The Mystery of the Two Worlds
by Robert Xavier Rodríguez
Polykarp Kusch Lecture Series: Concerns of the Lively Mind 1995
It is an honor to be invited to speak to you today. I want you to know how hot it is up here in the bright light of my distinguished predecessors on this series. Harpo Marx used to give a little talk from time to time. He would always begin, “Unaccustomed as I am to speaking...” Like Harpo, I want to remind you that what I do best also has nothing to do with words, so after my talk I’m going to retreat quickly to more familiar ground with a short musical postlude.
Let’s begin with a parlor game called “Categories.” Whoever is “It” has to empty his or her pockets or purse in front of a group and then divide the contents into two piles. The object of the game is to come up with creative rationales for what makes everything in Pile A belong together as opposed to Pile B, and vice versa.
We often set things up in twos, one the opposite of the other. We call them dualities: physical dualities, such as light vs. dark or high vs. low; and conceptual dualities, such as giving vs. receiving or tension vs. release, and so on. With many dualities, we don’t necessarily favor one side over another; one is meaningless without its opposite. Here are two totally contradictory proverbs. Proverb number one: “Look before you leap.” Proverb number two: “He who hesitates is lost.” It’s pointless to argue these principles. The truth or fallacy of each lies not in its absolute value, but in its specific application. We need them both; they’re two halves of a whole.
But human nature isn’t always so balanced. We tend to take sides and to argue, not just about the grey areas in between, but about which half we prefer: whether discretion is better than valor, whether consistency is better than variety, and so on. The more a duality deals with subjective patterns of human behavior, the more violent and permanently defining our attitudes toward that duality seem to be -- as with Swift’s Lilliputians, who always broke their eggs on the small end and hated the Blefescutians, who always broke their eggs on the large end; or this lyric from Gilbert (without Sullivan):
I often think it’s comical
It is in this dialectical framework that I want to consider a pair of concepts that everyone seems to recognize, but few seem to feel the same way about. I’m talking about the difference between reality and imagination. I, as a human being, am obliged to deal with the world of reality (the world where I eat, brush my teeth and pay my bills). As a professional composer, I also rush off to the world of imagination every chance I get. So do all of us, artists and laymen alike. We constantly move back and forth across the threshold between body and spirit, whether we’re aware of it or not. One moment we work, the next we daydream, and so on. Of all the dualities I know, this one I find the most endlessly fascinating. Therefore, I propose to explore what I, as an opera composer, am rather theatrically calling The Mystery of the Two Worlds.
First, some definitions: Let’s dump all of our pockets of human experience out on the table and put into Pile A whatever is subject to the laws of nature. We’ll call that pile “real.” In it we’ll put everything we can quantify; everything we can measure or locate, define, predict, duplicate, verify, or correct; everything we have to do to exist; everything physical, factual, objective, logical, practical, reasonable and scientific; everything we call solid and adult; everything we can count on. Perhaps the most important thing about reality is that it happens in the present and only in the present. We know, for instance, that this morning’s sunrise here in Dallas, beginning at 7:11:05, was real; but since the sun isn’t rising now, the sunrise isn’t real anymore. We can count with reasonable accuracy on the “fact” that the sun will start to rise tomorrow at 7:10:55; but tomorrow’s sunrise isn’t real either, at least not yet.
What about Pile B? We could call it “everything else”: whatever is not subject to the laws of nature; everything we can’t quantify, locate, define, predict, duplicate, verify or correct; everything we don’t absolutely have to do to exist; everything spiritual, fanciful, subjective, intuitive, irrational, impractical, sensuous and emotional; everything fragile and childlike; everything we can’t always count on: the world of imagination, interpretation, faith, mystery, wonder, dreams, magic, art, beauty or what we try to describe with a hundred other equally inadequate words. (Any words, of course, are going to be inadequate to talk about Pile B. Since words are designed to give us precise information, they belong at least halfway over in Pile A).
