1. Nice Folk
“WHY DON’T YOU RUN UPSTAIRS AND WRITE A NICE GERSHWIN TUNE?
(Through the windows of the English Grill in Radio City we can see the ice skaters milling about on the rink, inexplicably avoiding collision with one another. One cannot look at them for more than a few seconds, so dazzling are they as they whirl and plummet in the white winter sunlight. The shirred eggs are gone from our plates, and the second cup of coffee offers the momentary escape from the necessity of conversation. My lunch date with P.M. is one of those acid-forming events born of the New York compulsion to have lunch with one’s business associates, at all costs, “some time,” as if the mere act of eating together for ninety minutes were guaranteed to cement any and all relations, however tenuous.
P.M. is what is known in the “trade” as a Professional Manager, that unlucky soul whose job it is to see that the music published by his firm actually gets played. This involves his knowing, more or less intimately, an army of musical performers and some composers. He must once have been a large man, I think— powerful and energetic. He must “have gloried in his close association with the giants of the golden age of popular song-writing. But the long years have wearied him, and have reduced his ideas to formulas, his ideals to memories, his persuasive powers to palliatives. Still, he knows and loves two generations’ worth of American popular music, and this gives him his warmth, his zeal, his function in life. like him.
But why has he asked me to lunch? We have ranged all the immediately available subjects, and I feel there must be something in particular he wants to bring up, and can’t. Everyone in the Grill seems to be talking, earnestly or gaily; only we remain chained to an axis of interest terminating at one pole in the skating rink and at the other in a cup of coffee. Again the skaters: back to the coffee. Compulsively, I break the silence.)
“(This is inane, but he looks up gratefully. It must have helped somehow.)
Business? Well, you know. Sheet music doesn’t sell the way it did in the old days. It’s all records now. The publisher isn’t so much a publisher any more. He’s an agent. Printing is the least—
(Climbing on with excessive eagerness): But that ought to make good business, oughtn’t it? The main thing is owning the music, the rights—
Sure, but owning the music doesn’t guarantee that we sell it. Take the music from your new show, for instance.
(So this is why he’s invited me to lunch. But pretend innocence.)
What about the show?
(Kindly): How’s it going?
(As though this were just another subject): Fine. I caught it two nights ago. Seemed as fresh as ever.
(Carefully): Very, very strange about that show of yours. It’s a big success, the public enjoys it, it’s been running for five months, and there’s not a hit in it. How do you explain it?
(The bomb has dropped. The pulse has quickened.)
How do I explain it? Isn’t that your job to know? You’re the man who sells the songs to the public. A hit depends on a good selling job. Don’t ask me. I’m just the poor old composer.
Now don’t get excited. If you had been in this business as long as I have, you’d know that there are two sides to everything. There’s no point in laying the blame here or there. A hit is the result of a combination of things: a good song, a good singer to launch it, thorough exploitation, and lucky timing. We can’t always have all of them together. Now in your case, we’ve made one of our biggest efforts. I can’t remember when we’ve—
All right, I get it. You just weren’t handed good material. I don’t need a map. I don’t write commercial songs, that’s all. Why don’t you tear up my contract?
Really, L.B., you are in a state of gloom today. I didn’t ask you to lunch to upset you. We all want to do our best for that score; it’s to our mutual advantage. I just thought we might talk a bit about it, quietly and constructively, and maybe come up with something that might—
I’m sorry. I’m somewhat sensitive about it. It’s just that it would be nice to hear someone accidentally whistle something of mine, somewhere, just once.
“And I thought there were at least three natural hits in the show. You never hear the songs on the radio or on TV. There are a few forgotten recordings; one is on Muzak, I believe. It’s a little depressing, you must admit.
Now come on. Think of all the composers who don’t have hits, and don’t have hit shows either. You’re a lucky boy, you know, and you shouldn’t complain. Not everyone can write “Booby Hatch” and sell a million records in a month. Why, I remember George always used to say—
Gershwin, of course. What other George is there?
Ah, but now you’re talking about a man who really had the magic touch. Gershwin made hits, I don’t know how. Some people do it all the time, like breathing. I don’t know.
(Plunging in): Well, “Well, now that you mention it, it might not be a bad idea for you to give a little thought now and then to these things. Learn a little from George. Your songs are simply too arty, that’s all. You try too hard to make them what you would call “interesting.” That’s not for the public, you know. A special little dissonant effect in the bass may make you happy, and maybe some of your highbrow friends, but it doesn’t help to make a hit. You’re too wrapped up in unusual chords and odd skips in the tune and screwy forms: that’s all only an amusing game you play with yourself. George didn’t worry about all that. He wrote tunes, dozens of them, simple tunes that the world could sing and remember and want to sing again. He wrote for people, not for critics. You just have to learn how to be simple, my boy.
“You think it’s so simple to be simple? Not at all. I’ve tried hard for years. After all this isn’t the first time I’m hearing this lecture. A few weeks ago a serious composer-friend and I were talking about all this, and we got boiling mad about it. Why shouldn’t we be able to come up with a hit, we said, if the standard is as low as it seems to be? We decided that all we had to do was to put ourselves into the mental state of an idiot and write a ridiculous hillbilly tune. So we went to work with a will, vowing to make thousands by simply being simple-minded. We worked for an hour and then gave up in hysterical despair. Impossible. We found ourselves being “personal” and “expressing ourselves”; and try as we might we couldn’t seem to boil any music down to the bare, feeble-minded level we had set ourselves. I remember that at one point we were trying like two children, one note at a time, to make a tune that didn’t even require any harmony, it would be that obvious. Impossible. It was a revealing experiment, I must say, even though it left us with a slightly doomed feeling. As I say, why don’t you tear up my contract?
(I drain the already empty coffee cup.)
(With a touch of the basketball coach): Doom, nothing. I’ll bet my next week’s salary that you can write simple tunes if you really put your mind to it. And not with another composer, but all by yourself. After all, George was just like you, highbrow, one foot in Carnegie Hall and the other in Tin Pan Alley. He wrote concert music, too, and was all wound up in fancy harmony and counterpoint and orchestration. He just knew when to be simple and when not to be.
No, I think you’re wrong. Gershwin was a whole other man. No connection at all.
You’re only being modest, or pretending to be. Didn’t that critic after your last show call you a second Gershwin, or a budding Gershwin, or something?
(Secretly flattered): That’s all in the critic’s mind. Nothing to do with facts. Actually Gershwin and I came from opposite sides of the tracks, and if we meet anywhere at all it’s in my love for his music. But there it ends. Gershwin “was a songwriter who grew into a serious composer. I am a serious composer trying to be a songwriter. His was by far the more normal way: starting with small forms and blossoming out from there. My way is more confused: I wrote a symphony before I ever wrote a popular song. How can you expect me to have that simple touch that he had?
(Paternally): But George—did you know him, by the way?
I wish I had. He died when I was just a kid in Boston.
(A star in his eye): If you had met him you would have known that George was every inch a serious composer. Why, look at the Rhapsody in Blue, the American in—
Now, P.M., you know as well as I do that the Rhapsody is not a composition at all. It’s a string of separate paragraphs stuck together— with a thin paste of flour and water. Composing is a very different thing from writing tunes, after all. I find that the themes, or tunes, or whatever you want to call them, in the Rhapsody are terrific- inspired, God-given. At least four of them, which is “is a lot for a twelve-minute piece. They are perfectly harmonized, ideally proportioned, songful, clear, rich, moving. The rhythms are always right. The “quality” is always there, just as it is in his best show tunes. But you can’t just put four tunes together, God-given though they may be, and call them a composition. Composition means a putting together, yes, but a putting together of elements so that they add up to an organic whole. Compono, componere—
Spare us the Latin. You can’t mean that the Rhapsody in Blue is not an organic work! Why, in its every bar it breathes the same thing, throughout all its variety and all its change of mood and tempo. It breathes America— the people, the urban society that George knew deeply, the pace, the nostalgia, the nervousness, the majesty, the—
— the Chaikovsky sequences, the Debussy meanderings, the Lisztian piano-fireworks. It’s as American as you please while the themes are going on; but the minute a little thing called development is called for, America goes out the window and Chaikovsky and his friends march in the door. And the trouble is that a composition lives in its development.
I think I need some more coffee. Waiter!
“Me too. I didn’t mean to get started on all this, and I certainly don’t want to tread on your idol’s clay feet. He’s my idol too, remember. I don’t think there has been such an inspired melodist on this earth since Chaikovsky, if you want to know what I really feel. I rank him right up there with Schubert and the great ones. But if you want to speak of a composer, that’s another matter. Your Rhapsody in Blue is not a real composition in the sense that whatever happens in it must seem inevitable, or even pretty inevitable. You can cut out parts of it without affecting the whole in any way except to make it shorter. You can remove any of these stuck-together sections, and the piece still goes on as bravely as before. You can even interchange these sections with one another, and no harm done. You can make cuts within a section, or add new cadenzas, or play it with any combination of instruments or on the piano alone; it can be a five-minute piece or a six-minute piece or a twelve-minute piece. And in fact all these things are “being done to it every day. It’s still the Rhapsody in Blue.
But look here. That sounds to me like the biggest argument yet in its favor. If a piece is so sturdy that whatever you do to it has no effect on its intrinsic nature, then it must be pretty healthy. There must be something there that resists pressure, something real and alive, wouldn’t you say?
Of course there is: those tunes. Those beautiful tunes. But they still don’t add up to a piece.
Perhaps you’re right in a way about the Rhapsody. It was an early work, after all— his first attempt to write in an extended form. He was only twenty-six or so, don’t forget; he couldn’t even orchestrate the piece when he wrote it. But how about the later works? What about the American in Paris? Now that is surely a well-knit, organic—
True, what you say. Each work got better as he went on, because he was an intelligent man and a serious student, and he worked hard. But the American in Paris is again a study in tunes, all of them beautiful, and all of them separate “He had by that time discovered certain tricks of composition, ways of linking themes up, of combining and developing motives, of making an orchestral fabric. But even here they still remain tricks, mechanisms borrowed from Strauss and Ravel and who knows where else. And when you add it all up together it is still a weak work because none of these tricks is his own. They don’t arise from the nature of the material; they are borrowed and applied to the material. Or rather appliquéed to it, like beads on a dress. When you hear the piece you rejoice in the first theme, then sit and wait through the “filler” until the next one comes along. In this way you sit out about two thirds of the composition. The remaining third is marvelous because it consists of the themes themselves; but where’s the composition?
(A bit craftily): But you play it all the time, don’t you?
