This post is a sequel to my post on the stack of worlds. It tries to understand a few things about how a stack of worlds might work – or, perhaps, *must* work – and how those workings might help us untangle a few perplexities that have bedeviled thinkers for millennia. It is absurdly long, and for that I beg forgiveness. But I find there is little I can do about that, at present: when the inspiration comes, it comes as a unit, and the overwhelming necessity is just to get it all down before it vanishes.
Claude Monet (1840 – 1926): Port of London (1871)
The English composer Ralph Vaughan Williams (1872 – 1958) wrote nine symphonies over his lifetime beginning with the choral-orchestral Sea Symphony of 1910, a setting of Walt Whitman’s maritime verse, and ending with the Symphony in E-Minor of 1957. Vaughan Williams eschewed a numbering system, designating his symphonic scores, which form the trunk of his compositional achievement, only by title or key signature. As follow-ups to his Sea Symphony, Vaughan Williams produced A London Symphony (first version 1914; final revision, 1936) and A Pastoral Symphony (1921), both of which exhibit programmatic qualities although their author downplayed these, as have subsequent commentators. The original version of A London Symphony had its first performance under Geoffrey Toye in its namesake city in March 1914, and A Pastoral Symphony, also in London, in January 1922 under Adrian Boult. The next three symphonies (F-Minor, D-Major, and E-Minor) lacked titles, but the seventh, which drew on a film-score that the composer had written in 1947, he called Sinfonia Antartica. The composer completed Sinfonia Antartica, after several years of revision, in 1952. John Barbirolli then conducted the premiere in January 1953 with the Hallé Orchestra in Manchester. The final symphony, sharing its key-signature (E-Minor) with the sixth, has literary roots in Thomas Hardy’s Tess of the d’Urbervilles (1891). It depicts a characteristic topography, in this case the Salisbury Plain, as do A London Symphony, A Pastoral Symphony, and Sinfonia Antartica theirs – but it remains untitled. In fact, A London Symphony also takes inspiration, at least in part, from a literary source – the epilogue to H. G. Wells’ Tono-Bungay, a novel that saw publication in 1906. Although professedly an agnostic, Vaughan Williams (hereafter RVW) in his works, including the symphonies, repeatedly and almost obsessively approached the topic, in all its aspects, of transcendence.
The Avalon Jazz Band, headed by chanteuse Tatiana Eva-Marie, is a Brooklyn based musical group that revives “Hot Jazz” and “Gypsy Jazz” hits from the Parisian 1930s and 40s. “La mer” was written by Charles Trenet (1913 – 2001) in 1929. With new words, utterly at variance with the original French lyric, it became an American “hit” in the late 1950s. “Sunshine” (below) comes from the Jazz genius Paul Whiteman (1890 – 1967), who made hundreds of recordings with his band in the 1920s and 30s. The Avaloners endear themselves to me by their straightforward presentations of melodically and rhythmically attractive material from the middle of the last century. There’s no attempt to “update” the material. “Parlez-moi d’amour” (1930) by Jean Lenoir (1891 – 1976) is a lighter-than-air French waltz, which buoys my heart every time I hear it. I also find myself attracted to Tatiana Eva-Marie’s undisguised femininity — which likewise belongs to the middle of the last century.
In my twenties, I invested a good deal of time in Sweden and things Swedish. I’d like to share with The Orthosphere my favorite Christmas song, “För Redeliga Män” (“For Honest Men”), which in the rhythmic propulsion of its melody, outpaces all others, in any language. (I opine, of course…) Indeed, I offer three versions of it. The first version is not the best musically, but it includes the integral feature of the Stjärnpojka or “Star Boy.” “För Redeliga Män” is often sung by a girl-choir, as it is in the video above, but the young ladies are joined by a young man who represents the stellar lights that flash in the deep darkness of the heavens just before dawn on Christmas Day. “Stjärnorna på himmelen de blänka,” says the refrain: “The stars in the heavens — they shine!”
I have myself played the role of Star Boy (see below). —
That was when I sang, for three or four seasons running, with the Scandinavian Christmas Choir at UCLA in the first half of my undergraduate career before a long detour after which I redeemed myself. (In the current cultural climate, the costume would lead to my being lynched, even without the white, conical cap, as seen in the video.)
