Period (sense of duration)
(Talk at 544 Natoma Street, 14 February 1982 )
I have been asked to speak for an hour or so about whatever I would like which is a little frightening in two respects: one, what is an hour, more or less, as a space of time and two, what would I like. Even after having done this a number of times during the past ten years I am no closer to understanding what comprises an hour with its division into sixty minutes, its minutes into sixty seconds, etc, all deriving from a Babylonian numerology based on twelves at the near edge of pre-history. And certainly I am no closer to knowing 'what I would like to talk about'. I remember in a college seminar being given the assignment of speaking on 'Verlaine and Song' and literally being taken sick as the time for talking approached: fever, nausea, an overwhelming desire to sleep. Not that I couldn't think of what to say, but that there seemed so much to say - the topic of song seemed endless - that I couldn't decide what to put in and what to leave out. More than that of course, there was the prospect of others sitting in judgment, which is what graduate students practiced at most once they had learned how to hold a sherry glass correctly; and at the head of the table a very tired former Sorbonne professor with his blue suit and maroon socks, who had just barely gotten wind of the Symbolists but wasn't sure that their behavior was all that correct. We speculated that to survive he must have had a minimum of three pairs of the maroon socks, but more likely six or seven, and two of the blue suits. When I finally did give the talk, a couple of weeks later, he was kind about my strangled schoolboy French and psychotic demeanor, probably writing the whole thing off as an aberration of youth, given that I never really did get to his notion of song which, I gathered eventually, meant for him the various popular melodies some of Verlaine's least interesting poems had been set to in the late nineteenth century. It seems to me now that I spent six or seven very intensive weeks preparing the talk, then spoke for about ten minutes, but I may be exaggerating.
In any case I want to look somewhat haphazardly at this notion of a period of time and have decided to wait until the Monday before the seventh day, the day of speaking to you, to begin preparing it, so that the talk itself will reflect somehow that duration. This 'seven' with its lingering association of good fortune again brings us back to the Babylonian astrologers who associated the significance of seven with the seven so-called 'planets', that is the wandering stars: Sun, Moon, Venus, Jupiter, Mars, Mercury and Saturn. These, Karl Menninger tells us in his Number Words and Number Symbols, were thought of as messengers of the gods; and body-parts, colors, stones, days of the week, etc, were "ordered according to their pattern." The names themselves changed when the Jews brought the Babylonian week to Rome in the first century, but the unit of seven was retained. So it is that I invoke all of the gods (not just one, as Lucretius) to see me through this. And unlike Lucretius again I won't be speaking of the order of things so much as their variety and the inconstancy or mutability of our measures. And unless an illumination occurs during the week I won't have any conclusions to make - the whole idea is simply to lay out some "senses of duration" as they come to me over this period of time, presuming I last it out.
Also I have wanted to wait until Monday evening since a good part of my feeling for time, for particular lengths of time, is tied up with night, specifically sleepless, so-called 'white nights'. I have been experiencing these again recently, as I have periodically throughout my life, and so each seems to connect with every other and the quality of time and duration in them seems fairly constant - they throw me out of daily time even as they force me to reflect on it. That is, they acquire a particular identity by relation to all the others. The chain of them forms a sequence explicitly felt in the nervous system, so that lying awake at one point in time physically reminds me of other like occasions and their causes and the immediate concrete surroundings. So there is both the singularity of the thing and the loss of that as it rhymes with other such nights.
