Norman Mailer on the hipster (1957)

Norman Mailer for Dissent -- "It may be fruitful to consider the hipster a philosophical psychopath, a man interested not only in the dangerous imperatives of his psychopathy but in codifying, at least for himself, the suppositions on which his inner universe is constructed. By this premise the hipster is a psychopath, and yet not a psychopath but the negation of the psychopath for he possesses the narcissistic detachment of the philosopher, that absorption in the recessive nuances of one’s own motive which is so alien to the unreasoning drive of the psychopath."

The poem that foretold modernism

Mallarmé and modernism — "Consider its title. Bloch points out that Jamais (Never) is out of sequence for an ordinary French sentence, where it would conventionally follow the verb. What then motivates this terrible “Never,” with its abnormal, jarring priority? What is this extreme of negativity that cannot be gainsaid?" (The New Republic)

Glenn Gould on the music of the twentieth century

"No matter how little interest there may be in the more significant developments of music in our time, I think there is little doubt that there are some areas in which the vocabulary of atonality—using this term now in a collective sense—has made quite an unobjectionable contribution to contemporary life. It has done this particularly in media in which music furnishes but a part—operas, to a degree (if you can consider styling Alban Berg's Wozzeck a "hit"), but most particularly in that curious specialty of the twentieth century known as background music for cinema or television. If you really stop to listen to the music accompanying most of the grade-B horror movies that are coming out of Hollywood these days, or perhaps a TV show on space travel for children, you will be absolutely amazed at the amount of integration which the various idioms of atonality have undergone in these media. When this background music creeps up on us subliminally, as it were, we seem to accept the devices of a dissonant vocabulary as being perfectly comprehensible. It is rather frightening, though, to realize that the integration of dissonance, from which all of this new music of our day has emanated, has assumed a character in the minds of many people which is satisfactory only for displaying the fundamental beastliness of the human animal and which tends to be dismissed when it attempts to lead a life of its own, a life which is capable of as wide a variety of emotional impact as that of any other musical style.

However, composers are on the whole an incredibly persuasive lot, and one can be reasonably confident that, in the end, good relations between composer and audience can be restored. It may even be that these various forms of integration in which the references of atonality have so far achieved some success—the horror movie, the science fiction space travel epic, may provide to a degree the necessary common bond. Not that I would wish to perpetuate horror movies, and not that space travel may have much to do with Serialism, but I suspect that the cliché nature of these devices in the public character of this atonal vocabulary, and that it will, for our own strange, twisted times, provide something of the same sort of public reference that the Lutheran chorale provided in the church services of Northern Europe in the late sixteenth century. There is no question that the Lutheran choral acquainted many hostile parishioners with the strange new organization which was to become known as tonality, and I have a suspicion that the Adventures of Captain Stratosphere and all other such lunacies that hold us, and particularly our young, captive these days will have some significant part in making a rapprochement between a hostile public and the music of our time."

— Glenn Gould in "Arnold Schoenberg: A Perspective"

Alexis Weissenberg on musical virtuosity

"First of all, one must definitely draw a line between what is really indeed difficult and what isn’t. We all know that what is most difficult is to play a Mozart adagio perfectly well. Technically! I wish more people would understand this; when most people speak of technique, they still speak of the Liszt rhapsodies, as opposed to anything else. A Beethoven adagio, a Schubert sonata (the slow movement) are the most difficult thing to achieve on the keyboard. It reaches such dimensions of nervous control, and of sound control, and if really anybody can achieve this from A to Z, then we can say that this person is not only a great musician, but a great technician.”

The Somerton man

The Tamam Shud Case, also known as the Mystery of the Somerton Man, is an unsolved case of an unidentified man found dead at 6:30 a.m., 1 December 1948, on Somerton beach in Adelaide, South Australia. It is named after a phrase, tamam shud, meaning "ended" or "finished" in Persian, on a scrap of the final page of The Rubaiyat, found in the hidden pocket of the man's trousers. See also the Smithsonian link on the same case.

Committed to Memory (John Hollander)

Committed to Memory (John Hollander)

An interview with Milton Babbitt

An interview with Milton Babbitt

H. G. Wells interviews Joseph Stalin (1934)

H. G. Wells interviews Joseph Stalin (1934)

Poem on his birthday (Dylan Thomas)

In the mustardseed sun,
By full tilt river and switchback sea
Where the cormorants scud,
In his house on stilts high among beaks
And palavers of birds
This sandgrain day in the bent bay’s grave
He celebrates and spurns
His driftwood thirty-fifth wind turned age;
Herons spire and spear.

