Sunday, January 18, 2009


As Guy Davenport is quite dead I don't have much reason to read the New Criterion anymore. Even so, I happened to catch a review of some new book on "Evolutionary Aesthetics" by John Derbyshire. Derbyshire is a British conservative curmudgeon who does most of his writing for the National Review. He is one of those conservatives, like Vox Day (no link-look him up-worst human being ever?) who likes to say OUTRAGEOUS and OFFENSIVE and CONTRARIAN things to get the ol' rile out of liberal pusses like me.
He also likes to imagine himself as very smart (as does Day). Thus its not a total surprise that the first sentence of his article, a long piece written in the top conservative arts magazine, is in fact, totally wrong:
"The modernist composer Anton Webern predicted that mailmen on their rounds would one day whistle his atonal non-melodies."

Actually, it was Schoenberg who said that; it is one of the more famous quotes from a modernist composer. And as for "non-melody," whatever that is, I'd love to hear John Derbyshire, or maybe even New Criterion's bow-tied editor and douchebag Roger Kimball's definition of what constitutes a "melody." Being the worldly, cultured dons of our country's right-wing I'm sure they've poured over Lach's 1913 Studien zur Entwicklungsgeschichte der Ornamentalen Melopoie countless times.
Actually, I am almost entirely sure that neither Derbyshire or Kimball has never actually heard Webern, or much less understands what atonality actually is. They most likely have a cloudy, vague notion of some sort of elitist, avant-garde ideological pitter-patter designed by ideologues to make people feel dumb. And sure, atonality was/is often that. Perhaps Derbyshire and Kimball have René Leibowitz in mind, and then I'd have to agree with them; but if they haven't heard of Webern you can be sure they've never even heard of Leibowitz. And again, that's okay, because René Leibowitz sucked.

But lets take Derbyshire's bait. He seems to imply that a melody it something memorable, tonal, and right for whistlin'. A "tune," if you will. But if a melody is something memorable that you can whistle I can whistle you* countless atonal melodies! Just ask me to and I will come over and charm you and your children. Sure, I'm no genius like Roger Kimball, but I can whistle several snatches from the symphonies of Karl Amadeus Hartmann, sing just about the whole of Wozzeck, or tap the wacky, thorny rhythms of the second of Webern's Piano Variations, Op. 27 on your back (or thighs, for 10$ extra and a ride home). And although mailmen don't whistle atonal modernist music, do we really want them whistling at all? Why was that even a goal? Isn't it enough that every day the government sends a man in upsetting shorts to our door?

By the way, if you do a Googe for John Derbyshire's picture, you find that this is his most published photograph:

While I am surely no Lorenzo Lamas, I think you will agree that this looks like a pedophile's passport photo. Perhaps nubile 14 year-old, mail-ordered Cambodian boy-lover Rangsey Ung-Dim spiked his sherry with valium shortly before snapping it?

This is the above-mentioned Roger Kimball dressed as Orville Redenbacher. A typical article by Kimball will reference Anselm of Canterbury while defending Joe the Plumber.

*I cannot whistle.

Thursday, January 15, 2009


ει γάρ τις ο ζους οξυτόμω πελέκει
ξερείψειεν μεγάλας δρυός, αισχύνοι δέ οι θαητον ειδος:

καὶφθινόκαρπος εοισα διδοι ψαφον περ' αυτας,

ει ποτε χειμέριον πυρ εξίκηται λοίσθιον:
η συν ορθαις κιόνεσσιν δεσποσύναισιν ερειδομένα
μόχθον α λλοις αμφέπει δύστανον εν τείχεσιν,
εον ερημώσαισα χω̂ρον...

...if a man with a
sharp blade
lops off a shoot from a great oak and disfigures its
glorious form,
even though it can no longer bear leaves it casts a vote in its
own favour,
whether it comes at the end to a fire in winter,
or, sustained by upright pillars in a master's house,
it performs a cheerless labour in an alien building,
having abandoned its native place.

-Pindar, Fourth Pythian Ode (trans. Anthony Verity)

It is currently -11 degrees in Minneapolis. Still, you have no idea of the intense pleasure that results from reading Pindar while listening to The Stylistics' self-titled debut. (Click here to see photo of me taken while writing the previous sentence.)

Wednesday, January 07, 2009

Separated at Birth

Claudio Monteverdi (1597)

"The end of all good music is to affect the soul."

Prince (1991)

Remind me of somethin' James used 2 say
'I like 'em fat, I like 'em proud
U got 2 have a mother 4 me'
Now move your big ass 'round this way
So I can work on that zipper, baby
2night U're a star and I'm the Big Dipper."

Tuesday, January 06, 2009

In der Strafkolonie

...great stress was laid by the Sumerian courts on the need of making manifest to all, by means of the written word, the guilty for which the accused was punished. Thus, the thief and the woman who marries two husbands must be stoned with stones on which their evil intent has been inscribed; and the woman who has sinned by saying something to a man which she should not have said (the text giving her words [from the Urukagina document] is unfortunately unintelligible) must have her teeth crushed with burnt bricks upon which, presumably, her guilty deed has been inscribed.

-Samuel Noah Kramer, The Sumerians: Their History, Culture and Character (pg. 83)

Thursday, January 01, 2009

A Celan/Clownsilly New Years

A poem that I never forget to share with my family and friends in the warm New Year's Eve glow of champagne and Auld Lang Synes:

mit dem modern
den Kanten

aus meinen Mund.

with its mouldering crusts
of delusion bread.

from my mouth.

-Paul Celan (trans. Michael Hamburger)

Happy New Year!