Sunday, December 16, 2012

Same and Different, again

ONE MORE THING about this fluid dynamic between identity and difference and the whole space of resemblance in-between those poles:  This can often depend upon a confusion of identities and I'm not altogether certain it's usually an honest confusion, instead it is often a voluntary entry into a contract to agree to mistake A for B.  One the one hand, this is just playing the game, agreeing, in musical terms, to hear a little more or a little less into the music so that two stretches of music fit into the same memory cache. On the other hand, this could be a little more ethically suspect, nefarious even, a suspension of honest estimation and judgment in favor of bending the evidence to suit the purpose of musical continuity or even unity, an act of some misplaced generosity, or even worse when a confusion of the kind is simply due to not listening and/or not remembering, which certainly happens much more than composers or performers ought be comfortable.

And this, too: Isn't this confusion often really, truly implausible?  There is a huge tradition in myth and literature of assumed and mistaken identities: think of Twelfth Night, or the Martin Guerre story, or any of those Hollywood films in which a thin layer of shiny latex turns person M into person N, or that classic hard-boiled detective formula in which person X mistakes person Y for person Z.   Of course the purpose of these mistaken identities is to set a target for the story which follows, and that target is the removal of the disguise, the restoration of proper identities. In some of these cases, one can well imagine that the mistaken identity is accepted knowingly (i.e maybe Martin Guerre was a creep and a lousy provider, so if this guy was affable enough and able to do the job well, well then Mrs Guerre was happy to play along) but in others, it can't really work unless there's some form of mass hysteria about (which might well be the case in Twelfth Night.) The frequency of these stories does make one wonder, however, if there wasn't once some time in which people regularly slipped into other identities and got away with it, people just accepting that you were who you said you were, even if you looked and sounded somewhat or even substantially different from how you used to look and sound (modern identity theft, which is an almost exclusively electronic information-based phenomena, is something altogether different, without any need for physical resemblance, indeed any physical presence, at all.)

So, in that space between a theme and its last variation or an exposition and its recapitulation, or along the hiccuping returns of a rondo, what is the nature of our confusion?  Do we enter in playfully, voluntary participant in a game with evolving rules, parameters, and other constraints?  Will identities be satisfactorily resolved in the end, like the denouement in a mystery, or can we satisfyingly be left without resolution?  Or do we simply all go a little bit mad when listening closely to music?

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