Joseph Dillon Ford
The human mind cannot reach its fullest potential in confinement. It must be at liberty to expand and embrace all of space and time. It must have unrestricted access to the wisdom and experience of the ages and be able to draw upon these in complete creative freedom. It must be personally and socially responsible for the knowledge it acquires.
Throughout much of the twentieth century modernist ideology circumscribed human intellectual potential by focussing narrowly on the present and attempting to disavow or exclude the past as a viable creative resource. In this it was largely unsuccessful, as modern artists, whether they chose to acknowledge or disguise the fact, remained deeply immersed in tradition. For many who refused to answer its militant call for conspicuous novelty, however, there was unjust censure, ridicule, and professional frustration.
During the decades leading up to the third millennium, artists and thinkers grew increasingly skeptical about the ideological pretensions of modernism, and at length began to reaffirm the presence, value, and relevance of the past in the life of the mind. This marked the beginning of a veritable cultural renaissancea period in which, for the first time in history, the art of musical composition was revitalized by a conscious return to the great tonal traditions of the past.
II. Apollo, the Archetypal Creator
In the mythic person of Apollo, the Greeks achieved their first and loftiest idealization of the art of music. It is to Apollo that we must turn to understand the origins and significance of today's tonal music revolution.
Apollo's genealogical history is complex, but can be traced through his paternal line to Ouranos, god of the heavens, and from that point back through a succession of primordial deities to Chaos, the dark amorphous void existing before the cosmos itself came into being. This is highly significant, for Apollo, also the god of light, is the luminous opposite of his earliest ancestor, and as such represents the culmination of untold centuries of mythopoeic creation.1
It is equally significant that Apollo is the son of the first principal Greek male deity who was not overthrown by one of his own sons. The authority of Zeus, though tested, was never undermined by Apollo or any of his brothers. The Olympian pantheon, for all its internal conflicts, was relatively stable, and the gods of Apollo's generation did not rebel with such overwhelming animosity against their progenitor as did Zeus, Cronus, and Erebos against their fathers.2
Rather than fomenting cultural revolution, Apollo was specifically associated with the education of youth and their orderly transition into society. His identification with music may, indeed, have come about as a consequence of his connection with the training of young adults.3 In its maturity, the Apollonian tradition was one of reason, balance, order, discipline, and beauty which found expression in a system of tonal organization that served as the basis of musical composition for millennia.
This fact notwithstanding, Apollonian mythology was not immune to the harsh themes of artistic alienation, isolation, and privation. As infants, Zeus had been persecuted by his father Cronus, and Cronus by his father Ouranos. Apollo's jealous and vengeful stepmother Hera threatened the god of music even prior to his birth, as he was the product of Zeus's adulterous relationship with the Titaness Leto. Fearing Hera's wrath, no country where the pregnant Leto wandered would grant her refuge to deliver her children. She finally was welcomed on tiny Delos, in the very heart of the Cyclades, where she gave birth to Apollo and his twin sister Artemis. Poseidon, sympathetic to Leto's plight, is said to have raised the barren, desolate island from the sea expressly as a sanctuary for the pregnant mother, and so Delos became one of the most sacred sites in the ancient world.4
As Musagetes, Apollo presided over the nine Muses, from whose collective name our words "music" and "museum" were derived.5 Through millennia these inspirational sister goddesses were invoked or evoked by musicians, poets, artists, philosophers, and intellectuals, as evidenced in such diverse works as Homer's Iliad (eighth century B. C.) and Milton's Paradise Lost (1667), the second-century Hymn to the Muse by Mesomedes of Crete and Stravinsky's Apollon musagète (1928). The Titaness Mnemosyne, Mother of the Muses by Zeus, would play a critically important role in Apollo's subsequent mythopoeic development.
Apollo's chief instrument, the lyre, is a small harp with a variable number of strings fixed to a crossbar supported by two arms. The soundbox, typically a tortoise shell, causes the strings to resonate when plucked with a plectrum. This ancient tonal instrument was the invention of Hermesmessenger of the gods and god of oratory and eloquenceand thus demonstrates the importance of music to the Greeks as a powerful means of communication. The lyre remains to this day one of the most widely recognized symbols of tonal music, and has been incorporated into a variety of decorative and utilitarian objects.
