josh blog

Ordinary language is all right.

One could divide humanity into two classes:
those who master a metaphor, and those who hold by a formula.
Those with a bent for both are too few, they do not comprise a class.

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13 Mar '16 10:16:27 PM

Sante's seventies

12 Mar '16 12:26:12 AM

I burned the tip of my left index finger just enough to leave a small blister. It's not particularly painful or uncomfortable, or even obtrusive, but I've found it's just enough to confuse my hand whenever I type, as if I've suddenly become partially blind in a way I hadn't realized I was seeing in, in the first place.

10 Mar '16 07:59:01 PM

Intimacy can warm or cool, deepen or (if lacking) distance; with it, or without, distances disappear, or yawn wide (abysses, planets, the void).

10 Mar '16 08:18:09 AM

Thinking a little about how to organize the storylines—cases and characters'—when writing about Homicide. The last time I gave it a try, I felt overwhelmed by the sheer number of stories in the episodes of the first two seasons, short as the seasons were—perhaps because I was overly focused on finding the right sort of alignments to a Law & Order episode's single case, which the earliest Homicide episodes would cram three or four of (one per pair of partners) into a single episode, before the network got on them to dial it back a bit. That, together with whatever off-case conversations or life problems the detectives maintained or dealt with concurrently—often not even necessarily thematic for the cases, but parallel to them—made for too much material, not enough perspective on it. But now, coming back—I think I must have seen all twenty seasons of Law & Order twice in the meantime, and been accustomed to its longer, more meager, not to say nonexistent, narrative lines—it seems obvious that the continuities have to define the narratives, with less-continuous material balanced but subsidiary. There's the Adena Watson case taking up most of the first season, obviously, but the most memorable continuities don't always lie in the cases themselves; in the short, four-episode second season, 'Bop Gun' dominates (somewhat—there's not much to incline one toward thinking of the season as complete or organized anyway, rather than an aberration, interlude), but divorced Bolander's hangdog romantic woes run through the episodes that culminate in his date with Julianna Margulies the violinist. That run stands out all the more since Stan had basically been muttering about being divorced since his first episode, so the change is perceptible (making his awkward efforts to start dating again with the coroner seem abortive). Similarly in the third season—the first one that reaches a relatively standard 20 episodes—one big case, the 'white gloves' killer, takes up a handful of initial episodes, during which somewhat subsidiary characters get 'life' story: here, the disintegration of Beau Felton's marriage, woven into his affair with new character Russert and, not long after, what becomes the main theme for Beau's later narrative, his wife's absconding with their kids. The discovery of Crosetti's suicide is just after the 'white gloves' case ends—overlaps it, actually, since the civil suit that follows the casework is an unresolved point—and ends up being a significant continuity point for several episodes. In the second half of the season, the shooting of three of the detectives in what starts out as the Glen Holton case begins a three-episode run during which the case ends up focusing on Gordon Pratt (Steve Buscemi's Plato-'reading' white supremacist). The detectives themselves, injured, take more time still to return to duty, with story reflecting their difficulties when they do, and since Pratt is killed at the end of the run, and Bayliss is assigned to investigate his colleagues for the death, that story carries over as well. Meanwhile, as Gee sinks his captain's career for corrupt dealings with the department, and Russert is promoted over him, their interactions become redefined for the remainder of the season; and all season long, Lewis, Munch, and Bayliss share a comic subplot about their trying to buy and run the bar across the street. In the standard 22-episode fourth season, six of the episodes belong to two-part stories, the second run of which results in Russert's demotion. (And on the same principle, the first two-part Law & Order crossover is in this season.) They apply a similar principle in the fifth and sixth seasons, but less freely, with multi-part episodes at the beginning and ending of the seasons (at the end of the fifth, the discovery of a dead Felton in the penultimate episode is significant enough to make the treatment of that case unify the story of the last two episodes, though they're designated as separate). In the last season, there are two more two-parters, one after another in the middle of the season.

There are a lot of other ongoing events that lend continuity later on, of course. Frank's stroke, the events surrounding Kellerman and Mahoney, and in the last season, the beating that Sheppard takes from a witness. I've thought at times that partnerships might be the best organizing device, though initially I was thrown by the frequent reassignments often made for reasons of in-show exigency (so-and-so is gone, so take so-and-so, who is right here). For that to work, really it's the continuities and breaks in partnership that should set the level of organization, which would mean that some run nearly the length of the show (Pembleton and Bayliss, which aside from the stories and roles they get, also helps explain retrospectively why they seem to have precedence over the others in a highly ensemble cast); some vary around a stable member (Lewis and Crosetti at the beginning, then Lewis and nobody for a while, then Lewis and Kellerman until Kellerman implodes, then Lewis and Sheppard); and some seem even less stable (Munch's partnership with Bolander gives way to time bouncing around, seemingly unpartnered, while things are perhaps more volatile because Howard becomes his superior and, for a time, Pembleton is out of rotation because of the stroke). A few of the later-series characters and their partnerships are more stable than Munch and his but since they're around less they seem to weigh differently in the overall narrative (not that Munch tends to weigh heavily in it).

