Thursday, November 15, 2012

Secret Plan of the Tenured to Torture Readers Revealed!

I don't mean to complain so much, but one of the difficulties with this book -- Foundations of the Christian Faith -- is that it's so disorganized and repetitive. Could have definitely used another run through the Rahner brain before letting it fly out the piehole, in order to render it a bit more linear and coherent.

Yeah, yeah, I know it's a challenging -- the most challenging -- subject, but still, the only excuse for being so non-linear is a particularly beautiful literary style, which is lacking here.

I mean, I enjoy free jazz as much -- or more, if you want to believe my neighbor -- as the next guy, but playing it properly requires intense discipline, the reason being that one must find the compositional center, or "container," so to speak, even while one is spontaneously producing the content.

This requires, on the one hand, a kind of surrender, but on the other, the ascent to, or descent of, a higher order. It frankly requires a kind of mating between ♀ (container) and ♂ (contained), but let's keep this clean, okay?

What this means is that whatever comes out must be placed in a higher and deeper context, just as in a normal melody, only at a much higher level of abstraction. The alternative is just blowing notes with no internal coherence, which is hardly the same thing (similar to the difference between liberty and freedom, as discussed a couple of posts back).

It reminds me of something a particularly brilliant friend of ours wrote to Mrs. G, which I'd apparently filed away for just this moment. She writes of "a huge gulf between being able to play the piano in a technically brilliant, dazzling way, and the people through whom the music literally lives and breathes. For the latter very small group of pianists, making music is a very spiritual experience, and playing the piano is like opening up a window into their soul."

More: "It's difficult to describe, but when you play piano you can enter a kind of transcendental state where you feel at once both entirely disconnected from, and at the same time almost controlled by, the music you are making.... The physical actions of playing don't require any thought at all. You don't think about technique or how to play, and your mind is entirely free to go anywhere; meanwhile your hands are playing the music and it keeps just appearing as if by magic. In fact, if you try to think about where it's coming from or how you are doing it, then it's impossible and the magic stops. Often I've sat at the piano and started to play, and it's been 3 or 4 hours later before I know what's happened.... Each piece leads seamlessly to another and it's like my mind went on a vacation to another place."

As I said, brilliant. But what about the restavus slobs? I think I know the feeling, because writing can definitely engender a similar experience, especially this type of writing, which is completely, er, spontaneous. But if it were only spontaneous -- i.e., self-indulgent -- then why would anyone want to read it?

Oh, right. That explains a lot.

The key, it seems to me -- and it is clearly not something within our conscious control -- is to "be controlled by the music you are making." Sounds paradoxical, and it is. Orthoparadoxical, to be precise, meaning that it is, among other things, an irreducible mystery.

Therefore -- well, as usual, Don Colacho has a piquant aphorism made to order: The writer who has not tortured his sentences tortures the reader.

Ah, Don Colacho. Now there is a man who knew his lumitations. Of his own gnomic style, he writes that The reader will not find aphorisms in these pages. My brief sentences are the dots of color in a pointillist painting.

That is an apt description, for each aphorism is a free-standing gem of its own, and yet, throw them into a big pile and a whole sensibility emerges. In fact, I would say that the soul of this person, Don Colacho, appears before us.

In this context, each aphorism is a fractal, or microcosm, of the macroman, like spiritual DNA. Indeed, "The only pretension I have is that of having not written a linear book but a concentric book" (DC). And his center is everywhere in those pointillist dots that constitute the circle.

Hmm. I wonder what other advice he has for the aspiring blogger?

"To write honestly for the rest, one must write fundamentally for oneself."

Yes! Now maybe my in-laws will finally believe me that it's not just morbid introspection.

"The first step of wisdom is to admit, with good humor, that there is no reason why our ideas should interest anybody."

I am unworthier than thou!

But also, if you're going to toss yet another book onto the existing pile of millions, you'd better have a damn good excuse.

"Only he who suggests more than what he expresses can be reread."

See, I told you I wasn't just being vague and evasive.

"A phrase should ruffle its wings like like a falcon in captivity."

As God is my witness, I thought turkeys could fly.

"Prolixity is not an excess of words but a dearth of ideas."

Ouch! I'll let you field that one, Professor Rahner.

"A writer should know that only a few of those who look at him will actually see him."

Hello? Is this thing on?

"Phrases are pebbles that the writer tosses into the reader's soul. The diameter of the concentric waves they displace depends on the dimensions of the pond."

Ah. That would explain William Yelverton.

"Clarity is the virtue of a man who does not distrust what he says."

