish the “quotation,” one would have to surgically alter the sentence in a multi-step proceedure. First, we have to delete four full words which appear on the same line as the one which one is extracting the quote from:

Nor those of learn’d philologists, who chase
A panting syllable through time and space,
Start it at home, and hunt it in the dark,
To Gaul, to Greece, and into Noah’s ark;

Having accomplished this, one would then have to capitalize the “new” start of the line:

Nor those of learn’d p Philologists, who chase
A panting syllable through time and space,
Start it at home, and hunt it in the dark,
To Gaul, to Greece, and into Noah’s ark;

It seems that we now have an answer to our question; these people, who cannot seem to tell the difference between black and white, must be lying and, in order to lie so craftily, one must surmise that they can tell the difference between the lie and the truth and that they devote immense effort to defending the lie.

Can they, in reality tell make the distinctions required for reason to unhinge them from their vaccum? The answer seems to be “yes.” But it only seems to be “yes”

But… let us add another consideration. The lie, as presented in Mr. Parridge’s text, is so brazen that it begs to be caught. And it is not that this quote is craftily hidden away. It is presented, proudly, on pages such as the following wiki-quote page for Philology (a page that can only be frequented by Philologers).


Is the quote presented as an encouragement and inspiration to dogged philologists or as a statement of derision? It does not matter to the subject at hand; what matters is that the following is an appearance of the same error as the one which we found in Mr Partige’s dictionary. It is, in other words, not an original sin:


These people must really be unaware; it seems that they are… otherwise they would cover their tracks or, at least, select a quote whose message at the source is against this sort of unrelenting obscurity… or, at the very least they could have omitted the mention of the source poem entirely (thus making it harder to catch them in their tracks). It seems we have our answer: they are unaware of the lie that they believe in.

But, again, it only seems this way. What if they are in love with the lie and have adopted it as an escape from reality? Why would they work so persistently on something that they knew had no merit or end or use?

We could go on forever debating what seems to be real and forming theories about what is real or intended by these men, just as we could with Poe’s scholar… but then we would risk becoming that which we observe.

Instead, let us return to the remainder of this section from Cowper’s poem; a voice that, with clarity, brings us to our destination of truth:

“But such as learning, without false pretence,
The friend of truth, the associate of sound sense,
And such as, in the zeal of good design,
Strong judgment labouring in the Scripture mine,
All such as manly and great souls produce,
Worthy to live, and of eternal use:
Behold in these what leisure hours demand,
Amusement and true knowledge hand in hand.
Luxury gives the mind a childish cast,
And, while she polishes, perverts the taste;
Habits of close attention, thinking heads,
Become more rare as dissipation spreads,
Till authors hear at length one general cry,
Tickle and entertain us, or we die.

The loud demand, from year to year the same,
Beggars invention, and makes fancy lame;
Till farce itself, most mournfully jejune,
Calls for the kind assistance of a tune;
And novels (witness every month’s review)
Belie their name, and offer nothing new.
The mind, relaxing into needful sport,
Should turn to writers of an abler sort,
Whose wit well managed, and whose classic style,
Give truth a lustre, and make wisdom smile.
Friends (for I cannot stint, as some have done,
Too rigid in my view, that name to one;
Though one, I grant it, in the generous breast
Will stand advanced a step above the rest;
Flowers by that name promiscuously we call,
But one, the rose, the regent of them all)—
Friends, not adopted with a schoolboy’s haste,

But chosen with a nice discerning taste,
Well born, well disciplined, who, placed apart
From vulgar minds, have honour much at heart,
And, though the world may think the ingredients odd,
The love of virtue, and the fear of God!

2. Philia

The narrator in The Raven is disabled of the ability to distinguish whether the object of his fancy is “bird or devil” and yet is convinced of one thing: that whatever this imaginary or real object of shifting horror is or might be, it is a prophet that is either tossed by the tempest of the plutonian shore or sent by the Evil being (“Tempter”); in any case, it brings bad news just as the scholar imagined. And yet he continues and persists despite everything.

Poe explains the failure of profound scholars in the following passage from his essay titled :

“Nevertheless, there is little difficulty or danger in suggesting that the “thousand profound scholars” may have failed, first because they were scholars, secondly because they were profound, and thirdly because they were a thousand — the impotency of the scholarship and profundity having been thus multiplied a thousand fold. I am serious in these suggestions; for, first again, there is something in “scholarship” which seduces us into blind worship of Bacon’s Idol of the Theatre — into irrational deference to antiquity; secondly, the proper “profundity” is rarely profound — it is the nature of Truth in general, as of some ores in particular, to be richest when most superficial; thirdly, the clearest subject may be overclouded by mere superabundance of talk. In chemistry, the best way of separating two bodies is to add a third; in speculation, fact often agrees with fact and argument with argument, until an additional well-meaning fact or argument sets every thing by the ears. In one case out of a hundred a point is excessively discussed because it is obscure; in the ninety-nine remaining it is obscure because excessively discussed. When a topic is thus circumstanced, the readiest mode of investigating it is to forget the readiest mode of investigating it is to forget that any previous investigation has been attempted.”

In the following stanza from The Raven, the scholar of that poem asks, duplicitously, if there is relief to his pain (“Is there—is there Balm in Gilead?”):

“Prophet!” said I, “thing of evil!—prophet still, if bird or devil!—
Whether Tempter sent, or whether tempest tossed thee here ashore,
Desolate yet all undaunted, on this desert land enchanted—
On this home by Horror haunted—tell me truly, I implore—
Is there—is there balm in Gilead?—tell me—tell me, I implore!”

There is no relief from the pain:

Quoth the Raven “Nevermore.”

The question is a reference to a passage from the Book of Jeremiah (Chapter 8) in which the Prophet Jeremiah laments and cries out for a doctor or ointment to sooth the seared flesh of his people:

Is there no balm in Gilead; is there no physician there? why then is not the health of the daughter of my people recovered?

And yet, unlike Jeremiah, the lover-scholar of The Raven knows that the answer that will come from the bird will be negative (“nevermore”) and, in fact, knows that the single word of negation is the only thing that the bird says or will ever say.

In another moment lover attempts to sever himself from the emblematic raven:

“Be that word our sign of parting, bird or fiend!” I shrieked, upstarting—
“Get thee back into the tempest and the Night’s Plutonian shore!
Leave no black plume as a token of that lie thy soul hath spoken!
Leave my loneliness unbroken!—quit the bust above my door!
Take thy beak from out my heart, and take thy form from off my door!”
Quoth the Raven “Nevermore.”

Once again, the lover-scholar of The Raven knows that the answer that will come from the bird will be negative (“nevermore”) and, in fact, knows that the single word of negation is the only thing that the bird says or will ever say.

The word “fiend is notable here as the scholar-lover attempts severance from the emblem; the emblem which he confuses and cannot decipher. The scholar has earlier described the raven as either a bird or a devil (“prophet still, if bird or devil!”) and here he describes the raven as a bird or fiend which amounts to (or, in the spirit of this poem, can amount to) very much the same:
Old English fēond‘an enemy, the devil, a demon’, of Germanic origin; related to Dutch vijand and German Feind ‘enemy’.

In the final passage of The Raven, we have an image of the object whose eyes now have “all the seeming of a demon who is dreaming.”

And the Raven, never flitting, still is sitting, still is sitting
On the pallid bust of Pallas just above my chamber door;
And his eyes have all the seeming of a demon’s that is dreaming,
And the lamp-light o’er him streaming throws his shadow on the floor;
And my soul from out that shadow that lies floating on the floor
Shall be lifted—nevermore!

It is here that the raven becomes emblematical to the reader; of the never-ending regret (as opposed to “memory”) of Cain and his ilk; Poe expresses it as “Mournful and Never-ending Remembrance”:

“It will be observed that the words, “from out my heart,” involve the first metaphorical expression in the poem. They, with the answer, “Nevermore,” dispose the mind to seek a moral in all that has been previously narrated. The reader begins now to regard the Raven as emblematical — but it is not until the very last line of the very last stanza, that the intention of making him emblematical of Mournful and Never-ending Remembrance is permitted distinctly to be seen:

The words highlighted in red above (“still is sitting, still is sitting”) is another example of duplicity on a single word. Just as in the previous example (“some late visitor” in which the word “late” refers to time and also to death), the word still

“Still is sitting”: It’s still there.
“Still is sitting”: It is still (motionless).

The narrator then mentions the pallid bust of pallas which recounts, cyclicly, the glowing of the flames which we found at the opening of the poem (in the word “bleak”):

pallid | ˈpalɪd |
1 (of a person’s face) pale, typically because of poor health: his face, with its wrinkled, pallid complexion.
2 lacking vigour or intensity; insipid: a pallid ray of winter sun |.

Dicebant mihi sodales si sepulchrum amicae visitarem, curas meas aliquantulum fore levatas

The question of what the word “Pallas” means is also taken up by our scholars:


“Probably derived from a Greek word meaning “maiden”. In Greek mythology this was the name of a friend of the goddess Athena. Athena accidentally killed her, and subsequently took the name Pallas in honour of her friend.”

From Ancient Greek, πάλλειν (pállein, “brandishing”), derived from πάλλω (pállō, “to poise, sway, or swing”). Or possibly from παλλακίς (pallakís, “concubine”), most likely from Proto-Indo-European *parikeh₂ (“concubine, wanton woman”), related to Avestan 𐬞𐬀𐬌𐬭𐬌𐬐𐬁 (pairikā, “demonic courtesan”) and Parthian parik.

The inscription at the beginning of the story Berenice reads as follows:

Dicebant mihi sodales, si sepulchrum amicae visitarem,
    curas meas aliquantulum fore levatas.

My companions told me, if I would visit my friend’s grave,” reads the inscription to Berenice, “it might alleviate my worries a bit.”

This paraphrases the activities of a philologist named William Jones (and his companions) very well: “First and foremost was that there must once have been a ‘mother’ tongue which, as the peoples who spoke it spread across the globe, evolved into a family of ‘daughter’ languages all of which, though they look different on the surface, are fundamentally related.”

This is the central thesis of a course which is taught (and a book which is written) by one Professor Mark Damen at Utah State University who writes the following:

“Since these languages can be found all over Europe and Asia, scholars ultimately settled on the term Indo-European for this culture, and Proto-Indo-European as the designation for the mother tongue itself.” The “culture” and the “mother tongue” did not exist and cannot be known by any sincere and truthful scholarship. This is all speculation, a point which makes clear:

“While it would be better to call the language by the name its original speakers gave it, that isn’t possible since no one has as yet been able to figure out what that name was, or for that matter what the Indo-Europeans as a people called themselves.” It is evident (from the Geographical regions which are being treated, that the “Indo-Europeans” consist of nations and tribes that span three continents and have distinct and individual identities, languages and cultures all of their own.”

“Despite that, however, scholars were able to deduce much else about them. Indo-European theory rests on the fact that various languages from all across Eurasia, in lands as far apart as India and Iceland, show many essential similarities, enough that they must have originated as a single tongue at some point long ago.”

The point which I have highlighted in green does not logically follow from the thesis which I have highlighted in red. This is above and beyond the fact that the many cultures and languages which are being discussed also show an infinite (or near infinite) richness of diversity that far outdoes the “essential similarities” in sheer quantity of demonstrable facts which attest to this. The more disturbing point is that Prof Damen has created for himself an unverifiable tribe which exist only in his dream-like state of theorizing. These theories, it should not be forgotten propose to invent human beings!

In the following passage, Prof Damen mentions William Jones and his discourses explicitly:

“Once Jones’ successors began exploring the full linguistic record from this perspective, corroborating evidence started pouring in from all quarters. Parallels in vocabulary and grammar quickly emerged among foreign languages, particularly in what were then the oldest preserved tongues: Latin, Greek and Sanskrit. The last is the language of The Vedas, an ancient body of writings from India, and close analysis of its text showed that Sanskrit has a strong affinity with Latin and Greek.

For instance, the Sanskrit word for “three” is trayas, clearly cognate with (i.e. from the same linguistic origin as) Latin tres and Greek treis, also words for “three.” Likewise, the Sanskrit sarpa, “snake,” obviously shares a common ancestor with the Latin serpens, the forebear of the English word serpent.”

“In conclusion, who were the Indo-Europeans? The truth is, we do not know who they were, but we do know who they are: virtually everyone of us, at least in some way. Seen genetically, Indo-European heritage encompasses all peoples of Germanic or Scandinavian or southern Mediterranean or Persian or Russian or northern Indian descent, any of a wide range of national groups stemming from India to Iceland. Viewed culturally—that is, as part of a common civilization—everyone who speaks an Indo-European language, or has an innate cultural predilection for threes, is the heir of Indo-European might and main. From that perspective, it’s hard not to see Indo-Europeans everywhere!”


William Jones writes the following in one of his discourses:

“By the assistance of the tongue and the palate are produced two congenial founds, differing only as hard [or] soft ; and these two may be formed still deeper in the throat, so as to imitate, with a long vowel after them, the voice of a raven; but if, while they are uttered, the breath be harshly protruded, two analogous articulations are heard, the Second of which seems to characterize the pronunciation of the Arabs ; while the nasal sound, very common among the Persians and Indians, may be considered as the soft palate with part of the breath passing through the nose ; which organ would by itself rather produce a vocal sound, common also in Arabia, and not unlike the cry of a young antelope and some other quadrupeds.

We come now to the first proper consonant of the Indian system, in which a series of letters, formed in the throat near the root of the tongue, properly takes the lead. This letter has the sound of our k and c in the words king and cannibal ; but there will be great convenience in expressing it uniformly by the second of those marks, whatever be the vowel following it. The Arabs, and perhaps all nations descended from Semites, have a remarkable letter sounded near the palate with a hard pressure, not unlike the cawing of a raven…

The third letter of the Roman alphabet was probably articulated like the kappa of the Greeks; and we may fairly suppose, that Cicero and Cithara were pronounced alike at Rome and at Athens the Welsh apply this letter uniformly to the same found, as in cae and cefn ; and a little practice will render such words as [cita^] and [cinnara] familiar to our eyes.”

This description of a sound is important for the play that Poe engages with it in his work. Mr. Jones says that “the letter has the sound of our k and c in the words king and cannibal ; but there will be great convenience in expressing it uniformly by the second of those marks, whatever be the vowel following it. The Arabs, and perhaps all nations descended from Semites, have a remarkable letter sounded near the palate with a hard pressure, not unlike the cawing of a raven…”

In the Philosophy of Composition, Poe speaks of the scholar in The Raven as being one who is in love with a “mistress deceased” (a mistress whom he is dreaming about):

“A raven, having learned by rote the single word “Nevermore,” and having escaped from the custody of its owner, is driven, at midnight, through the violence of a storm, to seek admission at a window from which a light still gleams—the chamber-window of a student, occupied half in poring over a volume, half in dreaming of a beloved mistress deceased.”

We now come to a short story by Poe called Bernice, one which is related to The Raven in many ways. The entrance to Bernice is attained by the reader by first passing through the following inscription which is placed before the beginning of the story by Poe:

“My companions told me, if I would visit my friend’s grave,
it might alleviate my worries a bit.”

Bernice then begins as follows:

“MISERY is manifold. The wretchedness of earth is multiform. Overreaching the wide horizon like the rainbow, its hues are as various as the hues of that arch, as distinct too, yet as intimately blended. Overreaching the wide horizon like the rainbow! How is it that from Beauty I have derived a type of unloveliness? — from the covenant of Peace a simile of sorrow? But thus is it. And as, in ethics, Evil is a consequence of Good, so, in fact, out of Joy is sorrow born. Either the memory of past bliss is the anguish of to-day, or the agonies which are, have their origin in the ecstasies which might have been. I have a tale to tell in its own essence rife with horror — I would suppress it were it not a record more of feelings than of facts.

The narrator here introduces himself and his attachment to the “library chamber” and it’s contents which he describes in a manner akin to Poe’s narrator in The Raven: “many a quaint and curious volume of forgotten lore”:

My baptismal name is Egæus — that of my family I will not mention. Yet there are no towers in the land more time-honored than my gloomy, grey, hereditary halls. Our line has been called a race of visionaries: and in many striking particulars — in the character of the family mansion — in the frescos of the chief saloon — in the tapestries of the dormitories — in the chiseling of some buttresses in the armory — but more especially in the gallery of antique paintings — in the fashion of the library chamber — and, lastly, in the very peculiar nature of the library’s contents, there is more than sufficient evidence to warrant the belief.

The recollections of my earliest years are connected with that chamber, and with its volumes — of which latter I will say no more. Here died my mother. Herein was I born. But it is mere idleness to say that I had not lived before — that the soul has no previous existence. You deny it. Let us not argue the matter. Convinced myself I seek not to convince. There is, however, a remembrance of ærial forms — of spiritual and meaning eyes — of sounds musical yet sad — a remembrance which will not be excluded: a memory like a shadow, vague, variable, indefinite, unsteady — and like a shadow too, in the impossibility of my getting rid of it, while the sunlight of my reason shall exist.
In that chamber was I born. Thus awaking, as it were, from the long night of what seemed, but was not, nonentity at once into the very regions of fairy land — into a palace of imagination — into the wild dominions of monastic thought and erudition — it is not singular that I gazed around me with a startled and ardent eye — that I loitered away my boyhood in books, and dissipated my youth in reverie — but it is singular that as years rolled away, and the noon of manhood found me still in the mansion of my fathers — it is wonderful what stagnation there fell upon the springs of my life — wonderful how total an inversion took place in the character of my common thoughts. The realities of the world affected me as visions, and as visions only, while the wild ideas of the land of dreams became, in turn, — not the material of my every-day existence — but in very deed that existence utterly and solely in itself.
* * * * * *
Berenice and I were cousins, and we grew up together in my paternal halls — Yet differently we grew. I ill of health and buried in gloom — she agile, graceful, and overflowing with energy. Hers the ramble on the hill [column 2:] side [[hill-side]] — mine the studies of the cloister. I living within my own heart, and addicted body and soul to the most intense and painful meditation — she roaming carelessly through life with no thought of the shadows in her path, or the silent flight of the raven-winged hours. Berenice! — I call upon her name — Berenice! — and from the grey ruins of memory a thousand tumultuous recollections are startled at the sound! Ah! vividly is her image before me now, as in the early days of her light-heartedness and joy! Oh! gorgeous yet fantastic beauty! Oh! Sylph amid the shrubberies of Arnheim! — Oh! Naiad among her fountains! — and then — then all is mystery and terror, and a tale which should not be told. Disease — a fatal disease — fell like the Simoom upon her frame, and, even while I gazed upon her, the spirit of change swept over her, pervading her mind, her habits, and her character, and, in a manner the most subtle and terrible, disturbing even the very identity of her person! Alas! the destroyer came and went, and the victim — where was she? I knew her not — or knew her no longer as Berenice.

Bernice is, like the beloved Lenore in The Raven, “Nameless here for evermore.”

Among the numerous train of maladies, superinduced by that fatal and primary one which effected a revolution of so horrible a kind in the moral and physical being of my cousin, may be mentioned as the most distressing and obstinate in its nature, a species of epilepsy not unfrequently terminating in trance itself — trance very nearly resembling positive dissolution, and from which her manner of recovery was, in most instances, startlingly abrupt. In the meantime my own disease — for I have been told that I should call it by no other appellation — my own disease, then, grew rapidly upon me, and, aggravated in its symptoms by the immoderate use of opium (nepenthe), assumed finally a monomaniac character of a novel and extraordinary form — hourly and momentarily gaining vigor — and at length obtaining over me the most singular and incomprehensible ascendancy. This monomania — if I must so term it — consisted in a morbid irritability of the nerves immediately affecting those properties of the mind, in metaphysical science termed the attentive. It is more than probable that I am not understood — but I fear that it is indeed in no manner possible to convey to the mind of the merely general reader, an adequate idea of that nervous intensity of interest with which, in my case, the powers of meditation (not to speak technically) busied, and, as it were, buried themselves in the contemplation of even the most common objects of the universe.
To muse for long unwearied hours with my attention rivetted to some frivolous device upon the margin, or in the typography of a book — to become absorbed for the better part of a summer’s day in a quaint shadow falling aslant upon the tapestry, or upon the floor — to lose myself for an entire night in watching the steady flame of a lamp, or the embers of a fire — to dream away whole days over the perfume of a flower — to repeat monotonously some common word, until the sound, by dint of frequent repetition, ceased to convey any idea whatever to the mind — to lose all sense of motion or physical existence in a state of absolute bodily quiescence long and obstinately persevered in — Such were a few of the most common and least pernicious vagaries induced by a condition of the mental faculties, not, indeed, altogether unparalleled, but certainly bidding defiance to any thing like analysis or explanation.
Yet let me not be misapprehended. The undue, intense, and morbid attention thus excited by objects in their own nature frivolous, must not be confounded in character with that ruminating propensity common to all mankind, and more especially indulged in by persons of ardent imagination. By no means. It was not even, as might be at first supposed, an extreme condition, or exaggeration of such propensity, but primarily and essentially distinct and different. In the one instance the dreamer, or enthusiast, being interested by an object usually not frivolous, imperceptibly loses sight of this object in a wilderness of deductions and suggestions issuing therefrom, until, at the conclusion of a day-dream often replete with luxury, he finds the incitamentum or first cause of his musings utterly vanished and forgotten. In my case the primary object was invariably frivolous, although assuming, through the medium of my distempered vision, a refracted and unreal importance. Few deductions — if any — were made; and those few pertinaciously returning in, so to speak, upon the original object as a centre. The meditations were never pleasurable; and, at the termination of the reverie, the first cause, so far from being out of sight, had attained that supernaturally exaggerated interest which was the prevailing feature of the disease. In a word, the powers of mind more particularly exercised were, with me, as I have said before, the attentive, and are, with the day-dreamer, the speculative.
My books, at this epoch, if they did not actually serve to irritate the disorder, partook, it will be perceived, largely, in their imaginative, and inconsequential nature, of the characteristic qualities of the disorder itself. I well remember, among others, the treatise of the noble Italian Cœlius [[Cælius]] Secundus Curio “de amplitudine beati regni Dei” — St. Austin’s great work the “City of God” — and Tertullian [[Tertullian’s]] “de Carne Christi,” in which the unintelligible sentence “Mortuus est Dei filius; credible est quia ineptum est: et sepultus resurrexit; certum est quia impossibile est” occupied my undivided time, for many weeks of laborious and fruitless investigation.
Thus it will appear that, shaken from its balance only by trivial things, my reason bore resemblance to that ocean-crag spoken of by Ptolemy Hephestion, which steadily resisting the attacks of human violence, and the fiercer fury of the waters and the winds, trembled only to the touch of the flower called Asphodel. And although, to a careless thinker, it might appear a matter beyond doubt, that the fearful alteration produced by her unhappy malady, in the moral condition of Berenice, would afford me many objects for the exercise of that intense and morbid meditation whose nature I have been at some trouble in explaining, yet such was not by any means the case. In the lucid intervals of my infirmity, her calamity indeed gave me pain, and, taking deeply to heart that total wreck of her fair and gentle life, I did not fail to ponder frequently and bitterly upon the wonder-working means by which so strange a revolution had been so suddenly brought to pass. But these reflections partook not of the idiosyncrasy of my disease, and were such as would have occurred, under similar circumstances, to the ordinary mass of mankind. True to its own character, my disorder revelled in the less important but more startling changes wrought in the physical frame of Berenice, and in the singular and most appalling distortion of her personal identity.

Egæus describes his perception of his own cousin, a living human being, in the following terms: “not as a thing to admire, but to analyze — not as an object of love, but as the theme of the most abstruse although desultory speculation” before going on to openly state that he spoke to her of marriage (duplicitously):
“During the brightest days of her unparalleled beauty, most surely I had never loved her. In the strange anomaly of my existence, feelings, with me, had never been of the heart, and my passions always were of the mind. Through the grey of the early morning — among the trellissed shadows of the forest at noon-day — and in the silence of my library at night, she had flitted by my eyes, and I had seen her — not as the living and breathing Berenice, but as the Berenice of a dream — not as a being of the earth — earthly — but as the abstraction of such a being — not as a thing to admire, but to analyze — not as an object of love, but as the theme of the most abstruse although desultory speculation. And now — now I shuddered in her presence, and grew pale at her approach; yet, bitterly lamenting her fallen and desolate condition, I knew that she had loved me long, and, in an evil moment, I spoke to her of marriage.”

“And at length the period of our nuptials was approaching, when, upon an afternoon in the winter of the year, one of those unseasonably warm, calm, and misty days which are the nurse of the beautiful Halcyon,* I sat, and sat, as I thought alone, in the inner apartment of the library. But uplifting my eyes Berenice stood before me.
Was it my own excited imagination — or the misty influence of the atmosphere — or the uncertain twilight of the chamber — or the grey draperies which fell around her figure — that caused it to loom up in so unnatural a degree? I could not tell. Perhaps she had grown taller since her malady. She spoke, however, no word, and I — not for worlds could I have uttered a syllable. An icy chill ran through my frame; a sense of insufferable anxiety oppressed me; a consuming curiosity pervaded my soul; and, sinking back upon the chair, I remained for some time breathless, and motionless, and with my eyes rivetted upon her person. Alas! its emaciation was excessive, and not one vestige of the former being lurked in any single line of the contour. My burning glances at length fell upon her face.”

Poe’s Egæus describes Berenice in this story using same terms that his scholar uses to describe the raven in the poem (recall particularly the following lines from The Raven: “By the grave and stern decorum of the countenance it wore” and “Though thy crest be shorn and shaven, Thou I said art sure no craven ghastly grim and ancient raven…”):
The forehead was high, and very pale, and singularly placid; and the once golden hair fell partially over it, and overshadowed the hollow temples with ringlets now black as the raven’s ring [[wing]], and jarring discordantly, in their fantastic character, with the reigning melancholy of the countenance. The eyes were lifeless, and lustreless, and I shrunk involuntarily from their glassy stare to the contemplation of the thin and shrunken lips. They parted: and, in a smile of peculiar meaning, the teeth of the changed Berenice disclosed themselves slowly to my view. Would to God that I had never beheld them, or that, having done so, I had died!

* * * * * *

The shutting of a door disturbed me, and, looking up, I found my cousin had departed from the chamber. But from the disordered chamber of my brain, had not, alas! departed, and would not be driven away, the white and ghastly spectrum of the teeth. Not a speck upon their surface — not a shade on their enamel — not a line in their configuration — not an indenture in their edges — but what that period of her smile had sufficed to brand in upon my memory. I saw them now even more unequivocally than I beheld them then. The teeth! — the teeth! — they were here, and there, and every where, and visibly, and palpably before me, long, narrow, and excessively white, with the pale lips writhing about them, as in the very moment of their first terrible development. Then came the full fury of my monomania, and I struggled in vain against its strange and irresistible influence. In the multiplied objects of the external world I had no thoughts but for the teeth. All other matters and all different interests became absorbed in their single contemplation. They — they alone were present to the mental eye, and they, in their sole individuality, became the essence of my mental life. I held them in every light — I turned them in every attitude. I surveyed their characteristics — I dwelt upon their peculiarities — I pondered upon their conformation — I mused upon the alteration in their nature — and shuddered as I assigned to them in imagination a sensitive and sentient power, and even when unassisted by the lips, a capability of moral expression. Of Mad’selle Sallé it has been said, “que tous ses pas etoient [[etaient]] des sentiments,” and of Berenice I more seriously believed que touts ses dents etaient des ideés.

The narrator here is, like the narrator of the Raven, obsessed with “linking fancy unto fancy”:

And the evening closed in upon me thus — and then the darkness came, and tarried, and went — and the day again dawned — and the mists of a second night were now gathering around — and still I sat motionless in that solitary room, and still I sat buried in meditation, and still the phantasma of the teeth maintained its terrible ascendancy as, with the most vivid and hideous distinctness, it floated about amid the changing lights and shadows of the chamber. At length there broke forcibly in upon my dreams a wild cry as of horror and dismay; and thereunto, after a pause, succeeded the sound of troubled voices intermingled with many low moanings of sorrow, or of pain. I arose hurriedly from my seat, and, throwing open one of the doors of the library, there stood out in the antechamber a servant maiden, all in tears, and she told me that Berenice was — no more. Seized with an epileptic fit she had fallen dead in the early morning, and now, at the closing in of the night, the grave was ready for its tenant, and all the preparations for the burial were completed.

And yet, after the burial of Bernice, seeks out the same inextricable closeness with the dead and immobile as the scholar-lover did with Lenore in and through The Raven:

“And the Raven, never flitting, still is sitting, still is sitting
On the pallid bust of Pallas just above my chamber door;
And his eyes have all the seeming of a demon’s that is dreaming,
And the lamp-light o’er him streaming throws his shadow on the floor;
And my soul from out that shadow that lies floating on the floor
Shall be lifted—nevermore!”

With a heart full of grief, yet reluctantly, and oppressed with awe, I made my way to the bed-chamber of the departed. The room was large, and very dark, and at every step within its gloomy precincts I encountered the paraphernalia of the grave. The coffin, so a menial told me, lay surrounded by the curtains of yonder bed, and in that coffin, he whisperingly assured me, was all that remained of Berenice. Who was it asked me would I not look upon the corpse? I had seen the lips of no one move, yet the question had been demanded, and the echo of the syllables still lingered in the room. It was impossible to refuse; and with a sense of suffocation I dragged myself to the side of the bed. Gently I uplifted the sable draperies of the curtains.

The next passage puts the “lover” in the “strictest communion with the deceased”:

As I let them fall they descended upon my shoulders, and shutting me thus out from the living, enclosed me in the strictest communion with the deceased.

The very atmosphere was redolent of death. The peculiar smell of the coffin sickened me; and I fancied a deleterious odor was already exhaling from the body. I would have given worlds to escape — to fly from the pernicious influence of mortality — to breathe once again the pure air of the eternal heavens. But I had no longer the power to move — my knees tottered beneath me — and I remained rooted to the spot, and gazing upon the frightful length of the rigid body as it lay outstretched in the dark coffin without a lid.

God of heaven! — is it possible? Is it my brain that reels — or was it indeed the finger of the enshrouded dead that stirred in the white cerement that bound it? Frozen with unutterable awe I slowly raised my eyes to the countenance of the corpse. There had been a band around the jaws, but, I know not how, it was broken asunder. The livid lips were wreathed into a species of smile, and, through the enveloping gloom, once again there glared upon me in too palpable reality, the white and glistening, and ghastly teeth of Berenice. I sprang convulsively from the bed, and, uttering no word, rushed forth a maniac from that apartment of triple horror, and mystery, and death.
* * * * * *
Just as The Raven’s narrator tells us that his story took place, “upon a midnight dreary,” Egæus narrates that he knew “it was now midnight” and even describes the period as “dreary”:

I found myself again sitting in the library, and again sitting there alone. It seemed that I had newly awakened from a confused and exciting dream. I knew that it was now midnight, and I was well aware that since the setting of the sun Berenice had been interred. But of that dreary period which had intervened I had no positive, at least no definite comprehension. Yet its memory was rife with horror — horror more horrible from being vague, and terror more terrible from ambiguity. It was a fearful page in the record of my existence, written all over with dim, and hideous, and unintelligible recollections. I strived to decypher them, but in vain — while ever and anon, like the spirit of a departed sound, the shrill and piercing shriek of a female voice seemed to be ringing in my ears. I had done a deed — what was it? And the echoes of the chamber answered me — “what was it?”

Just as The Raven contains descriptions of the “lamplight streaming” over the Raven, we have Egaeus narrates the burning of a lamp on the table beside him and then tells us that he is beguiled by a box of ebony again recalling words and descriptions from The Raven (“and this ebony bird beguiling my sad fancy into smiling…”).

It is at this point that he sees the passage by “Ebn Zaiat” which, though he had seen these words many times before, now cause the hairs of his head to stand erect and the blood of his body to congeal within his veins: “Dicebant mihi sodales si sepulchrum amicæ visit arem [[visitarem]] curas meas aliquantulum fore levatas”:

On the table beside me burned a lamp, and near it lay a little box of ebony. It was a box of no remarkable character, and I had seen it frequently before, it being the property of the family physician; but how came it there upon my table, and why did I shudder in regarding it? These things were in no manner to be accounted for, and my eyes at length dropped to the open pages of a book, and to a sentence underscored therein. The words were the singular but simple words of the poet Ebn Zaiat. “Dicebant mihi sodales si sepulchrum amicæ visit arem [[visitarem]] curas meas aliquantulum fore levatas.”* Why then, as I perused them, did the hairs of my head erect themselves on end, and the blood of my body congeal within my veins?


There came a light tap at the library door, and, pale as the tenant of a tomb, a menial entered upon tiptoe. His looks were wild with terror, and he spoke to me in a voice tremulous, husky, and very low. What said he? — some broken sentences I heard. He told of a wild cry heard in the silence of the night — of the gathering together of the household — of a search in the direction of the sound — and then his tones grew thrillingly distinct as he whispered me of a violated grave — of a disfigured body discovered upon its margin — a body enshrouded, yet still breathing, still palpitating, still alive!

And finally we have the following:

He pointed to my garments — they were muddy and clotted with gore. I spoke not, and he took me gently by the hand — but it was indented with the impress of human nails. He directed my attention to some object against the wall — I looked at it for some minutes — it was a spade. With a shriek I bounded to the table, and grasped the ebony box that lay upon it. But I could not force it open, and in my tremor it slipped from out my hands, and fell heavily, and burst into pieces, and from it, with a rattling sound, there rolled out some instruments of dental surgery, intermingled with many white and glistening substances that were scattered to and fro about the floor.”

The “lover” violates Berenice’s grave and rips his cousin’s teeth out from her mouth; she is still alive.

The citation at the beginning of Bernice (and the passage of Egaeus’ epiphany) is described as follows:

“The Latin motto of ” Berenice,” for example, from Ebn Zaiat, has not been found, but an interesting note on the original Arabic has been kindly furnished the editors by Dr. Richard Gottheil. It seems that Ebn Zaiat, whose real name was Muhammad ibn Abd Almalik ibn Alzaijat (or Azzaijat), Vezir under the Caliphs Almutassim Billahi and Alwathik Billahi, was very much in love with a slave and mourned her death ; his companions suggested that he should seek comfort at her grave ; on this he wrote, — ” My friends say — ‘ If thou wouldst only visit her grave;’ but I answered, — ‘Has she any grave other than my heart ? ‘ ” Kitab alaghanl, vol. xx. (cf. D’Herbelot, Bibliotheca Or/enta/is, ii. s. v. Zaiat).”

It turns out, however, that this unverifiable quotation is to be found only in the discourse of William Jones (and Poe’s “citation” of Jones is acknowledged as a highlight as per the wikipedia page for Mr Jones which follows):


In The Raven and in Berenice, Poe is drawing the reader directly into the world of the scholar-lovers; men and women who frequently refer to themselves as philosophers or philologists (the latin prefix phila means lover) in order to indicate themselves as lovers of the deceased.

In The Raven, Poe’s scholar tells us the following about his reaction to the first utterance of the raven’s word:

“Much I marvelled this ungainly fowl to hear discourse so plainly,

Even without the grammatical ambiguity here, discourse requires reason and thought behind the sounds uttered; discourse is speech and speech which is explicitly unique to reasoning creatures who are capable of imbuing words with meaning:

discourse (n.)
late 14c., “process of understanding, reasoning, thought,” from French discours, from Latin discursus “a running about,” in Late Latin “conversation,” in Medieval Latin “reasoning,” noun use of past participle of discurrere “to run about, run to and fro, hasten,” in Late Latin “to go over a subject, speak at length of, discourse of,” from dis- “apart” (see dis-) + currere “to run”

To which our scholars add: (from PIE root *kers- “to run”)

Meaning “a running over a subject in speech, communication of thought in words” is from 1550s; sense of “discussion or treatment of a subject in formal speech or writing,” is from 1580s.

Here is a definition from the Oxford Dictionary (edition that is current to the time of writing):

noun | ˈdisˌkôrs |
written or spoken communication or debate: the language of political discourse | an imagined discourse between two people traveling in France.
• a formal discussion of a topic in speech or writing: a discourse on critical theory.
Linguistics a connected series of utterances; a text or conversation
Here is a volume from William Jones’ works which are consistent entirely of “discourse”:


The above is a reflection of the content of the first collection of discourses by William Jones; there are dozens of volumes which follow containing hundreds of discourses. “Much I marvelled this ungainly fowl to hear discourse so plainly,” says Poe’s unnamed narrator in The Raven. And then he goes on to say this:

“Though its answer little meaning—little relevancy bore;
For we cannot help agreeing that no living human being
Ever yet was blessed with seeing bird above his chamber door—
Bird or beast upon the sculptured bust above his chamber door,
With such name as “Nevermore.”

The narrator is, once again, wrong in his estimation of the meaning and relevancy here; not of the raven’s answer but of his own obsession with this emblem and with the deceased lover. Let us examine some of the meaning by turning back to a couple of philologists in action.

In this passage Prof Damen (the philologist from Utah State) refers to human beings as a “theory”; something that he is able to do because these human beings (from many cultures, tribes and languages) are deceased and cannot correct his errors or defend themselves; he invents tribes for these people and collects a paycheck by professing about these tribes:

“Indo-European theory rests on the fact that various languages from all across Eurasia, in lands as far apart as India and Iceland, show many essential similarities, enough that they must have originated as a single tongue at some point long ago. Once Jones’ successors began exploring the full linguistic record from this perspective, corroborating evidence started pouring in from all quarters. Parallels in vocabulary and grammar quickly emerged among foreign languages, particularly in what were then the oldest preserved tongues: Latin, Greek and Sanskrit. The last is the language of The Vedas, an ancient body of writings from India, and close analysis of its text showed that Sanskrit has a strong affinity with Latin and Greek. For instance, the Sanskrit word for “three” is trayas, clearly cognate with (i.e. from the same linguistic origin as) Latin tres and Greek treis, also words for “three.” Likewise, the Sanskrit sarpa, “snake,” obviously shares a common ancestor with the Latin serpens, the forebear of the English word serpent.” (

The “Seraphim” are only mentioned in Isaiah Chapter 6; Seraph, however, is used throughout the Bible. It means:

seraph (n.)