And you’ve recorded it, haven’t you?
Then you must like it a lot, mustn’t you?
I adore it. Ah, here’s the coffee.
(Sighing): I don’t understand you. How can you adore something you riddle with holes? Can you adore a bad composition?
Each man kills the thing he loves. Yes, I guess you can love a bad composition. For non-compositional reasons. Sentiment. Association. Inner meaning. Spirit. But I think I like it most of all because it is so sincere. It is trying so hard to be good; it has only good intentions.
You mean you like it for its faults?
No, I don’t. But what’s good in it is so good that it’s irresistible. If you have to go along with some chaff in order to have the wheat, it’s worth it. And I love it because it shows, or begins to show, what Gershwin might have done if he had lived. Just look at the progress from the Rhapsody to the piano concerto, from the concerto to—
(Glowing): Ah, the concerto is a masterpiece.
That’s your story. The concerto is the work of a young genius who is learning fast. But Porgy and Bess— there the real destiny of Gershwin begins to be clear.
Really, I don’t get it. Doesn’t Porgy have all the same faults? I’m always being told that it’s perhaps the weakest composition of all he wrote, in spite of the glorious melodies in it. He intended it as a grand opera, after all, and it seems to have failed as a grand opera. Whenever a production of Porgy really succeeds, you find that it’s been changed into a sort of operetta. They have taken out all the “in-between” singing and replaced it with spoken lines, leaving only the main numbers. That seems to me to speak for itself.
Oh, no. It speaks only for the producers. It’s a funny thing about Porgy: I always miss the in-between singing when I hear it in its cut form. Perhaps it is more successful that way; it certainly is for the public. It may be because so much of that recitative seems alien to the character of the songs themselves, instead recalling Tosca and Pelléas. But there’s a danger of throwing out the baby with the bath. Because there’s a lot of that recitative that is in the character of the songs and fits the opera perfectly. Do “ you remember Bess’s scene with Crown on the island? Bess is saying (Singing):
“It’s like dis, Crown,
I’s the only woman Porgy ever had— ”
(Joining in rapturously):
“An I’s thinkin’ now,
How it will be tonight
When all these other niggers go back to
L.B. and P.M.
(Together, with growing excitement):
“He’ll be sittin’ and watchin’ the big front gate,
A-countin’ ’em off waitin’ for Bess.
An’ when the last woman—”
(The restaurant is all eyes and ears.)
(In a loud whisper): I think we are making a scene.
(In a violent whisper): But that’s just what I mean! Thrilling stuff, isn’t it? Doesn’t it point the way to a kind of Gershwin music that would have reached its own perfection eventually? I can never get over the horrid fact of his death for that reason. With Porgy you suddenly realize that Gershwin was a great, great theater composer. He always had been. Perhaps that’s what was wrong with his concert music: it was really theater music thrust into a concert hall. What he would have done in the theater in another ten or twenty years! And then he would still have been a young man! What a loss! Will America ever realize what a loss it was?
(Moved): You haven’t touched your coffee.
(Suddenly exhausted): It’s gotten cold. Anyway, I have to go home and write music. Thanks for lunch, P.M.
Oh, thank you for coming. I’ve enjoyed it. Let’s do it again, shall we? We have so much to talk about.
(With a glance at the skating rink): Like what, for instance?
Well, for one thing, that show of yours. Very strange. It’s a big success, the public enjoys it, it’s been running for five months, and there’s not a hit in it. How do you explain it?
2. Stop All the Clocks
Let us examine a poem :
Stop all the clocks, cut off the telephone,
Prevent the dog from barking with a juicy bone,
Silence the pianos and with muffled drum
Bring out the coffin, let the mourners come.
Let aeroplanes circle moaning overhead
Scribbling on the sky the message ‘He is Dead’.
Put crepe bows round the white necks of the public doves,
Let the traffic policemen wear black cotton gloves.
He was my North, my South, my East and West,
My working week and my Sunday rest,
My noon, my midnight, my talk, my song;
I thought that love would last forever: I was wrong.
The stars are not wanted now; put out every one,
Pack up the moon and dismantle the sun,
Pour away the ocean and sweep up the wood;
For nothing now can ever come to any good.
3. Abortive Neologisms
What if the clocks are never started up again? Abandonment of the text can effect a suspension of our perception of time and our place in it through a specific hijacking of language that I would now like to turn my attention to.
Part of a 2015 interview I gave to Opera News should demonstrate my attitude towards the abuse of our common perception of time. It registered as dissonant to me even as I was only starting to compose this book. Here is the excerpt from the interview:
“Fairouz, unsurprisingly, isn’t much interested in categorizing his own musical style. Several admiring critics (including this one) have made the possibly too-facile claim that Fairouz typically combines traditional Middle Eastern elements with Western contemporary classical music. That last term, in particular, seems to rankle a bit.”
“Well, of course I’m contemporary. I’m here, but I don’t want to say, ‘Okay, just so you know it, I’m alive.’… I just say, ‘I’m a composer—I make music.’ It’s obscene to try to monopolize with terms like that.Of all the aspects of human genius to try to monopolize, music is maybe the most perverse, because music is so natural. I’ve never run into a civilization that doesn’t have it.”
The attempt to manipulate perceptions of time or to call for it’s suspension altogether is as much of a fool’s errand as the negation of objective reality. Studies of history teach us that reality can only be denied for so long before it asserts itself and that the denial of a certain and commonly shared objective reality does not mean that this commonly shared reality has been replaced with whatever those who deny it would like to place in it’s stead. One can avoid that which is held to be commonly regarded truth but one cannot ignore the consequences of avoiding that which is true. But how is a culture to be nurtured we are not aware of our place in it? How are the cumulative contributions of human genius that make up human civilization to be built upon if every generation is dealt a blank slate in which the present cannibalizes the past and replaces it? This is, gratefully, impossible. Nothing would have been built and no human accomplishment would currently exist if every beginning was a new start in which a “more evolved” generation of human beings emerged to erase the accomplishments of previous generations and begin as though we have learned nothing and accomplished nothing from work of those human beings who have come before us. Here I would like to recall Pope John XXIII’s description of these “Prophets of Doom”:
“They can see nothing but calamity and disaster in the present state of the world. They say over and over that this modern age of ours, in comparison with past ages, is definitely deteriorating. One would think from their attitude that history, that great teacher of life, had taught them nothing.”
The fact that assaults on common subjects and on objective reality have never succeeded and, because of the nature of truth, cannot succeed does not mean that the exercises of these “prophets of doom” (or “anti-poets”) cannot be terrifically damaging to a great many people. The denial of a certain (commonly shared) objective reality does not mean that this commonly shared reality has been replaced with the reality of the liar in question. The same is true of commonly studied and shared subjects.
But any coherent history is, in it itself, a commonly shared subject. It is precisely this fact that makes the assaults on our perception of time and on our common room so damaging. One can avoid that which is held to be commonly regarded truth but one cannot ignore the consequences of avoiding that which is true. That assurance must be qualified with the following admonition. The effort of manipulating people’s perspectives of history and time itself has an abortive potential that should not be underestimated. “It is impossible,” said Ayn Rand of the mixing of that which is natural with that which is man-made, “to tell what amount of authentic intelligence, particularly in the arts, has been hampered, stunted or crushed by the myth of “innate endowment.”
This statement holds to be at least as true of the myths surrounding misrepresentations of history and our place within it. Sensitive artists and budding children desirous of learning are, indeed, crushed by these rough myths and simplistic misreadings that seek to absolve humanity of any role in shaping history. Because of the fact that history is continuously happening and results from human behavior and it’s consequences, those who deny human beings all agency in their own actions cannot see the facts of history for what they are. Others choose to deny them. In any case, the effect on individuals with real potential for accomplishment are, to use Stravinsky’s word, abortive.
In his Poetics, Stravinsky offers his students (and us) some of the most crucial thoughts on the context and circumstances that allow for artistic production in the following passages. These passages are intended for students of poetics. They might seem specialized on some level and in some ways they are. Though Stravinsky’s lessons were intended for a specialist audience, I think they are crucial for anyone seeking to understand the threat posed by destructive inspiration. Times have changed and Stravinsky would not live to see the current pace of information exchange. Today, the capacity for chaos and destruction is a threat that affects more people than ever before and in a more instantaneous method of delivery than ever before. The ability to read through destruction is not simply an intellectual skill nor is it solely reliant on developing finely-tuned critical sensibilities. Confronting the attitude of destruction starts by recognizing it’s presence. That can he accomplished through a redoubling of trust in the natural and common human instincts that gravitate people to align with creativity and order over chaos.
Stravinsky observed that “art is the contrary of chaos. It never gives itself up to chaos without immediately finding its living works, its very existence, threatened.” No matter what our religious beliefs may lie, we should all be able to agree that we exist as real objects in a real world and that we can interact with ourselves and others on the basis of how we interpret this existence. In other words, on the purely poetic and non-philosophical level, we were somehow created as poetic objects (part of the poetry of the earth). Our existence is, not unlike the existence of our own creations, threatened by chaos. My hope here is that, despite the inevitable attempts that will be made to muddy the waters of this lesson, the reader will not lose track of the basic artistic truth contained here. Attempts at sowing chaos here will be made through the use of several techniques that the reader will now recognize since we have been encountering them throughout this text..
Given that this attitude can only be confronted through a heightened awareness of the presence of insidious intent, I think that it is only fair to the reader that we walk through the text and examine aspects of Stravinsky’s lessons one by one. I believe that, far from simply finding them worthwhile, the reader will appreciate that these words are more digestible and appealing than the confusing language of chaos and destruction that is delivered to far too many people on a daily basis.
It is far from my tastes, as well as from my intentions, to prolong further the endless debate over classicism and romanticism. I have said at sufficient length what I had to say to make my attitude clear on this subject; but I should leave my task unfinished if I did not call your attention for an instant to a closely related question, the question of those other two antagonists: modernism and academicism.
First of all, what an abortive neologism the word modernism is! Just what does it mean? In its most clearly defined meaning it designates a form of theological liberalism which is a fallacy condemned by the Church of Rome. Applied to the arts, would modernism be open to an analogous condemnation? I strongly think so … What is modern is what is representative of its own time and what must be in keeping with and within the grasp of its own time. Sometimes artists are reproached for being too modern or not modern enough. One might just as well reproach the times with not being sufficiently modern or with being too modern. A recent popular poll showed that, to all appearances, Beethoven is the composer most in demand in the United States. On that basis one can say that Beethoven is very modern and that a composer of such manifest importance as Paul Hindemith is not modern at all, since the list of winners does not even mention his name.