Words, in fact, are where our grey areas begin. For instance, our word for “sun” really isn’t the sun; we know it really isn’t the sun; but it’s useful for us to pretend temporarily, or to “play,” that it is. Johan Huizinga seizes upon this ambiguity in his Homo Ludens. He says that by turning “things” into words, language allows us to transform reality “into the domain of the spirit.” We continually “spark,” as he calls it, back and forth between matter (the real sun) and idea (the word “sun”). In so doing we create “a second, poetic world” alongside the world of reality.
This parallel universe Huizinga calls “play.” As play he includes some unlikely bedfellows. In addition to language itself, there’s every kind of sport, game, exhibition and aesthetic experience, plus religious observances, jokes, riddles and some aspects of law, philosophy and, even in earlier times, war. Huizinga emphasizes the direct application of play (or Pile B) to creating tools, images or rituals that promote survival (Pile A) -- as in the extraordinary animal paintings discovered last month in southeast France. His conclusion is that “civilization arises and unfolds in and as play.”
Since in the real world, as Alice in Wonderland puts it, “It’s always now,” writers at play have long enjoyed inventing trips to escape from the now - not just backward (as in “Once upon a time”) or forward (as in Jules Verne’s prophetic fantasies), but back and forth (or, as they say more logically in German, “forth and back”): as in Norton Juster’s Phantom Toll Booth, Herman Hesse’s magic theater (in Steppenwolf) or C.S. Lewis’ The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. In Lewis’ wardrobe, not only does real time stop when the children open the door and start again when they come out; there’s the crucial added element of uncertainty: sometimes they open the wardrobe and it leads to a magical land; but sometimes they open it, and it’s just a wardrobe -- and they never know which it’s going to be.
What makes the magical land magical in the first place is the fact that there are not precise directions to get there; if there were, it wouldn’t be worth going. Anyone who has ever tried to solve a problem knows what it’s like to keep following all the logical steps up to that wardrobe, to keep opening the door and to keep seeing those same old clothes. Then, for reasons we’ll never understand, we suddenly experience the satisfying thrill of that moment when -- Aha! -- we’re there. Nadia Boulanger often spoke of Saint Teresa of Avila who “had what she called ‘days of dry prayer,’ when she prayed and prayed...but there was nothing. And then a day would come when she would hear. In art we call this inspiration.” I don’t think of heaven as just one long celestial “Ah” accompanied by harps; I think it’s an eternity of just one simple “AHA!”
Why, we might ask, do we seek this second world? Not only do we use the tools of the imagination in our daily work; more importantly, I believe, we have a fundamental need. We need to experience something outside of our regular existence: something which, like our wardrobe door, will carry us, safely or not, away from the present, which is always unrelentingly with us. Jung’s ideal of the union of the “I” and the “non-I” could, in this sense, be expanded to include the “now” and the “beyond now.”
One of the most beautiful metaphors of ancient Aztec poetry is the search for the eternal (“beyond now”) through two of the most perishable things in the (“now”-centered) material world: xochitl, flowers, which fade as quickly as they bloom, and cuicatl, songs, which die in the air as they are sung. Because flowers and songs are beautiful and fleeting, we experience them more intensely. Paradoxically, as we savor them and intensify the “now,” we form a continuum between all those who experienced them in the past and all those who will experience them in the future. We thus touch something that will never die.
I have mentioned that strange bedfellows inhabit the World of the Spirit. Art and religion, in particular, are often linked in our experience. Both offer us glimpses of the eternal (often simultaneously, in the sublime religious music and visual art, which are among the greatest treasures of our civilization). Both offer us models, habits and principles for dealing with the present. Beyond art and religion, there are, of course, many other ways to “transfigure the commonplace,” to use Arthur Danto’s phrase, from French cooking to French kissing. As a musician, however, I will tend to favor examples from the arts in general and from music in particular. With these examples I want to examine briefly some of the ways that representatives of the world of the imagination have dealt with the reality/imagination duality.
Artists, after all, hold citizenship in both worlds. Aaron Copland said, “I write music to show how it feels to be alive today.” In Copland’s statement, we can see a complete model of how the artist functions in society. I think of the process in three steps.
Step One: A group of people in a given time and place in the real world have a set of shared experiences (The Great Depression, for instance).