But co-working assignments tend to be very fluid on the show, determined by too many exigencies. I've wondered if the bigger storylines might serve as a good principle for that as well, since even single-episode cases which are important, 'red ball' cases, tend to involve collective attention to a single investigation by all detectives, often involving a lot of switching around. In effect, the issue is what scrambles or brings together the detectives.

9 Mar '16 08:36:16 PM

I must have played the 1998 Nonesuch recording of Music for 18 Musicians hundreds of times, but in all the years since it first captured my attention, I never did bother finding a copy of the original 1978 ECM recording. —I'd heard it was different, livelier, jazzier, swinging more, but somehow I felt right sticking with what I had, as if given its completeness, repleteness, there could be no point to doing it differently—or, say, remaining steadfast, showing constancy, out of some kind of fidelity to the spirit of the music, always the same, but always a change, a constant transition out of, every sameness: not constant change, but changes, plural, individuated, everywhere, this and this and that changing, in this way and that way, all these ways. With all that, what need for anything else, or the same, but different?

The odd thing is, though you can hardly forget for more than a moment that someone is playing something, singing something, playing his or her part in sustaining the process of the piece, it does sound like the music plays itself—that aspects of what we'd think of as 'performance' have a tendency to recede into the background, and with them, I'd say, a steady sense of sounds as performed, and a sense of their performers, for instance, phrasing phrases or expressing feelings or saying things, enacting anything. Performance has a grammar closely aligned with that of rhetoric, and with that of statement. Here and there at surprising points, a swung figure on the piano, an insistent intrusion of the bass clarinet part, it can suddenly strike you that this, this little bit of music right here, is being performed, and it seems to possess an exuberance that has been miraculously purified. But purified, I'd say, of the rhetorical, the meaningful, in some received sense of what those can be in music: which the governing repetitions immediately begin to remind you of as they seem to empty any protruding moment of clarified performativity of its residual associations with our musical language, with our affinities for naturally hearing certain sounds certain ways.

All of which is to say that when there are differences in performance, as there must be (it's still performed music, that's the kind of thing it is), as there are on the ECM recording, they do not simply code as 'differences in performance'—they can't, given the work's way of organizing the actual acts of performance out of which it is made, effected (hit this piece of metal, step on that pedal, strike these keys, honk this, sing 'aaay-ooo' here). A 'difference in performance' would be, say, one that coheres around phrasings, or a difference in emphases, such as to make it sound (mean) rhetorically, as a statement or an expression, something different. And while, yes, all that is different here—the bass clarinets lower, the sound less lush, some of the more incidental passages from the pianos or mallets more insistent, the tempo overall quicker, individual parts standing out more from the ensemble, the mood a bit more jittery—it seems never to be allowed (given the work's overall form) to settle in any local, isolated passage, as a difference in performance that makes a difference in meaning, and thus the work as a whole doesn't seem to be rightly said to 'be a different performance', to read (sound, mean) that way.

It does, though. Sound different. You can hardly forget it, settle in—it sounds different all the time. But within the given structure, this specified procedure for making this music within these parameters, every small, local, passing, momentary difference is made to read as global, total. The music—especially on the Nonesuch recording—environs, establishes parameters for audition, for the coloring and brightness of ambient light, for stepping and wiggling and dancing and breathing and flowing rhythms, for the passage and transfixion of time. So total changes mean everything changes, the space changes, the passage of experience in it. Not, though, like a familiar space defamiliarized, like a private room in which someone's moved everything around slightly, displaced it. The music has, as every listener knows, an annoying quality: not the one first-time listeners can be overwhelmed by, but an uncanny capacity for quiet provocation that has a natural, compensating way of coaxing you back, of accepting the sounds as they come rather than resisting them irritably. Listening to the unfamiliar 1978 recording, different but not, overall different but undeniably that same thing, again, still, my feeling is more that the environment itself is tinged with that always inherent potential for annoyance, as if it had been dyed, and at least for the time the work plays, there were no readjusting, no nudging any displaced things back to where they belong, because the change is irrevocable, fixed.

8 Mar '16 10:25:19 PM


5 Mar '16 12:23:44 AM

In my bag, there's a folder containing my CV, my resume, and the handouts that came with the folder, handed to me by the facilitator for the re-employment training session that the state mandated I should receive—receive again, the second of two, or third of three if you count the nearly identical one from Iowa—as a condition of enjoying unemployment insurance payments for too long a time without finding work.

It's been there for several years now though I have no use for it. Just lugging it along. I've had at least, say, six jobs since it was handed to me, none permanent, none all that good.

It seems I'm waiting on a change before I get rid of the folder—before I stop feeling 'unemployed'.

5 Mar '16 12:06:15 AM

A test case for rationality and irrationality, belief and certainty: I put deodorant on, one side; then the other (or?); then, absentminded, staring in the mirror, I think, 'did I do the other?': unsure, I do it again (?); then, in case that was twice, I do the first side again so that 'at least it's even' (if).

4 Mar '16 11:46:06 PM

Against the sublimated view of philosophical argumentation as lockstep, line-to-line clarity, the experience of reading any actual argumentative text: specifically, of realizing one has entered a passage either murkier or harder to understand clearly than preceding ones, and gliding on ahead until one reaches material sufficient to frame or anchor a reading which could return more profitably to the passage.