In daily life our habits of activity tend to usurp the sense of specific duration - they help us forget it, and we are to some extent glad of this even as we make our efforts at recovery of the moment and the sum of moments (really the accumulation, since there can't be a sum). Even the measuring of time - "I've got to leave in twenty minutes"; "The soup will be done when the bell rings"; "I hope he doesn't talk too long" - is not an experiencing of a particular passage so much as an equation relative to a daily economy, a kind of parceling which may nonetheless be generated by absolute necessity (I'm reminded of the resident of the Warsaw Ghetto who spoke of marking a loaf of bread according to each day's portion - I've thought a lot about what kind of desperate calendar such a loaf stands for). Regular nights, like regular days, have no duration - we enter the territory of delta sleep - no dreams - or the dream state where time is impossibly compressed and altered to fit the story we then make out of words when we wake. Both can be a horrifying luxury, wherein passing images intervene to eliminate the knowing both of the moment and of the accumulation of moments which, if we could codify them - and we can't - might actually stand for experience. But even as I write "stand for" I see the thing receding; a story comes to stand in its place. So the "story" is a similar kind of luxury of displacement and we are drawn to it. And so mysteries or detective novels often fill or obliterate such long nights, since they contain no mystery but instead relieve us of its insistence. We read them with the sense that they are required to resolve themselves (when they don't or do so imperfectly they're no good). That is, the various threads must be shown to connect and abolish chance. There will be a restoration of order, a satisfactory termination having to do with causes and effects, an explanation of things. Simultaneously the work will erase itself - it will not leave itself in question and can be permanently closed just as the 'case' is closed. When Wittgenstein wrote the Tractatus he also hoped to close or at least perfectly circumscribe the 'case', just in case, and very quickly discovered the narrow limits of such an ambition, even if the logicians who later took their false cue (I first wrote 'cure' by mistake) from him did not. One discovers the secret of the thing - like the atom - and the case would seem to be closed. Henceforth (post-Los Alamos) events are circumscribed by democratic will. Deviations from our shaping of historical time will be, if not eliminated, at least explicable and controlled - events acquire an absolute measure until the secret is revealed and thus taken to a place beyond control. At this point no termination can be described as satisfactory. "The secret is out" and we await the day the earth becomes the sun, the ultimate dies soles, Sunday, or sabbath of fire, everything is light and our week on earth terminates.
Until then there is the rhythm of alternation, dark-light, by to keep time. And hence the deliberate paradox of "white nights" (its other pole I suppose being "dark days"). It is in such periods of isolate waiting, reading and remembering that I most explicitly feel both the passing of time and the sense of a unit of time, from last light to false dawn (in Boston the end of night would be marked by the first cries of gulls, usually heard before you had sensed the fading of darkness). In System and Structure Anthony Wilden says:
It is true that outside the domain of science, very little has been added to what Saint Augustine had to say about human time, but obviously our consciousness and use of the category of time has greatly changed, especially since Hegel, and since the growth of the modern novel in which duration is not a simple decor, not an a priori outside the characters and outside their time, but more like a character in itself. Human time is that in which the future is primary; it is articulated on human desire. Using the Augustinian categories, one would say that the present of things future (hope) - becomes the present of things present (perception) through reference to the present of things past (memory). The whole process is dependent upon that aspect of the human discourse which confers signification upon hope, perception, or memory.
Generally in the silence your heart-beat is magnified as a kind of metrical accompaniment. And memory is generated, hurling you backward (as now I think of Boston, as well as nights of a year I lived in Florence, nights as a child before that, nights on a cot in boarding school, hiding a reading lamp under the covers). And in that way they do all seem to weave into one endless night which is possibly the more accurate, enclosing period. I accompanied by a sense of separateness, a feeling of fundamental isolation that goes back for me to earliest experience but also extends forward in time with the conviction that it lies outside the range of personal choice whether or not one will end up alone, and I suppose who in a sense doesn't. One feels utterly "at a distance" as Canetti phrases it in Crowds and Power, yet rather than reinforcing an identity (as for example 'over' those who function in a more conventional rhythm), such isolation threatens to annihilate it. So one refuses to break up such time into a routine of set activates since that would both admit the possibility of a regularized alternative to daily life and would eliminate the quality of undifferentiated time which characterizes it - that quality of more or less pure sameness and interiorization, night being the space or silence between the beats which is in fact what time is - nothing. (I am thinking here of John Berger's scenario for the Alain Tanner film Jonas which I will get back to later in the talk.) Habits or recurrent patterns tend to digitalise time, as Wilden would say, and emphasize segmentation, just as dates and other time-words do. Time disappears into this or that time (and consequently "not this" and "not that"). In this way its measure is taken. "Let us," says George Kubler in The Shape of Time, "imagine a duration without any regular pattern. Nothing in it would ever be recognizable, for nothing would ever recur. It would be a duration without measure of any sort, without entities, without properties, without events - a void duration, a timeless chaos." So it is that recurrence and periodicity allow us to project images of time onto the variousness of events, to make our particular measures in a sense, and to distract ourselves for the moment from time, to choose a moment from time.