Step Two: One of those people absorbs those experiences and out of them creates a new construction of the imagination (a song -– ”Brother, Can You Spare A Dime?” for instance).
Step Three: Others of the group encounter the new construction (the art) and in it recognize elements of their own experience (People listen to “Brother, Can You Spare A Dime?” and say, “Yep, that’s it!”).
Diego Rivera said that to be universal, one must first be specific. In his symphonies, Beethoven showed his audiences with dead-on accuracy just what it was like to be alive in 19th-Century Vienna. Today, we appreciate those symphonies, in large part, I believe, because, like the Aztec flowers and songs, the symphonies have crystallized that original moment so vividly that the moment continues to resonate for us in the music more than a century later.
There’s also the possibility of:
Step Four: Beyond seeing the way things have been, the audience recognizes actual or desired changes in the real world as embodied in art (such as Beaumarchais’ 1784 play, Le Mariage de Figaro, about a valet who defies his master).
Events could then head toward:
Step Five: Having recognized those changes in art, members of the group take action to make those changes actually happen in the real world, such as the 1789 French Revolution, which Napoleon said actually began with Beaumarchais’ play. Mozart’s opera, Le Nozze di Figaro, on the same story, gives us an even richer sense of the political and social tension. There’s a minuet that Figaro sings as he expresses his anger at the Count. Since after the revolution there was a scarcity of nobles, composers stopped writing minuets for the nobility to dance. Mozart’s Figaro minuet was thus, literally, “The minuet to end all minuets.”
This collision of the worlds of Spirit and Reality recalls Plato’s warning in The Republic:
“The overseers must be...watchful against innovations in music...counter to the
Think of it: a change in musical style can bring down a whole government! Now there’s a responsibility. If I could figure out a way to write music that would shake up Congress right now, believe me, I’d do it.
Plato is talking just about one particular style of which he doesn’t approve; but I believe his words carry more than a grain of truth, not just about music, but about the arts and the world of the imagination in general. Keeping Plato’s words in mind, let’s look at some artists and the societies whose shared experiences they represented. Our discussion will be limited to the Western world. The Tao, the fusion of Yin and Yang, the union of doing and not doing, of mastering nature by becoming nature: these are beautiful ideas about duality that would be fascinating to trace through social and political history. But that’s not a story for me to tell.
In our Western world, fortunately for dramatists, ideals of human nature don’t run toward serene equilibrium. Conflict is what keeps a plot moving. Throughout history, it seems that the tension that has made the show consistently interesting has been the shifting balance of power between these two worlds. Our short tour will thus examine not just the relationship between art and reality; more importantly, we will consider the whole concept of faith and the imagination (including art) in relation to the world of work, facts and reality. If, as Huizinga says, the play principle is central to civilization, then our understanding of it – not just a few of the players, but society’s changing attitudes to play itself – may thus give us perhaps the clearest outline of the action that has continually been unfolding on our world stage.
Since we’re dealing with words, which mean different things to different people, it’s important to remember that overlapping and ambiguities in our discussion are going to arise. Where, for instance, does “The Lively Mind” fit in our body-vs.-spirit duality? Some writers link the mind with the real world in its capacity for reason and logical thinking; others link it with the spirit, since thoughts are separate from objects and actions. We’ll see others, myself included, who treat the mind as a kind of rainbow bridge (or our old wardrobe door) between the body and the spirit.
We’ll begin with the Greeks, who gave us the Apollonian/Dionysian duality, which Nietzsche later explored in his Birth of Tragedy. On one hand, the Greeks celebrated the disciplined body and laid the Aristotelian foundation for modern, logical “if/then” thinking. On the other hand, Huizinga reminds us that the Greeks ultimately considered Plato’s conception of religion as “play consecrated to the Deity” to be “the highest goal of man’s endeavor.” In this sense, the association of play with religion is not trivializing in our modern sense of the word “play.” Instead, this “play,” which included athletic competition, dance, theater and musical odes, all dedicated to deities, was designed ultimately to produce a transfiguring link with the eternal (as in our word “enthusiasm,” from the Greek, enthousiasmos, literally, “possessed by God”).
