Friday, July 09, 2010

a somewhat forlorn observation about job-hunting these days

For all the discussions of various sorts about how government is imcompetent I am afraid that I must grant that when it comes to notifying you of actual decisions on hiring they are more professional than the vast majority of private sector companies and organizations I've been contacting in the midst of the job search. The downside of nine years in non-profit still continues to be that for profits don't have any interest in me when I apply for stuff and non-profits take a huge amount of time to get back to me.

I suppose it's a credit that the government tells you you're not hired and explains the reason why: things like lack of funding meant X job was scaled back or that you are missing a key requirement of the job. Sure, it's pro forma and all that but the way my job hunt has gone over the last ten months even pro forma can feel more human and humane than the deafening silence or, more annoying yet, the pro forma spam saying your resume and cover letter were received simply because you clicked on a link to start the process of sending a resume and cover letter but have not finished sending the documents.

Appropos of my running plans regarding Pixar, I revisited Toy Story 2 and plan to revisit 1 and 3. There are some interesting dramatic ironies afoot throughout the series about identity and worth. You could play all day with the irony that Buzz in his delusion does not realize he is a toy and he resists reality. Then Woody, happy in his life as a child's plaything, is confronted by the reality that he is a rare collector's item toy and is tempted to give up all the things and people he loves for a chance at a form of eternal life. Where Buzz must be confronted by the harsh reality that he is a toy and not a real space ranger in the first movement Woody, in a great irony, is tempted to give up the true life of a toy to cash in on the legendary status he has as a toy who is also a collectable item. Buzz is broken by the realization of his true self and Woody realizes he has broken the hearts of those he cares about by accepting the temptation to capitalize on his offered identity. By the time the third film comes about we see that Woody has not only accepted what kind of toy and whose toy he is he remains steadfast in that despite obstacles. But I still have more thoughts to collect before the actual pieces are forthcoming. Plus I have been holed up in my house job hunting and trying to put together documents some time in the outside world with Christian friends is necessary!

Thursday, July 08, 2010

Some off the cuff considerations of Anton Diabelli with respect to Beethoven's Diabelli variations

It seems popular to discuss how Beethoven found Diabelli's theme, from which he composed his thirty-three variations, a botched piece of cobbling. The theme itself is actually quite catchy and Beethoven was nothing if not irascible and prone to resentment. While I suppose those who insist on the more romantic idea of Beethoven writing furious rejoinders to Diabelli's theme to the tune of 33 rejoinders is the best way to understand it, as a composer, I feel it is necessary to point out that you don't write THIRTY-THREE VARIATIONS on a theme that you really hate. Bach certainly wasn't against writing so many variations in his Goldberg set. It may be useful to puncture the balloon of Beethoven composing a set of variations in an angry response to the work of some lesser artist. The story of Diabelli's theme earning Beethoven's ire can only be seen as some romantic fantasy on the level of Mozart as depicted in the story of Amadeus, transforming a historical figure into a cipher through which to complain or denigrate perspectives in the arts you don't like or as an allegorical figure depicting a point you wish to make.

Now, to be fair to this concept, I suppose I should mention that I have listened to Diabelli's sonatas for solo guitar, F major, A major, and C major respectively (not necessarily numbered in that order). Certainly compared to Beethoven's piano works the guitar sonatas will seem slight and obnoxious to many. Even compared to Haydn, who is often considered a polite courtly composer without a lot of profound things to say (a pretty grisly misrepresentation of the master whose work and life inspired both Mozart and Beethoven), Diabelli does seem to lack a bit. The reason I can grant this dismissal is because the big three Classic era composers were able to accomplish something Diabelli is distinctly not able to do, to compose expositions that bear repetition before proceeding to the development. With all due respect to the formal conventions of the time Diabelli's expositions are okay but they don't warrant the repetitions that historically informed performances would go with. Sad to say that but Diabelli's expositions are not at the level of the Fifths quartet or Op. 111 or the Jupiter Symphony.

Of course ... the whole other point is that it's grossly unfair to find a guitarist-composer's work wanting in comparison to such titanic works in the Western musical canon. Even so ... Diabelli's expositions are not as compelling as Sor's expositions within the same period (they were born and died within the same period).

Beethoven's music is full of pretty jovial material if you've heard it, which is another reason I dismiss the notion that Schindler's tale has any weight to it, the whole Beethoven writing in furious parody. Parody is certainly present but here we should make a point of discussing how parody is a compositional technique (i.e. in the "parody" mass in which a secular tune is used for a sacred text-setting) rather than the more literary meaning many would assume. Parody can be both jocular and completely serious and perhaps the best example of this, aside from Beethoven's own set of variations on Diabelli's theme, would be Charles Ives' use of parody and quotation in his violin sonatas. But to get into that is more than I feel like doing at 2 in the morning in the middle of summer!

