Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Remake, Remodel - Random Ramblings on Repetition

The admirable Michael Henderson's sports comment in today's Guardian repeated an assertion made by Richard Williams that great sporting moments should be preserved in the memory, and not revisited on TV tape-loops.

Hmmm...Would Proust have revisited that madeleine of his pre-manhood? And if so, how often? If not at all, why? He took a few million words working it out and we're none the wiser. Those with incipient Alzheimer's also might disagree that to consign memories to memory is unwise.

As a writer obsessed with nostalgia and the past these thoughts do well up. Would I revisit? Aside of the physical and temporal impossibility of so doing, I suppose I can't help thinking I would. On February 16 1995 I sat holding the hand of my then-sweetheart in Tours, France, listening in her darkened room to music by one of my favourite composers, the Austrian Franz Schreker (1878-1934), a master of evoking sensuality and nostalgia. I'd have that again... would I?

Does this represent insecurity and a complete lack of a life? Probably.

One Sunday morning in 1985 I was awoken by 15 repetitions of perhaps Madonna's most moronic single (quite an impressive boast), Into The Groove, by the adolescent girl next door. I admit I once played Gloria Gaynor's Never Can Say Goodbye 12 times in a row, but being socially respectable and a complete wuss, most of those were in cans.

I am constantly repeating musical phrases and pieces, which, given the absence of any kind of love life and reticence in the drug market, does the right chemical things. There are items - the 26-minute finale of Mahler's Symphony No 3, for example, or the interior of Chartres Cathedral - which simply can't bear immediate repetition, for reasons of emotional exhaustion. If I have had the right cocktail of endorphin and alcohol and serotonin, I can play back the last two movements of Rachmaninov's Third Piano Concerto over and over again. But on a more realistic level, why not listen to it night after night? Of course music plays a role in Proust, as much of a leitmotif in itself as actual musical phrases are in Wagner. Of course Reich, Reilly and Glass's minimalism recognises this desire to replicate past desires.

I would go back to a gallery, were there time, and stare again and again at any work by Friedrich, Bosch, the Breughels, Turner, Monet, Klimt, Nash, Crumb. I can constantly re-read all manner of literature (not a boast) - Hergé, Posy Simmonds, Hardy's widower poetry, any syllable ever committed to paper by Rainer Maria Rilke, Virgil's Georgics, Peter Handke's mid-period, Viz comic circa 1990 (with the summit of the magazine's achievement, 'Balsa Boy'), early Martin Amis, the Australian cricket writer Gideon Haigh, The Wind in the Willows, Tove Jansson's Moomin books. Over and over and over and over and over again. But do well-turned artistic efforts become reduced to sense-data as comfort food? Discuss. I think Herr Adorno would have something to say about it.

Henderson argued that to repeat a spectacular sporting moment would be like interrupting the closing adagio of Mahler's Ninth to ask for a repetition of a certain phrase. Great line, but the logic feels slightly wobbly; the pleasures in witnessing a perfect Michel Platini pass, or Shane Warne's 'Ball of the Century' were dependent on their immediate environment; that the Mahler is, in itself, a great work less subject to immediacy is less questionable, although Henderson seems to be arguing (not invalidly) of a Furtwänglerian/Cartesian conception of music, and of all received experience of any performance, insofar that its dasein, it lives only in the moment of performance, at the hands of its performers, as does (did) a Colin Cowdrey off-drive or an Eric Morecambe shrug. In writing these words I have listened thrice over to a thunderous recording of Genesis playing "Eleventh Earl of Mar" from a 1977 bootleg with an almost punky energy (honest - I nearly pogoed). I would love to play it again and again. I would love to feel once again my then-girlfriend's hand in mine back in 1995, but it can never be replicated. Any moment of magic that at least relives magic through whatever medium should be treasured.

Comparing spontaneous circumstantial sporting inspiration, as Mr Henderson does, to a request for a Giulini or Solti (problematic, as they're both dead) to repeat a certain phrase of Mahler 9 is a bit disingenuous. But I bet Mr Henderson plays his favourite recordings of the work many times over, though. I will certainly play my CDs of the Mahler symphonies as often as I guiltily review the reified sights and sounds of great football and cricket, the great insights of great thinkers, and some great Finbarr Saunders cartoons.

Kierkegaard's aphorism about understanding life backwards is now a T-shirt cliché- but it can still provoke enough argument to inspire one to imagine that he may have hit a raw nerve.



here are a variety of links to material on peter handke


Member Seattle Psychoanalytic Institute and Society [dem handke auf die schliche/ prosa]


"Sryde Lyde Myde Vorworde Vorhorde Vorborde" [von Alvensleben]

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