Blog One (make up blog)

Rhythm to me implies resonance. It is the force that drives a piece of music forward and gives it pace, and it is one of the elements that allows the listener to engage and follow. Engaging with art rhythmically would be to, in a sense, nod along with it and follow it and get it stuck in your head. Visual art brings a unique quality to this effect because it really never ends until the viewer looks away. Schoenberg made the point to Kandinsky that “when the artist reaches the point at which he desires only the expression of inner events and inner scenes in his rhythms and words, then the ‘object in painting’ has ceased to belong to the reproducing eye” (Albright 170). The process of expressing shape creates form. It moves through creation and recreation of the reproducing eye. Schoenberg is remarking on the subjectivity of art that gives it rhythm and words by his statement about what turns art into something objective, separate, stagnant.

I was looking at Kandinsky’s painting trying to apply some sort of understanding of rhythm or harmony in visual art, and I guess it frustrated me until I read the correspondence between him and Schoenberg. It seemed to me that both Schoenberg and Kandinsky understood the constructs of modern art and music working as and through each others’ terms, and then simultaneously both of them intentionally work against these things and within these things in order to create new form. “I am certain that our own modern harmony is not to be found in the ‘geometric’ way, but rather in the anti-geometric, anti logical way” (Albright 169) wrote Kandinsky to Schoenberg. This makes way more sense when looking at his work. Everything in the painting in the Butler reading looks like its moving up and criss-cross. Schoenberg responded by commenting on the “elimination of the conscious will in art”. Instead of having a geometric, conscious form, the painting moves in an original, stream of conscious way which creates new form. It’s organic and natural. It’s anti-rhythmical, or at least sort of syncopated. But, in its own way, it is continuous because every viewer then recreates the form by following its lines and blotches of color. The painting doesn’t have harmony, but dissonance in the way it is never “complete” or “finished”, like a triad with a random augmented or diminished 7th that leads it forward.

I really liked what Kandinsky had to say (and how he said it) about the two-sidedness of construction. He commented on the relationship between obtrusive geometry and dissonant expression in art and music. They seem to be opposing: one is self-conscious and purposeful, the other is free and expressive. He compares it to anarchy, which gives a sense of working against the rules, but always in relation to the rules. Even rejection to a subject inherently implies an engaging with that subject. I could be wrong about this, but it seems to me that Kandinsky seems to approach this in the sequence of construct first, then rejection of such construct afterwards. On the other hand, I felt that Schoenberg approached it in the sequence of the creation of expression first, and then comes the deciphering of those “puzzles” which are created. Either way, one cannot attempt to authentically express originality because those expressions are actually conscious and therefore calculated. It is conscious of its subconscious, which seems paradoxical and is certainly inauthentic. It brings into question whether there is such thing as pure art. That constant anxiety over originality and push-and-pull of conflict is part of what is expressed in modern art and music. It’s what I think keeps it going and keeps it continuous.

Really, the practice of engaging with these art and music and literary forms is continuous, as well. Butler addresses the process of the reader/listener/viewer passing down the relevance of their experience with the subject to their “successors”, who then go through that same process except different, and on and on. This is what prompted me to want to learn how to approach modernism in the first place: it is a form that continually challenges whoever engages with it to produce a new and unique outcome. Its forever interactive.


Blog 1, Make-up

If we’re to not use adjectives to describe Schoenberg’s Pierrot Lunaire, the next best option seems to be verbs, and to use these verbs to say what the piece does.  This “parlour game” seems to be based on the idea of experiencing and engaging the music, rather than attempting to define it from the outside looking in.  There are things, and the things in the piece do certain things.  Nouns that “do” verbs is the only way to elaborate on the music in place without using adjectives.  I think it applies well to this particular musical piece; because if you are dealing with a piece of art that is different than the norm, and you can’t “describe” what is happening, you can experience it and explain what it is doing in your perspective.

