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On 9/14/2020 at 9:11 AM, Wilfrid said:

He passed the duty to Ian Frazier a few years ago, but his were the best.

Remember, though, when Angell took back the reins for a single year a couple of years ago?  David Remnick said that, when Angell surprised him with the manuscript, he couldn't have been happier if someone had handed him a manuscript of Ulysses.

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I meant to make a laudatory post last week to the effect that, where other than The New Yorker might you find a smart, funny, informative article on a literary figure as obscure as Alfred Lord Dunsany

I took that test when we applied to adopt! Picture was from the 30's: any idiot could tell that you were supposed to translate the stallion and the shirtless man in the picture into something sexual.

Mitchell is right on this precise point, though: as a classical music fan, I find its use in classical venues to be an outrage.

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The sacralized canon will evolve as the musical world evolves around it. Because of the peculiarly invasive nature of sound, old scores always seem to be happening to us anew. A painting gazes at us unchanging from its frame; a book speaks to us in its fixed language. But when modern people play a Beethoven quartet it, too, becomes modern...

I am astonished that Alex Ross thinks this is true of music but not of books and paintings. I suppose he might be referring to the performance only--but books, at least, can be "performed." It seems obvious that modern art and literature affect appreciation of older art and literature.

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I think Ross is trying to say something different from what you take him as saying.  Let me tease out what I think he's saying, and then you tell me whether or not it makes any difference.

I don't think Ross is talking about the audience's "appreciation" of a work.  He's talking about the work itself.  Music, to be heard, must be played.  The score (in common-practice notated European classical music, which is Ross's subject, and which is what I'll mean when I refer to "music" hereinafter) doesn't embody the work.  The score is just a set of instructions for the rendition of the work.  Moreover, the work must of necessity be realized by contemporary (i.e., currently living) performers.

A painting is a physical object.  Las Meninas is Las Meninas.  It may deteriorate over time, it may be subject to restorations of varying quality -- but it's essentially the same object that Valazquez created in 1656.  Our appreciation of it -- our reception, perception of it -- of course is affected by all that came after.  But the work itself remains fixed.  Unlike music (as defined), which exists only in its contemporary realization.*

For painting to be analogous to music, its physical realization would have to be ephemeral, would have to somehow disappear once it's completed.  Instead of painting Las Meninas, Valazquez would have had to have left a set of symbols that in accordance with a commonly understood system would provide instructions for the work's subsequent ephemeral realizations by others.  Every time someone wanted to look at Las Meninas, a specialist trained in both the craft of painting and the interpretation of the commonly understood symbolic system Valazquez used for his instructions would have to realize it -- and the realization would then immediately disappear.  So it wouldn't just be the viewer's reception of Las Meninas that would be contemporary -- Las Meninas would itself, in a sense, be contemporary every time it's viewed (each realization of course being informed by the realizer's experience of life, art, history, and culture subsequent to Valazquez).  Because it always would be realized by contemporary artists.

I think that's the distinction Ross was trying to draw between music and what you might called fixed-realization art.  As I said, let me know whether or not you think this makes any difference.

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* We can talk about recordings if you think they change anything, but my short answer is that, as far as music (as defined) is concerned, recordings are almost exactly analogous under this analysis to reproductions of paintings in books and other media, which obviously are not equivalent to the work itself.

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As I said, he presumably is talking about the performance if we are to assume he’s not a fool, which is a fair assumption. But... I don’t think it’s that simple.

More to come, but I wish I could find video of Benjamin Zephaniah reading William Blake.

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Okay, let me try not to write a book about this.

Art and objects. It's obviously right to say that there are big differences between the arts, the types of objects they produce, and the manner in which those objects are consumed. But there are also overlaps, and significant differences within each art.

Paintings, music. Sneak draws a distinction between the painting as a physical object and music "which exists only in its contemporary realization" (i.e., when it is performed). The individual painting -- Las Meninas -- is an example well selected to support Sneak's argument, but of course there are many types of work in the very broad painting-sculpture space that don't fit as easily: sculptures themselves (Rodin); lithographs, engravings, prints, etc; and -- relevantly -- many installations.

Books, plays, poetry. But aside from painting, Ross mentions books too, and at a glance books are a little more like music than like paintings. After all, the pile of printed paper in my hand is not obviously the same thing as the story it contains. Burning copies of War and Peace is not in any simple way the same thing as burning Tolstoy's story -- it leaves the story untouched (thought experiment, what if every copy of a story was destroyed? Would that destroy the story? What if people remembered it? (Bradbury)).

