ACD Test Wordpress

Just another WordPress.com weblog

Archive for May, 2003

The Emperor of Ice Cream

Posted by acdtest on May 31, 2003

The Emperor of Ice Cream

t a suggestion of mine of some weeks ago, weblogger Aaron Haspel of God Of The Machine takes a crack at an explication of Wallace Stevens’s cryptic poem, The Emperor of Ice Cream. As, unlike Aaron, I’m no student of poetry, I offer him my gratitude for his effort. However, neither my gratitude nor lack of qualification will prevent me from disagreeing in parts with Aaron’s take on this superb and enigmatic poem, which goes,

Call the roller of big cigars,
The muscular one, and bid him whip
In kitchen cups concupiscent curds.
Let the wenches dawdle in such dress
As they are used to wear, and let the boys
Bring flowers in last month’s newspapers.
Let be be finale of seem.
The only emperor is the emperor of ice-cream.

Take from the dresser of deal,
Lacking the three glass knobs, that sheet
On which she embroidered fantails once
And spread it so as to cover her face.
If her horny feet protrude, they come
To show how cold she is, and dumb.
Let the lamp affix its beam.
The only emperor is the emperor of ice-cream.

My first disagreement with Aaron is on a general point of approach to poetic analysis. Aaron asserts that in an attempt at such analysis, “pillaging the poet’s life and [other] work[s]” may be “useful.” To my way of thinking, such an approach is a cardinal error in the analysis of any artwork. Such an approach is not only never useful, but often times can be positively misleading. Any work of art worthy of the name is always self-contained in the sense that it contains within itself everything necessary for its complete understanding, even when it alludes or points to something outside itself to convey or capture meaning.

And so it is with this Stevens’s poem, notwithstanding Aaron’s,

I also recommended pillaging the poet’s life and work, should it prove useful. Here it does. Stevens was a wealthy and cultivated man who knew Key West well, which is probably where this poem takes place, since ice-cream was commonly served at funerals. His poetry has a single theme: hedonism. For Stevens all is illusion but immediate sensation. “Let be be finale of seem” means “Abandon all effort to give meaning to existence, and take what comfort you can from the roiling life around you.”

None of this is useful in understanding TEoIC, and in fact can lead the reader to a central misunderstanding as it did Aaron, which misunderstanding will become apparent as this little piece proceeds.

Aaron objects to Stevens’s use of what he (Aaron) calls the “imperative tense.”

[T]he poem is snobbish: Stevens invites the reader to sneer at the characters of the poem as from a hill. It is written entirely in the imperative, except for the last line of each stanza, to some unspecified hearer. Imperative tense, used this way, enforces distance: when the boxing announcer says “Let’s get ready to ruuuumble!” you can be sure that you (or he) won’t be doing any rumbling, personally. Stevens takes special pains to remove himself, and his reader, from the scene, the better to hold his nose.

But Stevens neither “hold[s] his nose” nor employs “imperative tense.” The entire poem employs the rhetorical device of apostrophe, giving the work an urgent force and weight it otherwise would lack. The poem’s tone is elevated, but is absent so much as a trace of “snobbish[ness]” or nose-holding.

So, what is this enigmatic poem about anyway, and what is it saying?

The first thing that arrests one (this one, at any rate) is the striking duality embodied in the poem’s two-stanza totality. The duality of Eros and Thanatos, of Life and Death, existentially (and psychoanalytically) considered. The unrestrained libidinous exuberance of lines 1-3 of the first stanza:

Call the roller of big cigars,
The muscular one, and bid him whip
In kitchen cups concupiscent curds.

in resonant and polar opposition to the ashen morbidity of lines 4-6 of the second:

And spread it so as to cover her face.
If her horny feet protrude, they come
To show how cold she is, and dumb.

And then the homely details of ordinary life and custom at this homely and ordinary wake — of the living in lines 3-6 of the first stanza:

Let the wenches dawdle in such dress
As they are used to wear, and let the boys
Bring flowers in last month’s newspapers.

and of the dead in lines 1-3 of the second:

Take from the dresser of deal,
Lacking the three glass knobs, that sheet
On which she embroidered fantails once

And then the kickers; first, in the closing two lines of the first stanza:

Let be be finale of seem.
The only emperor is the emperor of ice cream.

and last, in the closing two lines of the second:

Let the lamp affix its beam.
The only emperor is the emperor of ice cream.

both of which closing couplets refer to the same thing.