The introduction flutters around, seemingly twittering about with an occasional banging of keys, with a woman’s voice that interjects and punches through the noise of the piano. The instruments change their positions from being background noise to being leading characters in any given instant.  The music clashes with itself.  It seems to refuse to harmonize, it refuses to flow, and the woman refuses to guide the music along.  The flute refuses to be ignored. They, more than the piano, and more than the other instruments, dominate their sections as they pierce the space.  The piano is the life of the music, without a doubt.  Whenever there is a lull the piano carries the piece along.  The woman, early on, disrupts the music while the piano continues to carry it and push the piece forward.  She fluctuates between singing and speaking.  At times she projects and at times, she merely is present.  There are times where the piece floats more in certain places, and the flutes make this effect.  It should be said that piano is capable of doing more, however.  It can be a force and it can be forgettable, depending on what surrounds it.  When the piano bangs, the mood changes aggressively, and the flutes bring it back to a place where the music can be a calming agent.

Oof.  I’m not sure if this is an easier or more difficult way to approach music.  In certain places, using verbs is the best way to describe what is happening.  The flow of the piece is so disjointed, and in some places so abrupt, that the only way to explain what is happening is to just say what is happening, rather than try to add an extra layer of confusion and disconnect by describing the actions. I think that the lesson that can be gained from this exercise is that music is much more of an action than a subject, and that it “does” more than it “is.”  The way that the woman performs seems to accurately depict the effects that Schoenberg mentions in the Albright anthology.

“It is never the task of performers to recreate the mood and character of the individual pieces on the basis of the meaning of the words, but rather solely on the basis of the music… where the performer finds it lacking, he should abstain from presenting something that was not intended by the author. He would not be adding, but rather detracting.” (38-39)

The music is the star, the music is the backbone, and the woman is merely there to play a part.  Her words seem to be meaningless, partially because I can’t understand them, but more so because it is more important “how” she says them, and how those words interact with the music, rather than what is actually being communicated.  The “Sprechstimme mode of Pierrot Lunaire” (39) serves as a perfect mode to have singers be a supplement, rather than the feature or main event of the piece.    It’s interesting that the singer has to differentiate between what Schoenberg describes as the “singing tone,” and the “speaking tone.”  She seems to do a fantastic job of this, and it has the effect of really complementing the tone of the music.  Harsher music, non-harmonic sections, places that seem to “bang” go very well with the spoken tone, and the areas where we hear flutes and softer instruments flow more smoothly work very well with the singing tone.

Karisa Harris-Cleary

James Joyce possesses an avant-garde focus on form that allows his work to hold up today. On the surface, his style is jagged, complex, and makes absolutely zero sense, but beyond face-value, his form itself speaks louder than its content.

In interpreting this excerpt from “Sirens” as a fragment of a narrative, the counterpart of the time that comes to mind is F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby. Both construct a window into the twentieth century entertainment experience, immersed in spirits and symphony, and fogged by neoclassicism. While Fitzgerald’s novel is generally received as a realist novel, the abstracted style of Joyce’s Ulysses embodies a far more realistic experience of these aspects of social, human life. As Albright mentions, Joyce crafts an auditory presence within his writing (Albright 47). It is a sense that brings the reader into the work, rather than projecting the work onto the reader.

On the inside of “Sirens,” we hear the musical introduction of “steelyringing” followed by “A jumping rose… Trilling, trilling” (Albright 45). Next, in the middle, is “a call, pure, long and throbbing. Longindying call” which is tailed by “Smack. La cloche! Thigh smack” (Albright 45). The climax ensues, “War! War! The tympanum,” and falls with a “Black. Deepsounding. Do, Ben, do” (Albright 46). The sounds end in a “tschink with tschunk. Fff! OO!” of a cheers shadowed by the bodily noises, “Rrrpr. Kraa. Kraandl” and the fusion of these sounds with the Robert Emmet quote, “My eppripfftaph. Be pfrwritt,” signifying a digestion of the prior events along with an outright jest of Emmet’s work, reforming it into a sound similar to flatulence (Albright 47).

This is only my own attempt to decipher what exactly Joyce might be doing, which is constructing a typical musical score of any type in the banality that neoclassicism strove for. Still, as he sets up this representation he mocks the world of traditional music with pummeling satire. From The Rose of Castille to “Big Benben” and an unfinished “the” from “When the Bloom Is on the Rye,” his mockery is almost heard. For example, the moment he articulates, “a satiny breast of satin,” plays with an overused formula deprived of originality (Albright 45). Later Joyce brings Thomas Moore’s “Last Rose of Summer” down to the level of adolescent poetry when he delivers (drearily), “I feel so sad. P.S. So lonely blooming” (Albright 46).

