Monday, December 10, 2007


So Alex Ross, music critic and blogger, recently posted an obit on Stockhausen passed on to him by a young composer whom I'm fairly certain is the first college boyfriend of my best friend from high school There's something very hyper-textual about this. It makes me feel a bit like my life is nothing more than a concatenation of links, something to be navigated through. It also makes me wonder about the Internet, and what's it's doing to, among other things, our sense of self.

Doesn't everything seems to be loosening? In literature we're slinking away from concrete, forward-driving narratives toward conglomerations of elements; away from straightforward representational relationships toward relations of resonance and proximity. Meanwhile Cognitive Psychology is presiding over the waning of the theory of Information Processing (the mind as series of connected operations, kind of like a digestive system, through which information passes) and the waxing of Connectionism (the mind as a series of dynamically weighted connections). Even popular movies are becoming nexuses of external reference: I don't think it's an accident that the latest Disney film is, essentially, a pastiche of that company's previous work.

My semi-senior year in college, I convinced a hapless music theory professor to let me do a private reading on cross-modal translation. Cross-modal translation was this crackpot idea I had about translating works of art into different modalities: paintings into music, for example, or music into writing. I had in mind works like Schuller's Seven Studies on Themes of Paul Klee, and I was after more than "inspiration." If you wanted to translate art cross-modally, how would you do it? What kind of correspondences could you achieve, and were there underlying cognitive structures you could hold constant across modes?

Unfortunately for cross-modal translation, I was a) busy b) lazy and c) insane, so I didn't get very far. I did, though, manage to read Lakoff and Johnson's classic book on symbolism, Metaphors we Live by. Lakoff, a linguist, and Johnson, a philosopher, argue that metaphor arises experientially, shaped as we move through the physical world and shaping, in turn, our interpretation of non-physical events (you should really read them, not me).

I think Lakoff and Johnson could benefit from a bracing dip in the pool of empiricism, but the non-revolutionary underpinning here is the assertion that experience shapes cognition, and I'll buy that any day. Given, then, that so much of my (of our) experience is now Internet-based, I have to wonder what it's doing to my (our) mind(s). Someone's probably out there doing research, and I can't wait to see it.

In the meantime, though, clicking through:

The composer ex-boyfriend of my best friend from high school was a conflicted Catholic who liked to interrupt episodes of making out to perch on the edge of the bed and plumb his guilt. He had a pianist friend with very blue eyes who had another pianist friend who once stepped on my foot in fifth grade, fracturing the fifth metacarpal of my left hand. I once tried to write a note to someone with the left, or sinister, hand, only to discover that communication depended not only on the mind, but on the right half of the body. My friend broke up with the composer but not, at least for a year or two, with the Catholic church. Every Sunday she'd drive one-and-a-half hours north to a church that said Latin mass. I stayed behind, depressing key after key in search of the bluest, the leftmost, most sinister noise.

No comments: