4/25/2007 at 15:55
4/22/2007 at 22:03
Patriarch and Primeval Father of harmony.
-L. van Beethoven, on Bach
I’m listening to Bach again.
It’s partly because I’m one week out from finals. It’s partly because I’ve finished cleaning my kitchen. It’s partly because I’ve been talking to and with and around people for the last week and I need to hear something other than human voices, other than silence.
It’s mostly because Bach reminds me of the best parts of who I am and who I wish to be.
I listen to him while I study, and sometimes while I drive; often I listen to him as I sit and do nothing else. My life is often stressful; occasionally it verges on chaotic; and I’ve been going though several transitions that demand resources of attention and cognition which sometimes feel as though they are stretched too thin.
I listen to J.S. Bach because listening to him reminds me of what the marriage of technique and inspiration sounds like; of what discipline of thought, skill, and desire can produce; of what unity of form and substance can achieve.
I listen to Bach because in listening to him I remember- or rediscover, in a different manner with each hearing- what the coalescence of technical brilliance and unexcelled joy sounds like.
I’ve spoken to many who find him boring or characterize him as joyless. It is true that Bach is not showy; his variations play on different aspects of specific melodies. They do not seek unexplored territory; they seek to refine what is known, to press its limits and define its ambit.
To me, they embody self-discovery: an endless reinterpretation of known attributes, a charged and shifting string of possibilities rendered into solid and tangible reality with the sure precision of a Master.
What matters it that he worked almost entirely on variations in his music? What matters it that he used forms which existed at his time rather than inventing new ones? This is an integral part of what artists do: seeking to push the known into its furthest limit, to make real things which lurk at the edge of form, known but as yet unseen.
Are Tennyson and Keats boring because their verses retold mythologies already ancient in their time? Are Monet or Rembrandt uninteresting because they painted the same subject repeatedly? Is Donatello’s, Verrochio’s, Michaelangelo’s, or Bernini’s David uninteresting because all four of them portray the same person?
For that matter, are Michaelangelo's Pieta and David boring because they are both fashioned of the pure, unvarying white of Carrera marble?
We as humans seek to know what we already know- we retell ancient tales, look at ancient art, listen to tunes which reach back beyond any ancestors of whom we know. We do these things because they remind us of who we are and of what we might be. Bach does that for me: he shows me that which I seek in myself.
The lilting exhilaration of Bach’s music, impeccably and ineffably joined to its mathematical precision, embodies the best harmonies born to the marriage of deliberation and desire.
If I’m very, very lucky… or very, very, smart… or some combination of the two, perhaps one day I too will make those vows.
And until then, I have his music. It’s not a bad prospect.
So- back to work.
4/20/2007 at 05:00
But I wanted to put a sort of place holder here until I have time to really do it justice.
So- keep checking this space. Post on the Veyron coming soon.
4/15/2007 at 11:06
His Dark Materials (Trilogy: The Golden Compass, The Subtle Knife, The Amber Spyglass)- Phillip Pullman
Collected Poems- Edna St. Vincent Millay
The Longest Single Note- Peter Crowther
Children of the Storm- Elizabeth Peters
*A Suitable Boy- Vikram Seth
Ladies and Gentlemen of the Jury- Lief, Caldwell & Bycel
A Princess of Roumania- Paul Park
Our Endangered Values- Jimmy Carter
Fury- Salman Rushdie
*A Great Improvisation- Stacy Schiff
The Algebraist- Ian Banks
The Road to Hell- Matt Groening
The Truth (With Jokes)- Al Franken
The Golden Key- George MacDonald
The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien- ed. Humphrey Carpenter
*Mason & Dixon- Thomas Pynchon
Les Fleurs Du Mal- Charles Baudelaire
The Royal Game and Other Stories- Stefan Zweig
Drawn With the Sword- John MacPherson
*The Experts' Guide to 100 Things Everyone Should Know How To Do- Samantha Ettus
Something Under the Bed Is Drooling- Bill Watterson
*My Own Country- Abraham Verghese
Sunshine- Robin McKinley
At the Mountains of Madness- H.P. Lovecraft
*The Power of Babel- John McWhorter
*In progress (and, with the advent of finals, on pause).
