Monday, March 31, 2014

Retirement and Eroica

So on this day I am retired. I hope everything works out. I am listening to the Eroica. There is an excellent (I think) little movie about the Eroica done by the BBC. I swear because of the damned BBC I have become half an Englishman, though I don't take it as far as downstairs, Edwardian London. The movie is factual, documentary in basic style but fictionalized in order to cram in the most information possible. It is also short, important to us retirees. It takes up a few minutes over an hour.

Young Ludwig spiffy for an early portrait:

One day long ago, the first time I heard The Rite of Spring, I woke up. I had a new hero! Bob Marley hooked me too, and reggae still perks me up. Sometimes on NPR I hear an inspiring sound. I am a non-musician so I don't carry a lot of critical freight. Maybe the sound is loud or soft, but if it grabs my attention, separates me for a few minutes from my ordinary days and works, it pleases me. I like to imagine that Beethoven's listeners and the musicians of Europe also woke up hearing Eroica. Of course it was different, there might have been a feeling that too much was going on: chaotic. At first Beethoven called the symphony "Bonaparte" but Beethoven was alert to his times, a hero of the enlightenment, understanding about current events, and capable of such deductions as: if Napoleon becomes emperor, then he must be a despot. He soon changed the name. You can see the little movie here. It dwells on a few of the ins and outs of novelty, and poor Ludwig's star crossed love life.

Now, though retired I wish to be an informed person. Who wants to live in the past, walk around deaf, dumb and blind? The idea I take with me into retirement is to forge onward, range over the earth in such a way that history (tradition) and novelty are set up in balance. I'm not sure that I want to follow hash tags around, but some topics can be studied without sitting on the actual ground or the hash tag. However, I'd like to be able to believe while I am ranging. Do you blame me? The entire English tradition in literature demands a great deal of suspension of disbelief, quite a bit too much in my opinion. For a grown man or woman with some knowledge of life to be sitting in rapt study of Romeo and Juliet makes you think. I have always hated the idea of suspending disbelief to enjoy Paradise Lost, for instance, but maybe it makes sense to get over it and forge on since nobody else seems to mind.

Now, the little movie Eroica is almost over, time for my daily afternoon walk. According to the movie, Beethoven insisted on walking to the rehearsal in which Eroica was first played. Immanuel Kant used to walk with his dog every day, you could set your watch by it. In Hemingway walking is hunting, in which we forge onward toward the prey in the company of the driving rhythm of native drums, as soldiers marching into battle. Kerouac walked between the rides he thumbed. Kerouac walked everywhere, he never learned to drive. Tomorrow there may be a little sunshine and warmth, the first day that might be termed, if you happen to be in a good mood, a spring day after a hopelessly long winter, but then following, so the weather forecasters predict, two or three days of rain, slush, snow, ice. Soon I guess I'll find out what I shall end up doing with myself, what I am made of. How will I react to nothing to do? When I was a kid, a rainy day was an indoor day, a day for loitering over a book. I was always disappointed with a rainy day, since indoors I never seemed to accomplish much. Beethoven was an all weather walker: he walked whenever in the duties of his days it occurred to him whether snow, cold, dim or bright.

Beethoven never retired. His music would lift him out of the sordidness of the world, and his idealism instructed him in the dream that he'd lift future generations with him. But that is just Beethoven. In fact, in the last few years toward the end he challenged himself and his art with an energy that is inexplicable. It couldn't be his nephew, the manufactured family, inspired him. He was just an ordinary boy who wanted to become a soldier. There was some talk of a romance with the wife of a friend. In the movie Copying Beethoven fun is had speculating on this topic. The movie is worse than just bad, as most movies are, to tell the truth. Uncritical, drunken staggering around amidst stacks of movies is nauseating to think about. But in the general ignorance and energy still something may be hit upon. The question is: where could have the last string quartets come from? I have listened to them in different versions many times in my life and I am always astonished. Rarely are they played very well, the intellectual torpor of modernism weakens everything, but even when played badly I cannot stop listening. (Don't forget how bad anything that comes near a digital file SOUNDS!) Genius does not explain everything. You eat, drink, crap, love, hate, hope genius or not. The energy comes from the same place. Most people have very simple reasons for doing things. The list of good reasons is finite, and none of them include age, despair, deafness, illness, extreme isolation. You love your wife and family; you hope to do your duty by them; you get up in the morning, say a prayer that you won't do anything stupid this day but seek meaning, a future for America and your children. And then you go your merry way. But with none of THAT to start with, how can genius explain anything?

