Tuesday, January 17, 2017

God was Framed

This thought first occurred to me in reading Michael Polanyi's Meaning, back in the 1980s. In it there is a chapter on how art of any kind always involves a frame, without which it can have no meaning.

While the frame around a painting is obvious -- setting it apart from its surroundings -- there are other types of frame. A book's covers are a kind of frame. Likewise, poetic structure and musical form.

Polanyi cites the critic I.A. Richards, who writes of how, "Through its very appearance of artificiality metre produces in the highest degree the 'frame' effect, isolating the poetic experience from the accidents and irrelevancies of everyday existence."

Rhythms are frames, both in poetry and in music (and in good prose as well). Thus, there are temporal frames (rhythm) as well as spatial frames, as in a painting. In a play or motion picture there are both spatial frames (the stage or screen) and temporal frames (the script or screenplay).

Life is framed, isn't it? In the most obvious sense it is framed by birth and death. There are also recurrent rhythms such as the seasons, holidays, birthdays, and rituals. Morning-Noon-Evening-Night is another rhythm, as are weeks and months. The liturgical year is an obvious temporal frame that confers meaning on what is otherwise a kind of one-way dissipation.

In one sense life is framed at the extremes by birth and death. However, in another sense birth and death constitute a kind of intra-life rhythm. And when you come right down to it, the birth-death rhythm is perpetual. A line from Joni Mitchell's Clouds just popped into my head: well something's lost, but something's gained / in living every day.

Watching my son grow is constant loss/gain. In a year or two I'll lose the boy but gain an adolescent, just as I lost the infant and toddler before that. A long time ago I came to the realization that all loss is a dress rehearsal for death. Or prehearsal, rather (emphasis on the hearse).

People don't normally speak in poetry, which sets it apart from regular speech. "Thus, the formal structure of a poem... forms a blockage, insulating the poem from everyday affairs" (Polanyi). As such, a frame is also a kind of wall (as is dogma, as we shall see).

Similarly, "the recital of a myth is an experience that is detached from the day-to-day concerns of the reciting person," and "raises us to a timeless moment." Therefore, it is a kind of temporal window(frame) into (and "around") the timeless. It cannot be approached or understood in any other way.

How could God, who is by definition infinite, ever be framed? Well, that is precisely the function of any religion. And just as there are good and bad poems, paintings, and melodies, religions are more or less adequate to the task.

Now, God cannot be framed by man. If he could be, then we would be God. Think of O as the container of any and all conceivable content. Thus, O is a symbol for that which can never be symbolized -- a container of what can never be contained. In the ultimate sense, religion says what cannot be said.

Is there any other religion that frames all of history in the manner of Christianity? All religions posit a beginning, but Christianity also posits its own temporal end (as opposed to a circular rhythm or endless line).

Furthermore, one of its most provocative orthoparadoxes is that the end has appeared in the middle -- which is a bit like the frame appearing within the painting. I'll bet if I look it up, there is some dadaist whose paintings consist of the frame that frames it. If not, then this one will do until the surreal thing comes along:

How did we get here? By two routes, one of which will be the topic of tomorrow's post. The other route was by way of Chesterton, who remarked that "All my life I have loved frames and limits; and I will maintain that the largest wilderness looks larger seen through a window" (in Reardon).

What an excellent orthoparadox. I've noticed the same phenomenon with respect to movies. Probably explains how movie stars are seen as gods by the vulgar.

Reardon writes of how "only a measured form -- and every form imposes a limit -- can produce freedom." Branford Marsalis (in Reardon) makes the point that in jazz "There's only freedom in structure, my man. There's no freedom in freedom" (emphasis mine).

There is no freedom in freedom. What a brilliantly concise way to put it. Nor, for that matter, is there any equality in equality, but that is the subject of a different post.

In any event, Marsalis's quip could morph into a whole post, but I think you can see where I'm going with this. However, it will have to wait until tomorrow, since I'm up against a temporal frame.

33 comments:

ted said...

There's no freedom in freedom

I just love that!

I was having a conversation with someone the other day, as I was noting some limits to human nature, he said to me that was just my own limiting belief. Oh really.

Gagdad Bob said...

The "civil rights movement" -- and the left in general -- was once about obtaining freedom, but is now about trying to find freedom in freedom. Which reduces to nihilism.

julie said...