There are obviously infinite types of periodicity. In the thirteenth century Aquinas speculated "on the nature of the time of angels," as Kubler notes, and revived the neo-Platonic concept of "the aevum as the duration of human souls..." This scale is echoed by Karlheinz Stockhausen when he refers in an interview with Jonathan Cott to the notion of the ylem, the rhythmic pulsation of the cosmos every eight-thousand and something years. What is interesting is that he invokes all durations as in relation, as currently potential musical information, from the beating of the heart on out. When Thomas Campion makes his impossible case for quantitative verse in English in 1602, it is also a plea for attention to the specific gravity, the particular weight and duration of individual syllables, an attention he felt was being blurred by the increasing reliance on a metrical grid resulting in a severe case of hearing loss among English poets. And now linguistic research, with its own sense of measuring, has brought attention to the temporal shape of elements well below the syllabic unit. "How high the moon" sings very well, "how high the dune" fairly well but "how high the dog" presents problems not only of sense but of phrasing where a lingering extension is needed instead of abrupt termination. By now it is late Tuesday evening ("Evening: Day Two" as the subtitle would read in the war movie), and I should at least attempt to go on to a few particular instances.
Thus I would often lie until morning, dreaming of the old days at Combray, of my melancholy and wakeful evenings there, of other days besides, the memory of which had been more recently restored to me by the taste - by what would have been called at Combray the "perfume" - of a cup of tea, and, by an association of memories, of a story which, many years after I had left the little place, had been told me of a love affair in which Swann had been involved before I was born, with a precision of detail which is often easier to obtain for the lives of people who have been dead for centuries than for those of our own most intimate friends, an accuracy which it seems as impossible to attain as it seemed impossible to speak from one to another, before we knew of the contrivance by which that impossibility has been overcome. All these memories, superimposed upon one another, now formed a single mass, but had not so far coalesced that I could not discern between them - between my oldest, my instinctive memories, and those others, inspired more recently by a taste or "perfume, " and finally those which were actually the memories of another person from whom I had acquired them at second hand - if not real fissures, real geological faults, at least that veining, that variegation, of coloring, which in certain rocks, in certain blocks of marble, points to differences of origin, age, and formation.
Here Proust describes "his," the narrator's, process of losing his way in memory and reflection, unhooking himself from conventional thought patterns and associations, to a point where the various rooms of his life merge into one - for a time he literally does not know where he is. All this of course is facilitated by darkness - the imagination is set free to respond to a range of memories and associations. His extended periods mirror this wandering, providing a like path for the reader to travel. In the most extreme of these the reader too can easily become lost and must return into the twistings of syntax to regain bearings. The path is anything but straight and strictly linear, and the journey along it cannot be hurried. We are forced to move, like Zukofsky's hummingbird, both forward and backward, "how else could it keep going." Here from the "Overture" to the book is the beginning of a sentence which exemplifies his extended periodicity:
But I had seen first one and then another of the rooms in which I had slept during my life, and in the end I would revisit them all in the long course of my waking dream: rooms in winter, where on going to bed I would at once bury my head in a nest woven out of the most diverse materials - the corner of my pillow, the top of my blankets, a piece of a shawl, the edge of my bed, and a copy of a children's paper - which I had contrived to cement together, bird-fashion, by dint of continuous pressure...
(The sentence continues for another five hundred or more words.)
In a chapter on Montaigne in System and Structure, Anthony Wilden states:
In the closed literary system, time is pure sequence or pure background; correlatively, the narrator is omniscient, timeless, like St. Augustine's God. On the stage of the open system, however, time is also one of the players - as George Lukás (1920) said of Flaubert's Education sentimentale- and the narrator is imbriqué ... The time of this type of novel is not simply unilinear or sequential: it may be synchronic, diachronic, mythical, repetitive, ostensibly circular, actually spiral, or structured (but not read) like a mosaic. Time- and therefore the reader - is one of the dramatis personae in Montaigne's personal quest. The past is always remembered, re-presented, just as the Other is remembered, represented, Time is lost and regained; it is subject, object, and relationship in itself.
Proust's sentence (often Wilden's too) threatens never to end, never to "come to the point", that is never to tell, but to continue forever in its languorous, self-enraptured turnings, drawing the reader into the process of remembering itself which threatens to abolish memory. It presents a two-fold temporal evocation, first of that nocturnal time of a paradoxical speculation without light, resistant to intentionality, and then of a period in social history whose passing the book both represents, admits of, and attempts to subvert by offering an ahistorical periodicity in its place, a moment in which to dwell. The resistance of the syntax to scanning or speed reading (one could say, to the habits of the new century where readers have already become viewers, scanning the texts of silent films) enforces upon the reader this inhabiting of the text - one must take the time and must again and again turn back.