1667, first used by Milton (probably on analogy of cherub/cherubim), back-formed singular from Old English seraphim (plural), from Late Latin seraphim, from Greek seraphim, from Hebrew seraphim (only in Isaiah vi), plural of *saraph (which does not occur in the Bible), probably literally “the burning one,” from saraph “it burned.” Seraphs were traditionally regarded as burning or flaming angels, though the word seems to have some etymological sense of “flying,” perhaps from confusion with the root of Arabic sharafa “be lofty.” Some scholars identify it with a word found in other passages interpreted as “fiery flying serpent.”

The Hebrew word (שָׂרָף) is a masculine noun which is given as follows in :
Isaiah 14:29 a serpent, usually venomous (possibly from above v, from burning effect of poison); — absolute ׳שׂ Numbers 21:8 (J E; on Arabic parallels see JacobArabic Dichter ii. 93, iv. 10 f.), apposition ׳נָחָשׁ שׂ Deuteronomy 8:15, plural הַנְּחָשִׁים הַשְּׂרָפִים Numbers 21:6; a flying serpent, or dragon, שָׂרָף מְעוֺפֵף Isaiah 14:29; Isaiah 30:6.

II. [שָׂרָף] noun masculine

Isaiah 6:2 plural שְׂרָפִים seraphim (probably akin to I. ׳שׂ, as beings originally mythically conceived with serpents’ bodies (serpent-deities, compare Isaiah 14:29; Isaiah 30:6), or (CheComm.) personified of lightning, compare arts. SERAPHIM, StrachanHast. DB CheEncy. Bib.; Di Marti and others compare also

saraph: to burn
Original Word: שָׂרַף
Part of Speech: Verb
Transliteration: saraph
Phonetic Spelling: (saw-raf’)
Short Definition: burned

Here are biblical indications of the word:

verb burn (70 t. + בָּאֵשׁ, 2 t. + בְּמוֺאֵֿשׁ) (Late Hebrew (rare) = Biblical Hebrew; Assyrian šarâpu; Aramaic שְׂרַף (rare); is absorb, consume); —2. a. with accusative of thing, usually to destroy, e.g. door Judges 9:52, house Judges 12:1; 1 Kings 16:18 (both with עַל person), Jeremiah 39:8 11t., compare passive participle Nehemiah 3:24, city Joshua 6:24; 1 Samuel 30:1,14 16t., compare passive participle 1 Samuel 30:3; Isaiah 1:7, chariots Joshua 11:6,9; 2 Kings 23:11; Psalm 46:10 (subject ׳י), idols, etc., Exodus 32:20 (accusative omitted), Deuteronomy 9:21 10t., roll Jeremiah 36:25,27,28,29,32, wood Isaiah 44:16,19 (both + בְּמוֺאֵֿשׁ), compare Psalm 80:17 (figurative), Jeremiah 51:32, hair Ezekiel 5:4; bones, to lime (as outrage) Amos 2:1; upon altars (in desecration) 1 Kings 13:2; 1Ki 23:16; 1Ki 23:20 2Chronicles 34:5; bodies, as funeral rite 1 Samuel 31:12 (rare custom, RSSemitic i. 353; 2nd ed. 372; but Klo Bu read יִשְׂמְּדוּ [= ׳יִס]; compare BenzArchaeology 163; Ency. Bib. DEAD NowArchaeology i. 188); ׳שׂ as funeral rite also (object omitted, probably spices, compare 2 Chronicles 16:14), with ל person mort. Jeremiah 34:5, + accusative of congnate meaning with verb שְׂרֵפָה2Chronicles 16:14 (compare שְׂרֵפָה); in ceremonial of P (never of burning sacrifice on altar, הִקְטִיר, compare הֶעְֶלֶה, but) chiefly (14 t.) of consuming refuse, especially unused portions of victims, etc. (to prevent use), and infected objects, Exodus 29:14,34 +, sometimes מִחוּץ לַמַּחֲנֶה Leviticus 4:12 (+ עַעֵָֿצִים), Leviticus 4:21 Leviticus 4:21 4t., etc., compare Ezekiel 43:21; also of burning red heifer (to produce ashes for purification) Numbers 19:5 (twice in verse); Numbers 19:3


The word harkens back to the serpent as well as to fire and the consumption by fire; but, as the entry above tells us, “never of burning sacrifice on altar, הִקְטִיר, compare הֶעְֶלֶה, but) chiefly (14 t.) of consuming refuse, especially unused portions of victims, etc. (to prevent use), and infected objects.”

The “victim” who Cain attempted to sacrifice was, like Berenice, the product of murder and a product of the love for death. It was unacceptable to the Lord in Genesis and resulted in never-ending and mournful regret on the part of Cain and his following; lovers of death and the deceased who can be called “infected objects.”

3. “Love” and Marriage

The “marriages” of words and music as well as various “marriages” between languages are counterpointed by literal marriages between rulers and monarchs of various nations such as those of the namesakes of Berenice and Leonore; where the sacred institution of matrimony and the commitment of human beings to one another is replaced with utility.

Let us begin with Lenore: Eleanor also Elinor, from Provençal Ailenor, a variant of Leonore, introduced in England by Eleanor of Aquitaine (1122-1204), wife of Henry II. The Old French form of the name was Elienor.

The name “Lenore” was introduced to English (from French) by Eleanor of Aquitaine who become wife to King Henry II.

“Eleanor now moved to Aquitaine to manage her unruly vassals: “Eleanor may well have welcomed the chance of autonomy, not to mention a more gracious mode of living than that experienced by Henry’s entourage, whose accommodation more often resembled a campsite than a court, but their marriage had always been based on business, and it was business that provided the primary reason for Eleanor’s removal from England.” (58)

“William X, eighth count of Poitou, and tenth duke of Aquitaine, was taken ill after drinking contaminated water. Realising he was dying, he made his will, bequeathing his domains of Poitou, Aquitaine and Glascony to his only child, Eleanor of Aquitaine. He told his friends to approach King Louis VI of France about the possibility of his son, Louis, marrying Eleanor. William died on 9th April, 1137. (1)

This territory was valued very highly. The chronicler, Ralph de Diceto, wrote: “Aquitaine overflows with riches of many kinds, excelling other parts of the western world… Its lands are fertile, its vineyards productive and its forests team with wild life…. It abounds with riches of many kinds, so excelling other parts of the western world that it is considered by historians one of the most fortunate and prosperous provinces of Gaul.” (2)

An interesting passage from this same history brings to mind the silken curtains and velvet of The Raven as well as the purple appointment of royal symbolism in the poem:

“It is claimed that Eleanor upset Church leaders with her interest in fashionable clothes and Abbot Sugar remarked on how they could not understand how Christian women could borrow the skins of animals and the labour of silkworms to create superficial beauty. “Fire on a beauty that is put on in the morning and laid aside at night! The ornaments of a queen have no beauty like to the blushes of natural modesty which colour the cheeks of a virgin. Silk, purple and paint have their own beauty, but they do not make the body beautiful.” (14)p”

The burning flesh of the scholar’s serpahic encounter in The Raven as well as the philosophy of de-composition which is evident in Berenice is the next part of Elinore’s history:

Eleanor of Aquitaine also upset Pope Innocent II when she and her husband supported her sixteen-year-old sister, Petronilla, when she embarked on an affair with Count Raoul of Vermandois. According to John of Salisbury, Raoul “was always dominated by lust” and decided to divorce his wife, who was the sister of Count Theobald of Champagne. The Pope took the side of Theobald and excommunicated Louis, Raoul and Petronilla. (12)

This started a war between the two sides and in January 1143, King Louis VII led an army into Champagne and at Vitry-en-Perthois, set fire to the town that surrounded a castle owned by Theobald. It is estimated that around 1,250 people took refuge in the cathedral. However, the fire spread and the cathedral itself was engulfed in flames and its roof caved in and every soul trapped within its walls perished. Louis heard the screams of the dying and smelt their burning flesh and shed tears of horror and remorse, and it was reported that he was unable to speak for two days. Louis was so upset he immediately withdrew his troops and his excommunication was lifted. According to Alison Weir: “Louis… was a changed man. He cut off his hair and was shorn like a monk; he took to wearing the monastic’s coarse grey gown and sandals; he spent hours at prayer begging God for forgiveness, and was even more rigorous than before in the religious observances and fasts.”

Look at the words which replace “love” in the following pacts.

In the case of Bernice, we speak of the “political”:

Berenice I, (flourished c. 317–c. 275 BCE), queen of ancient Egypt, wife of Ptolemy I Soter, and mother of Arsinoe II and Ptolemy II Philadelphus.

Berenice arrived in Egypt in the retinue of Eurydice, Ptolemy’s second queen, whom he married as part of a political agreement with her father, Antipater of Macedonia. About 317 Ptolemy married Berenice. Probably because she was not of royal blood, a genealogy was fabricated to make her a half sister of the king. In 308 Berenice gave birth to Ptolemy II Philadelphus, and in 290 Ptolemy made her queen of Egypt. In 285 Ptolemy II was made coregent and successor to his father, bypassing Eurydice’s children. Ptolemy II’s second wife was his sister, Arsinoe II, also the child of Berenice. (

In the case of Lenore, we find the word “business”:

Eleanor now moved to Aquitaine to manage her unruly vassals: “Eleanor may well have welcomed the chance of autonomy, not to mention a more gracious mode of living than that experienced by Henry’s entourage, whose accommodation more often resembled a campsite than a court, but their marriage had always been based on business, and it was business that provided the primary reason for Eleanor’s removal from England.” (58)

In 1167 Henry began a relationship with Rohese de Clare, Countess of Lincoln, and the sister of Roger de Clare, Earl of Hertford, who was said to be the most beautiful woman in England. Another mistress was Avice de Stafford. His main love was Rosamund de Clifford, the daughter of a a minor Norman knight, Walter de Clifford, who owned land in Herefordshire. Although during this period he was usually out of the country, he spent time with her in Woodstock whenever he could. (59)

Gerald of Wales called her “Rose of Unchastity” and claims Henry openly paraded her at his court as his mistress. (60) There are several stories about how Eleanor arranged for Rosamund to be murdered. (61) This included Eleanor going to meet Rosamund and offering her a choice between a dagger and a cup of poisoned wine. Another version is that Eleanor arranged for her to be bled to death. In reality Eleanor almost certainly never met her.”

(; (



The love and commitment of and to humanity is also debased by those who attempt to render it into something utilitarian in the forum of the active and creative mind (the only thing which defines human beings as human beings) by those who, lacking humanity and personality of their own, attach themselves parasitically to the work of others.

I experienced this when, in 2015, a literary agent wrote me with the following unsolicited message:


I was curious about the engagement; though circumspect about the fact that, in the message above, she mentions committing to “projects that we absolutely love” without mentioning what it is she is a lover of. The only things mentioned are “twenty-four New York Times bestsellers” (which indicates a love for the mere marketplace without a concern for that which one offers other human beings in exchange for the support of their patronage) and a number of press sources (indicating a love for fame which I do not understand why she would imagine would tempt me since I, as a known composer whom she was approaching, had no need of someone to help me get my reach beyond “the bookstore”).

I decided, nevertheless, to explore this idea of working on a book.

The individual in question made a commitment to work with me on some chapters for a book which I did on the understanding that she would keep up her part of the bargain. Once I sent my work to her, the following answer came back:


I reprimanded the person for making a commitment which she had then broken and also for calling me a “visionary.” My logic here is one which I have always adhered to (and one which I consider to be rooted in honesty and integrity): I do not compliment work which I refuse to advocate because of considerations regarding my “workload” or the “scope” of the work at hand. If I call someone a “visionary thinker and artist,” (and if I mean such a thing as a compliment) then I will advocate for their thinking and words (if my own words are to mean anything at all). She attacked me as “vile” and then said that she regarded me as a person of “integrity.”

We will come back to that word.

Her initial response, however, brought to mind the following indication from Edgar Allen Poe:

“He will say—‘My dear sir, you are a man of genius; and I am willing to admit, even, if you think proper, that you are a man of higher genius than—than—any one you have fancy to name. But, if I pay one dollar for your book, I am impliedly acknowledging that you are not only a man of greater genius than—shall we say Dickens?—but that you, who have never published a line, are more popular than he. For, observe! I can get Dickens’s works without the dollar. It is little better than piracy, I know; but custom sanctions it, and, therefore, I do not feel called upon to blush very particularly when I commit it. At all events, I prefer to blush a little, and save my dollar. I must, therefore, decline having anything to do with your book, for the present; but let me recommend you to Mr. A., or the house of H.—they may, possibly, be able to serve you

There are differences between my initial encounter and the one which Poe describes above. Among these difference are the following:

In my case, the agent is the person who approached me rather than the other way around
In my case, I was in touch with an agent rather than a publisher; publishers are nowadays largely unwilling to read anything unless it comes through a person they know (an agent)
The publisher recommends other options to the writer in Poe’s case

With that in mind, I decided to get a feeling for how deeply-rooted this duplicity was. After talking it over with a couple of my author friends, I decided to send out my early drafts for the sake of examining this issue. One individual (a person who publicly describes himself as a lover of learning) told me that the publishing of books is a “very subjective business.” Such a thing would mean that knowledge and ignorance could be regarded as one and the same depending on how the reader of a text regarded the knowledge contained therein. He also cited his rejection in these terms: “I don’t see a market.”

This reminded me of the following lines by W. H. Auden which he wrote in his Song of the Devil:
“Values are relative.
Dough is dough.”


Although, it would seem, the line needed to be additionally qualified with another one that would read as follows:

“learning is relative.
Dough is dough.”

What I was offering was, after all, not “fiction” but knowledge; learning which is not commonly found and which is fundamentally true and verifiably so. How could one refer to that as a “subjective business”?

Another agent determined that he would not “be able to make a go of it” based on factors that, as he made clear, had nothing to do with the quality of the work: “I want to emphasize that this is in no way a reflection on the quality of the book” and even “I admire and agree with the thinking that the book project plans to offer,” but rather that he made his decision in terms of “what I know I can do well with.”

In his essay, Poe remarked on this assault and robbery of the active mind and human spirit on the highway which, nevertheless, justifies it’s robbery as a matter of cleverness:

“The most momentous evil, however—an evil not the less momentous, because hitherto inconsidered—arising from the want of an International Copy-right Law, is the bitter sense of wrong aroused in the hearts of all literary men—is the keen contempt, and profound disgust which the whole Moral Force—which the whole Active Mind of the world cannot help entertaining, even if it would, against the sole region which refuses to protect it, or respect it—against the sole form of government, which not only robs it upon the highway, but justifies the robbery as a convenient and commendable thing, and glories in t [[it]] when cleverly done.”

These responses fortified my spirit and led me to examine this matter in such a way that would eventually lead to the contents of this book. In Thomas Harris’ novel Hannibal, we get a glimpse into the sort of creature which occupies the chamber of “the lover”:

“THE CHAMBER where Mason spends his life is quiet, but it has its own soft pulse, the hiss and sigh of the respirator that finds him breath. It is dark except for the glow of the big aquarium where an exotic eel turns and turns in an endless figure eight, its cast shadow moving like a ribbon over the room.

Mason’s plaited hair lies in a thick coil on the respirator shell covering his chest on the elevated bed. A device of tubes, like panpipes, is suspended before him.

Mason’s long tongue slides out from between his teeth. He scrolls his tongue around the end pipe and puffs with the next pulse of the respirator.”

The approach to Verger’s chamber involves the passage through a very different wing of the ornate and prettily appointed mansion; the shear in style is to something institutional; like a hospital:

“There is an abrupt shear in style at the new wing of the Verger mansion. The modern functional structure is reached through frosted glass double doors, incongruous in the vaulted hall.”

“Mason Verger’s chamber is approached only through his bathroom, a facility worthy of a spa that takes up the entire width of the wing. It is institutional-looking, all steel and chrome and industrial carpet, with wide-doored showers, stainless-steel tubs with lifting devices over them, coiled orange hoses, steam rooms and vast glass cabinets of unguents from the Farmacia di Santa Maria Novella in Florence. The air in the bathroom was still steamy from recent use and the scents of balsam and wintergreen hung in “hung in the air.
Starling could see light under the door to Mason Verger’s chamber. It went out as his sister touched the doorknob.
A seating area in the corner of Mason Verger’s chamber was severely lit from above. A passable print of William Blake’s “The Ancient of Days” hung above the couch—God measuring with his calipers. The picture was draped with black to commemorate the recent passing of the Verger patriarch. The rest of the room was dark.
From the darkness came the sound of a machine working rhythmically, sighing at each stroke.”

An FBI agent visiting Verger in order to depose him knows that the man she is visiting is a pedophile and that his family is criminal but wealthy and that, as a result of this wealth, Verger had been pardoned by the state and, he imagines, by God. The description of Verger’s encounter is as follows:

“Mr. Verger, I’d like to attach this microphone to your—clothing or your pillow if you’re comfortable with that, or I’ll call a nurse to do it if you prefer.”

“By all means,” he said, minus the b and the m. He waited for power from the next mechanical exhalation. “You can do it yourself, Agent Starling. I’m right over here.”

“There were no light switches Starling could find at once. She thought she might see better with the glare out of her eyes and she went into the darkness, one hand before her, toward the smell of wintergreen and balsam.

She was closer to the bed than she thought when he turned on the light.”

Starling’s face did not change. Her hand holding the clip-on microphone jerked backward, perhaps an inch.

“Her first thought was separate from the feelings in her chest and stomach; it was the observation that his speech anomalies resulted from his total lack of lips. Her second thought was the recognition that he was not blind. His single blue eye was looking at her through a sort of monocle “ with a tube attached that kept the eye damp, as it lacked a lid. For the rest, surgeons years ago had done what they could with expanded skin grafts over bone.”

“Mason Verger, noseless and lipless, with no soft tissue on his face, was all teeth, like a creature of the deep, deep ocean. Inured as we are to masks, the shock in seeing him is delayed. Shock comes with the recognition that this is a human face with a mind behind it. It churns you with its movement, the articulation of the jaw, the turning of the eye to see you. To see your normal face.”

“Mason Verger’s hair is handsome and, oddly, the hardest thing to look at. Black flecked with gray, it is plaited in a ponytail long enough to reach the floor if it is brought back over his pillow. Today his plaited hair is in a big coil on his chest above the turtle-shell respirator. Human hair beneath the blue-john ruin, the plaits shining like lapping scales.”

Verger emerges from the darkness and into the light; surrounded by silken curtains and confined to the soft utility of a hospital bed to which he was confined when his face came into contact with reality:


What the responses that came to me did share in common with Poe’s letter was the following: they adulated my sketches in superlative terms. The agent who had approached me to begin with called the work “visionary” while another spoke of it as being the sort of thinking which way compelled to tell me elicited a reaction: he “admired and agreed” with it. These words adulate thought and then assaulted that thought on the basis that it would not be useful to them in a utilitarian and hospital-like sense.

Later in the novel, Harris describes the Vergers as possessing an “unparalleled understanding of piggishness” and places the utilitarian words into Mason’s mouth that cement his malign lack of character for what it is. “I don’t need to hear … your whole platform” says Verger, his words punctuated by the utility of a respirator which allows him to breath rather than the spirit of the breath of life which inspires him to live. “… how much money will it take?”

“Mason’s malign presence and his darkened chamber with its hissing and sighing machinery and its ever-moving eel would have made Krendler uneasy enough, but he also had to sit through the video of Pazzi’s death again and again.

Seven times Krendler watched the Viggerts orbit the David, saw Pazzi plunge and his bowels fall out. By the seventh time, Krendler expected David’s bowels to fall out too.

Finally the bright overhead lights came on in the seating area of Mason’s room, hot on top of Krendler’s head and shining off his scalp through the thinning brush cut.

The Vergers have an unparalleled understanding of piggishness, so Mason began with what Krendler wanted for himself. Mason spoke out of the dark, his sentences measured by the stroke of his respirator.

“I don’t need to hear … your whole platform … how much money will it take?”

I will end here, with Auden’s Song of the Devil; a poem which captures the lack of honor and the inability to love which we have seen throughout the parts of this chapter; it captures the disregard for honesty and the difference of dimension between other folk and the person who deems himself to be so special that he would rewrite history, refer to other human beings as a “theory,” imagine himself absolved by God because he has cajoled a pardon from the state or state that knowledge and the entire being of the human soul and mind was not simply a business but “a very subjective business.”

Those individuals might even enjoy their dream for a while but, as Auden points out at the close of his poem, the evil one is not personally invested in any of these individuals or their fantasies; evil, after all, is not personal to the devil and his fire but simply a matter of nature. And so, as bored with them as they are with him, the devil retires from their company with a scream.

Here is W.H. Auden’s Song of the Devil:

Ever since observation taught me temptation
Is a matter of timing, I’ve tried
To clothe my fiction in up-to-date diction,
The contemporary jargon of Pride.
I can recall when, to win the more
Obstinate round,
The best bet was to say to them: ‘Sin the more
That Grace may abound.’

Since Social Psychology replaced Theology
The process goes twice as quick,
If a conscience is tender and loth to surrender
I have only to whisper: ‘You’re sick!
Puritanical morality
Is madly Non-U:
Enhance your personality
With a Romance, with two.

‘If you pass up a dame, you’ve yourself to blame,
For shame is neurotic, so snatch!
All rules are too formal, in fact they’re abnormal,
For any desire is natch.
So take your proper share, man, of
Dope and drink:
Aren’t you the Chairman of
Ego, Inc.?

‘Free-Will is a mystical myth as statistical
Methods have objectively shown,
A fad of the Churches: since the latest researches
Into Motivation it’s known
That Honor is hypocrisy,
Honesty a joke.
You live in a Democracy:
Lie like other folk.

‘Since men are like goods, what are shouldn’ts or shoulds
When you are the Leading Brand?
Let them all drop dead, you’re way ahead,
Beat them up if they dare to demand
What may your intention be,
Or what might ensue:
There’s a difference of dimension be-
– tween the rest and you.

‘If in the scrimmage of business your image
Should ever tarnish or stale,
Public Relations can take it and make it
Shine like a Knight of the Grail.
You can mark up the price that you sell at, if
Your package has glamour and show:
Values are relative.
Dough is dough.

‘So let each while you may think you’re more O.K.,
More yourself than anyone else,
Till you find that you’re hooked, your goose is cooked,
And you’re only a cipher of Hell’s.
Believe while you can that I’m proud of you,
Enjoy your dream:
I’m so bored with the whole fucking crowd of you
I could scream!’


4. A Long Time Ago, In a Galaxy Far, Far, Away


The Mythology of ‘Star Wars’ with George Lucas
June 18, 1999


TRANSCRIPT BILL MOYERS: Nestled into a rolling hillside north of San Francisco, Skywalker Ranch is the command center of George Lucas’ filmmaking empire. I first came here to interview Joseph Campbell, a friend and mentor to George Lucas. Twelve years later I came back, this time to interview the protégé. After a 22-year hiatus, George Lucas is back in the director’s chair with a new episode in his “Star Wars” epic, “The Phantom Menace.” I wanted to know why he thought the “Star Wars” saga had grasped such a hold on our collective imaginations. Over the course of an afternoon, we talked about myths and movies, fathers and sons, fantasy and imagination.
Joseph Campbell said that all the great myths, the primitive myths, the great stories, have to be regenerated if they’re going to have any impact, and that you have done that with “Star Wars.” Are you conscious of doing that? Are you saying, ‘I am trying to cre — recreate the myths of old? Or are you saying, ‘I just want to make a good action movie?’
GEORGE LUCAS: Well, when I did “Star Wars” I consciously set about to recreate myths and the — and the classic mythological motifs. And I wanted to use those motifs to deal with issues that existed today.
(Excerpt from “Star Wars”)
GEORGE LUCAS: What these films deal with is the fact that we all have good and evil inside of us and that we can choose which way we want the balance to go. “Star Wars” was made up of many themes. It’s not just a single theme. One is our relationship to machines, which are fearful but as — also benign and they’re — they’re an extension of the human, not mean in themselves. The — the issues of friendship and your obligation to your fellow man and to other people that are around you, that you have control over your destiny, that you — you have a destiny, that you have many paths to walk down and — and you may have a great destiny. If you decide not to walk down that path, your life might not be as satisfying as if you wake up and listen to your inner feelings and realize what it is that you have a particular talent for and what contributions you can make to society.
BILL MOYERS: One of the appeals of “Star Wars” originally was that it — it satisfied our craving to resolve our ambiguities.
(Excerpt from “Star Wars”)
BILL MOYERS: The good guys were good guys, the bad guys were bad guys. You used color to suggest some of this philosophy.
GEORGE LUCAS: Yeah. I use color a lot in — in my films. I’m very conscious of — of the design of my films.
(Excerpt from “Star Wars”)
GEORGE LUCAS: Tatooine is — is usually our home planet and there isn’t much there except a lot of brown sand. A very, very clean place.
(Excerpt from “Star Wars”)
GEORGE LUCAS: Death Star, the Empire, has been painted black or white or gray. There’s a lot of gray, but it’s colorless. The Emperor, I put in a splash of red. I mean, red is a — an aggressive color.
BILL MOYERS: When you were writing, did you have all of this in your mind before you got the pencil to the page, or were you making it up as you…
GEORGE LUCAS: Well, some artists — they see the picture whole, you know, completed. I see the picture in a fog. know sort of what it looks like, I know what’s there and so what I do is I say, ‘I want something — I want a costume that is very regal, very grand, very different from anything we see, but has a lot of cultural history behind it.’ So I don’t want to make something up. I want to use something that is from a — a living human culture. And in this particular case, I was looking for an Asian influence for the planet of Naboo, and so I go to the research library and I said, ‘Look allover Asia, even into the Middle East, all the way across into the islands to find me unique and interesting ceremonial costumes.’ I kind of had a rough idea of what it was, but not until I actually — we finished with it is it clear. It’s not like I’m working from a finished thing. I’m working from something where you have a lot of pieces and it’s vague and you try to put it together.
BILL MOYERS: Where do these rough ideas come from?
GEORGE LUCAS: Now that I don’t know. That’s a mystery.
BILL MOYERS: But 25 years ago, when you cast the original plot, you didn’t see these costumes? You didn’t see these characters, did you? That’s all. ..
GEORGE LUCAS: No. No. This is something I didn’t really do until I started to sit down and write this script.
(Excerpt from “The Phantom Menace”)
GEORGE LUCAS: I knew the basic story, how Darth Vader got to be Darth Vader.
(Excerpt from “The Phantom Menace”)
GEORGE LUCAS: But I didn’t have any details about what anything looked like. I knew there would be a — a slave owner. I didn’t know that he would actually run a junk shop and be blue and fly around on funny little wings.
BILL MOYERS: Are you conscious when you’re doing that of — a little bit of David and Goliath here, a little bit of Buck Rogers there, a little bit of Tarzan or Wizard of Oz here?
GEORGE LUCAS: What happens is that no matter how you do it, when you sit down to write something all other influences you’ve had in your life come into play. The things that you like, the things that you’ve seen, the things — the observations you’ve made. That’s ultimately what you work with when you’re writing. And you — you are influenced by the things that you like. Designs that you like, characters you like, moments that you remember, that you were moved by. It’s — it’s like trying to compose a — a symphony in a way.
BILL MOYERS: And do you have any sense of where that comes from in you. I mean, your own creative precincts?
GEORGE LUCAS: You know, the psychology of developing fantasies is a very interesting and delicate thing. I’ve come across people that have no imaginations at all and it’s a very interesting… .
BILL MOYERS: They become journalists.
GEORGE LUCAS: Well, it’s — it’s — it — I was shocked the first time I came across it. And — because I just assumed everybody had an imagination. And when you — you confront somebody who doesn’t, especially a child, it’s a very interesting and profound thing to me. It — an imagination is a — is a trait, you know. It’s like anything else. It’s a — it’s a — it’s a talent, or it’s an ability you have to cope. Like dreaming.
BILL MOYERS: The underwater world, for example, in “The Phantom Menace,” looks as if it’s a dream.
BILL MOYERS: Where did that idea come from? Out of your own fantasy?
GEORGE LUCAS: You know, part of it is where can I go that I haven’t been before? And underwater was one of those places I hadn’t been before, but I wanted to create a very special, sophisticated but organic kind of a society down there.
(Excerpt from “The Phantom Menace”)
GEORGE LUCAS: We were using a kind of technology which had to be completely worked out. How do these bubbles exist under there? Where do they come from? What do they use for energy? The whole culture has to be designed. What do they believe in? How do they operate? What are the economics of the culture. Most of it doesn’t appear in the movie, but you have to have thought it through, otherwise there’s — something always rings very untrue or phony about what it is that’s going on. And one of the things I struggle for is to create a kind of immaculate realism in a totally unreal and fantasy world. It’s a science that I can make up. But once I make up a rule, then I have to live with it.
BILL MOYERS: Such as? The world according to George.
GEORGE LUCAS: Well — I mean, one of the rules is that there’s sound in space.
(Excerpt from “Star Wars”)
GEORGE LUCAS: So there’s sound in space. I can’t suddenly have spaceships flying around without any sound anymore because I’ve already done it. I’ve established that as one of the rules of the — of the — of my galaxy and I have to live with that.
(Excerpt from “Star Wars”)
GEORGE LUCAS: The technology of laser swords, what they can cut through, what they can’t cut through.





“The idea is that he would have a massive cylindrical machine in the center of his room — and in the center of that machine is a one-person bacta tank that looks out through a window onto the lava fields of Mustafar. It’s both a meditation and a healing chamber. There’s a lava river underneath, bottom-lighting the room earily. These arms would come down to pull apart the chamber the way you might seperate a pill capsule, and the bacta would leak out on the hot grills to create steam — partially because steam is so atmospheric and awesome, and partially because you don’t really want to see a naked Vader. But there would be hints and glimpses of his twisted body breaking through the steam. And then, at the end, you might barely read a silouette of the helmet as it comes down.”

Whitta also says the image of Vader in the take makes you realize that “he’s this crippled, broken, tragic figure.” Whitta says that when Lucasfilm head Kathleen Kennedy saw the concept art for the bacta tank, she “really responded to the idea that Vader would choose for himself such a hellish kind of chamber.”

Original screenwriter Gary Whitta says the original idea was that Vader “would need to sometimes remove all of his armor to completely replenish his depleted body, but that his private place wasn’t actually an Imperial location–but we pictured it as this really dreadful place with Albert Speer-like brutalist architecture.”

The dark cubicle is illuminated by a single shaft of light which falls on the brooding Dark Lord as he sits on a raised meditation cube. General Veers enters the room and approaches the silent, unmoving Vader. Although seemingly very sure of himself, Veers is still not bold enough to interrupt the meditating lord. The younger general stands quietly at attention until the evil presence speaks.

The Star Wars Legends Book titled Dark Lord; The Rise of Darth Vader,

“To the galaxy at large, Jedi Knight Anakin Skywalker—poster boy for the war effort, the “Hero with No Fear,” the Chosen One—had died on Coruscant during the siege of the Jedi Temple.
And to some extent that was true.

Anakin is dead, Vader told himself.”

The book also characterizes Darth Vader as a tragic figure; a victim of the Emperor’s manipulative tactics.
And yet, if not for events on Mustafar, Anakin would sit now on the Coruscant throne, his wife by his side, their child in her arms … Instead, Palpatine’s plan could not have been more flawlessly executed. He had won it all: the war, the Republic, the fealty of the one Jedi Knight in whom the entire Jedi order had placed its hope. The revenge of the self-exiled Sith had been complete, and Darth Vader was merely a minion, an errand boy, allegedly an apprentice, the public face of the dark side of the Force.

The burns which Vader suffered on Mustafar burns are the result of a decision on the part of Darth Vader (Anakin Skywalker).The key point is that the viewer of the movies (as well as the reader of the Legends) will have observed the injury as it occurred. We see Anakin choose to pick a fight with his own mentor and friend. But this is not all. This incident is described as an inevitable event:

“While he retained his knowledge of the Jedi arts, he felt uncertain about “sustain that power. How far he might have been now had fate not intervened to strip him of almost everything he possessed, as a means of remaking him!

Or of humbling him, as Darths Maul and Tyranus had been humbled before him; as indeed the Jedi order itself had been humbled.

Where Darth Sidious had gained everything, Vader had lost everything, including—for the moment, at least—the self-confidence and unbridled skill he had demonstrated as Anakin Skywalker.”


GENERAL GRIEVOUS: It won’t be long before the armies of the Republic track us here. I am sending you to the Mustafar system in the Outer Rim. It is a volcanic planet which generates a great deal of scanning interference. You will be safe there.

Vader’s hatred for Obi Wan Kenobi led him to literally leap into the flames after


From their cables, ANAKIN and OBI-WAN both spot something that causes them to stop fighting. The lava river ahead drops off in a tremendous lava fall.

SNAPPING AND METAL GROANS are heard as the main part of the collector starts to break away and move toward the lava fall. OBI-WAN looks around and sees a small floating platform making its way toward the tower.

OBI-WAN does a double hack-flip and lands squarely on the floating platform. He immediately leans to one side and moves away from the tower.

ANAKIN realizes he is doomed as the entire tower heads for the falls. In the distance he sees some CONSTRUCTION DROIDS. He swings back to the tower, climbs up and makes a running leap and miraculously lands on A WORKER DROID. The DROID is confused and chatters to his CO-WORKER. The giant collector goes over the lava flow and disappears in the mist of sparks below.

OBI-WAN heads for the bank of the lava river, but Anakin’s DROID is faster. He catches up with his old Master.

OBI-WAN and ANAKIN continue the swordfight. They battle away, balancing on the tiny platform and puzzled DROID. ANAKIN, standing on the Droid, approaches OBI-WAN on the work platform.

OBI-WAN: I have failed you, Anakin. I was never able to teach you to think.

ANAKIN and OBI-WAN confront each other on the lava river.

ANAKIN: I should have known the Jedi were plotting to take over . . .

OBI-WAN: From the Sith!!! Anakin, Chancellor Palpatine is evil.

ANAKIN: From the Jedi point of view! From my point of view, the Jedi are evil.

OBI-WAN: Well, then you are lost!

ANAKIN: This is the end for you, My Master. I wish it were otherwise.

ANAKIN jumps and flips onto OBI- WAN’s platform. The fighting continues again until OBI-WAN jumps toward the safety of the black sandy edge of the lava river. He yells at Anakin.

OBI-WAN: It’s over, Anakin. I have the high ground.

ANAKIN: You underestimate my power!

OBI-WAN: Don’t try it.

ANAKIN follows, and OBI-WAN cuts his young apprentice at the knees, then cuts off his left arm in the blink of an eye. ANAKIN tumbles down the embankment and rolls to a stop near the edge of the lava.

ANAKIN struggles to pull himself up the embankment with his mechanical hand. His thin leather glove has been burned off. He keeps sliding down in the black sand.

OBI-WAN: (continuing) . . . You were the Chosen One! It was said that you would, destroy the Sith, not join them. It was you who would bring balance to the Force, not leave it in Darkness.

OBI-WAN picks up Anakin’s light saber and begins to walk away. He stops and looks back.

ANAKIN: I hate you!

OBI-WAN: You were my brother, Anakin. I loved you.

ANAKIN’S clothing blows into the lava river and ignites. Suddenly ANAKIN bursts into flames and starts SCREAMING.


ANAKIN: This is the end for you, My Master. I wish it were otherwise.

ANAKIN jumps and flips onto OBI- WAN’s platform. The fighting continues again until OBI-WAN jumps toward the safety of the black sandy edge of the lava river. He yells at Anakin.

OBI-WAN: It’s over, Anakin. I have the high ground.

ANAKIN: You underestimate my power!

OBI-WAN: Don’t try it.

ANAKIN follows, and OBI-WAN cuts his young apprentice at the knees, then cuts off his left arm in the blink of an eye. ANAKIN tumbles down the embankment and rolls to a stop near the edge of the lava.

ANAKIN struggles to pull himself up the embankment with his mechanical hand. His thin leather glove has been burned off. He keeps sliding down in the black sand.

OBI-WAN: (continuing) . . . You were the Chosen One! It was said that you would, destroy the Sith, not join them. It was you who would bring balance to the Force, not leave it in Darkness.

OBI-WAN picks up Anakin’s light saber and begins to walk away. He stops and looks back.

ANAKIN: I hate you!

OBI-WAN: You were my brother, Anakin. I loved you.

ANAKIN’S clothing blows into the lava river and ignites. Suddenly ANAKIN bursts into flames and starts SCREAMING.


An Imperial Shuttle closes its wings and settles on the highest of the Mustafar Landing Platforms. A PLATOON OF CLONE TROOPERS exits the craft, followed by DARTH SIDIOUS.


DARTH SIDIOUS walks in front of the CLONE TROOPERS on his way to get to Anakin at the edge of the lava pit.


DARTH SIDIOUS discovers what remains of ANAKIN and checks him out. He turns to the CLONES.

DARTH SIDIOUS: Anakin! Anakin! There he is. He’s still alive. Get a medical capsule, immediately.

CLONE CAPTAIN: Yes sir. Right away.

Several of the CLONES rush off as DARTH SIDlOUS puts his hand on ANAKIN’s forehead.

Vader turned and moved for the hatch.

But this is not walking, he thought.”

“Long accustomed to building and rebuilding droids, supercharging the engines of landspeeders and starfighters, upgrading the mechanisms that controlled the first of his artificial limbs, he was dismayed by the incompetence of the medical droids responsible for his resurrection in Sidious’s lofty laboratory on Coruscant.