In light of these facts, it is clear that "classical" music, as most people still probably understood it until the early decades of the twentieth century, was essentially a tonal art of considerable antiquity in which comprehensibility, moderation, structural clarity, craftsmanship, and expressive beauty were foremost. It had educational and social value, and even after the advent of Christianity in the West was still believed to be inspired by a transcendent intelligence existing beyond the confines of the artist's personal consciousness. It was an art of enlightenment that prevailed over the forces of darknessan audible affirmation of timeless being, not the transient product of time-driven becoming.
This is the art that modernism so vehemently opposed, and the art that twenty-first century Delians are laboring tirelessly to revive.
III. Memory and Self-Realization
The mythology of Apollo has much to teach the twenty-first century, and it is instructive to review his ancestry and history in greater depth.
Cronus overthhrew Ouranos, thus ending his father's tyrannical control of space (the heavens). Zeus, in turn, toppled Cronus (Chronos) loosening his father's equally brutal stranglehold on time.6 Apollo, despite Hera's persecution, managed to enter the world in an extraordinarily small space (Delos) before time ran out, symbolically recapitulating in his earliest infancy the victories of his father and grandfather and demonstrating his own transcendence of those domains. But his rite of passage would not be complete until he became fully conscious of his own godhood, and for this he required the intercession of the Titaness Mnemosynegoddess of memory and mother of his half-sisters, the Muses.
It is this crucially important chapter in Apollo's mythopoeic development that British poet John Keats chose to elaborate in book III of his unfinished epic poem, Hyperion (181819). Keats faced the question of artistic self-realization head-on in this magnificent fragment, even while suffering from much the same "anxiety of influence" that would later become the phobic core of twentieth-century modernism. According to the The Oxford Companion to English Literature, "It is not known why Keats abandoned what was to be his great work, but one of his fears, expressed in a letter to his friend Reynolds, was that his writing was too Miltonic."
Keats, however, who surely identified with the angst-ridden young Apollo in his poem, leaves no doubt about the seminal role played by memory in the maturation of the quintessential archetypal artist.7 To Memory alone he attributes the full awakening of young Apollo to his divine status as god of light, music, poetry, and prophecy:
"O tell me, lonely Goddess, by thy harp,
"That waileth every morn and eventide,
"Tell me why thus I rave, about these groves!
"Mute thou remainestmute! yet I can read
"A wondrous lesson in thy silent face:
"Knowledge enormous makes a God of me.
"Names, deeds, gray legends, dire events, rebellions,
"Majesties, sovran voices, agonies,
"Creations and destroyings, all at once
"Pour into the wide hollows of my brain,
"And deify me, as if some blithe wine
"Or bright elixir peerless I had drunk,
"And so become immortal."Thus the God,
While his enkindled eyes, with level glance
Beneath his white soft temples, stedfast kept
Trembling with light upon Mnemosyne.
Soon wild commotions shook him, and made flush
All the immortal fairness of his limbs;
Most like the struggle at the gate of death;
Or liker still to one who should take leave
Of pale immortal death, and with a pang
As hot as deaths is chill, with fierce convulse
Die into life: so young Apollo anguishd:
His very hair, his golden tresses famed
Kept undulation round his eager neck.
During the pain Mnemosyne upheld
Her arms as one who prophesied.At length
Apollo shrieked;and lo! from all his limbs
Celestial [Glory dawned: he was a God]8
Early in their history the Greeks reached a remarkably intuitive understanding of the psychology of creativity. It was Keats's genius to rediscover and articulate that understanding in English verse of surpassing beauty and eloquence, but in acknowledging the primacy of memory for the art of poetry, he could not avoid confronting the fact of his own profound indebtedness to the past. Writing in the early nineteenth century under the sway of a still-emergent romanticism that glorified individualistic expression, he could scarcely have escaped the first stirrings of a crisis of identity in the arts that in its most mnemophobic form would manifest in the early decades of the twentieth-century as full-blown modernism. Perhaps this accounts, at least in part, for the unfinished state of Hyperion and The Fall of Hyperion, whose further development might only have underscored the magnitude of Keats's dependency on Mnemosyne-Moneta and countless centuries of literary tradition.
IV. Mnemophobia and the Modern Crisis of Creativity
Emerson reminds us in his essay, "Quotation and Originality" (1876), that the early romantics, though aware of this looming crisis, were able to reconcile the demands of artistic selfhood with their profound affection for the past:
Goethe frankly said, "What would remain to me if this art of appropriation were derogatory to genius? Every one of my writings has been furnished to me by a thousand different persons, a thousand things: wise and foolish have brought me, without suspecting it, the offering of their thoughts, faculties, and experience. My work is an aggregation of beings taken from the whole of nature; it bears the name of Goethe."
