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.

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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.

Amber Lee Blog 5 Make-Up

In the article, “Nancy Cunard’s Negro and the Transnational Politics of Race” Laura Winkiel very often makes a claim that Nancy Cunard’s Negro Anthology contains a multitude of “contradictions.” The “contradiction” that I find the most fascinating is “between detailing the horrors of colonization and racism and its jubilant and often primitivist celebration of popular black entertainers” (Winkiel 509) as if the experience of a black person in the modernist times cannot be both jaded and hardened by the world they live in and freely laude those who are successful and give them joy in life. I find that Laura Winkiel stating this as a contradiction when she also calls the anthology “far more than a rigid dichotomy, the anthology aims at a ‘panorama’ of black struggles and achievements against a racist modernity” (Winkiel 509) to be an interesting turn. It seems that Winkiel has some contradictions of her own in this article. It should be noted that while an anthology on a group of people should show the good times and the bad, we need to see the layers that go into them. The anthology shouldn’t be seen as a rigid dichotomy of joy and struggle because people’s emotions aren’t one or the other. I will explore what counts as a struggle and what counts as an achievement through the two sections “Hitting Back” by Henry Crowder and “Three Great Negro Women” by Gladis Berry Robinson to examine how the two explore the “panorama” of the struggles or achievements.

“Hitting Back” by Henry Crowder is formed as a series of vignettes (quite appropriate for an anthology) about times that he fought back against racism in his home. These events range from a joke that revealed the seriousness of the world to straight up brawls between white and black people. Even from the title, the reader can see this is a story of struggling against white superiority and racism. What is harrowing about these events is the casuality of them. The third vignette is about the author going home to where his father lives during the Atlanta riots and making a joke about demanding to be let in the house. After he realizes that the joke is going too far and gives his name, his father opens the door with a shot gun. The author solemnly states, “I will never try that kind of joke again” (Cunard 117) thus showing the audience that even joking about the riots under-cutted the seriousness of them and how they were affecting people. People were so riled up and afraid, that his father went to the door prepared to kill and die. This is particularly effective because it shows how people could become disconnected to what was happening around them because it was so common, but at the end of the day, people were dying and scared. The sixth vignette is about the narrator and his friends happening upon a group of white men beating one lone black man in the street, so they intervene and scare the white people away. Again, there is a casual tone about this story. Many of these stories are about one black man facing a beating from multiple white men for no good reason until more black men come and the white men back down. This story shows how common violence was. These stories make it especially clear that white men were very willing to beat a black man, but didn’t want to risk their own hides in a fair fight that the black men were willing to fight. This paints the white men as bullies, but also shows the kind of fear that a black man had when he was alone on the streets, because he could always get jumped. There is a bitterness in these stories, but I think they show a strong variety in the type of violence against black people that occurred and how common it was.

“Three Great Negro Women” by Gladis Berry Robinson is the telling of the lives of three great black women: Phillis Wheatley, Sojourner Truth, and Harriet Tubman. These women are inarguably some of the greatest women in American, if not world, history. Each section on each woman starts as historical retellings of the women’s lives and what they did that made them great with some personal comments from the author, especially for Phillis Wheatley. For Phillis Wheatley, the author takes note of how great her poetry and prose was despite the fact that she was born a slave and not appreciated for her talents. Truth and Tubman both fought for emancipation and freedom for black people and women’s rights. What is interesting about these women is that Phillis Wheatley sticks out a bit as not being as prominent and active as the other two, yet she is placed first. Her inclusion shows that the author doesn’t need great women to lecture presidents or be activists to make great strides for black women. Yet, she gets the most personal comments from the author, as if she feels the need to defend her choice to include Wheatley in the mix because she isn’t as obvious a choice as Truth and Tubman. Still, all of these women did what they did in during slavery and the Civil War where there was even more oppression for black women then when this article was written, so the author clearly wants to make a point that great women stand in the face of adversity even in the worst times.

What I like about these two writings is that they show diversity in what it means to succeed and struggle as a black person in America. They are snippets of a greater “panorama” but show great difference in what it means to be black. Both of these writings are anthologies themselves which proves how different the lives of black people can be, but they share enough commonality to be included in the larger work.

Karisa Cleary – Why “The Negro” on the Spiral? (make-up blog)

George Antheil’s “The Negro on the Spiral” appears to be a melodramatic praising of, what he calls, “Negro music.” Yet, the not-so-subtly controversial language and rhetoric he choses to articulate this sways on the edge of dehumanizing and universalizing the African-American identity.