The term “modern” is deployed as a “criticism” of music that one does not like. It’s an easy way to abuse someone if that happens to be the intention at hand. But what does it mean? Stravinsky continues with an example:
“Contemporary writers on music have acquired the habit of measuring everything in terms of modernism, that is to say in terms of a nonexistent scale, and promptly consign to the category of “academic” which they regard as the opposite of modem all that is not in keeping with the extravagances which in their eyes constitute the thrice-distilled quintessence of modernism. To these critics, whatever appears discordant and confused is automatically relegated to the pigeonhole of modernism. Whatever they cannot help finding clear and well-ordered, and devoid of ambiguity which might give them an opening, is promptly relegated in its turn to the pigeonhole of academicism.”
The passage that I underlined can also be read as “these people can automatically dismiss as ‘modern’ everything which they cannot grasp or do not care to grasp. Stravinsky continues:
“Now we can make use of academic forms without running the risk of becoming academic ourselves. The person who is loath to borrow these forms when he has need of them clearly betrays his weakness. How many times have I noticed this strange incomprehension on the part of those who believe themselves good judges of music and its future!”
In fact, maintaining this incomprehension is the only thing that ensures that those who have accomplished no level of understanding (and may not be interested in acquiring such a thing) is essential can take the throne of judgment without ever learning anything about what they are judging. That should partially account for the extreme reaction we often see among ignorant people who have been corrected on a topic which they “know better” about. That the correction might be well-meaning on the part of an educator or artist who is asking nothing of the person they are attempting to enlighten does not matter. Motives, political or otherwise will be invented. The artist will be mistaken (or labelled) as a bringer of polemics. The the instinctive desire to destroy the education is a manifestation of the existential need to maintain the incomprehension.
In all my readings, I cannot think of the term modernism deployed in this way. It represents the hijacking of a word into a unit of mass-destruction with regards to our understanding of ourselves and our place in the world. Stravinsky notes that the word, itself, is neutral:
“In itself, the term modernism implies neither praise nor blame and involves no obligation whatsoever. That is precisely its weakness. The word eludes us, hiding under any application of it one wishes to make. True, it is said that one must live in one’s own time. The advice is superfluous: how could one do otherwise? Even if I wanted to relive the past, the most energetic strivings of my misguided will would be futile.
It follows that everyone has taken advantage of the pliability of this vacuous term by trying to give it form and color. But, again, what do we understand by the term modernism? In the past the term was never used, was even unknown. Yet our predecessors were no more stupid than we are. Was the term a real discovery? We have shown that it was nothing of the sort. Might it not rather be a sign of a decadence in morality and taste? Here I strongly believe we must answer in the affirmative.”
Stravinsky’s first impression (which we read a few paragraphs ago) is now worth repeating: “what an abortive neologism the word modernism is!” Stravinsky may have thought that he had shown that the term was not a discovery. But to those who are only capable of negative inspiration (that which idealizes destruction over creation), it is perhaps the biggest discovery of all time (unwitting as it might be on their part). The “pliability of this vacuous term” also opens up the vacuum to be filled with whatever form and color is desired on the part of anyone wanting to deploy the term as a simple and convenient device of abuse.
Aristotle taught us that we learn through memory and an application of understanding to the poetic object. Everything that is not a part of the natural world is poetic in some sense. Human history and understanding is inextricably linked to what human beings construct. I say this in the purely artistic and poetic sense and not within any philosophical context. I propose to stop my inquiry at the same frontier as Eliot did in Tradition and the Individual Talent when he said that the essay would “halt at the frontier of metaphysics or mysticism, and confine itself to such practical conclusions as can be applied by the responsible person interested in poetry.”
In his 1999 book called How to Read a Poem, the poet Edward Hirsch describes exactly what I’m limiting myself to discussing and what I, as a composer, am limited to doing:
“Poiēsis means “making” and, as the ancient Greeks recognized, the poet is first and foremost a maker. The Greeks saw no contradiction (and I don’t think we should, either) between the truth that poetry is somehow or other inspired and, simultaneously, an art (technē), a craft requiring a blend of talent, training, and long practice. Open the Princeton Encyclopedia of Poetry and Poetics to the entry for “Poesie” and you discover that in the Renaissance the word makers, as in “courtly makers,” was an exact equivalent for poets. The word poem became English in the sixteenth century and it has been with us ever since to designate a form of fabrication, a type of composition, a made thing.”
What I’m taking about is construction; the things we make. That is the essence of all art. This springs from an innate human desire to make something out of that which is without form and void; a desire for order which is inextricably linked to the avoidance of destruction and therefore to our survival instinct itself. It is true that Eliot is talking about traditions and cultures in the following passage but, considering that we don’t have the luxury of living in blessed times and speaking in those advanced terms, I am asking for the following to be considered on the most basic level first.“No poet,” says Eliot, “no artist of any art, has his complete meaning alone. His significance, his appreciation is the appreciation of his relation to the dead poets and artists.”
Nobody makes anything out of a vacuum. The assault here isn’t simply on taste or even just on culture and tradition. The assault which we have been examining throughout this book is an assault on the very principle of creation; of just making something.
“What is modern,” observed Stravinsky, “is what is representative of its own time and what must be in keeping with and within the grasp of its own time.”
Those who are negatively inspired might intend their reveling in vagueness as rooted in something as simple as a desire to be abusive without being implicated as being abusive. That’s perfectly adolescent and may seem harmless and simply irritating at worst.
But let us consider, for a moment, the repercussions. What happens if the practice of self-indulgence happens to strip us of the “grasp of our own time” as part of it’s narcissistically self-assertive process?
Many men are crippled by the influence of this uncertainty. When such a man considers a goal or desire he wants to achieve, the first question in his mind is: “Can I do it?”—not: “What is required to do it?” His question means: “Do I have the innate ability?” For example: “I want to be a composer more than anything else on earth, but I have no idea of how it’s done. Do I have that mysterious gift which will do it for me, somehow?” He has never heard of a premise such as the primacy of consciousness, but that is the premise moving him as he embarks on a hopeless search through the dark labyrinth of his consciousness (hopeless, because without reference to existence, nothing can be learned about one’s consciousness).
A. L. M.
Allah. There is no god but He,-the Living, the Self-Subsisting, Eternal.
It is He Who sent down to thee (step by step), in truth, the Book, confirming what went before it; and He sent down the Law (of Moses) and the Gospel (of Jesus) before this, as a guide to mankind, and He sent down the criterion (of judgment between right and wrong).
“He it is Who has sent down to thee the Book: In it are verses basic or fundamental (of established meaning); they are the foundation of the Book: others are allegorical. But those in whose hearts is perversity follow the part thereof that is allegorical, seeking discord, and searching for its hidden meanings, but no one knows its hidden meanings except Allah. And those who are firmly grounded in knowledge say: “We believe in the Book; the whole of it is from our Lord:” and none will grasp the Message except men of understanding.”
“Abortive” is correct.
4. “Political” “Art”
“I have not here been considering the literary use of language, but merely language as an instrument for expressing and not for concealing or preventing thought… Since you don’t know what Fascism is, how can you struggle against Fascism? One need not swallow such absurdities as this, but one ought to recognize that the present political chaos is connected with the decay of language, and that one can probably bring about some improvement by starting at the verbal end. If you simplify your English, you are freed from the worst follies of orthodoxy. You cannot speak any of the necessary dialects, and when you make a stupid remark its stupidity will be obvious, even to yourself.”
– George Orwell, Politics and the English Language
In his 1998 essay titled “Between Worlds,” Edward Saïd put forward the perspective of a thinker in exile. The idea of leading a life that would now be “culturally removed” and distant from home is not simply seen as problematic. It also presents us with the opportunity to enhance the very subjugation of personality that has informed and ordered so much poetic work across the ages.
Creating a home in the text is especially precarious when there is nothing to turn “back to.” The text, constantly being worked out, is a permanent home. There is no turning back (and nowhere to turn back to) in case the critical experiment fails. If we stop writing, we expose the existence of the charter to the risk of decay and entropy. Abandoning the text altogether is not possible without also abdicating the the very foundations of the home in which we live and, therefore, an essential inception-point that defines our national identity. The demands of crafting a foundational text require that the author(s) employ unimpeachably Universal language to articulate equally universal bedrock principles; principles that would be required to not only be, but remain incontestable as long as the political entity and national identity that the text generates was to remain intact and true. Every creative development to the text (amendments and adjustments; erasures and new chapters etc) would have to maintain the integrity of the new nation’s genesis-point and also be predicated by it. Faltering would mean a loss of a common cultural identity and the loss of a unifying national purpose in a wood of infinite diversity. Considering this, we should forget for a moment our understanding of a pleasant slogan in Latin that enjoins amicable civic relations among Americans and instead understand the words “E Pluribus Unum” as a crucially creative one that moves us away from the chaos of a formless void and into the ordering of the republic. The Declaration of Independence was tasked with articulating the hopes that would need to stay true. It also enunciated forms of tyranny that would be understood as unendurable 21st Century as it was in the 18th, the 5th or any other time in the history of nations and human civilization writ large…
The Declaration or Independence deserves to be scrubbed of the dust and tone that it has acquired. I have heard uncritical repetitions and recitations of the parts of the text as rendered through a rote tone and in unthoughtful venues. Encountering people who are energized with a sufficient level of quiet and patience to engage in a careful and critical engagement with the text is much rarer. This is sure to grate on any text. A concerted attempt should be made at a radical reading of the following passage. Reading these words as one would read an unfamiliar and brand new text for the first time is worth the suspension of disbelief:
“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. — That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed”
One can only imagine how these words registered in 1776.
The Constitution, meanwhile was to be imbued with the task of laying forward an preliminary step in a body of words and deeds. This would require the dutiful attention of redoing and rewriting at the hands of future generations drawn from across the globe; exilic men and women that would join their hands to the exilic men of the Philadelphia Convention.
“We, the people of the United States” were defined and given national structure. This was a genesis moment that clarified us to ourselves as “one people” who had separated from empire to form a new form of government. The document itself, as the first permanent Constitution to come into force, was an act of creation in itself. We, the “one people” were exiles and would continue to be in one form or another to the present day. The urgent task was to sustain an existence of not belonging totally “here” nor totally “there.” The text was the genesis of a state that can easily be seen as the first of it’s type for a long time. Not since the Constitution of Medina were ancient social systems that had slowly developed and become laden with rich tradition and ritual discarded together with many of the origin stories of its authors. With new identities that were born of separation and distance, the people had crafted a nation using a pen; their new home took the form of a text. I once described this historical moment like this:
When people came they said, ‘We don’t belong here, we don’t belong there, and we’re just going to scorch the earth,’ and for better or worse that’s part of the identity of the country.
