"I am a mirror..."

I am not a complete idiot, but whether from weakness or laziness have no talent for thinking. I know only how to reflect: I am a mirror ... Logic does not exist for me. I float on the waves of art and life and never really know how to distinguish what belongs to the one or the other or what is common to both. Life unfolds for me like a theatre presenting a sequence of somewhat unreal sentiments; while the things of art are real to me and go straight to my heart.

— Sviatoslav Richter

Claudio Arrau on Rachmaninoff

"Rachmaninoff was really a great pianist, but not a great interpreter, because he made everything into Rachmaninoff. He was a sensation in Berlin after the First World War. I heard a few recitals -- it must have been in the twenties. Technically, he was phenomenal. But I thought the sound was not very good. And from the standpoint of interpretation, it was appalling. He didn't seem to care at all what the composer meant. He even added several bars of his own to the end of the Funeral March sonata of Chopin. You know, once I played the Beethoven Eroica Variations in Chicago and Rachmaninoff came backstage during the intermission to tell me how beautiful it was. He had never heard of the piece before. He was friendly, very complimentary. But he wasn't even surprised that he had never heard of it! The Eroica Variations!

"A small obsession for a magician."

Norman Mailer in Zaire: Saturday, October 26th, 1974 — "Conceivably he had first to observe himself. That night, after drinking with King, Norman found himself on the balcony of his room. Maybe it was in the original design, or perhaps the railings had gone up in price before the Inter-Continental was done, but every room had an architectural conceit — its balcony was without a railing. Call it not a balcony but a shelf. One could get on it by sliding open the big window in the room. The shelf ran for the width of the room, twelve feet wide more or less, and stuck out three feet from the window to the lip. From the unprotected lip, you could look down into a fall of seven stories.

"On each side of the shelf was a partitioning wall of concrete flush with the shelf; it was also three feet in width but ran from floor to ceiling. Perhaps its function was to restrain a prowler from walking along the shelf to a stranger's window.

"Of course, it had not taken long to realize that the partition might be not more than an ideological restraint. One could step around that side wall onto the next shelf. It would be necessary to lean out as you did it, and there would be nothing to hold onto for that moment but both sides of the partition. Those sides were six inches apart, palm to palm, which is to say, six inches thick. Holding on that way, you could conceivably rear backward, lose your grip, and fall. It was not likely, of course. You would have to lean out very far before your hands (pressed firmly, we may be certain, to both sides of the wall) would fail to hold. Probably no physical feat was involved. Nonetheless, the chance to whirl around that wall over to the next balcony offered vertigo. How ridiculous a way to get yourself killed. A reverberation of Hemingway's end shivered its echo. Once Norman had climbed up a ladder in the studio of a man who had died the season before. His heart beating ridiculously on that folding ladder, he mounted from the penultimate rung to the top. There, on the top rung, his body quivered back and forth like a tuning fork. He was caught in a current which had nothing to do with him. He had climbed the mast into a squall of magical forces. With what trembling he climbed down. He had reason to fear. Once, a little earlier in that same period of his life, while covering the second Ali-Liston fight, then scheduled for Boston, he had been miserable for days before forcing himself to take a short walk on a parapet. The parapet was a foot wide and required no exceptional sense of balance. Still it was fifteen steps along the edge of a roof of a high old building in Beacon Hill. He had been sick for days with the imperative to do it. Finally, he did it. One hour later, Ali's groin muscles tore. The fight was called off for months. How could you ever know with clarity whether the walk on the roof had been connected or absolutely unconnected to Ali's rupture? A small obsession for a magician.

"Now, these last few days, he had been passing through similar temptations. A Heavyweight Championship was a vortex; not surprising to get into the whirl. But for years he had been trying to avoid stunts. They were too removed from the daily ability to live with a reasonable balance between one's courage and one's fear; these private capers were out of measure. He knew he could slip around the partition. But what if he were visited by the involuntary trembling he felt on top of the ladder that summer day a decade ago? So he kept the possibility of going around the wall to the next balcony as a possibility he was simply not going to entertain. On the consequence of this thought he felt disloyal to Ali. He knew Muhammad's chances would be greater if he did it than if he didn't. And was furious at the vanity. Ali did not need his paltry magic — 'Ali motivates even the dead.' Of course, considering Foreman, Ali might need all the help he could get.

"On this Saturday night, long after the weigh-in, not dead drunk, but good and drunk, his mind clear, his limbs functioning as neatly as one can drive a car neatly when deep in drink, he came back to the room, opened his window without ado, stepped out on the balcony — it was 4 A.M. Sunday morning — put his hands on each side of the partition, worked around to the next balcony, nodded, swung back to his own balcony, performed much the same crossing to the balcony on the other side, nodded again, came back, climbed through the window, got into bed, and before falling asleep, had time to say to himself, 'It was so fucking easy.'"

The original poet "must himself create the taste by which he is to be relished."