**A couple of caveats here: Crowther and Lovecraft will probably give you nightmares (I mean this seriously; they are very, very disturbing); and Verghese, Lief, Park, & Banks probably will not appeal to anyone not interested in, respectively, medicine, trial law, historical sf, & hard sf.
4/12/2007 at 10:57
Ever watched yourself bleed?
(This is a lot less creepy than it sounds. Stay with me here.)
If you’ve ever cut yourself and allowed the wound to bleed until it began to clot naturally, you’d know that for an average person’s average cut the clotting starts in 15 seconds. (15 seconds. You can’t freaking reheat a cup of coffee in 15 seconds. But I digress.) Your bleeding will begin to slow, and in about another 30- 45 seconds the blood will start to coagulate visibly, forming the beginnings of a scab.
The human body is gorgeously, labyrinthinely complex. This apparently tangential piece of obviousness is by way of a disclaimer, since I’m about to tell you that I can’t explain the exact sequence of the coagulation cascade to you.
That’s right. No doctor, biochemist, or biophysicist on earth can explain the exact order of the series of chemical and biological reactions- an insanely swift torrent of precise responses that has the blood congealing on your hypothetical index finger within 15 seconds- that is your body’s first response to an injury.
Humans have been bleeding since- well, since long before we were actually human. We’ve had hundreds- arguably thousands- of years of studying the human body and advances in our understanding of biology so gigantic that we now “build” organisms with the same regularity with which our ancestors built wagons. We can make molecular “machines”, transplant entire faces, and clone animals- but we can’t explain exactly how a scab forms.
It’s astounding- and a testimony to the impenetrable intricacy of the process.
All this is by way of explaining just how bloody (no pun intended) wicked it is that we’ve now discovered another crucial element in that sophisticated avalanche of response. And what makes it even cooler is the epic beauty of the new factor: intra- and extra-nuclear RNA from the damaged cells.
Genetic material from the parts of our bodies which are damaged becomes an integral part of its healing response.
As you absorb the shining immaculacy, the poetic magnificence of that solution, let me give you a little of the science which grounds it. The secondary (that is, the more rare ‘contact pathway’) cascade takes one of its final effects when the blood hits a “foreign surface”, and generally that has been understood to be the epithelial cells outside of and surrounding the wound. But there also had to be some “surface” inside the body- some “foreign surface” which allowed the clotting to begin before the blood hit the air/skin, in order for the clot to form with enough rapidity to prevent excessive blood loss. It was equally clear that that “surface” was something which was not normally found in the bloodstream, yet was an organic component found naturally inside the body.
That something is the RNA spilled from the ordinary cells torn when an injury occurs. It’s the long-sought “natural foreign surface”, the factor that has been elusive for so very long.
Ribonucleic acid: protein translator, self-synthesizer, DNA messenger. Clotting factor.
It’s incredible. It’s elegant. It’s so exquisite I can hardly breathe.
The cells’ injury is what enables protection of the tissue.
Heal thyself, indeed.
(See the original article here.)
4/04/2007 at 00:06
Sunlight surprised me yesterday.
I usually wear contacts. I usually wear sunglasses. I usually dress for the weather. But yesterday it was glasses and a t-shirt and a jacket that wasn’t heavy enough. I was chilly.
So I stood in the sun and looked at the ridge across from me- at the bones of leafless trees limned against blue sky, at the sere sepia grass at my feet, at the drab but glittering concrete of the curb I stood on- and was disconcerted at how many edges everything has.
I was startled at the colors splashed across mountain and highway. They were different- not just in hue, but in saturation. Lighter.
Maybe it was the afternoon sunlight- but that often gilds things. Nothing was golden yesterday. Each thing was itself, its own shape and shade, but- attenuated. More ephemeral.
Perhaps it is that this has been a long winter for me. Perhaps it is that I was in Nashville and that is my home and I miss it so much, so much. Perhaps it is only that it is spring.
I don’t know why. But yesterday I was startled at the paleness and clarity of my vision, at the limits and boundaries of shape and color.
Yesterday I stood cold in the sunlight and watched margin and color sheer themselves, a wash stark and waterless on the eye.
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