Two other versions — and the lyrics, in Swedish — are underneath the fold. It’s easy to look up an English translation. Just run a search on the title, “För Redeliga Män.” I have not included any of the English translations because none of them grapples effectively with the rhythmic structure of the verses. Och att översätta det mig själv skulle vara för mycket!
Having followed the link in my latest Philosophical Skeleton Key on prayer to a prior post in which I set forth some of the metaphysical prolegomenae thereto, commenter Hambone there wrote the other day:
Kristor, you said:
Having no way to comprehend spiritual realities, I could not even understand quite exactly what the articles of the Credo properly mean, or what I was meant to be doing in worship.
I’m somewhere in the middle of understanding this post and applying it – I have long struggled with making my faith *real* rather than mental affirmation coupled with ritual observance. What ARE you meant to be doing in worship? And how does that flow from the fundamental spiritual nature of life?
Commenter Rhetocrates then suggested that my response should be promoted to a post of its own:
That’s the $64 question, isn’t it? I’m still working on it. One never finishes working on it. One cannot. Worship is fathomless. How not? Its object is infinite. We cannot begin to have a complete answer to your question.
But, I can say a few things about it.
The covid pandemic is mostly a Boomer thing. The Chinese Flu kills a tiny percentage of people younger than the Boomers. Like every other medical difficulty, it kills rather more of their parents than it does of Boomers. Only the Boomers and their parents then are much at risk from the disease. Their parents are no longer much able to sway either public discourse or public policy. The Boomers are in charge. So the panic about covid, and the policies implemented in respect thereto, are mostly the result of Boomers worried about themselves. They have shown themselves – in the person of such governors as Cuomo – totally willing to throw the generation of their parents under the bus. Because, hey, those guys were going to die soon anyway. They have also shown themselves utterly indifferent to the manifold catastrophe their disastrous policy responses to the disease have inflicted upon all younger generations.
As with every other thing they have touched, the Boomers have ruined public health by ruining civil society.
Clark Ashton Smith (1893 – 1961): Plants (Decade of the 1940s)
Orthosphereans have discussed the topic of synchronicity on several occasions. Synchronicity, a coinage of the psychologist Carl Jung, refers to the phenomenon of “lucky coincidences” or meaningfully convergent events. There are several orders of synchronicity. The one that I want to discuss in the following paragraphs is of a low order, but it serves to illustrate my conviction that we live, not merely in a physical world, but in a web of meaning whose source can only be immaterial – that is to say, spiritual. Events of a low order can arrange themselves, after all, in meaningful patterns. Patterning attracts the mind because patterning, at least in part, informs the mind, just as it informs the universe. Recently I posted at The Orthosphere my essay on “Eco-Music from Mahler to Rasmussen,” in two parts. “Eco-Music” means music permeated by the composer’s sense of the cosmos as a finely woven, complex pattern of spirit and body, temporality and spatiality, causality and spontaneity. I attempted to relate the compositional process of such artists to the visionary quest of the vates, seer, or shaman, who intercedes for the tribe in the realm of the sacred and on the home ground of the gods. When contemporary composers like John Luther Adams or Sunleif Rasmussen, express themselves in written word, they not only reveal their knowledge of the vatic tradition; they also reveal themselves as trying to communicate lore acquired on a level higher than the everyday, rather in the manner of an initiate in the mysteries. Listening to their music – which I did, intensely, over the period of accumulating the essay – convinced me of the validity of such statements.
