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Multiculturalism, regardless of what German Chancellor Angela “Ja! Ja! Ja! Mein Gott! Dein Schwanz in meinem Arsch!” Merkel thinks, is not an end in itself. It is rather a consequence of the simple fact that people move around the world, and this has grown exponentially as communication and transportation has become easier and cheaper. It is unlikely ever to diminish.
Where individuals move, there is a tendency for them to absorb at least some of the culture they occupy. Where groups move, the resistance is greater, such as the behaviour of the British in the former empire. Orwell’s “Burmese Days” has a brilliant image of the traditional English garden, resolutely cultivated despite the searing heat of a Myanmarese summer, and by turns either wilting away or erupting into exotic life.
So the question is really the extent to which individuals and groups should surrender their cultures when they move abroad. This however runs counter to the worldwide growth in the perceived value of localised cultures (itself a reaction to the Americanisation of the world). In the UK the most obvious manifestation of this has been the Welsh and Gaelic languages, which are now actively sponsored where before they simply lived or died on their own terms.
So rather than fretting over multiculturalism per se, do we think that it is a good thing to support diversity, or do we think the ideal would be everybody being pretty much the same, and other cultures should only be viewed as relics in a museum or mere curiosities to be mocked and distrusted?
I suppose that, over the years, I must have listened to at least half of Cage’s output at one time or another but, whilst I see no reason not to take him seriously, he deserves to be taken seriously on his own terms, not someone else’s. It is hard to forget what Arnold Schoenberg said of his student but, for me, it is Cage’s way of taking nothing for granted that marks him out as someone of whom to take note; some fucker put it succinctly with the words “something that could be characterized as a musical quality of attention, a heightened awareness of the relation between sound(s) and time which we associate with music”. Whatever that means.
Also “It isn’t a question of learning special techniques as a listener so much as opening listeners’ sense of music to a much wider range of experiences, whether a frog plopping into a pond as in the famous haiku or a pneumatic drill on a building site”. Yes that famous haiku.
This, to me, is what characterizes Cage’s rôle in the musical life of his time.
My own listening experiences nevertheless have led me to get little out of Cage, but that’s a very personal matter and not intended as any kind of value judgement. Whilst a good deal of the gimmickry of which Cage has been accused by some has its origins largely in the imaginations of the accusers (i.e. I do not see Cage as the kind of artist who would set out to do that kind of thing for its own sake), I have to admit that the Cage pieces that I find the most disappointing of all are those that would perhaps be least likely to attract such accusations in the first place, such as the string quartet pieces and the Freeman Études.
As to the “frog plopping into a pond” and the “pneumatic drill on a building site”, I cannot help but think that Cage did himself few favours or helped his real cause when he stated that he had never heard any sound that he hadn’t enjoyed; I’m not for one moment suggesting that this wasn’t true but, taken purely at face value, it could be interpreted as seeking to undermine a sense of discrimination.
But then I’ve probably gotten it all wrong …
I’m trying to think of something good to say about Cage, but I’m reduced to my own gut feelings.
“Interesting” – certainly. His way of seeing things appeals to me. I have an eccentric habit of peering at objects and lining them up from different angles, for example by closing one eye and noting the peculiar differences. The objects don’t change but I look at them differently.
“Important” – I can’t say, but his own convictions shine through. He convinces me.
“Enjoyable” – I have viewed all the clips on YouTube and enjoyed them greatly, not least those featuring the composer himself, either performing or speaking. I possess only his Sonatas and Interludes for prepared piano and they appeal to my sense of looking at an object differently, and hearing it differently. I enjoy what I hear.
Another poem by Tess Kincaid who lives by the Scioto River in Ohio and writes a blog called Life at Willow Manor.
our tongues hinge,
then come apart
like two rakes,
side by side.
We cull essence,
with the tang
of Russian vodka
in your mouth,
the silvery cold taste
of well water in mine.
Tess Kincaid writes a blog called Life at Willow Manor.
Gone the way
of the phone booth
and station wagon,
the morning tradition
is dunked or otherwise
reduced to an essence
added to the grind,
a kind of tribute.
the politically correct,
wrap one in wax paper,
dribble jelly for old times’ sake,
the icing so sweet
it makes your teeth hurt.
You can read more of Ohio on the banks of the Scioto River Tess Kincaid’s marvellous poetry on her blog Life at Willow Manor.
Tess Kincaid apparently had a dream that Yul Brynner might possibly have been her father. So she wrote a poem about it.
he was my father;
that I came
from hard water
tucked in his timeline
between New York
of root crops
and soy beans,
wild oats sown
in a Hoosier farm girl.
I craved a king,
some kind of Ramses
to strut clean,
make good the role.
Maybe I understood
the far-off Tartar,
as not so magnificent
a number as seven.