(It is Thursday now and I didn't work at all on this yesterday, but as I was coming to bed around 12:30 or 1 last night, Cathy spoke the following phrases to me:
"Are you from a book?"
"Tomorrow you can meet the owner of the house."
"Is someone asleep?")
Like Proust, Henry James is known for his extended, labyrinthine periods, yet they manifest a remarkably different rhythm and perform a different function. Here from the opening of chapter XXXIX of The Golden Bowl, James's last and stylistically most extreme novel, one that he did not write but dictated in a manner contemporary. daily speech patterns:
The resemblance had not been present to her on first coming out into the hot, still brightness of the Sunday afternoons- only the second Sunday of all the summer, when the party of six, the party of seven including the Principino, had practically been without accessions or invasions; but within sight of Charlotte, seated far away, very much where she expected to find her, the Princess fell to wondering if her friend wouldn't be affected quite as she herself had been, that night on the terrace, under Mrs. Verver's perceptive pursuit. The relation, today, had turned itself around; Charlotte was seeing her come, through patches of lingering noon, quite as she had watched Charlotte menace her through the starless dark; and there was a moment, that of her waiting a little as they thus met across the distance, when the interval was bridged by a recognition not less soundless, and to all appearance not less charged with strange meanings, than that of the other occasion.
The sense of voyage, of voyage imaginaire within the confines of a room that we feel in Proust, is absent here. The psychological mechanisms of recall and association are not given anything like the same permission in James. Instead we are presented an endlessly insistent and endlessly impossible act of definition or mapping. It is like following the development of an enormous equation across the blackboard as the physicist moves back and forth, occasionally erasing certain figures and replacing them with others, or adding one or another of those opaque signs for "greater than," "less than" or "to the twelfth power." Then when it is apparently complete he steps back, looks the whole thing over and realizes that it remains unfinished, so begins to fiddle with it again. Should any one thing not be in exactly the right place and be precisely qualified, then the entire set of signs will be invalidated. In the midst of the figuring, the immersion of concentration it demands, there must be a point where you feel you are actually constructing a world, the thing itself, rather than an image of it, and I'm told that in the outer reaches of physics and cosmology this is no simple question - that, as among the Pythagoreans, the figures by their logical inevitability announce their necessary being not as ancillary but as constitutive elements. Yet when you finally do step back for the last time you have a blackboard and you have chalk-marks, and very possibly a twelve-year old prodigy in the class who will point out a fundamental error in your calculations. Where Proust's Bergsonian world forms outside of scientific time, James's anxious adjustments and qualifications announce something surprisingly close to the psychology of another member of the family, William, with its call for an examination of the conscious. (This is a program undertaken in another fashion by Gertrude Stein, former student of William James, whose sentences are comparable in their complexity and duration while obviously utterly different rhythms and texture.)
A second source of the anxiety we sense when enter passages of James's writing might be comprehended through this observation of Werner Heisenberg in Physics and Philosophy:
Natural science does not simply describe and explain nature; it is part of the interplay between nature and ourselves; it describes nature as exposed to our method of questioning.
Never the "thing in itself" which we alter in our attempt to see it. James represents possibly the last major gesture of resistance to this truth, at the same time that the rhythm of his work seems to embody its recognition. As the object of attention resists the gaze and recedes, the act of attention comes forward and wholly to displace it.
Next, the opening passage from a recent work by Samuel "Ill Seen Ill Said," published in the New Yorker in October 1981:
From where she lies she sees Venus rise. On. From where she lies when the skies are clear she sees Venus rise followed by the sun. Then she rails at the source of all life. On.