Wednesday, July 07, 2010

Music before literature

I know ... I know I said I'd tackle a Toy Story series soon but if you've read this blog you know that my hobbies entail composing music and reading about biblical literature and theology before I get around to cinema these days. I just slogged through completing the first movement of a guitar quartet in D minor that uses material I have had around since ... a long time, I'll leave it at that.

The single movement I finished is 9 1/2 minutes long, pretty epic length even for a guitar quartet. It's more of a string quartet/symphonic texture than a guitar quartet in my perception of it. After twenty years of playing guitar and fifteen years of composing this year just seemed like the time to finally tackle a guitar quartet. Now that I've finished the first movement I'm no longer sure I want to even bother finishing the projected movements 2 and 3. The third movement, particularly, poses such collosal challenges to pull off as I have conceived it I might have to wait three or four years before daring to tackle it .... maybe six years. My contrapuntal skill to pull off an 11/4 fugue with a breakneck subject and managing invertible counterpoint for four voices is non-existent. Three voices I think I could just now barely pull off but four voices? No.

But do not fear, dear reader, I have scheduled a screening of Toy Story 2 for a friend of mine who, unbelievably, has not seen the second film yet. He wants to see the third one but he wants to see the second one first and this is where my acquiring the Toy Box box set a decade ago proved prudent! So despite many delays (like job hunting and looking into state aid and copyright issues pertinent to getting a composition published) I DO intend, God willing, to write a bang-up series on Toy Story as a trilogy and write about Toy Story 3. It will have mega-spoilers but I trust by now that you've seen it already. Sorry for the delays but, trust me, the real world concerns I have had to deal with in the last month are all serious enough that they warrant being tardy about blogging. The death of relatives from cancer, being unemployed, and not being able to collect unemployment benefits because I worked for a non-profit all make life interesting in all the wrong ways!

Tuesday, July 06, 2010

Seriously, go read this entire blog.

Another one of those links-only blogs from me. Thanks to Mockingbird for drawing attention to this one.

humor, gender, and our capacity for surprise.

Ladd's backflips are impressive in both height and complexity. He argues that men tend to go for a more quick, punchy humor, and women are more interested in what he calls "anecdotal" humor. Never mind that the punchiest, most quick-witted sitcom on television is the brainchild of a bona fide Vagina-American, Tina Fey. "30 Rock" is all about absurdity, maximizing the jokes per minute, broad caricatures, and dick jokes—the very things that Ladd claims are "male" humor and not "female" humor. For all his good intentions, Ladd is being kind of sexist here. He's so eager to paint women as the more mature, evolved sex that he can't look past Fey's gender to see that she's the kind of person you who thinks "your mom" jokes are funny. (As do I, another woman who refuses to go kicking and screaming into the gentle comedy night.)

Ladd gets the closest to the truth of why women are characterized as "not funny" when he bemoans how funny women are considered skanks or bitches. I'd say the whole problem is actually quite simple. Our culture does believe there is a female and a male sense of humor that differ. We tend to say that men have a sense of humor when they say funny things, and that women have a sense of humor when they know when best to laugh when men say funny things. This sense is so ingrained that I had a few occasions when I was younger where I'd say something funny, and get blank stares, only to find a man stealing my joke a half hour later and getting giant belly laughs for it.

Years ago, when I was in college, a friend of mine was interested in a woman who didn't like anime so much, and had certain gender assumptions about the origin of ideas. This is to say she got the idea that Oh My Goddess, which she liked, was sweet and more appealing to a woman's sensibilities while Ranma 1/2 was too raunchy. She discovered to some dismay that Ranma 1/2 was written and drawn by a woman, Rumiko Takahashi. It would be impossible to make any case that there is such a thing as "female" and "male" humor that can be rationally described as such. I am friends with women who enjoy South Park at least as much if not more than most men I have known and I have never doubted their femininity. Conversely, I have known men who are no less masculine for liking mawkish sentimentality. You can guess (correctly) that I share more aesthetic values in common with the aforementioned women than the men on a few things.

This little blurb of an article caught my attention because before I completely gave up on Saturday Night Live as not having the slightest chance of being funny a decade ago the one person on the cast who could persuade me to watch the show for even a few minutes was Tina Fey for the simple reason that she was the only person on the show back then that was reliably funny. Yes, some occasional moments of greatness emerged from Will Ferrell but there was, to speak broadly, no element of genuine surprise as to what he would do that would manage to be funny. He's a Jackie Chan type of funny, you know what he's about to do that's going to be funny but when it works it's still funny. Fey's humor provided the possibility for a surprise, however small.