Under and round him go
Flounders, gulls, on their cold, dying trails,
Doing what they are told,
Curlews aloud in the congered waves
Work at their ways to death,
And the rhymer in the long tongued room,
Who tolls his birthday bell,
Toils towards the ambush of his wounds;
Herons, steeple stemmed, bless.

In the thistledown fall,
He sings towards anguish; finches fly
In the claw tracks of hawks
On a seizing sky; small fishes glide
Through wynds and shells of drowned
Ship towns to pastures of otters. He
In his slant, racking house
And the hewn coils of his trade perceives
Herons walk in their shroud,

The livelong river’s robe
Of minnows wreathing around their prayer;
And far at sea he knows,
Who slaves to his crouched, eternal end
Under a serpent cloud,
Dolphins dive in their turnturtle dust,
The rippled seals streak down
To kill and their own tide daubing blood
Slides good in the sleek mouth.

In a cavernous, swung
Wave’s silence, wept white angelus knells.
Thirty-five bells sing struck
On skull and scar where his loves lie wrecked,
Steered by the falling stars.
And to-morrow weeps in a blind cage
Terror will rage apart
Before chains break to a hammer flame
And love unbolts the dark

And freely he goes lost
In the unknown, famous light of great
And fabulous, dear God.
Dark is a way and light is a place,
Heaven that never was
Nor will be ever is always true,
And, in that brambled void,
Plenty as blackberries in the woods
The dead grow for His joy.

There he might wander bare
With the spirits of the horseshoe bay
Or the stars’ seashore dead,
Marrow of eagles, the roots of whales
And wishbones of wild geese,
With blessed, unborn God and His Ghost,
And every soul His priest,
Gulled and chanter in young Heaven’s fold
Be at cloud quaking peace,

But dark is a long way.
He, on the earth of the night, alone
With all the living, prays,
Who knows the rocketing wind will blow
The bones out of the hills,
And the scythed boulders bleed, and the last
Rage shattered waters kick
Masts and fishes to the still quick starts,
Faithlessly unto Him

Who is the light of old
And air shaped Heaven where souls grow wild
As horses in the foam:
Oh, let me midlife mourn by the shrined
And druid herons’ vows
The voyage to ruin I must run,
Dawn ships clouted aground,
Yet, though I cry with tumbledown tongue,
Count my blessings aloud:

Four elements and five
Senses, and man a spirit in love
Tangling through this spun slime
To his nimbus bell cool kingdom come
And the lost, moonshine domes,
And the sea that hides his secret selves
Deep in its black, base bones,
Lulling of spheres in the seashell flesh,
And this last blessing most,

That the closer I move
To death, one man through his sundered hulks,
The louder the sun blooms
And the tusked, ramshackling sea exults;
And every wave of the way
And gale I tackle, the whole world then,
With more triumphant faith
That ever was since the world was said,
Spins its morning of praise,

I hear the bouncing hills
Grow larked and greener at berry brown
Fall and the dew larks sing
Taller this thunderclap spring, and how
More spanned with angles ride
The mansouled fiery islands! Oh,
Holier then their eyes,
And my shining men no more alone
As I sail out to die.

"It was in front of the Odessa opera house, before the street lamps were lit. I walked past a man who stared at me. His eyes were blank, without pupils. I recognized Shostakovich and felt most uncomfortable. I knew his opera, whose score was published. It had a sickening smell of glue. I was ill at ease in his presence. My knees were shaking! He was very odd: tense, yet extremely refined. A genius, but quite bizarre. A terrible depressive — he was totally crazy, too. I’m not saying I’m mad. I’m quite normal. Wish I were mad!" — Sviatoslav Richter

Sometimes, when winding slow by brook and bower,
Beating the idle grass, — of what avail,
I ask, are these dim fancies, cares and fears?
What though from every bank I drew a flower, —
Bloodroot, king orchis, or the pearlwort pale, —
And set it in my verse with thoughtful tears?
What would it count though I should sing my death
And muse and mourn with as poetic breath
As in damp garden walks the autumn gale
Sighs o’er the fallen floriage? What avail
Is the swan’s voice if all the hearers fail?
Or his great flight that no eye gathereth
In the blending blue? And yet depending so,
God were not God, whom knowledge cannot know.

