Friday, February 02, 2007
Swiss Army Vowel
I was thinking about the Middle Ages. People in the Middle Ages didn't call it that. It was named after the fact. The Middle Ages came between antiquity and the Renaissance.
I think it would be helpful to consider our times Middle Ages. To think about what has come before us and to think about what is coming after. The feeling would be akin to imagining the feeling of the planet rotating or moving through its heliocentric orbit, flying past the stars. To be aware of our times as coming from somewhere but also as going somewhere. I don't think I do this, except when thinking of technology and the "what kind of world are we leaving for our grandchildren" feeling.
It's like that phonecall I got from the future, asking me if I'm going to be late.
Last night, I went to a concert of the Tafelmusik Baroque Orchestra. It was fantastic. I wondered again, as I always do when listening to Baroque music about music's ability to evoke utopias, to evoke perfect moments, even if sad. I listen to Vivaldi and cannot hear a single note of cynicism, or negativity. But it's not like listening to a Pollyanna Sinfonia, it's more like a polyphonic one.
My grade five students and I looked at the sonnets which accompany Vivaldi's the Four Seasons as part of our CSI: Baroque or Not? unit. The text to the second (slow) movement of L'Inferno (Winter) describes sitting by the fire, content and satisfied yet the music sounds sad if very beautiful. Our notion of "sad" in music has changed. We, of course, conceptualize sadness differently now, not that it isn't informed by past culture. (But see "Doctrine of the Affections.)
A while ago, I came across BibleGateway.com and was mesmerized by the different effect and shades of meaning created by the various translations of the Bible, particularly the gamut of modern versions. The idea of a particular piece of scripture (especially the independent verses -- eg. an individual Psalm) as forming its own specialized "micro-grammar" (analogous to microclimate) was fascinating to me. Certain structures, idioms, and organizational principles which are identifiable and specifically organized in a certain text. The texts have not only implicit resonance, of course, but echo throughout the language, culture, and literature.
As a writer, the idea of using this micro-grammar is very appealing. I can create a new text which exists in a dialectic against the original text.
My children asleep, I imagine a beard on the piano so it can be shaved, put my hand in the wall, find the rain between this world and its black rest.
This is the middle ages, not what came before, not what’s next.