And if our new nation did not have the erasure of the past as it’s first characteristic, it could safely be said that the United States has already acquired DNA of looking relentlessly and endlessly forward toward self-invention and re-invention.
The document stated it’s scope as enjoining us “to form a more perfect Union” than had previously existed in the “perpetual Union” of the Articles of Confederation. The Founders then told the Americans of the future to “secure the blessings of liberty” for generation after generation of Americans. In a profound labor of time that joined our hands to theirs. In a beautiful salutation, the text demonstrated its transcendence. We had made ourselves a tribe that supplanted the inherited traditions of the old world. This intransigent thing was our creation that we could forge if we joined our pens and hands with the founders who had already labeled us and all future Americans simply and movingly: “our posterity”.
In our charters we can understand the expression of American national identity as articulated through the use of a plural first person: “We the people”; “We hold these truths to be self-evident.” A sensitive reader of our most familiar charters should have no trouble seeing that American identity, far from the self-indulgent expression of ego and excess that define our politics at their worst, American identity involves abdication of the self; a release of excess baggage and backstory; a placement of a larger and longer cause with the narrow and insecure narcissism that bedevils so many Americans today. If we l wv those caricatures behind, we can plainly read a noble call to work in a place where we can make the best of life and leave something behind for the generations to come. “Our posterity.”
In Between Worlds, Saïd outlines the subtle differences between seemingly similar actions and attitudes. By applying a critical eye here, Im hoping to demonstrate how small the distance is between interpretations of words that can make the difference between developing a pessimistic and terrible view of the country and the world on the one hand and seeing things as they are (filled with tremendous opportunity and hope as well as everything else) on the other:
“I am not sure whether to call this perpetual self-invention or a constant restlessness. Either way, I’ve long learned to cherish it. Identity as such is about as boring a subject as one can imagine. Nothing seems less interesting than the narcissistic self-study that today passes in many places for identity politics, or ethnic studies, or affirmations of roots, cultural pride, drum-beating nationalism, and so on. We have to defend peoples and identities threatened with extinction or subordinated because they are considered inferior, but that is very different from aggrandizing a past invented for present reasons.”
“Those of us who are American intellectuals,” continues Saïd, “owe it to our country to fight the coarse anti-intellectualism, bullying, injustice, and provincialism that disfigure its career as the last superpower. It is far more challenging to try to transform oneself into something different than it is to keep insisting on the virtues of being American in the ideological sense.
“Having myself lost a country with no immediate hope of regaining it, I don’t find much comfort in cultivating a new garden, or looking for some other association to join. I learned from Adorno that reconciliation under duress is both cowardly and inauthentic: better a lost cause than a triumphant one, more satis ing a sense of the provisional and contingent-a rented house, for example-than the proprietary solidity of permanent ownership. This is why strolling dandies like Oscar Wilde or Baudelaire seem to me intrinsically more interesting than extollers of settled virtue like Wordsworth or Carlyle.”
Being an “intellectual” is open to all and it is my conviction that everybody should regard intellectual engagement as their human birthright. Throughout this book, we have seen many examples of writers who write in seemingly opaque and complex ways and, once we unraveled their style, we found that the works were entirely devoid of content after all. It is not a good reflection on the writer if he/she seems to be confused in the use of language. I’d like to think that most journalistic arguments that can be made through an appeal to common sense will take that route if possible. I also would like to encourage giving common sense a chance. More complexity of style does not translate into increased sophistication on behalf of the writer. Many readers will know this but I think it bears saying since I’ve observed a tendency in some readers and listeners to instinctively gravitate away from the simple truth when It is plainly spoken in favor of more complex but ultimately vacuous forms. Since I’ve observed this behavior to proceed instinctively, I point it out so as to encourage heightened awareness of it. It bears saying that it will not always be possible to decipher misleading or damaging falsehoods. We have looked at case after case of written work by writers who seem to be genuinely confused about the intent of their work as evidenced by their use of the techniques of literary fiction in essays that should be journalism (and are represented as such); we have also examined writers who truly do believe in the moral authority of their lies as being in service of a “higher cause.” Even if we cannot solve these syndromes, we must admit that it makes it harder to decipher lies when the subject is unaware of the fact that they are engaging in those lies or is simply unaware that the practice is wrong.
When seeking out the arts, I encourage the reader to circumvent counterproductive and potentially destructive middle men. There is a mystique to the word of the arts, journalism and publishing. Before I started to enjoy the career successes that resulted in my earning the dubious pleasure of doing business with many “top” publishers and performing arts institutions, I admit that I had a grander image of who these people were. They’re running the Metropolitan Opera… what could they be up to? And what thing are the “big editors” at the publishing house working on?
It was a bright fantasy. But after I started interacting with them on a regular basis, I am assured that it is safe to assure any of my readers who might be interested that there is no “magic” behind the doors of executives who run the companies that were once far greater than they are today. Some of my audiences have admitted to being relieved that they followed their gut and went out to a concert despite being intimidated by one of my publishers.
My view is to advise readers to bypass the “keepers of culture and information.” Seek us out and come to the concerts. Many artists have also been grossly misrepresented in the media and there is nothing we can do about it. The instinct to give people the benefit of the doubt is natural but my view is that an American public that has been disrespected enough to be overlooked by these industries have every right to treat them as irrelevant. If their press campaigns and posters to their general demeanor seems off putting and unwelcoming, please engage with the dignity that great art and books can bring despite feeling unwelcome by these self-appointed gatekeepers. We artists will be here long after the gatekeeprs are replaced with others like them and we welcome you to our work. It is why we create and why many of us feel lucky to be able to do so in a free society.
Americans who have been deceived by blatantly false journalistic reporting have every right to demand that journalists do the work needed in order to provide the information that we rely on them to deliver. These people should not be engaging in a process where they write unclearly and then blaming others for not understanding their own convoluted verse and do this all while they snobbishly declare themselves to be “elite” is insufferable. My hope is that there are a good number of artists who have enough respect for human beings and for their craft to want to make poetic things for their fellow human beings to use and enjoy. Many of us are still here and are happy to being serving the celebration of thought, humanity and critical sensibility that we all expect to feature into our democracy.
Some see it differently. In 1946, the English novelist George Orwell, worried about the advancement of tyranny, offered his readers an essay called Politics and the English Language. It included the following advice:
But one can often be in doubt about the effect of a word or a phrase, and one needs rules that one can rely on when instinct fails. I think the following rules will cover most cases:
(i) Never use a metaphor, simile or other figure of speech which you are used to seeing in print.
(ii) Never use a long word where a short one will do.
(iii) If it is possible to cut a word out, always cut it out.
(iv) Never use the passive where you can use the active.
(v) Never use a foreign presence hrase, a scientific word or a jargon word if you can think of an everyday English equivalent.
(vi) Break any of these rules sooner than say anything barbarous.
These rules sound elementary, and so they are, but they demand a deep change of attitude in anyone who has grown used to writing in the style now fashionable. One could keep all of them and still write bad English, but one could not write the kind of stuff that I quoted in
these five specimens at the beginning of this article.
I, for one, cannot understand why Orwell would bother writing entire novels for a public whose intelligence clearly doesn’t inspire confidence in him and whose hold on language he is happy to see diminished. In a series of lectures called Representations of the Intellectual, Saïd brings up Orwell’s essay but then takes an illuminating transition:
“Orwell’s concern in that essay written in 1946 was the gradual encroachment on English minds of political demagogues. “Political language,” he says, “—and with variations this is true of all political parties, from Conservatives to Anarchists—is designed to make lies sound truthful and murder respectable, and to give an appearance of solidity to pure wind.”
Orwell seeks set “rules” in order to (it seems) tell people how they should use the English language. Imposing on the use of language is an imposition which cannot allow people to form their own thoughts and their own feelings as individuals. Orwell states that he has considered all things as far as politics is concerned when he says that his statements hold “true of all political parties, from Conservatives to Anarchists.” What is Orwell’s intent and, more precisely, what does he mean to say? What does he mean to do? What does he mean to accomplish? Let us inquire into all of his “meanings.” This attitude cannot simply be ascribed to the time in which Orwell lived. We have seen this attitude in contemporary accounts even as they have the facts to negate their beliefs which are, presumably, at the core of their attitude. What are their beliefs, then?
For many artists, too, the darkest hours cause us to affirm the human spirit more avidly than the best of times. At the end of all our questions into belief, application and meaning is the question about intent. What does Orwell mean to accomplish by telling people how they should speak?
To contend with an “artist” of this nature, let us turn to a critic who is of true definition to his profession. “The problem,” Saïd says, “is both larger and more ordinary than that, however, and can be illustrated by looking briefly at the way language today has of tending to more general, more collective and corporate forms.”
“Take journalism as a case in point. In the United States the bigger the scope and power of a newspaper, the more authoritative its sound, the more closely identified it is with a sense of a community larger than just a group of professional writers and readers. The difference between a tabloid and the New York Times is that the Times aspires (and is generally considered) to be the national newspaper of record, its editorials reflecting not only the opinions of a few men and women but supposedly also the perceived truth of and for the entire nation. In contrast, the tabloid is designed to capture immediate attention through sensational articles and eye-catching typography. Any article in the New York Times carries with it a sober authority, suggesting long research, careful meditation, considered judgment. The editorial use of “we” and “us” refers directly to the editors themselves of course, but simultaneously suggests a national corporate identity, as in “we the people of the United States.” During the Gulf War public discussion of the crisis, especially on television but also in print journalism, assumed the existence of this national “we,” which was repeated by reporters, military personnel, and ordinary citizens alike, such as “when are we going to begin the ground war,” or “have we incurred any casualties”
The form of journalism being currently practiced at the New York Times (such as the practices outlined in the previous chapter) isn’t good for anybody at the best of times. But this is an age when the publication is actively and avidly describing itself as an example of “journalism that stands apart” (https://www.nytimes.com/projects/2020-report/index.html). They abused their copy desk in myriad ways (including stringing them along on the hope of keeping their jobs and referring to the entire desk as “dogs urinating on fire hydrants”) only to then fire them all. The editor in chief of the paper followed that up by playing loose with facts in a direct conversation with an earnest subscriber who was asking if she could offer more money for truthful reporting. She assumed that the publication was struggling even as it capitalized on its cuts and firings eventually reporting an excess of a billion dollars in surplus earnings for the first time in their history. And they bragged about it. There’s nothing wrong with making money (though the bragging about this and other “accomplishments” is somewhat adolescent). The bad part is that the economic boost was made on the backs of duplicity and department-wide firings that were not only handled terribly but have also created a paper that is even more unchecked than before when it comes to lying.
