Saturday, April 30, 2016

My Year With Proust - Day 125

   "Besides, what good would it have done if I had spoken to Gilberte?  She would not have heard me.  We imagine always when we speak that it is our own ears, our own mind, that are listening.  My words would have come to her only in distorted form, as though they had had to pass through the moving curtain of a waterfall before they reached my beloved, unrecognizable, sounding false and absurd, having no longer any kind of meaning.  The truth which one puts into one's words does not carve out a direct path for itself, is not irresistibly self-evident."
Marcel Proust, Within a Budding Grove, p. 659

Here Proust is explaining why he did not talk to Gilberte and make it clear to her that he would no longer love her.  Beyond the obvious fact that all proclamations like that are fraught with potential disaster, his point is that she could not have possibly heard him.  "We imagine always when we speak that it is our own ears, our own mind, that are listening."  Maybe another way to think about it is to consider the reason why others don't understand us is that we aren't even talking to them, we're only talking to ourselves.  This would definitely continue the theme of the previous pages on the self-possession and self-absorption of love.  Proust had proposed that what one found attractive about the beloved was the reflection of their own interests.  Sometimes when we're discussing objectivization in class I will saying something like, "OK, how many times in your life will you not be making love with another person but instead simply using them as a masturbatorial tool?"  While some students will respond with a look somewhere between stunned and mystified, others will, doubtlessly inadvertently, reveal a knowing, sad, maybe even guilty, expression.  The point is how much of the time, even the most intimate moments, we spend entirely alone, unable or unwilling to know others.

"For regret, like desire, seeks not to analyse but to gratify itself.  When one begins to love, one spends one's time, not in getting to know what one's love really is, but in arranging for to-morrow's rendezvous.  When one renounces love one seeks not to know one's grief but to offer to her who is its cause the expression of it which seems to one the most moving.  One says the things which one feels the needs to say, and which the other will not understand: one speaks for oneself alone."
Marcel Proust, Within a Budding Grove, pp. 660-661

Friday, April 29, 2016

My Year With Proust - Day 124

"And no doubt at that very moment in which (since I was determined not to see her again, barring a formal request for a reconciliation, a complete declaration of love of her part, neither of which was in the least degree likely to be forthcoming) I had already lost Gilberte, and loved her more than ever since I could feel all that she was to me better than in the previous year when, spending all my afternoons in her company, or as many as I chose, I believed that no peril threatened our friendship, - no doubt at that moment the idea that I should one day entertain identical feelings for another was odious to me, for that idea, deprived me, not only of Gilberte, but of my love and my suffering: my love, my suffering, in which through my tears I was attempting to grasp precisely what Gilberte was, and yet was obliged to recognise that they had not permit exclusively to her but would, sooner or later, be some other woman's fate.  So that - or such, at least, was my way of thinking then - we are always detached from our fellow-creatures: when we love, we sense that our love does not bear a name, that it may spring up again in the future, could have sprung up already in the past, for another person rather than this one; and during the time when we are not in love, if we resign ourselves philosophically to love's inconsistencies and contradictions, it is because we do not at that moment feel the love, which we speak about so freely, and hence do not know it, knowledge in those being intermittent and not outlasting the actual presence of the sentiment."
Marcel Proust, Within a Budding Grove, pp. 657-658

" . . . the idea that I should one day entertain identical feelings for another was odious to me, for that idea, deprived me, only only of Gilberte, but of my love and my suffering . . ."

So much of Remembrance of Things Past has been about the pain of unrequited love or love lost, and in a lot of ways that makes perfect sense because what is more likely to inspire intense emotions and thus stamp itself indelibly onto memory like a disastrous love affair.  As all my students can attest from Concepts of the Self and Linden's the Accidental Mind, the brain plays cruel tricks on us in its monomaniacal desire to get us to lock onto one person and thus successfully raise one of those slow developing children that are all the rage (truthfully, they're overrated - they turn into things like me, so you're better off to spend the time and resources on foreign travel).