Now we have passed through the mirror into the territory that James may have feared he was actually seeing. We begin with the impossibility of the act as unquestionable. Articulation has been reduced to spasmodic bursts of speech, to angular moments, like some grotesque parody of orgasm. Malone speaks of his breathing as gasping but can nevertheless deduce from that evidence that he is probably still alive, that is, not yet dead. Molloy yearns for perfect immobility, "To be literally incapable of motion at last, that must be something!" The elaborate hypotaxis of James has been displaced by a sequence of markers, by the gestures of someone marking time, marks on the wall, a gradual but insistent reduction which begins (see the trilogy for example) by turning Proustian memory from an act of recovery to a groping, almost aleatory process. What's gone is utterly gone. (In his book on Proust which is really on himself as Proust, Beckett announces that Proust had a poor memory.) Beckett's narrators, his rememberers, are amnesiacs. There is no duration, no illusion of lasting, and the "going on" is nothing more than an endless coming-to-a-halt. Yet as in Proust it is endless, because it can't be helped. The rhythm is autonomic. Stopping is not a matter of choice, anymore than starting was.
I don't know that Zukofsky's view of things, particularly at certain moments, is all that much more optimistic, yet history remains, as posited, as possible, its dialectic considered throughout "A". ("This matter is the substratum of all/Changes going on in the world" in 8; and in 9 "The measure all use is time congealed labor/ In which abstraction things keep no resemblance/ To goods created.") The presented is felt as flowing from a living past whether in the figures of fathers and fathers' fathers, Zadkine's La Prisonnière carved from stone, or the letters of Bach's name transformed into a musical theme. We are part of it for a time if we attend to it. And in "A" - 11 comes the amazing celebration of measure, that is a life's measure, song as a river imprinted with stars:
(tape of Zukofsky reading "A"-ll at Harvard)
Song then is where harmony gathers, "the upper limit", turning the linear flow of living-dying back to its sources, and this is certainly harmonically one of the most complex poems that exists in the English language. If you trace the network of internal and end rhymes, as we attempted in a prosody course I taught at New College last year, you end up with something that looks like the printed circuitry of a computer chip - every vowel redoubles on itself constantly, everything 'rings'. 46 lines, 425 syllables, an opening stanza of six lines, then four of ten, the poem's "eleven" echoed in the 6 hendecasyllabic lines which open each stanza, hendecasyllabics being Dante's measure. The result is an interweaving of horizontal and vertical movement, to borrow the terms from music. The meter, that is his handling of the meter, generates a very strong movement forward but the rhymes constantly send the reader back, as does the frequent ambiguity of the syntax.
The image of time so proposed is multi-directional and the moment of the poem seems to outlast itself, to be held in the air in its sounding. The period seems not so much discrete as continuous, in a Heracleitean sense, as a moment of on-going process. Zukofsky is able to achieve something like the same effect elsewhere, as in the poem " (Ryokan's Scroll)" from I's (pronounced eyes) which employs one-word lines and where the measure entirely depends upon what Campion referred to, the quantity of individual syllables:
The thing is held, extended in time, by the junctures or silences across which the sounds project and in which they gather. The movement times the unrolling of a scroll, the passage of the eye downward and so the bringing to light of words and images. A couple of years later, on the train home from the reading in Cambridge where the tape I just played was recorded, he timed a sighting thus:
For Tanner's Jonah who will be 25in the Year 2000, John Berger, the Marxist art critic and novelist, wrote an extraordinary comic scene about time, the holes in time, and the keeping of time. The new teacher Marco, on his first day, is discussing history with his high school class. He begins to beat rhythmically on the top of his desk and says, "Between each beat there is time. Time is the fact of recognising that the second beat is not the first. Time is created by opposition." Some of the students take up the beat, laughing and yelling, and Marco notes that "In a synthesis, time is diminished." The rhythm of the beats intensifies, now with all the students beating on their desks and yelling deliriously. Finally Marco says "In a total synthesis, time disappears." The bell rings, indicating the end of class and a return to kept time. The anarchic moment and its destruction of measured time has passed. The overcoming of opposition, difference, is concluded. This also coincides with the end of the first reel of the film, another measure, since the six reels represent six explicit stages or ages within the film.
Then, speaking of the protagonist G, who has just made love with a chambermaid in the hotel where he is staying:
He experiences every orgasm as though it were simultaneous with every other.
"In sex, a quality of 'firstness' is felt as continually re-creatable," he says elsewhere. It is projected as apart from replicable experience and so as a moment without relational identity. Again the words of George Kubler, "Let us imagine a duration without any regular pattern. Nothing in it would ever be recognisable, for nothing would ever recur. It would be a duration without measure..." It would in effect be the opposite of history, or the negation of it.
