Lesson 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.” A lesson, as I have always known it, is 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 and to do so personally.
My intended audience for this book is as wide as possible. I have discovered that the only way to learn about art is by looking at how art is made. The study of the making of art is called “poetics”; a word which we will become familiar with and seek to define in many ways throughout this text. This book is a poetics. 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 step-by-step demonstration means that the ideas I am imparting will 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 emergently clear “anti-poetics” that will be of concern to all human beings.
At it’s core, this book explores two and only 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 who hail 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 (a vocational music school). 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 knew; songs like Waiting For the 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, these publishers were also releasing songs that I would come to know. 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 apparently made the good decisions to sign the writers of 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:
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.
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 (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 music is not an object which can truly exist on this page but it is, of course, an object nevertheless since it is a musical work that exists) .
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.
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:
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.
Our potential is primed in such a way that only the opportunities of our age could prime them for a boundless unleashing. 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.
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.