haiku, humor, math, music

Riff on a Faulkner Quote

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The story of my upbeat reinterpretation of a Faulkner quote starts in my kitchen.

The past is never dead.  It’s not even past.

A somber interpretation of this quote comes naturally.

  • The foul stain on America from slavery persists.
  • A mysterious burden is passed down from each generation to the next (as in a post on Na trioblóidí that I found to be simultaneously intriguing, funny, and disturbing).
  • Original Sin.

And so on.

Like many classics, the Faulkner quote can be reinterpreted later, w/o superceding the original intent.  As a quick example of such reinterpretation, consider JS Bach’s Two-Part Invention #11.  It is very quick indeed (about a minute long) and was originally written for solo harpsichord.  Click here to hear it arranged for banjo and marimba, on one track from a Grammy-winning CD, where banjo virtuoso Béla Fleck and friends reinterpret 19 short classical pieces.  We will return to music shortly.

The story of my upbeat reinterpretation starts a few years ago.  Tired of having the air in my kitchen be warmer and wetter than elsewhere in the house, I bought a window fan: 2 small quiet fans in 1 housing, meant to be squeezed between sash and sill for blowing air in or out of a window.  I mounted the fan in a doorless doorway, so as to blow air from the dining room into the kitchen.  It does help.  A tall person would need to stoop when passing thru; I do not.

kitchenfan_900x473

To mount the fan, I drilled holes in the fan housing and drove screws thru the housing into wooden supports (cut from scrap lumber) that I attached to the upper corners of the doorway.  I chuckled at the thought that relating horizontal and vertical lengths (along the doorway) to diagonal lengths (of cut lumber) was yet another small consulting gig for Pythagoras.

kitchenfanmount_900x675

Hmmm.  I did not think of Pythagoras as an ancient dead Greek.  I thought of him as an eminent older colleague (long since retired) who is doing quite well for his age and still has consulting gigs.  The past is not past.

Will our civilization endure until I am as old as Pythagoras is now?  (Not w/o some major course corrections.)  Suppose it does.  I doubt that I will have many more consulting gigs.  But Pythagoras will.  Bach’s music will still be cherished and reinterpreted, along with that of other great composers, from Hildegard to Hovhaness and beyond.  Sometimes it is good that the past is not past.

Ad honorem: Hildegard of Bingen, 1098-1179
|Mystic visions or
|migraine headaches? Whatever.
|Her music lives on!

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haiku, humor, music, philosophy

Wordless Wisdom

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Can there be such a thing?  Tho unable to offer a strong argument, I believe so.  Let’s start with something easier.

There can be wordless knowledge.  The canonical example is how to ride a bicycle.  There is much that can be said about riding a bike, but how to do it cannot be put into words and/or formulas.  Millions of children know how to ride their bikes w/o knowing anything about the underlying physics.  On the other hand, one can have the physics down cold and still not know how to ride.  Many kinds of knowledge can and should be written down, but definitely not all.

Verbal and nonverbal knowledge can work together, which is the main reason that baseball teams have hitting coaches and pitching coaches. To keep this post simple, I will ignore that possibility for wisdom. Sometimes it is better to be simplistic (with an understanding about wiggle room) rather than precise (but ponderous).

The notion of wordless wisdom is not preposterous, despite the conditioning we inherited from Socrates asking people to tell him what virtue is and then being dissatisfied when the only verbiage they can supply is a list of a few virtues, with or w/o “and so on” after the specifics.

I am among the many people whose response to some great pieces of music goes beyond ordinary enjoyment.  The last movement of Beethoven’s last piano sonata seems to hint at something important (as well as beautiful) that resists verbalization.  Maybe it is just subjective; other music lovers have differing lists of transcendent works.  Maybe putting “just” in front of “subjective” is unwise.

If the foregoing sounds addled, let me proclaim my (slightly qualified) devotion to Wittgenstein’s Laws:

  1. What can be said at all can be said clearly.
  2. Whereof one cannot speak, thereof one must be silent.

My only reservation about #1 is a request for a footnote remarking that clarity often does not come easily.  With #2, I see a little wiggle room in interpreting “be silent” (or “schweigen” in the original German text).  Does it rule out images?  Instrumental music?  Singing in a language the listener does not understand?  Fortunately for me, I do not understand enough Latin to get distracted by the words in sacred music and thereby risk misunderstanding the nonverbal wisdom it conveys.

Ad honorem: Hildegard of Bingen, 1098-1179

Mystic visions or
migraine headaches? Whatever.
Her music lives on!

Memo to Mystics

Unless you can grab
bubbles, you cannot put your
wisdom into words.

 
soap-bubbles