Friday, January 6, 2023

third notes on reading, 2022

Donald Francis Tovey:
But the caution which seems so obvious to us was not noticed by his contemporary critics. We may leave out of account the oft-quoted fact that several Viennese musicians objected to his beginning his introduction with chords foreign to the key; such objectors were pedants miserably behind the culture not only of their own time but of the previous generation. They were the kind of pedants who are not even classicists, and whose grammatical knowledge is based upon no known language.
Gustavo Gutierrez:
The author is telling us in this way that a utilitarian religion lacks depth and authenticity; in addition, it has something satanic about it (this is the first appearance of the irony that the author handles so skillfully). The expectation of rewards that is at the heart of the doctrine of retribution vitiates the entire relationship and plays the demonic role of obstacle on the way to God.
Nicholas Till:
A fantastic hotch-potch of the sublime and the ridiculous, the spiritual and the popular, quasi-religious ritual and street comedy, formally Die Zauberflöte reflects the abandonment in much of Mozart's late music of the integrated complexity of classicism in favor of a sometimes almost childlike simplicity of expression, and (as in the Requiem), a juxtaposition of musical languages, with little apparent desire to achieve formal integration or homogeneity. Charles Rosen noted Mozart's renunciation of harmonic colour in Die Zauberflöte, and whereas in Idomeneo (an aria-based opera) twelve out of the fourteen arias employ sonata form, Mozart virtually dispensed with sonata form in Die Zauberflöte. If we consider Le nozze di Figaro to have represented the high point of Mozart's classical synthesis, an artistic expression of the last, supreme moment of social optimism within the Viennese Enlightenment, it is significant that after 1786 he wrote only two further works in the genre that best conveyed the classical ideal of integration: the piano concerto.

Theodor Adorno once described Beethoven's late style as a disintegration of the heroic bourgeois synthesis of individual and objective reality that Beethoven had achieved in his middle-period music; a reflection of the social and political polarization in post-Napoleonic Europe. In his late string quartets Beethoven abandons classical dialectic (in particular, sonata form) to represent a fragmented, objectified landscape lit by, but no longer integrated with, the artist's own subjectivity. 'Beethoven does not bring about a harmonious synthesis of these extremes. Rather, he tears them apart,' says Adorno. In Beethoven's late music the alienation of the individual from the real world is graphically conveyed in unrelated stylistic juxtapositions: baroque counterpoint alongside quasi-sonata forms, sublime serenity alongside rustic dances. Something similar seems to have happened in Mozart's late music, the effect not of intimations of mortality (as is so often sentimentally implied) but of the bleak social and political climate of his last years.
T.J. Clark:
It is above all collectivity that the popular exists to prevent.
John Dos Passos
today entails tomorrow
Franco Moretti:
Thus is dramatically realized the ideal of every restoration culture: to abolish the irreversibility of history and render the past everlasting. Social relations, no longer fraudulent and productive of uncontrollable events, are reformulated in a transparent and spatial - that is, static - form.
Edmond Caldwell:
For most of her life she had been invisible, and while she hadn't complained she could not say she had much liked it, either. Ungrateful girl! And thick-skulled too, her mother was right, but at last she had learned her lesson: it was best never to be seen at all, to be small and unimpressive and ignored, to go at all times and in all places unregarded and incognito, was the greatest of boons. To be unseen was to have a little ground under your feet - very little, it is true - but to be seen was a trapdoor. To be unseen was to have almost nothing inside that you could call your own, but to be noticed, to be caught in this searchlight, was to be . . . turned inside-out. She was being seen. And not just by any pair of eyes but by the eye in charge, the eye behind the eyes, not the eyes you're seen by but the eye that's your horizon, the condition not only of your visibility but of your very being.