His alloy lower legs were bulked by strips of armor similar to those that filled and gave form to the long glove Anakin had worn over his right-arm prosthesis. What remained of his real limbs ended in bulbs of grafted flesh, inserted into machines that triggered movement through the use of modules that interfaced with his damaged nerve endings. But instead of using durasteel, the medical droids had substituted “an inferior alloy, and had failed to inspect the strips that protected the electromotive lines. As a result, the inner lining of the pressurized bodysuit was continually snagging on places where the strips were anchored to knee and ankle joints.

The tall boots were a poor fit for his artificial feet, whose claw-like toes lacked the electrostatic sensitivity of his equally false fingertips. Raised in the heel, the cumbersome footgear canted him slightly forward, forcing him to move with exaggerated caution lest he stumble or topple over. Worse, they were so heavy that he often felt rooted to the ground, or as if he were moving in high gravity.

What good was motion of this sort, if he was going to have to call on the Force even to walk from place to place! He may as well have resigned himself to using a repulsor chair and abandoned any hope of movement.

The defects in his prosthetic arms mirrored those of his legs.

Only the right one felt natural to him—though it, too, was artificial—and the pneumatic mechanisms that supplied articulation and support were sometimes slow to respond. The weighty cloak and pectoral plating so restricted “his movement that he could scarcely lift his arms over his head, and he had already been forced to adapt his lightsaber technique to compensate.

He could probably adjust the servodrivers and pistons in his forearms to provide his hands with strength enough to crush the hilt of his new lightsaber. With the power of his arms alone, he had the ability to lift an adult being off the ground. But the Force had always given him the ability to do that, especially in moments of rage, as he had demonstrated on Tatooine and elsewhere. What’s more, the sleeves of the bodysuit didn’t hug the prostheses as they should, and the elbow-length gloves sagged and bunched at his wrists.

Gazing at the gloves now, he thought: This is not seeing.”

“The pressurized mask was goggle-eyed, fish-mouthed, short-snouted, and needlessly angular over the cheekbones. Coupled with a flaring dome of helmet, the mask gave him the forbidding appearance of an ancient Sith war droid. The dark hemispheres that covered his eyes filtered out light that might have caused further injury to his “damaged corneas and retinas, but in enhanced mode the half globes reddened the light and prevented him from being able to see the toes of his boots without inclining his head almost ninety degrees.

Listening to the servomotors that drove his limbs, he thought: This is not hearing.”
“The med droids rebuilt the cartilage of his outer ears, but his eardrums, having melted in Mustafar’s heat, had been beyond repair. Sound waves now had to be transmitted directly to implants in his inner ear, and sounds registered as if issuing from underwater. Worse, the implanted sensors lacked sufficient discrimination, so that too many ambient sounds were picked up, and their distance and direction were difficult to determine. Sometimes the sensors needled him with feedback, or attached echo or vibrato effects to even the faintest noise.

Allowing his lungs to fill with air, he thought: This is not breathing.”

“Here the med droids had truly failed him.

From a control box he wore strapped to his chest, a thick cable entered his torso, linked to a breathing apparatus and heartbeat regulator. The ventilator was implanted in his hideously scarred chest, along with tubes that ran directly into his damaged lungs, and others that entered his throat, so that should the chest plate or belt control panels develop a glitch, he could breathe unassisted for a limited time.

But the monitoring panel beeped frequently and for no reason, and the constellation of lights served only as steady reminders of his vulnerability.

The incessant rasp of his breathing interfered with his ability to rest, let alone sleep. And sleep, in the rare moments it came to him, was a nightmarish jumble of twisted, recurrent memories that unfolded to excruciating sounds.

The med droids had at least inserted the redundant breathing tubes low enough so that, with the aid of an enunciator, his scorched vocal cords could still form sounds and words. But absent the enunciator, which imparted a synthetic bass tone, his own voice was little more than a whisper.

He could take food through his mouth, as well, but “only when he was inside a hyperbaric chamber, since he had to remove the triangular respiratory vent that was the mask’s prominent feature. So it was easier to receive nourishment through liquids, intravenous and otherwise, and to rely on catheters, collection pouches, and recyclers to deal with liquid and solid waste.

But all those devices made it even more difficult for him to move with ease, much less with any grace. The pectoral armor that protected the artificial lung weighed him down, as did the electrode-“studded collar that supported the outsize helmet, necessary to safeguard the cybernetic devices that replaced the uppermost of his vertebrae, the delicate systems of the mask, and the ragged scars in his hairless head, which owed as much to what he had endured on Mustafar as to attempts at emergency trephination during the trip back to Coruscant aboard Sidious’s shuttle.

The synthskin that substituted for what was seared from his bones itched incessantly, and his body needed to be periodically cleansed and scrubbed of necrotic flesh.

Already he had experienced moments of claustrophobia—moments of desperation to be rid of the suit, to emerge from the shell. He needed to build, or have built, a chamber in which he could feel human again … If possible.

All in all, he thought: This is not living.”


This passage conveys the dearth of Darth Vader very well.

This is not walking.
This is not hearing.
This is not seeing .
This is not breathing.

And finally:

This is not living


Star Wars, Episode III: Burnt Anakin head featurette

Dave Elsey: Recreating things that you saw in the original movies, is really quite difficult, such as Darth Vader, Anakin. At the end of Return of the Jedi, when his helmet comes off and we see what he looks like, we’ve kind of had to do the earlier version of that. It’s very confusing because to look at it, I didn’t really think that it looked like he was burned—he had kind of a big gash down one side of his face and a gash on the top of his head but no real burns as far as I could see. So, to talk to George Lucas about that was really the only way we had of finding out what exactly was going on there. The only thing we disagreed over with were his eyebrows, actually. He had these big kind of bushy, black eyebrows and I said, “You know, I don’t think he’d really have those at the end of the fire. In fact, that would be the first thing to burn off.” So we decided those were gone, we lost those.

Every time we put the make-up on, it’s really the only time it can be used, because the pieces are very, very delicate, they’re made of foam latex, and the edges are tissue-thin so that we can lose them into the skin. When the make-up is removed, the whole piece is destroyed and it usually takes about a day to paint up one set of appliances to be stuck on the actor. We’ll have ten faces ready, and they’ll all be painted exactly the same. Every skin pore, every dot, every broken blood vessel, every single thing is all perfectly painted on there. And then when we stick it on, we know it’s going to be exactly the same every single day.

“One of the very first things George said was, ‘How are we going to do a PG burn?’ Even if you stylize it a little bit, you still have to make it quite graphic in order to make it really look like a fresh burn because when we see it, it’s just happened. So I went back to him and I said, “Look, how much can we get away with here and how nasty can we make it?” And he basically just said, “Do what you have to.”


Darth Vader’s rage:

This moment is when Vader sees the light. It’s totally and utterly believable that he would turn on the emperor and be saved by his son. Here’s the exchange between Luke and his father (Vader) before leaving the Death Star:

LUKE: “I’ll not leave you here. I’ve got to save you.”

VADER: ”You already have, Luke. You were right. You were right about me.”

At the end of that purge (Order 66) Anakin commits the ultimate atrocity that we see following an entire film in which he is depicted and written as a clearly ambitious and arrogant destabilizer who is frustrated with all other Jedi because he thinks that he knows better than them. Here is the ultimate display that should convince us beyond the shadow of any doubt that this man has charted his own path well before he learns of Padme’s death.

The visual aesthetics of this moment are clear. Here is Anakin leading his armies into the Jedi Temple:

Take that against Vader’s appearance in The New Hope:






Here is a superimposition to show the exactness of proximity:


During Order 66 (the command from Emperor Palpatine to destroy all Jedi), Anakin Skywalker commits an atrocity that truly solidifies him as the Sith apprentice, Darth Vader. At the command of Darth Sidious, the newly christened Darth Vader goes to the Jedi Temple and kills everyone he can find. As it turns out, “everyone” includes the “younglings”, the children who lived in the temple and studied to be Jedi.

One of the younglings, recognizing Anakin as a Jedi Master, goes to him and says, “Master Skywalker. There are too many of them. What are we going to do?” Anakin remains emotionless and he ignites his lightsaber before the scene cuts away.”

But, we are told, Anakin “does it all for Padmé”. Even worse, we are expected to believe that, from Anakin’s portrayal and therefore from his perspective: “the emperor made me do it.” And what is even worse than this is that we do believe it. By “we,” I mean millions and millions of people who find the Star Wars epic to be viable, touching and convincing (I include myself among those millions). What would cause us to find the lack of culpability on the part of (and eventual redemption of) a tyrannical mass-murderer convincing?

Our belief is due, in no small part, to George Lucas’ consummate artistry as a director. But it is also due to an attitude which Lucas has so sensitively perceived on the part of the receiving side (the audience). This is an attitude which I believe is shared by Lucas himself. I am taking specifically about the want (if not the need) to believe.

[Anakin stops Mace Windu from hurting the Chancellor, severing Windu’s hand. Palpatine drops his act and again strikes Windu with force-lightning] Chancellor Palpatine/Darth Sidious: [Triumphantly] POWER! UNLIMITED POWER! [sends Windu flying out the window to his death] Anakin: [Horrified] What have I done…?!
Sidious: You’re fulfilling your destiny, Anakin. Become my apprentice. Learn to use the Dark Side of the Force.
Anakin: [exhausted] …I will do whatever you ask.
Sidious: Good!
Anakin: Just help me save Padmé’s life. I can’t live without her.
Sidious: To cheat death is the power only one has achieved, but if we work together, I know we can discover the secret.
Anakin: I pledge myself… to your teachings.
Sidious: Good. Good… The Force is strong with you. A powerful Sith, you will become. Henceforth, you shall be known as Darth…Vader.
Darth Vader: Thank you, my master.
Sidious: Rise…[Vader rises and Sidious goes to his desk] Because the Council did not trust you, my young apprentice, I believe you are the only Jedi with no knowledge of this plot. When the Jedi learn what has transpired here, they will kill us, along with all the Senators.
“Just help me save Padmé’s life. I can’t live without her.
Sidious: To cheat death is the power only one has achieved, but if we work together, I know we can discover the secret.
Anakin: I pledge myself… to your teachings.”

To be clear. That’s the moment of great crucial importance. Vader does it all, he says, because he can’t live without her. Here is what happens just a little while later.

He betrays her just as he betrayed the Jedi and as he betrayed his friends and betrayed his family and pretty much everybody else. Padme is his excuse for seeking power and ambition and for being destructive. Yet he blatantly shows us that she is nothing but an excuse and that power and destruction is his first and last goal. More crucially, he convinces himself of this and emotionally responds to his own lie as someone who is fully convinced by it. That is linked to the arrogance of not being able to blame himself for any of his failings.

A few stories later, immediately after Yoda dies and Luke, who, unlike his mother survived his father’s (Anakin/Vader’s) attack on him while he was still in the womb says this:
[Yoda has passed into The Force, Luke is sitting outside his hut with R2] Luke: I can’t do it, R2. I can’t go on alone.
Obi-Wan Kenobi: [voice emanates from nowhere] Yoda will always be with you. [reveals himself as a spirit walking nearby] Luke: Obi-Wan. Why didn’t you tell me? You told me Vader betrayed and murdered my father.
Obi-Wan: Your father was seduced by the dark side of the Force. He ceased to be Anakin Skywalker and became Darth Vader. When that happened, the good man who was your father was destroyed. So what I told you was true, from a certain point of view.
Luke: [incredulously] A certain point of view?
Obi-Wan: Luke, you’re going to find that many of the truths we cling to depend greatly on our own point of view. Anakin was a good friend. When I first knew him, your father was already a great pilot. But I was amazed how strongly the Force was with him. I took it upon myself to train him as a Jedi. I thought that I could instruct him just as well as Yoda. I was wrong.
Luke: There is still good in him.

Luke goes in, against all odds, to “save” his father and we are given the ending that we want. We believe it because we want it and because the characters believe it. But we believe it despite the mass murder, betrayal of everything, destruction of entire races and planets and other activities
Vader has been involved in for his whole life.

We want to believe that all it takes is the kindness of a son for Vader to see the light and effect this moment of light at the end of the entire cycle (from the ending scene of Star Wars Episode VI: Return of the Jedi):


Luke sets a torch to the logs stacked under a funeral pyre where his
father’s body lies, again dressed in black mask and helmet. He stands,
watching sadly, as the flames leap higher to consume Darth Vader —
Anakin Skywalker.

In the sky above, fireworks explode and Rebel fighters zoom above the


A huge bonfire is the centerpiece of a wild celebration. Rebels and
Ewoks rejoice in the warm glow of firelight, drums beating, singing,
dancing, and laughing in the communal language of victory and

Lando runs in and is enthusiastically hugged by Han and Chewie. Then,
finally, Luke arrives and the friends rush to greet and embrace him.
They stand close, this hardy group, taking comfort in each other’s
touch, together to the end.

Rebels and Ewoks join together in dancing and celebration. The original
group of adventurers watch from the sidelines. Only Luke seems
distracted, alone in their midsts, his thoughts elsewhere.

He looks off to the side and sees three shimmering, smiling figures at
the edge of the shadows: Ben Kenobi, Yoda, and Anakin Skywalker
Anakin appears restored with the force

Here is a still image from the realization of Lucas’ direction (which I have highlighted in blue above):


This is a fascinating moment. Let us recall where we have come from. Here is an account from ScreenRant:

“While Darth Vader’s temper and violence often went hand-in-hand, there is one incredibly disturbing moment in Revenge of the Sith where he takes out his rage on his pregnant wife, Senator Padme Amidala. In a film that has its fair share of violence, this single moment stands out. After all, Vader seems to use his love for Padme as a shield as he descends into the dark side of the Force. It’s because of her and the fear of losing her that he needs power. However, in this pivotal moment, it becomes clear that Darth Vader is fueled by jealousy, anger, and a lust for power. He is willing to hurt or kill anyone who stands in his way, even the woman that he loves and the child(ren) that she carries. This is perhaps Darth Vader’s most disturbing betrayal of all, and reveals him to be the hypocrite that he is.”

As the Sith Lord’s new apprentice, he had taken the name Darth Vader before he set out to kill every Jedi who remained at the Jedi Temple. Now, so many years later, Vader reflected on all the Jedi he killed that day. Remembering the stunned expressions of Mace Windu as he fell from Palpatine’s office window and the screams of the Jedi younglings and their teachers, he felt no remorse. Just as he believed he had done his best to be a dutiful Jedi, he believed his actions as Palpatine’s apprentice were even more righteous.

Vader’s “conversion” or “salvation” is convincing to us because the scene of his unmasking and reconciliation is handled masterfully by Lucas. The unmasked Vader is played by Sebastian Shaw, one of the finest and most skilled actors alive. Shaw’s delivery is akin to Prospero in Shakespeare’s Tempest declaring that “all his charms are now overthrown.” The acting in this scene is a sharp contrast to David Prowse’s rigid movements (Prowse, a body builder and character actor played Vader in terms of choreography while James Earl Jones- another of our finest actors- voiced Vader). John Williams presents Vader’s leitmotif (the theme of the Imperial March) in the strings (playing using a technique called flautando which is used by composers to imitate the soft whistling of the flute). We then hear the theme in the flute and then in the French Horns (the softest of the brass); we hear the Imperial March played by every instrumental group which had not played it in the more than nine hours of the series which lead up to this moment. Finally, as Vader dies, we hear the March clearly and plainly as played by the most angelic of harps. Lucas also places this moment in a symmetrically vital spot. Just as the prequels (the first the movies) must culminate in the demoniacal transformation of Anakin into Darth Vader, the final three movies have to place his redemption (Anakin’s resurrection) in the same symmetrically sensible part of the series. The two scenes (at the end of the third and sixth movies respectively) are the lynchpins that hold this entire cycle together.

But this mastery on the part of Lucas (if taken alone) is not enough to make Star Wars convincing. There had to be a willingness on the part of us, his audience, to believe in Vader’s redemption and salvation. Darth Vader is a character who, by all accounts, would be one of the worst mass-murderers in history if he was an historical figure among the nations of the world. And yet, we believe in his redemption.
Vader’s redemption is fictive and yet the artwork in question is not. It is unconvincing that such a mass murderer could be redeemed. But that which is unconvincing is not to be confused with that which is untrue.

The truth in this art lies in the fact that we are convinced of his redemption. That truth is artistic in nature and, because of this, must involve not only Lucas; vision but also our own sensibilities. Lucas, through the force of his own sensitivity, understood that we would find the salvation of Vader by his son compelling. He understood this well enough to bet the entire series on it.

He was right. And that may be understood as a very good thing in terms of what is says about those of us who are counted among the many many millions of people who make up his ever-expanding audience. This work is true and that truth can be measured n terms of the truth it reveals about us.


VI. Suspending Disbelief































1. Litany and Mass; Song and Soul

In this lesson, we will discuss Leonard Bernstein’s 1971 composition titled Mass as well as my 2007 wind quintet titled Litany. By illustrating the relationship of Bernstein’s work to my own (as well as illustrating the relationship of other works to his) I will illustrate the processes of artistic “influence” in a concrete and simple fashion. It is my hope that some explanation of these communions between spirits will dispel some of the more mysterious theories which I have found to often shroud discussions of inspiration in art. The reader will find that the issues explored in this lesson will touch at the core of the current crises of trust and faith which I have been observing in examples throughout the present book.

In 2017, I attended the premiere a work which of mine called Azan at The Manchester International Festival. The Festival described the work as follows:

“Mohammed Fairouz, hailed as ‘one of the most talented composers of his generation’ by the BBC, has created Azan, a composition intended to cut through the noise of our day-to-day lives.”

That description of my intent is accurate and is taken from an interview in which I spoke of Azan. But my engagement with the Azan goes back as far as I can remember. My compositional engagement with the Azan, however, can be placed firmly to 2006 when I began a work called Litany. The reader who researches the “Azan” will find it described as the “call to prayer” (أذان).

The critic Andrew Ford described the work as follows in a review titled “Musical Alchemy.” The “alchemy” in question refers to the work of another composer reviewed in the same essay but is, unfortunately, applied to that work as a compliment by Mr. Ford. Here is the review:

“The young American, Mohammed Fairouz, is resourceful in a different way. The first sounds on the CD of his music, Critical Models (Sono Luminus DSL-92146), immediately put me in mind of middle-period Schoenberg, specifically the Wind Quintet. I dare say the instrumentation helped – Litany, the piece in question, is for wind quartet and double bass – but the contrapuntal neoclassicism did the rest. It is, to be sure, an old-fashioned sound, and the first time I listened I was completely distracted from the Islamic call to prayer that the composer’s program note later informed me was the inspiration and source material for the piece. For the record, the adhan is perfectly audible when you are properly attentive!”

The review continues as follows (I have cut nothing out). The reader will note that Mr. Ford has applied a genre to my work which I did not intend or describe (he calls it “neo-classical” and, at another point “middle-period Schoenberg”; two invented categorizations that manage to also be mutually exclusive). Note that Mr. Ford admits his distraction above (“I was completely distracted from the Islamic call to prayer that the composer’s program note later informed me was the inspiration and source material for the piece”) and then proceeds to redefine his own distraction as himself being mislead by the “sound world” of Litany:

“In fact the sound world of Litany is also misleading in another way. Fairouz’s music is full of variety – in his Four Critical Models alone, the individual movements are approached along contrasting stylistic paths. Because he is still in his mid twenties, there is every chance a more individual voice will emerge, but what is there already – and it is not to be sneezed at – is a commitment to the fundamentals, and this is nowhere more in evidence than in his string quartet, Lamentation and Satire (played by the Lydian Quartet). Eschewing instrumental effect and turning his back on the philosopher’s stone of sonic innovation, Fairouz, for all his playing with musical styles, emerges as one devoted to the traditional substance of music – pitch and duration. And that is refreshing.”

Mr. Ford’s review was gratifying to read at the time. This was not because of it’s positivity but rather because the fact that he admits to hearing what is intended when he paid attention to it. I was also pleased to be described as “eschewing instrumental effect.” Mr Ford also said the following of me: “[Fairouz is] turning his back on the philosopher’s stone of sonic innovation.”

May it always be so.

Discovering the real “substance” of Litany is much more interesting as it involves learning what this work reveals in terms of my “tradition” (and, in turn, the works that fall within it). For that we should start by taking a look at some documents from the 10th Century like the one above. These works are notations of the words and were used to realize communal songs in praise of God. The words are all written down. The gestures above the words indicate inflections for the voices and durations of how long a note might be held.

This is very simple to illustrate. For the purposes of demonstration, the reader will look at the following example titled Jubilate Dei Universa Terra (Rejoice in God all Earthly Lands):

The text which appears above is from the Psalms (65 in the Latin Vulgate). I have transcribed it as follows:

Jubilate Deo universa terra,
psalmum dicite nomini eius.
Venite et audite, et narrabo vobis omnis qui timetis Deum quanta fecit Dominus animae meae.

Here is the translation:

O be joyful in God, all ye lands:
sing praises unto the honor of his Name:
O come hither, and hearken, all ye that fear God: I will tell you what he hath done for my soul

The last word, Alleluia, is preserved from the Hebrew original in the Pslams (הללו יה) as an invocation of the name of God in praise.

In addition to the length and general “shape” of the singing, the notation also indicates places where the singers would weave out their song together more freely and floridly. This is a natural way of elongating the vowels and enjoying the act of singing these open vowels.


In the example below the reader will find that I have highlighted two examples of this from the Jubilate Deo Universa Terra. The first example, which I have highlighted in red, is an extension of the “a” vowel which begins the word “animae” (soul). The following example is a longer extension on the “ae” vowel in the middle of the word “Alleluia.” I have highlighted this in green as follows:



Beyond this, much was left to the ear and mouth as well as gestures of hand and general communication among the assembled worshippers and singers. Singing music in this context was communal and, as such, required the congregants to listen to one another as well as teach and learn from one another. This is an aural and oral act of communion. It is most beautifully captured in Leonard Bernstein’s Simple Song from his 1971 Theater Piece for Singers Actors and Dancers which is titled Mass. Here are Bernstein’s lyrics:

Sing God a simple song
Lauda, Laudē
Make it up as you go along
Lauda, Laude

Sing like you like to sing
God loves all simple things
For God is the simplest of all.

The three lines “Sing God a simple song,” “Make it up as you go along,” and “Sing like you like to Sing” capture the essence of simple songs of thanks and praise which can be traced back for millennia. From the Psalms in Hebrew to the Canonical Hours and the Azan, the marking of time as well as the call and response. This is initiated through someone raising their voice in song is one of the most common traits of humanity.

Considering this, the reader might be surprised to learn that this practice is also the source of a copious amount of confounded scholarship. Beyond historical interest or attempts at “reconstruction,” many words have been lavished on trying to somehow codify a practice of people simply coming together and singing together (with much of this singing learned by ear and directed by communication among these people).

The simplest of these songs was done without accompaniment. Here, I refer to the human voice singing one line of melody without the distraction of excessive ornament and without instrumental accompaniment.

“Plain chant,” “Plain song,” “Gregorian chant” or any other names which the reader might find to describe this practice are convoluted in their thought and strangely so. The expression simply describes a person singing and singing in a comprehensible way. Nothing more; nothing less. This singing is done by the human voice alone; no instruments required. Neither are any form of accompaniment or any work from a composer or song-writer needed for this task. This singing is not new. It is exactly what David describes in the Psalms and what the person in the minaret does when he recites the Azan. Every human being on every corner of this planet should understand what this activity is and recognize it easily.

Many simple observations can easily be made. For example, if one looks at The Collect for Easter and reads the text and symbols, one will find that it is made up of of 127 syllables. One can also see that 131 “pitches” are notated (by looking at the gestures). If one then applies the mode (scale) and works out where the gestures fall in relation to one another, one can find that 108 pitches are produced by reciting the note “A” while the other 23 pitches vary but none is lower than “G”). “A” is the easiest note to tune to and is what orchestra’s use as their point of reference for tuning.

This is one reason why I begin and end my work Litany with a sing note “A.” This note is played, at start and close, as a harmonic on the double bass.” When ending the work, I designed the smoothest possible transition back into that same note. At the start everyone diverges from “A”:


And the work closes when all the instruments return to the same note.

The double bass is the only string instrument in this composition and the only instrument which plays this “A” as a harmonic (giving the tone a “pure” sound). After all that happens between the opening and the closing of the work, this is written out as a concord (a unison “Amen”) as I illustrate in the following example:

The Azan is a “call” but it is also, crucially, intoned to inform those who hear it of several things. The most prominent of these might be that the Azan relays information about five points in the daily cycle which are as follows: dawn, noon, . The Canonical hours are the same as the Jewish prayer hours and the Canon (Arabic for “law; that which is ordained”) is what the Azan calls human beings to attend to.

In Roman cities, time was kept by a bell which rang in the forum. It sounded at the beginning of the business day (six o’clock in the morning which was also known as the “Prime”, or “first hour”). The bell then noted the day’s progress by striking again around nine o’clock in the morning (this was known as “Terce,” or the “third hour”). It then tolled for a break from work at noon (known as “Sext,” or the “sixth hour”). The people heard the bell again at about three o’clock in the afternoon and, upon hearing this chime would return to work (this was known as “Nones” or the “ninth hour”). The final ringing of the bell marked the close of business for the day. This happened around six o’clock in the evening (the time for evening prayer). The opening of Matthew 20 is a Biblical example of these temporal references:

“FOR the kingdom of heaven is like a man who is a householder who went out early in the morning to hire laborers for his vineyard.
He bargained with the laborers for a penny a day, and sent them to his vineyard.
And he went out at the third hour, and saw others standing idle in the market place.
And he said to them, You also go to the vineyard, and I will give you what is right. And they went.
And he went out again at the sixth and at the ninth hour, and did the same.”


In Catholicism, the Canonical Hours divide the day into periods of fixed ritual prayers:

The Midmorning prayer (Terce)
Midday prayer (Sext)
Mid-afternoon prayer (None)
Evening prayer (Vespers), major hour
Night Prayer (Compline)

The Azan is heard marking the times of daily ritual prayers for Muslims which are as follows:

Dawn prayer (صلاة الفجر)
Midday prayer (صلاة الظهر)
Mid-afternoon prayer (صلاة العصر)
Evening prayer (صلاة المغرب)
Night Prayer (صلاة العشاء)

The word “Amen” shares it’s source with Aramiac and Arabic. “Alleluia” comes from Hebrew and involves singing joyfully on the last syllable in palmistry as well as in songs of worship. The word Al-lah is similarly raised by the voice in expression of the same open vowels that imbue every Azan with the breath of life. Another wonderful example of this is the Gloria from J.S. Bach’s Mass in B Minor which I have always loved for the way it made me imitate laughter when singing it.

In Bernstein’s Mass, the “Sanctus” (“which means “holy”) is sung three parts. It is the same as the three-part “kadosh” (which also means “holy”) from the Jewish Prayer Kedushah.

This is why Bernstein structures the Sanctus of Mass as one section in three parts. He makes the indivisibility of this three-part structure clear in the smallest details. Here is the opening of Bernstein’s Sanctus. One will immediately notice the time signature of (3/4) which, in a purely technical sense, means that we have three beats in a measure. But beyond the technical, this time signature also evokes dance music and jubilation.

Though no Pope ever claimed to have invented singing, it was Pope Gregory I who made revisions to the order (canon) of the Mass (what the scholars call the “Pre-Tridentine Mass”). John the Deacon writes that Gregory “removed many things, changed a few and added some”. In his letters, Pope Gregory himself speaks of moving the Pater Noster (Our Father) to immediately after the Mass and immediately before the Fraction.

At first, the Celebrant strikes the Sanctus Bell three times to coincide with the word “Holy!” which is exclaimed three times as the reader will find illustrated below.

The three strikes of the bell are highlighted in yellow, green and red respectively and the exclamations are noted. This is accomplished by the composer without using any musical notes. Musical notes could have easily been used to denote rhythm without needing to specify a pitch. Bernstein opts instead for a the placement of the exclamations in a way that is akin to the communal notations of simple song from the past. This placement is perfectly clear. The performer (Celebrant) exclaims these three iterations of the word “Holy!” intuitively. Bernstein has composed the passage in such a way that makes this so clear that the performer would hardly need to think about it:

The orchestra then mimics the three notes which have been sounded from the Sanctus Bell in “meter.” This means that, while the Sanctus Bell is sounded (as seen above) on the first beat of each musical measure, the notes in the orchestra, by comparison, occupy a defined number of beats (three beats). This is as opposed to the Sanctus Bell which is sounded and then rings on. Here are the three imitations in the orchestra which I have also highlighted in yellow, green and red:


Let’s take a closer look at a couple of details. Here, first, is the Sanctus Bell:

The bell, of course, will not ring forever but rather it will fade away (as we know from attending to nature and as we explain through the study of physics). Here is the third time that the orchestra “rings” in imitation of the Sanctus Bell. The reader will note that the natural fading away of sound (what some also call the “decay” of sound). The fade-out of sound is mimicked by the orchestra through the use of a hairpin symbol (>) which composers use to indicate a lessening of volume. The reader will also note that Bernstein does not indicate that the volume should decrease to a certain level (the starting volume as well as the ending volume is usually indicated by a composer when using this symbol):


It is at this point that the boys rush to the stage and join the Celebrant. The reader will note that this rush of movement is the first time that the meter (3/4) is really brought to life (because the durations of the notes are really felt):

The word “Sanctus” is first sung by the first choir of boys (marked Boy’s Choir I below). I have shown the three enunciations in yellow, green and red respectively:

While the first choir of boys sing this passage they are accompanied by the bells (in green below). The reader will note that Bernstein marks the third note that the bell sounds with the “ringing on” symbol which was present in the bells when they sounded at the opening of the Sanctus. Here are the bells ringing again upon the entry of the boys:


At the end of the phrase, the boys in choir 1 imitate the “ringing on” of the bells. This is clear imitation. Voices cannot “ring on” and then “fade out.” Had Bernstein wished for a simple fading out of volume, he would have opted to use the hairpin (>) symbol (as he did just a few seconds earlier in the orchestral imitation). Here is the imitation in question with bells first (red) and then the Boys Choir I (green):


In the following passage, a second Boys’ choir follows the first boy’s choir. Bernstein opted to have two choirs of boys here rather than one which would have been an easy approach. The first line above is the sung by Boys Choir I and the second line above is sung by Boys Choir II.

The two choirs do not sing together at the same time (as one can see from the passage) and, so, Bernstein could have had one choir sing the two passages one passage after the other. He chose to divide the boys into two choirs because of the fact that it allows one group of boys to imitate the other:

Both boy choirs are also divided into two singing parts. Once again, it would have been easy for Bernstein to opt for a three part division rather than a two part division. He elected for the latter because fo the special significance of 2 (the father and son) and 3 (adding the holy spirit). The boys sing in musical intervals of thirds. Two vocal parts singing a third apart in yet another expression of 2s and 3s.

This also is designed into the phrase structure. We have a steady alternation of duple time (4/4) followed by three measures in triple time (3/4). I will add that musicians define meters such as (4/4) in terms of being “simple duple time” and the meter of (3/4) as simple triple.

The division of each choir of boys into two singing parts is far from the only design choice that Bernstein makes to communicate an interplay of “twos” and “threes” to be found here. The passage itself is made up of one duple measure (4/4) followed by three triple measures (3/4) which then simply bring us back to duple because they combine to form a four measure phrase.

Understanding this is as easy as understanding that Two + Two = Four. Here is a visual demonstration of how the phrases work:

But that’s not all. This passage, in itself combines into two four measure phrases consisting of the First choir of boys followed by the second (4+4).

This all serves to bring us right back to two. The two phrases combine into an eight measure phrase because 4+4=8. This is an eight measure phrase of perfect symmetry. It is one which also contains the inherent asymmetry that comes with juxtaposing 3 and 2:


Bernstein now takes the four measure phrase above and doubles it creating an 8 measure phrase which looks like this when laid out:

Let us now look at the entire fragment of music from the start of the Sanctus to the end of the section we have just seen above. When I add the opening of the Sanctus, the reader should appreciate that the first phrase is made up of three measures + three measures (6 measures total). This phrase is entirely in triple time (3/4). When placed together with the first line sung by the boys in choir 1 and then the second line sung by the boys in choir 2 it results in two phrases that look like this:


I will now express the two lines above in terms of numbers. Here is how the symmetry is worked out among all three phrases:

Phrase 1) 3 + 3 (in which the second 3 is orchestra imitating bells)
Phrases 2 and 3) 4 (2+2) + 4(2+2) (in which Boys Choir II imitates Boys Choir I)

And so we are right back at three! What the reader sees above is three phrases which are made up entirely of the simplest combinatorics and which are built entirely on imitation. The imitation is composed into a technically and emotionally dazzling expression of the interplay of “trinity” to express not division or “threeness” but, rather, the indivisibility of God (“Unum Deum”). 3 measures followed by 3 measures make up the first phrase which is symmetrically divided into two parts then 2 choirs of boys each singing a phrase in intervals of 3rds. The 2 phrases each alternate between a duple meter of 4/4 (the four beats of the measure are built from a symmetrical 2 beats +2 beats). This is followed by 3 measures in 3/4 and then and then an entirely new imitation of the phrase we have just heard from the first choir of boys by the second choir leading to a natural (because heard and imitated) symmetry.

Here are 3 phrases of 2 symmetrical parts each in which 3s and 2s interweave cyclically. 2 leads to 3 leads to 2 leads to 3…

This play of triples and doubles will continue to operate on the microscopic (phrase and measure) level which we have just been examining as well as on every other level all the way to the macroscopic three part structure of the Sanctus itself and, on a larger level, the entirety of Mass.

That is 18 seconds of music from the perspective of the composer’s work (and even now we are capturing only a glimpse of what goes into work such as that which a composer creates). There is a ceaseless wealth of musical brilliance to discuss in every page of Mass.

I am speaking here of objective brilliance; that of the type I have been demonstrating and not the speculative perception of brilliance based on the caprices and whims of someone or another’s “taste” or their claim to such a thing.

Please keep in mind that every single moment and every single page of Mass is built to sustain the whole. Bernstein doesn’t simply design his creation with the kind of fluency which I have demonstrated above. He keeps up this standard of excellence to the end of creating a coherent and comprehensible experience for the audience attending the nearly two hour-long Mass in the theater.

By showing how this compound structure is designed, my intent is for the reader to understand how, in compositions made by the hands of artists like Bernstein, much of the material one hears can be traced back to the simplest figures. A sublime simpleness is at the core of structures which seem to be made up of a variety of parts.

Bearing in mind that art is imitation, this is also a passage in which imitation begets imitation (mimesis) which the reader will understand to be characteristic of a composer’s work. The best, like Bernstein, manage to create complex systems out of the simplest elements. This is, in order words, a sort of artistic mitosis or, to put it bluntly, this is the way that we composers approach the commandment in Genesis: “be fruitful and multiply.”

The tempo marking which we see at the start of Bernstein’s Sanctus is essential to understanding how pivotal a moment this is in the work. He marks it “Allegretto con anima.” Once again, the composer could easily have opted to use a simple metronome marking. In fact, he does as can be clearly seen:


The word “anima” invokes the soul directly. In Latin, Anima is that which sets things into motion. It is “a current of air, wind, air, breath, the vital principle.” In the Catholic context of the Mass, it is the soul. Bernstein sets the words of the vulgate which agree with the 146th Psalm:

lauda anima mea Dominum
laudabo Dominum in vita mea cantabo
Deo meo quamdiu sum nolite confidere in principibus

Praise the Lord, O my soul; while I live will I praise the Lord: yea, as long as I have any being,
I will sing praises unto my God.
O put not your trust in princes, nor in any child of man: for there is no help in them.

Bernstein will eventually lead the audience to the culmination of his Sanctus. This is a bringing together of the two elements at mass (“me and my soul”) which Bernstein will accomplish using three elements:

1) קָדוֹשׁ קָדוֹשׁ קָדוֹשׁ ה’ צְבָאוֹת מְלֹא כָל הָאָרֶץ כְּבוֹדוֹ
Kadosh Kadosh Kadosh Adonai Tz’vaot M’lo Khol Ha’aretz K’vodo

This passage consists of three iterations of Kadosh as follows: ”Holy, Holy, Holy, The Lord of Hosts, The entire world is filled with His Glory” (this is Isaiah 6:3)

2) בָּרוּךְ כְּבוֹד ה’ מִמְּקוֹמוֹ
Baruch K’vod Adonai Mim’komo

Which is the following passage from Ezekiel (3:12): ”Blessed is the Glory of the Lord in Its Place.”

And finally:

3) יִמְלֹךְ ה’ לְעוֹלָם. אֱלֹהַיִךְ צִיּוֹן לְדֹר וָדֹר. הַלְלוּיָהּ
Yimloch Adonai L’Olam, Elohayich Tziyon L’dor Vador Hall’luyah

The last word of the previous sentence is one which the reader will recognize immediately. This passage illustrates the moving connection between the celebrant and the boys at the opening of the Sanctus (as well as the father and the son; the flesh and the soul etc throughout Mass) “The Lord shall reign forever, Your God, O Zion, from generation to generation, Hallelujah” which is from the book of Psalms (146:10)

This brings us to the close of the Kaddosh.

At the start of Bernstein’s sanctus, the boys are imitating one another. The orchestra is imitating the Sanctus bells, the phrases are imitating one another etc. The sounds could be described as an echo or imitation in which we have an initial something (a passage; a prayer; a phoneme etc) followed by a responding sound which follows it (an antiphon).

Here we should return to the Azan. The Azan can be understood, as it is most commonly defined, as a “call to worship.” The clergy-less nature of Islam means that the response to the call cannot be codified; indeed, there would be no religious authority which could be appointed to codify anything in Islam (at least not one which is mandated by the Qu’ran which, together with the remainder of the Scripture (Torah; Gospel) remains the explicit source of authority as God’s Word).

The root of the word is ʾadhina (أَذِنَ) meaning “to listen, to hear, to be informed.”