Call me credulous, but at least I got that going for me.

"The fewer adjectives we waste, the more difficult it is to lie."

So true. In the back of my head I always hear the stern voice of Professor StrunkWhite: Omit needless words! That and Do not affect a breezy manner!

No, I am not affecting one. Rather, it's genuine.

"Mere talent is to literature what good intentions are to conduct."

In your face, Shakespeare!

"Write concisely, so as to finish before making the reader sick."

Well, if that's the way you feel about it.


Blogger Magister said...

Great post, Bob.

Muscle memory sure is liberating. I'm not great shakes on piano, but if you'll indulge a few sentences about my experience, I think I can contribute a little more in this vein.

When I was a teenager, I learned Rachmaninoff's prelude in C# minor. Big block chords (he had big hands) pound out a repeated moan, an agitated section of arpeggios ascend, then a descending triplet cascade of chords comes crashing down into a reprise of the original chords, only now they're even bigger, until it all subsides in a somewhat transfigured silence.

To a teenager, this piece makes a heaven of an emotional hell. At a certain point after I committed it to memory, it just became a question of how to invest each area of the piece with the emotional outlay that the music itself invited. Romantic composers make this investment easy. Their gestures are really broad.

It's harder to do this kind of thing with Bach, but Gidon Kremer makes it crystal clear that following the fiery track of Bach's ideas in the partitas is every bit the emotional exercise invited by the later Romantics. Playing Bach is like reading a sonnet, passionately: every line, every quatrain, demands something specific of you, and it all adds up (miraculously) to a single, clear impression.

Don't believe anyone who says Bach is "mechanical." If it sounds mechanical, the fault lies in the inability of the player to feel the emotional arc of Bach's thinking, phrase by phrase, in sufficient detail.

Bach's mind is on *fire*.

I don't have any experience playing free jazz. I get and dig the approach Wayne Krantz takes, i.e. self-imposed limited palette, 8-bar containers, etc). All I know is that in straight-ahead standards, it's very clear who's being selfish and who is not. There are those who just want to parade or work out some personal thing, and those who make musical choices based purely on what emerges from everyone. In that case, your muscle memory and knowledge have to be *really* high for it to work well, purely because you have to be flexible and able to respond to the curve balls that come from group work.

Miles didn't like the term "jazz" -- he called it "social music." I think he gets right to the root of what it's about, at its best.

And maybe that says something about Rahner and the unsmiling tenured.

11/15/2012 08:08:00 AM  
Blogger mushroom said...

As God is my witness, I thought turkeys could fly.

Oh, the humanity.

We could reduce it to AGIMWITTCF. It is as immortal as TANSTAAFL and NTTAWWT.

11/15/2012 09:49:00 AM  
Blogger mushroom said...

The fewer adjectives we waste, the more difficult it is to lie.

Following Solomon: When words are many, transgression is not lacking, but whoever restrains his lips is prudent. (Proverbs 10:19, ESV)

My favorite scene in A River Runs Through It is Norman taking his father a essay he has written. The father merely glances at the page, hands it back and says, "Too many words."

Word inflation devalues truth like currency inflation devalues wealth. Be a hoarder and a miser of words.

11/15/2012 10:03:00 AM  
Blogger EbonyRaptor said...

"Write concisely, so as to finish before making the reader sick."

Now that's funny.

11/15/2012 10:40:00 AM  
Blogger EbonyRaptor said...

As the better William did say "Brevity is the soul of wit".

Oh how those words convict me.

11/15/2012 10:47:00 AM  
Blogger ted said...

"The first step of wisdom is to admit, with good humor, that there is no reason why our ideas should interest anybody."

"A writer should know that only a few of those who look at him will actually see him."

Bob, any chance you're feeling like this?

11/15/2012 11:16:00 AM  
Blogger julie said...

If you all will forgive the comparison, it also translates to the reading of children's stories (having just read "Green Eggs & Ham" for the umpteen-millionth time). By which I mean, kids have an endless appetite for repetition, generally much greater than their parents' patience with reading the same story over and over again. Eventually, one cannot help but play with the structure, even as one must (depending on the child) follow certain rules of the reading. Done properly, the repetition becomes not a slog but a game where everybody wins.

11/15/2012 12:02:00 PM  
Blogger Magister said...

Mere talent is to literature what good intentions are to conduct.

Did the good Don ever encounter Fr. Escrivà? They have a similar sting.

11/15/2012 12:29:00 PM  
Blogger USS Ben USN (Ret) said...