Job (King James Version):
Oh that my words were now written! oh that they were printed in a book!
That they were graven with an iron pen and lead in the rock for ever!
Antonio Gramsci:
How the present is a criticism of the past, besides [and because of] "surpassing" it. But should the past be discarded for this reason? What should be discarded is that which the present has "intrinsically" criticized and that part of ourselves which corresponds to it. What does this mean? That we must have an exact consciousness of this real criticism and express it not only theoretically but politically. In other words, we must stick closer to the present, which we ourselves have helped create, while conscious of the past and its continuation (and revival).
Denise Levertov:
all history
burned out, down
to the sick bone
Ernest Nagel and James R. Newman:
The discovery that there are formally indemonstrable arithmetic truths does not mean that there are truths which are forever incapable of becoming known, or that a mystic intuition must replace cogent proof. It does mean that the resources of the human intellect have not been, and cannot be, fully formalized, and that new principles of demonstration forever await invention and discovery.
Friedrich Engels:
It is the old story. First of all one makes sensous things into abstractions and then one wants to know them through the senses, to see time and smell space. The empiricist becomes so steeped in the habit of empirical experience, that he believes that he is still in the field of sensuous experience when he is operating with abstractions. We know what an hour is, or a metre, but not what time and space are! As if time was anything other than just hours, and space anything but just cubic metres!
Virgil (David Ferry):
Here is a beautiful shepherd's staff, the one
Antigenes often asked me for and was
Refused, though then he deserved my love. The knots
Are evenly spaced, the rings are brass, Menalcas.
William Shakespeare:
Though the seas threaten, they are merciful.
I have cursed them without cause.
Patricia Highsmith:
The window gave him nothing but his own image.
Helen DeWitt:
Eloise had written a book and been made to have discussions in which the phrase 'flesh out' was used of characters. She was just out of college. She had been reading Robbe-Grillet. She had recently seen Dogville. In a moment of weakness she had attached to four characters the sort of name that is affixed to a little primate at birth. Each was also provided with hair, eye, and skin colour, a wardrobe, some sort of plausible history. A favourite TV show. What with all these plausible names and histories, the characters went plausibly about their business like impostors in a witness protection programme.
Søren Kierkegaard:
Repetition and recollection are the same movement, only in opposite directions; for what is recollected has been, is repeated backwards, whereas repetition properly so called is recollected forwards.
W.H. Auden:
Mine the art which made the song
Sound ridiculous and wrong
Marcel Proust:
And at night they did not dine in the hotel, where, hidden springs of electricity flooding the great dining-room with light, it became as it were an immense and wonderful aquarium against whose glass wall the working population of Balbec, the fishermen and also the tradesmen's families, clustering invisibly in the outer darkness, pressed their faces to watch the luxurious life of its occupants gently floating upon the golden eddies within, a thing as extraordinary to the poor as the life of strange fishes or molluscs (an important social question, this: whether the glass wall will always protect the banquets of these weird and wonderful creatures, or whether the obscure folk who watch them hungrily out of the night will not break in some day to gather them from their aquarium and devour them).