It was Pope Gregory I who also established the nine utterances of “Kyrie Eleison: and “Christe Eleison” as the devotions before Mass. He placed these where the Litany originally took place (at the beginning of Mass). He also reduced the role of deacons in the Roman Liturgy. Both things were done because the Litany (from Greek λιτανεία —litaneía, and λιτή —litê— meaning “prayer” or “supplication” were corrupted into a series of requests and petitions by the attendant “prayerful” crowds. They would direct their requests to the Deacons. This is why my first evocation of the Azan (the sole human voice in the minaret, or lighthouse, calling and recalling the praise and prayer of Allah) is called “Litany.”

Another layer to Litany emerges from the scenario of a person making petitions to God in a mosque or other place of congregation where Muslims gather. In such a case, the “requests” would simply be met with heavenly “silence” since there is no clergy or representative of intercession between God and man in Islam.

In the fourth scene from my ballet titled Sadat, a sounding shofar marks the main character’s arrival in Jerusalem, (the scene depicts the start of Egyptian President Anwar Sadat’s 1979 journey to Israel in which he addressed the Knesset and sought to finally bring decades of war between the Arabs and Israelis to an end). The Jewish shofar intermingles with the sounds of Jerusalem’s church bells and finally the mosque’s Azan (which the reader will remember is defined as the call to prayer). The sounds of these three iterations of faith (in musical order that resembles the order of their revelation to the world) form a tapestry of counterpoint. At first we have two horns imitating Shofars:




A few seconds later, the shofar are joined with one performer sounding church bells (marked below):


Finally, these instruments are joined by the strings and winds in which Azan imitates Azan. This passage once again uses the same notes that I used to invoke the Azan in Litany:



One can clearly see the way in which each cell is woven into the whole through a process of imitation. By presenting the Judaism, Christianity and Islam as three different religions that come on the scene one by one (and in order) I am able to the stage for Sadat’s climatic moment by building tension. Each sound enters and makes a claim on the land. Jerusalem is depicted as a place of competing sounds and, at the same time, it is clear that the sounds have no regard for artificial human barriers or categories. They imitate among themselves as well as imitate one another. The “decentralized” nature of a clergy less Islam is why it is represented as a pluralistic sound (chorus of winds/chorus of strings) rather than a local one (two horn players as with the “shofar”; one percussionist as with the “church bells”).

Bearing this in mind we can listen to the confounded sounds which we hear at the opening of Bernstein’s Mass. The confusion of it is not simply an expression of the pre-programmed “voices” or minds. Bernstein evokes the rote, unthinking and rehearsed sounds of those who utter credos blindly by using four tracks on recording. There is no “making it up as we go along here.”

These voices compete in the darkness; they are the voices of those who do not feel the spirit of their faith but simply repeat tropes without ever having heard the word. This idea is akin to Pirandello’s play called Six Characters in Search of an Author. Here, however, is a mass of human beings who are in search of their creator.
Bernstein’s idea of beginning with a response from pre-programed voices who have never heard the source of their (supposed) enlightenment has always struck me as one of the most inspired strokes in a work of consistent genius.

The ambiguity is between a devotional prayer on the one hand and a repose on the other. In either case, beginning with a “pre-recorded antiphon” is confounded even if it is part of the scheduled devotions. What is worse than the ambiguity is the more likely scenario: that Mass begins with a response without a call (or a calling).

This is an “antiphon in search of a phon.” Here is Bernstein’s title (I. Antiphon: Kyrie Eleison) to describe the Devotions before Mass:

What are these pre-programmed voices responding to? An echo or imitation should follow the initial sound itself just as we have seen the boy choirs do in relationship to one another and also as we have seen the orchestra do in relationship to the bells. In order to imitate a song, one has to first listen.

It is in this way that the opening of Bernstein’s Mass inspired the following passage from the first song of Furia, a song cycle which I completed in 2010. The passage describes the “litany of the muezzins and their monotonous prayers:


This is a section of the song titled The Birth of Light. It describes events that occurred in Iran during the “Green Revolution” of 2009. I set the following poem by Affonso Romano de Sant’Anna which was translated by Lloyd Schwartz:


Over the starlit rooftops, in Iran,
echoes the agonized voice
of those who only want
to say something.
Not the litany of the muezzins
and their monotonous prayers,
asking no questions, insisting on the same answers.
It’s the green song tearing
off the black cloth of the ayatollahs
as if from high above the houses
it would be possible to anticipate
the birth of light
that bloodies the dawn.

— Affonso Romano de Sant’Anna (Translated by Lloyd Schwartz)


The reader will now consider the following highlighted figure from the beginning of Litany (2007) once again:



It is not difficult to see that the very same figure and the very same notes (A,A,B,A,A,B,A,A,G#) are now used to describe the “litany of the muezzins” (highlighted below):



This musical figure is used once again a few moments later (in the same song) to underscore the words “Asking no questions; insisting on the same answers.” One will find it’s most forceful iteration highlighted below (“asking no questions/insisting on the same answers).

Back in Tenth Century Arezzo, a Benedictine monk named Guido developed a complicated hexachordal (meaning 6 note) system that was intended to ensure that music was performed as prescribed and not “made up as you go along.” It was in this way that attempts were made to enforce the rules which were created by scholars and theologians. Needless to say, this did not succeed. Music was written down and yet the rules were not always followed. A system of complex additions was developed that allowed those singing the music of others to add ornaments and additional notes (to be known as “accidentals”) to the creations of others in order to maintain the rules that were mandated.

These additions came to be known as Musica Ficta or “Fake Music.”

Guido is better remembered for popularizing the note-naming system which can be seen below (Do/Re/Mi/Fa/Sol/La and it’s mirror):

Bernstein enjoys toying with this system to great and moving effect in Mass.

The reader will recall the word “anima” which Bernstein used at the tempo (time) indication at the start of his Sanctus. Anima is that which sets things into motion. It is “a current of air, wind, air, breath, the vital principle.” In Mass, it is the soul. Bernstein uses this beautiful connection between the vulgate and the Kedusha to link the human to the soul at the end of his Sanctus:

lauda anima mea Dominum
laudabo Dominum in vita mea cantabo
Deo meo quamdiu sum nolite confidere in principibus

Praise the Lord, O my soul; while I live will I praise the Lord: yea, as long as I have any being,
I will sing praises unto my God.
O put not your trust in princes, nor in any child of man: for there is no help in them.


Here, the note “Mi” (E) is used to form a song. This is accomplished when the Celebrant combines the note with the note “Sol” (G) as follows:

The coincidence of “Sol” and “G” being the same note (“Sol” resembles “soul” and “G” stands for “God”) allows Bernstein to reach upward to the highest note (“G”) that the celebrant sings on the word “Soul” (highlighted in blue). We then have the three iterations of “Kadosh” (“Holy”) with which the final part of Bernstein’s Sanctus (Kedusha) begins (red, yellow and green):

Litany begins and ends on an “A” which is heard in unison between all the instruments and returns to the very same “A” equally united and pure.

I selected “A” because of the reason relating to tuning which Stravinsky observed so beautifully:

“The tuning of an instrument, of a piano for example, requires that the entire musical range available to the instrument should be ordered according to chromatic steps. Such tuning prompts us to observe that all these sounds converge towards a center which is the a above middle c.”

I also composed the convergence upon “A” as a way to evoke the word “Allah” which is a word for “God.” This word, more than any other, invokes everything about the inhalation (in its first syllable) and exhalation (in it’s second) that is the essence of the breath of life and of man as a living soul.

Bernstein uses this breath of life, in the flute, to reanimate us at the end of Mass following a “sustained silence.” “Then:” writes the composer…



A flute is reactivated with the breath of life.

“Me” and “soul”; God and humanity are in sympathetic harmonic vibration with one another. The meter is free again and the breath of life is back. Bernstein marks the presence of the flute “on stage.” This makes it clear for all to see that the sound is coming from a place which the audience can clearly identify. This detail was the inspiration for the end of Litany in which I mark the flute to play “as if offstage” (highlighted in blue). The flute was the first instrument to diverge from “A” at the opening of Litany and, now, it is the last instrument to finally come back and rejoin the unison on “A.” I have also marked the symmetries within the final two notes of Litany and the reader will see how they form an “Amen” which relates the “A” of my work to the “D” which closes Bernstein’s Mass. They are harmonically kindred and exist a perfect fifth apart; the closest relationship on the harmonic series after the “self-same” note (the octave).

In the second lesson, the reader observed that each note is also a symphony of notes due to the infinite harmonic vibrations within the note itself. That is why “mi alone” is not “only me” and it is also why there is no such thing as “monophonic music.”

With that in mind, we are able to appreciate the final cadence which ends Bernstein’s entire Mass. The chorus is united on one note which sounds in octaves: “D”. This note is the same note which which Beethoven closes his 9th Symphony, bringing his Ode to Joy and plea for universal brotherhood to a shimmering cadence. The note also invokes the word “Deo” which is the Latin word for “God.”

And with that, a voice is heard which Bernstein marks “on tape” (rather than “pre-recorded”). This voice is the first solo voice which we hear on tape (as opposed to choral parts which are pre-recorded. It is a single clear voice which we hear and which comes to us without a human “body” that that delivers it in the room. This disembodied voice is what the pre-recorded voices of the antiphon which started Mass respond to or what they should have been responding to. It says: “The Mass is ended; go in peace.”

2. Fraction

Plain chant comes from the Latin cantus planus which means “singing plain. One way of explaining what this means is, if I may attempt a definition, “singing in an unornamented and clearly understood way so that one can be clearly understood by others and also so that one can sing with other people rather than show off through ornament or obscure one’s inability or unwillingness to sing through the same.”

For the reader to truly understand the opening of Bernstein’s Mass (as well as the work as a whole and many of the works and anti-works discussed through this book) we must look at some disturbing and (indeed often incomprehensible) things.

Everyone knows what singing is. Everyone can recognize singing. Everyone can sing while walking down the street or if unaccompanied, anyone can sing anywhere that person might like to sing. The reader is about to bear witness to the work of scholars who imagine that they are making advancements into the history of people singing simple tunes and, even when they do make historical “discoveries,” imagine that these “discoveries” are things that would be news to anyone. I do not expect the reader to try to make sense of the words which we are about to survey. I cannot make sense of their intent and often find their meanings drive at finding complex and folded ways of saying the most obvious and intuitive things that nobody with any sense would need to have explained to them. The reader will bear the expedition at hand and is assured that a small dose of experience in reading this will serve to enhance the readers feeling for the issues at the heart of Mass and of definition itself. The present exposure will not harm the reader. In fact, they may be thought of as a sort of inoculation that will protect the reader from much harm in future exposures.

We begin our safari on singing with the following descriptions of “schools of thought.” The reference is, I assure the reader, attempting to apply “schools of thought” to simple song:

“One school of thought, including Wagner, Jammers, and Lipphardt, advocated imposing rhythmic meters on chants, although they disagreed on how that should be done. An opposing interpretation, represented by Pothier and Mocquereau, supported a free rhythm of equal note values, although some notes are lengthened for textual emphasis or musical effect. The modern Solesmes editions of Gregorian chant follow this interpretation. Mocquereau divided melodies into two- and three-note phrases, each beginning with an ictus, akin to a beat, notated in chantbooks as a small vertical mark. These basic melodic units combined into larger phrases through a complex system expressed by cheironomic hand-gestures. This approach prevailed during the twentieth century, propagated by Justine Ward’s program of music education for children, until the liturgical role of chant was diminished after the liturgical reforms of Paul VI, and new scholarship “essentially discredited” Mocquereau’s rhythmic theories.”

We are told not simply of “common practice” but of “common modern practice”:

“Common modern practice favors performing Gregorian chant with no beat or regular metric accent, largely for aesthetic reasons. The text determines the accent while the melodic contour determines the phrasing. The note lengthenings recommended by the Solesmes school remain influential, though not prescriptive.”

“The text determines the accent while the melodic contour determines the phrasing” could also have been written as follows: “people stress certain words and syllables when they speak and people also speak in certain tones.”

When the scholars write of a “variety in notation” which “must have served a practical purpose and therefore a musical significance” they are correct in some ways. The “practical purpose” was communal in nature. People, it is documented, sing together and, it is presumed, find pleasure in doing so. Beyond this, people like to coordinate their pitches (this is “singing in tune”) and also coordinate their rhythms (this is “singing together”).

It continues and here I remind the reader that the current exercise will end shortly. We are now introduced to things like the “Graduale Triplex” and speaks of “huge steps forward”:

“Dom Eugene Cardine, (1905–1988) monk from Solesmes, published his ‘Semiologie Gregorienne’ in 1970 in which he clearly explains the musical significance of the neumes of the early chant manuscripts. Cardine shows the great diversity of neumes and graphic variations of the basic shape of a particular neume, which can not be expressed in the square notation. This variety in notation must have served a practical purpose and therefore a musical significance. Nine years later, the Graduale Triplex was published, in which the Roman Gradual, containing all the chants for Mass in a Year’s cycle, appeared with the neumes of the two most important manuscripts copied under and over the 4-line staff of the square notation. The Graduale Triplex made widely accessible the original notation of Sankt Gallen and Laon (compiled after 930 AD) in a single chantbook and was a huge step forward. Dom Cardine had many students who have each in their own way continued their semiological studies, some of whom also started experimenting in applying the newly understood principles in performance practice.

“started experimenting in applying the newly understood principles in performance practice” implies re-construction where no re-construction is needed. Simply sing. List of unimportant people.

The studies of Cardine and his students (Godehard Joppich, Luigi Augustoni, Johannes B. Göschl, Marie-Noël Colette, Rupert Fischer, Marie-Claire Billecocq, Alexander M. Schweitzer to name a few) have clearly demonstrated that rhythm in Gregorian chant as notated in the 10th century rhythmic manuscripts (notably Skt. Gallen and Laon) manifest such rhythmic diversity and melodic – rhythmic ornamentations for which there is hardly a living performance tradition in the Western world. Contemporary groups that endeavour to sing according to the manuscript traditions have evolved after 1975. Some practising researchers favour a closer look at non Western (liturgical) traditions, in such cultures where the tradition of modal monophony was never abandoned.”

We are here told that some researchers favor “a closer look” at “Non Western (liturgical traditions) in such cultures where the tradition of monophony was never abandoned.’ This means that they are considering a look at “cultures” where, apparently, the “tradition” of singing was never abandoned. By using the, again invented genre, “monophonic,” they mean to describe people singing unaccompanied by any instrument. This is something all human beings are born with the capacity to do and which all human beings do. When we sing with others, we coordinate with others.

Simple things aside, we are now introduced of “mensuralists” and “proportionalists” who have still more disputes to bring to this cluttered arena (a “different view”):

“Another group with different views are the mensuralists or the proportionalists, who maintain that rhythm has to be interpreted proportionately, where shorts are exactly half the longs. This school of interpretation claims the support of historical authorities such as St Augustine, Remigius, Guido and Aribo. This view is advocated by John Blackley and his ‘Schola Antiqua New York’.”

Now a person named Dr. Dirk van Kampen’s efforts are mentioned. He is interested in getting the “authentic rhythm of “Gregorian Chant.” How? The reader is told of “statistical methods.” We are then introduced to host of new words like “semiology” and “correlational analysis” and “multiple regression analysis.” Here I will take the opportunity to remind the reader that we are talking about singing. Simple singing, nothing more, nothing less. Onward:
“Recent research in the Netherlands by Dr. Dirk van Kampen has indicated that the authentic rhythm of Gregorian chant in the 10th century includes both proportional elements and elements that are in agreement with semiology.[58][59] Starting with the expectation that the rhythm of Gregorian chant (and thus the duration of the individual notes) anyway adds to the expressivity of the sacred Latin texts, several word-related variables were studied for their relationship with several neume-related variables, exploring these relationships in a sample of introit chants using such statistical methods as correlational analysis and multiple regression analysis.”

We are now told how syllables are measured and, essentially, offered a convoluted theory of how human beings speak and how human beings elongate syllables (ratios included):

Beside the length of the syllables (measured in tenths of seconds), each text syllable was evaluated in terms of its position within the word to which it belongs, defining such variables as “the syllable has or has not the main accent”, “the syllable is or is not at the end of a word”, etc., and in terms of the particular sounds produced (for instance, the syllable contains the vowel “i”). The various neume elements were evaluated by attaching different duration values to them, both in terms of semiological propositions (nuanced durations according to the manner of neume writing in Chris Hakkennes’ Graduale Lagal), and in terms of fixed duration values that were based on mensuralistic notions, however with ratios between short and long notes ranging from 1 : 1, via 1 : 1.2, 1 : 1.4, etc. to 1 : 3. To distinguish short and long notes, tables were consulted that were established by Van Kampen in an unpublished comparative study regarding the neume notations according to St Gallen and Laon codices. With some exceptions, these tables confirm the short vs. long distinctions in Cardine’s ‘Semiologie Gregorienne’.


“Contextual variables” are now introduced as well as not simply mathematics but decimal mathematics that attempt to divine how these people sang. I’ve underlined my favorite sentence below:

The lengths of the neumes were given values by adding up the duration values for the separate neume elements, each time following a particular hypothesis concerning the rhythm of Gregorian chant. Both the syllable lengths and the neume lengths were also expressed in relation to the total duration of the syllables, resp. neumes for a word (contextual variables). Correlating the various word and neume variables, substantial correlations were found for the word variables ‘accented syllable’ and ‘contextual syllable duration’. Moreover, it could be established that the multiple correlation (R) between the two types of variables reaches its maximum (R is about 0.80) if the neumatic elements are evaluated according to the following rules of duration: (a) neume elements that represent short notes in neumes consisting of at least two notes have duration values of 1 time; (b) neume elements that represent long notes in neumes consisting of at least two notes have duration values of 2 times; (c) neumes consisting of only one note are characterized by flexible duration values (with an average value of 2 times), which take over the duration values of the syllables to match.


“Meter and rhythm” are introduced even though these concepts are obvious to anybody with a heart beat and need no explanation. I could go on but I promised to spare the reader and I now will make good on that promise after being allowed one final indulgence. This last paragraph contains the following words:

“Given the fact that Chant was learned in an oral tradition in which the texts and melodies were sung from memory, this was obviously not necessary.”

From this, it would seem that “scholars of chant” are aware of the fact that people sing tunes. They also seem aware of the ability that other people have to sing tunes that are new and also tp sing the same tunes that someone else has sung before them. People listen and people sing. My favorite words in the following paragraph (and that which I have quoted from it above) are the following five: “this was obviously not necessary.”

Despite this, we are introduced to still more category and genre defining words; words like “ekphonetic” and “cheironomic” and “neumatic” (the last one just means that people used hand gestures to signal whether they would sing a higher or lower or longer or shorter note). Here it is:

It is interesting that the distinction between the first two rules and the latter rule can also be found in early treatises on music, introducing the terms metrum and rhythmus. As it could also be demonstrated by Van Kampen that melodic peaks often coincide with the word accent, the conclusion seems warranted that the Gregorian melodies enhance the expressiveness of the Latin words by mimicking to some extent both the accentuation of the sacred words (pitch differences between neumes) and the relative duration of the word syllables (by paying attention to well-defined length differences between the individual notes of a neume).

A brief interruption to say that these “well-defined length differences” are “defined” by these self-same scholars in ill-defined and “decimally precise” ways. It continues:

The earliest notated sources of Gregorian chant (written ca. 950) used symbols called nuemes (Gr. sign, of the hand) to indicate tone-movements and relative duration within each syllable. A sort of musical stenography that seems to focus on gestures and tone-movements but not the specific pitches of individual notes, nor the relative starting pitches of each neume. Given the fact that Chant was learned in an oral tradition in which the texts and melodies were sung from memory, this was obviously not necessary. The neumatic manuscripts display great sophistication and precision in notation and a wealth of graphic signs to indicate the musical gesture and proper pronunciation of the text. Scholars postulate that this practice may have been derived from cheironomic hand-gestures, the ekphonetic notation of Byzantine Chant, punctuation marks, or diacritical accents. Later adaptations and innovations included the use of a dry-scratched line or an inked line or two lines, marked C or F showing the relative pitches between neumes. Consistent relative heightening first developed in the Aquitaine region, particularly at St. Martial de Limoges, in the first half of the eleventh century. Many German-speaking areas, however, continued to use unpitched neumes into the twelfth century.”

We are just talking about singing. That is all. Neither Pope Gregory I nor Pope Gregory II “invented” this notion. Neither Pope claimed to invent song. Pope Gregory I did not give his name to “plain chant,” “plain song,” or “singing” as it is understood (or misunderstood) by any other name.

Despite this, scholars have invented (and use) the term “Gregorian chant” to describe a category of singing which these same scholars also happen to have invented. They now ascribe their invented category (“Gregorian Chant”) to having it’s origins in the 10th Century. This would place it three centuries after Gregory I’s death. But this piece of categorization has also creates confusion. Which “Pope Gregory” might they be referring to? Gregory I or Gregory II? Even the genre which was invented (“Gregorian chant”) is a synthesis of two other invented genres (which they call “Roman chant” and “Gallican chant”).

Even the words “Gregorian chant” manage to confound two languages through their very utterance.

3. Anti-phon

In the Poetics of Music, Stravinsky wrote that “there is no limit to the mischief wrought by arbitrary acts.” I will explore an aspect of the dogma which the anti-poets who promote this mischief employ in their anti-poetic works by looking at anti-critical attacks on compositions.
In the introduction to his book titled Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony, a musical historian named David B Levy wrote the following:

“Equally degrading,” writes Stravinsky, “is the vanity of snobs who boast of an embarrassing familiarity with the world of the incomprehensible and who delightedly confess that they find themselves in good company. It is riot music they seek, but rather the effect of shock, the sensation that befuddles understanding. So 1 confess that I am completely insensitive to the prestige of revolution. All the noise it may make will not call forth the slightest echo in me. For revolution is one thing, innovation another. And even innovation, when not presented in an excessive form, is not always recognized by its contemporaries.”

On June 26th, 2018, the Toronto Star published an article by John Terauds which is titled “‘Ode to Joy’ has an odious history. Let’s give Beethoven’s most overplayed symphony a rest.” The article begins like this:

“It is a rare piece of music — any kind of music — that can bolster good as well as evil intentions. One classical work in particular has an uncanny, seductive power to become exactly what its fans want it to be.

The author goes on to mention a couple of musical performances of the work (the first of which incorrectly describes the “Ode to Joy” as the “last movement from Ludwig van Beethoven’s Symphony No. 9”):

When the Canadian Opera Company opened the doors to its new opera house in 2006, the gala concert included “Ode to Joy,” the last movement from Ludwig van Beethoven’s Symphony No. 9.

Music director Peter Oundjian has chosen the whole, 75-minute-long composition to cap and celebrate his 14 years with the Toronto Symphony Orchestra on June 28, 29 and 30.

In the second mention above, the author states the length of the work incorrectly. The Symphony last almost 60 minutes in duration and is performed in such a way that it lasts for about sixty to sixy-five minutes in most performances.

The length of the work is actually easy to calculate from a score if one looks at the metronome marks which Beethoven assigned to the work (the sections which are interpreted as being written without a metronome marking but with general tempo indications cannot be performed in such a way that the tempo will cause the overall length of the work to deviate from this general timeline.

There exist “scholarly” arguments that attempt to make the point that Beethoven “did not mean what he wrote” by these tempo marks as well as ones which suggest that the given tempo marks are impossible to execute (this is false as is evidenced by many recordings which play the work as Beethoven wrote it included an excellent recording of the work conducted by Toscanini in which the CBS Symphony can be heard playing the Symphony with tempi that adhere to Beethoven’s score thus bringing the grand duration of the symphony to 55 minutes and 14 seconds).

Here is a map of the tempos as Beethoven marks them throughout the movement:


But Mr Terauds did not need to go to all this effort. He only needed to look up the various lengths of recordings on iTunes, Amazon or some other online source where they can be found in order to know that there is hardly a performance of the Symphony which lasts for the 75 minute duration he claims.

Mr. Terauds proceeds to tell us that Hitler “adored the Ninth Symphony” and shares a disgusting story about the abuse of the work (as though this story of the abuse of art justifies his current abuse of the artwork in question):

“Adolf Hitler adored the Ninth Symphony. Musicians waiting for their deaths in Nazi concentration camps were ordered to play it, metaphorically twisting its closing call to universal brotherhood and joy into a terrifying, sneering parody of all that strives for light in a human soul.”

Mr Terauds then turns his pen to a performance of the work by Bernstein and also to other sundry and unrelated topics:

“More than four decades later, Leonard Bernstein conducted several performances to celebrate the fall of the Berlin Wall, substituting the word “freedom” for “joy” in Friedrich Schiller’s 1785 poem to which Beethoven’s movement was set. And Emmanuel Macron chose this music as the backdrop for his victory speech after winning the French presidential election last year.”


“Western classical music usually thinks of itself as being apolitical. But the Ninth is political. Beethoven saw it as political when he wrote it in the early 1820s. (blatant historical inaccuracy) And his fellow Germans (Beethoven from Rhineland), looking for a sense of identity, embraced it with fervour.

The word “Western” proposes to limit Beethoven’s Symphony to a geographic zone which is (and cannot be) defined because it does not exist. This is an assault on the reader’s sense of (physical and geographic) space.

The word “classical” proposes to limit Beethoven’s Symphony to a time period or subject-genre which is (and cannot be) defined. This is an assault on the reader’s sense of time and that which is conceptual or subjective.

Politics is politics; music is music. These two things are quite different in a serious sense; in the sense that their practitioners serve different functions—- the practitioner of one cannot appropriate the subject or practice of the other in order to execute the function of a subject or discipline which is not suited to that function but rather to another function.

When the author writes that the Ninth is political he must inform the reader whose politics he imagines the Symphony to belong to and to which age the politics belong? Since time and space are ill-defined and undefinable, questions such as these are “up to the author.

The next two paragraphs are worth looking at; I will mark (in red) the problems that the author is attempting to advance:

“The use of folk music by the composers of cultivated or so-called art music has been an important factor in the history of music. Composers have usually felt closer to, and more familiar with, folk music than have the historians of cultivated music, and, indeed, virtually all our knowledge of folk music before the nineteenth century comes directly from sources of cultivated music rather than from theoretical and historical writing. In the early epochs of Western history, folk and cultivated music were probably more similar in style and more clearly related in function than they are today. There was evidently a time in European culture when there was no essential distinction between the two types; the increasing degree of differentiation may have come about simply through the growing professionalism and specialization among composers.”

Beethoven’s Ninth became the musical flag of Germanness (“Germanness” is not a word; the author could have used a word which exists to describe German things: “teutonic” ) at a time when nationalism was a growing force in all of Europe (this is not and has never been true of the ninth symphony; this was, however true of the fifth symphony —- that work was misused for all sorts of purposes; it was the Austro-Hungarian “cry of resistance to French occupation of napoleon. In the 20th century, the 5th became the “cry of resistance” for the French against German occupation… but none of that is in the music) … It also became a Romantic monument to the artist (Beethoven, in this case) as a special creature worthy of special treatment (what special treatment is that? Surely it is not “special treatment” for a composer to be written about in this way by the likes of this author)

Franco-Argentine scholar Esteban Buch analyzed these intersections and the good-evil paradox in an insightful book, Beethoven’s Ninth: A Political History. Buch argued that the Ninth was the right piece of music at the right time — socially, politically and aesthetically.

But from today’s perspective we know that unilateral calls to world brotherhood in joy have a flip side, which is tyranny. We appreciate now more than ever that joy is accessible to everyone only if some people are taking antidepressants.

“We live in a time no more peaceful than Beethoven’s. Our conflicts today pit the great traditions and ways of thinking of the 19th century against a (hopefully) freer, more spontaneous, more shared, more inclusive 21st century.”

Mr. Terauds skipped the 20th Century, a problem if he is proposing to write about two adjacent centuries “scraping up uneasily against” one another when they are not adjacent to one another (assuming that centuries could “scrape up uneasily against one another” even if they were).

“We have the 19th-century ideal of strength in unity — expressed in the “Ode to Joy” — scraping up uneasily against a 21st-century ideal of strength in diversity. The change in perspective makes some people afraid and angry. It makes others hopeful and optimistic.”

Many persons (including the present author) do not see the increased perception of diversity as something which must be pitted against an appreciation of unity and a search for unity and clarity.

I understand the age in which I live to be exhilarating and beautiful in it’s offer of access to the richest and diversity of human existence. I also understand that, because we live in an age where human beings have an increased appreciation and perception of the diversity of our world and our universe, the statement and illumination of simple truths which unite humanity are more precious and germane to more human beings than ever before.

I suspect Beethoven’s Symphony will only continue to become more and more precious as time goes on of only because more and more human beings will hear it and appreciate it. What the author misses in all this is everything that is expressed through the use of the word “universal.”

Another thing that I have found to be universal among the many persons whom I have met on four continent is that people dislike the sort of negativity that is pervasive in this article.

Mr Terauds continues and, at this point, I would like to turn my attention to his language itself. Consider how closely the two paragraph which we have just read cohere to one another.

Here is Paragraph A:

“We have the 19th-century ideal of strength in unity — expressed in the “Ode to Joy” — scraping up uneasily against a 21st-century ideal of strength in diversity. The change in perspective makes some people afraid and angry. It makes others hopeful and optimistic.”

Here is Paragraph B:

“We live in a time no more peaceful than Beethoven’s. Our conflicts today pit the great traditions and ways of thinking of the 19th century against a (hopefully) freer, more spontaneous, more shared, more inclusive 21st century.”

They are echoes (anti-phons) of one another. Mr Terauds continues as follows:

“Until we see whether we can achieve a paradigm shift or whether we fall back into something like the genocidal chaos of the mid-20th century, I think we should press pause on Beethoven’s Ninth.”

Why “press pause” on works which evoke hope in the hearts of many and please many people in general? Why, especially, deprive people of these joys during period of history when joy is most needed and when the affirmation of the human spirit is so welcome an oasis in the deserts of destruction? Just because you dont like it? That’s fine. Nobody is forcing you to listen. Why impose on others? Leave it alone if you are not actually bent on destruction yourself. You, of course, demonstrate that you are bent on destruction. You went out of your way to write and publish this instead of spending that time promoting that which you claim to want to champion.

“I, personally, would be satisfied to never hear it again.”

Who cares? Nobody who does not know the author really can care about what satisfies him or otherwise. Others must be given serious and concrete reasons to engage with or avoid a work which is being discussed in the paper. Those reasons must be relevant to people and not, as the other himself writes in the sentence above, having to do with what personally satisfies someone or another. and which the author never offers.

That brings us face to face with the worst part of this article. The author is fully aware of the fact that his request will not stop a single performance of the Symphony nor will it encourage people to listen to something else. He would have recommended (or even named) a single other work if you wanted people to listen to another work or pay attention to something else. If he were so passionate about something being overlooked, you would have been moved to compose your essay on those things that you feel are overlooked rather than compose it about a work which he simply slanders to no end.

The author didn’t write this essay to affirm anything. He wrote it to negate something. And since he cannot reasonably expect his words to influence the programming choices of orchestras who are already set on programming Beethoven’s Symphony (the author even admits to the inflexibility of those organizations) or direct people to other worthy works (he has not named any other works) or critique the craft of Beethoven (a composer who has been dead and accepted as great for over two centuries), that means that the author wrote this entry as an acrid and personal airing of grief and that he wrote it for one primary and obvious reason: to harm the feelings of those men and women who love Beethoven’s Symphony (and perhaps bolster his own ego through this act of editorial bullying).

“Am I saying we should destroy an icon? Of course not.”

Why bring up the question of destruction if not to suggest it? Certainly, one does not bring up such questions (ones that involve suggestions of violence and destruction) in order to simply ask those questions. The author provides the answer: “Of course not.”

“We should treat it as any other piece of fine art — and take time to appreciate how difficult it actually is to parse.”

The reader should now try singing the ode to joy with the attached audio file and experience how long it takes one to learn and remember the tune.

“Besides, shouldn’t we be encouraging — and showcasing — Canadian composers who might be able to galvanize us into attention with something homegrown?”

Beethoven’s Ninth has three long movements before the “Ode to Joy” finale, each filled with contrasts (only of the most inevitable and “fresh” (in the truest and best sense of that word) variety) and discontinuities (there aren’t any). The Ode itself shouts its message at us unrelentingly, insistently, sometimes more as a taunt than an exhortation (it is neither—- the text and music make this fact obvious).

“Don’t we have enough shouts and taunts in our world? Let’s stash Beethoven’s musical rant down back up in the pantheon of musical treasures and give other works some ear time instead.”

The author uses the word “we” in an ill-defined way in order to position himself as one who speaks on behalf of everyman without explicitly doing so (authors such as these are adept at covering their “intellectual” tracks). The author then goes on to speak of “our world.” I am not sure which world he refers to when he writes the words (‘our’ world) but I am certain that he and I are not speaking of the same Symphony (and that, in the actual world, symphonies, by definition, can be perceived to, but cannot actually “rant”).
Which other works is Mr. Terauds referring to here? Why would he suggest “other works” or “Canadian composers” if none are named? The reader will now see that the appearance of positivity in the work of anti-poets is not to be confused with positivity.

“Until we see whether we can achieve a paradigm shift or whether we fall back into something like the genocidal chaos of the mid-20th century, I think we should press pause on Beethoven’s Ninth.”

“I, personally, would be satisfied to never hear it again.”

“Besides, shouldn’t we be encouraging — and showcasing — Canadian composers who might be able to galvanize us into attention with something homegrown?”

The green text is a repetition of the author’s earlier call to get rid of Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony while the red text is a call for us to listen to something else which the author does not define and leaves un-definable.

Since this is, in effect, a call to turn one’s attention away from Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony rather than towards anything else, the first and second argument amount to a reputation of the same thing (“don’t listen to this” and “turn your ears away from this” amount to the same thing here). The green and the red text above are combined into the green and the red text in the author’s closing statement:

Let’s stash Beethoven’s musical rant down back up in the pantheon of musical treasures and give other works some ear time instead.

The call to action is devoid of any action: how does one stash something “down back up”? The very statement is a three-part contradiction in temporal and spacial terms (which makes for confusing language to boot). The mention of a “pantheon of musical treasures” uses vocabulary which denotes positivity in the action of “stashing Beethoven’s musical rant down back up…”

The author’s use of the conjunction “and” is grammatically additive rather than negating or divisive (“and give other works”) and so creates another illusion of positive action (it is also impossible for how does one “give other works some ear time” when the “other works” means either “no other works” or “every other work”? The illusion is that we are acting in such a way that does something positive AND we are acting in such a way that also does something else which is positive is an illusion that is badly attained by the writer of this article; a writer whose intent is clear and whose language used in pursuing that intention is poor.

A positive argument would identify that which the author is passionate about rather than what he is not passionate about. The article in question, therefore, seems to accomplish nothing at all. But the author is attempting something and cannot be dismissed as having no intent or passion because of the negativity of his article and what it proposes.

The author of this article is informing his readers that he is passionate about silencing something. In doing so, and positing nothing to even replace that which he proposes to be removed, this article’s author provides us with a prime example of anti-criticism at work.

Prime as it is, the work is unoriginal as it is negating. A decade earlier, for example, Slavoj Zizek wrote the following in the pages of the New York Times:

‘Ode to Joy,’ Followed by Chaos and Despair

DEC. 24, 2007

“LAST week, European Union leaders put an end to a decade of diplomatic wrangling and signed the Treaty of Lisbon, which outlined a complete overhaul of the organization, including the creation of a permanent post of European Union president to represent Europe on the world stage. During the ceremony at Lisbon’s grandiose Jerónimos Monastery, a choir performed Beethoven’s “Ode to Joy” in the background. While the fourth movement of Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony, first performed in 1824, may seem an innocuous choice for the official anthem of the European Union (it was declared such in 1972), it actually tells much more than one would expect about Europe’s predicament today.”

Mr. Zizek’s mention of recent events is akin to Mr. Terauds’ mention of Mr Macron and other recent events a decade later.

Mr Zizek engages in the same attempt to generate an illusion of positivity in his language as Mr Terauds does (in the article which we examined above. He does this by writing to inform us that Beethoven’s melody is “more than just a universally popular piece of classical music (the Ode to Joy is not a piece of music at all let alone a piece of “classical music”; it is the given name to a melody in the fourth movement of Beethoven Ninth Symphony where Beethoven sets Schiller’s poem of that title to music):

“The “Ode to Joy” is more than just a universally popular piece of classical music that has become something of a cliché during the holiday season (especially, oddly, in Japan, where it has achieved cult status). It has also been, for more than a century, what literary theorists call an “empty signifier” — a symbol that can stand for anything.”

But how could Mr Zizek be so closely aligned with Mr Terauds when Mr Terauds’ article was written a decade after Mr Zizek’s?

Here, Mr Zizek makes the attempt to negate the meaning of something explicit by telling us that the symphony is an empty signifier (also referred to as a “floating signifier” by anti-poets who refer to themselves as “literary theorists” or “critical theorists”). The Oxford Dictionary of Critical Theory’s definition of “Floating signifier” is as follows. Do not be concerned with the confounded nature of this “definition” as it was written by men and women who have composed a dictionary to serve an anti-poetic field of “study.”

Floating Signifier

A signifier without a specific signified (see sign). Also known as an ‘empty signifier’, it is a signifier that absorbs rather than emits meaning. For example, Fredric Jameson suggests that the shark in the Jaws series of films is an empty signifier because it is susceptible to multiple and even contradictory interpretations, suggesting that it does not have a specific meaning itself, but functions primarily as a vehicle for absorbing meanings that viewers want to impose upon it.

And so, through some flimsy definition in a contradictory and ill-defined field of “scholar-ship,” the shark of Jaws can join Thomas Cole and Beethoven and countless other fields of science and art in being open to any or no meaning whatsoever depending on, for example, that which happens to make the imitator (anti-poet) in question feel informed, smart or “correct” in their “important” and “valuable” “contribution.”

