Sunday, February 14, 2010


Among the more curious manifestations of Bach's influence is
the desire he inspires to make a counterpoint out of words.
How this is to be done is a matter of debate. Is it to be
done by cutting story against story, as D.W. Griffith did
in film? This is what Gide supposed in THE COUNTERFEITERS(1927)
with which Aldous Huxley soon concurred in his POINT COUNTERPOINT(1929).
No, say the poets lead by Pound:it is done via the inter-collision
of luminous fragments, and the cutting takes place not only with
stories but among historical epochs. It is done by layering historical
epochs over each other, in contrapuntal lines like
geological striations with dolmens sticking out says David
Jones in THE ANATHEMATA. It is done in Voices says James Joyce.

It is more than the symbolist desire to make poetry achieve the
condition of music. It is the kind of music to
which literature aspires which makes this modern,
literature which aspires to music's simultaneity of parts. The simultaneity
is what makes the great ensembles of Mozart's the Marriage of
Figaro or Verdi's Falstaff works that lift off the top of your head,
as you temporarily enter the privileged domain
of understanding six hearts and minds at once. Bach does this more
legibly, more lyrically, more often than any other composer.

This is a supposition--how could it be otherwise?--but
I feel that this need for perspectival simultaneity in narrative literature
began with 19th century urbanization. There are so many stories with
so many histories in so many faces. BLEAK HOUSE by Dickens,
which cross-cuts narratives, is one response to it. Whitman's LEAVES OF
GRASS is another. The difficulty that BLEAK HOUSE poses is
knowing what kind of story you are in; the difficulty Whitman
poses is knowing where you are in the human sea.
The attractiveness of simultaneity is knowing that you are
an individual in the context of a community. The difficulty lies
in believing this without a plenum or compass.
Contrapuntal writing organizes this in music. Narrative
writing begins to try to organize experience with something like these means.
Is Faulkner's THE WILD PALMS a narrative two part invention?
Does Virginia Woolf's THE WAVES become a kind of fugue?
We look at those moments in civilization where it all came together,
which only happens in art, and we wonder how it might be done, if it might be done,
with what we know now. We know it has been done in this medium:
can it be done in that ? This is what Bach made the story- tellers wonder.
(To be continued)

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