Goetheand Emersonplainly saw that memory, "the mental faculty of retaining and recalling past experience," was the very essence of self. 9 Identity in the present is fundamentally dependent on past experience, and the greater the breadth, depth, and accessibility of that experience, the richer, more multifaceted, and creative human beings can be.
Other authors active in the late nineteenth century, however, succumbed to the growing belief that memory stifled individual creativity. The short-lived Steven Crane, best known for his Civil War novel, The Red Badge of Courage (1895), "deliberately avoided reading from a fear of being influenced by other writers."10
Given the primary importance of the faculty of memory in the creative process, the very definition of modernism as "a self-conscious break with the past and a search for new forms of expression" suggests a movement based on the fundamentally irrational premise that memory and tradition are inimical to genius and originality.11 Eager as modernists were to deplore the "nostalgia" which allegedly afflicted those drawn to established forms and styles, they often failed to notice or acknowledge their own mnemophobic tendencies.12 This led to a variety of defensive and offensive behaviors intended to sustain the illusion of absolute primacy that often masked feelings of fear, envy, and hatred towards one's artistic precursors and their contemporary exponents.
The expression "anxiety of influence," coined by Harold Bloom, is associated with a widely referenced critical theory suggesting that poetsand by extension other artistsdo not so much openly reveal what they have borrowed from their predecessors as they conceal their own indebtedness to the past through defensive misreadings and distortions of parent works they both admire and fear. Through a largely unconscious process of drastic, even violent revision, poets thus create the illusion of priority and originality for themselves and others. Bloom believes this phenomenon mirrors the Oedipal conflict of the son who, filled with ambivalent feelings towards his father, must struggle to establish his own identity and autonomy. Although Bloom's theory remains controversial, there is evidence corroborating its relevance to twentieth-century composers and their music.13
Arnold Schönberg was a musical personality of considerable complexity, some of whose most important works demonstrate a pervasive fascination with neurotic and psychotic mental states. The composer himself was vulnerable to anxiety attacks, and suffered so acutely from triskadekaphobia that at least one academic has suggested that Schönberg's fear of the number thirteen was the chief cause of his death.14 As an expressionist painter, which avocation he pursued with keen and sustained interest, numerous of Schönberg's canvases portray oddly distorted, fearsome subjects rendered in lurid colorshaunting visions emanating from the depths of his own imagination.15 But it was Schönberg's express attempt to evade the tonal harmony of his precursors that fits most closely with Bloom's theory.
Schönberg himself confirmed the obvious late in his career in the book, Style and Idea (1950), stating that it was "immensely important to avoid a similarity with tonality."16 In certain early works preceding his first use of twelve-tone techniqueincluding Erwartung (1909) and Die Glückliche Hand (191013)the composer's "anxiety of influence," particularly in relationship to Wagner, becomes almost palpable.
As Robert Craft suggests, "Schönberg must have experienced an Angsttraum himself in composing Erwartung."
