Feb. 22nd, 2009

starlady: (compass)
I just finished reading Alex Ross' monumental survey of the twentieth century through its music, The Rest Is Noise. Ross received a MacArthur "genius grant" last fall, in part because of this book, and it's obvious from the first pages of TRIN how richly deserved the award was. I can't say how the book reads to someone completely lacking in musical background, because I have a decent base knowledge of musical theory and a long history in performance--I've played some of the more normalized twentieth-century repertoire, which gave me a thrill while reading--but Ross makes music legible and comprehensible to the average reader, and I've never read anyone who has a better gift for describing sound. It's necessarily synaesthetic to an extent, but I don't think that's an undesirable thing. Aside from the writing about music itself, Ross credibly follows all the political, sexual and ideological undercurrents and conflicts of the twentieth century to ground, but he never loses his twenty-first century perspective, if that's possible. For me I think the central issue of the book (and of the twentieth century itself) is the issue of fascism and democracy, since fascism of course was spawned from democracy by modernity, and as Harry Harootunian says elsewhere, fascism lurks within modern democracy still, and will until things change radically--perhaps through the intellectual fusion Ross envisions. But to say that is to valorize music beyond its capacity, which Ross demonstrates is the cardinal sin of totalitarianism vis-a-vis culture. At any rate, anyone who likes contemporary music, or who likes non-contemporary classical music and wants to understand contemporary fare, will find this book essential.

I went to a funeral yesterday. I find it disturbing when people say they're jealous of the deceased because the deceased is in heaven with the Lord. I think they're missing the point, not of death but of life--or at least the point as I understand it.

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