The uncompleted, “Have you the?” taken from “When the Bloom is on the Rye” reappears from the first encounter of “Blue bloom is on the” (Albright 45). “Blue,” here, is an echo of “blew,” which is an echo of the previous line, “A husky fifenote blew,” turning sound into established melody, with a twist. This plays into the idea that “form is content, content is form,” as stated by Samuel Beckett in reference to Joyce’s work, because the form of these previously popular productions held such a standard form that there was nothing to be found beyond “the” (Albright 45, 47).

Finally, Joyce’s ending grounds his alternative form in a refusal to provide a resolution. As soon as he exclaims, “Done,” he follows with, “Begin!” (Albright 47). A foundation in the form of traditional music and narrative is the conclusion, a place to rest. Joyce, as a modernist, is tearing down the audience’s neoclassicist expectations of form and leaving with an enormous sense of distress. Right when digestion hits, the reader is accustomed to a sweet, consoling resolution, but instead we are told to “begin” from the end.
By hurling the reader into a space of abstract sound through writing, the outcome is not only something unique and intellectually stimulating, but also concrete in opposition to the overplayed fantasy of form. While Fitzgerald’s novel held a promising meaning in the end, it held up to traditional form. When realism is attempted through fiction, sincerity is difficult to withhold, yet the opposite happens when reality is distorted. In “real life” there are no happy endings, warm conclusions or ultimate resolutions of any sort. On the other hand, there is a sense of mayhem in the sounds we hear as Joyce depicts through music, clanking of glasses, bits and pieces of conversation, and an array of ambient noise. Immersed in all of the sound, he begs of us, “Listen!” (Albright 46).

Amber Lee: Blog 1

When I read the first prompt (which I will be writing about), one of the first things I thought about was what rhythm means. I looked online the Merriam-Webster’s Dictionary and found that the first definition given was “a regular, repeated pattern of sounds or movements” (Merriam-Webster) which lead me to the conclusion that “rhythm” isn’t necessarily predominantly a musical term because of its ties with movement. This makes perfect sense to me, the two ideas of sound and movement should be intertwined because music so often causes people to move. We learned in class that some music caused people to stand up and riot. In a less violent function music is what causes to dance. Music causes people to sway and move naturally. Painting in a basic sense also falls in line with the definition of rhythm: a painter moves their brushes repeatedly in some sort of pattern in order to create what they want on their canvas. With all of those things tying together it doesn’t seem as strange to describe paintings in the terms of rhythm. Something much like music, which inspires dance, must inspire a painter to pick up their brushes and create. Where it fails to meet the definition exactly is where rhythm is described as being “regular” which many paintings are not, nor should they always be. Yet there is some regularity to some of the paintings in the Butler reading like the Piet Mondrian. All of the shapes painted are regular squares and rectangles. Not blobs or faces or stars. The painting is brought together in a way that not one of the shapes overwhelms the painting. The viewers’ eyes can move from shape to shape as we are drawn to the large red square. Still, not a thing seems out of place perhaps because the shapes are regular enough that our eyes can move from one to another without confusion. This painting is not difficult to look at and take in. It is not traditional or what we see in nature, but looking at different colored squares is easy to take. The message and purpose is the more difficult task.

This then brought me to the idea of a painting having rhythm. Like a dance, shouldn’t a painting move from one place to the next with grace a purpose? If it does not have grace, it should at the very least have purpose. A painting should draw a view’s eyes from one place to the next with some sense of intent, unless this is not the artist’s intention. Like many dances, two or more things must work together in order for something to move in unity to create something worth looking at and not just a mess of tripping limbs. Butler says that for the Piet Mondrain painting, “our feel for harmony and balance” (Butler, 24-25) is much may determine if the viewer likes the painting of not. Harmony and balance are also essential parts of dance also, though they mean slightly different things in that application. For the painting things like color and shape must have harmony that is either pleasing or aggravating depending on what is being portrayed. Balance is important to a painting because if one side of the painting is too busy or heavy in color, the view may feel like they are falling into one side and completely ignore the other. Space is important to art, but the space must be there to counterbalance a weight somewhere else. All art, not just aural, require some finesse and attention to what is happening and what the piece is doing.