In this particular instance I think Proust is carrying on his discussion of the deeply personal and egotistical nature of love.  We become one with our love and maybe even more so one with our suffering, and to move on to another woman results in us not only losing our original love but also part of ourselves. Erasmus reminds us of the line from Ecclesiastes, "Vanity of Vanities! All is vanity."  There was a time when I believed in the concept of a great love, but I don't know if I believe that any more.  If we open ourselves up to the world I suspect there are innumerable people who could help make us happy.  One of the few things I've figured out over the years is that you should never expect someone to make you happy; whereas it's much wiser to look for someone to help make you happy.  No one needs that much extra responsibility.  If you're waiting for someone to make you happy you'll doubtless never be happy.  However, we convince ourselves that there is only one great love, and I've reached the age where I think the Great Love is actually the Great Vanity.  This is not a bitter statement because it's not some condemnation of the unworthiness of other human beings to give us what we need.  Rather, I think it's a recognition of the fact that so much of our unhappiness come from our vain belief that only that one person could possibly make us happy; and in the end this is just self-absorption, or maybe laziness.  How many amazing people do we channel through in our lives because we expect them to "make" us happy because we won't take responsibility for our own happiness.  And how many perfectly great relationships are destroyed by an imaginary great love, a love so profound and unique that it somehow makes our humdrum lives special?

Thursday, April 28, 2016

Discography - Week #2

And now we're moving on to Week 2 of the Discography project, and we'll be hard pressed to top the first week.

Dave Wallace

The Monkees, Valleri

Huh?  First off, the Monkees are not a guilty pleasure.  They made a startling number of great songs (whether they actually played the instruments on them or not), and Micky Dolenz is one of the most under-rated singers ever.  Stepping Stone is another song of theirs that could easily make this list for me.  With that said, I adore Valleri.  The vaguely Middle-Eastern flavored guitar line, the surging horns, the killer chorus.  Legend has it that the guitar line was played by Frank Zappa, but the recent documentary, The Wrecking Crew, clarified that it was legendary session guitarist Tommy Tedesco.  (Great doc by the way.)

Gary Beatrice

Prince, 1999

I haven't paid much attention to his recent music, but I still find it very sad to think about a world that does not include Prince. His music, his look, the whole package was intoxicating, and most of it sounds and looks every bit as great as it did when he recorded it. For my money, Prince's best is the first single to bring him massive crossover success 1999.
Life is just a party and parties aren't meant to last. Prince has passed but his music is eternal.

Gary Scudder

Elvis Presley, Kentucky Rain

Yes, it definitely appears to be a week of odd change-ups (sort of the Discography version of the 46 mph eephus pitch that Clayton Kershaw threw last week).  It's odd for me because, in the category of Voice of the 20th Century, I always come down on the side of Sinatra vs. Presley.  And, doubtless, some Sinatra song will appear this year, and then Gary Beatrice will kindly and patiently explain to me why 1950s cool Sinatra is better than Big Band Frank.  That said, my mother passed away last weekend and I guess this counts as my homage to her, a huge Elvis Presley fan.  I am sure she would have preferred Can't Help Falling in Love, but I have to live with this choice.  Actually, I've always liked this song, which may be just a Midwestern thing (which may also explain my early love of Winesburg, Ohio or The Magnificent Ambersons) or it may speak to my almost magnetic attraction to sad songs, especially attractive if they feature desolation.

Bob Craigmile

Peter Frampton, Do You Feel Like We Do

I don’t really understand why I have such a connection to this album except that it came at a formative period (16 years old!) and it has such exceptional music.  I’ve literally had dreams of playing his stuff on stage with him.  Hearing it always seems to make me happy.

From the opening intro and the bright and happy guitar work on the first track (“Something’s Happening”) to “Do you feel…” it’s all there emotionally.  Perfectly timed for adolescence (and adolescents) you have the up-tempo-yet-crunchy guitar and singing, and the fluttery prettiness of “Penny for your thoughts”(which every boy should have tried to learn, but instead wasted their time on “Stairway…”).

Frampton’s guitar playing has always been criminally underrated.  His sense of playfulness and melody put him up there with McCartney or Clapton.  Whoever created voice tubes for guitar should write him a check due to “Do you feel like we do”.

His use of echo/reverb is still a thing of wonder to me in relistening.  The band with him is also tight as hell, and now some of them have passed on to the great gig in the sky (wink).  Frampton cut his chops as a literal kid in Humble Pie and he later became such a mega star that he was kind of the template for “washed up rock star” by 1985.

