Sunday, June 29, 2003

Three from the Times:
Pure Math, Pure Joy
The Crucial First Clue to 'Henry V'
A Seeker of Music's Poetry in the Mathematical Realm

From the first piece:
-- 'Math is sense,' said Dr. Robert Osserman, a Stanford professor and deputy director of the institute, quoting from the play 'Copenhagen.' 'That's what sense is.' --

Wrong. Math is sense... in Number.

And from the third, a memorial to the musical/mathematical analyst David Lewin:
-- While colleagues were examining ways in which compositions reflect political ideologies, or applying literary theory to music, he championed an abstract idealism that had its origins earlier in the century, in the works of such theorists as Heinrich Schenker.

One of his arguments, in fact, was that music could be more profoundly understood not by seeing it more concretely — not by finding the ways in which it refers to objects and ideas in the world — but by seeing it more abstractly, finding the ways in which it creates internal order and coherence.

... There is an aesthetic behind this analysis, one that is most clearly connected with some modernist compositions — severe and tautly constructed works that, in recent years, have too often been dismissed as arid or academic.--

It is valid, obviously, to study the purely technical aspects of music, as it is valid to study the purely technical and mechanical aspects of any other trade or subject. But it is still an academic study.
Without mathematics the music of J.S. Bach is no longer music. Without the Lutheran Bible, and everything that it came from and encompasses as inspiration, the works are no longer anything but math. If we want to call them works of art, as opposed to essays in scientific analysis, which then is the prime mover, mathematics or the German cultural tradition of which mathematical precision is a part?

And from the third, concerning the ambiguities of Shakespeare's play:
-- There's a very influential essay on the ambiguities of "Henry V" by Norman Rabkin (in "Shakespeare and the Problem of Meaning") that's known in the trade as "the rabbit and duck essay." Both Alan Dessen and Mark Wing-Davey referred to it in our conversations. Mr. Rabkin believes that attempts to see Henry as either hero or cynical Machiavellian are all wrong.

Mr. Rabkin believes the play is perhaps the most ambiguous of all Shakespeare's plays, and compares it to "the gestaltist's familiar drawing," which, looked at one way, is a rabbit, but, if one shifts focus, can seem like a duck. "Henry V," Mr. Rabkin argues, is not either/or but both rabbit and duck at the same time. After all, no matter how much intellectual skepticism the play evokes, few can help responding to the emotion of the "band of brothers" speech. In some respects the play is about the duality of human motive — and human response. "Ideally, it should be possible to see Henry as both hero and Machiavel," says Mr. Wing-Davey. "I'm a pacifist, but I don't believe people go to war cynically. I think they try to convince themselves they have right and conscience on their side, even if they use Machiavellian methods." The same could be said of Henry's campaign of love and seduction.
And both rabbit and duck first appear to us in the deceptive thickets of the Salic law speech.--

I'm surprised that such ambiguity would be seen as an issue to resolve - cleanly- though the article makes it seem a point of debate. But since it is in the nature of art, as in law, to be made for interpretation rather than analysis, the ambiguity is the thing I enjoy. I was beginning to think that they understood this more in Tehran than in NY. [I'm being too glib here, but given the points I'm trying to make, and the degree to which they are going right down the drain, I couldn't help but toss it in.]

note: Ludwig Wittgenstein, who was both a creator and the eventual destroyer of analytic philosophy -rendering it useless as anything but an academic occupation- referred to the Rabbit and Duck diagram in his later work.

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