The woman is the Isolde of fifty years later, and still the type of the ewig weibliche, but Isolde has had a nervous breakdown. . . . the elimination of Wagnerism was a slow process, and Schönberg carved himself free only after the long decade of Verklärte Nacht, Gurre-Lieder, Pelleas, and the Kammersymphonie. Relapses occur after that, like the cello melody at the end of the first scene of Die Glückliche Hand, like the "ich will nicht" in Erwartung, followed by the clarinet motif which suggests Ortrud."17
That Angsttraum is even more personal in nature in Die Glückliche Hand, based on Schönberg's own semi-autobiographical libretto:
The Man is generally The Artist and specifically Arnold Schönberg. We see him at the beginning lying prone, the monster of dissatisfaction and bitterness gnawing at him while a "Greek" chorus upbraids him for desiring the things of this world (namely, acclaim and recognition). . . . Despite their warning, despite the terrible punishment inflicted on him by his wounded ego (the monster), he goes through the same cycle of ecstasy and debasement that he has gone through before and shall again.18
In this eerily psychedelic "drama with music," the towering specter of Wagner once more haunts the composer, who alternately acts out his own desire to surpass the heroic achievements of the composer of The Ring and his recurring fears of failure and persecution. In scene 3, Schönberg transforms the Nibelungs and their subterranean cavern (Nibelheim) from scene 3 of Das Rheingold into "several workers . . . seen at work in realistic workingmen's dress" situated in a "grotto, which is something between a machine shop and a goldsmith's workshop." Not insignificantly, in the very middle of the grotto "stands an anvil, under it a heavy iron hammer." Wagner calls for no fewer than eighteen anvils in Das Rheingold, but here Schönberg is clearly referencing scene 1 of Siegfried as well (see below). The Man, like Siegmund and Siegfried, carries a sword, previously used in this case to sever two Saracens' heads dangling from his waistthe Schoenbergian analog of Nothung. However, he casts aside the warrior-hero's sword in favor of the artist-hero's hammer, which he uses to pound a lump of gold on the anvil with such force that it splits down the middlea feat precisely rivaling that of Siegfried in scene 1 of Wagner's eponymous music drama. Meanwhile, the lump of gold, which fell into the cleft of the sundered anvil, is retrieved, only to reappear as something of far greater valuea diadem set with precious stones. Thus, by invoking and manipulating certain key Wagnerian symbolsthe sword, the anvil, and the goldSchönberg qua the Man asserts his own artistic autonomy and superiority vis-à-vis Wagner. This has been achieved to the conspicuous displeasure of the Nibelungs qua workmen, who "make as if to throw themselves upon him," appear "threatening" and "disdainful," and "seem to be planning some move against" him. In Die Glücklihe Hand, Bloom's Oedipal interpretation could not be more apposite.19
Although Schönberg's move towards atonality in these works represented a decisive attempt to distance himself artistically from the tonal past and thus establish his own claims to originality, his dodecaphonic system, developed from 1920 to 1925, so radically revised traditional musical relationships that it obfuscated almost every audible trace of eighteenth- and nineteenth-century stylistic influence. This was the same Schönberg, however, who unabashedly saw himself as heir to the rich musical tradition represented by Haydn, Mozart, Beethoven, Brahms, and Wagner, and maintained that his work was a natural outgrowth of historical cultural processes. Indeed, later composers, still laboring under the "anxiety of influence," argued that Schönberg had failed to go far enough to break with the past, and proceeded to serialize not only the twelve tones of the chromatic scale but virtually every other musical parameterduration, intensity, texture, and timbre. Schönberg himself had become the Oedipal father-figure who, like Ouranos and Cronus, had to be overthrown.
A dizzying game of one-upmanship ensued in which composers' egos, increasingly vulnerable to allegations of writing "derivative" music, were heavily invested. This seemingly endless cycle of anxiety had already reached a feverish pitch in 1952 shortly after Schönberg's death, when Pierre Boulez published his infamous "Schoenberg Is Dead" valedictory (The Score VI, pp. 1822), exposing what he deemed to be the creative shortcomings of the father of dodecaphony. Before twenty more years had elapsed, serialism itself had begun to lose the aura of novelty, as aleatoric techniques and electronic sound synthesis offered even greater opportunities to transmogrify the ostensibly obsolescent art of music into an art of noises disavowing any connection with historical compositional practices.
Indeed, the next new thing appeared to be the obliteration of the composer's very identity, as the individual psyche was clearly inseparable from the anathematized past, and its influence could only result in a music tainted by personal preferences and associations. The avant-garde rationale for self-annihilation sounded surprisingly upbeat:
Sounds occur whether intended or not; the psychological turning in the direction of those not intended seems at first to be a giving up of everything that belongs to humanity. But one must see that humanity and nature, not separate, are in this world together, that nothing was lost when everything was given away.20
This very desire to achieve selflessness and "let sounds be themselves," ostensibly if not paradoxically inspired by traditional Hindu and Buddhist teachings, did not prevent members of the avant-garde from attacking (or avoiding) whoever or whatever they perceived as a threat to the compositional methods and ideological positions on which their claims to originality depended. The case of indeterminacy guru John Cage is particularly instructive, for, unable to master harmony, he simply jettisoned it, even going so far as to say that Beethoven had exerted a crippling effect on music:
First of all, it had become clear in my studies with Schoenberg, that I had no feeling for harmony, and I became, through a friend of Galka Sheyers', interested in noises.21
With Beethoven, the parts of a composition were defined by means of harmony. . . . Beethoven was in error, and his influence, which has been as extensive as it is lamentable, has been deadening to the art of music."22
We know that Cage, too, was not immune to the "anxiety of influence," and that when he compared his own achievements to those of others in the past, he found himself wanting:
I think of myself as an inventor, but I almost always find that what I think is really original in my work had been done before by someone else.23
If Cage's comments betray certain mnemophobic tendencies that sometimes waxed belligerent, Pierre Boulez seems to provide the ultimate validation of Bloom's theory, at least with respect to musical modernism:
I don't like to write something that could have been written by somebody else. That's really maybe the death of me! If I write something, I want that to be exclusively mine. There is influence, yes, but the influence has been so absorbed that you cannot specify it, really. I can see it, because I know the source; and if I tell someone, then they can see a relationship, vaguely. But if I don't say a word, nobody will see it. That's the main thing.24
One is not merely struck by Boulez's admission of influence, but particularly by his apparent readiness to accept concealment rather than open acknowledgement of his borrowings. If this does not constitute prima facie evidence of intellectual dishonesty, it is at the very least a tacit endorsement for "putting one over" on unsuspecting listeners who, without the composer's help, will credit him with unexampled originality.