The notion that a work of art “functions primarily as a vehicle for absorbing meanings that viewers want to impose upon it” is a repetition of Mr. Terauds’ opening statement in the article which he would pen in 2018:

“It is a rare piece of music — any kind of music — that can bolster good as well as evil intentions. One classical work in particular has an uncanny, seductive power to become exactly what its fans want it to be.

By the standards of these anti-poets, any work of art (or any object at all which is perceptible to the senses as well as any subject which is studied or thought) does not simply exist as undefinable or meaningless. Anything which is made will be regarded as a black hole which “absorbs meanings” to the anti-poet.

The definition on Wikipedia is as follows:


Mr Zizek later mentions a number of unsavory characters (Hitler and others are echoed by Mr Terauds a decade later in his story about the concentration camps):

“In the 1950s and ’60s, when the West German and East German Olympic squads were forced to compete as a single team, gold medals were handed out to the strains of the “Ode to Joy” in lieu of a national anthem. It served as the anthem, too, for the Rhodesian white supremacist regime of Ian Smith. One can imagine a fictional performance at which all sworn enemies — Hitler and Stalin, Saddam Hussein and George W. Bush — for a moment forget their adversities and participate in the same magic moment of ecstatic musical brotherhood.”

“There is, however, a weird imbalance in this piece of music. In the middle of the movement, after we hear the main melody (the “joy” theme) in three orchestral and three vocal variations, something unexpected happens that has bothered critics for the last 180 years: at Bar 331, the tone changes totally, and, instead of the solemn hymnic progression, the same “joy” theme is repeated in the “marcia turca” ( or Turkish march) style, a conceit borrowed from military music for wind and percussion instruments that 18th-century European armies adopted from the Turkish janissaries.”

Then we have this mention of critics who are not and cannot be named:


“The mode then becomes one of a carnivalesque parade, a mocking spectacle — critics have even compared the sounds of the bassoons and bass drum that accompany the beginning of the marcia turca to flatulence. After this point, such critics feel, everything goes wrong, the simple solemn dignity of the first part of the movement is never recovered.”

Mr Zizek’s depiction of the music as evoking a “mode” of “a carnivalesque parade, a mocking spectacle” flows into Mr. Terauds’ question-call from 2018:

“Don’t we have enough shouts and taunts in our world? Let’s stash Beethoven’s musical rant down back up in the pantheon of musical treasures and give other works some ear time instead.”

Mr. Terauds echoes Mr. Zizek (though I do not know that he read this essay and I doubt it).

Mr Zizek, not content to allow his misperception of Beethoven’s work to stand on it’s own, goes on to propose a “solution”:

“But what if these critics are only partly correct — what if things do not go wrong only with the entrance of the marcia turca? What if they go wrong from the very beginning? Perhaps one should accept that there is something of an insipid fake in the very “Ode to Joy,” so that the chaos that enters after Bar 331 is a kind of the “return of the repressed,” a symptom of what was errant from the beginning.”

The reader will note that Mr. Zizek continues to confound the “Ode to Joy,” which he defines as a piece of music with Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony. His references to measures and moments in the symphonic score (such as “after bar 331”) cannot possibly be applied to the Ode to Joy (a tune which is only a few measures long) but must refer to a musical measure in the last movement of Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony.

“If this is the case, we should thus shift the entire perspective and perceive the marcia as a return to normality that cuts short the display of preposterous portentousness of what precedes it — it is the moment the music brings us back to earth, as if saying: “You want to celebrate the brotherhood of men? Here they are, the real humanity …”

“And does the same not hold for Europe today? The second stanza of Friedrich Schiller’s poem that is set to the music in “Ode to Joy,” coming on the heels of a chorus that invites the world’s “millions” to “be embraced,” ominously ends: “But he who cannot rejoice, let him steal weeping away.” With this in mind, one recent paradox of the marcia turca is difficult to miss: as Europe makes the final adjustments to its continental solidarity in Lisbon, the Turks, despite their hopes, are outside the embrace.”

“So, when in the forthcoming days we hear again and again the “Ode to Joy,” it would be appropriate to remember what comes after this triumphant melody. Before succumbing to the warm sentiment of how we are all one big family, I think my fellow Europeans should spare a thought for all those who cannot rejoice with us, all those who are forced to “steal weeping away.” It is, perhaps, the only way we’ll put an end to the rioting and car burnings and other forms of the Turkish march we now see in our very own cities.”

The essence of Zizek’s call to anti-action is, more subtle than other anti-poets whose work have studied in the current book. “So, when in the forthcoming days we hear again and again the ‘Ode to Joy,’ it would be appropriate to remember what comes after this triumphant melody,” says Mr. Zizek (this time correctly referring to the Ode as a melody rather than a piece of “classical” music).

Beethoven begins the transition from instrumental music to the choral setting with his own word:

O Freunde, nicht diese Töne!
Sondern laßt uns angenehmere anstimmen,
und freudenvollere.


The words of this section, written by Beethoven himself, describe the tones he would like to evoke and, for many persons who read and listen, remain clear and true:

Oh friends, not these sounds!
Let us instead strike up more pleasing
and more joyful ones!

And so, while listening to a musical work which is composed, in text and in choral setting, to pleasing and joyful tones, Mr. Zizkek tells his readers to remember those who are “forced” to “steal weeping away” and then goes on to mention a series of unpleasant events which this negative thought would help to “put and end to”:

“It is, perhaps, the only way we’ll put an end to the rioting and car burnings and other forms of the Turkish march we now see in our very own cities.”

Mr. Zizek’s article expresses a basic and linear mode of thinking that is reflected in the title: “‘Ode to Joy,’ Followed by Chaos and Despair” in which there are only two things (joy and despair) in which one follows the other in a linear fashion (joy is followed by despair which means the the joy was misguided and illusory “to begin with”).

Mr. Zizek places ‘Ode to Joy’ in the title which, as the title of a melody (rather than the Symphony he is bashing), permits him to place the words ’joy’ and ’ode’ in quotes while stating the “chaos and despair” as facts.

Beethoven wrote the following words (in Archduke Rudolph’s book of instruction):

“Many assert that every minor piece must end in the minor. Nego! On the contrary I find that in the soft scales the major third at the close has a glorious and uncommonly quieting effect. Joy follows sorrow, sunshine—rain. It affects me as if I were looking up to the silvery glistering of the evening star.”

These are cycles; not linear or binary events. Of course the rain and storms will be followed by bright and clear sunshine and that fact does not mean, because the sun has emerged, that it will never rain again. Only a mind caught in a childish mode of operation would allow such thoughts.

But Mr Terauds’ essay was an antiphon to Mr. Zizek’s as well as an antiphon to other essays like it just as each essay by an anti-poet rigorously avoids creating anything new. Both essays are anti-phon to themselves (from sentence to sentence and paragraph to paragraph). And if one examines the works of anti-poets such as these on a word-to-word basis, one will find that there is a limited vocabulary on display which often echoes itself through the use of the most banal synonyms which the reader can find in a thesaurus (and which the anti-poets obtained in this fashion if not by simply mimicking their friends).

There is a limited and binary “good vs bad” outlook which pervades this anti-critical outlook that can be charted in the statements which they make and the language with which they write.

The reality is that the meaning of anything does not matter to anti-poets who are concerned with destruction and contradiction.

Consider the following article which appeared in the New York Review of Books in June 2018. The article is supposed to be about the ninteeth-century landscape painter Thomas Cole’s 2018 exhibition at the Metropolitan Museum of Art:

“Every era gets its own Thomas Cole, the British-born, nineteenth-century artist who ushered in a new age of American landscape painting. In the 1930s and 1940s, he was a precursor to artists like Grant Wood. Come the 1960s and 1970s, MoMA linked his brushwork to abstract expressionism. In the late 1980s, he was part of a Reaganesque “Morning in America” campaign, a Chrysler-sponsored survey of American landscape paintings at the Met. Now, also at the Met, “Thomas Cole’s Journey: Atlantic Crossings” positions Cole as a challenge to Trumpian greed, as well as to the American landscape as imagined by Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke and EPA chief Scott Pruitt. But while Cole was undoubtedly concerned with the land he painted, he was not exactly the convenient social critic the Met portrays.”

Thomas Cole: A Conservative Conservationist

In that opening paragraph, the author of the article (one Jennifer Kabat), mirrors the attempts at “social framing” which pervade the articles on the seemingly unrelated Ninth Symphony as well as the prevalence of conflict and challenge in everything: The Met’s exhibit “portrays” Cole (it cannot do such a thing) “as a challenge to Trumpian greed, as well as to the American landscape as imagined by Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke and EPA chief Scott Pruitt” (the author cannot tell what these two individuals imagine).

The next paragraph on Cole echoes the blatant historical inaccuracies which we also find in the Beethoven articles:

“Credited as the force behind the Hudson River School (though the term was not used in his lifetime)…”

The Hudson River School was, indeed, used in Cole’s lifetime and used as a derogatory way of describing
Cole’s work. Note that Ms. Kabat also takes the opportunity to describe Cole as a “force” and says the he was “credited as the force…” without citing the creditors.

Back to Mr. Zizek whose essay resulted in a letter to the editor from David B Levy. Mr Levy (the professor of Music and the author of the book on the Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony which we read from earlier). Mr. Levy attempts a subjective interpretation of the symphony which, despite it’s subjectivity, remains closer to the common perception of the work as well as the text which Beethoven sets:

“To the Editor:
Re “ ‘Ode to Joy,’ Followed by Chaos and Despair,” by Slavoj Zizek (Op-Ed, Dec. 24):

I am not among those who think that Beethoven’s “Ode to Joy” is an “empty signifier.” It is we who have perverted the message of Schiller’s poem and Beethoven’s music.

In my book “Beethoven: The Ninth Symphony,” I argue that the so-called “Turkish march” is the first step toward a rapprochement between West and East, the culmination of which is achieved in the finale’s second double fugue.

A close reading of Schiller’s words reveals that the “Turkish march” is a paraphrase of the portion of Psalm 19 that refers to a metaphorical wedding procession. The bride and groom are the Occident and the Orient.

What Beethoven suggests, when read and heard in this light, is that joy is truly a universal agent of unity. It is hardly Beethoven’s or Schiller’s fault if politicians have attempted to delimit the “Ode to Joy” to narrower interpretations.”

These are pleasant thoughts but even more pleasant is understanding that Zizek and his tribe do not care to be engaged in such an argument because they are not concerned with the subject matter at hand. Instead, one could confront Zizek with another one of his errors since error and destruction are the actual subjects and objectives at hand.

For example, let us consider the paragraph in which Mr Zizek writes the following

“Before succumbing to the warm sentiment of how we are all one big family, I think my fellow Europeans should spare a thought for all those who cannot rejoice with us, all those who are forced to “steal weeping away.” It is, perhaps, the only way we’ll put an end to the rioting and car burnings and other forms of the Turkish march we now see in our very own cities.”

Mr. Zizek asks the readers to “spare a thought for all those who cannot rejoice with us, all those who are forced to ‘steal weeping away.’” Let us do that and first understand that the passage from the Ninth Symphony in question is not a passage meant to abolish some or to describe a miserable other. Here is the relevant part of the movement:

“Whoever has been lucky enough
to become a friend to a friend,
Whoever has found a beloved wife,
let him join our songs of praise!
Yes, and anyone who can call one soul
his own on this earth!
Any who cannot, let them slink away
from this gathering in tears!”

The gathering is of anybody who has been a friend to anybody or who has loved anyone or been loved by anyone. Schiller writes that anyone who cannot do these things; anyone who cannot be friend to a friend or find a soul and embrace that soul as kindred… that they should slink away in tears because it is tears that they would choose. Mr. Terauds and Mr Zizek are among those we have studied thus far who are similarly inclined to take pleasure in nothing and, motivated by this fact, seek to deny pleasure to others.

The passage above is followed by this:

“Every creature drinks in joy
at nature’s breast;
Good and Evil alike
follow her trail of roses.
She gives us kisses and wine,
a true friend, even in death;
Even the worm was given desire,
and the cherub stands before God.”

“Even the worm was given desire,” write Schiller and Beethoven. Mr Terauds, Mr. Zizek and the many anti-poets in this repetitive and tedious antiphon should take note of this fact.

The lack of pleasure on the part of an anti-poet is often explicitly stated. Take the following statement in which Anne Midgette, a person who works as a music critic for The Washington Post, complains about having to attend so many performances of music by Leonard Bernstein:

“Being a critic, in this case, is a disadvantage. Had I only seen one or two concerts instead of 10, I might feel different.” … “Admittedly, I was motivated as much by curiosity as by obligation.” (

Ms. Midgette describes herself as “being a critic.”

One might reasonably expect this professional (and now self-proclaimed) designation to work in Ms. Midgette’s an advantage had she chosen to embrace such a role. This for then the reader could gain insight into the works which were heard instead of being made privy to the private thoughts and personal feelings of Ms Midgette and to the assumptions regarding form and technique which she attempts to project upon composers such as myself. Ms. Midgette had the opportunity to examine the multitude of works that have been left for us by a composer who should be examined seriously in his own right rather than through proclamations about his role as a bequeather of property. Ms. Midgette’s efforts are akin to the practice of an executor tending to a dead man’s estate. They do not resemble any form of critical engagement.

Embodying the role of a critic, had she chosen to accept such a role, would have allowed Ms. Midgette to build on a unique opportunity to illuminate relationships among the works of Bernstein’s compositional works (reviews of his conducting and other performing roles are limited to reviews of recordings). This is an important place in historic scholarship that has been left void thanks to these sorts of practices by Ms. Midgette and her colleagues.

In my twenty two years of active engagement on Bernstein’s Mass, for example, the only scholarly work that I have found despite my vast surveys of media and academic output is one dissertation titled A Comparison Between A Descriptive Analysis of Leonard Bernstein’s Mass and the Musical Implications of the Critical Evaluations Thereof by Gary de Sesa. This is something I found online and which has not, to my knowledge, been published. That dissertation is the only work of scholarship in which I have found a compliment of analytical knowledge beyond that which I have studied in the score of the work and through my own performance of the work. It is the only scholarly work which describes the music of Mass rather than the private feelings of a critic or scholar which remain the private feelings of one audience member. And, to the extent that many of these works have been strange, these private feelings have been perfectly useless to anyone beyond the immediate circle of those who are familiar with the feelings of the critic and scholar in questions. De Sesa also contrasts the objective material contained within the score of Mass with the critical reactions to it. The results are illuminating. It is because of this section that I recommend de Sesa’s dissertation to people who would find limited use in (or otherwise dream of reading) a dissertation which primarily concerns itself with the mechanical elements of musical composition and form. This analysis should be read by anyone concerned with the state of the species.

Ms. Midgette then solicits the perspective of a conductor named Leonard Slatkin. She recounts the email exchange which is to be found transcribed into her article in The Washington Post:

“He always bristled” says Mr. Slatkin, “when people wanted to talk about ‘West Side Story,’ ” conductor Leonard Slatkin says. “But when you write a work that virtually reshapes an entire genre, and is beloved by the world, you cannot escape.”

Ms. Midgette’s appraisal continues as follows:

Slatkin has certainly championed Bernstein’s serious concert pieces, and in November, he’ll return to the National Symphony Orchestra, where he was music director for 12 years, to lead “Songfest,” which the NSO commissioned for the Bicentennial. “Songfest” aims to reflect the American spirit by setting the words of 13 poets from different epochs of American history. Even in these works, Bernstein couldn’t, Slatkin thinks, escape his fundamental attachment to narrative.

Ms. Midgette is not content to define Bernstein’s concert music as “concert music.” Instead she refers to “serious” concert pieces which goes the extra mile (to write one word less would have been easier for Ms. Middette). This term is not simply invented; it is derogatory to both “serious” musicians and “commercial” or “popular.” It tells the composer of symphonic and operatic concert music that he cannot be popular and it also tells the songwriters who are marketed as “popular” that he cannot be intelligent and endure. This is why these persons stand in the way of composers reaching a broader audience and also why those “popular” artists who achieve popularity are all-too-often discarded in a matter of years until the next “flavor dejoure” is found. And those decisions, I must emphasize, are made by persons who are convinced that they know more about music than musicians do.

meant to separate The reader is not told what a “fundamental attachment to narrative” can possibly mean in music. But Slatkin gives us an idea that, whatever this might be, it is personal:

“For me,” Slatkin wrote in an email exchange, “the five works add up to a summation of Bernstein’s life. ‘Jeremiah’ is the nod to his Jewish heritage and . . . finds the composer still looking for his voice, the one that will please his parents. ‘Age of Anxiety’ [the second symphony] is all about alienation, with Bernstein trying to come to grips with why he is different from pretty much everyone else around him”

Jeremiah is Bernstein’s First Symphony. The work is instrumental until the final movement which sets the opening of The Book of Lamentations which was written by the Prophet Jeremiah some millennia ago. Slatkin starts his commentary with the optimization of private feelings (I have underlined this above) and then goes on to inform us of the composer’s intentions on behalf of the now-departed composer. Ms. Midgette also does not identify the “five works” that have made the final cut of Mr. Slatkin’s pageant. This leads one to wonder why Ms. Midgette would retain the mention of “five works” in her elipses-driven edit which she presumably conducted upon transference of Mr. Slatkin’s email from her inbox and into the present article. The Age of Anxiety is the only other work that is mentioned in this paragraph. Slatkin tells us, on Bernstein’s private behalf, that this symphony “is is all about alienation, with Bernstein trying to come to grips with why he is different from pretty much everyone else around him.” Anything other than this would be helpful to include. If, for example, Slatkin or Midgette informed the reader that the Symphony shares it’s title with W. H. Auden’s poem, this would count as imparting a useful fact. Such a thing could be helpful to those who do not know either one work or the other as well as to those who do not know of either work.

Those are prospective readers who might find pleasure in experiencing both Bernstein’s Symphony and Auden’s poem as well as in exploring the connection between them.

Surely there are easier ways to please one’s parents; writing a symphony is an awfully difficult and laborious way to go about this task. In fact, Bernstein could have pleased his father by not composing any Symphonies and not going into a life of music at all in the first place, It is an historical fact, despite Slatkin writing of Bernstein’s intent to please his father without knowing this or having any rational recourse to knowing it, that Bernstein’s father did not approve of his son embarking upon a life in music. Such a fact is one which Mr. Slatkin could have looked up and which, failing that, Ms. Midgette or her editors could have corrected had she thought of doing the same before publishing it in the Washington Post.

As far as characterizing the symphony as “a nod to his Jewish heritage” is concerned, I will allow the reader to contemplate the following scenario. Alberto Ginerestera, a composer who is as South American and Christian as they come, wrote a choral setting of the Lamentations of Jeremiah. The present writer could describe that work as a “nod to Ginestera’s Jewish heritage” or, I could just as easily characterize my own Third Symphony (“Kaddish”) as a “nod to my own Jewish heritage.”

But I would not attempt either venture let alone publish either one in the paper. The recourse to common sense and objective truth would not allow that unless I had some concept of myself as being able to speak on behalf of the inner thoughts and feelings of others (including, if not especially, the dead). This is in addition to the fact that I would also be admitting an inability to sift between the definitions of words like “heritage” and “religion.” The apocalyptic prophecy of the latter, rather than the familial and local connotations of the former (which we use when describing Jewish communities as opposed to the religion itself) present another opportunity to clarify Bernstein’s enunciation of the “artist as deliverer of prophecy.” One would also be furnished with the advantage of being able to turn to Bernstein himself as a source. It would give Ms. Midgette the opportunity to print words, such as those from Bernstein’s 1973 Norton Lectures on Poetics, in which he movingly expressed his artistic outlook himself.

I have used the word “prophecy” which is as central an expression of the spirit of Bernstein’s works as the word “ritual” was employed by Nabokov to understanding a central tenet of Stravinsky’s output. Mr. Slatkin, for his part, might have reassured the reader of his familiarity with the works of this man whom he is speaking about as one whose works he would “champion” More importantly, this is a composer whom Mr. Slatkin does not simply speak about in the abstract but whose works he actually conducts on a regular basis. To this, Mr. Slatkin adds the following stunning admission:

“I used to try and find a more symphonic and structural coherence” when conducting these pieces, Slatkin says. “Now, I think they must reflect Bernstein the man, with as much stylistic contrast as possible.”

The coherence of Bernstein’s works are demonstrable to anyone who listens. By this I mean anybody from the person who has nothing to do with musical practice as a performer or composer to a composer such as myself who is engaged with Bernstein’s compositions as hugely informative to the spirit and structure on which my own body of works has been built. Moreover, his methods of communicating that coherence is not simply impeccable but masterful and, in the best sense, inventive. If they were not coherent, I would not be able to understand, let alone engage with Bernstein’s work at all. Mr. Slatkin tells us that he “used to try and find” those structural coherences that hold Mr. Bernstein’s work as one of our highest standards. He assumes that coherence is not there simply because he cannot find it.

Having told us, in print, that he does not understand the structure of the symphonic works employed by composer at hand (remember this is elementary knowledge), Mr. Slatkin rises to the podium and stands before orchestras like the Detroit Symphony Orchestra or the National Symphony and attempts to conduct their performance of the very same work in which he can find no coherence. The audience is also treated to this performance.

“Given his huge effect on the field, it’s notable that Bernstein, as a composer, has no clear musical heir. Some composers cross between musicals and opera, at least, but few have his gleeful, in-your-face mastery of so many styles and forms. Complicating the issue is that Bernstein’s relationship to the American vernacular tradition was somewhat compromised by the rise of rock, which was much less his world.”

Ms. Midgette cannot surmise that the fact of her finding “no clear” musical “heir” to Bernstein does not mean that she should print such a thing. Clarity comes with understanding. Nothing will be clear to Ms. Midgette until she understands that genres and values invented by the likes of her and her colleagues in the marketing and academic departments of capitalizing on human construction have no bearing on the practice of music or on it’s validity.

Ms. Midgette then informs us that “young composers today who dabble in popular forms tend to draw from that musical world.” Ms. Midgette does not inform the reader who these “young composers” might (or might not) be. Her vagueness allows me to take the opportunity the construe her words as inviting an answer from anyone who might fit that bill. Since I am a composer who is often still described as “young” (something that I find curious in my thirty second year), and who has also been described as “popular” (something which leads me to understand that my forms must be since those who describe me as such do not know me in any other way), I will take the opportunity to address her misconceptions more specifically. This is (partially) in order that the reader may surmise how deeply rooted the delusion of knowledge is to persons who do not make allowances for the possibility that they themselves might have much to learn about a topic before they would presume to write about it or take on the pretense of “educating” others.

At the outset, I must reconfirm that which the reader has seen to be evident: that my body of work owes a part of it’s existence to the body of work which Leonard Bernstein left behind. What I am about to show is engagement and not “dabbling” which, until reading Midgette’s words above, I would have reserved for those who practice musical composition as a hobby rather than in the practice of serious composers who have the time and reason to be engaged in Bernstein’s work as part of building their own. Ms. Midget does not simply state that “Bernstein, as a composer, has no clear musical heir.” She goes on to write, with great certainty, that “If Bernstein has a successor,” it is a person who is named by Ms. Midgette.

This sort of talk is more at home in a scene such as that in Disney’s Lion King where the main antagonist, Scar, plots to overthrow the reigning king with the help of some intellectually challenged hyenas:

“It’s clear from your vacant expression
The lights are not all on upstairs
But we’re talking kings and successions
Even you can’t be caught unawares”

“So prepare for a chance of a lifetime,” says Scar before going on to have the following conversation with the Hyenas who are to kill the king:

[Hyenas] Yeah, we’ll be prepared.
Be prepared for what?
[Scar] For the death of the king.
[Hyenas] Why, is he sick?
[Scar] No, fools. We’ll kill him. And Simba too!
[Hyenas] Great idea! Who needs a king? No king, no king, la la la la la la.
[Scar] Idiots! There will be a king!
[Hyenas] Hey, but you said, uh…
[Scar] I will be king. Stick with me, and you’ll never go hungry again!
[Hyenas] Yay! All right!
Long live the king!
Long live the king!

There are no “heirs” or “successors” to any artist. The idea of such a thing is repulsive. The fact that I poetically build on Bernstein’s work as well as the work of other artists does not mean that I have “ succeeded” them. The existence of my work does not supersede their work or cause it to become less vital or true. Such talk of succession and evolution is anti-poetic to the core. The notion assumes that somebody’s work has to be destroyed or dethroned from it’s authority in order for my work to come into existence.

Bernstein’s authority comes from his affinity to the truth. That is the relationship (to the truth) by which my authority or any artist’s authority can be determined.

“If Bernstein has a successor,” says Midgette, “it’s his onetime collaborator Stephen Sondheim, who has stayed as resolutely away from the institutions and forms of classical music as Bernstein was inexorably drawn to them.”

The genres and categories which are invented by the likes of Ms. Midgette should not be assumed to be real things (outside of the minds of those who invent them). Ms. Midgette goes further than this in that she informs us of the invented feelings (and invented desires) that speak of an attitude to these invented categorizations. To start off with, allow me to offer a “red-marker” annotation of a longer portion from Ms. Migette’s prose:

But when we (who is “we?) think of Bernstein’s legacy, we (who is “we”?) tend to think of the many conductors he championed — conductors who, for the most part, work primarily in the concert hall (how does one conductor “champion” another conductor other than through word of mouth?). And the distinctive features of Bernstein’s legacy (inform the reader what you mean by “Bernstein’s legacy on the podium” or, better, what such a thing could even be before speaking of “distinctive features”) on the podium are not as much an embrace of musicals as they are physical features — an active, athletic approach (this is known as “conducting” and is not “athletic” The main takeaway should be sonic and not visual), talking to the audience and introducing pieces before playing them (many of us composers do this when it is asked of us and when we are given the opportunity). The musicians who came after Bernstein watched him make his own, tortured, sui generis (what does this even mean?) way in the compositions he wrote (his compositions are clear and easy to understand unless one does not want to do so). But they experienced firsthand the warmth, generosity and encouragement of a man who, rather than sitting in stony judgment on a young conductor leading his music, embraced him in a headlock (who is being evoked here? Why does it matter to anybody in the wider readership that lies beyond the author’s social circle?).


“‘I hate music! But I love to sing’ is the title work in a cycle by Leonard Bernstein of ‘Five Kid Songs’ It’s meant to be silly and childish and a little bit profound. These days, it sums up the way I feel about its creator” says Ms. Midgette as though she knows “it’s creator” and is writing to a family friend who also knows Bernstein not simply in a personal capacity but in an intimate one.

Ms. Midgette continues her rumination in a paragraph that could have come from a pen-pal. “For most of my life,” she writes (remember this is in the newspaper), “at least until 2017 — I had a documented affection for American music’s favorite crazy uncle. Bernstein, we all know, is brilliant and maddening and embarrassing and lovable. You roll your eyes, and chuckle, but however much he annoys you, he’s so great you just can’t stop coming back for more.”

“Embarrassing” is a word which I have seen on many occasions as associated with Bernstein’s music and deployed by writers who do not know it and cannot or will not focus on it so that they might know it. Knowing it might be especially valuable to these persons. It is these individuals such as Ms. Midgette, Mr. Slatkin and the others in this lesson who obscure the clarity and use of everything in their respective fields by ignoring the field or object of discussion at hand. They instead opt for a “personal approach.” They are unable to bring themselves to comprehend that their “personal” approach is inappropriate and, at the best times, of minimal use if it is of any use at all. They cannot understand that the words “Bernstein the man” do not actually mean anything and that those words are a weak substitute for meaning.

The words of those who do not know what to think about a composer’s work can be revealing. Bernstein was a composer who observed such behavior with such precision of tone and exactness of purpose that his work has made it easier for me to examine much of the same folded and complex behavior in my own. They might consider the source of why they find themselves describing Bernstein’s music as “irritating” or “embarrassing.”

Here I would like to introduce the reader (or the many readers who have not yet “met” him) to Leonard Bernstein himself. Here are his words which he spoke to a gathering of young artists following a terrorist attack. Since the words of Mr. Slatkin and Ms. Midgette (as well as the others in this lesson and book) are printed and printed often and copiously, I will ask the reader’s indulgence in reading a sizable number of words from a composer who spoke truth in his work and whose legacy lives on through my own work as well as the work of others like me who have found use in the truth.

Leonard Bernstein:

“That was exactly one week ago tonight, and when they all had left around 2 A.M. I sat and mused on words, and the decline of language. Love, Peace, War. So overused we barely know what they mean anymore; like love: Is love a concept from the Gospels, from Plato, or that impossibly repetitive word in any pop song? “All you need is love, love, love…” Meaningless. Religion: are we talking about prayer, charity, faith, or militant fundamentalism? Enemy: that old word we can’t live without. We can all conceive of a personal enemy; a jealous lover, a bitter rival, and so on; but that big-concept word—THE ENEMY—is it not invented and constantly re-invented to give us something against which to fight? Could we have a thriving economy, or even a modest affluent society, without this perennial reason to build our arsenals? Would we be in space without an enemy to beat there?

Another word, truth. Truth? Well, one almost gives up. Since I’ve come home a noble man named Bernie Kalb quit his job as official spokesman at the State Department, on the grounds that he could no longer lie, officially lie. What was the defensive response from Foggy Bottom? The following worse-than-foggy quote from Churchill: “In time of war, the truth is so precious, it must be carefully attended by a bodyguard of lies.” Now that was a glorious sentence when Churchill said it, but to use it in the current context of planned disinformation is simply obscene. Note the not insignificant modifier “in time of war.” Is this time now, this moment, a time of war? Is this a period for Alien and Sedition Acts, counterrevolutionary measures, saving the world for democracy, yet a third time? Hardly. Only when convenient for the powers-that-be to say so. How often, and how gladly those same powers pronounce this a time of peace, in fact, when convenient. “Look at our nuclear arsenal,” they speechify proudly. “Has it not kept the world at peace for 40 years?” When it serves their purpose. Good Lord, we even have a missile called a Peacekeeper. How sly and crafty we are, and stupid too, as we go on debasing the language, honoring ambiguity in prose instead of in poetry, maundering, mindlessly preachifying. Love. War. Hate. Peace. God. Patriotism. Rambo. Way back before the First World War, specifically the collapse of the Hapsburg Empire and Company, certain visionaries saw the debacle coming, Kafka, von Hofmannsthal, Karl Kraus; they perceived it through the degradation of language, the hypocrisy of official speech. Are we doing the same? This is a deep question to ask ourselves in this period of self-reflection and forgiveness.”

As for the intent of “prophecy” in his work, Bernstein concludes his remarks as follows:

There is a charming legend about this penitential period: It is said that on Rosh Hashanah, New Year’s Day, the golden Book of Life up there in the sky is inscribed with the name of every single human being, along with his or her destiny for the year: who will live and who will die, who by fire and who by water, who will prosper and who will not. But there are 10 days within which one can change that inscription for the better—by prayer and the practice of good deeds. Charity and faith can avert the evil decree (you see, it’s all just another version of Corinthians, chapter 13). In other words, it’s now or never, because on the 10th day, Yom Kippur, the big book is closed and sealed for the year. Sorry folks, that’s it.

So here we are on the eighth night, and I want to make my own public confession of faith, hope, and charity. You see, a couple of years ago I had a bit of a falling-out with my esteemed and well-loved friend Derek Bok. I won’t bore you with the story, but the rumpus was basically about a book written and published at Harvard and blessed with a sizable preface by President Bok. I read and hated this book and became quite exercised about the preface, which didn’t exactly endorse the book, but the presence of which, up front and center, by so distinguished a thinker, gave the book a certain cachet I didn’t think it deserved. Dare I mention its name? Living with Nuclear Weapons—the title alone was discouraging enough. Well, I got real mad and, in a self-righteous huff, stopped further contributions to the Harvard scholarship fund I had established years before. I was wrong to do so; and even though Derek and I have never debated the matter publicly or privately—never even had that lunch we promised each other—nevertheless I have sinned, I re-examine, I re-evaluate, and I hereby return the withheld funds. There is no enemy; there is the American principle of free debate; fighting against an invented enemy is wasteful; fighting for ourselves and one another is constructive, is sharing—otherwise known as love.

Let me leave you with the thought that we all have until Monday night to meditate, rectify, re-assess, and get that celestial inscription changed. Try it, it’s worth it. And, as we say, shana tovah, a good year, and hatimah tovah, a good inscription. Bless you.


If the court is between Leonard Bernstein on the one hand and the anti-poets on the other, then I can now leave the case in the hands of the reader. In cases such as these, the most important task that could fall upon a living artist such as myself is the duty of presenting the views of those dead men and women with whom one breaks bread in the arch of influence. In this case, I hope that I have presented Leonard Bernstein and his detractors clearly and I know that I have presented them through their own words.

Having fulfilled that task, I must now leave it up to the reader to decide, in the only way one can decide, whose thoughts are better and more properly to be read as “irritating” and “embarrassing.”


IV. Nostromos

The question, raised by one critic at the time of Mass’ premiere in 1971, is the starting point for our final considerations regarding Mass and anti-poetics. This critic posited to ask why Bernstein’s work was (and remains) so evidently abrasive (personally abrasive) to so many of the “critics” who attacked a work that was so thoroughly embraced by audiences in general.

We must turn to a review of Mass from November of 2014 which was written by Zachary Woolfe, a “critic” at the New York Times.

The review, in which Mr. Woolfe labels a completed work (one which is being performed decades after it’s premiere and decades after the death of it’s composer) an “effort,” begins as follows:

“Leonard Bernstein’s “Mass: A Theatre Piece for Singers, Players and Dancers” begins with a 12-tone Kyrie played from the four corners of the theater. A guitar-strumming Celebrant enters in street clothes, then there’s a jazzy “Alleluia,” like a 1950s radio jingle. A marching band enters, flanked by a chorus, dancers, a children’s choir and another choir, backed by a full symphony orchestra — and that’s just in the first 15 minutes, before the rock band, the blues band and, near the two-hour mark, a climactic mad scene.”

Mr. Woolfe says that the work begins with a “12-tone Kyrie played from the four corners of the theater.” This is the first sentence of his review and, already it contains two major and obvious objective errors. By “12-tone,” Mr. Woolfe is referring to a technique of composition which is very specific: one composes using twelve tones in a certain prearranged order without repeating a single one of those tones until all of the remaining tones in the series are used.

But one does not need to understand the specific compositional technique at play here in order to grasp the issue at hand nor does one need to understand the specific compositional technique at play in twelve-tone music in order to appreciate it, enjoy it or hear it as such. The issue at hand is that Mr. Woolfe is in blatant and obvious error about something which is objective to the student of music as well as the average concert goer. One is, as I said, able to hear the effect of the technique when composers work with pitches using a twelve-tone technique.

The Kyrie does not use a 12-tone at all or anything close to a 12-tone technique. It doesn’t sound twelve-tone; far from it.

Worst of all, Mr. Woolfe’s error is not simply blatant but also unoriginal. The mistake, as committed by Woolfe in 2014, has been made many times before Mr. Woolfe by “critics” and “scholars” like him.

In 1971, following the world premiere of Mass, a writer named Cheryl A. Forbes wrote a review of the work’s premiere for Christianity Today. Her review, titled “Bernstein’s “Mass”: No Word From the Lord.” describes the music of the opening: “Kyrie Eleison, a pre-recorded twelve-tone soprano duet.”

These anti-critics and anti-scholars have been corrected time and again by critics and scholars and yet they persist in their error. Gary DeSesa, in his dissertation on Mass (the only scholarly or critical work which I have found to engage Mass on a musical basis corrected the error in the following (definitively clear) terms (the dissertation is dated from 1984-85 and has been available to Mr Woolfe and others for decades now):


Mr. De Sesa’s statement (“One must wonder from where Forbes gets this— certainly not from the score or aurally”) contains an important observation: namely, that the score to Mass is not needed in order to realize that the opening is not “twelve-tone” nor does it resemble music written which uses twelve-tone technique to the ear. Mr. De Sesa’s correction contains an important statement if read positively (in terms of what the listener can get from the music rather than what the “critic” divined and which is not in the music): it would be a simple matter for someone to understand that the Kyrie is not “twelve-tone” aurally (by simply listening to the work):


In a 2016 textbook titled A History of Western Choral Music the reader will note the ambitious and ambiguous use of the word “Western” in the title —this word leaves the geographic area to be covered in the text book open to the whims of the author. It serves no obvious function and yet, unfortunately, it damages the text in more immediately tangible ways. The “geographic” exclusivity excuses the writer of the text from meeting any need or requirement to discuss important choral composers like Tour Takemitsu, Halim El Dabh, Tan Dun and many others (including many composers from all parts of the world including Europe and the Americas) whom the author decides to regard to not qualify as “Western” by his own apparently private and, in any case, never-defined “definition”). In the immediate sense, the result is a text which is fractured and far less of a useful resource than it could be. In a broader sense, I trust that the true motive behind the use of ambiguous and deceptive language is becoming more apparent to the reader; it will continue to be demonstrated until the summation of this book.

How does this particular point relate to the matter at hand in Bernstein’s Mass?

The author of the History of Western Classical Music, a man named Chester L. Alwes, introduces Leonard Bernstein’s body of work (or choral work if the scope of the book is to be taken as a defining indicator) like this:



This “introduction” is a collection of objective errors. The form in which the errors are presented is informative. The first two sentences manage to commit many mistakes and conflations which make very little sense and serve equally little function as far as aiding in the understanding of the musical works mentioned. All of these conflations and mistakes can be “gotten away with” even though they obscure the works being discussed precisely because of the “ambiguous and ambitious nature” which produces the aforementioned obscuring of the works which are mentioned.

It is in the third sentence, as the author explicitly contends with a single specific example of music that he falters explicitly. He falters immediately following his very first attempt at examining Bernstein’s music itself. Mr. Alwes contends that Bernstein’s work (Mass) demonstrates a “populist facility with twelve-tone technique in the work’s Kyrie.”