Even though today we know only one musical fragment from the Greeks, we know that the musicians who sang their sacred odes enjoyed an honored place at the center of society: a society that rejected the separation of body and spirit and strove instead for a wholeness of sensibility between the two worlds. Pericles said it best, “We are lovers of the beautiful, yet simple in our tastes; we cultivate the mind without loss of physical prowess.”
The Greek ideal was to bring the body and spirit together. The true aim of science, after all, was spiritual: to illuminate the conceptual order of the universe, not to complete specific projects or even to experiment. The arts were seen as a metaphor for celebrating divine harmonies and eternal mathematical truths. So when music, for instance, was employed not to elevate the spirit, but merely as a diversion or an “attitude adjuster,” Aristotle, for one, writing in The Politics, was not amused:
“We reject as education a training in material performance which is professional and competitive. He that takes part in such performances does not do so in order to improve his own character, but to give pleasure to listeners... We do not therefore regard it as a proper occupation for a gentleman.”
About ancient Roman music we know even less. I mention the Romans here just to give Plato a posthumous chance to say “I told you so.” Here, the transformation of the Greeks’ ecstatic Dionysus to the Romans’ drunken Bacchus is a signal from the world of the imagination that a growing trend from a spiritual to a physical manifestation of ideas is afoot. There’s a similar disintegration from the union of body and spirit celebrated in the Greek games to Roman spectacles of Christians vs. lions; through its play, we can see a society clearly in decline. Still, the imperial motto, “Give them bread and circuses!” remains as evidence that both worlds, whether in elevated or debased form, still had society’s attention as needs to be filled, one way or another.
Wholeness of sensibility continues to elude us in the millennium to follow. The tables are turned, as Spirit triumphs over Body. The City of God towers over the City of Man, with the entire Medieval social and political pecking order set up to give the Church overriding temporal as well as spiritual power. Saint Augustine acknowledges the supremacy of our mystical Pile B when he states that the purpose of music in the Church is solely to lift our souls to God. He then admits that actually, truth be told, he just plain likes the sound of the music and confesses his guilty pleasure as a sin. I rather enjoy the idea of music as a sin. Pope Pius X apparently did not. In 1914, he declared the tango a sin and admonished all confessors “to take notice of this grave offense when performing the sacrament of penance.”
In the Renaissance, Step One of our artist-in-society model of shared experience is the stream of secular humanism turning the tide back toward the material world. This age of classical learning, perspective drawing, world trade and unprecedented scientific exploration produced, as Step Two, music conceived with the simple purpose of sounding good. And it did, with composers such as Josquin and Lassus creating rich, coloristic harmonies and intricate contrapuntal voices that follow their own musical orbits with growing independence, from each other and from the one true cantus firmus. Music’s capacity to produce “altered states” was now employed, in increasingly secular ways, as Step Three, public awareness. One example is the Elizabethan “dompe” or “dump,” a popular consumer commodity consisting of a tune to change your mood (up with a “merry dump” or, as we know it today, down in a “doleful dump”). Composers were thus no longer setting out to fabricate an echo of the cosmos, but to create a separate, personal and sensuous end in itself: art for art’s sake. One minor Renaissance composer, Vicenzo Galilei, had a son named Galileo. With his knowledge that the earth revolves around the sun and not the other way around, Galileo was a scientific prototype of the misunderstood artist, who would emerge in centuries to come. Before he died in 1642, however, Galileo had already had the last word, actually the last three words, which in Italian have a thunderously Verdian ring: Eppur si muove (Still, it moves).
With Galileo we come to the end of an era. In 1613, Cervantes made an affectionate farewell to the already crumbling old world by creating the well-meaning, but dangerously wacky, Don Quixote. Quixote’s quest for heavenly “bread better than wheat” was doomed to failure in the new materialistic world growing up around him: a world in which what you saw was all you got. From 1639 on, Descartes’ new Discourse on Method, by proving how to prove things, would effectively isolate the physical from the spiritual. T.S. Eliot calls this 17th-Century split a” dissociation of sensibility” in the post-metaphysical poetry that followed. As Antonio Damasio writes in Descartes’ Error, after Descartes the world of “the unsizable, undimensional, un-pushpullable, nondivisible mind stuff,” which had been both feared and revered, was no longer sexy. The “sizable, dimensional, mechanically operated, infinitely divisible body stuff” would now be where societies’ major resources would henceforth be directed. Again, the tables are turned on our two worlds. How did music respond? By inflicting upon itself the ultimate indignity: music would now have to sell tickets.