2022 reading, the list

1. Charles Darwin, Voyage of the Beagle
2. Seamus O'Mahony, Can Medicine Be Cured? The Corruption of a Profession
3. Nicholas Till, Mozart and the Enlightenment: Truth, Virtue and Beauty in Mozart's Operas
4. T.J. Clark, The Painting of Modern Life: Paris in the Art of Manet and His Followers
5. Nancy E. Bernhard, US Television News and Cold War Propaganda, 1947-1960
6. John Dos Passos, The 42nd Parallel
7. John Dos Passos, 1919
8. John Dos Passos, The Big Money
9. Donald Francis Tovey, Essays in Musical Analysis vol. 1: Symphonies 1
10. Oakley Hall, Warlock
11. Adolf Hitler, Mein Kampf (trans. Ralph Manheim)
12. Honoré de Balzac, Pere Goriot (trans. E.K. Brown)
13. Lily E. Kay, Who Wrote the Book of Life? A History of the Genetic Code
14. Isaac Asimov, The Genetic Code
15. J.O. Jeppson, The Second Experiment
16. Bertrand Russell, The Impact of Science on Society
17. Isaac Asimov, The Robots of Dawn
18. Franco Moretti, Signs Taken For Wonders: Essays in the Sociology of Literary Forms
19. Julien Benda, The Treason of the Intellectuals (trans. Richard Aldington)
20. Edmond Caldwell, Human Wishes/Enemy Combatant
21. Job (KJV)
22. Octavia E. Butler, Dawn
23. Timothy Leary, Ralph Metzner & Richard Alpert, The Psychedelic Experience: A manual based on The Tibetan Book of the Dead
24. Octavia E. Butler, Adulthood Rites
25. James Gleick, The Information: A History, a Theory, a Flood
26. Job (trans. Robert Alter)
27. Kary Mullis, Dancing Naked in the Mind Field
28. Clarice Lispector, First Stories
29. Octavia E. Butler, Imago
30. Antonio Gramsci, Prison Notebook 1 (trans. Buttigieg)
31. B.F. Skinner, Beyond Freedom and Dignity
32. Marcel Proust, Swann's Way
33. Leonard Susskind, The Black Hole War: My Battle With Stephen Hawking to Make the World Safe for Quantum Mechanics
34. Ray Bradbury, Fahrenheit 451
35. Karl Ove Knausgaard, The Morning Star
36. Denise Levertov, The Sorrow Dance
37. Helena Blavatsky, The Secret Doctrine volume II: Anthropogenesis
38. T.S. Eliot, The Waste Land
39. Harry Harrison, Make Room! Make Room!
40. Thomas Pynchon, Vineland
41. Isaac Asimov, Earth Is Room Enough
42. Italo Calvino, If on a winter's night a traveler
43. Ernest Nagel and James R. Newman, Godel's Proof
44. Adele Haverty Bealer, Interface: Connecting the Work of Gregory Bateson, Deleuze and Guattari, and Alain Badiou (master's thesis)
45. KPD(ML), When and Why Socialism in the Soviet Union Failed
46. C.G. Jung, Answer to Job
47. Psalms (KJV)
48. Iain M. Banks, Consider Phlebas
49. Isaac Asimov, Robots and Empire
50. Proverbs (KJV)
51. Marcel Proust, Within a Budding Grove
52. Walter Tevis, The Man Who Fell to Earth
53. Percival Everett, The Trees
54. Dietrich Eckart, Bolshevism from Moses to Lenin: A Conversation Between Adolf Hitler and Me
55. Barbara O'Brien, Operators and Things: The Inner Life of a Schizophrenic
56. Bram Stoker, Dracula
57. Charles Darwin, The Origin of Species
58. Astounding Science Fiction, April 1944
59. Friedrich Engels, Dialectics of Nature
60. Isaac Asimov, Earth: Our Crowded Spaceship
61. Roberto Bolaño, The Savage Detectives
62. Ecclesiastes (KJV)
63. Clarice Lispector, Family Ties
64. William Blake, Illustrations of the Book of Job, introduction and commentary by S. Foster Damon
65. Umberto Eco, Six Walks in the Fictional Woods
66. Gustavo Gutierrez, On Job: God-Talk and the Suffering of the Innocent
67. Samuel R. Delany, Nova
68. Michael Cetewayo Tabor, Capitalism Plus Dope Equals Genocide
69. Joseph Wicksteed, Blake's Vision of the Book of Job
70. Virgil, Eclogues (trans. David Ferry)
71. William Shakespeare, The Tempest
72. Helen C. Scott, Shakespeare's Tempest and Capitalism: The Storm of History
73. The Song of Solomon (KJV)
74. Carl Schmitt, Political Theology
75. Patricia Highsmith, Strangers on a Train
76. T. Mohr, Imperialism Today is Conspiracy Praxis
77. Racine, Phaedra (trans. Robert Lowell)
78. Helen DeWitt, Some Trick
79. Søren Kierkegaard, Fear and Trembling (trans. Alastair Hannay)
80. W.H. Auden, For the Time Being
81. Søren Kierkegaard, Repetition: An Essay in Experimental Psychology (trans. Walter Lowrie)
82. Friedrich Engels, ancillary material in MECW 25 (related to Anti-Duhring and Dialectics of Nature)
83. Marcel Proust, The Guermantes Way
84. Worlds Hidden in Plain Sight: The Evolving Idea of Complexity at the Santa Fe Institute 1984-2019, ed. David C. Krakauer

Wednesday, January 4, 2023

second notes on reading, 2022

Having established some grounding in Marxism - i.e., for the first time, in reality - I began over the past few years what I've been thinking of as a long-term project of research into what you might call "bad ideas of the 20th century", to learn what they have in common and toward what aims they point. This led me to a 19th century precursor, Helena Blavatsky, whose immensely tedious and immensely fascist Secret Doctrine I finally dispensed with in 2022. I've mentioned her recently. It was touching to learn that she, very generously if I don't say so myself, characterizes Semites as a branch of the noble Aryan family - albeit, of course, a considerably degenerate one.