With so many tools for artists to work with, taking those that seem to belong to other parts of art can create a new connected feeling where the painting has more life than the one on the wall. By combining the techniques and ideas connected to music and art the viewer may move and sway with the painting as much as they would when listening to music. If we try to bring language into this it may become even more complex. Yet, isn’t that what many musical productions are? Musicals are a combination of visual art, music, and language used to portray something about life whether it is a lesson, story, or just an emotion. Although the visual aspect was less important, for a long time, this was one of the highest and most entertaining versions of art. Visuals have become more important in things like sets and costumes and movie magic, but still, it is the playing of all these things together that can be the most emotional and do the most for people. It can inspire people to laugh, to cry, and to riot, and all that coming from one piece of art is amazing.

Musicality and Rhythm in Joyce’s Ulysses

Picture yourself walking down a noisy street, with the click-clacking of cars and footsteps jangling in your ears. All those kinds of jarring sounds that are so familiar that you tend to tune them out, or they just blend together. The only time that they seem to come across in a focused or separate manner is during times of increased sensitivity – such as a period of anxiety.

I have a lot of thoughts and feelings about James Joyce’s Ulysses, many of which I have trouble putting into words (which is a sensation that I’ve tried to integrate into my point here), but let’s see what we can do. What Joyce excels at perhaps above all (admittedly, narrowing down exactly what Joyce excels at best is tricky – as anyone who reads the book will come away with a different experience) is matching form with content. In the “Sirens” chapter, we find our hero Leopold Bloom stalking his wife’s lover through the streets of Dublin, and the chapter is incredibly noisy. By making use of discordant sounds, sentence fragments, and onomatopoeias – Joyce throws the reader exactly into Bloom’s shoes (sidenote: that OO sound, as in “Bloom” and “shoes” is one that echoes fairly prominently throughout the chapter’s opening overture…I stepped outside for a moment to listen to the sounds of the street, and it seems to me that OO is the sound I would most associate with all the various noises bleeding into each other). Due to his wife’s affair and encountering her lover in the street, Bloom is in just the kind of state of anxiety that makes all the sounds of the world louder. Bloom is rattled, so Joyce uses linguistic tricks to rattle the reader, thus connecting them to Bloom’s position.

However, it would be a disservice to refer to this section as purely “discordant” or “noisy.” Joyce’s strange little phrases have a very beautiful, evocative quality to them. “Wait while you wait. Hee hee. Wait while you hee” (Joyce 257). There’s something oddly universal to that, isn’t there? “The spiked and winding cold seahorn. Have you the? Each and for other plash and silent roar” (256). I can’t pretend that I understand what he’s saying here – but it seems like that’s the point. It has a certain emotional resonance nonetheless, just like listening to a symphony. One does not need to have a firm grasp of music to be moved by a piece, no matter how intricate. The same goes for Joyce’s writing. Not fully understanding may even add to the reader’s experience of the text – as it brings about a sense of subjectivity, which allows the reader to connect what’s on the page with their own life experiences and emotions.

This is not the only section where Joyce utilizes the sounds of the world in order to give the text a musicality. Take the chapter “Proteus” (my favorite section), which features the novel’s other main character, Stephen Dedalus walking on the beach. Like Bloom in “Sirens,” he is filled with a sense of confusion and doubt. “Am I walking into eternity along Sandymout Strand? Crush, crack, crick, crick, crick. Wild sea money…Rhythm begins, you see. I hear. A catalectic tetrameter of iambs marching” (37). Here, rhythm is not just evoked, but explicitly detailed and thought about. Stephen himself tries to form the world around him into poetic conventions (iambic pentameter). And, as the chapter goes on, he fails. This creates another reciprocal relationship with the reader, wherein they try to create order out of Stephen’s rambling thoughts (and perhaps forcing them to confront, like Stephen, their own failings to shape their life to a certain form).