In interviews with Iannis Xenakis and Brian Ferneyhough conducted by Thanassis Lalas for the Greek newspaper VIMA and published on 21 September 1997, the angst of modernism continues to cast a shadow. When asked by Lalas to describe his present state of mind "in a single image," Xenakis replied, " A desert . . . An endless desert . . . where nothing can grow any longer . . . A desert with a powerful but unbearable past." Ferneyhough was no more optimistic:
Why does anybody become an artist? I don't think that one becomes an artist necessarily because one has a good teacher. You have to have the basic drive. There has to be a sort of neurotic, claustrophobic compulsion which enables you to organize the impossibilities of life, whatever psychic pressures one feels oneself under, in such a way that they become productive. It's a strategy for survival.25
The modernist composer's relationship to the past is decidedly ambivalent, if not overtly hostile. It stems from a fundamental psychological conflict in which the composer's survival as a creative artist seems to depend on escaping the influence of those very memories that form the central core of his/her musical identity. Any attempt to break with the past, however, is at the very least a tacit acknowledgement of its presence, and the harder one struggles to elude it, the more it persists as a self divided.
This paradox was little appreciated until modernist ideology could no longer obscure the obvious fact that what was and what is share a curious coexistence both physically and psychologically. The modernist notion that the influence of the past in the creative process could and should be rejected gave rise to a postmodern reaction that took shape as the conspicuous "revival of traditional elements and techniques."26
But this revival did not come about easily, nor has it resolved the underlying conflict, for many postmodernists dare only to glance sideways at the past, as if direct contact might petrify creativity as surely as staring straight into the face of a Gorgon. Until artists understand the fundamental identity of past and present, of old and new, of tradition and creation, they will remain vulnerable to the same false dichotomy that so paralyzed twentieth-century culture.
V. A Matter of Time
Children long for the years to pass quickly so than can enjoy the rights and privileges that come with maturity. Adults, on the other hand, watch the calendar with growing anxiety in anticipation of their declining years and eventual mortality. All flee the cold of winter and welcome the warmth of spring. Virtually no one thinks about time with indifference, but when pressed to explain exactly what it is, most would find it difficult even to begin.
Perhaps the best way to approach the subject of timesurely one of the most important but least understood aspects of musical compositionis by examining the significance of memory. Indeed, without memory we would not even be aware that what we call "time" exists.
For the Greeks, memoryMnemosynewas the sister of Cronus, god of Time. Although no longer honored as a goddess, memory is without a doubt the most important of all human faculties. Without the ability to remember we would be nameless, thoughtless automatons, void of identity, consciousness, and speech. There would be no concept of past, present, or future. It is hard to imagine that life itself could be sustained without the good offices of Mnemosyne.
We must accept memory, however, on faith alone, for if the past no longer exists, there is no original against which to compare our alleged mental copies for authenticity and accuracy. On the basis of appearances, we simply believe that the world as we once knew it has changed, and take our memories and other presumed "records" as proof of a previous state of reality that cannot be revisited for purposes of corroboration. We are unable to verify that there even was a past because, in its absence, we cannot confirm that memoryour best "evidence" that it ever existedis actually the record it seems to be. Indeed, the very word "record" is derived, with elusive circularity, from the Latin verb recordarito remember: in our search for the past, we are forced to return again and again to the enigmatic "record" of memory that inspires trust even as it defies logical validation.