It’s a shame that he was given, and took, such bad advice.  And yes, I did see the Sgt. Pepper’s movie when it came out;  I blame Jeff Brede.

Dave Kelley

The Clash, Clampdown

"Raise a toast to St. Joe Strummer.  I think he may have been our only decent teacher"  The Hold Steady "Constructive Summer"

While that is a great song, it is not my week three selection.  In a song partially about going to a crappy high school in the early eighties, The Hold Steady give an homage to one of the two main songwriters for The Clash.

My choice for week three is "Clampdown" off of what I think has to be on the shortlist for greatest record of the rock era "London Calling".  Strummer and Mick Jones were perfect songwriting partners.  Strummer brought the anger, intensity, and passion while Jones brought great musicality and pop sensibilities.  For proof of that I would offer "Train in Vain" by Jones which is just a perfect three and a half minute pop single.

With all of the craziness taking place at Donald Trump rallies, not to mention in many other parts of the world like Yemen, Russia, and fill in the blank, I think Clampdown is amazingly relevant today.  Sadly there has never been nor there will be a time when it is not relevant somewhere.

"No man born with a living soul can be working for the clampdown."

"We will teach our twisted speech
 to the young believers.
We will train our blue eyed men
to be young believers."

But you grow up, and you calm down and
you're working for the clampdown.
You start wearing blue and brown,
and you're working for the clampdown."

The lyrics posted above are taken out of order but are representative of the themes.  At the end of the song, Strummer chants some of the places where "The Clampdown" was taking place at the time it was written.  The make-up of the list may have changed some, but it is longer than ever today.  There is a great Townes Van Zant song called "Lungs".  Steve Earle once said if that song doesn't scare the shit out of you, you are not paying attention.  I would say the exact same thing about my choice for this week. 

Jack Schultz

Dave Mills

Brad Mehldau, Lithium (by Nirvana)

It’s only the second week of this fine endeavor, and I’m already finding ways to cheat. My choice today is a twofer, and I’m going to sneak in a third (albeit nonmusical) artist as well – James Baldwin. To appreciate my musical selection here, I highly recommend that you read his short story “Sonny’s Blues.” Here’s a link:
For me, that story displays exactly what’s so wonderful about the song choice I’ve shared here, in which Brad Mehldau improvises a post-bop jazz version of Nirvana’s Lithium. Late in Baldwin’s story, the narrator says this:
All I know about music is that not many people ever really hear it. And even then, on the rare occasions when something opens within, and the music enters, what we mainly hear, or hear corroborated, are personal, private, vanishing evocations. But the man who creates the music is hearing something else, is dealing with the roar rising from the void and imposing order on it as it hits the air. What is evoked in him, then, is of another order, more terrible because it has no words, and triumphant, too, for that same reason. And his triumph, when he triumphs, is ours.
For me, this applies to the frenzied urgency of a Nirvana show (wherein the wrecking of instruments and dismantling of the stage that inevitably ensues feels like release in the form of a final surrender to that “roar rising from the void,” an exhausted inability to control and shape it any longer). Baldwin’s narrator also captures the barely controlled fervor of improvisational jazz. For me, Mehldau is a master of imposing a highly complex order on the chaos that constantly threatens to overtake the order. He triumphs.

Mehldau is absurdly intelligent – his album liner notes feature heady critical interactions with thinkers and artists such as Goethe, Rilke, Kant, Emerson, Heidegger, Freud, and James Joyce (to pull examples only from the liner notes to his 2000 album Places ), he can improvise counterpoint compositions on the piano, and he can play completely different melodies in different rhythms simultaneously in the right and left hands. If you like what you hear here, you might like some of his other post-bop improvisations of recent non-jazz music, such as Nick Drake’s River Man, Radiohead’s Knives Out, or Soundgarden’s Black Hole Sun.

Mike Kelly

Sturgill Simpson, In Bloom

“Spring is here again/Reproductive glands” 

Last night, I woke up at 3am nostalgic for the Omaha I used to live in.  In my vivid dream, two of my friends from high school were at a roadside bar (which was more like a swanky Chili’s) and I was walking in. They were walking out.  We went back inside, had a few drinks, etc.  You get the idea.   After Andrea gave me that hottest (but tonguelessly chaste) kiss, I woke up. 

