Thursday, November 8, 2012
Music for an empty house
I have revised and revised and edited and revised the talk I am giving tomorrow on Woolf's aesthetics as they are revealed to us by the form of To the Lighthouse and by Lily Briscoe's painting. I have spent considerable time on the last paragraph, of course, because late on a Friday afternoon, in the part of the term when people are very tired by the end of the week, I need not only to write a logical conclusion--difficult enough!--but to get the cadence of the words to say what I can only partially articulate.
I am not happy with the last couple of sentences. I am trying to describe one of the paradoxes of art: that in its humility, its uncertainty about its place in our private and civic lives, in its refusal to lay literal claims to us, in its desire to engage us in conversation, not to harangue us, it gains a kind of oxymoronic powerless power. I have scoured my rather good thesaurus. Do you have any idea of the extent to which power is associated with potency, powerlessness with impotence? Words are going in the wrong direction altogether.
So I came home to dine alone, since Bill is in Saskatoon for a meeting early tomorrow morning. During the renovations we did not have our stereo, so now I am rediscovering music. There was a CD I still hadn't played, recommended by my sister, Karen: Arvo Part's "Alina." There are five sections, the first third and fifth played by piano with violin or cello, the second and fourth by the piano alone. The melodies are starkly simple, the accompaniment broken chords that aren't always pretty or predictable. The solo piano interludes speak to me most powerfully. Haunting, simple harmonies are played with a tentativeness that suggests how fragile beauty is, how tender our connection with time, how uncertain our grasp of what we feel. This is perfect music for an empty house, echoing in its space the way it echoes in our minds, with the mystery of its simplicity and restraint.
Hoping that Part wrote them for a person or an occasion that will explain their haunting quality, I turned to the liner notes to find nothing but a musicologist's meditation on Part's original voice. But in tiny italics there was this: "I could compare my music to white light which contains all colours. Only a prism can divide the colours and make them appear; this prism could be the spirit of the listener."
This metaphor would have suited Woolf perfectly. The last chapter in my study of her aesthetics (not written yet) will be on her sense of the reader as a co-creator, the reader as an important part of art's integrity. For it is readers thinking for themselves that, in her words "presses the weight of their consciousness" upon the writer, urging her on, being frank when she's being lazy, giving her a sense of her culture's anxieties, joys, pleasures, fears. But it is perhaps even more importantly the writer who leaves suggestive spaces between her thoughts who makes the work that softly commands our attention.
at 10:36 PM