This book is published by Oxford University Press. This publisher and many music publishers like them who are constantly lamenting decline and doom in the music publishing “business” would do well to consider their practices. If they would only think of their readers and provide them with a useful and clear text like Mr. DeSesa’s (still unpublished) dissertation, they might find the success that they so desire (and which, by their own accounts, continue to elude them) in “the marketplace.”

Before turning back to the case which Mr. Woolfe raises, I would like to examine a page which I have picked at random from the second section of Mr. DeSesa’s dissertation. This excerpt examines the example of a critic named Paul Hume (in this excerpt, his writing as it appeared in the Washington Post is examined). This page, like all the others and many which one can find by simply picking out a certain line of thinking at random, put one another’s comments into context.


“Paul Hume in The Washington Post

The author of the greatest numbers of articles on MASS was Paul Hume. His first article, covering the Washington premiere, emphasized the philosophical and religious aspect of the work and neglected the musical ones. Explaining this imbalance in an article one month later, Hume says:

The impact of Leonard Bernstein’s “Mass” is so strong when experienced as total theater—which is what Bernstein himself calls it in the subtitle—that it’s easy to discuss its theological, social and political meanings at length.
And because the work moves so strongly in each of those areas, the early comments about “Mass” tended to slight its purely musical content.

Hume, not above reviewing his own material and providing supplemental enhancement, further realized the musical sense upon which some of the analysis in Chapter III is based:

But in a minute study of the score demonstrates, in a long line of meticulously considered details, the wealth of musical ideas upon which the entire work is constructed, and the subtle marvels of interwoven thematic materials that form its astonishingly rich fabric.

Hume describes the contrast between the opening “Kyrie” and the “Simple Song” as “One of the first and loveliest inspirations…” He analyzes the music of this section:

Following the elaborate “Kyrie,” and “Christe eleison” sung by four voices on tape, which mounts in contrapuntal confusion as tenor, alto, and bass follow the soprano, each on his own line, the voice of the Celebrant is heard for the first time. Not only does he call for men to “Sing God a simple song,” but when the [sic] reaches the line, “For God is the simplest of all,” he is supported by the simplest of chords, the C-major triad.

Cheryl Forbes in Christianity Today

Forbes describes the same music as:

Kyrie eleison, a pre-recorded twelve-tone soprano duet…

One must wonder from where Forbes gets this—certainly not from the score or aurally. It is not twelve-tone, and it is most definitely not a duet. (It is pre-recorded.) The bass solo entrance immediately following the soprano solo could not possibly have been mistaken for anything else except by someone who has no concept of voice ranges, in which case it should not enter into their discussion of the work. If Forbes had checked the score or the libretto, she would have seen the voice entrances in the “Kyrie” clearly marked. One would assume that Forbes had access to a score or libretto, since in discussing the “Agnus Dei,” she quotes what she claims is:

Bernstein’s stage directions to be ‘menacing, wild, barbaric, and relentless’ express exactly the the congregation’s attitude.

The inaccuracy of Forbes review does not end here. She says:

The priest tries to praise God, but the choirboys take him from his task with stunts and acrobatics while they continue to sing the gloria patri. The symbolism is apparent. The children vie for the celebrant’s favor and attention with look-at-me hand motions just as human beings, Bernstein seems to say, vie for God’s favor.

The “priest” is not praising God when the children appear. He is completing a meditation following the mentally challenging “Confiteor” in which, for the first time, he is unable to provide sustenance for his congregation’s doubts, questions and fears. The children don’t “take him from his task,” he welcomes them with “joyous excitement” when they present him with a set of bongos. It is he who initiates the music of the “Gloria tiki” (not the gloria patri, as Forbes entitles it). If any symbolism is “apparent,” it is that a child or children represent innocence, purity, and joyfulness, not selfishness as Forbes’ interpretation would imply. Six movements later in Mass, when the Celebrant has been disillusioned even further by his people during the dance in the “Offertory,” Hume comments that:

Only the choir boys with their loyal, innocent affection sustain the Celebrant at this point.

Forbes continues with a description of the “Agnus Dei” which she says is:

… suggestive of the Israelites in the golden calf orgy, with Moses holding the twelve tablets and looking down on the people from the mountain top.
This episode epitomizes the charge made by New York Times critic Harold Schonberg that the show is “vulgar…pretentious and thin, as thin as the watery liberalism that dominates the message of his work.”

Forbes, from the beginning of her review, seems to have a problem in providing accurate information. She continues this trend with “Moses holding the twelve tablets” instead of the correct number, two. She goes on the misquote and misunderstand Schonberg. The order of Forbes’ quotation implies that the comment “vulgar” precedes “pretentious and thin…,” etc. in which case it is referring to paragraph two, where Schonberg himself does not call the show vulgar, but says”

There were those who dismissed the Mass out of hand as vulgar trash…”

The reviews go on. The comparisons and analysis are illuminating.

The points which are raised in this dissertation should, as I have said, be examined by readers who are curious about Bernstein’s work itself as well as those who are interested in problems regarding human perception in general.

I would now like to ask the reader to consider the remainder of Mr. Woolfe’s 2014 New York Times review of Mass. Following this, we will be able to proceed with a final inquiry in which I will demonstrate the link between a present failure of perception on the one hand and a disorder-crisis in belief and believability for which Mr Woolfe provides an excellent case-study on the other.

Here, first, is the remainder of the review:

“Perhaps more than any other Bernstein work, the jam-packed “Mass,” commissioned for the 1971 inauguration of the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington, and rarely performed these days, encapsulates its composer: his ambitions, his charm, his quaint liberal pieties, his desire to bridge classical and popular culture, his craftsmanship, his grandiosity.

It’s alternately stirring and embarrassing, a work so teeming that it needs to be approached with utter clarity if it’s not to seem simply messy. An enthusiastic but untidy performance on Sunday afternoon at the Kupferberg Center for the Arts at Queens College, presented by the college’s Aaron Copland School of Music and conducted by Maurice Peress, who led the 1971 premiere, suggested its considerable strengths while emphasizing its risible flaws.

Prominent among those strengths, as always with Bernstein, is the songwriting. Interweaving the traditional Roman Catholic liturgy with the lightly sketched story of a charismatic leader who gains and then loses the support of a restive, doubting community clamoring for peace, “Mass” alternates brooding Modernist interludes with infectious numbers recalling the best of Bernstein’s Broadway work.
“Thank You” is a guileless aria for soprano, “Easy” a flamboyantly swinging crowd pleaser. Days after a performance of “Mass” you may still be singing to yourself the line “Lauda, lauda, laudē,” in Bernstein’s serenely simple melody.

The performers on Sunday, particularly the sweet-voiced young tenor Victor Starsky, as the Celebrant, dived into the work with gusto. But while their emotions were strong, they weren’t always lucid: the relationship between Celebrant and community was vague at the start, so the conflicts that racked it lacked impact. The enormous musical forces weren’t always deployed with precision, and amplification — always difficult to calibrate — muddied some textures.

The work itself still inspires as much doubt as faith. While the crushing blues of the Agnus Dei are effective, the integration of rock into a theatrical structure was more skillfully handled, in the years immediately before “Mass,” by the Who’s “Tommy” and Andrew Lloyd Webber’s “Jesus Christ Superstar,” which also anticipated (and, arguably, was better than) Bernstein’s capacious eclecticism here.

And “Mass” does feel mired in a certain era. At least in this performance, its gently anti-establishment liberalism came off a bit mild for the time of Occupy Wall Street. Its theological skepticism is sourly flavored with hippie narcissism: “I believe in God, but does God believe in me?”

For all these reservations, the final, calm chorus of praise is a highlight. It is possible to leave the work feeling overwhelmed and amused, yet not uninspired.”
It is in a 2018 review of Mass by the Mr Woolfe that the same critic writing about the same work nevertheless allows us to glimpse into the very heart of those issues which Bernstein places at the heart of Mass.

I have taken the time to fashion a proper response to Mr. Woolfe’s 2018 review because a proper response is in order given the content of his review itself as well as what light it sheds upon Mr. Woolfe’s earlier review of Mass as well as the general “critical” attitude which surrounds this work.

Mr. Woolfe, in 2018, wrote a review that is more complex and folded than it seems; his style is deployed to cover up the content rather than bring it to the surface. Over the course of this section, I hope to demonstrate the meanings of his words and demonstrate their anti-poetic structure at work. It is my conviction that artists and lovers of art should be acutely aware of the attitude that lies just under the surface of the review.

In an email to me, the director of the production of Mass which Mr. Woolfe reviews, a lady by the name of Elkhana Pulitzer, wrote that she found the responses to her production of Mass were “polarizing.” I agreed with her but I would also like to add that these responses should be considered stark rather than simply polarizing. Before going any further, I wish to state (in clear and certain terms) that Ms. Pulitzer is not a friend of mine but simply a professional acquaintance. I hold no interests or stakes (professionally or otherwise) in Ms. Pulitzer’s work and declare no “conflicts of interest” though I cannot see a way in which assuming a perspective on Ms. Pulitzer’s production would lead to counterproductive results.

In addition to all of this, I also intend to refrain from commenting on Ms. Pulitzer’s production of Mass nor will I share any personal opinions regarding her production as I intend to refrain from any discussion of the production altogether in order to focus on the work and its relationship to Mr. Woolfe as I analyze the “anti-critical” through demonstration. I believe this matter at hand to be important enough to warrant the various assurances which I have given to the reader here (assurances which are above-and-beyond affecting the actual discussion of the matter at hand and which I offer as an indication of the vitality of approaching the truth in this situation with an unclouded vision).

The line between those persons who see what is there (positively) and accept it’s reality on the one hand and those who see what is there but insist on their own negation and despair on the other hand is clear. Subjectivity is not the matter at hand. I wish for limitless innovation and creation.

There’s room for the creative and constructive call and it should exist wherever human beings exist. In fact, there’s so much room for innovation and creation in the world that one is forced to wonder why anybody would feel the need to take anything away through attitudes of negation and negativity. The words from Mr. Woolfe in 2018 are written in the tone of people who desperately want to add their contribution and even save the world. That’s all nice. Perhaps we do even call it affirming. But without anything to contribute, we can (and should see) the desperate cry of negation. This is a review that presumes to ask why a work even needs to exist. That is a destructive thesis embodied by the destructive words that come out of the depths of Mr. Woolfe’s “criticism”:

““The moral? Radicals should submit to the system; peace is more important than change. For all its counterculture trappings, then, ‘Mass’ is fundamentally, boringly conservative.”

Mr. Woolfe’s words are clear. They can be rewritten for further (i.e. explicit) clarification as follows:

“MASS is didactic to the point of containing a moral which I will sum up here. If you are an original thinker with something to contribute then you should reject peace and be careful to not budge an inch with regards to what you perceive to be absolutely true. Hold to your subjective vision and personal opinions even if this means that destruction will follow. If you favor peace then you are weak and boring.”

Woolfe is telling us that we can accept a perspective that holds personal validation as paramount. He says that it’s more important to stick by one’s subjective preference than to enjoin in the simple Dharma of preserving the world.”

The implications here are clear. This is not only coherently portrayed in Mass but also in Bernstein’s work as a whole. In the third symphony he writes a scherzo in which the speaker narrates the words from a star of regret where man is “free to play with his newfound fire. Avid for death; complete, voluptuous and final death.” In his Norton Lectures, he warns against the destruction of a new holocaust in which we will experience the fires of “the angel of planetary death.” In his Kaddish Symphony, the speaker yells at God: “Magnified and Sanctified be the great name of MAN” and, just like in Mass, commands god to “believe in me.”

I can attest from experience that many people, myself included, understand the world differently.

Those of us who do want to survive and live or, as Bernstein himself writes into the voice of the narrator in his Kaddish Symphony, “suffer and recreate each other” understand the need for what the Jews call Tikkun Olam (repairing the world). Bhuddists speak of Dharma. Muslims find solace in the human embrace our nature as reasoning beings who embrace reality and leave the rest to Allah as we do the best we can in human terms. Still many other people do not abide by any religion and find no trouble embracing free thought and decent behavior. I have heard people simply say “try to be a gentleman” or “be a true lady” or even, informally, “I’m going try to keep my negative traits to a minimum today.”

Whatever one calls it, the attitude I am writing about is one which simply embraces life and allows for life and creativity in others. Each of us can co-exist and thrive; each of us can contribute and love in our own ways.

Many things in the 2018 production (in Mass itself) affected Mr. Woolfe profoundly enough for him to have written a statement which calls for us to face his words and to be clear-eyed about what he is communicating to us through his prose.

This is the revealing comment:

“Indeed, he enlisted Stephen Schwartz, the creator of “Godspell,” to collaborate with him on a text that crowds the traditional Catholic liturgy with hippie-era nostrums. (‘I believe in God,’ goes one passage that does resonate in our equally self-absorbed times, ‘but does God believe in me?’)”

I know exactly what I have contributed as a composer; it is ludicrous to imply that an artist does not know what he might be doing and that our discipline is reliant on the “judgement” of “critics” like Mr Woolfe. What we do is apparent to any true critic.

Mr Woolfe is not simply questioning the order of value in Bernstein’s work. His questions operate on the order of whether things are meant to survive or to perish.

How true and functional the artwork is and how true and functional it stays are the determining factors in the survival of any work. Neither Mr. Woolfe, nor anyone else can claim a monopoly on that sort of decision-making. But there are many who are better equipped to make objective observations about the function and excellence of a work than Mr. Woolfe demonstrates himself to be.

There’s a lot of objective material to consider before anybody should reach the point of subjective analyses involving the Composer and his intent. Those subjective things are the realm of specialists want to actually study the life of a composer. If the artist of the future or anyone for that matter wants to correct me in order to build on my work that’s fine. I make every allowance imaginable for that and I am grateful for their correction. But the intent reveals itself in the calls to tear down all that I’ve worked so hard to make for no other reason than some validation of personal feeling then I think it is worth correcting that position now.

Simply put, Woolfe writes that human beings should be willing to condone the notion of setting this world on fire. He tells the reader that he cannot understand the work but instead of admitting that he simply cannot fathom what the work at hand is about, he says it like this:

“Overall, it is simply hard to discern what “Mass” can mean to us in 2018…”

Phrasing his misunderstanding in this way is more difficult than simply saying “I don’t understand this work.” He went out of his way to craft the paragraph in that way because it absolves him of having to admit his inability to comprehend. By wondering what Mass “can mean to us,” he deflects the blame of having misconceived this work and passes it onto the reader.

He then goes on to say that:

“If the staging’s vigor seemed too strenuously achieved, that may be Bernstein’s fault more than Ms. Pulitzer’s or the performers’. Overall, it is simply hard to discern what “Mass” can mean to us in 2018 — why we should perform it at all — other than as a relic.”

Any definition of the word “vigor” one finds will connote ideas of “life” or “good health.” His characterization of your efforts through the word “strenuously” follows naturally to any reasonable person. It means that you had to work hard to resurrect something that should be dead; that, if taken on it’s own, MASS doesn’t have a reason to survive and resonate across the decades. Any art that survives on it’s own merits is an admission of the innate self-evident truths that it contains. Woolfe goes to great lengths to negate that idea. If MASS does survive (something he cannot deny since this is his second review of the work), it survives as a relic. That means that people dig this work up as one would dig up an artifact from a dead and alien civilization. Rather than performing MASS because the merits of it’s truth are resonant to humanity, he explains the fact of his own witnessing of performances by boiling the relevance of the work to mere curiosity. If you did not perform MASS out of sheer sentimentality or curiosity over a dead object then I would be happy to speak out with you in a productive way.I believe that it is vital to challenge the dark undercurrents of this review.

Woolfe writes of “finding it hard to discern what Mass can mean to us in 2018.” Since he speaks in the plural “us,” (referring to the readership “us,”) I would like to define it. I define it for those of us who would like to evade destruction and abuse in our lives and in the world that we inhabit.

The culmination of MASS depicts a clear scenario. Different people in anger and moved to confusion and fear by lack of communication and too many ornaments that obscure the Simple Song at the heart of the work are finally moved to join. They are frightened and despairing. Assigning politics to this finale is spurious on many grounds. The masses of people all come together and demand a sense of direction and peace. Their distrust is fueled by the discovery of a wealth of lies under he ornament and say that they will “set this world on fire.”

There’s a constant effort on the part of Woolfe that, throughout the review, betrays the determination with which he seeks to cast MASS as dead (“untrue” in artistic terms) and as dishonest. The words which I have underlined below define fake-ness:

“They gave the old-fashioned Mass a theatrical spin, grafting a loose plot onto the Kyrie, Confession, Agnus Dei and so on. Our main character is the Celebrant, a priestlike figure with an acoustic-guitar-carrying, youth-group-leader vibe. The church fills; there’s a chorus, dancers, a children’s choir, another choir, a marching band, pretaped sounds.”

Bernstein takes something “old-fashioned” and gives it a new “spin” which, in itself, is described as “theatrical.” It is unnecessary to define something as “theatrical” if we are seeing it play out in the theater. The italicization of the word “another” is Woolfe’s own. He tells the reader that MASS is a mess of bloated excess; something he has already said earlier in the review:

Bloated, bombastic, cloying, quaint and smug — and occasionally, it must be said, very pretty — “Mass” (1971) now exists mainly as a stale memento of the aftermath of the liberalizations in Catholic ritual inspired by the Second Vatican Council. A strained union of high and low culture written for the opening of the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington, it was Bernstein’s grand effort to match the counterculture-fueled energy of recent hits like “Jesus Christ Superstar,” “Godspell” and “Hair.”

Even Woolfe’s attempt at a compliment (that the work is occasionally “very pretty”) checks off more than one box in the meaning department that betray his attitude:

PRETTY: 1) Neat; elegant; pleasing without surprise or elevation
2) Beautiful without grandeur or dignity
3) It is used in a kind of diminutive contempt in poetry, and in conversation
4) Not very small

Woolfe spends a lot of time depicting this art-work as the result of a grandiose effort on the part of an ego-driven composer who, in attempting to philosophize about an ideal, failed to show essential truth in his work. Further depicting Bernstein’s intentions as an attempt to mimic the politically relevant energy of “recent hits” is unnecessary. The only reason to depict MASS as an “effort to match the counterculture-fueled energy of recent hits like “Jesus Christ Superstar,” “Godspell” and ‘Hair’” is to communicate an idea: Bernstein did not see truth as an artist but was driven by greed and ego to write MASS and craft it in such a way that emulates the money and fame that come with box-office blockbusters and bestsellers. The simple fact that Bernstein had already achieved world-wide fame, celebration and lived in financial comfort by the time that he composed MASS makes this an unconvincing argument.

“Blues and rock (or, more accurately, “blues” and “rock”) singers enter the picture. Looking, in Elkhanah Pulitzer’s game but dull staging, like a touring company of “Rent” in their faux-bohemian street clothes, these folks gradually express their frustration with God, and with old rituals and maxims.”

The use of quotations express Bernstein’s alleged fake-ness (“blues,” “rock,”) while words like “faux-bohemian” are deployed to reinforce the conviction that MASS is (and must be) a lie. There is no other reason for the use of this prefix. MASS is a work of art and the critic heard it in the theater. It is known that things are false. Interestingly, the word “maxim” reinforces the charge that MASS is a proposition rather than a work of art as well as the idea that Woolfe is promoting regarding it’s bloated size:

maxime, from medieval Latin (propositio) maxima ‘largest or most important ‘proposition’.

The most destructive admission that Woolfe makes in his desire to tell us that MASS is bloated and incomprehensible is that he reveals an ironic unawareness of the eternal truths expressed in MASS. Throughout the work, musical techniques (like “twice triple canons” are written to express the incomprehensible effect that comes with listening to someone speak a language that nobody understands or can understand. Bernstein writes this effect in order to contrast this needless complexity with that which is simple.

The “unneeded” ornaments are not only written with great intent by Bernstein. The ornaments are vital to expressing a source of tension in Mass between the simple and the complex. This is a source that Woolfe chooses to overlook in his review. It is also possible that he simply does not appreciate it’s presence in order to communicate them.

The huge and hugely complex structures in mass are always thwarted by plainly spoken expression. At the start of the work, a countrapuntal antiphony of tapes (coming at the audience from four different directions) is distilled into one voice and one direction. Simple Song, lightly scored, tells us to sing a simple song and that God loves a simple thing because “God is the simplest of all”:

The review’s description of the Second Vatican Council lends an insight into the negation and despair that pervades the outlook of this review:

“Bloated, bombastic, cloying, quaint and smug — and occasionally, it must be said, very pretty — “Mass” (1971) now exists mainly as a stale memento of the aftermath of the liberalizations in Catholic ritual inspired by the Second Vatican Council.”

Woolfe’s mention of the Second Vatican Council is unnecessary to the discussion of MASS and seems like a diversion. Mass is described in terms that connote illness and death (“stale”, “memento”) while the Council is described only second-hand. The council is mentioned as an “inspiration” rather than concretely. It is discussed through the lens of Woolfe’s appraisal of MASS and also through the mention of policies such as “liberalizations” which are described as having an “aftermath.” Since the Council is clearly unneeded, we should ask why Woolfe chose to bring it up at all. The Church, like art, is imbued by Woolfe with political connotations (“liberalizations”) and the results of this alleged political experiment is described as having an “aftermath” (translated as the “consequences following from an unpleasant event”).

What was this “unpleasant event” that Woolfe is drawn to assaulting. These lines from Pope John XXIII’s Address on October 11, 1962 at the Opening of Vatican Council II should give us an indication about the nature of the Council:

“In the daily exercise of Our pastoral office, it sometimes happens that We hear certain opinions which disturb Us—opinions expressed by people who, though fired with a commendable zeal for religion, are lacking in sufficient prudence and judgment in their evaluation of events. They can see nothing but calamity and disaster in the present state of the world. They say over and over that this modern age of ours, in comparison with past ages, is definitely deteriorating. One would think from their attitude that history, that great teacher of life, had taught them nothing. They seem to imagine that in the days of the earlier councils everything was as it should be so far as doctrine and morality and the Church’s rightful liberty were concerned.”

Woolfe’s entire irritation is founded in his need to contribute and to be correct. Being discovered as zealous but “lacking in sufficient prudence and judgement” is exactly what this reviewer and many like him are attempting to avoid at any cost (even the endorsement of tearing the human house down). The Pope speaks of their repetitive style (“They say over and over…”) and also points out that they have misunderstood their history (“had taught them nothing.”) This is an admonition that hurts those who rely on their subjectivity and personal feelings for survival as well as relevance. If I was in Woolfe’s position, I would react to the Pope’s words with the same need to decry them. In addition to admonishing their position, the Pope shows us how to find the tone that is the signature of the prophets of negativity. “They can see” says Pope John XXIII “nothing but calamity and disaster in the present state of the world.”

“We feel that We must disagree with these prophets of doom,” said the Pope, “who are always forecasting worse disasters, as though the end of the world were at hand.”

The denigration of form and glorification of destruction that Mr. Woolfe advocates for in his review is not the expression of all that bothers Mr. Woolfe in this moment. He is only speaking of the Council as a secondary subject. His primary target is MASS which exists as a “memento” of the “liberalizations in Catholic ritual inspired by the Second Vatican Council.” The word “ritual” is defined as:

a religious or solemn ceremony consisting of a series of actions performed according to a prescribed order: the role of ritual in religion | the ancient rituals of Christian worship.
the prescribed order of performing a ceremony, especially one characteristic of a particular religion or church.
a series of actions or type of behavior regularly and invariably followed by someone: her visits to Joy became a ritual.

A Ritual is a prescribed and defined order and practice. MASS is composed in such a way that it must be performed as a ceremony or set of rituals. This is problematic for anyone who would write the following words (and these are words on which much of Woolfe’s argument relies). “Overall,” he says “it is simply hard to discern what “Mass” can mean to us in 2018…”

This statement then allows him to ask his most destructive question “— why we should perform it at all — other than as a relic.”

A relic is “an object surviving from an earlier time, especially one of historical or sentimental interest.” The use of that word reinforces Woolfe’s premise that MASS is dead and was revived because of sentimental interest (thus deflecting his own subjectivity onto those of us who find value in the work). Interestingly, the word relic is also defined as “a part of a deceased holy person’s body or belongings kept as an object of reverence.”

Giving up a recourse to the certainties of ritual would be an abortive exercise. In his Poetics of Music, Stravinsky spoke to his students about the need for them to lower their shields and accept dogma as part of their practice. He started out by clearing up a temporal flaw common to human perception.

“I am fully aware that the words dogma and dogmatic, however sparingly one may apply them to aesthetic matters or even to spiritual matters, never fail to offend—even to shock—certain mentalities more rich in sincerity than strong in certitudes” says Stravinsky. He characterizes the danger of developing a richness of sincere subjectivity when it is untempered by knowledge (certitudes).

“For that very reason” he told his students, “I insist all the more that you accept these terms to the full extent of their legitimate meaning, and I would advise you to recognize their validity and become familiar with them; and would hope that you will come to develop a taste for them. If I speak of the legitimate meaning of these terms, it is to emphasize the normal and natural use of the dogmatic element in any field of activity in which it becomes categorical and truly essential.”

Stravinsky points out that the dogmatic element is essential to any artist’s arrival at formal clarity and an ability to create works that communicate order and truth sincerely but also clearly. He also points out a fact that makes any dissent pointless: that we cannot even perceive the creative phenomenon without perceiving the form of that creation. This is true of natural creation (of which we are a part) as well as artistic creation:

“In fact, we cannot observe the creative phenomenon independently of the form in which it is made manifest. Every formal process proceeds from a principle, and the study of this principle requires precisely what we call dogma. In other words, the need that we feel to bring order out of chaos, to extricate the straight line of our operation from the tangle of possibilities and the indecision of vague thoughts, presupposes the necessity of some sort of dogmatism. I use the words dogma and dogmatic, then, only insofar as they designate an element essential to safeguarding the integrity of art and mind, and I maintain that in this context they do not usurp their function.”

Stravinsky was also careful to point out that dogma follows order. We do not create order out of dogma. Dogma is often misrepresented as arbitrary order of rules and rituals that are created in order to make others conform to a certain practice or behavior. This misuse of dogma relies on people’s misunderstanding of the timeline in which order precedes dogma. The world existed before we could perceive it and order it in such a way that made it comprehensible to humanity. The fact that we have dogma is evidence of humanity’s recourse to order; we must have order as a prerequisite to creating dogma.

“The very fact that we have recourse to what we call order —that order which permits us to dogmatize in the field we are considering—not only develops our taste for dogmatism: it also incites us to place our own creative activity under the aegis of dogmatism. That is why I should like to see you accept the term. Throughout my course and on every hand I shall call upon your feeling and your taste for order and discipline. For they—fed, informed, and sustained by positive concepts—form the basis of what is called dogma.”

Pope John XXIII offered a clear insight into what any audience member who attends MASS should have no trouble seeing. I have underlined the passage of his closing remarks at the Council; words that bear clear connection to Bernstein in this composition. It would have been simple enough to draw this parallel into a review. It is straightforward and enhances the critical appraisal of Bernstein’s work and it’s intent:

“Men will realize that the council devoted its attention not so much to divine truths, but rather, and principally, to the Church—her nature and composition, her ecumenical vocation, her apostolic and missionary activity. This secular religious society, which is the Church, has endeavored to carry out an act of reflection about herself, to know herself better, to define herself better and, in consequence, to set aright what she feels and what she commands. So much is true. But this introspection has not been an end in itself, has not been simply an exercise of human understanding or of a merely worldly culture. The Church has gathered herself together in deep spiritual awareness, not to produce a learned analysis of religious psychology, or an account of her own experiences, not even to devote herself to reaffirming her rights and explaining her laws. Rather, it was to find in herself, active and alive, the Holy Spirit, the word of Christ; and to probe more deeply still the mystery, the plan and the presence of God above and within herself; to revitalize in herself that faith which is the secret of her confidence and of her wisdom, and that love which impels her to sing without ceasing the praises of God. ‘Cantare amantis est’ (Song is the expression of a lover), says St. Augustine (Serm. 336; P. L. 38, 1472).”


It’s worth addressing the question: “can art change the world?” Leonard Bernstein’s comments to the Los Angeles Times in 1972 provide a valuable insight. When asking these kinds of questions, we should always remember that Bernstein was a composer. That means that his work is artistic.

“The point is,” Bernstein said, that “art never stopped a war and never got anybody a job. That was never its function. Art cannot change events. But it can change people. It can affect people so that they are changed…because people are changed by art – enriched, ennobled, encouraged – they then act in a way that may affect the course of events…by the way they vote, they behave, the way they think.”

If Artists embark on missions to solve problems or (literally) change the politics of the world they are embarking on that mission in addition to the function of their art. If it has happened that an artist has directly changed the political current of the day-to-day news of his/her time through their art, I am unaware of the example. But one rule we must adhere to whether we like it or not is the search for truth. An artwork must seek to express truth as the artist who is creating that work sees the truth. The artist must then make the truth self-evident and demonstrable by creating an artistic object that demonstrates it without the need for overly discursive explanation.

This involves uncovering the truth (or connections between known truths) that lay hidden in plain sight rather simply doing whatever we please. Artists can do whatever we please but it is wise to remember that the truth we perceive must resonate with other human beings in order for us to have an audience.

Bernstein illuminated the truth as he saw it. The fact that it resonates with so many people across the world and continues to move new audiences in new productions and recordings is a testament to it’s fundamental beauty.

That I have been referring to Mass (as well as Bernstein’s other works) as a useful and relevant vantage point for crafting new works is evidence of the work’s continued life and viability.

If there was a “solution” it would be clear. The show-off attempts of overblown musical devices seem like an egoist’s task to impress God rather than to preserve his creation in the simplest way possible. This letter is long because Woolfe managed to create a lot of complication in this review. My conviction is that he is doing this unconsciously because his negation is so adamant and consistent and also because he had hours (rather than days) to write and file his review. He offered us his most immediate thoughts.

The misunderstanding or perversion of simplicity words is the subject of Mass. It resonates because . This is not a new truth. In his 66th Sonnet, Shakepeare creates a list of “tired” things that would make death seem restful:

“And art made tongue-tied by authority,
And folly—doctor-like—controlling skill,
And simple truth miscall’d simplicity”

Shakespeare’s words were published in 1609 and they remain true as I write these words. They will remain true for as long as we remain human beings. Woolfe is miscalling and misrepresenting Mass in many different ways. His review is complicated and rife with folded negations. Mass depicts a celebrant groping in the dark for simple truth. He finds it in plainchant. This new plainchant.

The fact that Bernstein managed to depict the Celebrant as “finding” the same plain and simple song that monks created in the 6th Century (and the fact that he depicts that moment as credible) is another moment of the success in terms of the situational believability and, thus, artistic truth contained in Mass. Bernstein gives the audience no information in Mass that would have the audience believe the celebrant studied the works that were created in the early days of Christianity and that Pope Gregory urged a return to. is a testament to the enduring power of saying it plain. Here is the Celebrant, left alone and picking out a melody on the piano with his finger, making a simple song (what the scholars call “plainchant”):


Remember that Woolfe described the words of MASS in this paragraph:

“Indeed, he enlisted Stephen Schwartz, the creator of “Godspell,” to collaborate with him on a text that crowds the traditional Catholic liturgy with hippie-era nostrums. (“I believe in God,” goes one passage that does resonate in our equally self-absorbed times, “but does God believe in me?”)”

He is telling us that MASS should not have survived and should not survive into the future. This is a drastic statement that requires backup on the part of Woolfe. A vital observation for his “proof” lies in the use of the word “nostrumus” which is defined as “a medicine not yet made public, but remaining in some single hand.”

In order to the notion that Bernstein somehow “failed,” Woolfe needs backup. This is because of the drastic nature of such a judgement but also because Woolfe needs to explain why he is contending with Mass in 2018. If the work is as stale as he would like to believe, would it not have been put to rest decades ago? Wouldn’t it stop resonating with audiences at the very least?

Woolfe knows that his conviction contravenes the convictions of many other people including those who put work and effort into mounting a new production. But the many people who attend performances and continue to learn the work through live engagement and on recordings are the main concern. There is an audience for Mass that is engaged with the work in many different ways. The numerous ways of engagement are not relevant. The fact that people deemed it possible to have a perspective on the work is enough to prove that the work means something and addresses common subjects (this is how we are able to talk about it). Even the most negative type of engagement proves this fact. It is in this ironic way that Mr. Woolfe is part of the proof in support of Mass as an enduring and true work of art.

This last fact makes it even more urgent for Mr. Woolfe to discredit the validity of Mass. For him, the tactic is clear. Mr Woolfe’s argument can be summed up as follows.

He tells us that, should we want to examine evidence of Mass’ failings, we should simply take a look at our current society and moment in history. We will then realize that the social problems which were present at the moment in history in which Bernstein wrote MASS are still problems today. Mr. Woolfe describes that decade of the 1970s as a “hippie-era.” He also explicitly draws a parallel to the present moment when he writes of the continued resonance of the lyric in question when he talks about our “equally self-absorbed times.” Mr. Woolfe’s attempt to draw a parallel between the troubles of the 1970s and the troubles of 2018 is explicit.

It is by that measure that Mr. Woolfe can conclude that the medicine (“nostrumus”) didn’t “work” and, ergo, Bernstein’s MASS is a sham. The “disease” is still with us.

Bernstein’s Mass is a work of art; not a form of “social medicine.” As a matter of course, artists do not concern themselves with changing the world but rather with expressing the truths that others can also perceive. That is the way in which the word “relevance” can be understood as it applies to the arts.

The demonstration of artistic relevance is simple. It is defined by the prerequisite which dictates that any form of truth which an artist might find must then also resonate as true with an audience and be self-evidently true to that audience.

The “audience” I have just referred should be taken to mean “the assembled audience of the artist’s contemporaries” or “ those who attend the work during the lifetime of an artist.”

That is how we define the relevance of an artist in his own time. Beyond that, the endurance of relevance is determined by the ability of an artwork to remain immediately persuasive to audiences who will experience it beyond the artist’s time and in places both near and far from the artist’s geographical locality.

Woolfe’s entire “proof” hinges on the idea that MASS is a failure in the theater because it does not solve maladies in the “real” world. The basic error is a lack of distinction between art and reality.

But even this approach (attempting to show that MASS is sham) is unnecessary. Woolfe has just attended a performance of the work and it resonated with many including, evidently, him. “We all know,” Picasso pointed out, “that Art is not truth. Art is make-believe that makes us realize truth at least the truth that is given us to understand. The artist must know the manner whereby to convince others of the truthfulness of his conceit.”

Woolfe’s concerted attempt to uncover something that artists have already established as the basis of their relationship with our various audiences (that art isn’t “real”) leads us to the ultimate irony.

The failure of this medicine (“nostromus”; Mass) to cure political ills is “proof” of it’s failure. But the malady described by Woolfe is a human one rather than a political one. Mass is an example in failure as a nostromus because it is not a nostrumus. It is a work art.

What malady exactly was it supposed to cure? Here, Mr. Woolfe perspective is clear: Mass should have targeted self-absorbtion. That, after all, is the explicit comparison to the 1970s which Woolfe draws in 2018 when he writes of our “equally self-absorbed age.”

The political problems of 1971 and those of 2018 are functionally different in a purely political sense. They share common ground in a diverse array human behaviors that an artist may find to be wide-spread among his fellow human beings.

This brings us to a basic question which I have encountered from audiences throughout the world. “How do you write music as a composer?” I hope to answer this question in a way that applies to the creation of most of the works that an audience is likely to encounter in a concert hall: that of artists who create art to be used for the recreation of the mind as opposed to art which is used for a specific function. Here, the question is one artistic intent and, following that, the process of artistic creation itself.

I am happy to guide the audience through a glimpse at artistic creation but some points, which I will now make, should be borne in mind.

The process I am about to discuss (with Bernstein’s Mass as an example) is not a process that pertains to craft. The questions raised about whether someone is fluent in construction as well as questions as to whether an artist is able to carry out the work at hand or whether he has the ability to design the work of art that he has in mind are often asked by those who do not make objects of art themselves. There are three main questions here which I will address one by one.

The artist’s ability to carry out the work at hand is determined by the artist through the definition of an intended goal of construction and a methodology of how to reach that goal. The path is navigated through design choices which the artist makes. These choices are either determined through sketches, improvisation, convention or in the actual process of creating the work in question. I will also note that I have found this process to be true of songwriting and composition. I have found this through the creation of over a hundred musical works of my own as well as through the study of thousands of works by other composers, songwriters in addition to the study of the traditional musics of many cultures.

The question of whether or not the artist has the ability to design a work which will effectively perform the functions that that the artist requires of his work is a strange one. This is simply not a question that can reasonably be asked after the work itself has already been completed and is ready for presentation and performance to an audience or, in the case of the functional arts, for use. At that point, the design of the work is self evident in the body of the artwork itself. This body exists before the audience and is apparent and welcoming of their examination.

Finally, the reader should be assured that issues of fluency are not things that an artist will contend with unless he is an amateur or a student.

Human behaviors seem infinitely diverse. They manifest themselves in many ways. It is the artist that sees the common link between many different events and actions and draws the common link between them. Bernstein’s sensitivity allowed him to understand a wide diversity of actions and events that occurred during this time and draw the common links between them. He then traces their common roots in self-absorption, exaltation of ego, prideful overreach and insecurity.

The artist can then work through the links and find the path among the various strands so that his work can be charted and designed to be given a clear form. Only following this sensitive and careful perception of reality can an artist draw together the strands towards a common root. Bernstein does this in Mass by pointing to a crisis in the ability of his fellow human beings to believe in themselves, one another, the human spirit, the soul and the Creative Spirit.