Over the next hour, this song became the soundtrack to my lovingly wistful hour spent thinking clichéd thoughts about the urgency of being young, the possibilities associated with having a car and a fake ID and the ways that Jason Isbell taught us that “time moves slow when you’re 17 and then it picks up steam at 21.”  Nirvana’s version of “In Bloom” was emblematic of what it meant to be 13 in Nebraska, especially when you were in on the joke that was laughed at every time a new meathead kid bought a copy of Nevermind. He was the one who liked all those pretty songs, but didn’t know what they meant.   

The Omaha I miss isn’t the Omaha that’s currently there.  Out of the very few of us who are still around, Ryan is the only one who still lives east of 72nd street. Everyone else has perfectly functional suburban lots way out in the places halfway to Lincoln.   The beauty of the land and of the people is even more opaque- it’s even harder to find it now than it was before. 

Omaha is a place where there are two ways to succeed (which is two more than most places mind you). A person can either succeed as a bootstrappy farm kid or immigrant whose pluck reifies the values we purport to have or you can be a person deemed capable enough to go anywhere else but chose to stay.  It’s not my town anymore, but then again, it hasn’t been for a long time. 
23 years later I’m lying awake at 3am thinking about the same people and the same song still works as a soundtrack.  The point of this post isn’t to wax nostalgic for my fleeting youth but to make an argument for the serendipitous power of cover songs to create a thinking experience for the listener that is consistent with how we evolve in the rest of our lives.  The past and present consistently blend up together to make new meaning from old thinking.  

What Sturgill Simpson does in the song and Matt Mahurin does in the art style strips the song of the raw emotional intensity of the original and replaces it with a more disorienting but still comfortable uncertainty about the way things are.  At 3 am, it seems like a metaphor.  At 1042  am, it seems like a cliché. 

Nirvana is never coming back, the Omaha of my youth is gone but the potential to see old things in new ways is an underrated, life-affirming quality that good music can bring us.     

Miranda Tavares

Nate Bell

Journey Through the Past - My Mom

I just wanted to post some pictures of my mom that are making the rounds among my brother and sisters as we prepare for the service.  This is going to sound horrible, but I'm having trouble remembering her this happy.  What I keep coming back to is the thought that I probably played a role in her being so unhappy later, not necessarily because I was a terror (my father pulled me aside once in my 30s and felt compelled to tell me that I was actually very easy to raise; which he didn't realize until he and mom worked their way through my siblings), but because I could have been more giving, that I could have been more involved in her life; essentially, that I was guilty of being as distant as she often was.

I definitely remember this avatar of my mom.

Wow, how classic teenager is this picture?

I think this is my all-time favorite picture of my mom, especially since it also features my grandma Alice.

This may be an outtake from Grapes of Wrath.

My Year With Proust - Day 123

"When we are in love, our love is too big a thing for us to be able altogether to contain it within ourselves.  It radiates towards the loved one, finds there a surface which arrests it, forcing it to return to its starting-point, and it is this repercussion of our own feeling which we call the other's feelings and which charms us more then than on its outward journey because we do not recognise it as having originated in ourselves."
Marcel Proust, Within a Budding Grove, p. 655

I can't decide whether this is a happy thought or a sad thought to inspire my 900th post; either way, I'm pretty sure it's a profound thought.  The notion of love itself as almost a tangible entity which reaches out to others is somewhere between beautiful and alarming.  It reminds me of the chapter on Contact from every Concept of the Self student's least favorite book, Freeland's Portraits & Persons (except for my students, oddly, who end up liking the book).  She discusses how icons are designed to not only honor the deceased, but to establish a true connection with them.  Granted, Proust is speaking more metaphorically here, but if he were correct then we are almost filling up the space between us and our loved ones, which would allow us to support our loved ones in an ethereal emotional gravitational field.  That's the positive, life-affirming way to look at it.  The other way to consider the question is that what we really appreciate and love about the other person is ourselves, since we're really just appreciating our own reflected feelings.  Again, Proust is speaking more metaphorically, although I suspect it works more realistically in this sense.  Cutting to the chase, I guess it would mean that all love is self-love, which makes sense if you consider that people tend to gush over what people have in common with them.  I always joked that my ex-wife married me for my Neil Young record collection, which, I guess, she ended up with after all (although, having to live with me for twenty-four years to acquire it is a steep price to pay). So, what we love about them is what we love about ourselves. To take it to the next level, think of the people who have no self-love and have therefore no love to send out to others, and thus no love can be reflected back.  It sounds a bit like the poster on a high school girl's bedroom, but, truthfully, I think that Proust is on to something here.  And, come to think of it, I think this is pretty life-affirming as well.

