Friday, November 11, 2011

"Tempo and Pace" an essay

Daniel Christopher June to the students of Life:



As I’ve mentioned, I’ve been working on my next book, Volume 2 of the Perfect Idius, which I have entitled The Writing Life. It explores the nature of literature, the craft or writing, and questions of aesthetics in general. This section here, for example, is looking at how music, literature, and life, is set by a pace and rhythm that determines its spirit, or its style of being. I’ve been struggling with these essays. In many ways I am redefining my approach to writing by commenting on them. I am trying to outdo myself ever, to improve my style, and train my eye.


Take care, Caretakers!


Tempo and Pace

                Pace. All works set a pace. Nonfiction, insofar as it is an organism rather than a mere collection, paces the reader as well. You must comprehend the major points as fast as the writer presents them. If you see conclusions far before they are presented, you will be bored, perhaps insulted. If you must stop to digest a bit, you will lose the flow that allows the whole to be grasped.

                In every part we take in we project a tentative whole. In music, we feel the whole symphony at the first note, and this shadow-whole must constantly haunt our mind, or else we would never or always be surprised.

                The whole of a book, of a symphony, even of a painting as we scan its parts, are always one object in our mind, an object which, when we have finished the symphony, has deepened and crystallized, so that we have one experience of a two hour movie, one mood, one feeling, one episode in our head.


                There is no “emotion versus reason,” for reason is in all things and is all things. Reason is in ratio, ratio in music.


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                “Pure form”—nonsense! Only matter can be pure and only matter can have form. The rest is not just sophistry, but bad sophistry, the infinite praising of the unseen so that we believe at last in the praising, and only because it talks of things we cannot see, to verify or deny. That is the basis of faith. If you make a statue, cover it up, and then praise it to high heaven and back, the world will truly believe you are the next Michelangelo, until you lift the veil and see Leah winking at you (and not from mischief, but from lack of spectacles).

                The most basic form of music is the melody. Mere rhythm is not quite musical, and insofar as it is, it is because it represents a melody. It must have pitch, it must have repetition, it must have movement. Melody and the sentence are essentially the same thing. Human beings talk in sentences, and they sing in phrases. A sentence emphasizes ideas, whereas a melody emphasizes sound, but both are in fact processed in the same part of the brain, are based on the same experience.

                All harmonies are combinations of melodies. A certain melody sounds good, and thus a certain harmony sounds good. Every chord progression is based on a series of basic melodies.

                Most harmonic music is a slow, simplified melody; in their complex forms, they are called “counterpoint.” In music, a series of simple melodies, called harmony, usually give backdrop to a complex solo melody. The “scale” represents a conventionalized melodic framework.

                It is well known that nature uses mathematical ratios to create crystals, sunflowers, snailshells. It exemplifies Fibonicci's ratio, the golden ratio. Music too recognizes beauties in the ratio 3:5, in the relation of a 1st, 3rd, and 5th. All beauty is symmetrical, and insofar as the asymmetrical is sublime, it is because it leads to more sophisticated symmetries. Or to say it simply: beauty is math. Or more particularly: beauty embodies math.

                What math can we find in sublime literary works?

                The iambic pentameter is conversational rhythm. When you wish to make a sentence stand out in your prose, pay close attention to rhythm. Assonance allows flow of spirit, and is subtle, consonance allows flow of letters, and unites words together.

                Read your work out loud. How it sounds is prior to how it looks. The American literary tradition is made up of lecturers: Emerson, Thoreau, William James, John Dewey. These orators appreciated the sound of words. I have heard of people who claim they hear no inner voice when they read. I pity them. That inner ear breathes delight into my reading.

                Writing is a form of music. All great writers at least secretly attempted poetry. Try every genre, tease every sense.

                When teaching a new idea, seduce it to as many senses as possible. Hear, see, gesture, dance.

                A line of prose is melodic. Punctuation marks the phrases and pauses, the stresses on significant words—emphatically and rationally. When a word is emotive, or strange, or threatening, or confusing, or significant, it stresses itself. Thus, the sense of a word lays a musical stress on a word, an accent, in which the mind thinks it louder and slower. Thus, unlike music, a prose argument uses reason as music, whereas a symphony relies only on the senses. In this, literature is the superior art, for it is the rational art, whereas music relies merely on sense pattern.

                If we invented a Glossalia, a language based solely on sound, we would recognize the difference between flow and interruption. Vowels are the flow, and consonants are the interruptions, a clunk that pushes the sound forward, like a runner pushing off the pavement. With alliteration, words are connected; those that sound similar refer to each other, and join together for an instant in the mind. But with assonance, there is a magical formula behind the words.

                Try this: sound out the vowels of a sentence, letting the vowels flow into each other without the interruption of consonants. Note how this creates a feel. The best writers have a second ear for this, and write unconsciously what feels best. But they do this by listening to music, to poetry, and analyzing what sounds best. Thus you ought to analyze the words and sayings which reach you strongest.