An organization that is congratulating itself on feeling prosperous and powerful isn’t the ideal candidate to be given some impression that they speak on behalf of all Americans and dictate truth and record to the nation. The New York Times is demonstrating that they feel entitled to do things that earlier generations of journalists (especially those from the New York Times of days gone by) could only witness as ethically bankrupt journalism. It is uninspiring to contemplate their use of the “we” linguistic cog (that plural first person: “We the people”; “We hold these truths to be self-evident etc). Needless to say, “we” the army and their commander in chief (not the Times) decides when to begin the ground war. But the New York Times might think they have something to do with it.
Or their own linguistic conceit might have them fooling themselves into thinking that they speak to, and for, all Americans.
The fact that Americans of all walks from the president to the average citizen are reengaging with intellectual activity in many forms is an affirmation of the “normalcy” and continuation of human existence in the face of those prophesies of doom whose words we have been examining. This fact is demonstrated in examples of people talking with one another (in person and virtually) to the presence of public figures sharing their favorite historical facts with people or learning experiential history by visiting World War II Veterans just as this young man has been doing.
These facts are also not of fundamental concern to the matter at hand. They are simply examples which came immediately to mind that serve to oppose the lie at hand. There are many other such examples.
In his 1951 book called Minima Moralia: Reflections on a Damaged Life, the German thinker Theodore Adorno says the following:
“In his text, the writer sets up house. Just as he trundles papers, books, pencils, documents untidily from room to room, he creates the same disorder in his thoughts. They become pieces of furniture that he sinks into, content or irritable. He strokes them affectionately, wears them out, mixes them up, re-arranges, ruins them. For a man who no longer has a homeland, writing becomes a place to live. In it he inevitably produces, as his family once did, refuse and lumber. But now he lacks a store-room, and it is hard in any case to part from left-overs. So he pushes them along in front of him, in danger finally of filling his pages with them. The demand that one harden oneself against self-pity implies the technical necessity to counter any slackening of intellectual tension with the utmost alertness, and to eliminate anything that has begun to encrust the work or to drift along idly, which may at an earlier stage have served, as gossip, to generate the warm atmosphere conducive to growth, but is now left behind, flat and stale. In the end, the writer is not even allowed to live in his writing.”
In his essay titled Between Worlds, Edward Saïd, sums up Adorno’s position. “One achieves at most,” says Saïd, “a provisional satisfaction which is quickly ambushed by doubt and a need to re-write and redo that renders the text uninhabitable.” But then, he immediately adds a thought of his own: “Better that, however, than the sleep of self-satisfaction and the finality of death.”
Langston Hughes is not being “political”:
“It was Hughes’s belief in humanity and his hope for a world in which people could sanely and with understanding live together that led to his decline in popularity in the racially turbulent latter years of his life. Unlike younger and more militant writers, Hughes never lost his conviction that “most people are generally good, in every race and in every country where I have been.” Reviewing The Panther and the Lash: Poems of Our Times in Poetry, Laurence Lieberman recognized that Hughes’s “sensibility [had] kept pace with the times,” but he criticized his lack of a personal political stance. “Regrettably, in different poems, he is fatally prone to sympathize with starkly antithetical politics of race,” Lieberman commented. “A reader can appreciate his catholicity, his tolerance of all the rival—and mutually hostile—views of his outspoken compatriots, from Martin Luther King to Stokely Carmichael, but we are tempted to ask, what are Hughes’ politics? And if he has none, why not? The age demands intellectual commitment from its spokesmen. A poetry whose chief claim on our attention is moral, rather than aesthetic, must take sides politically.’”
Let America be America again.
Let it be the dream it used to be.
Let it be the pioneer on the plain
Seeking a home where he himself is free.
(America never was America to me.)
Let America be the dream the dreamers dreamed—
Let it be that great strong land of love
Where never kings connive nor tyrants scheme
That any man be crushed by one above.
(It never was America to me.)
O, let my land be a land where Liberty
Is crowned with no false patriotic wreath,
But opportunity is real, and life is free,
Equality is in the air we breathe.
(There’s never been equality for me,
Nor freedom in this “homeland of the free.”)
Say, who are you that mumbles in the dark?
And who are you that draws your veil across the stars?
I am the poor white, fooled and pushed apart,
I am the Negro bearing slavery’s scars.
I am the red man driven from the land,
I am the immigrant clutching the hope I seek—
And finding only the same old stupid plan
Of dog eat dog, of mighty crush the weak.
I am the young man, full of strength and hope,
Tangled in that ancient endless chain
Of profit, power, gain, of grab the land!
Of grab the gold! Of grab the ways of satisfying need!
Of work the men! Of take the pay!
Of owning everything for one’s own greed!
I am the farmer, bondsman to the soil.
I am the worker sold to the machine.
I am the Negro, servant to you all.
I am the people, humble, hungry, mean—
Hungry yet today despite the dream.
Beaten yet today—O, Pioneers!
I am the man who never got ahead,
The poorest worker bartered through the years.
Yet I’m the one who dreamt our basic dream
In the Old World while still a serf of kings,
Who dreamt a dream so strong, so brave, so true,
That even yet its mighty daring sings
In every brick and stone, in every furrow turned
That’s made America the land it has become.
O, I’m the man who sailed those early seas
In search of what I meant to be my home—
For I’m the one who left dark Ireland’s shore,
And Poland’s plain, and England’s grassy lea,
And torn from Black Africa’s strand I came
To build a “homeland of the free.”
Who said the free? Not me?
Surely not me? The millions on relief today?
The millions shot down when we strike?
The millions who have nothing for our pay?
For all the dreams we’ve dreamed
And all the songs we’ve sung
And all the hopes we’ve held
And all the flags we’ve hung,
The millions who have nothing for our pay—
Except the dream that’s almost dead today.
O, let America be America again—
The land that never has been yet—
And yet must be—the land where every man is free.
The land that’s mine—the poor man’s, Indian’s, Negro’s, ME—
Who made America,
Whose sweat and blood, whose faith and pain,
Whose hand at the foundry, whose plow in the rain,
Must bring back our mighty dream again.
Sure, call me any ugly name you choose—
The steel of freedom does not stain.
From those who live like leeches on the people’s lives,
We must take back our land again,
I say it plain,
America never was America to me,
And yet I swear this oath—
America will be!
Out of the rack and ruin of our gangster death,
The rape and rot of graft, and stealth, and lies,
We, the people, must redeem
The land, the mines, the plants, the rivers.
The mountains and the endless plain—
All, all the stretch of these great green states—
And make America again!
Robert Frost is being “political”:
“Good politics is a game of clear, unambiguous messages; good poetry, less so. How to make poetry political, then? Take “The Gift Outright,” by Robert Frost, a poem about American history and politics that occupies its own space within them. First published in 1942, the poem is most famous for its appearance at John F. Kennedy’s inauguration in 1961. Frost was the first American poet to read at a presidential swearing-in ceremony, and his inclusion seemed to signal new prestige for poetry itself. Kennedy later called Frost’s work “the deepest source of our national strength.” But Frost didn’t trust “The Gift Outright” to demonstrate that strength. He wrote another—bad—poem to make sure his audience got the point.
The Gift Outright” might not need such help. It already focuses on a key American-exceptionalist myth, the story of settlement. “The land was ours before we were the land’s,” the poem begins, looking “westward” to national fulfillment. When Kennedy accepted the Democratic nomination in July 1960, he invoked the same narrative, describing how “pioneers of old gave up their safety, their comfort and sometimes their lives to build up a new world” before rallying listeners to join him at a “New Frontier—the frontier of the 1960s—a frontier of unknown opportunities and perils—a frontier of unfulfilled hopes and threats.” Frost’s poem seems to ratify Kennedy’s return to Manifest Destiny.
Frost’s poem also undermines it, though. In “The Gift Outright,” “freedom’s story” doubts happy endings. The conclusion exposes parallel uncertainties about “the land”: “such as she was, such as she would become.” Wary of what has been, the line is necessarily wary of what is to be, because any future will rewrite the past. Both include, therefore, the poem’s racist assumption of a white, European, landowning “we” and its racist ignorance of how the same Europeans worked to eradicate Native American culture and perpetuate slavery. The very crudity of Frost’s trundling, plain-spoken, mostly end-stopped lines betrays insecurity rather than confidence about “civilization,” wonder rather than scorn at a supposedly “artless” and “unenhanced” continent. (Marit MacArthur, in her analysis of the poem, is acute on these ambiguities.) Frost’s “vaguely realizing westward” could be hesitant as well as indistinct. It’s not surprising that this poem was probably begun in depression-ridden Key West; MacArthur, citing Robert Faggen and Lawrance Thompson, suggests 1935. “The Gift Outright” doesn’t wholeheartedly believe in national triumph or national progress.”
“Muldoon muses, that the myth of U.S. exceptionalism is now impossible to sustain. It means that the United States can stop trying “to teach the world how to behave” and can start sorting out the consequences of its own behavior.”
It was Longfellow’s Psalm of Life, a poem that I’ve all too often seen derided with that brand of “false piety” that I keep returning to as a companion decade after decade. It has never lost an inkling of it’s truth:
Tell me not, in mournful numbers,
“Life is but an empty dream!”
For the soul is dead that slumbers,
And things are not what they seem.
Life is real! Life is earnest!
And the grave is not its goal;
“Dust thou art, to dust returnest,”
Was not spoken of the soul.
Not enjoyment, and not sorrow,
Is our destined end or way;
But to act, that each to-morrow
Finds us farther than to-day.
Art is long, and Time is fleeting,
And our hearts, though stout and brave,
Still, like muffled drums, are beating
Funeral marches to the grave.
In the world’s broad field of battle,
In the bivouac of Life,
Be not like dumb, driven cattle!
Be a hero in the strife!
Trust no Future, howe’er pleasant!
Let the dead Past bury its dead!
Act,–act in the living Present!
Heart within, and God o’erhead!
Lives of great men all remind us
We can make our lives sublime,
And, departing, leave behind us
Footprints on the sands of time;
Footprints, that perhaps another,
Sailing o’er life’s solemn main,
A forlorn and shipwrecked brother,
Seeing, shall take heart again.