Either way, if you've reached 900 posts then clearly you have immense self-love. Or my complete lack of self-love.  At the very least it speaks to my extraordinary sense of self-fascination.

Thanks, as always, to the folks who have followed the blog, even an occasional quick glance, over the years.

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

My Year With Proust - Day 122

"But if our unhappiness is due to the loss of someone dear to us, our suffering consists merely in an unusually vivid comparison of the present with the past."
Marcel Proust, Within a Budding Grove, p. 654

My mother passed away last weekend so I've been even more reflective this week than usual.  As is always the case, especially when you are not present with the person at the time of their passing (I live up here in wintry Vermont and my mom was living down in Savannah, Georgia with my sister Lisa), it doesn't seem quite real yet.  I'm still a little emotionally bruised, so I'm even less likely to stumble into a profound thought than usual. Truthfully, I've been much more concerned about my son, who was remarkably close to his grandmother.  I told him the other night that I sincerely believed that he was a much better grandson to her than I was a son to her.  At the end of Swann's Way Proust proposed that memory is intricately linked to regret, and I certainly have enough regrets on that front.  We clearly loved each other but I also wish I had spent more time with her and tried to get an even clearer sense of who she was and what she believed.  A couple weeks ago I asked the questions of what, if anything, I had in common with my mom (since people always tried to turn me into a little version of my father).  My mother always seemed removed  from the crowd and a bit out of focus, which is one of the reasons why I always felt that I didn't know her as well as I might.  And that is when it hit me; that's one of the things we have in common.  It might be the single most clearly defined aspect of my own personality.  My father always commented on the fact that I never joined in, and I can only relate this to all the time that my mother would sit by herself in the kitchen, not joining in but also probably reveling in her own privacy.

All the kids, well, mainly Lisa, Eric and Beth, are busily planning the funeral, such as it is (my mother had very strong opinions on things and didn't want any ceremonies in a church or in a funeral home).  I've been charged with heading up the graveside ceremony, so I've been thinking about what I might say, which led me back to digging deep into my own memory in search of memories of my mother.  Oddly, I think my favorite memory of her relates to sitting at a Waffle House restaurant late at night.  As horrible as divorce is, there are some people who come out of it as better people.  I suspect this might because you're free of an unhappy relationship or you've just been tempered by the fire of the experience or you're just not living a more honest existence.  In the case of my mother I think the experience of the divorce humbled her, but also reminded her of what really mattered in the world.  In the days when she was queen of Lawrenceburg, Indiana her days were filled with the perceived responsibilities of that exulted position, and that included constantly feeding the monster that was the Big House on Kirby Road.  After the divorce she bought a house down in Atlanta next to us and got a job at Kroger's.  Often when I got out of my night class at GPC I would meet her after she left work and we would grab a late egg sandwich at Waffle House.  It was great to have the time alone together, but in some ways we were both getting back to our roots.  Plus, we were both putting aside our tendency toward solitude and devoting time to each other.  I don't think I was ever her favorite child (because, come on, every parent has a favorite, even if they won't admit it), but I was her first, which means that for a while it was just the two of us. 

