VVP: Art 434 & Engl. 410

Website for Vision Voice and Practice: An Interdisciplinary Course in Art and Creative Writing

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Metaphor as Mistake

We read the terr
ific essay "Metaphor as Mistake," by Walker Percy, earlier in the semester, and I came across this last week:
I like hearing things incorrectly. I think that’s how I get a lot of ideas is by mishearing something.
That's Tom Waits. More here and here.

Sonic Youth also make music based on mishearings, on accidents they (paradox!) actively cultivate, though the records fix in sound the resulting experiments, much as an improvised jazz composition gets fixed on vinyl. Greil Marcus, writing about Sonic Youth bootlegs, points up the difference between hearing Sonic Youth's songs, repeatable through speakers, and the live, unrepeatable experience:
The bootleg tapes can't capture the complexity, or define the intentions or accidents, of a moment in which Sonic Youth makes a room fly apart, but they can capture the band's negating influence, its will to function as a sort of sonic corrosive...
This last clause suggests the value of the made thing, imperfect though it may be in capturing the totality of the entity that made it. Just as no poem can capture everything about the poet--or the poet's process--we remain grateful for the poem we get. SY is, of course, influenced by the aleatory experiments of John Cage and others in the avant garde, whose work we have almost only via technology that "fixes" it. This is the problem, of course: assuming that the thing we get is the thing itself, completely. But if you don't make that mistake, you can enjoy the privilege of technology, which, gives us such artifacts as Kind of Blue, "The Steeple-Jack," and access to performances like this, at your fingertips.

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