This process of artistic creation is not an easy one. The perception of widespread things is often a painful one for the truly sensitive artist. And that is just the beginning. The process of designing and crafting a work of art and then building that work has not even commenced yet. The artist can take years before his perceptions and thoughts are at the point where he deems it correct to commencing the work in question. These years of perception and observation pass by while the artist works on other things for which he has gone through the very same processes. This is true of all artworks that are “true” although some works will be most extensive than others. Note that my use of the word “extensive” has nothing to do with the size or length of a work but rather with the extent to which several other artistic works lead up to the current “summing up” in a work of art.

These are not limited to works by the artist himself but can also include the work of contemporaries as well as those of the past generations. In the case of the latter, the artist has the results of many thousands of years of work to be drawn upon.

The artist then earnestly hopes that his fellow man will perceive what he has shown them and also perceive it to be comprehensible and “true.” This “truth” is not speculative and the consequences for regarding it as such are dire. By the time that artistic works are ready to be premiered, unveiled or used their “truth” is truth of function and truth of fact. A water jug, urn or, carpet or coffin must function as intended. A work presented on the concert stage or in the theater must be recognizable to the senses and resonant. This is true no matter how abstract the work may be.

Bernstein had already affirmed that his interest is in the resonance of his work with people rather than the prescription of it to the politics of his time. “Art cannot change events. But it can change people”. The human behavior that Bernstein observed affected the politics of his time. These have been known behaviors to all of humanity for a long time before Bernstein. Mass continues to resonate decades after his death and, as I suspect that human beings will remain prone to hubris and self-destruction, Mass will continue to hold true for as long as our basic nature remains human.

This is not to say that the uncovering of truth and the presentation of it by artists is done for no reason. The artist’s need to tell the truth is rooted in our nature as human beings. Our need to share truths with our fellow human beings is a need and should be understood as a need.

Our hope that our fellow human beings appreciate that which we perceive is rooted in a desire for shared reality and a common experience of the world which we all experience differently as a product of our individuality. Our individuality does not negate our common experience but rather enriches it. There is a lot of material (subjects as well as objects) that may be shared. In order for sharing to happen, the observation at hand must be made material and expressed. This material must be recognizable and evident to people as well as to the artist himself.

In the second lesson, we examined the following line from Auden’s Elegy for W.B. Yeats

“For poetry makes nothing happen.”

This is, of course, true. Poetry makes nothing happen. Science makes nothing happen. Politics makes nothing happen. People make things happen.

“Poetry is not concerned with telling people what to do, but with extending our knowledge” said Auden, “perhaps making the necessity for action more urgent and its nature more clear, but only leading us to the point where it is possible for us to make a rational and moral choice.”

Bernstein is similarly clear about his intent and about the function of art. “The point is, art never stopped a war and never got anybody a job. That was never its function. Art cannot change events. But it can change people. It can affect people so that they are changed… because people are changed by art – enriched, ennobled, encouraged – they then act in a way that may affect the course of events… by the way they vote, they behave, the way they think.”

Woolfe fails in his attempt to differentiate between artistic truth on the one hand and political concerns on the other. Similarities in human behavior are what guides them and this is where Woolfe leads his argument to it’s own demise. His drive to assert his own highly subjective understanding of a personally-tinged opinion betrays Woolfe’s defense of his own ego. If he is determined that he will not be “discovered” to be misguided or seen to have misunderstood, this is terribly rich. It is by admitting of this “one passage that does resonate in our equally self-absorbed times” Mr. Woolfe tells his readers that Mass resonates with him (and, it would seen, resonates profoundly). In that ironic way, Mr. Woolfe has demonstrated to me one of the most powerful affirmations of MASS that I have ever read.

The fact that audiences today continue to learn about and engage with Mass should be taken together with many other exhibits of evidence. These include the fact that Woolfe himself has reviewed Mass on more than one occasion in the theatre and that live performances such as the ones that Mr. Woolfe reviewed and which I sang as a student, take place despite the large forces and technical demands that MASS makes of it’s performers are further demonstrative evidence of the truth of Bernstein’s work in Mass.

Just a short while before the Celebrant sings his lament (“how easily things get broken”) the confused and incandescent crowds sing the following charge to God:

“You worked six days and rested on Sunday
We can tear the whole mess down in one day”

As a young composer, I one made the choice to devote myself to the creative labor of making things. Two decades later, I am even more acutely aware of how difficult it is to make anything; to construct; to create. I’m also profoundly sensitive to the fact that it is much easier to destroy things than to build anything.

W.H. Auden summed the vitality of artistic truth in A Certain World: A Commonplace Book:

“When, later, I began to write poetry, I found that, for me at least, the same obligation was binding. That is to say, I cannot accept the doctrine that in poetry there is a “suspension of belief.” A poet must never make a statement simply because it sounds poetically exciting; he must also believe it to be true. This does not mean, of course, that one can only appreciate a poet whose beliefs happen to coincide with one’s own. It does mean, however, that one must be convinced that the poet really believes what he say, however odd the belief may seem to oneself.

What the poet has to convey is not “self-expression,” but a view of a reality common to all, seen from a unique perspective, which it is his duty as well as his pleasure to share with others. To small truths as well as great, St. Augustine’s words apply.
‘The truth is neither mine nor his nor another’s; but belongs to us all whom Thou called to partake of it, warning us terribly, not to account it private to ourselves, lest we be deprived of it.’

Any human being can and should express himself. This right of individual expression is the right of every man and their natural behavior of human beings everywhere. The work of the artist is differentiated from the

When anyone condones attitudes of destruction, they should do so only with full knowledge that they are allowing a dangerous equivalence between destruction and creation an endangering their grip on reality. Artists should not be expected to simply accept an abusive rhetoric which foments an insidious environment for art. By allowing abuse to parade as criticism or be presented to audiences as information, one is allowing the artist to be turned into an alien and incomprehensible monster.

Artists can allow abuse to join with positive discourse and we can even refer to the negations as a regular part of the spectrum of discourse and creativity. But we must realize that if we choose this path then we are admitting petulant destruction a place on the same spectrum where we insist on holding our own work the highest standards of artistic rigor and truths.

The destructive attitude is nothing new and there is nothing to be done about destructive intent. Woolfe is entitled to write anything he wants no matter how incendiary, abusive or irresponsible his words might be. The rest is up to us.

If we allow for this attitude to continue unchecked and unrecognized then we only have ourselves to blame as artists. Rather than condone this convoluted glorification of subjectivity and the drive to “tear the whole mess down,” we should recognize it and oppose it with positive explanations. Woolfe wants to tear down what he cannot understand as far as objective artistic merit is concerned. By making allowances for that, we would be discrediting everything we artists have worked to establish as the foundation of our diverse array of practices. Artists would be permitting Woolfe and the many voices like his who are assaulting the arts in the name of their feelings and place in the world, to intervene between the creations we make and the audiences who could derive so much joy from our labor. Some of those audiences dare not approach any art because they are told that the arts are filled with products that are opaque and incomprehensible.

Earlier I wrote that, following the delivery of one’s work, “the artist earnestly hopes that his fellow man will perceive that which he has shared with them and also perceive it to be comprehensible and “true.” To that I will add that this perception involves the audience recognizing the truths contained within the work of art as fact and experience and not merely as theory or data. “This ‘truth”, I said, “is not speculative and the consequences for regarding it as such are dire.”

I will now be very explicit about the ramifications of treating art as fictitious, as a luxury, as incomprehensible or as an unneeded frill. This is not simply a condemnation of the practice of alienateing artists from our fellow human beings being distasteful and vindictive.

The recognition of Artistic truth indicates a recognition of common reality. The audience cannot experience artistic truth without saying “I’ve been there too” or “this artist also has thought these thoughts” or even “this building makes me feel comfortable” or “this movie scares me very much.” This can be understood as a recognition of one another and the world in which we live. That is why the artist works so hard to demonstrate all that he aims to express and demonstrate it clearly. We are all alone on some level. We are trapped in the prison of our own mind and our own skull locked out in that isolation from the sense of ourselves and the world around us. We then begin to imitate as young children and thus we start to learn. We learn to speak. We discover that we have much in common with other human beings.

Having learned to speak we, eventually, learn how to read and write. We experience our first kiss and we write it down in a diary which we then remember two decades later. We hear a piece of music at the symphony and feel a multitude of things in the patterns and in the volume, in the proportions and in the harmony which lead us to be happy that another human being has arranged these sounds in this way for us and, therefore, that human being experienced something in them as well. We play Super Mario Bros and learn how to navigate level 1-1 only to find, to our delight, that our friends have learned to jump over that very same goomba just as we had learned to do at the start of the game. We remember this detail almost four decades later and, while playing Super Mario Odyssey and we realize that it was in that moment that we experienced Mario’s very first jump. We make friends and form lifelong relationships. We learn about ourselves and one another and we realize the richness and diversity of the world in which we live and we stare in wonder and awe at the universe that remains undiscovered. This is what artistic truth means. This is what a recognition of our fellow human beings and a recognition of our world means. It is a recognition and acknowledgment of everything that we perceive and everything we imagine; of everything we fear and everything we hold dear.

It is, in fact, everything we have.

Mr. Woolfe and the New York Times attempt nothing new in his 2018 review of Mass. The very same paper volleyed their first destructive words against Mass (words which included personal attacks against the composer as well as repeated slurs that attempted to smear his basic competence and question his intentions) at the time that the work first appeared to the public in 1971.

It was in an article that was printed on September 1st, 1971 that they also recorded some facts which place the abusive tone of the paper’s “experts” at stark odds with their fellow human beings. Here is the reaction of the public to Mass which the paper prints despite the fact that these words discredit the perspective of their chief music critic (at the time):

“Mr. Bernstein wept during tumultuous ovations and some members of the audience were also moved to tears during the performance… the first preview was for the general public, and they applauded and cheered thunderously for 20 minutes…”

Criticism is also a sort of artistic expression in that it is certainly taught rather than found in nature. It must also be counted as such because of the understood intent.

In this way, criticism can be distinguished from journalism where the intent is to keep a daily journal of events. The reader understands that, when a critic writes his review, he is expressing his own perspective on something that he has experienced. This intent is not hidden and should be understood because of the fact that some critics seem confused by the appearance of their words in a journalistic enterprise and take it to endow their opinions with the authority of “setting the record.” That should be the intent of the reporting which we read in the paper. Setting the record of reality is not the intent of the opinion columns, essays or any other subjective publication which might appear in a newspaper or journalistic outfit. It should also be the understanding of the reader that “the record” of news that chronicles a community or country’s shared daily reality is not subject to the the whim of an opinion columnist no matter how insightful they might be.

And so it follows that any reviewer should be subjected to the same set of expectations as anyone else who is expressing their own perspectives and putting those perspectives before a public. Reviewers can write their thoughts and feelings. They should then let the chips fall where they may by leaving it to the readers to decide whether their perspective holds any truth in the mind of the reader. By telling us of the wide-spread warmth at the premiere and writing of the 20-minute ovation with which the public welcomed Mass into the world, the Times ensured that they were not simply delivering the verdict of the paper’s critic. They also, wittingly or unwittingly, added the verdict on that verdict.

This was an extra piece of information that edifies in it’s irony. But they did not need to provide it in order to affirm what we already have learned through the continued life and engagement with Mass. In art, the verdict will always favor that which holds true as the common experience. The lie is that which will always fail since reality will always assert itself.

The facts are as follows. An artist is aware of what he is creating. We are equally aware of how to go about doing our work. These things are not usually stated because the works that we create are left to be demonstrated before our fellow human beings. It is then up to them as to whether they recognize truth in our work. If we have demonstrated truth successfully, the audience will know this without examination of the work beyond the surface. Further study will only reveal more about the work’s content and construction. For people who happen to be interested in any given work at hand, this can be a rewarding experience as well as a moving communion with one’s fellow human beings.

Bernstein’s work is true. That is why we continue to experience it long after the political matters of it’s day have faded away into the obscurities and minutiae of an historical moment. Those issues gave up their presence and relevance to the natural passage of time. Leonard Bernstein’s body of work remains. That is why I can point to concrete examples in my own work in which his works (including MASS) are my “footprints in the sands of time.” Mass has joined the objects and can be counted, in the words of Keats’ Ode on a Grecian Urn, as a “friend to man.”

I would like to end this lesson on “belief and believability” with a few words to those readers who happen to belong to my own generation (though I do not think that they will be useless to others).

The patriarchs and matriarchs which Bernstein and I both invoke contributed something that is not purely metaphysical or theological but vital to any creative person.Consider the following account in the Quran (from the Sura titled The Prophets).

Any reading with a full acceptance of the context of time, space and human culture will reveal the radical (by which I mean “going back to the roots”) use of reason on the part of Abraham in this moment:

“And We had certainly given Abraham his sound judgement before, and We were of him well-Knowing
When he said to his father and his people, “What are these statues to which you are devoted?”
They said, ‘We found our fathers worshippers of them.’
He said, ‘You were certainly, you and your fathers, in manifest error.’
They said, ‘Have you come to us with truth, or are you of those who jest?’
And by the unseen force, I will surely plan against your idols after you have turned and gone away.
So he made them into fragments, except a large one among them, that they might return to it and question.”

Abraham challenged the presumed beliefs of his idol-worshiping tribe. He flatly rejected the popular false logic and inability to reason that answered “why are you worshiping useless rocks?” with “we saw our fathers worshipping them”. This is one of our patriarchs refusing to allow the circus of clinging onto blind faith to ever assume that it would act as a substitute for critical thought. But it’s still so much more than that.

The gods of Abraham’s day were figurative (in shape) and symbolic (of literal reality in action and form). Each idol in his father’s shop symbolized an animal, plant or natural element literally. And the tribe was limited by the outer edges of their field of vision. They could only represent what they saw. That made their blind faith evolve into widespread ignorance: the fake news of their day. Fake as it was, it was the mainstream and widespread norm: Nimrod posited to Abraham that the tribe should worship fire… Abraham responded with the elemental force of water that could extinguish fire.

There was one sense that cannot not be extinguished by flame or water: the spirit, the soul and the creative being. Abraham was demonstrating what the assassinated Pakistani Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto would articulate succinctly millennia later: “You can imprison a man, but not an idea. You can exile a man, but not an idea. You can kill a man, but not an idea.”

The moment Abraham took his axe to the idols, he began a journey of the conceptual but not, crucially, of the merely conceptual. He was asking that his people believe in something highly abstract (to them) and very much beyond their field of vision. But that was only the first step. Abraham infused the future (everything which came after him) with a paradigm: an age of ideas. He did this by asking that his tribe believe in what seemed to them an infinitely complex abstraction. This wasn’t a god of stone: it was beyond sex and transcended quantification; it was at once omnipresent and eternally absent from any physical representation. He didn’t ask for blind faith. His was a method of reason and demonstration that utilized the very elements that we have to contend with on a daily basis.

Once human beings believe in their innately granted capacity for reason and try it out for themselves, they quickly find just how simple and beautiful it is to have the ability to reason. One could, in fact, argue (if one needed to do such a thing) that Abraham’s “abstract” and “conceptual” thought was the most concrete and demonstrable. Conversely, one could argue (if one needed to do such a thing) that the many “real” objects made in stone and worshipped ornately were the most complicated and convoluted things to be contemplated in this episode; even though one could touch and “see” them. One doesn’t need to embark on such arguments. They have been demonstrated.

It shouldn’t surprise anyone that this was the same episode of human civilization that wrapped the collective head of humanity around an abstraction as grandly ambitious as the Alameen and yet here we are a few short millennia later exploring the Alameen.

There simply is no “going back” nor would any serious thinker desire such a reversion to prehistory. One simply cannot kill ideas.

My motivation in pointing this out is not pride. I would like to think that, with works of my own to take pride in, I would not be so indecent as to take pride in the works of other human beings; works that I have no claim over other than as a student of them. My desire is born, rather, of a solid conviction that humanity benefits when we build rather than attempt to destroy or replace. My earnest desire is to build on the cumulative contributions of all civilized human beings as well as enjoy the fruits of their labor. These are fruits which they so generously created and left for us and that other generations preserved for us in the meantime. These are fruits that nobody was obliged to make but, inspiringly, human beings chose to make them and contribute to the works and learning of humanity.

As I said, there simply is no “going back.” One cannot kill ideas. But that doesn’t mean that Benazir Bhutto is wrong. One can kill men. One can exile men. One can imprison men. One can delay the development of learning and peace. One cannot kill ideas but that does not mean that one cannot do an awful lot of damage to living and breathing human beings who yearn to nurture their spirit and to make genuine contributions of their own. I find this evident from my studies of history: It is to humanity’s benefit as well as the responsibility of all civilized persons to protect and nurture human growth and civilization. This is not a moral or ethical issue. Being civilized and adhering to basic notions of peace and development should not be seen as a mountaintop by sentient beings who would like to be called human.

There are a few universals in Islam (all of them to be found in the Quran). Here is one. Regardless of sect or geography, all Islamic prayers begin with an invocation of thankfulness. In times of particular stress, many Muslims repeat these lines of gratitude to themselves, facing tribulation with an expression of appreciation for all that is good in the world and taking joy in the force that guides the alameen: the multiple worlds, cosmos, universes, and dimensions; the spirit world as well as the physical one; the world of human beings, jinn, angels, and all creatures of earth, light, and fire.

The statement, Al-hamdu lillahi rabbil ‘alamin (الحمد لله ربّ العالمين) meets trial with grace while also acknowledging that there are forces at work that are bigger than us and beyond the scope of our ever-widening field of vision. It also makes us face our humanity squarely.

It was the shining examples of that same creative corner of civilization that reached beyond the figuratively-bound arithmetic of objects and into the bold abstractions of numbers and, eventually, even Algebra. If any contributions to human civilization were obscured in the murky oceans of ambiguity contained within private “worlds” such as “Islamic World” or “The West,” we risk losing track of the role that actual human contribution and work has played in shaping the world which we take for granted. That would be beyond disastrous. Ideas would survive but who is to say how many new ideas would be sacrificed in the confusion and ambiguity of depicting true human enterprise (learning and making) as mystical and unusual behavior?

Many would miss out on the very thrust of creativity and learning which makes us human. This means the exclusion of many minds who are desirous of learning from the anthology of humanity’s cumulative contributions and, by extension, it means delaying new contributions that could further enrich our existence on planet Earth (and beyond). It means keeping people out and frightening them away from experiencing the aggregate of our great discourse. It means denying people access to the arch human of human genius itself.

Every flame that sustains that immortal and grand arch of ideas must find its first spark in the likes of us; mortal, fragile human beings. How do we contend with the often daunting anxiety of facing down and navigating Isaac Newton’s vast ocean of truth? It takes courage and commitment. What sort of commitment am I talking about? Commitment to our humanity and to our selves.

Why not just pack up into a jaded mess (even if such an option was still or ever existentially viable)? The last option, if something so existentially unviable can be called an “option”, was best addressed by Maya Angelou’s portrait of the dizzying emptiness at the heart of our age of narcissism. “There is nothing so pitiful as a young cynic,” said Angelou, “because he has gone from knowing nothing to believing nothing.”

Pursuing one’s dreams and recognizing one’s humanity takes courage. But it also takes an approach to humanity (one’s own as well as the humanity of others) that is based in gratitude.

This is a figure:


This is also a figure:

There is much unseen and much to be learned in and through the engagement with both figures.

The words that you are reading are also figures. Each individual letter is a figure. In order to figure out what I’m getting at, we must look at the world “figure” in two forms. Here is an etymology.

figure (n.)
c. 1200, “numeral;” mid-13c., “visible appearance of a person;” late 14c., “visible and tangible form of anything,” from Old French figure “shape, body; form of a word; figure of speech; symbol, allegory” (10c),

The word “figure” comes from the Latin figura which means “a shape, form, figure; quality, kind, style; figure of speech.” In Late Latin, it meant “a sketch, drawing,” from PIE root *dheigh- “to form, build.” That leads me to want to transform the noun “figure” into the verb “figure.”

figure (v.)

late 14c., “to represent” (in painting or sculpture), “make a likeness,” also “to have a certain shape or appearance,” from Old French figurer, from Latin figurare “to form, shape” (from PIE root *dheigh- “to form, build”). Meaning “to shape into” is c. 1400; from mid-15c. as “to cover or adorn with figures.” Meaning “to picture in the mind” is from c. 1600. Intransitive meaning “make an appearance, make a figure, show oneself” is from c. 1600. Meaning “work out a sum” (by means of arithmetical figures) is from 1833, American English; hence colloquial sense “to calculate upon, expect” (1837).

See how much richness a verb can get us? And so we must express our gratitude for the Being which gave us the men and women who contributed and left so much for us to learn from and build on as well as the human makers who guide us through the sands of time. That is another meaning of Al-hamdu lillahi rabbil ‘alamin (الحمد لله ربّ العالمين) :

“Praise be to Allah, the Cherisher and Sustainer of the universes”


“All Gratitude to Allah, the Cherisher and Sustainer of the universes”

This means, as Bernstein puts it in Mass, singing a simple song of “ Lauda, Laudē.” Or, put another way, it means reclaiming “this glorious feeling of thank you and… Thank you…”



VII. Fiction

































1. Deceptive Ways

In June of 2017 an article was published in National Geographic. The article, by Wudhijit Bhattacharjee, is titled,“Why We Lie: The Science Behind Our Deceptive Ways”

At the outset, the author is speaking collectively. This is about a general behavior that the author identifies as part of “what makes us human” as opposed to an article about a particular lie or lies committed by individuals and deemed newsworthy (the coverage of duplicitous behavior in public figures). Though he cites many individual liars in his feature, including himself, the author is speaking for an “everyman” (“we lie” and “our deceptive ways”). The author also uses the word “science” which implies an impossible-to-verify abstract form of social science but we must also note that “science” denotes “knowledge.” This is of note because the author constantly refers to the behavior of liars and (lying in general) as a practice that involves refinement and growth; even mastery.

The subtitle reads:
Honesty may be the best policy, but scheming and dishonesty are part of what makes us human.
It may be rewritten as follows:
“Honesty is the best policy, but scheming and dishonesty are common and widespread human behaviors.”
Such a thesis should not be news to any sentient human being. It is reasonable, therefore, to conduct a careful inquiry into the intent of the author (as well as the editors and publishers at National Geographic) in publishing a 3600 word feature on the topic.

Bearing in mind the use of the word “science” in the title of the article (“The Science of Lying”), consider the following paragraph in which the writer explicitly depicts lying as an indication of learning and growth in children:

“These lies that my friend and I told were nothing out of the ordinary for kids our age. Like learning to walk and talk, lying is something of a developmental milestone. While parents often find their children’s lies troubling—for they signal the beginning of a loss of innocence—Kang Lee, a psychologist at the University of Toronto, sees the emergence of the behavior in toddlers as a reassuring sign that their cognitive growth is on track.”

Lying is depicted as natural (nothing out of the ordinary) rather than a behavior that individual human beings have control over. Consider the author’s likening of telling lies to “learning to walk and talk,” within the context of the definition of art and the example given in the Dictionary of the English Language:
ART  (ART)   n.s.[arte, Fr. ars, Lat.]1. The power of doing something not taught by nature and instinct; as, to walk is natural, to dance is an art.”

By linking the lie to that which is “taught by nature and (instinct)”, the author is once again attempting to advance the notion that this behavior (one which he also described as “crafty” in this same article: “The history of humankind is strewn with crafty and seasoned liars”). This suggests that lying simply occurs or happens as a natural force (as in “lying is as natural as breathing” or “lying is as natural to as as swimming is natural to a fish”) rather than a behavior that one can be held accountable for engaging in. Considering that this behavior can cause harm to the victims of the liar, it will be understood to be problematic to the victims of injustice that a demand me made that they forgo the need for justice simply because the liar does not (or believes can not) be brought to justice.

Finally, the author explicitly places lying beside “cognitive growth” and, in doing do, equates this behavior to learning as well as craft (something he wrote in the first paragraph and reinforces in this one through the use of the word “emergence” with it’s connotations of materialization to describe the appearance of lying in children). It is worth mentioning that, even though it has more to do with emotional considerations than learning, Mr. Bhattacharjee writes about the promise of parents learning to see the behavior in their children (when found to be lying) as a “reassuring sign.” It is also worth mentioning that Mr. Bhattachrjee expresses this thought by ascribing it to the psychologist he is discussing and interviewing without explicitly quoting the person in question as saying or intimating anything of the sort. Whether the person in question would express such an attitude is not the question at the core of my present observation but rather Mr. Bhattachrjee’s expression of this emotional attitude through it’s deflection onto someone else rather than saying it directly as being his own attitude (or simply quoting the other person as expressing it).

The reader will appreciate that a basic study of history should serve to demonstrate the requisite of honest behavior in as a basic standard for successful human endeavors and does not need the author to demonstrate examples of the essential presence of honesty in shaping functional models of trade, proliferation of scientific knowledge, construction of cities, treatment of patients by doctors, the education of others by teachers and human behavior in general.

I will now engage in a cursory survey of the world’s major religions. This survey will allow the reader to appreciate the universal concord (and clarity) in their teachings. Having said that, I would like to explain why the author deems it necessary to survey various religious texts in the present work which, after all, is on poetics (making) and anti-poetics (unmaking). I am aware that there exist many persons who are far more qualified to explain theology than a composer and so I beg the reader’s indulgence as I explain the reasons for this survey and why it concerned with the purely artistic and poetic lessons with which my lessons are concerned. I hope that, through this explanation, the reader will appreciate the way in which this diversion is not simply within the stated parameters for this text (artistic work) but actually vital to artistic work itself.

Any truly unmotivated and unbiased reader of the world’s major holy books will quickly realize that a general concord of teaching is true among the world’s religions. I point to this fact since it is the essential understanding that a person requires before he or she is to sift through a particularly dangerous lie. This is the noisy and schismatic lie that would have us believe in a disunity among major religions. Following this we would therefore be expected to believe that a Creative or moral Spirit has presented itself (or inspired people) in an inconsistent form and that this inconsistency has been observed and understood by billions of people. That would mean that universal human truths do not really exist.

Those universal truths are not simply things that any work of art must possess if it is to present itself as comprehensible to humanity. The “universals” are are truths that an artist can observe in countless instances of the presentation of art from the appreciation of a Ming vase by a 20th century Ukranian person or the singing of a Beethoven Symphony in Japan to the natural materials that I work with on a daily basis such as the harmonic series; materials that present a universal framework that can be gleaned in all the musics that humanity has ever known. If we are to believe that a Creative or moral Spirit has presented itself (or inspired people) in an inconsistent form, we would also be accepting the relativity of human civilization. The peddlers of this relatively new idea would attempt to convince their audiences that human civilization is not universal and that “one man’s barbarism” is simply “another’s civilization.” This can be seen in writing such as this article:

This is expressed through the use of meaningless generalities like “East”, “West” or speaking of alternate worlds like the “Islamic World” or “Western Civilization.” These generalities express nothing as opposed useful conversations which would center around topics that are manageable for human study such as the folk music of Rhineland or Beethoven’s Eroica Symphony. To be clear, I am not arguing for specialization but rather for the study of many things but rather for the study of one thing at a time because this is how human beings are demonstrated to succeed at learning subjects from elementary school to the highest levels of any profession. If larger units are to be combined then this study should be conducted with a definition of the specific parameters of what is meant by the use of general terms such as “Western Culture” or “Arab World.” These parameters should also be accompanied by a reason that states the intent of the person presenting such terminology (regarding what we are expected to learn by studying large blocks of the world at once) so that we may follow their lesson coherently if there is a lesson to impart.

As an avid student and observer of the world which I live in and also have the pleasure of representing through my art, I have observed various authors, teachers and other “imparters of information” present large blocks of ill-defined information to the layman. This is done with the intent of selling the idea of falsely unifying collectives to large groups of people (usually with a marketing strategy or simply for the sake of association by default with another person’s accomplishments (ie claiming a proximity to Leonardo Da Vinci even though one may have nothing to do with art and has no intent to work in the arts simply because one imagines that they inhabit a common space “civilization” with the long-departed master. Another intent is that of hiding a lack of specific knowledge on the part of the person imparting that knowledge. Yet another intent is the seemingly positive idea of presenting an anthology of human wisdom in large blocks as a proposed method of “saving-time” for the intended audience of that convenient “wisdom”. I add to these intentions every other intention and reason that one can imagine (and many which one cannot imagine).

If the author’s intent is ill-defined and overly-ambitious, I offer the reader friendly advise that is born of much observation: simply refrain from wasting time that you could easily use learning or accomplishing something that you (and the rest of us) can appreciate.

As if all this was not enough, these is further erosion of the objective world since the practice of presenting broad and ill-defined rubrics aren’t limited to broad and large places or collectives. Since there is little definition that can be had to these rubrics (the “Asian Century” does not really exist objectively), there is no stoping the subjectively-inclined to deployed these terms to anything. “The Western World” is just as fair-game as “Chopin’s World.” One is not larger than the other. They are both ill-defined and nebulous. That which is nebulous can be appropriated to obscure the truth or even to confound a solid grip on reality.

The creation and promotion of these false “collections” is not unlike the invention of genres Whatever the intent of their creators and advocates, the collection have the effect of obscuring or denying the existence of objective truths (that can be demonstrated through their common appreciation by many people) This is in addition to having the effect of obscuring universal human truths. But these truths, being demonstrable, clear and often instinctively asserted, do not go away. The result is confusion and a lack of trust or direction among those who are offered information which is ill-defined.

And finally, the idea that a Creative or moral Spirit has presented itself (or inspired people) in an inconsistent form and that this inconsistency (and that these inconsistencies have been observed and understood by billions of people) would enlist those people up into a consensus that witnesses the lie itself (with or without those billions having signed up for such a “vote” one way or another). The end of this idea as an assault on the universal truths that humanity has observed (the truth that human beings are naturally constructive and reasoning rather than destructive and unreasoning) is an absurd notion: that lies precede truth. And so lies, rather than self-evident truths, “become” natural.

In other words, we would have to believe that in the beginning was a lie and then the truth was formed out of the lie and instilled into people by “society.” That idea is hard to conceptualize let alone belief in. It’s much simpler to understand that the source of this inconsistency is a lying person rather than the Creative or moral Spirit.

Having studied the sources of these faiths in detail, I have found no inconsistency and nobody who can point to a solid inconsistency that is not “lost in translation” or simply misunderstood in a way that can be clarified easily and demonstrably. I point this out because of my interest in truth and because I am a creative artist. This text is about poetics: making; doing; forming, defining, creating.

The propagators of this lie of division between religions go so far as to isolate the Torah, Gospel and Quran from one another while the truth is that those three books are clearly one cyclical reading and that they follow the narrative of one Abrahamic vein with no contradictions between their respective messages of justice, love and human responsibility. The reason for this clarification is the clear and stated intent of these liars: to cause schismatic unsettling among peaceful people and, sow distrust and disbelief. They propagate an unreasoning sort of cynicism that leads to extremist skepticism and a disbelief in the creative spirit, in ourselves, in one another and in the human soul. The the goal and final aim of this is anti-poetic: unmaking, undoing, deforming, confounding and, finally, destroying.

I would like to focus on the teachings that concern themselves with honest behavior.

Let’s start with the Bagavad Gita:

“Now, O Arjuna, let Me describe to you all of these individual members of society: The works of the Brahmins are characterized by such qualities as, peacefulness, self-control, purity, tolerance, honesty, faith, righteousness, and wisdom.

(अन्त:करण का निग्रह करना, इन्द्रियों का दमन करना ; धर्म पालन के लिये कष्ट सहना ; बाहर-भीतर से शुद्ध रहना ; दूसरों के अपराधों को क्षमा करना ; मन, इन्द्रिय और शरीर को सरल रखना ; वेद, शास्त्र, ईश्वर और परलोक आदि में श्रद्धा रखना ; वेद-शास्त्रों, का अध्ययन-अध्यापन करना और परमात्मा के तत्त्व का अनुभव करना ये सब के सब ही ब्राह्मण के स्वाभाविक कर्म है ।। ४२ ।।”)

The Quran enjoins honesty in word and deed:

“Those who show patience, Firmness and self-control; who are true (in word and deed); who worship devoutly; who spend (in the way of Allah.; and who pray for forgiveness in the early hours of the morning.”

In Phillippians (Chapter 4) the Apostle Paul enjoins us to think about the things that are true and honest. Where Bhattachrjee writes an article that attempts to link lies with growth, learning and compassion, Paul’s Epistle places honesty in the company of justice, purity and loveliness:

“Finally, my brethren, whatever is true, whatever is honest, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is of good report; if there is any virtue and if there is any praise, think about these things.
Those things which you have learned and received and heard and seen in me, do; and the God of peace shall be with you.”

In the Torah, the command is also communicated unambiguously: we should distance ourselves from lying which, in Exodus 23:7, is placed in the company of murder:
“Keep far from a deceit; and the innocent and righteous you shall not slay; for I will not justify the wicked.”

(מִדְּבַר־שֶׁ֖קֶר תִּרְחָ֑ק וְנָקִ֤י וְצַדִּיק֙ אַֽל־תַּהֲרֹ֔ג כִּ֥י לֹא־אַצְדִּ֖יק רָשָֽׁע׃)

I will now place the Fourth of the Five Precepts (Great Gifts) that need to be adopted if a lay-person is to consider themselves as followers in the way of the Bhuddha is as follows:

“Furthermore, abandoning lying, the disciple of the noble ones abstains from lying. In doing so, he gives freedom from danger, freedom from animosity, freedom from oppression to limitless numbers of beings. In giving freedom from danger, freedom from animosity, freedom from oppression to limitless numbers of beings, he gains a share in limitless freedom from danger, freedom from animosity, and freedom from oppression. This is the fourth gift…

With these words recorded for us in the Analects, Confucius tells us that he simply cannot teach us to live if we are dishonest:

“The Master said, ‘I do not know how a man without truthfulness is to get on. How can a large carriage be made to go without the cross-bar for yoking the oxen to, or a small carriage without the arrangement for yoking the horses?”

The reader should remember that my artistic concern with the subject at hand should not be construed as moral in nature. That is to say that my own perspective on lying may or may not align with the world’s spiritual, religious and ethical consensus (it does) but that is besides the point which I am most qualified to make as an artist. I am proposing an in-addition-to approach that has characterized the cumulative nature of civilization. Rather than a process of subtraction whereby one would take away any sort of learning or wisdom (though it does not need revision or improvement), my instinct as a creative person is to add good works to the world. If the copious amount of sham that the world tolerates is any indication of it’s capacity for accommodating large volumes, I will assume that it can make room for good without scrapping any good that has not been improved upon.safely understand as having space for that which is good. The universe is large enough to admit all the good that humanity can muster. I am adding the fact that there exists an artistic consideration in addition to the many others. I hope that the reader will appreciate the essential nature of this consideration.

Bhattachrjee’s article is 3600 words. My engagement with it has been conducted at length by necessity of the behavior in question. Liars require their lies to be veiled and folded. “Oh what a tangled web we weave when first we practice to deceive” write Sir Walter Scott in the most famous passage from his poem Marimion. This “tangled web” requires a certain “craft” which must be “mastered” by the liar if an “effective” lie is to be executed. It is a “technique” of sorts and the liar must attain the means to “build a web” if the victim of the lies is to be held in the liars “web.” The liar may construct the snare with the intention of holding the victim for a period of time that is long enough for the “spider” (the liar) to take what he needs from his prey. A liar may also construct the snare with the intent of lying for the sake of lying. These lies appear to have no secondary motive (such as career that is immediately apparent
This metaphor brings us back to the question of intent. Bhattachrjee and many others who will appear in this book, their surety of purpose and zeal cannot reasonably be explained as being motivated by a mere desire for worldly gain. Cash or political power are simply not motifs enough to count as compelling central motifs for the level of zeal and activity we witness in their writing. For those who would like to make reality into whatever they subjectively “feel” is reality, the goal must be more ambitious.

I must now admit to the reader that I, like all people who attempt to live life in possession of basic common sense, simply cannot claim familiarity with the incomprehensible. There is something in the vague notion that Bhattachrjee expresses when he says that “Technology has opened up a new frontier for deceit.” Perhaps the untenable attitude that underlines much of this discourse is that lying (or “personal feelings” about objective reality) just needs to be increased in sheer volume in order for a fantasy-reality of lies and personal feelings of the most adolescent variety to come into fruition: the lie would finally “triumph” as the “new reality” on earth.

“Other studies” says Bhattachrjee in a passage that is worth looking at in full , “have shown that evidence undermining lies may in fact strengthen belief in them. People are likely to think that familiar information is true. So any time you retract it, you run the risk of making it more familiar, which makes that retraction actually less effective, ironically, over the long term, says Swire-Thompson.”

He goes on to describe a process of deceit (this is what he refers to as a “phenomenon”) in full:

“I experienced this phenomenon firsthand not long after I spoke to Swire-Thompson. When a friend sent me a link to an article ranking the 10 most corrupt political parties in the world, I promptly posted it to a WhatsApp group of about a hundred high school friends from India. The reason for my enthusiasm was that the fourth spot in the ranking was held by India’s Congress Party, which in recent decades has been implicated in numerous corruption scandals. I chortled with glee because I’m not a fan of the party.
But shortly after sharing the article, I discovered that the ranking, which included parties from Russia, Pakistan, China, and Uganda, wasn’t based on any metrics. It had been done by a site called BBC Newspoint, which sounded like a credible source. But I found out that it had no connection to the British Broadcasting Corporation. I posted an apology to the group, noting that the article was in all likelihood fake news.
That didn’t stop others from reposting the article to the group several times over the next day. I realized that the correction I’d posted had not had any effect. Many of my friends—because they shared my antipathy toward the Congress Party—were convinced the ranking was true, and every time they shared it, they were unwittingly, or perhaps knowingly, nudging it toward legitimacy. Countering it with fact would be in vain.
What then might be the best way to impede the fleet-footed advance of untruths into our collective lives? The answer isn’t clear. Technology has opened up a new frontier for deceit, adding a 21st-century twist to the age-old conflict between our lying and trusting selves.”