Nihilism and absurdity. Just thinking of the pussy hat protests scheduled for this week.

Re. framing, it's amazing how, done properly, a frame can imply an entire universe that exists outside its borders. Of course, frames can also be used to imply something entirely false or even completely opposite to the truth, even when what it reveals is technically true.

Gagdad Bob said...

My hobby is audio. Your example reminds me of how, in a good sound system, the music should not be framed by the speakers. Rather, if you close your eyes, you should be able to perceive a three dimensional soundstage that extends beyond the speakers. You can, for example, point to an instrument that is situated well to the outer sides of the speaker. So, the speakers are a kind of frame, out of which something emanates that is much wider and deeper than the frame.

My father-in-law had the best sounding system I've ever heard. The soundstage was massive...

julie said...

If you think about it, we can accomplish fairly easily with sound what is extremely difficult with vision: the creation of a holographic projection that magically duplicates a real experience. With a good sound system, you could walk around the room with your eyes closed and essentially occupy the same audio space that existed when the track was created- walk closer to one speaker, and you're closer to the horns; another, and you can hear the vocals better. In other words, it puts the hearer inside the frame with the sound, instead of simply outside listening in. Amazing.

Gagdad Bob said...

My father-in-law's system was positively spooky. I remember listening to a Sinatra record, and it was as if I were indeed inside a holographic presence. Speaking of Sinatra, it is possible to get all 16 Capital albums plus various singles on a 12 CD set for under 20 bucks. Supposedly it has the best remastered versions, heretofore only available in an insanely expensive limited edition British import. I'm going to order one to see if it's true about the improved sound quality.

ted said...

Do you recall what kind of system it was (not to geek out too much)?

Gagdad Bob said...

I know it was Martin Logan speakers, which I also have. He had a Sony ES player, and I actually have a better one, a Sony SACD, as well as an Oppo BDP-103. The difference is in the electronics. I can't recall for certain, but I think his amp and and pre-amp are NAD. I have a Luxman, which is very good, but his sounds better. Perhaps it's just a matter of the environment -- he had a substantially bigger listening space with fewer reflections. They say that can actually make more difference than the components.

At any rate, I'll know if it sounds as good in my house when my mother-in-law goes to her reward. Although she is deaf and can't listen to music, she is holding on to it, and I'm not impertinent enough to ask for it. I need to get better at dropping hints.

Gagdad Bob said...

In fact, I bought my Martin Logans after hearing his. Didn't sound the same. Upgraded my integrated amp from a Denon to a Luxman. Didn't sound the same. Upgraded CD player from Marantz to Sony SACD to Oppo. Didn't sound the same. Tried separate components. Thought power might be the issue, so I bought a monster Emotiva amp with 500 watts per channel. Didn't sound the same.

First world problems!

Gagdad Bob said...

BTW, the Oppo made a noticeable difference, even though the Sony is nearly twice the price. Oppo universal players are one of the best audio deals out there...

Emotiva too. I can't enjoy anything unless it's a bargain.

julie said...

Once upon a time back in college, I thought I would major in architectural acoustics. Unfortunately, the school I was attending had no such program, nor anybody who could invent it for me. So naturally I became a painter instead.

Which is a windy way of saying, maybe some strategic wall hangings would help with the bouncy sound, if that's the issue.

I'm glad to hear your MIL is still with you; I hope she is doing well.

Gagdad Bob said...

I see those things advertised in Stereophile, but it would be hard to get them past the Wife Factor.

julie said...

They don't have to be that ugly, though. There are lots of ways to damp the sound - everything from a wall tapestry and drapes for big windows (though admittedly, that could potentially earn you a spot in a Lileks book on interior design) to a stretched canvas with egg crate foam behind it. Lots of things that work as padding and/or insulation also work to break up sound waves to make a room less audibly lively.

Gagdad Bob said...

I think the problem might be that the whole left side of the room is glass, and there is no better place to put the speakers. Instrumental music is fine, which is what I mostly listen to anyway. It's the human voice that suffers.

julie said...

Yes, glass is tricky. It can pick up sound like a drum head, so it doesn't just bounce it can also amplify, especially at certain frequencies. Depending on the glass, of course. In that case, actual drapes would probably help, the heavier the better - though of course, then you end up listening in the dark.

ted said...