We’re at a wake. But despite what a wake is (the “seems”), it’s not death — which is an ending — that should be our concern, but the will to the here and now (the “be,” which is always a beginning) of vital, superabundant, ongoing life with its “concupiscent curds”, which will should always be “the finale of [every] seems,” even a seems such as this, and on which will the “lamp” (i.e., the sun) should “affix its beam,” so that we may the more clearly see that it’s truly “the only emperor…the emperor of ice cream,” which is the life force itself in all its rich and overflowing concupiscent yumminess.

Or something like that.

Advertisements

Posted in Literature | Comments Off on The Emperor of Ice Cream

A Brief Thought On New Music

Posted by acdtest on May 29, 2003

A Brief Thought On New Music

ll art aspires to the condition of music,” wrote one extraordinarily perceptive individual whose name now escapes me.* That trenchant aphorism refers to music’s unique ability among all the arts to touch directly the human emotional center sans the necessary participation of, or recourse to, the human intellectual apparatus. In fact, at its best, music has the uncanny capacity to paralyze intellect; to force, for the time, an automatic suspension of rational thought.

It’s precisely that unique ability and uncanny capacity that’s so singularly absent in what’s presented as “serious” (i.e., “art” or “classical”) music by those composers who first began writing after about 1950 or so. Of that so-called new music of which I’ve direct experience, all of it requires at some level or other, and to greater or lesser degree, the active participation of the intellect in order to appreciate or, in some cases, even begin to comprehend. That, to my way of thinking, is the very definition of non-music — more, and much worse, a veritable perverse contradiction of just what it means to be music. In short, anti-music.

Which is not to say all of it can’t (or shouldn’t) be enjoyed, even relished, at some other level. But at the level of music — that condition to which all art aspires — it fails utterly and abjectly. And that’s why, having not much time left me for music listening as the human span goes, I’ve little or no time for it. There’s simply too much music — genuine music — I’ve either not yet experienced, or not experienced to the fullest measure of which I’m capable. And so I leave the experiencing of that other stuff to those who’ve a taste for such quasi-musical pursuits. My musical palate is far too refined (or too parochial, if you wish) for such fare.

[*Thanks to weblogger Aaron Haspel for reminding me that Walter Pater was the author of that splendid aphorism; one, incredibly, not to be found in Bartlett, 15th Edition, 1980.]

Posted in Music | Comments Off on A Brief Thought On New Music

One Helluva Fiddler

Posted by acdtest on May 26, 2003

One Helluva Fiddler

ome few years have passed since I last sat down to listen to the readings of Bach’s six Sonatas and Partitas for Unaccompanied Violin done by violinist Rachel Podger (in two volumes, here and here), and hearing them again today reminded me afresh of what a first-rate talent Ms. Podger is, both as a fiddler and musician. Hearing these recordings again also caused me to search this weblog for my remarks on these readings, and — mirabile dictu! — they were nowhere to be found. I hasten now to correct that egregious oversight.

First, a dispelling of some unfortunate notions that might be provoked by the hyped manner in which these recordings have been billed and promoted.

Rachel Podger is billed as a Baroque specialist performing on a “Baroque violin.” Quite apart from the fact that there is, per se, no such instrument, this sort of hype instantly conjures a picture of a pasty-faced, gruel-blooded little wonk, performing on an instrument with a sound about as rich and subtle as a kazoo, who will do everything in her power to rob the music of anything remotely musically expressive, and produce readings at breakneck tempi, and with a superabundance of gratuitous Baroque ornament — which is to say, produce readings fit for nothing other than the trash bin.

None of the above is the case with these readings. Ms. Podger’s instrument, from the sound of it, is on the classic model of the Cremona school, strung with gut rather than steel-wound strings. In other words, the kind of fiddle we’re all used to hearing, but with a warmer, very slightly more nasal sound. As for Ms. Podger herself, no pasty-faced, gruel-blooded little wonk she. Her playing glows with robust good health, and is as full-blooded as any produced by the famous fiddlers of the Auer School (Heifetz and Milstein being the most well-known of that group). So y’all can rest easy on those points.