It's Friday morning now and I find myself hurrying again did I make myself write the whole thing out,: just talking) - I find myself hurrying to finish the talk also trying to hurry or compress the talk a bit so that it will fit into its time. I want to get to a few short pieces of music as preface would like to read to you Clark Coolidge's piece "A Note on Bop" published in Vanishing Cab #4:
A NOTE ON BOP
In Bop, especially in its drums which almost purely color and are colored by time itself, there is the sense that sheer continuance gets articulated. Momentum as seduction, in which the "one" of that ever first beat tends very soon to lose its "e." And the shaping of the always initial impact becomes the highest of enveloping tasks.
Awareness of all the room that exists within a single beat, and just exactly which point in that space you want to occupy, though the room itself may be moving at a very high rate of speed. At the time. Bop's fascination with extremes of tempo reveals its major involvement with the realms of time. Time and Changes, Bop's two keystones, nothing more basic.
The feel is that time has a precise center. Like tightroping on a moving pulley clothesline, you're always trying to keep up midway between the poles. It really gets that sharply physical. As a drummer you're holding time's cutting edge in your right hand (ride cymbal), a simultaneity of holding and shaping. You occupy the center of the sonic sphere, the world, and ride it and bear it, inviolable (why heroin is Bop's perfect chemical). And everything that happens there happens once and at once. Once and Ounce, Groove and Chord, Wave and Particle: the Complementarity of Bop.
Bop's connections with poetry are too synesthesiac to be descriptively fixed. Perhaps there is a renewal of the urge toward a longer more supple line. And the continual sense of the image in motion, never static, acted out and acted upon. Kerouac pointed to Lee Konitz ' 'who inspired me in 1951 'to write the way he plays.'" Then again Cecil Taylor (moving over a thinner place in the Bop Continuum) once remarked that he wanted to "try to imitate on the piano the leaps in space a dancer makes." And Jean-Luc Godard last night on television spoke of his movies as "the train, not the station, because I am no longer waiting."
Touch is essential. Can you touch time? Consider Kenny Clarke's "magic cymbal" which he "kept level" and "when somebody would sit in on drums and use his set, it would sound like the top of a garbage can, but when he played on it, it was like fine crystal."
Time is a substance if you hear you can get on and ride. I have always found metric feet awkward as a base for my lines. Rather the unceasing teem of that top cymbal at the back of my room.
Max Roach is imprinted on my nervous reflex. I sit at my desk helplessly tapping out his snare and bass exchanges between thoughts. Sometimes I feel the space between people (voices) in terms of tempos. The rush of an idea, a Blakey press-roll. That characteristic Roy Haynes snare & sock-cymbal figure a definitely constructed image, perhaps over to one side but more important than the main action, a sort of very bright cam. Klook's brushes a landscape in my sleep.
Then there is the famous door of Elvin Jones: "The length of my solos doesn't mean anything. When I go on for so long, I am looking for the right way to get out. Sometimes the door goes right by and I don't see it, so I have to wait until it comes around again. Sometimes it doesn't come around at all for a long, long time."
These days I ask myself again and more acutely the relation (if there is one?) between language forms and the wordless shapes of time. Perhaps there is no direct exchange. All I can be sure of is that I am able to possess them both within one body and one mind.
So there is not only this space between beats that Berger speaks of, but that space within the beat where a decision must be made about articulating time which will alter, one way or another, the feel of that time. Like Clark I have experienced different musics since the age of fifteen or so as essential personal information, with the difference that I was never a practicing musician and so lack to some extent his detailed understanding of what is happening. I have learned a good deal of what time I've learned from listening to Lester Young lagging behind the beat and the countless other ways of shaping time that jazz musicians, classical composers and various world musics suggest.
The first piece is by a composer who does not usually interest me very much, Milton Babbitt, and is called ... Minute Waltz (or) 3/4 ± 1/8". It derives from the Waltz Project, a series of waltzes commissioned by Robert Moran and Robert Helps for the New Music Ensemble and first performed in the spring of 1978. Every other measure is in 3/4 or waltz-time, the alternating measures having an eighth note added or subtracted (so 5/8 or 7/8). There are a number of punning waltz references over the 32 measures which, at a metronome count of 96, are meant to last exactly one minute (so the pun, Minute Waltz). One definitely picks up, at the margins, a sense of waltz time from another age, but the time of the waltz has been circumscribed and transformed. (Babbitt is known for his work with totally organized serial music, that is systematic organization of rhythm and dynamics as well as pitch, often using computers to effect this.) I'll follow with Philip Glass's "Modern Love Waltz" (2'56") as an interesting contrast, then Sonny Rollins's version of "Shadow Waltz" with Oscar Pettiford on bass and Max Roach on drums, recorded in 1958.