It is serviceable for retirees, who are all, of course, hopelessly short of time, to figure out how to accomplish at least two duties at once. Well, during my walks I accomplish at least three, and then some. This is the short list, in no specific order of importance. I walk the dog. Sunshine is fourteen. I notice when I miss a day it is harder for her to rise out of her day long afternoon nap. Then on the way to the mailbox at the end of our road I might run into somebody and so I keep track of the latest. Otherwise I am inclined to contemplation. The long list has to do with exercise, fresh air, the weather and so on. On this day, especially, the first full day of my retirement, I had a little think.

My new video card that I just installed works great. I've never had such a video to work with even on the Macbook. This grand desktop computer I have built pleases me. Maybe I'll buy a 27 inch monitor. I could run that straight away. But enough on computer parts for now. I'm busy listening to Beethoven even as I walk and soon I'll be back again watching the videos. So I have found out that Beethoven read Shakespeare, maybe a good deal of Shakespeare. One documentary seemed to suggest that he thought of himself as Caliban, Shakespeare's mis-shapen monster in "The Tempest", one of my personal favorites of the plays. Might this affinity to Caliban have had to do with his isolation by deafness and his restless life, in which he moved from house to house. He surged onward always, was the apt phrase in the documentary. There was a transfiguration at the end when briefness and emotional content became more and more important, though bought back from the normal formal arrangements. I can just imagine him shouting and irately tossing an overly long fragment of manuscript against the wall. And those blockages exactly in the middle of things; what else could fire a man up more, get him standing on his toes, bring up the stubborn dander at the back of his neck? But most important of all, as he is nearing the end of his life, the emotional content of the music comes directly, I believe, from his lacerated heart in the here-and-now. There is no nostalgia, no looking back, no softening separation in time. He is writing about what is happening to him NOW. Thinking has no container. And especially the thinking in the now, which roars. But in art, the holes to press the thinking in seem so damned small, and sometimes the ideas do a violence against the compression.

Then the last string quartets were composed in the silence of almost total deafness. Can it be that Beethoven forgot what it meant to be connected and as if in a sort of death his psyche wandered around in space looking for a self to live in without torment. It seems almost as if he gave himself over to death in order to feel out the return. The content of these works seems to have been fetched, in my opinion, directly from the present; and the idea that someone may have taken an interest in him as more than just a friend, though farfetched, a love affair if you will, may make some kind of vague, impossible sense. And then I think of all the energy in the Ninth and those amazing quartets and I wonder. The Ninth symphony and the last string quartets seem almost impossible to me for a care worn and disheartened and ill and deaf soul to have carried out. Something must have happened. I say genius cannot explain itself; we must explain it.

A miracle from God? That is even more far fetched. I don't think there has ever been an artist who worked at such a supreme level for so long and then continued to the bitter end wondering why he had accomplished so little.

So fellow retirees, baby boomers, colleagues, on this my first full day of retirement, we Americans have amazingly a Black president and a feeble movement toward health care that will be fair to both rich and poor. The Republicans who led us into a decade of useless wars which accomplished nothing are gayly self destructing. An endless debate, new problems new madness. Movement cares not whether toward good or evil. Human beings give to it intention, not nature. Never give up! Though no genius, perhaps I have something simple left to give. Though none of us are Ludwig Beethoven, should not we all look for a simple gift to give, too?

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