Another one by the Ohio poet who writes a blog Life at Willow Manor.
just as I have
for many years
in a noisy kitchen
full of familiar faces
caught in hot air
in the scent of sage
of future turkeys
to be mashed
stirring at the stove
the more beige
the more invisible
(The Observer, 22 November 1964)
Irving Wardle defends William Burroughs’s hallucinatory 1959 novel and his divisive style of writing:
Opinion is already split so many ways over The Naked Lunch that it is worth stating William Burroughs’s claim to attention in fairly uncontroversial terms before reopening the argument.
First, after 15 years of drug addiction, he knows what he’s talking about; on the reporting level, his work has the authority of a war correspondent who has both lived in danger and done his homework.
Second, Burroughs is a real writer, a man with an instinct and respect for language, and whose energy finds a natural outlet in language. He can write good orthodox narrative when he wants to: no charlatan could have turned out the autobiographical Junkie. And even the notorious “cut-up” method that he practises today, shuffling the contents of the book like a pack of cards, leaves his narrative imagination intact. A naked man is trapped in an upstairs room with three murderous Arabs: “Pieces of murder falling slowly as opal chips through glycerine… Slower animal reactions allow him a full second to decide: straight through the window and down into the crowded street like a falling star and his wake of glass glittering in the sun… sustained a broken ankle and a chipped shoulder… clad in a diaphanous pink curtain, with a curtain-rod staff, hobbled away to the Commissariat de Police.”
Here Burroughs is applying the mandarin principle of leaving out whatever he finds boring. With writers such as Kerouac this yields floods of invertebrate telegraphese; but whatever The Naked Lunch may be, it is not spineless. Ugly as they are, its hallucinatory set-pieces are executed with obvious care, and its kaleidoscope fragments are as precise as sick cartoon captions (“With veins like that, Kid, I’d have myself a time,” whispers an old addict, fingering a boy’s arm). The cut-up method itself, with its swerving non sequiturs and incoherent sprays of dots, seems intended as a literary equivalent to those serialist compositions that allow the musicians to start and stop anywhere they like.
The key word in Burroughs’s own discussions of it is “intersection”, a term implying a good deal more than the interlocking of verbal material. Intersection points also represent transitions from one state of consciousness to another – like Pirandello’s changes between illusion and reality. In Burroughs, the change is from “junk time” to normal time, and he is aware that the moment of change is far more exciting than anything that happens once this change is established. But the final justification of the method is the material itself – a sequence of nightmare visions of a world in mutation, where genetic and social laws have broken down, and familiar outlines are melting away or merging together, like the cells of the book, in cancerous proliferation.
“I do not presume to impose ‘story’ ‘plot’ ‘continuity’,” Burroughs has said. “I am not an entertainer.” He is.
Couples attached to Baroque harnesses with artificial wings copulate in the air, screaming like magpies.
Aerialists ejaculate each other in space with one sure touch.
Equilibrists suck each other off deftly, balanced on perilous poles and chairs tilted over the void. A warm wind brings the smell of rivers and jungle from misty depths.
Boys by the hundred plummet through the roof, quivering and kicking at the end of ropes. The boys hang at different levels, some near the ceiling and others a few inches off the floor.
Sharp protein odor of semen fills the air. The guests run hands over twitching boys, suck their cocks, hang on their backs like vampires.
A horde of lust-mad American women rush in. Dripping cunts, from farm and dude ranch, factory, brothel, country club, penthouse and suburb, motel and yacht and cocktail bar, strip off riding clothes, ski togs, evening dresses, levis, tea gowns, print dresses, slacks, bathing suits and kimonos. They scream and yipe and howl, leap on the guests like bitch dogs in heat with rabies. They claw at the hanged boys shrieking: “You fairy! You bastard! Fuck me! Fuck me! Fuck me!”
(William S. Burroughs, The Naked Lunch)
I look down the tracks and see you coming – and out of every haze and mist your darling rumpled trousers are hurrying to me – Without you dearest dearest I couldn’t see or hear or feel or think – or live – I love you so and I’m never in all our lives going to let us be apart another night. It’s like begging for mercy of a storm or killing Beauty or growing old, without you. I want to kiss you so – and in the back where your dear hair starts and your chest – I love you – and I can’t tell you how much – To think that I’ll die without your knowing – Nobodys got any right to live but us – and they’re dirtying up our world and I can’t hate them because I love you so – Come Quick – Come Quick to me – I could never do without you if you hated me and were covered in sores like a leper – if you ran away with another woman and starved me and beat me – I would still want you I know –
Lover, Lover, Darling
Crazy as a rat in a coffee can …
George Crumb: Makrokosmos (1972), twelve fantasy pieces after the zodiac, for amplified piano. Vol. I Nos. 1-4.
1. Primeval Sounds (Genesis I). Cancer
2. Proteus. Pisces
3. Pastorale (from the Kingdom of Atlantis, circa 10,000 B.C.). Taurus
4. Crucifixus (Symbol). Capricorn
Laurie Hudicek, pianoforte.