The first public opera house in Venice in 1637 was only the beginning. With his last opera, The Coronation of Poppea, about Nero’s court, Claudio Monteverdi put the first real historical people on the stage in place of idealized deities, such as Orpheus and Apollo. The opera was loaded with lust and violence, and it was a hit. Now a full-fledged business, the arts would increasingly be measured by two popular new material concepts: fame and profit. J. S. Bach, the devout servant of God who never traveled more than 200 miles from his birthplace, is on the surface a polar opposite from his far more capitalistic colleague, Händel. Händel was a world-touring impresario and bon vivant who hobnobbed with kings and left an estate that included two Rembrandts. Still, we can see the hand of Mammon at work back in Leipzig when a member of Bach’s congregation got married out of town and deprived Bach of his organist’s fee. Bach took him to court and insisted on being paid for his services, even if he never performed them!
This new idea of labor as a marketable commodity would be an important shared experience of The Age of Reason and Revolution. Humanity’s central position in the universe-taking charge of our own destiny, revising our data as needed, according to Newton’s fourth law, and challenging all existing norms-was exemplified in Mozart’s blasphemous hero, Don Juan, or Don Giovanni. Mozart’s 1791 singspiel, The Magic Flute, paid sublime tribute to Spiritual Man in the chaste and idealistic character of Tamino and his wise mentor, Sarastro. Sarastro’s music, Bernard Shaw tells us, is “the only music written which would not sound out of place in the mouth of God.” Still, Emmanuel Schickaneder (who produced the opera, owned the theater and wrote the libretto) designed the best part in the show for the earthy, gluttonous, feathered, skirt-chasing Papageno (played, of course, by himself). With the character of Papageno, Mozart and Schickaneder gave us a lovably scene-stealing harbinger of the kind of change in “fundamental political and social conventions” that Plato had warned about: in this case, from the Man of Spirit to the Man of Body now taking the last bow.
In the century to come, following Le Mariage de Figaro and the French Revolution, we see the possibility of change within a system evolve to the necessity of change: “new” being synonymous with “improved.” The idea of inevitable progress is central to the world of science and industry, but it tends to diminish, and in some cases to exclude, everything else. Goethe embodied this idea in Philemon and Baucis, the little old couple in Part II of Faust. They were literally blown away when their property interfered with Faust’s grandiose vision (of a housing development!). Artists and mystics in the 19th Century were likewise evicted; no longer regular people in the neighborhood, they were exiled to the lunatic fringe. The misunderstood genius, such as Beethoven and Wagner, is the perfect model for what I believe to be the industrial revolution’s unnatural marginalization of the imagination. These two artists, by the nature of their avant garde music and the up-and-down progress of their careers, inadvertently helped create two fallacies about art in society.
Fallacy number one: Since Beethoven and Wagner were at one time unpopular, and since we know today that they were good, it must follow that “To be unpopular means you must be good.” Fallacy number two: On the other hand, since Beethoven and Wagner both eventually achieved riches and fame in their lifetimes (30,000 people went to Beethoven’s funeral) and since we know today that they were good, it must also follow that “To be popular means you must be good.” Bach, by being neither misunderstood nor lionized, but just doing his job for the public he served, gives us a much truer picture of the artist inside the community.
Otherwise, the artist, whether outcast or icon, still remains the outsider. Even if he or she is honored by being brought into the circle and rewarded with a few of the material marbles, the very fact of having to come in to get the marbles shows us where those marbles are the rest of the time.