I'm the same way. Give me a good deal and quality, and I'm happy. A good friend of mine is also big on the Oppo players. I don't know enough to comment, but I appreciate the download. Do you ever have the urge to revert to vinyl again?

debass said...

The best stereo system I heard was in a showroom. It was the first sonic holography amp by Carver. You could walk around the room and pick up the sound of each instrument. I should have bought one. I suppose that technology is common now. I don't listen to music that way. Sometimes I reframe the music, so that some of the elements are rebalanced to allow other parts to come forward. It changes the context, and sometimes makes you wonder how this person got the gig.

debass said...

Here is what you need, Bob.

http://www.bobcarvercorp.com/silverseven700

debass said...

and here.

http://www.bobcarvercorp.com/als

Gagdad Bob said...

Stereophile routinely reviews components even more expensive. I wonder who buys them? The few wealthy people I know don't care about music reproduction. The latest edition reviews a pair of speakers that cost $38,000, and a monoblock amp that goes for $99,000 a pair.

Every six months they publish their recommended components, rated from A to E. Ever since I had enough money to buy a decent system, my strategy has been to purchase the cheapest A-rated components. Sometimes an A-rated one will cost a fraction of some exotic B-rated one. For example, the OPPO, at $499, has an A rating, as does, say, the Audio Research, at $13,000. Guess which one I bought?

As to vinyl, someday I'll hook up my turntable again. But you can't beat the convenience of CDs. I mostly listen to jazz while reading, and wouldn't want to get up every 15-20 minutes to change sides. Vinyl sounds better for rock and vocals, which I listen to more in the car. I remember John Lennon had a record player in his Rolls Royce -- looks like George did too -- but I don't have one of those.

mushroom said...

Rhythms are frames, both in poetry and in music (and in good prose as well).

Two words: Raymond Chandler.

The first time I read The Long Goodbye is probably where I noticed the power of rhythm in prose for the first time.

Gagdad Bob said...

Churchill has it too. His speeches in particular often scan like poetry.

Gagdad Bob said...

Chandler is an excellent example of how you don't need big words or fancy phrases to achieve expressive power. I have a collection that includes a sampling of his letters. In one of then he complains of the typical editor who "actually thinks that a clause with a strong (stressed) syllable at the end, which was put there because it was strong, is improved by changing the order so that the clause ends in a weak adverbial termination."

debass said...

Someone was experimenting with a laser turntable, I think, that didn't have a needle but scanned the groove so there was no destruction of the vinyl. I don't know if it ever reached the marketplace. The rhythm is the key to jazz and most things. Timing is everything! I tell students, it's not what note you play but when you play it. That's why I don't have any students, I can teach them to play bass in 5 minutes. The rest they can do themselves.

Gagdad Bob said...

Speaking of which, I just watched Whiplash last night, about a sadistic music teacher. Great performance by J. K. Simmons, but I don't see how it was "jazz" he was teaching. He keeps talking about Charlie Parker, but there's not a moment of improvisation in his compositions.

ted said...

I loved it, nevertheless. The sadistic part gets explained in this seminal scene, where he talks about finding the next Parker. When truly the next Parker would eventually get disclosed beyond whatever a teacher could do, especially one as soulless as this.

Gagdad Bob said...

I think Fletcher is based on Buddy Rich, who is constantly referenced in the film.

Gagdad Bob said...

Or possibly Tommy Lasorda.

ted said...

Ha ha, yes! I was also thinking how AC was brought down by his own students, because he was essentially trying to create a movement around a spiritual elite. Talk about distorted hubris!

Gagdad Bob said...

I see that Buddy Rich also influenced Seinfeld.

ted said...

But then there was all that collateral damage, all in the name of the greater whole. Sounds all too familiar looking at history.

ted said...

I know we often separate the art from the artist, but when you see such behavior it does make it challenging to appreciate their craft on the same level. But then again, almost all artists are lefty's so I suppose we need to compartmentalize somewhat.

julie said...

Ha - and bringing it round full circle again to God being framed:

If we let Him go on like this, all men will believe in Him, and the Romans will come and take away both our place and our nation.” But one of them, Caiaphas, who was high priest that year, said to them, “You know nothing at all, nor do you take into account that it is expedient for you that one man die for the people, and that the whole nation not perish.”

- John 11:48-50