The Sound of Prose: Omensetter’s Luck

For anyone interested in music theory in terms of form and analysis, musical syntax or the ‘sound of prose’ and how it may work closely with its more literary neighbors, there’s a great post just up at An und für sich already yielding some interesting discussion. This post (On Some Sentences of William Gass) is part of a book event on William H. Gass’s Omensetter’s Luck of which I will soon be submitting. As someone indulging in a bit of literary analysis from a music background of sorts, I’ve already found it quite interesting, and wager you will as well.


Since each of us was several, there was already quite a crowd.

The two of us wrote Anti-Oedipus together. Since each of us was several, there was already quite a crowd. Here we have made use of everything that came within range, what was closest as well as farthest away. We have assigned clever pseudonyms to prevent recognition. Why have we kept our own names? Out of habit, purely out of habit. To make ourselves unrecognizable in turn. To render imperceptible, not ourselves, but what makes us act, feel and think. Also because it’s nice to talk like everybody else, to say the sun rises, when everybody knows it’s only a manner of speaking. To reach, not the point where one no longer says I, but the point where it is no longer of any importance whether one says I. We are no longer ourselves. Each will know his own. We have been aided, inspired, multiplied. 


-Deleuze and Guattari, A Thousand Plateaus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia 

Help me attend the Second World Congress of Clinical Neuromusicology!

The second world congress of clinical neuromusicology is taking place December 2-3 in Vienna, Austria. The lectures involve presentations and seminars by scholars in the fields of neurology, philosophy and neuroimaging from around the world. Here is a link to the program, which focuses on the applied neuroscience of music.

Though I am far from being a working clinician, I would be registered as a trainee. As I leave for the UK in a little over 24 hours to meet with various professionals in the field, this would be an enormous opportunity for myself. I’ve spent a couple hours online trying to find the very most inexpensive bus/train/plane/hostel to get me to this conference, and spoke with the head of the conference this morning-half in German! As it stands, I simply can’t afford it. I’m about 350$ short. This would pay for a low-cost flight, a room for one night and trainee entrance to the conference. It’s a very long shot, but I’ll be the first to emphatically proclaim you never know what you may achieve until you try. If you feel you are able, I would be so grateful for any small donation.

If anyone is interested as to why I love neuromusicology, I would love to speak with you about it! Or, you may read of it here.

Cattivo Maestro, A Revolt That Never Ends, and OWS

“I always thought that becoming a professor would mean teaching freedom and exercising freedom. I was wrong.”

-Antonio Negri, A Revolt That Never Ends 


And a brief glance into Negri and Hardt on OWS, published October 11, 2011:

Confronting the crisis and seeing clearly the way it is being managed by the current political system, young people populating the various encampments are, with an unexpected maturity, beginning to pose a challenging question: If democracy — that is, the democracy we have been given — is staggering under the blows of the economic crisis and is powerless to assert the will and interests of the multitude, then is now perhaps the moment to consider that form of democracy obsolete?


Full article may be found here: The Fight for ‘Real Democracy’ at the Heart of Occupy Wall Street

Damasio: Prophetic Tones in Descartes’ Error

The postcriptum of Descartes’ Error contained an idea which pointed to the future of neurobiological research: the mechanisms of basic homeostasis constitute a blueprint for the cultural development of the human values which permit us to judge actions as good or evil, and classify objects as beautiful or ugly. At the time, writing about this idea gave me hope that a two-way bridge could be established between neurobiology and the humanities, thus providing the way for a better understanding of human conflict and for a more comprehensive account of creativity. I am pleased to report that some progress has been made toward building that sort of bridge. For example, some of us are actively investigating the brain states associated with moral reasoning while others are trying to discover what the brain does during aesthetic experiences. The intent is not ethics or aesthetics to brain circuitry but rather explore the threads that interconnect neurobiology to culture. I am even more hopeful today that such a seemingly utopian bridge can become reality and optimistic that we will enjoy its benefits without having to wait another century.

-Antonio Damasio, Descartes’ Error (preface, 2005)

Hegel, Valéry, Aesthetics and Existentialism: In Response to Mademoiselle

“He who wishes to record his dream has to be awake.”

            -Paul Valéry

            Mademoiselle, published in 1981 by Bruno Monsaingeon and translated from the original French by Robyn Marsack, is a compilation of conversations of the great musician and teacher, Nadia Boulanger. These dialogues with Monsaingeon took place during the final five years of Boulanger’s life, as she became closer and closer to death. It seems fitting, then, to be a time of reflection on the relationships arisen, mistakes ill-profited from, and lessons realized. In Boulanger’s ninety-two years, she became an incredibly accomplished pianist, prolific conductor, and remarkable teacher of music. Some of her most acclaimed students included Aaron Copland, Roy Harris and Virgil Thompson-and therefore it can truly be said that she “changed the face of American music.”[1]

Characteristic from the onset until the very end of this publication is the apparent amount of charisma, devotion and passion Boulanger exhibited through her music and life, despite the physical setbacks present. One specific constituent to her character was her driven and unwavering view of herself in the lack of contentment she found in her own music. When conversing about the difference between a masterpiece and a simply respectable composition, she was asked to explain the criterion. She states, “For me, this always comes back to faith. As I accept God, I accept emotion. I also accept masterpieces…I believe that there are conditions without which masterpieces cannot be achieved, but I also believe that what defines a masterpiece cannot be pinned down.” There is much wisdom to be seen in this: it is necessarily true. It returns Hegel’s rational and even empirical question of aesthetics: What makes something beautiful? What constitutes good art? The answer can be nothing but subjective and relative to the perceiver, and yet I would agree that masterpieces are borne under but certain conditions. To paraphrase Hegel, nothing great has ever been accomplished without passion.

