Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Adams Reads Adorno

There are a lot of things that I like about Frankfurt School Marxism (yes, most of you, feel free, stop reading now...), not least of which is the overall model of reading that I pull out of their school in general--which to me relates directly to Walter Benjamin's sense of "poeticization"--bearing, of course, rather direct implications on my own life insofar as I tend to subscribe to a notion of poetry-as-experience/experience-as-poetry (with the important distinction to make between reportage (e.g. Frank O'Hara, the confessionalists, the New Sincerity, et al.)--"bad"--and witness (e.g. Celan, Oppen, Plath, Creeley, etc.))--"good"--which hinges, in many ways, on one's entire network of representations being simultaneously poeticizations (though one might wind up babbling in a tower or negating ones buoyancy as a result)--poeticizing being the process of making-the-thing-into-its-own-lyricisation (the visual metaphor I've been using with my friends, recently, for this, is expressing the world-of-things-and-actions as a horizontal plane, and imagining the lyric moment as a vertical interruption of that plane, a vanishing moment where the horizontal plane is perforated, emptying into a caesura. The (lyric) poem itself, while created and existing horizontally, acts as a kind of negative hologram that encodes the void, which is enacted, if only for that vanishing instant, in the reading (you might note here that "meaning" becomes little more than a scaffold for experience)): in taking the most useful (sticking by use-value, here) aspects of Freud and Marx (reading them both as explicators of Hegel), beyond just making this excellent synthesis, they also provide a model for synthesizing, which, counter to so many other strains of 20th/21st century schools of thought, is comfortable rejecting claims of influences, and has no particular use for acolytes, sycophants, or hero-worship.

Which is all there to lead me to saying: as much as his music isn't my cup of tea, John Adams's blog is kind of interesting. Not super great, but you know, for a composer who writes the music that he writes, he seems to be reading some interesting stuff. Specifically what caught my eye was his discussion of Flaubert reading chapters-in-progress out loud to his friends to see how their (the sentences) composition was coming. Adams puts this in the context of recommending practices to the "young composer," but it shouldn't be surprising that reading out loud was a core practice for a writer. I personally (and if Flaubert and I do it, then it must go as a total generalization) read out loud, if not to others, than to myself, pretty much everything that I write (poems and papers), often multiple times. Some poets that I love--Gerard Manley Hopkins being the most case-in-pointy here--I can barely understand if I don't read them outloud (to myself, or others). (In fact, the thing (one of the thing's) that's wrong with my blogposts (or at least paragraphs like these ones) is that I don't read them out loud to myself.)

This all has to do with composing music at the computer (Adams, as I recall from an anecdote of Jack's, is a copy-paster if there ever was one); if you have the instant gratification of listening your music-in-progress in instant playback, you're lowering the odds of ever actually developing the ability to hear internally what you are doing. Which is analogous in some ways to writing poems at a computer (an activity which I try to avoid); typing up words, copy-pasting, deleting, its all too easy at a word processor. Much in the same way that devices have made it to easy to hear music, they've made it too easy to produce it as well. Which, again, isn't to just be an unsubtle anti-technologist, but rather to point out that these technologies need to be considered (consider your light-switches (turn your lights off more often)!) as they're engaged (I'm reminded here of the usually-untouchable David Byrne's PowerPoint art, which is popularly considered to be less-awesome then everything else he's done (this is just my report of the zeitgeist; I've only seen a few stills from the works)). The core process (poeticization, or lyricization) of composing or writing isn't really changing, it's just their mediation that's shifting, and the maker can maintain control of that. Just as devices are a facilitator for virtual instantaneity, pen-ink-paper are devices whose physicality, in slowing down the creative process, allowing the process to flourish.

Adams's post then shifts, with his talking about pop-art, more towards advice about the role that the composer might play in "American" "culture." It's odd to me to read Adams--whose music I generally slam as being ideologically-driven, overly-simple, populist, and other pejoratives--bemoaning the ascendancy of pop-art (seems like maybe Adams reads Adorno, but should pay closer attention to it). Which again, is interesting. Because poetry is in the same boat; I can talk all I want about (ass-o-)horizontology and verticality, but who cares? (Except that my community cares, and that's, in many ways, the only thing that can possibly matter.) Or, is there still a role for the lyricist to play in device culture (with my friend Dan's own recent foray into lyricization being recognized by one writer for the NY Times as "haunting," we get some glimmer of hope)? Since this void-making craft is a human enterprise, and we tend to also figure it to ourselves as something for other humans--humans outside our immediate community--here, perhaps, we do have to creep out, and see if there's a way to rig these devices to encode the scaffold from which we might drop.


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