But is the past really past? Is there any certainty about when it ends and when the present begins? How can it be that what we recollect to have existed a few minutes, hours, days, months, or even years ago so much resembles what we find before us right now?
It is as if the past, to a very considerable extent, actually persists in the present, the appearance of change notwithstanding. There are no clear lines of demarcation separating past from present from future. What we remembera face, a landscape, or a stonemight just as well be a mental picture of what exists now or what will exist tomorrow.
Scientists themselves continue to ponder the formidable questions raised by time and memory. In Classical physics no distinction is made between backward or forward motion in time, nor between past, present, and future. As Einstein stated just several months before his own death, "For us convinced physicists, the distinction between past, present, and future is an illusion, although a persistent one."27 If this is true, the implications for modernist criticism are devastating, for if there is no scientific basis to distinguish between past and present, there is no scientific basis to distinguish between "old" and "new."
In recent years, however, some scientists have argued, to the contrary, that certain physical processes are time-asymmetric and hence fundamentally irreversible. The late Nobel laureate Ilya Prigogine, guru of non-equilibrium thermodynamics, achieved cult status by advocating the controversial view that our subjective experience of the "arrow of time" is intrinsic to nature and thus essential to human creativity:
It is hard to avoid the impression that the distinction between what exists in time, what is irreversible, and, on the other hand, what is eternal, is at the origin of human symbolic activity. Perhaps this is especially so in artistic activity. Indeed, one aspect of the transformation of a natural object, a stone, to an object of art is closely related to our impact on matter. Artistic activity breaks the temporal symmetry of the object. It leaves a mark that translates our temporal dissymmetry of the object. Out of the reversible, nearly cyclic noise level is which we live arises music that is both stochastic and time-oriented.28
Critics argue, however, that although Prigogine's radical reinterpretation of the laws of physics "makes poets happier" by assigning a creative role to the thermodynamic "arrow of time" and accommodating such time-honored concepts as "free will," it errs by attempting to explain human behavior on the basis of natural phenomena observed by scientists at vastly different scales. It also runs the risk of erroneously suggesting that science itself has failed, opening the door to "various anti-scientific attitudes that combine an extreme skepticism towards science with an equally unreasonable openness towards pseudo-sciences and superstitions."29
In the words of physicist Paul Davies,
There is no doubt that Prigogine's work has advanced greatly our understanding of far-from-equilibrium physical structures, and helped us to recognize patterns in inanimate systems that are reminiscent of living organisms. It would be foolish, however, to read too much into these results. Common behavior does not mean common explanation. It may be that the ring shape of a benzene molecule is reminiscent of children playing ring-a-ring o' roses, but the comparison could hardly be invoked as an explanation of human behaviour.30
Even Rupert Sheldrake, one of the principal exponents of the so-called "new science of life," is only willing to entertain Prigogine's ideas up to a point:
In a similar way, to return to one of Prigogine's examples . . . a mathematical model of urbanization may shed light on the factors affecting the rate of urban growth, but it cannot account for the different architectural styles, cultures, and religions found in, say, Indian and Brazilian cities.31
Lest members of the noise-enamoured avant-garde believe they will ultimately be vindicated by Prigogine's revisionist theories of time, it is clear that the Nobel Laureate himself saw matters quite differently:
During his inaugural lecture, De Donder spoke in these terms: "Mathematical physics represents the purest image that the view of nature may generate in the human mind; this image presents all the character of the product of art; it begets some unity, it is true and has the quality of sublimity; this image is to physical nature what music is to the thousand noises of which the air is full. . . ."