(Frederick Goddard Tuckerman)

Yet, even ‘mid merry boyhood’s tricks and scapes,
Early my heart a deeper lesson learnt;
Wandering alone by many a mile burnt
Black woodside, that but the snow-flake decks and drapes.
And I have stood beneath Canadian sky,
In utter solitudes, where the cricket’s cry
Appals the heart, and fear takes visible shapes;
And on Long Island’s void and isolate capes
Heard the sea break like iron bars: and still,
In all, I seemed to hear the same deep dirge;
Borne in the wind, the insect’s tiny trill,
And crash and jangle of the shaking surge;
And knew not what they meant,—prohetic woe?
Dim bodings, wherefore? Now, indeed, I know!

(Frederick Goddard Tuckerman)

And, exhuming their youth with every sentence, they said to each other:

"Do you remember?"

They saw once more the college playground, the chapel, the parlour, the fencing-school at the bottom of the staircase, the faces of the ushers and of the pupils—one named Angelmare, from Versailles, who used to cut off trousers-straps from old boots, M. Mirbal and his red whiskers, the two professors of linear drawing and large drawing, who were always wrangling, and the Pole, the fellow-countryman of Copernicus, with his planetary system on pasteboard, an itinerant astronomer whose lecture had been paid for by a dinner in the refectory, then a terrible debauch while they were out on a walking excursion, the first pipes they had smoked, the distribution of prizes, and the delightful sensation of going home for the holidays.

It was during the vacation of 1837 that they had called at the house of the Turkish woman.

This was the phrase used to designate a woman whose real name was Zoraide Turc; and many persons believed her to be a Mohammedan, a Turk, which added to the poetic character of her establishment, situated at the water’s edge behind the rampart. Even in the middle of summer there was a shadow around her house, which could be recognised by a glass bowl of goldfish near a pot of mignonette at a window. Young ladies in white nightdresses, with painted cheeks and long earrings, used to tap at the panes as the students passed; and as it grew dark, their custom was to hum softly in their hoarse voices at the doorsteps.

This home of perdition spread its fantastic notoriety over all the arrondissement. Allusions were made to it in a circumlocutory style: “The place you know—a certain street—at the bottom of the Bridges.” It made the farmers’ wives of the district tremble for their husbands, and the ladies grow apprehensive as to their servants’ virtue, inasmuch as the sub-prefect’s cook had been caught there; and, to be sure, it exercised a fascination over the minds of all the young lads of the place.

Now, one Sunday, during vesper-time, Frederick and Deslauriers, having previously curled their hair, gathered some flowers in Madame Moreau’s garden, then made their way out through the gate leading into the fields, and, after taking a wide sweep round the vineyards, came back through the Fishery, and stole into the Turkish woman’s house with their big bouquets still in their hands.

Frederick presented his as a lover does to his betrothed. But the great heat, the fear of the unknown, and even the very pleasure of seeing at one glance so many women placed at his disposal, excited him so strangely that he turned exceedingly pale, and remained there without advancing a single step or uttering a single word. All the girls burst out laughing, amused at his embarrassment. Fancying that they were turning him into ridicule, he ran away; and, as Frederick had the money, Deslauriers was obliged to follow him.

They were seen leaving the house; and the episode furnished material for a bit of local gossip which was not forgotten three years later.

They related the story to each other in a prolix fashion, each supplementing the narrative where the other’s memory failed; and, when they had finished the recital:

"That was the best time we ever had!" said Frederick.

"Yes, perhaps so, indeed! It was the best time we ever had," said Deslauriers.

— Gustave Flaubert; A Sentimental Education

"Not that I would not, if I could, be both handsome and fat and well-dressed and a great athlete, and make a million a year; be a wit, a bon-vivant, and a lady-killer, as well as a philosopher; a philanthropist, statesman, warrior, and African explorer, as well as a ‘tone-poet’ and saint. But the thing is simply impossible. The millionaire’s work would run counter to the saint’s; the bon-vivant and the philanthropist would trip each other up; and the philosopher and the lady-killer could not well keep house in the same tenement of clay. So the seeker of his truest, strongest, deepest self must review the list carefully, and pick out the one on which to stake his salvation."

— William James in The Principles of Psychology.