In our own century, after Schönberg, many artists have moved even farther out on the fringe, and the real world has continued to hog the marbles. Faith, artistic experience and play remain with us, of course. Ironically, my own field, opera and symphonic music, has been enjoying an extraordinary development within its marginal context. More and better (and even more accessible) new operas and symphonies are now being written and performed than ever before in the United States; but, with the exception of sports, adventures of the imagination are still no longer central to our experience. Like computer games, they’re just for decoration and incidental entertainment. Open The New York Times and look for the section called “Arts and Leisure.” Look at the statistics on one of our tax dollars and see the percentage spent on the arts (less than one hundredth of a cent and falling fast). Compare incentives and opportunities in science and business with the arts and humanities.
There’s nothing here of what Sir Michael Tippett calls “a black grudge against the demon technologist.” I want a long life and an enriched material world as much as anybody. And I certainly don’t want to lose the computer that copies my music, extracts all the orchestral parts and sends them to performers a continent away. I’ve sketched out all this background simply to give us some historical perspective on where we are now: to see how it feels for an artist to be alive today and thus to outline the context in which American artists are now expressing our shared experiences as opposed to other experiences in other times by other people in other places.
People sometimes ask me why I write modern music, when I could be writing in the style of Mozart. I answer by asking why they don’t wear brocade coats, powdered wigs and bathe every six months! My point is that this present world, which all of us share, with all its materialistic warts, is, for better or worse, the only world that we, the artists of this time and place, can use for our specific wardrobe door, which is the only door through which we can attempt to reach out to the universal.
We can, of course, look back, as composer George Rochberg so eloquently reminds us in his 1967 Music for the Magic Theater, and visit, as he calls it, “the past with all its magic beauty.” We can even raid the past and bring forward objects and techniques that we find useful; but since this is where we are now, then all of our trips will have to start from here.
So what does it feel like to be alive today? As we have seen, the real world doesn’t seem much inclined to throw open its doors to or to heap many of its rewards upon the imagination. I have mentioned our endangered National Endowment for the Arts. Beverly Sills hit it, literally, on the head when she said, “The army starts building $800 hammers and people don’t scream about abolishing the military. But let the NEA award one grant that somebody doesn’t like and it’s down with the NEA!” But we artists are used to hard times. As we have seen, the world of the spirit has consistently managed courageously to assert itself in marvelous ways in the face of, and sometimes stimulated, albeit unwillingly, by the temporal demands of the flesh. The Chinese curse, “May you live in interesting times!” doesn’t apply to artists; for us, “interesting times” are the raw materials of magic. Remember Orson Welles in The Third Man, talking about Italy under the Borgias:
“...they had warfare, terror, murder, bloodshed. They produced Michelangelo, Leonardo da Vinci, and the Renaissance. In Switzerland, they had brotherly love, 500 years of democracy, and peace. And what did they produce? The cuckoo clock.”
Here’s one recent example in which the world of the imagination came out on top. Copland tells the story of a concert he conducted in an unnamed South American country. The dictator of the country, who was by all accounts something of a stinker, was seated, resplendent in dark glasses and gold braid, in a box overlooking the stage. The concert ended with Copland’s Lincoln Portrait, narrated by an actress much beloved in that country and not, apparently, one of the dictator’s fans. As she spoke, she pointed directly at El Presidente and shouted Lincoln’s words over Copland’s soaring music right into the man’s face: words about “tyranny,” “slaves” and “masters,” and “you make the bread and I’ll eat it” and “government of the people, by the people and for the people.” A riot broke out in the theater, and the dictator barely escaped with his life. In Copland’s words, “by the end of the week, that guy was out.”
