I Am Running Out Of The “Tension Tonic” I Bought In North Carolina Last Summer

I just re-read my World War Z essay and it made me want to write a whole book about zombies.

The fantasy of our time! “I sure would like to write a book about zombies”–everyone in America

Also do you remember my essay about the secondary poster for the movie “Oblivion?” I could easily write a book about that poster. Do you think that book would sell? “Hot off the presses: some person’s extensive book-length thoughts on a poster for a movie you have already forgotten about”

This is the last weekend before classes start, and things are slammed and stressful. It’s like there were 6 weeks of vacation and then suddenly yesterday all these epic problems manifested. “Wait a second, we forgot to re-design the syllabus!” e.g. “Wait a second, we can’t assign them this because we canceled that other thing! Now we’re 20 points short!” “Wait a second, we forgot to figure out who’d teach that one class!” Things of this nature. Finally at 4:00 yesterday I literally just said “you’re going to have to deal with the rest of this and whatever doesn’t get done just doesn’t get done” to my course admin and I left. It is very unclear which things are my job and which things are her job so sometimes I say “I’ll do this” and other times I say “you do this goodbye”

I ran to the library to get an ILL book that finally came in that I want to assign parts of to my seminar this semester. I was walking back to the music building with it, slipping on the ice, trying to read about The Magic Flute, talking to myself. “Is this thing about the Iraq War being a genocide too intense?” etc. Finally I said very loud and in a tone of firm resolve “YES. I will assign the prologue and half of chapter four” only to turn and see that some random undergrad had been walking one step behind me this entire time. Lately I have been caught talking to myself a lot–the other day I went on one of my ill-advised thrice-yearly trips to Whole Foods and it was 6 degrees out and as I was walking back out through the ice and slush cramming shitty tofu in my mouth I go “THIS IS BULLSHIT” and did not realize that people were all around me. I like to think I just said what we were all thinking though.

Is this an aging thing or am I just going crazy, OR, is this normal? Talking out loud to yourself is actually very interesting/weird if you think about it. It is very weird! I don’t know what else to say about it. Verbalizing your own thoughts just for the benefit of your own ears. What is that.

I do think we have many selves and we spend a lot of our time sort of navigating and negotiating amongst them, so maybe that is what talking to yourself is. “I want a brownie!” “YOU SHUT UP”

Because of this seminar I’m planning, my house is littered with books with Beethoven on the covers. On the steps up to the second floor there are two books with Beethoven’s glowering face on the cover; in the living room on the table there is a book with a picture of a bust of Beethoven’s glowering face on the cover. One of the books opens with an introduction where the author describes looking at a book with Beethoven on the cover and wondering why so many books have Beethoven on the cover. Another book has a chapter called “Why the Frown?” that looks at iconography of Beethoven over the years and why we love to think of him glowering when in fact his conversation books are filled with delightful things about cheese, beer, and prostitutes. He was an earthy man but we want him to be a mad sylph, with one foot in heaven and the other foot planted firmly in German Idealism.

Also realized I planned this entire seminar and there is not a single female composer on my syllabus. So I blew it. When high-falutin’ rhetoric runs up against canon, what do you think wins, unless you are a really rigorously politically engaged scholar, which I sometimes am but lets be honest, I’m not really. “Music history classes never focus on Clara Schumann and it’s bullshit! Here’s my music history syllabus that does not have Clara Schumann on it.” I am a fucking hack. Okay I’m gonna go put her on there, Jesus Christ

Or Fanny Mendelssohn. There is a famous letter Fanny’s dad wrote to her where he’s like “your brother shall be a great composer but for you music can only ever be a nice thing you do to prove your marriageability” and Fanny’s like “yes father.” Then her brother published a bunch of her music under his own name. “This earthly life is an unending delight”–Fanny Mendelssohn on her deathbed (joke)

There’s this book called THE ROMANTIC AGONY that is sort of one of these canonical old-school grand narratives of an era. I read it for my comps in grad school, didn’t understand a single word of it, and then it just became one of the classic constant books on my shelf that I never think about. Just now I randomly picked it up and flipped through it and realized that in the intervening 8 years or so between my comps and this moment, I have somehow learned enough things to actually understand this book and even read a lot of the EXTENSIVE untranslated French quotations it’s peppered with throughout. This was a wonderful moment. I told my old man and he smiled with pleasure and said the same thing had happened to him recently. It’s cool to have a touchstone moment where you realize “hey, I actually learned something and am no longer as dumb as I once was.” Stoked to re-read this book and actually get all his references to de Sade and Janin or whatever. YES. He wrote this shit in 1933. There was this wonderful period for humanistic scholarship, your Barzuns, your Trillings, your Mario Praz. Guys who knew everything and spoke 5 languages and could just dash off an unbelievably erudite, beautifully written study of, like, “Western Culture” or “The Romantic Era” or, like, “MUSIC,” without footnoting much, without bothering to translate their long quotations from Dante. And you read them and they aren’t even THAT sexist. I just flipped to a page randomly and found that Praz is arguing that Matthew Lewis stole a bunch of his ideas from Ann Radcliffe. Dang! JB has a whole book he wrote in the freaking 50s about how “race” is just a stupid made-up construct we invented to keep ourselves separate from one another. Whoa! “I lived through two world wars and I don’t give a DAMN about this nonsense”

My old man was pointing out that these guys, even though, yes, they led very traditional lives in terms of having wives who took care of them like little babies, in a weird deep way, they actually came of age in a more progressive era than the Boomers. Imagine you’re a hot young Columbia prof, raring to go, and you’re, like, literally in the middle of the fucking suffrage movement. You’re teaching the history of culture at a time when women are getting the vote. What a crazy age! Then the Boomers come along and everything gets very masculinist and macho but disguised under obnoxious hippie rhetoric about free love. It seems so similar to the difference between the Enlightenment and the early Romantic era. In the 18th century you’ve got people like Wollestonecraft serving up heaping amounts of science to all her contemporaries, and, while being a woman in the 18th century sucked just as much as being a woman pretty much any time sucks, people–smart people–took her seriously and responded to her ideas, etc. Godwin et al were advocating for really radical changes to gender relations, plus you have all that older-school philosophy where they’re like “EVERY MOTHER IS A LORD” and stuff. Then the next generation–your Percey Shelleys, your Byrons–it’s like women just get erased, in a very Boomer-y way. Sure, it’s all “free love” this and “marriage is a trap” that, but who benefits from those ideas? It’s sure not all the ruined illegitimately pregnant ladies littering Byron’s wake, some of whom COMMITTED SUICIDE. It’s like rhetoric that the previous generation was exploring as a means of actually radically changing society just gets turned into reasons dudes should be able to fuck whoever they want, like, welcome back to business as usual. I’m morbidly generalizing here, but that’s what you do on the internet.


I need to eat something before we go HOUSE HUNTING

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2 Responses to I Am Running Out Of The “Tension Tonic” I Bought In North Carolina Last Summer

  1. ericka says:

    But did you ever read WWZ?

    Also I was originally educated to be an art historian and I would read the shit out of your hypothetical Oblivion poster book! That was some tight ekphrasis!

  2. andy says:

    Your morbid generalization, in the 70s I did sort of suspect that but couldn’t even verbalize it. Great blog, a lot of stuff in it hits me like that, ie true and I hadn’t put it together. Nobody around here but me cares about Fanny Mendelssohn. Best wishes.

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