Finally, in the most famous section of the novel, “Penelope,” Joyce forces the reader to create their own rhythm to the text through the use of one long unpunctuated 30 page sentence. The novels ends with “I was a Flower of the mountain yes when I put the rose in my hair like the Andalusian girls used or shall I wear a red yes and how he kissed me under the Moorish wall and I thought well as well him as another and then I asked him with my eyes to ask again yes and then he asked me would I yes to say yes my mountain flower and first I put my arms around him yes and drew him down to me so he could feel my breasts all perfume yes and his heart was going like mad and yes I said yes I will Yes” (783). This scene is narrated by Bloom’s wife, Molly, as she lays in bed and recounts their lives together and her doubts and disillusionments with the relationship (hence: the affair). By depriving the text of any punctuation, Joyce takes any sense of a safety-net for the reader to grasp onto. And the tone may shift from loving and beautiful, or resentful based on the way the reader chooses to give it rhythm (and, it may change with each reading).

Modernism can be seen to some extent as a response to the confusion faced by people in the wake of the First World War, and ever-changing structures of society. In his use of musical prose and rhythm in Ulysses, James Joyce instills that same sense of confusion in the readers, and creates a reciprocal relationship. And, to some extent, gives offers some sense of comfort by showing that the regular problems faced by regular people don’t really change that much, even as society does.

Eliot and Tradition

The Modernist artist was painfully aware of his or her historical position, and the Tradition that preceded the artist was just as important to the work of art as the artist’s contemporary context. During this historical period in art, critical judgment also begins to look at art through its context and the tradition preceding the artist’s works—a tradition that defines and is redefined by the contemporary work. Russian Structuralism “scientific” approach to literature, the New Critics move from the poet to the poem, and T.S. Eliot’s 1919 essay “Tradition and the Individual Talent” are just a few examples of this critical shift during the period that moves focus from the artist to the art itself. Eliot’s 1919 essay, “Tradition and the Individual Talent”, is probably one of the more cited examples, and understanding how his idea of Tradition and how it functions with the individual artist helps understand Modernist’s relationship to the past.

In his 1919 essay Eliot expresses a preference for a mature poet who sacrifices his own personality in order to situate his work within the artistic Tradition: “His [the artist] significance, his appreciation is the appreciation of his relation to the dead poets and artists. You cannot value him alone; you must set him, for contrast and comparison, among the dead”. Eliot’s essay then answers the cliché question, why read dead white poets? On a surface level, Ezra Pound’s Modernist motto of “make it new” can hide the Modernist indebtedness to the past (Eliot’s personal artistic preference is for the Tradition of complex metaphysical poets); this Modernist new, for Pound’s student Eliot at least, is a new reworking of preceding traditions. This reworking of past traditions results in a kind of symbiotic relationship between the past and the present where the present both influences and is influenced by the past: “The existing monuments form an ideal order among themselves, which is modified by the introduction of the new (the really new) work of art among them. . . Whoever has approved [of] this idea of order . . .[will] not find it preposterous that the past should be altered by the present as much as the present is directed by the past” (Tradition and the Individual Talent).

Butler suggests the Modernist use of allusion is part of this merging of past and present that can be found in Pound, Joyce, and Eliot (15), and those of us from the Faulkner class can add him to this list. Faulkner’s notion of a past not past seems very similar to Eliot’s notion of Tradition, and his novels are often informed and influenced by past canonical works and literary tradition. The Sound and the Fury takes its title from the famous “Macbeth” soliloquy, and Absalom, Absalom! is a retelling of the King David narrative from the Old Testament. But for Faulkner and the other Modernists as well, these allusions and use of previous form are not mere imitation; there isn’t a direct correlation between the past forms that inform the contemporary works, but frequent inversions and new, playful expressions.

This “really new” then isn’t exactly “new” per say, and Butler points out that many of the avant-garde artists were classically trained (for example Picasso, Eliot, and Schoenberg were all considered experimentalist at part of their careers, and all well versed in their artistic traditions). This fact should be remembered when we read in the M&M anthology excerpt from Eliot’s “The Music of Poetry” that “Forms have to be broken and remade” (53). These broken forms that are to be remade are not to be remade ex nihilo, but must reconstruct the broken forms into more appropriate forms for the contemporary age. The poet’s “task is both to respond to change and make it conscious, and to battle against degradation below the standards which he has learnt from the past” (M&M anthology 53). The two quotes from “The Music of Poetry” come from the same paragraph, and show how the Modernist notion of Tradition and New can often be paradoxical and incorporate both progressive and conservative strands of thought.