"In this context, each aphorism is a fractal, or microcosm, of the whole, like spiritual DNA."

With the WTF party dug in like an A'la Obamy tick (metaphor? what metaphor?) these O nuggets are all the more special.

Or, I reckon you can say I appreciate them exponentially everytime I see a photo of Smugly Whiplash and his Klingon wife...or husband.

11/15/2012 05:29:00 PM  
Blogger USS Ben USN (Ret) said...

Julie, I used to do that too. It was a lot of fun to tinker around with those stories and injest some new plot twisters.

BTW, I actually had green eggs and ham for breakfast as part of my Shellback initiation, but without Sam I am.

Apparently he gets seasick. :^)

11/15/2012 05:39:00 PM  
Blogger USS Ben USN (Ret) said...

"A writer should know that only a few of those who look at him will actually see him."

I'm sure glad I see you Bob, even when you're rodeo clowning around.
And you have always been precise enough that I don't get sick.

Now, if you ever get so serious that you abandon your gift of humor and get all hiney mighty then I would get sick.
Or if you turn on beer.

Thankfully, that's highly unlikely.
So it looks like you're stuck with us raccoons.
BTW, where is the beer?

Speaking of beer, all future conservative candidates should offer some free beer.

We can call it the beer stimulus.
Bet it would work.

11/15/2012 10:21:00 PM  
Blogger mushroom said...

Free Beer and Government Twinkies.

11/16/2012 05:43:00 AM  
Blogger Van Harvey said...

"As God is my witness, I thought turkeys could fly."

Just thinking about that threatens to double me up with laughter. And of course, it goes well with,

"Mere talent is to literature what good intentions are to conduct."

11/16/2012 05:44:00 AM  
Blogger Van Harvey said...

"This requires, on the one hand, a kind of surrender, but on the other, the ascent to, or descent of, a higher order. It frankly requires a kind of mating between ♀ (container) and ♂ (contained), but let's keep this clean, okay?"

When I hit those sweet spots in writing, the clock vanishes. Unfortunately, often the heat vanishes from my dinner and transfers to my wife's temper.

Also unfortunately, my verbal mating habits seem to breed like rabbits, and without doubt, I rarely manage to "Write concisely, so as to finish before making the reader sick.".

But when I worry about W.S.'s advice that, "Brevity is the soul of wit", I console myself by remember that Will put that advice into the mouth of a doddering old fool, in the midst of a three hour play.

11/16/2012 05:53:00 AM  
Blogger Sal said...

Not just art, but craft as well. Had to give up wood-carving when the kids were still at home. I would sit down for an hour and two or three would have gone by before I looked up.
Hand-spinning is much the same: the repetitive movements of the turn of the wheel and the draw and release of fiber is very contemplative, almost hypnotic. Unlike carving, there are fewer decisions to make, so the mind is freer.

11/16/2012 06:17:00 AM  
Blogger julie said...

Sal, I'm not sure where your comment went (it came through my email, but I don't see it here in the comments), but that's a great point. I haven't had much time for creative projects lately, but art and craft are wonderful ways to get caught up in the flow.

11/16/2012 06:34:00 AM  
Blogger mushroom said...

I'm pretty sure raising a couple of kids is a creative project. In fact, it's about the highest order of creation in the human sphere.

11/16/2012 06:59:00 AM  
Blogger julie said...

True, but in a different sort of way.

11/16/2012 07:01:00 AM  
Blogger Gagdad Bob said...

Went into spam for some reason, as did comments from Van, Ben, and Cond... The blog seems to have an autoimmune disorder.

11/16/2012 07:07:00 AM  
Blogger Magister said...

The money the State coerces from you is engaged in a wunnerful creative social project, too.

It's called "him":

He *appreciates* it. Rilly.

You know what I'm sayin'?

11/16/2012 07:26:00 AM  
Blogger mushroom said...

Just make sure you don't mention Xanax, Valium, or Ambien. Apparently, all the male enhancement stuff has become passe, and everybody wants to zone out. And I thought the zombie thing was just an amusing meme. 11/6/12 -- World War Z has begun.

11/16/2012 07:30:00 AM  
Blogger julie said...

Magister - oh, that's painful. I can't imagine going through life at such a low level of comprehension. His world must be full of things which his brain simply cannot process - the look on his face as she tries to get him to follow a simple logical progression says it all. A life lived at the expense of others has left him completely useless; at this stage, if his mouth were removed from the government teat he would probably just lay there, supine and wailing, until either the handouts were restored or he died of starvation.

11/16/2012 07:41:00 AM  

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