Monday, February 27, 2006
I am deeply grateful for Gass' brave work but I can't help being jarred by the essential silliness of this: "The Tunnel was built on Schoenberg's 12-tone system--I divided it into 12 chapters, with 12 basic themes." Schoenberg's 12-tone system can be no more of a meaningful algorithm for the structuring of a literary work than the 12 months of the year can, or the number of the participants of the Last Supper minus one. Your subsequent reference to Burgess is too apt (more Burgess numbers: remember how the original version of A Clockwork Orange was 21 chapters long; 21 representing the age of majority?)...and Burgess, of course, picked up the tic from Joyce. Joyce's excuse for such numerological literary voodoo was probably a case of OCD-flavored genius meeting Jesuitical cryptomania.This is funny, vehemant, and (I think) about seventy percent correct. I agree, there is no real correspondence between Gass's structural motif and Schoenberg's music--not even, as Steve says, "for the most sensitive score-reader on Earth." That was what I meant to suggest, perhaps too gently, by saying that the resemblance would be inaudible to most readers. In that sense, yes, Gass is being silly. But if this enables him to finish the book, it's a practical sort of silliness. Of course I prefer that the author dismantle his theoretical scaffolding once he's done and cart it away, so I don't have to keep stumbling over it. Even so theory-mad a composer as Schoenberg himself came to a similar conclusion. Here's what he wrote in a 1944 letter to Roger Sessions:
But how can modern Gass pretend that a numerical motif in any way evokes a corresponding musical effect (12-tone, pentatonic or otherwise) in prose? It's really not a question of the effect being "inaudible...to most readers"...there's nothing there to be heard, not even synesthetically, in the 12x12 motif, even for the most sensitive score-reader on Earth.
I only make a big deal about it because I think this is a (subconscious?) left-over from the extra-literary effects once used to sell literary art to the masses (nowadays we just use sex or personal tragedy)...the writer as Wizard; the reader as Rube.
And finally I want to mention what I consider the greatest value for a possible appreciation of my music: that you say, one must listen to it in the same manner as to every other kind of music, forget the theories, the twelve-tone method, the dissonances, etc., and, I would add, if possible the author.