Sunday, January 12, 2014

Each Night Is a Lake That Rises at Sundown Spreads Itself Thin Laps at the House Lights Fills Up Slow Shoes Would Make Fish of Us All

Morton Feldman was born eighty-eight years ago today:  

The often noted paradox is that this immense, verbose man wrote music that seldom rose above a whisper. In the noisiest century in history, Feldman chose to be glacially slow and snowily soft. Chords arrive one after another, in seemingly haphazard sequence, interspersed with silences. Harmonies hover in a no man’s land between consonance and dissonance, paradise and oblivion. Rhythms are irregular and overlapping, so that the music floats above the beat. Simple figures repeat for a long time, then disappear. There is no exposition or development of themes, no clear formal structure. Certain later works unfold over extraordinarily lengthy spans of time, straining the capabilities of performers to play them and audiences to hear them. More than a dozen pieces last between one and two hours, and “For Philip Guston” and “String Quartet (II)” go on for much longer. In its ritual stillness, this body of work abandons the syntax of Western music, and performers must set aside their training to do it justice. Legend has it that after one group of players had crept their way as quietly as possible through a score of his Feldman barked, “It’s too fuckin’ loud, and it’s too fuckin’ fast.

  • Have I ever mentioned how much I fuckin' love his music?
  • Happy Birthday, Earthgirl!
  • Maggie's weekly links.
  • { feuilleton }'s weekly links.
  • Writing to win: No one is treated with more patronizing condescension than the unpublished author or, in general, the would-be artist. At best he is commiserated. At worst mocked. He has presumed to rise above others and failed. I still recall a conversation around my father’s deathbed when the visiting doctor asked him what his three children were doing. When he arrived at the last and said young Timothy was writing a novel and wanted to become a writer, the good lady, unaware that I was entering the room, told my father not to worry, I would soon change my mind and find something sensible to do. Many years later, the same woman shook my hand with genuine respect and congratulated me on my career. She had not read my books.
  • Literary theory is in love with failure: It looks with distaste on whatever is integral, self-identical, smugly replete, and is fascinated by lack, belatedness, deadlock, self-undoing. Works of literature catch its attention once they begin to come unstuck or contradict themselves, when they unravel at the edges or betray an eloquent silence at their heart. Like some remorseless therapist, the theorist is bent on exposing just how spiritually dishevelled such texts really are, despite their pathetic attempts to appear plausible and coherent. Literary theory is an aesthetics of the underdog, championing the humble particular which plays havoc with the structure of an epic or the intentions of a novelist.
  • We so sin it abounds.
  • Stevie Smith.
  • New Richard Powers' novel reviewed: Is it premature to talk of the “Powers Problem”? For the last three decades, Richard Powers has been bringing out hefty novels at the rate of one every 2.5 years: 11 in all. At his current age of 56, he is, as a novelist, midway on life’s path; presumably he has another 11 or so novels still in him. Powers has won a National Book Award and has been a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize; he has been the recipient of a MacArthur “genius grant”; he has elicited lavish praise from the critics — most of them, anyway. Two of the words most frequently employed in connection with his literary output are “cerebral” and “ambitious.” “Cerebral” refers to his tendency to lace his novels with scientific and scholarly themes, like artificial intelligence in “Galatea 2.2,” game theory in “Prisoner’s Dilemma” and musicology cum genetic recombination in “The Gold Bug Variations.” “Ambitious” refers to his penchant for fashioning narrative structures and symbolic networks on a heroic scale.
  • I posted a Tom Hennen poem a couple of days ago. I'd never heard of him, I found his Selected on a new book cart of the library. I just found this review of the book from this past July: “Darkness Sticks to Everything,” an essential survey of his career, is his first book to be distributed nationally. Mr. Hennen’s work, until now, has been like a fine fishing hole only the locals knew about.


Tom Hennen

A description of the freeway
Looking for a city.
I come back
To geese.
Rain falls
On the parking meters
Glass and steel are shining
But people
Are dark
All the way through. 


Tom Hennen

Each night
Is a lake
That rises at sundown
Spreads itself thin
Laps at
The house lights
Fills up low shoes
Would make fish of us all.


  1. Feldman, Powers + literature. Pretty much as good as it gets. Happy B'day to EG.

    & much thx for the link earlier. Again, away from desk—pop's 90th b'day: something to rejoice about and hope for for one's self.