                In nonfiction, we have the topic, the argument, the structure, and the style. We tend to think of style as the most external part of writing, we label rhetoric as “ornament,” or “surface.” In fact, style is the heart of content. Style is the personality that chooses every element of a writing. Style is, in fact, a pattern maker, a choice, an exhibition of will. Of all the various styles an author may attempt, there is one style-maker, one stylus, the immortal I.



                The Greek Gods were sublime in that each God held his opposite, Hephaestus, god of handiwork was lame, Hermes god of math and language was tricky, Hera goddess of marriage was jealous, Hades god of the underworld was depressed. There is no demon in Greek religion, no need for a devil, for each God was complete, and did not circumcise and mutilate his power into a "Satanic" other.

                All religions are a combination of myths, rituals, laws, and sacrifices. The rituals make the form by which the religion is created, the myths justify the rituals, the laws put the people in spiritual debt and enforced conformity of behavior to keep the traditions in place, and the sacrifices make each man pay into a system, and therefore, have part of himself invested. Though rightly called "systems of cruelty," religions are also sublime, the poetry of the people, the philosophy of the masses. What makes a religion?

                Mysticism is the core, the foundation, the inceptions of a religion in the same way that sex is the core, the foundation, and the inception of marriage. Just as Eros is the center of marriage, and we can call marriage "sanctified sex," so too is religion centered on mystical experiences, which are achieved by at least a few of its adherents through myth, ritual, obedience, and sacrifice.

                Mysticism is the deep aesthetic of the most important things. The beauty of importance is the center of religion. All religions are artificial, each invents gods who then go about their business, and allow us a real connection with our innermost nature, which is felt as mystically important. High art gives the same experience, if not deeper, but to experience art in the same way requires great sophistication, and sophistication is something generally lacking in the devout, and especially in the founders and leaders of world religions. Religion is the poetry of the masses.


                Art is the definition of an emotion, just as philosophy is the definition of an idea, and science the definition of a sensation. All experience has form, and when that form is complete, we call it an episode or an incident, or if of greater magnitude, an event, but art is different than lived history in that art finely defines an experience into a form whose unity is apparent and aesthetic, with parts proportioned and balanced. Art fulfills unity. Just as every experience wants closure, wants to be delimited as "that thing," so that if we watch half a movie and are interrupted, or hear the set up of a joke without the punch line, we feeling the aching lack of closure. So does all of life segment like a centipede into moments of experience. Memory, as it rehashes itself over and over, makes our history into a sort of art, and it is the glory of memory that it becomes more aesthetic and less literal each year of our life.

                Unity is achieved through a consummation of increasingly cumulative values into a subsequent whole. The artistic experience must be small enough to conserve an integrated effort of attention. The space of man's attention is small, from birth to death. Children like small stories because the genres are new to them. We as adults fancy we have greater patience for stories and can take more in, and perhaps in a way we can, but really we have become so familiar with those forms, that unlike a child, we need only pay attention to a few novelties in what has otherwise long ago become the familiar forms of art. Just as a great doctor or psychologist knows how to focus in on a few important details, so that it is rightly said that "wisdom is knowing what to overlook," so too do adults know how to take longer and wider experiences, requiring greater patience and good will, for they have already internalized the form, and fostering good taste, which derives from a study of theory and a wide experience of exceptional art, trains us how to alternate between receiving and giving when we look at art.

                "There is a rhythm of surrender and reflection in art. We interrupt our yielding to the object to ask where it is leading and how it is leading there," noted Dewey. We give attention to and take our place from art, sometimes submitting, sometimes rejecting, and this is the dance of appreciation. You can't force yourself to see beauty. You can't pick up Joyce's Ulysses and say "this is supposed to be a great novel," and somehow enjoy it. Either you are ready and able to see it, or you aren't. Personal temperament may make you permanently unreceptive to an art. All art is rhythmic, is an alternation of energies in mutual resistance, so that the work oscillates from compression to release. Certain rhythms are manifest only to long hard discipline. Some you can never approach. It goes without saying that a deaf person can't enjoy a symphony, but there are aspects of performed sign language that a nondeaf person can't enjoy aesthetically either. Rhythm requires constant variation. A dynamic between surprise and predictability is necessary to keep the audience awake, alert, and interested. The virtuoso guitarist Steve Vai, although a bit of a showoff, was good at alternating his complicated flash fast guitar solo digressions with the hook of the song, some simple riff that brought the audience back to the surface to catch their breath.  Rhythm is in compression and release. You must force their attention as far is it will go, and then give their attention a break. Spacing and timing is taste. Position is energy, suggesting compression or release, and the intensity of rhythm and volume evoke the emotional battle.

                An artwork is like a person. You must know how to receive him to let him blossom for you. Each unified art has a spirit and soul, that is, a style and a tone, which holds it, which implies and unifies it. The art reaches out to the All, and suggests a world behind the world.

