Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Forcefields and Constellations

What music does a composer respond to?  What music does a composer have to be responsible to? Is there repertoire of such importance that response in inescapable?  With so much repertoire available that an overview is increasingly impossible, why can't a composer just pick and choose arbitrarily among influences?  Or forget influence altogether and begin from scratch, from first principles, tabula rasa, with blissful disregard for the past?

Ron Silliman has an interesting post (here) about poets and influence and a "center of modernism" that seems, at first, to have a curiously strident historical determinism about it in its critique of a poet colleague's idiosyncratic version of history, but he saves his argument with the same turn that saves Adorno from only being the advocate for a particular and parochial program of German modernist musical hegemony and makes it possible to use Adorno's methods in fresh contexts, wholly unimaginable to Adorno himself*.   This turn is described by Silliman as a dynamic, but it seems to me to necessarily imply Adorno's notions of a forcefield and a constellation.  Any instance in any local music (or poetic) culture is necessarily located in a field of influences, and the attractions and repulsions that an individual working in this moment will have are in a dynamic relationship to this field.   On the other hand,  real work created in this field will appear as more or less fixed constellations of influences and connections and these concrete examples — which will have personal/individual and sometimes even arbitrary qualities — necessarily become terms by which subsequent worked is defined.**

I can't resist Silliman's money line: The polished poetics of Marianne Moore, as hard-edged as any Jeff Koons rabbit, seems to me the very denial of this dynamic.  But this is also where I disagree with him; a Moore or a Koons is a perfectly adequate term for defining the dynamic, even through negation, if that's all we want to do.  Isn't the bigger problem, however, with a Moore poem or a Koons rabbit, that, aside from being uninteresting, they are just not very good?   


* It is always so shocking, for example, to read how blocked Adorno was about the important pull that French music — Berlioz, Debussy, for starts — played on German music. On the other hand, some forcefields can be surprisingly weak due to the taste and will of individuals: Couperin and Rameau lived within walking distance of one another for 11 years and appear to have never met.

**This strikes me as the real rough spot in dialectical accounts of  history:  as terms in your dialectic, you are stuck with history as it really happened, and the individuals, events and artifacts that really exist are inevitably far from ideal terms.  Ezra Pound was far from an ideal figure around whom modernist poety might be centered, but there he was.  Czarist Russia was far from an ideal place in which to launch a socialist revolution, but there it was.    

1 comment:

Charles Shere said...

Not having read Adorno (ah, remorse), I don't know his comments on dynamic relationships and constellations of influences. Those are promising concepts. (They make me think of Boulez's early piano music.) I suppose we each have our "influences" — Lou Harrison urged me to read Bloom's The Anxiety of Influence, but I find Bloom as unappetizing as Adorno, so haven't, though fere aliqvvbi hic illvd scio, as Bhishma X. says. The thing isn't the individual influences, it's the unique (to each of us) constellation (I suppose "cloud" is the current word) of them. In my case, e.g., Ives, Webern, Cage, Duchamp, Mallarmé, ellipsis.
There can be no "center of modernism," pace Silliman, because one of its first announcements was that "the centre cannot hold." "Things fall apart." Modernism depends on dispersal, acceleration and dispersal; and lapses into the kind of apparent chaos every generation perceives in its own context, unless it takes refuge in what Ponge calls the momon.