This can be observed in spurts of shocking comparisons to white identification where Antheil compares the rhythm of “Negro music” to the rhythm of white races. While the former “comes from the groins, the hips, and the sexual organs,” the latter is from “the breast,” which can be interpreted as the heart, “the brain,” the intellect, “the ears and the eyes,” the most vital senses and all being tools for intelligible communication. While Antheil makes several other references to the primitiveness of this music the sexual attribution to the rhythm, especially when compared with white rhythm, alludes to one of the human being’s most animalistic behaviors, often concealed at this time in the civilized nations (214).

Still, within these suggestions of a wild, sexual and unabsorbable music, there is a contradictory connection between this and the precision of machinery. He describes the “rhythms and counter-rhythms” of the black choir as having “machine-precision” and later asserts, “one can scarcely believe that one has not to do with a highly civilised race, masters of steel, mathematics, and engineering.” While Antheil, in one sense, might be making a statement about the uncontrollable musicality of industrialization, but in another sense he is bringing their music from the level of passions and expressions to that of a mechanical, inhumanness (214).

More than this, the in which Antheil tosses the various differential geographic origins of black identity into one category of color, and taken down to its literal sense. He contrasts this with “not white, nor yellow” and claims, “This note [of the Congo] has erroneously been called ‘American,’ but this note belongs no more specifically to the North American Negro than to those of the West Indies or South America.” It feels as though he’s mashing a variety of seriously distinct cultures and identifying the whole of them solely by color. When placed adjacent to an earlier statement about Europeans where he states, “the Latins became more Latin, and the Germans more German,” there is this diametrical opposition unveiled where Europeans are described in a much more clear and individualistic fashion. He then takes this to a literal function of the color that he attributes dangerously equally to the body through this idea of absorption when he claims that “Yankee hymn tunes, or the Habaneras of the Portuguese or Spanish, [etc.]… were always completely absorbed, and did not conceal or hinder the original pure Africanism underlying every measure of this music.” The question inevitable arises of what in the world this essential “Africanism” is and how the “Negro music” could possibly absorb all of these different influences and still remain essentially and as fully African as it always has been? (214, 215).

While first lowering down and universalizing the African/African-American identity as “black,” Antheil then uses this notion of absorption to, in a strange way, elevate their agency without actually displaying any of their agencies. In fact, this goes further by creating a universal, “black” platform of which white musicians jump off from. He cues in Strawinsky and Pushkin and calls them “mulatto,” then name drops Wagner, Modigliani, Gaudier-Brzeska, Brancusi, Chirico… all white artists of the time and, while influenced (or having absorbed) this “Negro music” concurrently kept the influencers behind the veil of their color. If “the roar of the lion” reminding Antheil and his fellow artists “that life had been going on a long while and would probably go on a while longer” is a reference to this music, then the “life-blood dripping down upon the white keys” from alligators captured by Brunuel inside of grand pianos is nothing less than a violent recapturing of the black, musical individual. Dripping “life-blood” suggests, if not a death, then a painful injury to that vicious southern animal that appears to be representational of the African (218).

This dismal contradiction of raising the African up artistically while simultaneously submerging them beneath the level of intellectual equality prompts this common, Imperial tendency of seizure in an endeavor to squeeze every last beneficial bit out of another group of people. Because art is obviously very different from industry, I can’t help but get the sense that Antheil wasn’t as serious when dehumanizing the black population as he was making an expository connection between the colonization for industry. When he quite honestly-seeming suggests, “A greater duty would be to trace, scientifically and carefully, the development of the Great Spiral,” that idea is being reinstated. If the spiral represents a progression of history, carefully examining that circular (ish) development would uncover the similarities within the slightly different repetitions of the same events, the same colonization and exclusivity of a Westernized culture.

Antheil, George. “The Negro on the Spiral or A Method of Negro Music.” Negro: An Anthology. ed. Nancy Cunard, Hugh D. Ford. Bloomsbury, 1996. 214-219. Print.

Halftime/Make-ups – for May 1

Nice job on the blogs thus far — we’re almost halfway there!

For Friday, May 1, every student should reply to a posting from last week (300-400 words). Please use specific textual details to advance, develop, or complicate claims made in the original posting. Feel free also to build any of this week’s presentation materials into your reply.

After this reply is done, every student should have completed two posts and two replies. There will be no blogs due May 8.


Make-up blogs:
As the syllabus says, each student is permitted to make up one blog or one reply (not both) by the end of the quarter (June 5). (If you have to choose between making up a reply or making up a blog post, please do the latter.)

I would prefer students to stick to the rivers and the lakes that they’re used to the blog topics for which they were originally scheduled (i.e. if you missed your April 24 posting, please do your make-up on one of the April 24 topics).

You may do this posting any time between now and the end of the quarter. Please tag your posting “Make-Up Blog,” and please make sure you sign your name (first name and last initial is fine).