[Date Prev][Date Next][Thread Prev][Thread Next][Date Index][Thread Index]

Re: solitude

A thing to remember about all those "lonely Glenn Gould" photos ... all of them were taken with his cooperation, he posed very consciously for them, they reflected an image of himself that he wanted to show to the world. I don't think it was exactly trickery or a scam; it was one very authentic face of GG -- but the public image of the lonely, tormented, artist and genius (think Beethoven) is a very romantic and attractive image, over the centuries it's helped sell more than a few albums and paintings and fill up more than a few theater audiences.
(It's also real good for getting dates if you're a manipulative cad who preys on the unsophisticated, but I don't think GG ever used it that way.)
My career has been in newspapers, and over the years reporters get very sensitive to the ways celebrities very carefully present themselves to the public. I think GG was unusually careful and conscious and controlling of the way he permitted the public to see him. He was also very conscious, I think, of the old show-business adage of showing less of himself to the world rather than too much. Getting a public glimpse of GG was a very rare thing, somewhat like spotting the ivory-billed woodpecker, and that made it a very memorable and valuable thing. Compare this to other entertainment figures whom you see so much of everywhere that you become tired of seeing them and wish you could see less of them.
Yes, those joyous moments of conducting, and those joyous hums while performing. GG's life was overflowing with joy and rapture -- just not in the ordinary ways of happiness and pleasure that most people are "trained" to call happiness and pleasure.
Exactly how or why GG first drifted toward solitude as a young man I don't know. But eventually a lot of it ceased to be subconscious and unconscious, and he began thinking about "the idea of solitude" very consciously, and wanted to consider and explore it very consciously.
One of the pivotal conversations in "The Idea of North" is about this business of human closeness among people who choose to live in the Canadian Arctic. A Canadian Arcticer says that most people just assume people choose to live in these remote, isolated wilderness places because they dislike people and want a lot of isolation from them. But the actual experience of wilderness living is quite different: You actually are far more intimate with your (few) neighbors than Toronto people are with their many neighbors. In the wilderness, your very life and survival depends on your neighbors. In Toronto, you may have hundreds of neighbors whom you see and recognize every day. But most of them are really very remote strangers to you, almost nothing of any substance passes between you and them as you rub elbows in elevators and public transportation. In the wilderness, quite the opposite: Getting along with and intimately knowing your neighbor is a matter of Life and Death for him or her and for you at least once a year.
Our modern urban and suburban experiences with total solitude are rare. But that's not the way everywhere and at all times. Early Christianity was a legendary time of mystic hermits who fled to the desert to pursue their vision of closeness to God; Eastern mystics living in caves as they seek the Meaning of Life are almost a joke cliche to Westerners. The Old and New Testament are rich in stories of people seeking God -- usually successfully -- in extreme solitude.
In fact, from living in downtown Toronto to living in the Arctic, the Antarctic or the Sahara, there's a fluid, continuous spectrum of human needs about closeness and distance with other humans; and in just one single life, there are years of thriving in the midst of a crowd, and years of deep need for solitude. When the frantic city businessman whose ear is glued to his cell phone 24/7/365 takes his holiday to fish for trout totally alone on an isolated lake, he expresses both needs in a single personality and a single year. Another common millionaire's passion is sailing solo across an ocean or around the world. It's synthetic and misleading to say that the isolation is a pathology or an aberration, but the crowd is the normal human state of things. Our schools train us to be functional units of the crowd; our souls scream to flee to the woods.
Like the religious mystic -- exactly like the religious mystic -- the truly creative personality craves and needs and seeks extreme experiences so that he or she can reach mental, spiritual and intellectual realms that are not available in ordinary, day-to-day life. Solitude is one of these classic creative experiences. A lot of you probably know what the MacDowell Colony is -- a dozen or two tiny, austere, very isolated cabins in the New Hampshire woods for musicians, writers, poets, painters. At night they all meet in the Big Log House for meals and chat -- if they want. But mainly what MacDowell offers is the Garbo experience: "I want to be left alone." To compose. To write. To paint. To think. To dream.
Other classic creative experiences include liquor and drugs, just a binge now and then, or as a lifelong addiction. You can decry it, you can condemn it, you can demand an immediate stop to it, but the list of great creative artists who've used these things either to dull the pain of This Realm, or to reach Other Realms, is a very long and distinguished list.
I love every film instant of W.C. Fields. It's very hard while I'm rolling around on the floor and crying in hysterical laughter to remember that he was a lifelong dypsomaniac. In a nursing home a few weeks before he died, his mistress asked him if he'd have done anything differently. He thought for a moment and said, "I'd like to see what it would have been like without alcohol." What's scary is, with Fields, I really don't know. Totally lifelong sober, he might not have been funny at all. He might not even have been a particularly good juggler; he was universally acknowledged the greatest juggler in the world.
Who knows what's strange? Who knows what's normal?
Bob / Elmer
-----Original Message-----
From: Juozas Rimas <JuozasRimas@TAKAS.LT>
Date: Monday, July 08, 2002 8:37 AM
Subject: Re: solitude

>> Elmer wrote
>> > "I think if we try to evaluate his life from our experience and
>> >our standards, we're doomed to come to the wrong conclusions."
>> Exactly. The problem is that we are trying to evaluate his life in
>> accordance with our own ideas and standards of what is "normal".
>Furthermore, I do not think Gould's case is something *special*. I would never
>call a lonely man unhappy, even if he is not rich and famous as Gould. It's as
>simple as some people being introverts and enjoying every minute of their
>loneliness or aloneness.
>If a person wants bad to be in the public and can't achieve it, his life may be
>sad. But if a person consciously chooses to live in a hut deep in a forest, how
>can we judge him?
>Juozas Rimas Jr (not the one playing)
>http://www.mp3.com/juozasrimas (oboe, piano, strings)