III. Weird Tales served as the main venue of baroque science fiction although most critics regard that magazine as something other than and inferior to a science fiction periodical. To the extent that John W. Campbell’s vision defined the genre then perhaps Weird Tales really was not science-fictional. Nevertheless, Lovecraft published there, who admitted no supernatural elements in his fiction, along with Smith and Robert E. Howard. Indiana born Catherine L. Moore (1911-1987), linked to Lovecraft through her correspondence with him, seems however closer to Smith than to H. P. L. in more ways than one, beginning with her interest in intensely visual figuration, often architectural or ornamental, voluntary derangement as an antidote to unbearable ennui, and the emissary protagonist, all of which one can only classify as Symbolist. Now Symbolist aesthetics is related to baroque aesthetics, both by direct affiliation (Swedenborg to Baudelaire and Mallarmé) and in view of a persistent determination on the part of the individual artist to fill his canvas with detail and to impregnate every detail with meaning. The non-baroque artist regards his baroque co-practitioner as decadent, extravagant, self-indulgent, illogical, and repetitious – someone who pushes too many adjectives against his nouns. The baroque artist sees his critic as a Calvinist and a prude. Moore’s Northwest Smith, like Poe’s narrator in “MS. Found in a Bottle,” fulfills the roles both of pursuer and pursued; he too is fugitive, freethinking, not at all prudish, and never a Calvinist. He sits in bars viewing the traffic like a Baudelairean flaneur, consumes potions like a shaman, plumbs the depths of despair and ecstasy, and, last but not least, acts a knight-errant in defending victims against the sacrificial madness of crowds, wicked cabals, and cults.
In the 1954 Preface to his Universal History of Iniquity, Jorge Luis Borges defined the baroque as “the style that deliberately exhausts (or tries to exhaust) its own possibilities, and that borders on self-caricature.”[i] The baroque is therefore a self-conscious style par excellence. According to Borges’ definition: “The baroque is intellectual, and Bernard Shaw has said that all intellectual labor is inherently humorous”; and “this humor is unintentional in the works of Baltasar Graciàn but intentional, even indulged, in the works of John Donne.”[ii] In the manner, then, of seventeenth-century church architecture – it might be in Spain or Bavaria – the spirit of the baroque piles ornament relentlessly on ornament, while cultivating trompe-l’œil for its illusion of depth, and while obsessively re-cuing every curlicue in anticipation of the fractal geometry of a Mandelbrot algorithm. The baroque in music refers to the fugal style, in which again the artist, preeminently J. S. Bach, raises self-imitation to a structural principle. Yet fugue also refers to a state of social disintegration and to an accompanying panicked mentality that drives forth the individual refugee from the incendiarism and bloodletting of civic breakdown. Europe’s baroque centuries saw the religious wars, Puritanism, agitation of the protesting masses, and the inevitable massacres, for which music offers a counterpart in the stretto of the fugue. Here the competing voices figuratively tear the subject to shreds in an aesthetic refinement of the Dionysiac sparagmos.
The novel arises with the baroque, in the Simplicius and Eulenspiegel narratives, in picaresque, and in the moralizing abyss of Don Quixote, where Part One is a topic of discussion, mostly inane, among the characters in Part Two. The baroque therefore peculiarly trumps the modern in its exploitation of formal complexity; the modernist writers might match, but they never excel, their two- or three-century precursors in self-allusion and abyssal autoscopy. Indeed, the Parisian Symbolists, those first modernists, remained keenly aware of their debt to the seventeenth century “Parnassians,” Charles Baudelaire and Stéphane Mallarmé assiduously practicing the sonnet, as though writing in the time of Louis XIII. Later Max Reger (1873-1916) and Paul Hindemith (1895-1963) mimicked baroque-era models in music, as did M. C. Escher in graphic media. Borges, in his Preface, “would venture to say that the baroque is the final stage of art,” a stage which some would call decadent.[iii] Borges notes that the eighteenth century, which coined the term baroque, considered the seventeenth century, which invented the style, to have been in bad taste. Borges omits to disagree, whereby one might consider that he adds an element of awkwardness or even of kitsch to the repertory of the baroque, as perhaps a studious awkwardness or an occasional deliberate pedantry in the articulation. In The Decline of the West, Oswald Spengler asserts that the Western baroque strove towards the dissolution of genre in a movement of synesthesia: “Painting becomes polyphonic, ‘picturesque,’ infinity-seeking,” while “the colours become tones” and “the art of the brush claims kinship with the style of cantata and madrigal.”[iv] Again, “the background, hitherto casually put in, regarded as fill-up and, as space, almost shuffled out of sight, gains a preponderant importance.”[v]