Let us, then, be up and doing,
With a heart for any fate;
Still achieving, still pursuing
Learn to labor and to wait.
The Gift Outright
BY ROBERT FROST
The land was ours before we were the land’s.
She was our land more than a hundred years
Before we were her people. She was ours
In Massachusetts, in Virginia,
But we were England’s, still colonials,
Possessing what we still were unpossessed by,
Possessed by what we now no more possessed.
Something we were withholding made us weak
Until we found out that it was ourselves
We were withholding from our land of living,
And forthwith found salvation in surrender.
Such as we were we gave ourselves outright
(The deed of gift was many deeds of war)
To the land vaguely realizing westward,
But still unstoried, artless, unenhanced,
Such as she was, such as she would become.
“If art is to nourish the roots of our culture, society must set the artist free to follow his vision wherever it takes him. We must never forget that art is not a form of propaganda; it is a form of truth… In free society art is not a weapon and it does not belong to the spheres of polemic and ideology. Artists are not engineers of the soul. It may be different elsewhere. But democratic society — in it, the highest duty of the writer, the composer, the artist is to remain true to himself and to let the chips fall where they may. In serving his vision of the truth, the artist best serves his nation. And the nation which disdains the mission of art invites the fate of Robert Frost’s hired man, the fate of having ‘nothing to look backward to with pride, and nothing to look forward to with hope.”
“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 great artist is thus a solitary figure. He has, as Frost said, a lover’s quarrel with the world. In pursuing his perceptions of reality, he must often sail against the currents of his time. This is not a popular role. 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.”
“He brought an unsparing instinct for reality to bear on the platitudes and pieties of society. His sense of the human tragedy fortified him against self-deception and easy consolation. “I have been” he wrote, “one acquainted with the night.” And because he knew the midnight as well as the high noon, because he understood the ordeal as well as the triumph of the human spirit, he gave his age strength with which to overcome despair. At bottom, he held a deep faith in the spirit of man, and it is hardly an accident that Robert Frost coupled poetry and power, for he saw poetry as the means of saving power from itself. When power leads men towards arrogance, poetry reminds him of his limitations. When power narrows the areas of man’s concern, poetry reminds him of the richness and diversity of his existence. When power corrupts, poetry cleanses. For art establishes the basic human truth which must serve as the touchstone of our judgment.”
“213. Mankind was one single nation, and Allah sent Messengers with glad tidings and warnings; and with them He sent the Book in truth, to judge between people in matters wherein they differed; but the People of the Book, after the clear Signs came to them, did not differ among themselves, except through selfish contumacy. Allah by His Grace Guided the believers to the Truth, concerning that wherein they differed. For Allah guided whom He will to a path that is straight.”
Thou shall not kill
Love thy neighbor
One human life is equal to all human lives
5. Killing Time
“We have the pluribus.”
— Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, Clarence Thomas
Critic and Poet
Emma Lazarus, 1849 – 1887
No man had ever heard a nightingale,
When once a keen-eyed naturalist was stirred
To study and define—what is a bird,
To classify by rote and book, nor fail
To mark its structure and to note the scale
Whereon its song might possibly be heard.
Thus far, no farther;—so he spake the word.
When of a sudden,—hark, the nightingale!
Oh deeper, higher than he could divine
That all-unearthly, untaught strain! He saw
The plain, brown warbler, unabashed. “Not mine”
(He cried) “the error of this fatal flaw.
No bird is this, it soars beyond my line,
Were it a bird, ‘twould answer to my law.”
In 2014, I obtained Edward Hirsch’s book titled The Poet’s Glossary. While leafing through the definitions and maxims which Hirsh had compiled, I encountered a passage that quoted Cornel West. In this passage, West described the Negro Spirituals in the following terms:
“The spirituals of American slaves of African descent constitute the first expression of American modern music. How ironic that a people on the dark side of modernity—dishonored, devalued and dehumanized by the practices of modern Europeans and Americans—created the fundamental music of American modernity.”
Being a composer, I found the passage in need of a definition that was not immediately apparent to me. I had studied about the diversity contained in the spirituals of the Southern uplands, Shaker songs and dances, and Mormon lore, as well as regional styles of story-telling, singing, square-dancing, square-dance calling, and folk arts and crafts. With the recent revival of interest in American folk-ways and regions, scholarly and popular attention has been focused on the lore of such colorful subregions as the Maine coast, the White and Green Mountains, Cape Cod, the Catskills, the Allegheny, Cumberland, blue Ridge, Great Smoky, and Ozark Mountains, Florida, the Gulf Coast, the Mississippi Delta, the Bayous of Louisiana, the Great Lakes, the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, the Rockies, and the various Southwest and Northwest areas. This knowledge is essential to my practice as a modern person who must operate with knowledge of what preceded me. Any creation I’ve ever done (any human being making anything) is dependent on knowledge of what was made before me.
The Negro Spirituals are part of a national culture. In order to fully feel the meaning of this, I would like to make distinctions which may seem obvious to the reader. The exercise which follows is a way of working out subtle discrepancies that are exploited (conciously and unconsciously) and which must be clarified. These discrepancies lie in the fine lines which clearly separate the following words: art, history, culture, tradition and heritage.
American History: Harriett Tubman, Martin Luther King, Booker T Washington, Langston Hughes, George Washington Carver, Malcolm X, William Grant Still, Countee Cullen, Thomas Jefferson, George Washington, Alexander Hamilton, Aaron Copland, Leonard Bernstein, Edward Hopper, T. S. Eliot, Robert Frost
American Culture: Negro Spirituals, Spirituals of the Southern uplands, Shaker songs and dances, and Mormon lore, as well as regional styles of story-telling, singing, square-dancing, square-dance calling and the Book of the Sacred Harp
American Regions (with distinct Cultural traditions): American folk-ways and regions, scholarly and popular attention has been focused on the lore of such colorful subregions as the Maine coast, the White and Green Mountains, Cape Cod, the Catskills, the Allegheny, Cumberland, blue Ridge, Great Smoky, and Ozark Mountains, Florida, the Gulf Coast, the Mississippi Delta, the Bayous of Louisiana, the Great Lakes, the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, the Rockies, and the various Southwest and Northwest areas.
What struck me is how West had excluded all the threads of culture (mentioned above) in his articulation of a tradition that he identified with his own self. I understood the context within which I should read Dr. West’s words. general idea of West’s personal approach I knew that he was a self-proclaimed “prophet” (or more) and that his involvement in music began with a 2001 album was titled “Sketches of My Culture.” But even then, I thought, he must see that the Spirituals fit so naturally into an American culture populated by the presence of godly dissent in pursuit of universal and eternal justice.”
For the uninitiated reader, here is an excerpt from a profile of Dr. West which appeared in New York Magazine :
West has said that his Christian beliefs form the most fundamental part of who he is. Earlier, I asked him which of Jesus’ disciples he most emulates. “Disciples?” he responded in a soft voice. “None of them, really. Nah. ’Cause I want to be like Jesus, I don’t want to be like those disciples.”
That’s what drives the public to resonate with Martin Luther King as he describes the presence of self-evident and absolute justice:
But I’m here to say to you this morning that some things are right and some things are wrong. (Yes) Eternally so, absolutely so. It’s wrong to hate. (Yes, That’s right) It always has been wrong and it always will be wrong. (Amen) It’s wrong in America, it’s wrong in Germany, it’s wrong in Russia, it’s wrong in China. (Lord help him) It was wrong in 2000 B.C., and it’s wrong in 1954 A.D. It always has been wrong, (That’s right) and it always will be wrong. (That’s right) It’s wrong to throw our lives away in riotous living. (Yeah) No matter if everybody in Detroit is doing it, it’s wrong. (Yes) It always will be wrong, and it always has been wrong. It’s wrong in every age and it’s wrong in every nation. Some things are right and some things are wrong, no matter if everybody is doing the contrary. Some things in this universe are absolute. The God of the universe has made it so. And so long as we adopt this relative attitude toward right and wrong, we’re revolting against the very laws of God himself. (Amen)
This isn’t about morality. Its part of the very fabric of the United States’ identity as a nation. The nation as a body-politic, after all, was built on a text and cab only sustain itself if the self-evident truths that were enunciated at the inception are able to prove themselves capable of remaining true regardless of geography or time. That’s where culture comes in.
No matter how self-absorbed, I thought, Dr West could not seriously be stripping the Spirituals of their part in this national journey that made “eternal justice” secular. He’d be stripping his own nation (one which I also happen to belong to) of it’s identity. History is a continuum. Fracturing a part of it is tantamount to fracturing the whole. universality for the simple application of something that he identified with himself (my culture) into something that is clearly much bigger than any single person. Morality aside, this issue at hand is one of self-evident truths.
The most prosaic definition of the “Spiritual” I’ve read is from A Poet’s Glossary. Here it is:
“Sacred songs. The word spiritual, applied to religious songs, was initially used to distinguish “godly” songs from secular or “profane” ones. The spiritual developed from the folk hymns of dissenters in America. It generally refers to two closely connected bodies of music: white spirituals and African American spirituals. It was around the time of the Great Revival (1800) that spiritual became the name for revival hymns or camp-meeting songs.”
The Standard Dictionary of Folklore, Mythology and Legend (1972) puts the Spirituals into context too: In the progression from the comic demigods and roughnecks of the Paul Bnnyan-Davy Crockctt-Mike Pink breed to the heroes of endurance and duty— Johnny Applcsecd. John Henry, Casey Jones, and Joe Mngarac—one notes a heightened sense of social responsibility and mission. A similar development of social consciousness results in the sharpened criticism and protest or campaign and revival songs, coal miners’ songs of disasters and strikes, wobbly and union songs, and Negro spirituals and freedom songs.
The dictionary notes that “its special application to Negro religious song is of fairly recent date as a catch-all term for the ‘hallies,’ shouts, jubilees, carols, gospel songs, and hymns for regular services, prayer meetings, watches, and ‘rock’ services.”
In The Poets Glossary, Edward Hirsch offers some additional context:
“White spirituals began with the doleful psalm-singing of the Puritans. The tradition was later enlivened by many splinter sects of Baptists and Methodists, who added marching and dancing rhythms, ballad tunes, and simple colorful lines suitable to frontier camp meetings. The Holiness Revival, which started around 1890 and still continues, added jazzy, syncopated rhythms. The songs are accompanied by instruments, such as the banjo and the guitar, once considered profane.
African American spirituals developed as the music of American slaves of African descent. They are formally an example of Afro-American hybridity, spiritually the substance of African American Christianity. They tell a story of suffering, endurance, and triumph, history and eternity. They seek absolute or ultimate justice. They use biblical stories to express the longing for delivery out of slavery:
Go down Moses,
Way down in Egypt land,
Tell ole Pharoah,
To let my people go.”
