Friday, June 11, 2004

The more I think about "music" as Pound or Zukofsky use it, the more I realize how little I know about music on the theoretical level. I can hear distinctions; I recognize a Baroque string quarter from one written in the early nineteenth century; I can recognize voices and leitmotifs. But I'm bound to get into trouble talking about music and poetry in anything resembling a technical way. Still, there's something about music and the experience of temporality it provides that makes me think I might yet derive some insight about the Modernist use of "music" within the writing of poetry. This comes to mind because of a long review by Daniel Morris of Giorgio Agamben's latest book in the new Bookforum. The most striking thing about the review are three photos of Agamben as a beautiful young man in Pier Paolo Pasolini's 1964 film The Gospel According to St. Matthew. But there's also a useful discussion of Agamben's position vis-a-vis aesthetics and his desire to find a path out of the dead-end that is art's autonomy, its disconnect from life [parenthetically: when did it become okay to use disinterest to mean uninterest? This article in today's New York Times commits just such an egregious error]. This is from the review:
Agamben finds in Aristotle a radical conception of rhythm that anticipates Benjamin's idea that messianic time itelf explodes the continuum of time. He draws a lovely analogy between music and art. A musical piece, though it is somehow in time, allows us nonetheless to perceive rhythm as "something that escapes the incessant flight of instants and appears almost as the presence of an atemporal dimension in time. In the same way, when we are before a work of art or a landscape bathed in the light of its own presence, we perceive a stop in time, as though we were suddenly thrown into a more original time. There is a stop, an interruption in the incessant flow of instants that, coming from the future, sinks into the past, and this interruption, this stop, is precisely what gives and reveals the particular status, the mode of presence proper to the work of art or the landscape we have before our eyes." Agamben proceeds to say that beholding a work of art is not a static experience but rather an ecstatic one: "It means ecstasy in the epochal opening of rhythm, which gives and holds back. . . . In the experience of the work of art, man stands in the truth, that is, in the origin that has revealed itself to him. . . . In this being-hurled-out into. . . rhythm, artists and spectators recover their essential solidarity and their common ground."
Very Heideggerian and, as Morris says, very lovely. What I take from this is the notion of rhythm as a spatiality that opens up in the temporal experience of the artwork—it's where we dwell. Pound's emphasis on the sequence of the musical phrase, then, on the creation of a non-metronomic rhythm (or to put it negatively, to "break the pentameter") might indicate a desire to make poems with a rhythm that we can experience, dwell in, and "meet" in (presumably the metronome rhythm requires you to sacrifice too much of yourself, or else it is simply inadequate for creating enough space in a modern world ruled by quantification and the clock). This is still an inadequate conception of music, and doesn't address any of the concerns raised by the commenters over at Ron's blog, but I think it may provide a useful opening.

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