                The artist is  by nature an experimenter, and finds forms all over his world to steal into his creation, the way the Disney artists of Fantasia would find the right color for their movie in the jelly of a sandwich, or some other such nonsense.  Only objects have beauty, for beauty is of the flesh, is physical and sensual. The world alone is beautiful, grows beauty, makes the artist who grows from his soul art. Things in and out of art propel its development. Like a human being, it grows from within, and it grows again in response to the world.

                As national artists, we ought to internalize our traditions and tense ourselves against them. Where the tradition is inconsistent, we will correct it, where it is redundant, we will diversity it. The artist must be sincere. There is no faking greatness, for as Emerson said "pretension never wrote an Iliad." He who wants the ends without the means is no artist. Ends and means must be married. Only the greedy want the ends without the means, and the playful want the means without the end, but the passionate and the great wed the two. The ideals you seek must grow out of the reality they are to inspire, or else they are abortions, for as the ancient priests would say of the stillborn child, "he was too good for this world," and thereby he damns the world.

                Better the bless the world -- art is a blessing upon nature -- by glorifying our experience. Art defines an experience to present a nuanced emotion. You must know yourself and your experiences, be open to your innermost and congruent with your experiences, to create great art. Know your limitations. Scope must be in ratio to power. Don't overreach.


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                "Yielding to a natural impulse is at the heart of all healthy language making," -- yes the wordsmiths are impetuous. Oh Lux! My hips will shudder and thrust with love! Give me ecstasy! Echo my words! Who is my twin divine? Why does the world respond with silence?

                Of all the things I read and hear, silence is the most difficult to interpret. Next in difficulty are words said only to mask true feelings. From your lies I can divine the truth, but your silence is impenetrable.

                Come, let us breathe together, and, like true friends, think together. Every mind has its metabolism, the set of tempos it thinks and feels, and of the friends, cities, jobs, songs, and books it chooses, these are chosen by resonance of mental breath. Yet all minds are plastic, moldable enough to imitate the arts they hear, so that beside my manic friend I feel invigorated and realized; and reading Tristram Shandy, with its long meandering sentences, my thinking tends the same.

                We seek out art that amplifies our moods, that intensifies what we are. The depressed require stimulating ideas to provide energy otherwise lacking in their system. The low want narcotics, alcohol, cigarettes; the depressed drink coffee. It's all to set a pace, to structure the days of life like the passages of a symphony.

                Its not the joke, its the execution. The most entertaining magician is not the one with the subtlest hand, but he who bears the most mysterious smile. A good comedian can tell god-awful jokes, and have the audience rolling. It's all in performance, its the human touch, the pause, the wait, the spatial placement. It's having the Eros of rhythm.

                Rhythm is the mastery of change versus same. The two antagonistic energies must resolve. Tradition and innovation must have at it. Tension is stress -- only tension makes great. If a thing is not brought to its limits, it cannot grow. Pattern and structure stand firm on repetition, but only deviation keeps them interesting.

                Comfort itself becomes painful when it grows boring. Comfort means you are in power, but not growing. Fear and loss of power are part of growth. You must risk and lose. You must at times submit.

                A will that surrenders incorporates and internalizes the imposition. Surrendering is not giving up. Submitting is not quitting. You must master the outer tempo.

                Your pulse must set your pace. It would be a sign of bad taste to wear a wrist watch while composing poetry. You may resolve a hundred times locally, but to resolve globally, you need world wide tension. Harmony, melody, rhythm, these are aspects of writing as well as music, aspects indeed of life itself. All arts bleed into life, and nothing is pure of each other thing. The only mischief is when flow is blocked.

                Psychotherapy, and that better therapy you face in the mirror, aims to cure writer's block. Expand, extend, become autonomous, develop, mature, to express and activate all the capacities of your organism, to enhance the self. Under your defenses, integrated and effective, hold a realistic view of your self. All animal functions can be quickened by easy, bold, exuberant, self-assured rhythms. All you do, every movement, is a music that infects the very walls of your house, lives forever in the air, and influences all those around you. Your daily gab sets your pet.

                Music sets the pace of our emotions, language the pace of our minds. Isn't it peculiar that a man can study the mind of another his whole life? An ape studying an ape? A cat studying a cat? Look at yonder Shakespeare scholars, Beethoven buffs, Einstein maniacs. We all are more or less equal in potential, though we each have a unique set of circumstances -- so why defer to an external mind? March to your own drummer, make your pulse your drum.

                We act and that actions lives on. We each sense the limit of our freedom. Thus, a man isn't too surprised by how his actions reverberate in the minds of others. My mind is checked by yours. One melody clashes with another, and some people never even meet each other, for their auras keep them twain.

                Quick and showy virtues, such as washing a friends' feet or dying as a spectacle, are not in themselves useful. A lifetime of persistence is the manly virtue. Dance to the rhythm of your pulse. Be your own God. Make your own world. The world needs no martyrs; the Universe loves her poets.




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