Here I should add that it was after the Civil war that African American spirituals were anthologized. A collection titled Slave Songs of the United States was made by William F. Allen, Charles P. Ware, and Lucy McKim Garrison in 1867. It included some of the spirituals that are still best known, such as “Old ship of Zion,” “Lay this body down,” “Michael, row the boat ashore,” and “We will march through the valley.” It was this volume that the British composer Michael Tippet drew from as he began to sketch out the architecture of his oratorio, A Child of Our Time (1941).
The Spirituals capture something that cannot be rendered every day or commonplace. They employ Biblical poetics precisely because, as The Poets Glossary tells us, they “tell a story of suffering, endurance, and triumph, history and eternity.” Their intention is to “to seek absolute or ultimate justice.”
In this context, the drive to claim a monopoly over something so evidently universal seems like a guaranteed invitation of hubris. Why do it? To guess at an answer, we should turn back to this passage in The Standard Dictionary of Folklore:
As the folklore of a new, young, and big country, mirroring the rapid changes from rural and agricultural to urban and industrial society, American folklore is a mixture not only of the lore of peoples from all lands and all parts of the country, but of oral and written tradition, of the sophisticated and the primitive, the very new and the very old, the antisocial and the social. In such a country men become heroes within their own lifetime and living story-tellers may encompass within their memories the whole cycle of development of their community and region. And if the genius of this lore has been for realistic anecdote, extravagant yam, and comic hero legend rather than for sacred hero tale, other worldly myth, and fairy tale, the reason is simple. Americans, like people the world over, sing, yarn, jest, brag, create heroes, and “whistle in the dark,” not only about universal themes and motives and in age-old patterns, but also about the experiences that are closest to them and interest them most.
The bit of editorializing that this dictionary article allows itself is understandable. Traditions of folklore abound in every tradition that recreate the lovable fool as folk hero everyman relatable to all (Don Quixote and Juha come immediately to mind). But these “opera buffa” characters remain distinct from their “opera seria” counterparts. America, through the very nature of it’s exilic, text-based foundation allowed a culture that adapted the freewheeling interrelationship of the high tragedy to intermingle with the pedestrian (musical comedy; the comic book etc) into new artform. Let us read Emma Lazarus’ poem, The New Colossus with fresh eyes:
Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame,
With conquering limbs astride from land to land;
Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand
A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame
Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name
Mother of Exiles. From her beacon-hand
Glows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes command
The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame.
“Keep, ancient lands, your storied pomp!” cries she
With silent lips. “Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”
The three words that now strike me are the description of a “new colossus” not simply as being unlike the “brazen giant of Greek fame but as a “mother of exiles.” The Statue of Libery was read by a poet deliberately contrasting the known poetic implications of a “generative woman” rather than the conquering male trope of the Greek Colossus. Shakespeare renders the Colossus as larger than men could ever hope to be in his description of Ceaser (I,ii,136–38):
Why man, he doth bestride the narrow world
Like a Colossus, and we petty men
Walk under his huge legs and peep about
To find ourselves dishonourable graves
Emma Lazarus effectively proclaims “Ceaser is dead; Long live man.” The subject of Lazarus’ “liberty” is the statue of a woman. This is a worldly version of the lone female voice with which Aaron Copland began his choral setting of genesis (recalled in the first lesson). But she is also a maternal symbol.
The Statue of Liberty is a “giver of life,” but this description cannot be understood in a purely literal sense. The statue symbolizes the recreation of a human being and, more specifically, a recreation of the self in one’s own image. The spirit of the statue is as a metaphorical “giver of new life” because it is emblematic of a place where a brand new identity could be added to one’s present identity. The statue is synonymous with a place of entry (in this case Ellis Island). This was a place where a new name could be assumed and a new life could be started. Above all, it marked a physical passage to a new life in a new land.
Through the articulation of the concept of liberty as well as the aspiration to it, Emma Lazarus projects an additional (and crucial) meaning onto the statue by casting it as a “mother of exiles.” This meaning was not one which Lazarus understood alone; indeed it’s collective appreciation of this meaning is why the words of Lazarus’ sonnet are attached to the statue.
The men and women who were adopted as such were given the opportunity to reinvent themselves and commence a new life from a blank slate of sorts. The life in question would be full of the promise that comes with liberating oneself from the burdens of the past and the tyrannical strictures of the “old country.” The exilic person, once bound by the history and tradition of the “old country” was able to release the burden of that history (“Keep, ancient lands, your storied pomp!” cries she/With silent lips).
Traditions could (and would) now be invented, reinvented and synthesized. The city of Manhattan, which lay immediately ahead of these new arrivals was built on a grid and that grid could (and would) be filled with anything and everything that could be imagined and built. The streets and avenues of this metropolis were given numbers rather than names. The placement of these numbered avenues and streets on a grid allowed everyone to navigate their new home with ease no matter what their mother tongue happened to be. English was, and remains, the de facto official language of the United States but the nation maintains no official language. The tongues spoken in New York were many and the newspapers published in New York reflected this. Over the decades, New York City’s love affair with the sky would flourish and eventually be crowed by the two towers which were the tallest in the world.
By the time Emma Lazarus passed away at the age of 38, she had composed a body of work that would place her among the most esteemed poets we have. The New Colossus was attached to the Statue of Liberty in 1903. In that year 600,000 people came through Ellis Island. A few years later, in 1907, one million people were welcomed as children of this mother of exiles.
The Statue of Liberty is a sculpture that is meant to personify a subject (liberty) rather than a specific object like a person, animal, city, building, plant, tree or any other form (either fictional or real). When one sees the familiar statue of “Justice” rendered as a blindfolded woman holding scales in one hand and a sword in the other, the “thing” being represented is the subject of justice. The statue takes the form of a woman but the woman is not based on a real or imaginary woman. It is the representation of a subject (justice) through the representation of the figure and form of a woman that we are appreciating here. The figure or form of the woman is created by the sculptor in order to represent an embodiment of justice, which is an abstract idea rather than an object in itself.
Let us look at another approach to the intermingling of the subject and the object. Here is a 1914 statue called “Transportation” (it is also known as the “Glory of Commerce”). The sculpture is one of my favorite features and sits just above the central clock at Grand Central Terminal in New York:
Here, the figures represented are “real” objects from Roman mythology. On the left is the figure of Hercules who represents sheer physical strength. On the right is Minerva, the goddess of craft, strategy,
the arts and the protectress of cities. Mercury, the winged messenger is at the center of the triad. Taken together, the representation of strength (Hercules), speed (Mercury), and strategy (Minerva) represent the subject of of “Transportation” in a different and illuminating way than, say, the sculptor would have attained had he opted instead for the representation of a train. Hercules, Minerva and Mercury are all objects. They exist as embodiments of real things (some of which, like “strategy” may be abstract subjects). But they also exist as characters in stories and as sculptures and as recognizable objects. To the extent that they are deified, they are gods which are the subject of ritual and sacrifice and gods that act in ways that are recognizable and, to a great extent, human. They are limited, personified and objectified rather than an unfathomable and unified Being that transcends infinity and human definition as well as time and space (as the beginning and end, everything and nothing).
Hercules, Minerva and Mercury are objects which were made concrete and recognizable at their inception and have been made concrete in works that are as diverse as the depiction of Hercules in an animated motion picture (Disney) and the tempo-oriented musical representation of Mercury the Winged Messenger from Gustav Holst’s orchestral suite titled The Planets. In the present sculpture, Transportation, these objects are represented as individual components of the sculpture. The objects cannot be appreciated piecemeal, however, if we are to appreciate the specific sculpture at hand because of the fact that they are represented together as a triad in the present sculpture. They are also placed into a new context (that of Grand Central Terminal) and designed specifically in order to represent (as an entire sculpture) the subject of “transportation.” And so we see the easy interplay of subject and object.
Let us now return to the Statue of Liberty. At it’s surface, it would seem to be a straightforward case of an object (the figure of a woman) representing a subject. Just as the same object (the figure of a woman) is used to represent the subject of justice in the blindfolded, scale and sword-bearing examples, the object is here used to represent a subject: liberty.
The title of Lazarus’ poem, The New Colossus evokes multiple statues which share many attributes in common. Among these attributes is the colossal nature of the colossus, the imposing size and mass of them, the fact that they depicted objective gods and rulers who were considered divinely appointed. Another attribute they share in common is that these statues, through their size and density were meant to be the definition of immovability and permanence. On the last count, the statues have fared badly. The Colossi of Memnon (two stone statues of the Pharaoh Amenhotep III) stand on the edge of the Nile floodplain and have been eaten away by successive inundations of water. The Colossus of Nero was recorded to have been destroyed in the sack of Rome in the 4th Century. The Colossus of Rhodes (a representation of the God Helios) was meant to be a commanding figure over land and sea. It’s original Greek dedication is as follows:
“To you, O Sun, the people of Dorian Rhodes set up this bronze statue reaching to Olympus, when they had pacified the waves of war and crowned their city with the spoils taken from the enemy. Not only over the seas but also on land did they kindle the lovely torch of freedom and independence. For to the descendants of Herakles belongs dominion over sea and land.”
The Colossus of Rhodes collapsed in an earthquake after having stood for only a few decades. It was depicted in artwork which had it measuring some 33 metres (or 108 feet) high which is the approximate height of the Statue of Liberty from feet to crown. This would also mean that The Colossus of Rhodes was tallest statue of the ancient world.
A look at the two statues makes it clear the female embodiment of liberty is shorter than the colossus of Rhodes (which was meant, the reader will recall, to symbolize the sun god). The highest point on the ancient statue, however, is the crown which deifies him and places a symbol of status upon the wearer if he is a mortal man rendered into a ruling demi-god. The statue at Rhodes also holds a scepter; not so much a tool as a symbol of rule over others. The highest point on the Statue of Liberty, however, is functional. She bears a torch which she holds up as well as a tablet which bears the date of the adoption of the Declaration of Independence (in which the founders of the United States held the truths of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness to be self-evident).
The original name of the statue, “Liberty Enlightening the World,” makes it clear that the sculpture was meant to not simply personify a concept as a state of being. This is captured in Lazarus’ poem with the “mighty woman” about to unleash lightning upon the world:
“A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame
Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name
Mother of Exiles.”
