Sunday, May 06, 2012

Why is it so and not otherwise?

Coleridge is famous for saying, “Nothing can permanently please, which does not contain in itself the reason why it is so, and not otherwise.” That has been the cornerstone of my creative life since I found it in Malamud's The Tenants when I was a teenager.

Writing music is often a case of serial (or non serial, in my case) problem solving, and there is usually one solution that appears to be better than all the others. When I look at music by Bach, particularly the Toccatas, I notice that he tends to exhaust all possibilities of "so and not otherwise" by spinning out each possibility systematically. His answer to the question of "so" and "not otherwise" is to make the "so" big enough to encompass the "otherwise," and he is able to do it in a way that remains interesting and engaging throughout. Most of us mortals are lucky to find a "winner" among the choices, and that "winner" sometimes displays the qualities necessary for it to live as a musical phrase, a chord progression, a choice of dynamic, or a kind of articulation.

The choices we have when we play are far greater, and they are far more difficult to identify or duplicate. And when we duplicate something it usually comes out sounding "duplicated." Nobody wants that. It destroys the creative element in music making, and simply cannot "permanently please" if it is "canned." In playing the "why it is so, and not otherwise" has to come from a larger feeling, a sense of the moment, a great degree of concentration, and a whole bunch of experience. "Why it is so, and not otherwise" often becomes "because that's the way I play it," or, in the case of something worked out through practicing, "because that's the way the phrase needs to go."

This post is actually a ramble. My original thought for it came from watching a group of people talking on one of the Book TV channels. I don't want to name names, but two were well-known writers, one was a relative of a well-known writer, and the other was a person from the world of acting known for reading (aloud) the works of one of the writers. Everyone in the panel was "of a certain age," and at the end they took questions from the audience.

One woman stood up to ask a question. She mentioned (right away) that she had written a book, and she told the panel on stage that people told her that it wasn't a book because it was self-published. She mentioned that she carried it around with her alongside two self-published books written by one of the writers on the panel. Her question for the panel concerned the need to ask permission for validity, and ultimately she was asking how she, who admired the people on the stage, could maker her way to be valid they way they had validity.

The answers from the people on the panel didn't really address the question.

I thought about how I would answer her question, and my answer, which might have been informed by the Coleridge quote, wouldn't do her any good. What she really wanted was to have someone on the panel say, "Let me see your book, and I'll tell you if it it is a real book." Then she would be able to connect herself with the accomplished person on the panel, and use that connection to get to the "next level." She would have been happy if someone in the audience (and there were well-positioned people in the audience) would look at her work. She was asking, in a very public way, for validity, while asking at the same time why as a woman writer she felt the need to ask permission to be a writer at all.

She brought up a question that could really make a good panel discussion in itself.

Aside from a couple of serious acts of misogyny (which make me cringe and I will NOT duplicate here), Coleridge said some more clever and insightful things.


Anonymous said...

Who is Miss O'Jennie
to so upset so many?
Miss Ann Thrope knew her well,
Having raised Aunt Ennie.

Elaine Fine said...

It took me a second to get this! It is very funny!