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

My Year With Proust - Day 121

"There was another reason, apart from those given above, for the flowers' having more than a merely ornamental significance in Mme Swann's drawing-room, and this reason pertained not to the period but, in some degree, to the life that Odette had formerly led.  A great courtesan such as she had been, lives largely for her lovers, that is to say at home, which means that she comes in time to live for her home.  The things that one sees in the house of a 'respectable' woman, things which may of course appear to her also to be of importance, are those which are in any event of the utmost importance to the courtesan.  The culminating point of her day is not the moment in which she dresses herself for society, but that in which she undresses herself for a man.  She must be as elegant in her dressing-gown, in her night-dress, as in her outdoor attire.  Other women display their jewels, but she lives in the intimacy of her pearls.  This kind of existence imposes on her the obligation, and end by giving her the taste, for a luxury which is secret, that is to say which comes near to being disinterest.  Mme Swann extended this to include her flowers. There was always beside her chair an immense crystal bowl filled to the brim with Parma violets or with long white daisy-petals floating in the water, which seemed to testify, in the eyes of the arriving guest, to some favourite occupation now interrupted, as would also have been the cup of tea which Mme Swann might have been drinking there along for her own pleasure; an occupation more intimate still and more mysterious, so much so that one wanted to apologise on seeing the flowers exposed there by her side, as one would have apologised for looking at the title of the still open book which would have revealed to one Odette's recent reading and hence perhaps her present thoughts.  And even more than the book, the flowers were living things; one was embarrassed, when one entered the room to pay Mme Swann a visit, to discover that she was not alone, or if one came home with her, not to find the room empty, so enigmatic a place, intimately associated with hours in the life of their mistress of which one knew nothing, did those flowers assume, those flowers which had not been arranged for Odette's visitors but, as it were forgotten there by her, had held and would hold with her again intimate talks, which one was afraid of disturbing, the secret of which one tried in vain to read by staring at the washed-out, liquid, mauve and dissolute colour of the Parma violets."
Marcel Proust, Within a Budding Grove, pp. 638-639

We continue to learn more and more about Odette, not simply as the object of Swann's mad, jealous desire, but as a more nuanced character.  Proust starts by reflecting on Odette's complicated response to receiving flowers, and, as is his wont, then moves on to deeper and more intimate issues, in this case Mme Swann's life as a "courtesan." At first blush, and blush seems more than the appropriate word here, it could be seen a mere prurient intrusion into her bedroom. "The culminating point of her day is not the moment in which she dresses herself for society, but that in which she undresses herself for a man.  She must be as elegant in her dressing-gown, in her night-dress, as in her outdoor attire.  Other women display their jewels, but she lives in the intimacy of her pearls."  OK, it's difficult to not read pearls as a sexual metaphor, but when you get beyond that you end up with a a sad but still lovely description of a woman's personal universe.  If Odette was actually a courtesan, then she, in a patriarchal society, was forced to be even more reactive to the needs of men, so the juxtaposition of dressing/undressing is even more apt.  Liminal spaces play such a huge role in Remembrance of Things Past, and here are two more.  I have a pet theory that one of the things that causes the sex life of long-term relationships to grow stale is not enough time devoted to dressing and especially undressing.  And this is not a clarion call for more trips to Victoria's Secret since I can honestly state that I don't find anything sexier on a woman than a t-shirt, jeans and Keds; which I think is a reflection of natural, unaffected sexuality.  Well, there is something to be said for a conservative business suit with just a bit of lace revealed, but I digress.

The dressing and undressing duality here is an interesting one.  There is always that time in the flowering of any relationship when that first undressing occurs, and, clearly, it is one of the most memorable moments.  Now, it begs the question: will it be the dressing or the undressing that comes closer to revealing truth and identity?  I remember one of my first year students several years ago producing an extraordinary self-portrait in Concepts of the Self.  It was a nude, although, thankfully, nothing was revealed, which was actually the point - and what made it brilliant.  The young woman was naked in front of a window - or at least appeared naked (it was very artfully done) - but the light streaming in from the window dominated the picture and she appeared in a stark silhouette.  Her point, which she expressed in a beautifully written paper, was that she only revealed what she wanted to reveal, and even if she were naked you wouldn't really be seeing anything that she didn't want to reveal.  And, assuming that anyone's nude body actually expressed something profound about them is pretty shamefully reductive.  So, oddly, is dressing actually the part which, in addition to expressing identity, actually the action that shares the truth of the individual?  As the great Canadian philosopher reminds us, "you're only real with your make-up on."

The Parma Violet, the favorite of Mme Swann. Apparently they are believed, incorrectly, to be sterile, but with careful nurturing they can produce a seed pod. As with most things related to Remembrance of Things Past, I can't believe their selection in this case was an accident.