There’s a koto at the front of the church; the performer can slide the stops around to get different scales. She presses her left hand to the stops and produces a thunk, like palm muting a guitar. The professor of piano is still obliged (a hundred years on!) to give a few minutes’ explanation of and apologetics for Schoenberg before commencing to play Op. 23 and Op. 25, wonderfully well. Two violins alongside each other, one violin alongside a huge bass koto. The program notes (the composer’s own?) read, “The materials used are very limited, and there is no development of these materials.”
I’m in a pew with a borrowed copy of The New American Poetry, ed. Donald M. Allen (1960), transposed into a vision of what the future used to look like: Allen Ginsberg sitting outside Dwinelle watching boys go in and out, the turtlenecked academic dereferentializers having to sit next to the sweaty guys on peyote because no one had completely worked out who was who.
Once the show is over we clap as well as we can, but there aren’t many of us in the pews and we keep awkwardly starting and stopping as the roses are handed out.
As everyone knows in this port town of idiotic, profitable machines, the entrepreneur’s task is to work out what the market wants, that anyone could have done, and be the first to do it. In the arts this is an awful strategy; not only because the field is so barren of money, but because works conceived in such a vein will only embarrass you later. They can hold no brief for their existence except that it was you and not another who made them: as if the melting self were a peg to hang anything on. To pick at a form and find nothing underneath but mewling ego.
The other works, the ones that would never have occurred to anyone else, are no proof against embarrassment either. For one thing, they’re likely to be technically weaker, having fewer models to draw on. But you are at least justified in doing them, insofar as without you they would not have been done; and this lends them a stability separate from their flaws. They can exist without being looked at. Which matters, since few will want to look at them, now or later (the idea of posterity being the entrepreneur’s complex all over again, displaced in time).
I walked under all the windows of San Francisco and nothing saw me. I didn’t even get in the way of the wind.