Comedy in the end is nothing if not about our capacity to be pleasantly surprised and this is why great comedians continue to fill us with joy and with a capacity for surprise, even if that surprise may be profoundly unpleasant. We are happier to receive bad news if it is the truth than we are to receive good news that is a lie. We can joke about the bad news more easily than we can joke about the inaccurate good news. Once we lose our capacity to be surprised or shocked we lose an important part of what humanity is. If we inur ourselves to the capacity for shock, dismay, or relief we dehumanize ourselves. A defensive resentment or misanthropy robs us of the humanity we adopt in order to defend our humanity. In fact we end up becoming the sort of thing we despise if we do this. I promise this will go somewhere in my pending review of Toy Story 3 but I have to consider this at some greater length.

apologies are hard, non-apologies are harder

[This entry was started all the way back on July 6 but I didn't finish it until much more recently]

Non-apologies are a continuing art form with people. This blog entry struck me because I have seen some disconcertingly memorable non-apologies, thankfully virtually none of them directed toward me. The thing about non-apologies is that they can come in just a few forms. One is simply defiant justification, which doesn't fit into the non-apology form, does it? Another is the self-rationalizing "I'm sorry but" in which a person can insert a defense of their actions to establish that they are sorry they offended you but they're right so their actions or words were inevitably justified. But there is another, more invidious non-apology that expresses regret that what happened got somebody upset without claiming any moral culpability and without granting any legitimacy to the grievances of the aggrieved. This looks and sounds roughly like, "I'm sorry that you feel that way." Or, "I'm sorry you're offended by what I said/did/think." Not merely amongst Christian circles the best of the worst non-apologies is "We've been over this already and you just need to forgive me and move on [because I'm right and I'm never going to concede even the possibility of being wrong]."

Sadly the people who I have seen display these last sorts of non-apologies at the worst end of the spectrum are also, paradoxically but unsurprisingly, the most indignant and resentful toward other people. An insincere apology is worse than defiance. It is better to know that "we" are far from okay than to have an apology that is pro forma while subsequent actions and deeds reveal no change of heart. I was once advised in a situation to offer an apology with the addendum, "You don't have to actually mean it, you just have to say it so that the other people accept it." Call me stubborn but I can't condone that sort of apology that functions as a lie. If I disagree with someone I'll continue to disagree, I just might change my approach to disagreement.

The people who have excelled at the non-apology have often been through a phase where if someone else is offended that is a revelation of their own moral weakness while their own capacity for outrage indicates their good character. Sadly these people are people I have witnessed within the church. Really, where else would they be most prominent? Oh, yes, I suppose in politics and every other walk of life, too.

To speak an apology is to admit you have done a real and in some cases irreversible wrong. Many people find it difficult enough to admit to physical weaknesses but it is an even great feat of swallowing pride to admit to moral weakness, which is invariably what an apology, at some level demands. Just as acknowledging a physical weakness is to acknowledge a physical defect or limitation so is an apology acknowledging the consequences and existence of a defect in character. It can be very tough to do this. It isn't ALWAYS very tough but it's always very tough when it is most important to do! Apologies for your mistakes not only humiliate you but reveal that you are aware of the reasons why you have humiliated yourself or someone else. The non-apology at its best evades the issue of wrong-doing and at its worst becomes a pretext for pinning full blame on whomever you or I have offended! "I'm sorry you feel that way." can end up being nothing more than a tacit accusation of being overly sensitive in the face of having done or said something terrible.

I had a roommate in college some sixteen years ago. He said the thing that bugged him most about Christians (and he was one at the time) was that they always seemed to see forgiveness as obligatory toward them without having to ask for it while demanding it of others when they got offended. He didn't understand how that worked or how Christians could be so hypocritical about it. He was kept up very late at night frustrated by these things and on a few occasions kept me from falling asleep because he needed to talk about this. I humored him because, honestly, at that point I had no idea I had two different kinds of sleeping disorders and I figured I wasn't going to fall asleep for hours anyway so if I humored my frustrated roommate who was frustrated by the hypocrisy of Christians, well, perhaps Christ could be glorified by my providing an admittedly not-entirely-willing positive example!

My former roommate eventually left the faith, returned, and for all I know left the faith again. It is one of the sad paradoxes of the Christian life that we should not be too dependent on the encouragement of other Christians. That, perhaps, is the thing that in every generation Christ's people will never really apologize for. Christ's hanging on the cross for people who were not yet His, however, has always been good enough an apology for me even when so many Christians, including myself, have never thought once about apologizing for anything. Father, forgive them, for the don't know what they are doing applies to me just as it applies to those whom I wish it didn't apply to as well as to those to whom I wish it did and to whom it does.