… or what happens when you cross the streams? My good friend Julio emailed me this: I’d come across Richard Taruskin before, many years ago, and been very taken with his work (via an essay on Stravinsky, neo-classicism, recording technology, the idea of authenticity and the Early Music movement, if I’m remembering correctly across nearly 30 years) — and more recently Seth had piqued my interest all over again, from a very different direction. Late on New Year’s Eve, in a pub in King’s Cross, Julio mentioned to me that this 2007 piece discussed Richard Meltzer, and was visibly entertained by how confused and over-excited I got.
Adding: I say the piece discusses Meltzer, but (I’m a bit disappointed to have to note) really all it does is mention him. He’s introduced as a symptom of the failure of the critical conversation round classical music and the compositional avant-garde to interest or excite the best minds of the 60s generation. But Taruskin doesn’t give much sense of what might be interesting about Meltzer as a writer or thinker, which is a pity — or (which is surely relevant) that he was clearly in the process of wriggling out from under Hegel and Quine (both mentioned at best fleetingly in book-version of The Aesthetics of Rock; Quine just once, in the same sentence as one of the Hegels). Over to Frank Kogan for an all-too-brief primer.
“Wittgenstein was insisting that a proposition and that which it describes must have the same ‘logical form’, the same ‘logical multiplicity’. Sraffa made a gesture, familiar to Neapolitans as meaning something like disgust or contempt, of brushing the underneath of his chin with an outward sweep of the finger-tips of one hand. And he asked: ‘What is the logical form of that?’”
(Norman Malcolm, Ludwig Wittgenstein: A Memoir, pp. 58–59)
Faintly recall from student days long ago that N.Malcolm was hard work and unrewarding as a philosopher (trans.: I was a confused and unsatisfactory philosophy student, esp.as far as Anglo-Am Analytical etc goes). But this is a good story, and — whether or not LW drew the correct conclusions at length — Sraffa’s intervention was strong, and Wittgenstein was right to be impressed and unsettled. I’m tempted to argue that music — all music, from Blobby to Boulez — is making much the same gesture to all other intellectual activity: here’s something you can’t do. That might be too strong — other things are always going on in music (including rapprochement, or attempts at same), and of course the various forces and layers never aggregate to a single decisive intent or content anyway — but it’s definitely an element I value in music, and don’t see well grasped in its discussion.
what you mock is who you are
As much as anything as an act of expiation, grief and guilt from safe exile — as if to say ‘Wish you were here’ — Adorno begins his Philosophy of Modern Music (1948) with a long crabbed mouthful of a quote from his dead friend Walter Benjamin, on the history of philosophy “viewed as the science of origins”, as being “that process which, from opposing extremes, and from the apparent excesses of development, permits the emergence of the configuration of an idea as a totality… ” The book that follows unfortunately merely juxtaposes Schoenberg and Stravinsky, only the extremes of development of “modern music” if your view is really quite intellectually parochial — certainly it’s hard to envisage Adorno writing well about (say) Jelly Roll Morton or Bessie Smith, but there you go. Still, the idea of attempting to juxtapose extremes — at least as a technique or habit — is pretty good critical practice, I think. Continue reading