As to the audio of the recordings themselves, a quick note. Both volumes employ an acoustic a bit too reverberant for my tastes (Volume 2 seemingly more than Volume 1), but it’s in no way intrusive or even close to being inappropriate.

And so, on to the music and the performance.

As Shiva is the destroyer of worlds, the six Bach Sonatas and Partitas for Unaccompanied Violin are collectively the destroyer of fiddle players. No fiddler dares even approach them unless his technique is nothing short of formidable. But that’s only the first requisite. If you’re a concert fiddler typical of the current generation whose technique is certainly formidable, but whose readings of the repertoire are replete with the grafted-on expressive schtick of the Auer Gang (sorry, couldn’t resist) as it typically is, you’d best stay away from this music, for if you attempt it you’ll be revealed instantly for the musically empty shell that you are.

Ms. Podger, however, has nothing to fear on any count. Her technique is formidable indeed; formidable and secure to the point of transparency. And there’s no schtick or grafting-on of anything in her readings of these works. Her playing is muscular, lyrical, sinewy, sweet, or impassioned as the music variously requires, with the overarching principle of the poetic always and prominently in evidence. From the mystical Adagio of the G minor Sonata, to the furious Allegro Assai of the C major; from the playful Corrente of the B minor Partita, to the majestic and profound Ciaccona of the D minor, everything resonates right and true. There’s no greasy kid stuff here, and no heroic, Romantic posturing la…every other fiddler who has recorded these works, the second Milstein reading alone perhaps excepted. These readings will take a little getting used to for many (especially the Ciaccona), but will repay a thousand-fold the slight adjustment required.

I’ve been waiting for it seems forever to hear a fiddler do these works in the same transcendent way Gould does the keyboard works. I’m still waiting, but these readings come closer than any other in my experience.

Ms. Podger is one helluva fiddler, and a first-rate musician into the bargain.

Posted in Music, Recordings | Comments Off on One Helluva Fiddler

Evangelical Crusade

Posted by acdtest on May 2, 2003

Evangelical Crusade

fter slogging through several papers on architectural design written by mathematician cum self-declared architecture theorist Nikos A. Salingaros, two things emerged with crystalline clarity: First, and most glaringly, that the professor is a first-water zealot of the Save The World strain, the most pernicious and virulent strain of all; a self-appointed co-high priest (with his mentor and partner, architect Christopher Alexander) of a new architecture cult with a utopian agenda more political than aesthetic, the first unspoken imperative of which is the defrocking of those he sees as the high priests of the supposed prevailing architecture cult, which supposed cult he labels “modernist” (by which term he seems to mean architectural thinking and design in the 20th century and later), and which supposed high priests are seen by him as a lethal impediment to the triumph of his own new religion. And second, that Professor Salingaros’s writings on architecture make even New York Times architecture critic Herbert Muschamp seem a plain talker, said writings for the most part being impressive-sounding, esoteric, academic gibberish shot through with generalizations, half-truths, unsupported (and largely insupportable) allegations, elided references, and cleverly constructed misdirection, all of it self-protectively clothed in, and armored by, the objective language of science and mathematics as if the thing being considered was of the order of relativistic and quantum phenomena.

It’s a curious crusade on which the professor is embarked; curious because it conspicuously lacks the one thing that might make the object of that crusade convincing: An aesthetically arresting example, an exemplar, of a contemporary building designed and built in strict accordance with the tenets being hawked by Dr. Salingaros and his partner — an aesthetically arresting contemporary building that looks like it belongs to the 21st century instead of to some bygone era. And yet not a single such example is put forward to speak for the rightness and truth of the doctor’s evangelical preaching. It seems to me that such an example would be infinitely more convincing of the dogma of this new cult than is the virtual deluge of densely theoretical, and painfully tortuous and invidious verbiage being turned out by Dr. Salingaros in furtherance of the cult’s aims.

But as I’ve already noted, in his several architecture papers I’ve read, the good professor — a mathematician as I’ve also previously noted, and no architect or historian of art — presents no such example, nor by way of example does he discuss at length, and in vivisectional architectural and aesthetic detail, even so little as a single building of any sort or period to either praise or condemn.

Not one.

Why am I not surprised.

Posted in Architecture | Comments Off on Evangelical Crusade