Filtrate music out of noise; the unity of the spiritual history of humanity, as was stressed by M. Eliade, is a recent discovery that has still to be assimilated. The search for what is meaningful and true by opposition to noise is a tentative step that appears to be intrinsically related to the coming into consciousness of man facing a nature of which he is a part. . . . 32
If Prigoginian irreversibility poses formidable problems for those who would still invoke it as the royal road to creativity, it is well to remember that in its classical formulation, the Second Law of Thermodynamics predicts that entropya "measure of the total disorder, randomness, and chaos in a system "tends to a maximum." If the term were used informally, as it frequently is, to describe the "breakdown of a social system or function," one might even be tempted to name "cultural entropy" as the cause for the dissolution of tonality and increasing complexity of music in the twentieth century.33
Medical science provides even more personal, tragic examples of the effects of entropy, in this informal sense, on the art of musical composition. It is clear, for example, that when access to memory is denied or mnemonic function is impaired through disease or trauma, musical creativity and functionality are severely diminished. As a consequence of Alzheimer's disease, Ravel's ability to compose was hampered by perseveration, a memory deficit resulting in the uncontrollable repetition of the same words, sounds, and actions. This accounts for the redundancybut certainly not the popularityof Boléro, described rather dismissively by its composer as "an orchestral fabric without music."34 Aaron Copland, who succumbed to Alzheimer's disease in the early 1970s, experienced severe memory loss and virtually ceased to compose.35 In Linda Katherine Cutting's book, Memory Slips: A Memoir of Music and Healing (HarperCollins, 1997), the author recounts the devastating consequences of memory loss for a concert artist who has sustained deep psychological trauma.36 The importance of memory in the creative process has even been dramatized by Rinde Eckert in a recent work for musical theater, And God Created Great Whales (2000), in which the principal character, a composer named Nathan, struggles to record his Melville-inspired operatic masterpiece before disease causes him to forget everything he knows.37
VI. Envoi: Rediscovering the Creative Power of Memory
If modernist ideology represents "a self-conscious break with the past," it remains to be seen how its advocates manage to remain conscious at all after severing ties to the very memories on which their personal identities depend. Breaking with the past, if that is at all possible, is tantamount in its mildest forms to suppression or repression, and in extreme cases to a kind of self-induced amnesia. The conscious inhibition or unconscious submersion of ideas is hardly consistent with artistic freedom. "The anxiety of influence" is no more nor less than a fear or dread of memory, in whose domain resides the knowledge of masters and opuses that threaten to subvert the artist's egoistic demands for unprecedented originality. This mnemophobic flight from the past, from the memories that constitute the very essence of one's identity, is an inherently divisive process that can only result in self-fragmentation and psychological conflict. It is not surprising, then, that a significant proportion of modernist art mirrors the "anxiety of influence" to such a distressing degree that it has alienated, rather than aroused, public sympathies.
If the arts have succumbed to the mal du siècle so often expressed if not exacerbated by the products of modernist ideology, there can be no possibility of cultural revitalization without a face-to-face encounter with the past, and specifically with that "lonely Goddess" artists have so long and anxiously practiced to deny. If postmodernism has acknowledged, albeit circuitously, the presence of the past, artists of the third millennium must open their minds and hearts fully to the transformational power of Mnemosyne. Though her origins and appearance may mystify us, without her "wondrous lesson" there can be neither light nor art.
* * *
Fortunate are we that in the twenty-first century there are still far-shooting Delians who have not forgotten that to create is first to remember. It is to them, and to those whose names and thoughts are inscribed below, that this paper is dedicated.
Indeed, without memory there can be no scientific creativity. . . . Denigrating memory has gone too far. . . . I will assert that who you are is determined by what you have in your very own and not your computer's memory.38
Vinay Ambegaokar, Goldwin Smith Professor of Physics, Cornell University
What insights, then, does neurobiology give into memory and creativity: attributes that make us human and make us individual? . . . The findings . . . suggest that perception and imagination and memory are physically linked. . . .39
Dr. Timothy DeVoogd, Professor of Psychology, Cornell University
It is my antique conviction that the Greeks knew what they were talking about, that to make the Muses the daughters of Memory is to express a fundamental perception of the way in which Creativity works.40
Clara Claiborne Park, Autism Expert and Author
I think the fact that Mnemosyne, memory, is the mother of the muses is not an accident. The older I get, the more I think memory and creativity, memory and invention, are deeply connected. We would say to invent is to make up, but if you look at the Latin, invenio means I come upon, I find. To make something up means to discover it. Perhaps its always been there, but your process of discovering it means a novel.41
Michèle Roberts, Novelist and Poet
Of course the greatest confluence of all is that which makes up the human memorythe individual human memory. My own is the treasure most dearly regarded by me, in my life and in my work as a writer. Here time, also, is subject to confluence. The memory is a living thingit too is in transit. But during its moment, all that is remembered joins, and livesthe old and the young, the past and the present, the living and the dead.42
Eudora Welty, Novelist
The Delian Society