Another important notion Boulanger emphatically stood for lay in the realm of desire. If one’s desire is such that it may be tainted by lack of opportunity, want of time or simple laziness, the desire had truly no stock in the first place. She speaks of Plato and Schubert, and the greats throughout the age. They are remembered for being truly great, and why; because of their sheer dedication, stanch discipline and distinctive passion to create, to know, to be. Boulanger states earlier on in the work that she believes if one does not value existence, they cannot play well, think well, or live well. If one is not engaged consciously; if one is not thinking, he temporarily exists in vain, he has lost himself. Whether we rely on Hamlet’s “Words without thought to Heaven never go,” or the deductive Cogito of Descartes, whatever one is doing, it must be with purpose, and it must be with discipline.

Lastly, the ideal I have found to be of most exhilarating worth is the basic early existential concept of freedom, responsibility and choice. It continues on from the above: we are what we do; we end only where our actions lead us. She speaks of different types of people-ones who exist in a simply content state in their everyday lives, lacking attention and self-awareness. There are others, then, who live in an entirely different place: one of extreme focus, attentiveness and in possession of an extraordinary need to develop. When the latter engage in literature, a piece of music or in some sort of academia, they are engaged. One such as this is interested by their very nature. Life is entirely what we may draw from it, never the other way around. Ingrained in humanity is the potential to produce; to create great things. But one may not have only talent, or only technique, one must have the devout ardency and will to arrive. Valéry stated specifically, “It depends on you, o passer-by, whether I am tomb or treasury. It depends on you, friend; do not enter without desire.”

            In personal response, I found the conclusion of the dialogue to be incredibly poignant, and sadly little-known truth. The main metaphysical questions-how do we know, what do we know, and what can we know-about life, love and music, she answers with painful yet simplistic candor. It is the Socratic coming of age, and it is but the very wise who may say:


                        “You’re pushing me…You’re asking me to lay down truths…I’m simply amazed to have some intuitions…I have to admit that I do not know. And when I say I do not know, I am proclaiming a great victory for thought. I do not know, therefore I think along better and more essential lines, because when I do know, I am aware that it’s only in a human measure. I know all the notes, do re mi so…semi-quavers and so on…I can analyse everything. But one page, one line, one bar of Schubert, I do not know.”

[1] Monsaingeon, Bruno. Mademoiselle. (London: Carcanet Press Limited, 1985) 13.

The Condition of Truth – Dr. Cornel West at Wilshire Blvd Temple

In the midst of my involvement with Occupy Los Angeles, working my way through Philosophy in the Present (Zizek and Badiou) and exploring various political ideologies and how they function, I recently attended a talk by Dr. Cornel West and Tavis Smiley. Prior to attending, I did a quick bit of research into West’s CV. One of the more interesting interviews I found was conducted by Jonathan Judaken and Jennifer L. Geddes, speaking with him largely in regard to ‘intellectual life’.

You know the idea that the ‘condition of truth is to allow suffering to speak’ actually comes from the next-to-last line of the section called “The Speculative Moment” in Adorno’s Negative Dialectics. He said the condition of truth is to allow suffering to speak. That’s very much like Hebrew scripture, very Judaic, and I resonate with that even though he’s got a secular mode of it and a very sophisticated, negative, dialectical way of conceiving it. But he’s always looking for the defeated. It’s important to focus on the most vulnerable, the widow, the stranger. It comes very much out of Hebrew scripture, couched in their very stories and narrative…As you speak a truth, you can do it with a generosity but also with a bite. You speak the truth, expose the lies, but most importantly, you bear witness.

Two of my favorite quotes by West came in response from a woman from the audience: a professor of religion at a local evangelical Christian college. She asked, simply, “Why, Dr. West, if we are all ‘in the faith,’ why do we read the bible so differently, especially in regards to the poor? How is it that there so many on the right and left that cannot see and agree on how we are to treat the poor?”

His response is as follows:

A) “Unfortunately, there are some who’d rather drink the kool aid than be washed in the blood!”

He then more soberly approached the audience and asked,

B) “Do you read the bible as a book of facts, or a book of truth?”

I loved this. It resonated within me-especially thinking personally of  my religious/spiritual background. Though I’ll never ‘abandon my faith,’ I’m fear I’m guilty all too often for casting aside the truth that may be found in scripture.

Throughout the continuation of talks by both Smiley and West joined by Rabbi Steven Leder, I was amazed at how many times I simply felt chills run down my body. Calling things to my attention such as “The new poor are the former middle class” and “This is not a political posturing of the future-our democracy is at stake” (West) proved not only enlightening, but also motivated me to decide to get back down to Occupy LA as soon I can. An illustration I thought was very cool was the picture he painted in retort to the following question:

 “Do the poor have power?

                                                             “Look at Hip-Hop.”

 I truly thought this was fantastic-anyone knows the roots to the present state of this industry can see how the culture of any society would not be the same without the near-impoverished demographic. Just look at how it started. We have the term “Starving Artist” for a reason! Brilliant. In conclusion, I’d like to add one last thing I took from last night, and it’s in regard to every political disagreement, and now occupation I have ever been apart of. I’ve never encountered opposition from friends, family members and academic advisors in regards to my political/ethical ideologies like I have during the past couple of years. I am thinking now of my stances on the Egyptian people under Hosni Mubarack. Of those who were imprisoned at Abu Ghraib. Of Troy Davis. And now, of the occupiers around the entire world. But Dr. West has said it before, and he said it last night:

          ‎”There are some fights ain’t worth fighting even if you win; there are other fights you have to fight even if you lose.”

Dr. Cornel West