Ross refers to a "book and its fixed language." Of course, many texts come down to us in multiple variant versions -- that's not even unusual. Piers Plowman, Tender is the Night, countless versions of Hamlet. And speaking of Hamlet, Ross doesn't even consider the differences between novels, poetry and drama. Drama has obvious affinities with music. Sure, you can read a script to yourself (but people can and do read musical scores too), but it's natural to say that it's the performance of the play which really matters "which exists only in its contemporary realization."

Is poetry so different from music? Consider Bunting: "I have set down the words as a musician pricks his score, not to be read in silence, but to trace in the air a pattern of sound that may sometime, I hope, be pleasing." And he's not alone: the relevance of my earlier remark about Zephaniah reading Blake was that the occasion, manner and pitch of that performance of "The Tyger" was something Blake and his contemporaries could hardly have anticipated.

Back to painting, sculpture, etc. As we've seen, there's a significant sub-set of objects in this broad space which are reproducible. An installation which is re-installed in a context quite different from its original context can certainly be affected in terms of its "contemporary realization." It's worth thinking about Las Meninas too: while the physical object remains determinate (aging aside), does its installation in a modern space affect its reception? (It's a commonplace that the experience of a painting can be affected by the paintings it's hung alongside.) In a sense I'm saying what Sneak said: "Las Meninas would itself, in a sense, be contemporary every time it's viewed (each realization of course being informed by the realizer's experience of life, art, history, and culture subsequent to Velazquez)." But Sneak seems to think that's the case only if the physical object is ephemeral and needs to be re-created on each occasion. I don't see why.

Back to books. Even more clearly, even the quiet reading of a story could be described as a singular performance (without an audience) -- "a contemporary realization." And while it might require the presence of a physical object, whether a volume or an eReader, it doesn't require the presence of a unique physical object.

Summary. Certainly in the case of drama, and arguably in cases like some poetry, some sculpture, some reproducible art works, the work can "become modern" by virtue of the circumstances of its consumption. And there are the foundations of an argument for saying the same thing about novels and individual physical paintings too.

 

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Just noticed something Sneak said earlier: recordings of music analogous to reproductions of paintings in books. What about music which is created exclusively as recorded — on a computer, say. Do we only have a reproduction of that music, never the music “itself”?

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Remember I defined music for purposes of my post as "common-practice notated European classical music", which is how I take Ross to be using it.  There's a lot more music that doesn't fall into that category than that does.

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Ross’s claim might be a bit defensible if books, paintings and music are tremendously narrowly defined? Not drama or poetry, not art other than unique paintings, not music other than what you said.

(It doesn’t matter but you’d think he might be more aware of what we’re discussing here.)

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2 hours ago, Wilfrid said:

Just noticed something Sneak said earlier: recordings of music analogous to reproductions of paintings in books. What about music which is created exclusively as recorded — on a computer, say. Do we only have a reproduction of that music, never the music “itself”?

I'm hearing White v. Apollo here.

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1.  Maybe if you're talking about a fusty kind of music, as Ross is, it makes sense to compare it with a fusty kind of painting.

2.  I think your treatment of "books" suggests that you're still not giving due consideration to the distinction between audience reception and the work itself.  With a book, the text itself doesn't change (I mean, really old books in older forms of English, and books in foreign languages, require translation -- but I think that's different).  With music, there essentially is no text.  Again, Ross is NOT talking about audience reception; he's talking about the necessarily mutable quality of works that have no existence outside of performance (and if you're going to claim that books also don't, I'll refer you to Dr. Johnson and Bishop Berkeley).

3.  I militantly disagree with any suggestion that "the story" is the book.  The TEXT is the book.  The story is the SUBJECT of the book.

4.  I think it also is beside the point that bronze sculptures like Rodin's are reproducible.  There's an original mold they're reproducing.  The cultural, historical, and life experiences of the casters don't really affect the reproduction.  Unlike the performance of music (as defined), where the bare, only partially informative score can hardly be analogized to a cast.

5.  Even with paintings, you talk about changes in reception caused by, say, changing modes of presentation.  Ross is not talking about reception.  At all.  Argue if you will that reception is all that really matters, and that Ross's focus on the creation of the work is misplaced.  I personally would be receptive to such an argument; I'm on the fence myself.  But arguing about changes in "reception" is rebutting a point that Ross simply isn't trying to make.

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