Charles Rosen in an essay titled "The Frontiers of Nonsense," published in The Frontiers of Meaning: If getting used to music is the essential condition for understanding, it is hard to see just what purpose is served by writing about it. A few experiences of listening to a symphony or nocturne are worth more than any essay or analysis. The work of art itself teaching us how to understand it, and makes the critic not merely parasitical but strictly superfluous. This is not an unprecedented dilemma but one in which the critic of literature found himself at the end of the eighteenth century, when the function of criticism as an act of judgment crumbled before his eyes. The accepted criteria that had served so well for centuries began to seem the heritage of an alien culture; it no longer required any courage, or provoked any surprise, to question the authority of the classics, and it became almost commonplace to assume that the models given by Homer, Virgil, and Horace were no longer relevant to the literature of contemporary Europe. With the realization that absolute standards were not valid for new civilizations and different cultures, critics were compelled to derive their measures of evaluation from each culture in turn, and then from each individual author, and finally from each work. Standards could no longer be imposed from outside or in advance, and critics finally recognized that a new work was capable of establishing its own system of values. Here is the basis for Wordsworth's famous affirmation that an original poet "must himself create the taste by which he is to be relished." The more traditional, straightforward exercise of judgment was left to journalists. Critical evaluation was transformed into understanding, and criticism became not an act of judgment but of comprehension.

This is the legacy of Romanticism, and critics who would like to maintain or return to absolute standards have been protesting it without much success for almost two centuries. Whether there is, in fact, anything constant or invariant about aesthetic appreciation is irrelevant -- even if there is, it must be on a level of such generality that it can never help us in any given instance. Our sensuous appreciation of the world and of the works created by man has, no doubt, a biological foundation, one shared by all human beings, but that is no use to us when we try to evaluate a Bach fugue or a Dostoevsky novel -- or even the simple experience of a landscape, as our delight in the view of a mountain or a waterfall is also determined by the traditions of our culture. The coexistence of different criteria of judgment is, in any case, by now a fact of life. Beethoven cannot be judged or even understood by the standards of Mozart, however much he may have continued them, nor Berg by the standards of Wagner or Richard Strauss, nor Elliott Carter by the values of Ives and Stravinsky. A work of music can be only partially integrated into history, although that partial integration may be inescapable: it also demands to be listened to as if nothing had come before it and nothing was to come afterward.

The paradox was stated explicitly in that manifesto of Central European Romanticism first published in 1799, the Athenaeum, at the beginning of the section of book reviews:

"Excellent works generally criticize [characterize, or review] themselves, and in this respect it is superfluous for another to perform yet again the very task that the author has doubtless already done. If such a criticism, nevertheless, is a work of art (as it always ought to be), then its existence is anything but superfluous; but it stands entirely for itself and is as independent of the written work criticized as this itself is independent of the material treated and described within it."

This proclaims the independence of the critic, which may here be equated with the freedom of the artist; and it must be recognized that a small degree of irresponsibility is necessary for a critic with any self-respect. Without that irresponsibility the work of criticism is indeed superfluous. If the principles of judgment are to be drawn from the work of art itself, it is clear that its creator has already done that, even if only implicitly.

T.S. Eliot on Lancelot Andrewes

"Andrewes takes a word and derives the world from it; squeezing and squeezing the word until it yields a full juice of meaning which  we should never have supposed any word to possess. In this process the qualities which we have mentioned, of ordonnance and precision, are exercised."

"I thought that you could do anything with a camera that the eye could do, or the imagination could do."

Orson Welles in a 1960 interview -- "Financially, Citizen Kane wasn't extraordinary in any way at all. It was extraordinary in the control it gave me over my own material. Total control; so much so that the rushes, which I perhaps should explain -- these are the pieces of film that are shown at the end of the day's work -- are always checked by everybody in the studio: departments heads, and the bankers and distributors and everything long before there's a rough cut ... according to the terms of my contract, the rushes couldn't be seen by anyone. And indeed the film couldn't be seen until it was ready for release.

"I got that good a contract because I didn't really want to make a film. And you know when you don't really want to go out to Hollywood (at least this is true in the old days, the golden days of Hollywood), when you honestly didn't want to go, then the deals got better and better. In my case I didn't want money, I wanted authority. So I asked the impossible hoping to be left alone, and at the end of the year's negotiations I got it -- simply because there was no real vocation, there. My love for films began only when we started work.

"Ignorance; sheer ignorance! There's no confidence to equal it. It's only when you know something about a profession that you're timid, or careful. I thought that you could do anything with a camera that the eye could do, or the imagination could do. And if you come up from the bottom of the film business you're taught all the things that the cameraman doesn't want to attempt, for fear he will be critizied for having failed. In this case I had a cameraman who didn't care if he was criticized if he failed, and I didn't know that there were things you couldn't do, so anything I could think up in my dreams I attempted to photograph.

"And of course again I had a great advantage, not only in the real genius of my cameraman but in the fact that he -- like all great men, I think, who are masters of a craft -- told me right at the outset that there was nothing about camerawork that I couldn't learn in half a day, that any intelligent person couldn't learn in half a day. And he was right. The great mystery that requires twenty years doesn't exist."