My own goal as a composer has been to follow Copland’s example: I write music to show what it feels like to be alive in my time and place, and to express (here’s that phrase one last time) the “shared experience” of my performers and audience. I haven’t started any revolutions lately, but I did take one small step maybe to help prevent one. Last October my evening-long folk celebration, Adoración Ambulante, was premiered in the village of Tepoztlán, near Mexico City. The work is based on the confluence of Spanish and Native Mexican culture, which defines Mexican life: an uneasy duality, as seen in the current Indian uprisings in southern Mexico. From the first sounds - four (European) trumpets on the cathedral towers answered by (Indian) conch shells blown as horns in the four corners of the courtyard - the music articulates the fusion of those two worlds, the same fusion that flows in the blood of the Mexican people. The piece is scored for two choruses, soloists, orchestra, mariachi band, 50 percussionists, dancers, stilt walkers, giant puppets of La Virgen de Guadalupe and the Aztec god Tepoztecatl, 2,000 candles, endless baskets of flower petals and a Catholic priest arm-in-arm with an Indian shaman (a cast of 300, plus fireworks). They all joined in chants, hymns, dances, processions, prayers in both Latin and Nauhuatl, and a cantata recounting the creation of the world with side-by-side Spanish texts from the Bible and the ancient Mayan Popol-Vuh. For two rival cultures with a 500-year history of oppression, resentment and economic (when not actual) warfare to share such a celebration was, for me and for the thousands of villagers who attended, a surpassingly emotional and exhilarating experience. There can be no greater satisfaction for a composer than to know that both performers and audience can find some of their own hopes, fears, dreams, personalities and traditions expressed in the music, and that they can say, “Hey, that’s my life up there!”
I have been fortunate to write many pieces for children’s concerts. Children, like artists, are always glad to cross over to the world of imagination. They enjoy new sounds; they giggle and dance and clap with the music; and they aren’t afraid to come give you a hug or bring you a flower after the concert. Having experienced this kind of warmth from so many performers and listeners, I have enormous hope for the world of the imagination today.
I think one positive sign, believe it or not, is New Age music. Even though I call it “newage” (to rhyme with “sewage”), I still think there’s something wonderfully promising about the idea. Once again we’re seeing artists and audiences reaching out to each other in emotional and spiritually-based communication, and both seem to be developing a growing awareness of our intangible as well as our tangible selves. As we have seen, of such duality great civilizations are made. So, how about that Greek ideal of wholeness of sensibility in The Age of Pericles? We still have plenty of warfare, terror, murder and bloodshed; why not expect a Renaissance to go with it? Why not aim, as Shaw suggests, at becoming a “nation of skilled voluptuaries,” since, as he says, “It’s feeling that sets us thinking, and not thinking that sets us feeling?”
To this end, I am encouraged to see our scientific community increasingly applying its wisdom to the imagination by exploring the world of subjective experience. Willis Hartman writes in his introduction to Bucke’s Cosmic Consciousness that:
“Partly as a consequence of new tools relating subjective states to physical and physiological correlates (...galvanic skin response, body electric fields, EEG components, biofeedback signals), there has been a new legitimization of studies of religious beliefs, psychic phenomena, mystical experiences and meditative states. This [research] is especially important since, wherever [human] nature...has been probed deeply, the two-sidedness of [our] experience has emerged as a paramount fact. [We are] found to be both physical and spiritual, with the two in such a complementary relationship that troublesome opposites like spirit/body [and] science/religion (or, I would add, “art”) ...will become reconciled in much the same way as modern physics reconciles the previously opposing wave and particle theories of light.”
Shakespeare celebrated the miraculous capacity that we all carry within us to transubstantiate ourselves from body to spirit when he wrote, “We are such stuff as dreams are made on...” As I see it, The Mystery of the Two Worlds is simply how to balance the dreams with the stuff. Keeping both halves of our total selves healthy is thus, for me, the most profound “Concern of the Lively Mind” in this or any age. Since, sadly, at the moment we as a society seem to be allocating our resources so as to be long on the stuff and short on the dreams, I want to end not with Prospero, the visionary, but with the earth-bound Caliban. For me, Caliban’s poignant little glance from the gutter up to the stars offers all of us - artists and audiences alike - an eloquent metaphor for hope in the 21st Century:
Be not afeared; the isle is full of noises,
Now, for that musical postlude I promised. We have two Mirror Sonnets, which I have set to poems by my friend and colleague, Fred Curchack. The first sonnet, appropriately, celebrates the supremacy of the real world over the world of the imagination:
Neither rhythm, melody nor rhyme
The second sonnet, to the same music, shows us the other side of the coin:
Neither face nor figure, mind nor heart
Now our duality is complete. “The isle is full of noises,” and “our revels now are ended.”