de Bolla on Glenn Gould and the attention/inattention we bring to listening to music:
Inattention vs attentiveness, and a riff on Intention
In his book Art Matters, which I’ve been reading in my not-copious spare time, Peter de Bolla talks about a deep introspectiveness necessary for complete attention. In a fairly long and typically convoluted philosophical passage–clear enough to philosophers but harder to read for the uninitiated–he suggests that when we really listen carefully to music (music-as-art rather than music-as-background-noise), we must first prepare ourselves for attention and, paradoxically, move ourselves into a state of inattention. He uses Glenn Gould playing Bach for his example, and what follows amid the philosophy-talk is an interesting “take” on how we experience music and why critics are divided on Gould’s decision to blend recordings in order to construct his own particular perspective on the best interpretation of, say, Bach’s Goldberg Variations.
Spoiler: de Bolla essentially defends Glenn Gould. I’m not a music critic, so I withhold judgment on that issue.
I’m also not going to reiterate de Bolla’s argument statement by statement in this brief post; I am going to mention that the paradox of attention/inattention reminds me a good deal of Zen practice. In addition, I enjoy the potential wordplay possibilities of attention, inattention, in-attention (de Bolla’s addition) and the Buddhist concept of intention. If we listen with in-attention by preparing ourselves to experience deep attention, are we also listening with intention?
If we then let go our attentiveness in order to give in to the full experience of the music (or any other form of art), are we truly experiencing art? Or are we experiencing “Unfettered Mind,” which is also a Zen-related experience?
Consider “The Unfettered Mind” by Takuan Sōhō. Takuan was a circa-16th c. Buddhist monk whose works interpreted martial arts through a Zen philosophy. Or perhaps vice versa. So far as I can tell, his most-quoted aphorism is in the form of a poem (I cannot seem to identify the translator):
THE MOON HAS NO INTENT TO CAST ITS SHADOW ANYWHERE,
NOR DOES THE POND DESIGN TO LODGE THE MOON.
HOW SERENE THE WATER OF HIROSAWA!
Is a somatic art-encounter experience a form of unfettered mind?
Meanwhile, my daughter is vaccinating full-grown sows, and Lesley Wheeler is reflecting on how the brain case empties, or seems to, under the load of extraneous work, deadlines, children, and…YES…attention. See the October 3, 2011 post on The Cave, The Hive.