At once, the statue unleashes the imprisoned lighting upon her new children in a secular baptism that welcomes them to a new life and a new world. The following line of the poem is another action (they are not mutually exclusive) that exists as a testament to the universality of the truth for which the Statue represents:
From her beacon-hand
Glows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes command
Thus the two actions (of Liberty Enlightening the World and Liberty who baptizes the exilic ones with her flame) are not mutually exclusive. They go hand-in-hand if one understands the subject of liberty to be the universal and self-evident truth that it is.
The Statue of Liberty, therefore, is different from “Justice” in that it represents not only a subject but a subject engaged in an action. The statue is, by nature, static and yet it holds up the torch actively. It is “Liberty Enlightening the World” and a “Mother of Exiles” who, from her beacon-hand/ Glows world-wide welcome.” The statue of Liberty is a representation of the subject of liberty but also the representation of actions. It is in constant “motion.”
The periodic motion of the quartz inside the clock allows for the periodic rotation of clock’s arms in a regular timely way. An oscillation is defined as the back and forth motion of a vibrating object. A wave is the transfer of energy of an oscillation without transfer of matter. In this way, the periodic rotational motion of the propeller of a ship is transformed into the horizontal motion of the boat itself. Water is denser than air and, so, as long as the boat in question contained more air than those solids or liquids which are heavier than air, it would maintain the density that would allow it to float. We can apply the same principle to the propellor (or engine) of an airplane and, by substituting the weight of water for that of air as well as applying the correct amount of speed (velocity), we are finally airborne.
Heartbeat, breathing, daily habits, eyes blinking, bouncing ball, a diving board or the pendulum on a clock as well as a car engine or the wheels of a car, the motion of electrons as well as the motion of celestial objects, any sound which emanates from a musical instrument, a single part of a musical instrument (such as the piano string we set into motion in Lesson 2)
Before the 19th Century, trans-Atlantic journeys were made in sailboats. The journeys took weeks if not months and were perilous. By 1900, the journey across the North Atlantic took a mere week. One may examine the records of ships crossing the ocean to see the trend neatly demonstrated. The Caronia, as an example, left Queenstown in Ireland on the 3rd of August 1913 and disembarked its passengers in New York on August 10th, 1913. In the same year, the Oceanic left Queenstown on November 20th and arrived at New York Harbor on 27 November.
One hundred years later, the journey could be made by air in less than six hours.
The rite of passage through Ellis Island was one from which there was no return for the Immigrants of the late 19th and early 20th Century. For those who came before that, from the pilgrims who fled persecution to the serfs and slaves brought as cargo from African and European shores, the distance was real. was The “new world” and the “old world” were really two separate worlds.
The invention of the airplane had imposed on that space of escape, refuge and utopia to what the Puritans once called “The New Jerusalem.” It also presented a new generation of Americans with the opportunity to build a testament to (and test of) the universality of the principles and enterprise which had made America succeed for centuries. The result were the world Trade Center Towers. The terrorists who destroyed the towers had an instinct for terrorizing.
- By using the airplane as the method of destruction, they were preying on the insecurity at the heart of what the airplane accomplished. The airplane represented the very real coming together of the “old world” and the “new world” into one incontestable world. By this I mean, a world which the average man could navigate in a very real way by going from one place to another in less than 24 hours no matter where that may be on the globe.
- By using the instruments of mass-media they were preying on the secular universality (that mirrored the sacred universality of Islam) which led the Puritans to describe America in terms of The New Jerusalem and the Shakers to write their hymns and the Negro Spirituals to take the Biblical narrative of liberation as their line of history and reality. The attacks would not have been planned as such had it not been possible to broadcast the images from New York live and record them for all to see; there are easier ways to kill people. The attacks were meant to be “cinematic” in nature. By manufacturing that which looked metaphysical and unreal they were framing their attack as a televised “work of art” which they intended in order to communicate a their own version of an “artistic” statement (an anti-poetic one accomplished through the destruction rather than the construction of objects). This statement was as follows: the metaphysical representations of self-evident truths and absolute, eternal justice are under attack. You must now engage us in the same “metaphysical” realm. This leads to endless war, exhaustion, the abandonment of principles and, of course, distracts the target of the attack from bringing secular outlaws to justice in the secular world as the criminals that they are . The incentive to invite a fight in the “metaphysical” realm lies behind the reasoning of the same terrorists when they decided to attack the Grand Mosque in Mecca in 1979.
The World Trade Center, were the tallest buildings in the world at the time. They stood as a testament to this universal embrace and universal enlightenment. They were also surrounded by prophets of doom who decried their construction from it’s inception. The towers were, nevertheless, built and then they even began to thrive. It’s architect, Minoru Yamasaki, expressed the essence of his buildings (as the extension of The Statue of Liberty’s torchbearing hand) as follows:
“World trade means world peace” he said. “The World Trade Center buildings in New York had a bigger purpose than just to provide room for tenants. The World Trade Center is a living symbol of man’s dedication to world peace.…The World Trade Center should, because of its importance, become a representation of man’s belief in humanity, his need for individual dignity, his beliefs in the cooperation of men, and through cooperation, his ability to find greatness.”
The very same principles of liberty, diversity and self-determination can be found to have their closest enunciation in the Quran. This is not a coincidence. There are those who despise and resent the very nature of construction itself. There are people for whom the demonstration of “man’s dedication to world peace” is anathema to their existence as destroyers and purveyors of insecurity and chaos. To those people, insecurity, chaos and confusion are the essential things that maintain people’s dependence on them. Their very relevance and contribution is determined by despair. “The cooperation of man” and “mans ability to find greatness” are the instinctual targets of those prophets of doom who cannot attain greatness for themselves and who wish to keep others from doing the same.
Prince Saud Al-Faisal, who served as Foreign Minister of Saudi Arabia for four decades before his death in 2015, did not just present a contradiction in the very definition of a “clash of civilizations.” He also said the following:
“There is no argument between us either regarding the universality of the values of liberty, equality, and fraternity, or the Jeffersonian democratic ideals or the Wilsonian principle of self-determination. Our own Arab and Islamic heritage incorporates most of these values. And, considering our myriad differences, this unity of vision is quite extraordinary… these principles are far more powerful in their sublime inspiration than any weapons of war in inflicting fear and intimidation. By returning to these values you can win the hearts and minds of the Arab and Muslim peoples.”
Those values that are enunciated through the divine inspiration in the Qu’ran and the self-evident truths enunciated by America’s founders though “sublime inspiration” present a unity of vision to anybody who observes the two in anything resembling a detached and objective fashion.
The creation of a schism is not possible without a fundamental unity of vision first existing to begin with.
When speaking of diversity, Stravinsky offered the following observation:
“Let librettos and texts be published in translation, let synopses and arguments of plots be distributed in advance, let imaginations be appealed to, but do not change the sound and the stress of the words that have been composed to precisely certain music at precisely certain places.
The presentation of works in their original language is a sign of rich culture in my opinion. And, musically speaking, Babel is a blessing.”
The project of building a tower to pierce the heavens fails in it’s early iteration (Genesis) because all men speak one tongue and therefore are attempting something universal with only local knowledge at hand. The same enterprise is given an endorsement in the Quran because of a plan of motion set forward in Genesis (“be fruitful and multiply and replenish the earth an subdue it) and a set of revelations which have come to all of humanity one step at a time.
By the time humanity has explored all corners of the world, learned the multiplicity of tongues and adapted to all environments, we have learned a lot more about the world around us and what it has to offer us in terms of enlightenment and experience. Taking into account the cumulative anthology of learning and experience gathered together by the human race, the limitlessness is made explicitly clear in the Quran which says:
“You people! We have created you from a male and a female, and made you into communities and tribes, that you might get to know one another. The noblest of you in God’s sight is he who fears Him. God is all-knowing and conversant with all.”
“And each (nation and individual human being) hath a goal toward which he turneth; so vie with one another (strive in good works. Wheresoever ye may be, Allah will bring you all together. Lo! Allah is Able to do all things.
Dispelling of the dangerous and useless lie which would have “Islam” and “the West” engage in a “clash of civilizations” would lead to the demise of those who promote destruction and also to a demise of their attitudes of doom. But that’s not all such a unity would accomplish. One can only imagine what would result from an acknowledgment of reality and a unity of vision among those who share fundamental values life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.
301 ANGLE ON ROSE, at the railing of the Carpathia, 9pm April 18th. She gazes up at the Statue of Liberty, looking just as it does today, welcoming her home with her glowing torch. It is just as Fabrizio saw it, so clearly, i n his mind.
302 LATER CARPATHIA DISCORGES THE SURVIVORS at the Cunard pier, Pier 54. Over 30,000 people line the dock and fill the surrounding streets. The magnesium flashes of the photographers go off like small bombs, lighting an amazing tableau.
Several hundred police keep the mob back. The dock is packes with friends and reletives, officials, ambulances, and the press –
Reporters and photographers swarm everywhere… 6 deep at the foot of the gangways, lining the tops of cars and trucks… it is the 1912 equivalent of a media circus. They jostle to get close to the survivors, tugging on them as they pass and shouting over each other to ask them questions.
Rose is covered with a whoollen shawl and walking with a group of steerage passengers. Immigration office rs are asking them questions as they come off the gangway.
Dawson. Rose Dawson.
The officer steers her toward a holding area for processing. Rose walks forward with the dazed immigrants. The BOOM! of photographer’s magnesium flashes cause them to flinch, and the glare is blinding. There is a sudden disturbance near her as two men burst through the cordon, running to embrace an older woman along the survivors, who cries out with joy. The reporters converge on this emotional scene, and flashes explode.
Rose uses this moment to slip away into the crowd. She pushes through the jostling people, moving with purpose, and none challenges her in the confusion.OLD ROSE (V.O.)
Can you exchange one life for another? A caterpillar turns in to a butterfly. If a mindless insect can do it, why couldn’t I? Was it any more unimaginable than the sinking of the Titanic?
TRACKING WITH HER as she walks away, further and further until she flashes and the roar are far behind her, and shi is till walkin g, determined.
303 INT. IMAGING SHACK / KELDYSH
Old Rose sits with the group in the Imaging Shack, lit by the blue glow of the screens. She holds the haircomb with the jade butterfly on the handle in her gnarled hands.
We never found anything on Jack. There’s no record of him at all.
No, there wouldn’t be, would there? And I’ve never spoken of him until now, not to anyone.
Not even your grandfather. A woman’s heart is a deep ocean of secrets. But now you all know there was a man named Jack Dawson, and that he saved me, in every way that a person can be saved.
(closing her eyes)
I don’t even have a picture of him. He exists now only in my memory.