Timothy Leary, Jung (on whom perhaps a bit more later) - Blavatskies of the 20th century, more or less, as in their different ways are the "information" theorists (again, perhaps more later) as well as the (as they say) literal Nazis I read last year, Carl Schmitt, Dietrich Eckart, Hitler himself. Not to attribute any great originary role to Madame B. (whose own work appears to be largely plagiarized and about whom it's an open question how much the Nazis cared); I'm not searching for some Secret Idea that drove it all. But the tremendous value of actually reading these people is that it enables you to recognize it when you see it again - and again - and again - same old, same old. If you have read Mein Kampf, if you have read the almost impressively audaciously insane Bolshevism from Moses to Lenin or, as I had in 2021, The Protocols of the Elders of Zion, and if you have understood how they do what they do, their new versions - most importantly those in "left" garb - have no hope of working on you. Of course Marx helps a great deal.

One finding of this research project that perhaps won't (couldn't) amuse and interest anyone else as much as it did me had to do with the bad idea of the 20th century that is dearest and most repugnant to my heart. In an email I sent to Richard one year and one day ago today, after briefly parodying Hitler's style, I added:

(I said "inwardly infinitely" because those are two of his favorite modifiers, infinite and inward - they'll often appear multiple times per page, sometimes multiple times per sentence, frequently in ways that don't seem to make any sense - which, that and other things stylistically remind me of, um, Golden Age scifi in general and most very specifically A.E. van Vogt - unlikely to have been direct stylistic influence since it was only translated into English in 1943, when the Golden Age was about to have run its course already; on the other hand so many scifi writers then were engineers, and engineers then could all read German; but seems most likely due to shared mindset and maybe shared type of influences - I wonder how similar the styles of German and American turn-of-the-20th popular literature were.)
And I did read scifi in 2022. The Second Experiment by J.O. Jeppson (who is better known by the name she openly wrote under later, Janet Asimov) was everything I want in a certain type of scifi - "dumb, psychotic, and kind of great, and all three much more so than I was expecting", as I blurbed it to Richard in an email in March. Unexpectedly it featured Margulisian speciation via symbiosis as a plot point, as does, in sickeningly distorted form, Octavia Butler's Xenogenesis series - in which we are told, as indisputable fact, that human beings are intrinsically evil due to genetic original sin and must have the genes for Goodness raped into us by aliens if we are to avoid destroying ourselves. The more one reads of Butler the more one wonders where her much-ballyhooed lefty cred comes from (answer: marketing; racist overcompensation). As usual what she does with her fundamentally fascist concept is interesting and ambivalent, but no amount of fascinating development can undo the vileness at its heart: the series is a long, thoughtful, even occasionally moving answer to the idiotic and breathtakingly repellent question, "What if fascists were right about Human Nature, but it really could be fixed by eugenics?" (Which, to be sure, has a certain internal logic: after all, if fascists were right about human nature, eugenics would be the way to fix it.) Remarkably, too, the form this asserted inescapable evil of humanity takes is: "hierarchy" - never defined, this word, and one wishes to be able to sit down with Butler's ghost and ask it what she thought the word meant, because nearly everything we're given as telling examples of this nefarious inevitable human tendency toward hierarchy is precisely resistance to the imposition of hierarchy - which, back to the question of Butler's lefty cred, certainly explains why she's so beloved today of astroturfed social media influencers pretending to be radicals who routinely slander all genuine revolutionary black liberation movements and heroes, past and present, in precisely the same terms.

Bradbury (the execrable Fahrenheit 451) and Asimov (some of the later novels and much nonfiction) I read with a specific aim in mind, though in the case of Asimov there is also some pleasure in the reading. I will not talk about either of them now, for fear of never stopping; all I'll say about 451 for the moment is that may be the first-ever pro-nuclear-holocaust novel, a remarkable achievement for 1953 (or 1951, when the even more overtly nuke-em-all-cleansing-fire novella "The Fireman", later revised and expanded into the novel, appeared in Galaxy). Hopefully I will say what I have to say about them another time. Harry Harrison's Make Room! Make Room! is of course very famous as part of scifi's long ignoble history of propagandizing the alleged "overpopulation problem"; Delany's Nova I like.