Many passages in the scriptures of the religions that guide human beings warn us against lying. But telling the truth and being able to distinguish it from a lie is a value that is essential to the pursuit of the sciences and practice of the arts as well as to ensuring that the societies in which we live are safe and livable rather than chaotic and unprincipled.

After posting the article, Bhattachrjee writes that his friends “were convinced the ranking was true, and every time they shared it, they were unwittingly, or perhaps knowingly, nudging it toward legitimacy. Countering it with fact would be in vain.” It is here that his language expresses itself most clearly. His idea, expressed in the words that speak of lies that can be “nudged towards legitimacy” expresses a basic lack of comprehension of truth. Truth is true and truth presents itself as self-evident. The proliferation of lies have no bearing on the truth. Lies simply mislead others and may prevent them from seeing the truth until they discover the lie. In fact, lies can be said to exist, by definition, for the very purpose of misleading others and preventing those being lied to from perceiving the truth.

Bhattachrjee closes his article with this question which seems to ask the reader how “we” are to stop the proliferation of lies:
“What then might be the best way to impede the fleet-footed advance of untruths into our collective lives? The answer isn’t clear. Technology has opened up a new frontier for deceit, adding a 21st-century twist to the age-old conflict between our lying and trusting selves.”

Note that it is lies that “advance” according to Bhattachrjee’s thought as expressed through his prose (“the fleet-footed advance of untruths” are his words) just as it is “technology” that has “opened up a new frontier for deceit.” Human beings are absent from his language altogether. But that doesn’t affect the fact (or truth) that lying is simply a behavior that human beings engage in and technology a category of objects that human beings craft, construct and use. As far as technology is concerned, many of these objects are tools that allow human beings to carry out their behavior but the behavior is up to individual human beings to carry out all the same. It should be added that many people prefer to utilize these tools for constructive to constructive ends. I will show the work of two artists that exemplify the make the positive side of this equation in the following chapter when we look at an example of that sort of creative individual through an examination of the work of Shigeru Miyamoto in the following chapter. We will also examine the perceived and real roles that “tools” play in work by looking at the subtle designs employed by Isaac Asimov in examining his early stories in which he writes on the theme of robotics.

As far as Bhattachrjee is concerned, it should have been an easy task to write and compose his essay in such a way as to present a concern for maintaining the integrity of truth and so I must understand his failure to do so as representative of an unwitting miscomprehension of basic boundaries that separate truth from lie. It is most apparent as he poses the final question of his essay which seems to indicate that he wants us to understand his intent as being favorable to preventing proliferation of lies.

“Without the implicit trust that we place in human communication, we would be paralyzed as individuals and cease to have social relationships” continues Bhattachrjee. This is posited without mention or thought of what words like “honor” and “vows” express or why they exist in every society that I have ever studied or encountered.

or even the rational thinking that people exercise in learning more about their faith through meditation, fasting, prayer conclave or any number of other metaphysical avenues of reflection. and beliefs play into forming those beliefs and trusts. He goes on to quote another of his interviees who says the following:
“We get so much from believing, and there’s relatively little harm when we occasionally get duped,” says Tim Levine, a psychologist at the University of Alabama at Birmingham, who calls this idea the truth default theory.”

Levine uses the word “default” revealingly. Assuming, through context, that the word is used to mean “a preselected option adopted by a computer program or other mechanism when no alternative is specified by the user or programmer fact is that truth is “default” by definition, a fact that can be demonstrated by simply observing that The reader will note the use of the word “get” rather than “gain.” This word is used to describe the “benefits” that human beings “get” from “believing.” We are not told what it is we are considering as a candidate for our belief. Whatever the prospective object of our belief might be, the language which I have just quoted makes it clear that the journey towards belief involves trust while the exercise of rational inquiry is not mentioned at all (nor is any process of work that denotes additive, constructive or creative human behavior). The paragraph that I have excerpted above could be rewritten as “Learn nothing. Do nothing. Believe what people tell you and, if the information you learned from them doesn’t turn out to be true then just don’t sweat it. On the whole, everything evens out.”

Pay attention to the words “when we occasionally get duped.” Bhattachrjee communicates this without betraying any signs that he is unwittingly aware that liars are inevitably discovered in their act. The “unwitting awareness is another folded self-contradiction. But it is crystallized in the words above and it is reinforced. We can see this if we with clear eyes. The author could have used the words “if we occasionally get (discover that we got) duped” but opts instead for the words “when we occasionally get duped). Now, in order to realize that one has been duped, one must first uncover a lie. That uncovering is a prerequisite to the knowledge that one has been deceived. ,It is note a fact that one has been duped unless one first uncovers and confirms the lie. This is the principle of “innocent until proven guilty” (due process). Bhattachrjee himself says it and we should take him at his word: the “discovery” is just a matter of time (“when” and not “if”).

It is reasonable to now consider the author at the source of this essay. To do this we do not have to conduct too much research or even turn away from the very same essay that we are reading. As it happens, Bhattachrjee spends a good portion of this essay writing about himself. He tells us of his career in lying (among other things) and explicitly boasts about his exploits as though the admission of guilt is a form of justification that “make his actions okay.” Let us examine how he is able to accomplish this. He is, to use his own words in describing a colleague whom he interviews, “lying for the sake of science.”

Let us begin with this account of Bhattachrjee as a schoolboy in third grade:

“When I was in third grade, one of my classmates brought a sheet of racing car stickers to school to show off. The stickers were dazzling. I wanted them so badly that I stayed back during gym class and transferred the sheet out of the classmate’s backpack into mine. When the students returned, my heart was racing. Panicking that I would be found out, I thought up a preemptive lie. I told the teacher that two teenagers had shown up on a motorbike, entered the classroom, rifled through backpacks, and left with the stickers. As you might expect, this fib collapsed at the gentlest probing, and I reluctantly returned what I had pilfered.

In this passage, Bhattachrjee recalls stealing from a classmate. He replaces the word “stealing” by telling us that he “transferred the sheet out of the classmate’s backpack into mine.” The results of this deflection of accountability for one’s own actions is reflected in Bhattacharjee’s language (remember that he is writing this recollection many years after the incident at hand). I am referring the reader to the use of the word “reluctantly”:

As you might expect, this fib collapsed at the gentlest probing, and I reluctantly returned what I had pilfered.

The reader will now appreciate that his “admissions of guilt” are not really admissions of guilt. What we have just read (the reluctance to return the item that he stole) is an explicit admission of remorselessness. What is more is that Bhattachrjee did not need to tell us this about himself (facts that would make dealing with him difficult to stomach for me and, I think, many others). On top of all this, he tries to further justify his actions through the use of the word “pilfered.” This indicates that the item he stole was of little value; something that Bhattachrjee could not know unless he was certain about the feelings of his classmate towards the object that he is stealing from that classmate. Since it is reasonable to assume that someone who lies and steals from one is not concerned about one’s feelings, we can safely put that notion to rest.

The outcomes of Bhattachrjee’s deception are many. Among them is that his lie fails and his attempt to cause injury to another person similarly fails. Another outcome is that he is unaware that lying is repellent to most human beings and he is therefore happy to illustrate it to a broad readership (in writing). Yet another outcome is to be found in the behavior of reasonable people who know (or learn) these things about him: most will have trouble dealing with him, deal with him while keeping an eye on him as well as not they own backs or, if possible, refuse to deal with him at all.

Another outcome of repeated lying is Bhattachrjee sheer remorselessness and lack of touch with reality. In other words, his personality is an outcome of his repeated behavior.

These are among the reasons why most people don’t make a habit of lying and every group of people on earth revile the behavior. This is even true of most third graders (people who are not yet concerned with following theological paths, demonstrating truth through artistic creation expanding scientific knowledge).

Put aside, for a moment, any consideration of the harm that is often caused by deceitful people. Let us also put aside the embarrassing vision that the reader has just been subjected to reading (these are, remember, the words that of an adult who would write about attempted theft as a secondary issue and pass it off as “transferring”. He also informs the reader of the motive behind his decision to cause injury to the classmate he is stealing from: he felt like doing it because he “liked” the stickers that belonged to someone else. They dazzled him. Put aside all the moral and ethical issues and, for good measure, even the notion of basic self-respect. All of that aside, most people have figured out that lying doesn’t work as a simple means to an end.

Bhattachrjee goes on. He continues with a brag informing the reader that his “naive lying” was not quelled with age and experience but simply worse. Instead of using the word “worse,” Bhattachrjee goes on to inform us, in the most witless prose, that “I got better, trust me.”

I ask the reader if one can imagine a single reasonable and conscious person could bring themselves to trust this man and, if the reader is left with any doubt as to the answer to that question, I hope that the following seals the verdict:

My naive lying—I got better, trust me—was matched by my gullibility in sixth grade, when a friend told me that his family owned a flying capsule that could transport us anywhere in the world. Preparing to travel on this craft, I asked my parents if they could pack me a few meals for the journey. Even when my older brother snickered, I refused to disbelieve my friend’s claim, and it was left to my friend’s father to finally convince me that I’d been duped.”

The author of these words is in sixth grade which means that he is 11 or 12 years old at the time of the story he is recalling and, depending on where he attended school, his math class (for example) is supposed to be studying domain ratios and proportional theory and his literature course is starting to parse Shakespeare. The fact that Bhattachrjee admits to this level of dullness so readily leads to the suspicion that he is unconscious of the implications of what he is saying on the careful reader’s perception of his basic competence as a reasoning human being. The fact that he begins the paragraph above by bragging and ends it by expressing a feeling of victimhood (I’d been duped) rather than self-reflection might register as surreal to the reader. But all of this is coupled with a complete and total absence of a single word denoting accountability or mature rationality in the entire 3601-word “feature”. This fact, in itself, warrants that the reader approach the final part of this analysis seriously.

The final account that we will examine is the following. Bhattachrjee visits a psychologist (and author of a book titled “Predictibly Irrational”). The account begins with the author telling us about an act of malice of the adolescent and petty variety. Both the act itself and Bhattachrjee’s recollection of the act to the reader are unnecessary. Though he is admitting that he lied, the recollection of the incident is not central to the article nor is it the first lie that the author boasts about conducting in his article. The question is “why include it?”:

“On a recent morning, I took an Uber to visit Dan Ariely, a psychologist at Duke University and one of the world’s foremost experts on lying. The inside of the car, though neat, had a strong odor of sweaty socks, and the driver, though courteous, had trouble finding her way. When we finally got there, she asked me smilingly if I would give her a five-star rating. “Sure,” I replied. Later, I gave her three stars. I assuaged my guilt by telling myself that it was better not to mislead thousands of Uber riders.

Ariely became fascinated with dishonesty about 15 years ago. Looking through a magazine on a long-distance flight, he came across a mental aptitude test. He answered the first question and flipped to the key in the back to see if he got it right. He found himself taking a quick glance at the answer to the next question. Continuing in this vein through the entire test, Ariely, not surprisingly, scored very well. “When I finished, I thought—I cheated myself,” he says. “Presumably, I wanted to know how smart I am, but I also wanted to prove I’m this smart to myself.” The experience led Ariely to develop a lifelong interest in the study of lying and other forms of dishonesty.

In experiments he and his colleagues have run on college campuses and elsewhere, volunteers are given a test with 20 simple math problems. They must solve as many as they can in five minutes and are paid based on how many they get right. They are told to drop the sheet into a shredder before reporting the number they solved correctly. But the sheets don’t actually get shredded. A lot of volunteers lie, as it turns out. On average, volunteers report having solved six matrices, when it was really more like four. The results are similar across different cultures. Most of us lie, but only a little.
The question Ariely finds interesting is not why so many lie, but rather why they don’t lie a lot more. Even when the amount of money offered for correct answers is raised significantly, the volunteers don’t increase their level of cheating. “Here we give people a chance to steal lots of money, and people cheat only a little bit. So something stops us—most of us—from not lying all the way,” Ariely says. The reason, according to him, is that we want to see ourselves as honest, because we have, to some degree, internalized honesty as a value taught to us by society. Which is why, unless one is a sociopath, most of us place limits on how much we are willing to lie. How far most of us are willing to go—Ariely and others have shown—is determined by social norms arrived at through unspoken consensus, like the tacit acceptability of taking a few pencils home from the office supply cabinet.”

It is clear that these men are unable to define why “something stops us—most of us—from not lying all the way” It is not clear what Ariely might mean by lying “all the way” but the present author presumes that this is a practice that would entail lying all the time thereby rendering the fidelity of our perception to the lie rather than the truth (this would mean living in one’s own delusions). Bhattachrjee explains that “The reason, according to him (Ariely) is that we want to see ourselves as honest, because we have, to some degree, internalized honesty as a value taught to us by society.”

Then why do all societies throughout the world “teach” (ie enjoin honesty)? Are all societies in the world (and all the religions that have inspired every society on earth and throughout history as we have examined them at even a cursory glance) uniform and devoid of diversity? The answer is that societies and cultures are diverse but universal truths are universal and they also stay true over time.

And finally we arrive at a piercingly clear expression of Bhattachrjee’s lie: that honesty is a behaviors that is taught (internalized honest is “a value taught by society.” This language can now easily be parsed and simply means that theirs is a notion that would have people believe that it is the truth which is taught rather than the lie that is learned as a behavior to conceal and mislead people. That is why they do not see honesty as fidelity to the truth (and reality) but rather as a practice which they engage in because society values it. In other words, they conceal their first inclination (which is to lie) because the rest of society (people around them) don’t like it.

In his Poetics of Music, Igor Stravinsky identified the exact sort of sensation that should be avoided: this is the sort of sensation that befuddles human understanding and is, therefore, useless to anyone who experiences the sensation beyond the initial moment of sensation. “Equally degrading,” says the composer, “is the vanity of snobs who boast of an embarrassing familiarity with the world of the incomprehensible and who delightedly confess that they find themselves in good company. It is riot music they seek, but rather the effect of shock, the sensation that befuddles understanding. So 1 confess that I am completely insensitive to the prestige of revolution. All the noise it may make will not call forth the slightest echo in me. For revolution is one thing, innovation another. And even innovation, when not presented in an excessive form, is not always recognized by its contemporaries.”

Stravinsky is acutely clear and this is evident through the fact that his words are easy to read. They are a sharp contrast of clarity against the adolescent expressions that we are peeling away in Bhattachrjee, Arley and many others in this book. It should be clear now that the familiarity with the incomprehensible is not embarrassing to the men and women we are engaged in observing. Bhattachrjee could have lied with the more deceptive razor of Shakespeare’s Iago had he the intellect to do so. It would not have been hard to end the essay with an illusory “appeal for truth.” Here I would do well to replace the false relation and displacement of self that he expresses through the words “between our lying and trusting selves” with the true relation which is not between “selves” but between behaviors and, in particular “between lying and being honest.”

The answer to why he doesn’t deceive us more “skillfully” (as he might put it) is to be found earlier in his essay. “Much of the knowledge we use to navigate the world comes from what others have told us” says the author. He might consider consider that human beings apply their reason to sift through what is true and what is not. This is a big factor that causes liars to be caught in the act as people have demonstrated through countless stories, observations and, ironically as we can see even by examining Bhattachrjee’s article itself. The reader should read the following and think about what the world looks like to Bhattacharjee:

“But is there anything unique about the brains of individuals who lie more than others? In 2005 psychologist Yaling Yang and her colleagues compared the brain scans of three groups: 12 adults with a history of repeated lying, 16 who met the criteria for antisocial personality disorder but were not frequent liars, and 21 who were neither antisocial nor had a lying habit. The researchers found that the liars had at least 20 percent more neural fibers by volume in their prefrontal cortices, suggesting that habitual liars have greater connectivity within their brains. It’s possible this predisposes them to lying because they can think up lies more readily than others, or it might be the result of repeated lying.”

This attempt at communicating the behavior of lying, when practiced consistent, as a physiological condition is, physiological considerations aside, as much of an expression of the inability to accept responsibility as it is also a statement that hints at the experience of certain difficulties when it comes to perceiving reality as it is.

As I wrote earlier in the course of this examination, Bhattachrjee could have closed his article with a question which seems to ask the reader how “we” are to stop the proliferation of lies but he doesn’t allow the a feigned attempt at concern for the truth to be compelling by virtue of his inability (as it is made apparent through his prose) to understand when he is expressing a lie: “What then might be the best way to impede the fleet-footed advance of untruths into our collective lives? The answer isn’t clear. Technology has opened up a new frontier for deceit, adding a 21st-century twist to the age-old conflict between our lying and trusting selves.”

And so Bhattachrjee doesn’t address that question at all. Instead he makes it clear that the question he “asks” is far from the reason he wrote this essay. He demonstrates this in the second to last paragraph in which he expresses a belief that truth and lies are malleable and that a person can have power over the “legitimacy” of the truth. This is the ultimate lie in his essay: the conceit that tells the reader that it is possible to defraud not simply people but truth itself. By lying with enough volume and consistency one could somehow engage in a process of “nudging” whatever one would like to believe as truth into “legitimacy.” But what effect would that notion have on the truth if it were possible? It would nudge truth into the status of being a lie thus delegitimizing the truth. This would mean that the collective learning of humanity as accomplished through science as well as the observations and functions that have been crafted by humanity through the arts could be rendered “illegitimate” because somebody feels like it. But if the reader should want to pay attention to a single sentiment expressed by Bhattachrjee as emblematic of his apathy to the truth and as telling of his true intent in composing his essay, there are eight words which describe the writer’s idea of what would happen even if a lie was “legitimized” over fact. “Countering it with fact, “ says Bhattachjee, “would be in vain.”

And so, the “incontestable lie” is “born” (even if it only exists as a subjective perception in the minds of Bhattachie and his ilk).

I would like to end this chapter with a look at two ancient texts that have been passed down and preserved for humanity through many centuries of activity. The first is by Michel de Montaigne. Since Bhattachjee informed us that the “ubiquity of lying was first documented systematically by Bella DePaulo, a social psychologist at the University of California, Santa Barbara” and that was initiated “two decades ago” (the 1990s), I would be remiss if I did not point out that the following was composed in the sixteenth century.

“It is usual to see good intentions, if carried on without moderation, push men on to very vicious effects.” The fact that people who do much damage are often fully convinced of the goodness of their intentions is helpful to realize. “In this dispute,” he continues, “which has at this time engaged France in a civil war, the better and the soundest cause no doubt is that which maintains the ancient religion and government of the kingdom.”

That there are people who take advantage of confusion in order to advance their personal agendas is clear. These “personal agendas” are followed with the desire to accumulate gains which could include the attainment of powers in assuming a certain political office, the recruitment of people to join a terrorist organization, the advancements of schemes designed to capitalize from financial exploitation and profiteering and a dazzling variety of other ambitions. But there are also those who operate without those ambitions and sow destruction while they maintain a sincere belief in the rightness of their cause and the purity of their intentions. “Nevertheless,” continues Montaigne, “amongst the good men of that party (for I do not speak of those who only make a pretense of it, either to execute their own particular revenges or to gratify their avarice, or to conciliate the favor of princes, but of those who engage in the quarrel out of true zeal to religion and a holy desire to maintain the peace and government of their country), of these, I say, we see many whom passion transports beyond the bounds of reason, and sometimes inspires with counsels that are unjust and violent, and, moreover, rash”

These are people who are convinced by their actions rather than using good causes in order to make a pretense of doing good “either to execute their own particular revenges or to gratify their avarice, or to conciliate the favor of princes.” They operate “out of true zeal to religion and a holy desire to maintain the peace and government of their country.” It is within this context that people can be seen to operate on a passion which transports them “beyond the bounds of reason.” Any “unjust and violent, and, moreover, rash” attitude or action that they take is self-justified by a full conviction in the rightness of their cause. The people acting on behalf of “the common good” are more dangerous than those who operate out of narrow self-interest. The former believe in what they are doing and will generally refuse to see the destruction of their approach because their actions stem from a sincere belief that they are involved with a cause. This “involvement” coupled with the equally sincere notion that they are making a positive contribution to the world satisfies a yearning for the sort of deep spiritual meaning that they might reasonably consider absent from their lives. The causes, and therefore the deeper meaning derived from the involvement with said causes, may be illusory but that is inconsequential. Satisfying the yearning for meaning is enough in itself even if this yearning is not actually satisfied with meaning.

This means that, in addition to being dangerous, perpetrators of the misconduct studied in this book will never be satisfied in their destruction.

For the second text I return to the Quran. Many lines in that Book are concerned with reminding human beings that we are accountable for our own actions. Many also speak of the essentiality of truth. The following lines should be read as simply and straightforwardly as possible. Bhattacharjee’s prose depicts lying as natural and preordained state of human behavior. Here is the Quran:

“And believe in what I reveal, confirming the revelation which is with you, and be not the first to reject Faith therein, nor sell My Signs for a small price; and fear Me, and Me alone.
And cover not Truth with falsehood, nor conceal the Truth when ye know (what it is).
And be steadfast in prayer; practice regular charity; and bow down your heads with those who bow down (in worship).”

This passage does not simply discuss but actively demonstrates the natural sequence of events when it comes to truth and lying. It does so linguistically. The line also reminds human beings of the responsibility that we have to ourselves and one another; a responsibility that we are disrespecting when we shun that which is true:

“And cover not Truth with falsehood, nor conceal the Truth when ye know”

That sentence places truth before falsehood in the course of the sentence itself. This clarifies through the very structure of placing truth before falsehood and then activating the sentence with a verb (conceal) that truth must exist first in order for the truth to be covered with falsehood. In order to conceal, one must first know the clear and unambiguous truth and then proceed to either accept reality or conceal it. Lies simply cannot exist without truth first existing because the liar requires a truth as a raw material ripe for manipulation.

Something that is true is not the only raw material that a liar needs to acquire before he or she has the basic ingredients to make a lie. The liar must also know that the truth is true. True things have to be realized by the liar (as true) before there is anything to pervert into a lie. One cannot pervert a lie into a lie since it is already false to begin with. Truth is prerequisite to the existence of a lie or lies because, by their very nature, lies must exist as relative (in a parasitic way) to the truth. Lies seek to erode the truth. One cannot erode a truth that does not exist as a truth. Only once the liar knows that something is true can he or she can he or she make lies and then they can choose to promote lies that obscure it.

The passage also remains entirely in the grammatical positive. It reads “cover not Truth with falsehood…” rather than “do not cover Truth with falsehood.” This makes the action (of covering Truth) unambiguously active. The command is directed against a behavior and this behavior is outlined and dissected in terms of it’s sequence of events and is clear that the “doing” of the behavior at hand falls upon the person who is behaving. Any sentient person, by most measures of what is meant by the words “sentient person” in societies and nations across the world and across the centuries, should have no trouble understanding this. And, by the simplest extension possible, it should be evident that actions have consequences and that people are responsible for the consequences of their actions when we act.

The liar is, of course, not limited to the avenue of promoting lies or spreading rumor. They can just choose to brazenly disrespect the truth without promoting lies and even while declaring that they know the truth but actively choose not to respect it. It is this behavior that is expressed by the line from the Quran that we have been looking at and that I have underlined here:

“And cover not Truth with falsehood, nor conceal the Truth when ye know”

The final, and most terrible, example of a failure in truth and faith in truth that humanity can study began when Pontius Pilate entered the court of judgment. Here is the scene as recounted by Saint John:

Then Pilate entered into the judgment hall again, and called Jesus, and said unto him, Art thou the King of the Jews?

Jesus answered, My kingdom is not of this world: if my kingdom were of this world, then would my servants fight, that I should not be delivered to the Jews: but now is my kingdom not from hence.

Pilate therefore said unto him, Art thou a king then? Jesus answered, Thou sayest that I am a king. To this end was I born, and for this cause came I into the world, that I should bear witness unto the truth. Every one that is of the truth heareth my voice.

Pilate saith unto him, What is truth? And when he had said this, he went out again unto the Jews, and saith unto them, I find in him no fault at all.

But ye have a custom, that I should release unto you one at the passover: will ye therefore that I release unto you the King of the Jews?”

The Quran mentions Jesus with more frequency than any prophet, angel or other entity. Pilate could not have read the words that warn against those who would “conceal the Truth when ye know” as the book was revealed some six hundred years after the proceedings that would condemn Jesus. But he didn’t need to. He was staring at truth face-to-face and admitted to seeing it but did not care to uphold it. The notion that Pilate was considering “the nature of truth” rather than displaying apathy towards what he knew to be true has gained currency since John Langshaw Austen wrote the following words (published in 1950):

“WHAT is truth?” said jesting Pilate, and would not stay for an answer. Pilate was in advance of his time. For “truth” itself is an abstract noun, a camel, that is, of a logical construction, which cannot get past the eye even of a grammarian. We approach it cap and categories in hand: we ask ourselves whether Truth is a substance (the Truth, the Body of Knowledge), or a quality (something like the colour red, inhering in truths), or a relation (“correspondence”)1. But philosophers should take something more nearly their own size to strain at. What needs discussing rather is the use, or certain uses, of the word “true.” In vino, possibly, “veritas,” but in a sober symposium ‘verum.’”

All too many modern-day “philosophers”, like “social scientists” and “conceptual artists” take positions like this they cannot do the work required to demonstrate plausible findings. Conceptual “artists” are not artists but simply people who have an opinion about something. This opinion, I might add, is usually wrong-headed or destructive. This is in no small part due to the fact that true artists cannot contain the need to demonstrate truth within them or respond to a need for a functional object when they love to make it. Social “scientists” who claim that they have made a “science” out of studying the irrational and claiming familiarity with it are not scientists. By what method would anyone study the irrational and chaotic? And to what end would the inquiry be conducted if it was indeed possible?

The only “true” part of Austen’s paragraph above was appropriated from Francis Bacon’s essay On Truth. When I speak of a “true” part I am referring to that which is true and which can be proven to be true in the narrative contained within the Bible (whether or not one believes it and sees it to be true or does not believe it and shows it to be true as a narrative in the text is irrelevant to the present inquiry. One way or the other, the answer is the same.

Let’s consider this from a purely dramatic perspective. Writers who wish to fashion dramatically viable work that can also be seen as “loyal real” in terms of it’s artistic representation present carefully researched imagery and plot on the stage, page or screen for a reason. As a composer of opera, I speak for myself in saying that I would not seriously expect anybody to believe that a character of my creation should be interested in the truth if he already knows it and chooses to disregard it. Nor would I attempt to convince an audience that the same character could be compelled by “an inquiry into the nature truth” if he doesn’t stay for an answer.

Saint John recounts Pilate’s immediate departure upon speaking the words “what is truth” clearly:

“ Pilate saith unto him, What is truth? And when he had said this, he went out again”

Francis Bacon points out the truth about Pilate in a passage that predates Austen’s by half a millennium and which Austen quotes (as the opening of his text, no less) without thinking to benefit the layperson with a credit to the author (Bacon). The fact that he is parasitically preying on Bacon’s constructive words that, through truth and common sense have survived the test of centuries, in order to pervert those words to a destructive end is a common manifestation of the liar in action as the anti-poetic agent that he is.

And so I will close this chapter by allowing Francis Bacon to have the last word once more. Here is the opening paragraph of his essay “On Truth” which I leave the reader to enjoy. I hope that the reader will decide to read the whole essay and that recommendation is found to be useful. Bacon’s general creative output as well as the works of constructive artists in general will overwhelm the voices that express destruction in attitude and action (amplified as their voices are).

“Darkness cannot drive out darkness: only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate: only love can do that” said Martin Luther King Jr. If, as human history testifies, justice is the antidote to injustice and knowledge is the eradicator of ignorance then I must add a purely poetic truth to the moral, ethical, scientific and religious ones that are familiar. This truth, which I find to be self-evident, is that Destruction can only be frustrated through construction. Attention to a study of Poetics in all the arts (by which I mean specificity “the study of making things”) is more essential than the destructive liars would have the “ordinary person” believe. Liars invented the condescending notion of the “ordinary person” with the same destructive intent as their invention of the artist as a pretentiously overblown and incomprehensible philosopher. At the present time, these liars are proliferating their confusions and schisms at a rate that they have never had the opportunity to attempt before (this is as far as all my studies of human history suggest).

Those who value basic humanity, civilization and decency would do well to understand that the tools, old and new alike, which are available to destructive people and which enable them to publish their every reflex with a speed (if not with a zeal) that is unmatched in their history are also tools that are available to constructive and creative among us. The tools are also available to those who would like to enjoy constructive labor and to use products that are fashioned with care and designed with precision. The natural response to the incendiary “anti-poetics” and to the insistent negativity and doom preached by it’s practitioners have a long history of pedaling destruction. I also believe that they always will do so. The best way to assert a constructive approach to life is for human beings to insist on the truths that creativity and positivity are natural to our species. I urge the reader to understand how fully these things are linked to our survival as human beings rather than mere utilitarian shells of human beings. Creativity may not be essential to simply staying alive but it is essential if life is to be worth living.

With that, I leave the reader with the opening of Francis Bacon’s essay On Truth:

“WHAT is truth? said jesting Pilate, and would not stay for an answer. Certainly there be, that delight in giddiness, and count it a bondage to fix a belief; affecting free-will in thinking, as well as in acting. And though the sects of philosophers of that kind be gone, yet there remain certain discoursing wits, which are of the same veins, though there be not so much blood in them, as was in those of the ancients. But it is not only the difficulty and labor, which men take in finding out of truth, nor again, that when it is found, it imposeth upon men’s thoughts, that doth bring lies in favor; but a natural, though corrupt love, of the lie itself.”


2. “Small Asks”

When I do write essays, I’ve found that they can run the whole gammut from quite short to quite long. An essay of mine can certainly be long. I’ll allow it but I find myself making those judgements on length with more information at hand about the intent, content and eventual formal structure of ha e essay; all of which I don’t have the ability to think it’s thoughtful and I certainly worked hard on it and, I hope, showed an analysis of importance (meaning one that is drawn from thoughts that are larger than just my own). People are taking in so much useless data these days. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with asking them to take the time to read something longer when it’s worth their time and composed with integrity. Op-Eds in the New York Times have been getting shorter for over a decade; more and more space has been expended on pictures and dramatic multimedia. Nowadays you can’t get away with publishing anything that’s over a couple thousand words. Readers are adults and they feel the sting of condescension when they are treated like children. Many editors say this is due to lack of space or due to the need to save money. In an inappropriately informal interview, the Executive Editor posted a “q&A” with readers outlining a whole slew of terrible reasons as to why the paper shut down their copy desk and, with it, fired the copy editors. The Exec Editor says:

“That system was designed for print, which allowed for much more time in producing a story. It also did not contemplate a world where not all the best journalism would involve the written word.”

“Our goal with these changes is to still have more than one set of eyes on a story, but not three or four. We have to streamline that system and move faster in the digital age. If the Supreme Court issues a major ruling at 10 a.m., our readers expect to hear about it within minutes. And they’d like an analysis not too long afterward. And maybe a video on the history of the case that led to the ruling. Or a multimedia analysis of what the ruling says about the court’s leanings so far.”

So we have to change our editing system to accommodate the changes in journalism. And we have to hire more journalists who can do all the tasks I just described. The only way to do that is by streamlining editing and using the savings to change the staff.”

Less time means less attention. As the radio example in my essay shows, the techniques of collecting and disseminating information may change but the desire to seek out and verify the truth should never change. What Banquet has done here is to produce more busy work at no gain as far as informing readers is concerned. The only thing that rushing the publication of material does is to ensure that more misleading statements or provocative falsehoods fall through the cracks. Ethics are better observed when writers know that they have to clear a dedicated copy desk and this is a copy desk that has long labored anonymously to keep reporters away from the temptation of sacrificing integrity of the publication for the quick high of showing off a bravura verbal performance on the page. Nor is “space” the issue in shortening analyses and making sure that articles read more and more like comic strips. As Banquet says above, they are actually putting more material out into the world than ever before; so it isn’t about treating space economically. It’s about laziness. I have found that readers will actually read longer pieces of analysis if those pieces are engaging and relevant to them. And no matter what the word count, people won’t read things unless the language is clear. Copy editors were so helpful in this regard.

I know many of these writers. They’re good people who work very hard to save egotistical writers from themselves. Once they realized that they had been put through a two year charade, they penned this letter to Mr Banquet:

It’s a hard read but it’s worth it. They eventually pleaded with the Executive editor despite the fact that they put their lives and families on the line and were treated in such a way that was totally devoid of any respect (an internal memo referred to the entire copy desk as “dog urinating on fire hydrants”); I think the plea was important because of issues of precedent that the Times is setting here:

“We worry that if we do not speak out, you will feel emboldened to make similarly sweeping staff reductions elsewhere in the company without debate. We worry that the errors and serious breaches of Times standards that copy editors catch each day will go unnoticed — until we are embarrassed into making corrections. We worry, in short, that the newsroom has forgotten why these layers of editing were created in the first place. But we still believe in The Times.”

“We ask that you believe in us.”

Needless to say, their letter did not yield any response. They are all out of their jobs and the effects have been noticeable. Even more importantly, readers who are invested in reading good journalism Ares being let down and misguided. The readers know the importance of a great paper to their society. In those letters between Dean and the readers one even writes this: “If The New York Times fails to capture mistakes in this era of fake media attacks, will your new cuts not have an impact on your reliability? I would rather have you raise my rates than make these cuts.”

The readers were literally offering Mr Banquet their money to keep the quality and integrity of the paper up. The readers were turned down. The copy editors were all let go. The paper publishes mistakes on a daily basis and, even worse, is ruining people’s lives by rushing to publish unsubstantiated reports with no safety net of a copy desk to stop them.

Still, I suspect that Dean Banquet thinks that this has been a success because, today, the The New York Times reported that their subscription earnings have surpassed a billion dollars (

That’s a profit margin that was earned by capitalizing on the integrity of a name that generations of good journalists built up through investing in a currency of trust. That currency is being devalued by one misguided, foolish and arrogant cadre of egoists. Profiteering off the backs of good men and women who lost their beloved copy desk and their livelihoods after years (and in some cases decades) of tiring work isn’t behavior anyone wants to be associated with. Those silent journalists worked hard because they believed in the name of the paper as more than just a brand. They believed in it as a symbol of the currency of excellent built through a dogged devotion to the truth; that’s what once earned the trust of  readers. Dean Banquet squandered that trust shamelessly.

The novelist Margaret Atwood f a-bad-feminist/article37591 823/) recently described the tools that the #metoo movement has used to amplify their voices. The technique is in the hands of everyone but only as technology. When it is filled with vigilante miscarriages of justice and truth the consequences for the rule of law are clear:
“.. .they used a new tool: the internet. Stars fell from the skies. This has been very effective, and has been seen as a massive wake-up call. But what next? The legal system can be fixed, or our society could dispose of it. Institutions, corporations and workplaces can houseclean, or they can expect more stars to fall, and also a lot of asteroids.”
“If the legal system is bypassed because it is seen as ineffectual, what will take its place? Who will be the new power brokers? It won’t be the Bad Feminists like me. We are acceptable neither to Right nor to Left. In times of extremes, extremists win. Their ideology becomes a religion, anyone who doesn’t puppet their views is seen as an apostate, a heretic or a traitor, and moderates in the middle are annihilated. Fiction writers are particularly suspect because they write about human beings, and people are morally ambiguous. The aim of ideology is to eliminate ambiguity.”
Atwood cited a specific case with which she was familiar. Her recounting deserves to be read and considered in full but I raise it to offer the example of the following paragraph as it illustrates an exchange that is emblematic of the “uncritical Critic” (or anti-critic) in action:
“A fair-minded person would now withhold judgment as to guilt until the report and the evidence are available for us to see. We are grownups: We can make up our own minds, one way or the other. The signatories of the UBC Accountable letter have always taken this position. My critics have not, because they have already made up their minds.”
Atwood got the extreme responses that she had predicted; from threats of harm to assaults on the 78 year old artist that described her as a “blood-sucking monster.” But the engagement that stood out for my purpose was this one:
to-cri ticism-of-metoo-globe-op-ed/arti cl e3 7599626/):

“”If Margaret Atwood would like to stop warring amongst women, she should stop declaring war against younger, less powerful women and start listening,” one user responded.”
This is abruptly followed by a sign-off: “Atwood could not immediately be reached for comment”). Those words assume a tone that reveals that the report confuses itself for standard journalism. The pivot places Atwood’s writing on the same plane as the backlash she faced. The equivalence places the words contained in the books of a decorated novelist on the same plane as every letter of abuse and accusation that the online assaulters immediately unleashed upon Atwood. People, acting with the “advantage” that the internet could afford (“from the distant safety from their target as well as the added advantage of presenting concepts simplicity afforded by internet anonymity communities of apps and swarms of comments sections frothed with ideas from the notion that Atwood was waging a “war” on less powerful women than herself to the conviction that she should be punished because of a deficiency in readers who somehow interpreted the novelist’s opinion article as affirmation that she was lending a supportive voice to sexually abusive behavior. If the writer of the report had read the words of Atwood that I have underlined in the passage quoted above, there would be no need for the additional attempt to contest her position on the rule of law. There was certainly no need for the reporter’s attempt to bring an air of journalistic objectivity to the table.
This only serves to create a false equivalence between the act of a one of best writers engaging in what she does best (writing) on the one hand and the abuse with with her essay was met on the other.
The Boston Globe ascribes the failure of an aspiring musician to James Levine’s “dark legacy” (the final words in the article can more properly be read to mean “the maestro’s success”:
“And while no one has reached Levine’s iconic stature, musicians from the Cleveland ensemble went on to hold prominent positions with symphonies from Puerto Rico to Canada, Atlanta to Los Angeles.
Many have died, while others have struggled as freelancers, some washing out of professional music altogether.
Lestock, who left New York in the late 1970s, said that although he still finds joy in making music, the Levine years have left him emotionally damaged.
“I am at the point where I am poor, but I’ve got people I love, ice cream in the freezer, and Kleenex in the bathroom,” he said. “So I’m happy.”
Still others are only now coming to te