(tape of the three pieces)
The final piece of music I want to play is the fifth of Mahler's Riickertlieder, with thanks to Chris Gaynor for suggesting it and for providing information about this song cycle completed at the end of the last century. The work itself seems to bracket and thus stand for a period in that the poems of Friedrich Riickert come from the time of flowering of high romantic expression early in the century, whereas the Mahler music is written at a point of transition to the modernist harmonic sensibility with its dissolution (already underway throughout the nineteenth century) of classical tonality. Mahler's tonal centers here shift and are often left unresolved in the strict technical sense, lending to that feeling of suspension of time which listeners to these songs often remark on. We are not offered a series of divisions and conclusions but a space of time minimally filled with events. The result is an exploration of the hidden or undisclosed nature of feeling, with no forced or theatrical sentiment. Instead of a virtuosic manipulation of material there is an attention to what the material (here I mean the words) may offer. In this regard it is both a reaction against one manner of representation of feeling in the nineteenth century and an affirmation of the ground of romantic aesthetics. It feels too very much like an ending, a final statement in that area. First the translation as given in the notes, (with one minimal alteration) then the piece as sung by Janet Baker:
Ich bin der Welt abhanden gekommen
A few weeks ago the sentence came into my head, "A week lasts as long as three lines of light," and at first I thought it was the beginning of something but nothing followed from it, and I have been wondering since then what it was about. It is as if I were trying to project the measure of duration into some other area of perception, distance it to prove its foreignness, or my distance from it; and at the same time, as always, control it, manufacture an image. At some point in working on Notes for Echo Lake I realized that the 'notes' themselves should number twelve and that the larger period, so-to-speak, of the book would be a year, an entirely metaphoric year since the book is drawn from work extending over about three years. And so too the final section of 'notes' would come to be made up of twelve poems organized in different ways around the number 12, with the final poem being made up of twelve twelve-syllable lines:
One of the twelve
hours of the twelve days of the year
Wave-patter not first or last or an arm detached
not rain exactly opened his hand to read the
words written there. Would tell him what she would tell him
if he chose to, as if a blue robe were falling
not forward exactly, reed-boat of a sort of
drunkenness bearing seeds across water as if
to pretend a pattern. He asked her and asked her
then chose a tree to suggest sleep. These were empty
novelties whose ink absorbed light, red and redder
than the tree itself, rivers and mountains were all
we saw, objects much like those everyone had known
I've since been somewhat troubled by the artificiality of this and the strained - as it feels - contrivance, yet at the same time I understand the need I felt to "fix" the measure that precisely, to convert it to artifice to stand against the real time in which it had been written and would be read, and also I suppose I meant to set an unmistakable period to the book as a whole. Also I think I hoped that there might come to be in the reading a sense of measures enfolding others that extended beyond the immediate numbers of the book, to place it explicitly in relation to those numbers we use to name and veil time. So an ordering of series at different scales would project outward from the single syllable, the unit within the line, to the line as unit within the sequence of lines, to the sum of that sequence within a frame of eleven others which together would form a book beside the eleven other books or months of the whole to act as interludes, inter-ludes, as an index of the lived spaces across which epicycles, of interlocking perfect orders. "A week lasts as long as three lines of light." Or my "Seven Lines of Equal Length," that is, lines as Duchamp might have measured them, allowing his one-meter lengths of string to fall from a height of one meter, thus joining reason and chance in a new measure for his "Network of Stoppages."
"I am caught / in the time / as measure," says Creeley, yet he much as anyone has caught the measure as physical time and recast it to fit his person - line as breath's span and, among the short poems, total length as the duration of a single act of attention. By such gestures we both disclose ourselves and find ourselves enclosed. By bracketing lengths of time we propose beginnings and endings or starts and stops other than what there are. We offer alternatives where imaginary numbers may be taken for - have become - real ones.
Now it's gotten to be Saturday, Saturni dies, time to begin trying to type this into legible form. In what sense for this particular talk an appropriate bow to the calendar I'll end with the last poem in Zukofsky's All. It's called "Finally a Valentine":
Period. Thank You.
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