There’s a lot of conservative and elitist thought in Eliot’s work, especially in his essay on Tradition and individual talent. His claim that “there are many people who appreciate the expression of sincere emotion in verse, and there is a smaller number of people who can appreciate technical excellence” demonstrates the extreme end of Modernism’s high art spectrum and its exclusive tendency, and there is a potentially alienating effect of this aspect of his criticism. Yet, Eliot is often cited as a forerunner of what is often considered a progressive Modernist movement.

I don’t necessarily have an answer or unique insight into Eliot’s odd mixture of personal, conservative beliefs and his progressive criticism. Eliot alone seems to embody a kind of tension and contradiction inherent in the Modernist movement as a whole, and Eliot’s complex idea of self sacrifice to Tradition speaks towards the way Modernist viewed the past.

Here’s a link to an online source for Eliot’s “Tradition and the Individual Talent” essay if anyone is interested (I read this for a class a while ago and reread it for this blog entry. After revisiting the essay I would say it isn’t my favorite and I don’t think a lot of fun to read, but that’s just a personal preference):

Music as the Ideal Medium of Modernism

That music is particularly intriguing to various modernists is not surprising considering its inherent abstract quality, a trait that steadily gained value during this movement. One could argue that music can never absolutely represent anything other than itself because it lacks direct representation whereas visual art is its own subject matter and literature communicates ideas via a language that can be spoken and read. However, as Schoenberg points out, many people still expect that music must “summon up images of one sort or other” and if it does not then “the piece of music is misunderstood or worthless”(39). Of course music can have aspects that seem somewhat universal, such as specific sounds that evoke intensity or suggest melancholy for example. However, expecting that music on its own should convey a very specific subject matter devalues its profound ability to affect us in a different way than literature and visual art. I certainly agree with Schoenberg that music “ought perhaps remain incomprehensible and only perceptible” especially because language seems to continuously fall short of a true explanation of the medium’s essence. When one is willing to suspend their need for a singular interpretation, it is possible to see that an artwork may simply be about itself, which does not necessarily render it valueless.

This is not to say that all music cannot be inspired by a specific story, poem, historical event, etc. However, it is possible to create music (perhaps any work of art) without knowing what its “supposed” to be about beforehand, if ever. Schoenberg explains that he often does not know what the intended messages of his songs are until after he has completed them, as if his songs speak for themselves. In an anecdote he recalls reading poems that Shubert based certain songs of off of, long after being familiar with the composer’s works and not comprehending the poems themselves (40). I was immediately reminded of the many songs I heard on the radio as a child whose lyrics I completely made up. Years later, when I discovered the correct words, it did not alter the emotions that were evoked by the sound of the music or the voice of the singer when listening to them again. Like Schoenberg, learning the intended sentiment of the song did nothing for my understanding of them and that I had “grasped the content…perhaps even more profoundly than if I had clung to the surface of the mere thoughts expressed in words”(40). This so perfectly demonstrates the modernist notion that art can indeed be effective and important to the human experience without needing to present a singular, clear meaning.

However lyrics and poetry must not be completely discounted when considering music, as they certainly can play an important part. The modernist writer James Joyce saw his own work as being influenced by music, though not necessarily by specific pieces, but the art form itself.  In the excerpt from Joyce’s “Sirens”, he seems to be playing with the effect sounds can have based solely on their arrangement and structure.  Although this is often used in poetry, what is interesting is that most every line and “word” seems nonsensical.  However, when read aloud, it still has an effect on the listener despite its absence of a clear meaning, much like the effect of any piece of music.  Joyce seems to suggest that perhaps direct communication from the art to the audience is not necessary in order to conjure a legitimate emotional response.

Rigid expectations of art to have concrete meaning seem to spring from some anxiety that firstly art must represent something and also that its meaning must be evident simply by viewing, reading, or listening to it.   This also highlights the unease of society of the time and their difficulty of letting go of established order. However, in the wake of devastating warfare and the great paradigm shift that came with industrialization, many artists no longer accepted the direct and universal truths that had been held for so long.  So if there were any righteousness among the modernist artists, it is possible that they viewed themselves as ushering mankind into a better, more authentic understanding of life.  What’s more is they revealed that although the essence of an artwork may elude us, perhaps the value is in the not knowing and the continual questioning based on our perceptions making art much more engaging and crucial to humanity.