Tuesday, 12 March 2019

Even geniuses have fantasies about doing something they can't and don't

Reading Kevin Bazzana's biography of Glenn Gould; it was clear that, despite being a musician of genius, Glenn Gould was prone to the same kind of unrealistic fantasies as the rest of us.

In his case it was being a composer. From the beginning of his career (aged about 15) through to the end of his life, Gould would talk about his intention of composing - yet he finished only one piece - a string quartet, written in his twenties.

Over a span of 35 years, nothing else substantive got further than announcements, concepts and sketches - despite that for 18 of these years he had retired from concert life, ostensibly in order to have time and energy for composition.

I emphasise 'being' a composer - because it was pretty clear that it was more this that Gould wanted than the actual business of writing music. He wanted to 'be' a composer, rather than 'doing' composing.

Bazzana, through his analysis of the string quartet and the sketches, is convinced that Gould lacked the ability to be a significant composer*. On the one hand he lacked the creative drive in that direction, as evidenced by his inertia; and on the other hand he lacked sufficient compositional technique for writing the kind of complex contrapuntal music he was most drawn to, and did nothing to acquire it - he did not study or take lessons.

Yet, somehow, Gould didn't want to give-up on this fantasy - and kept-on, even in later life, implying that a compositional breakthrough was just around the corner...

I find this interesting; and it happens a lot - including at the lower levels of ordinary non-genius folk including myself and my friends and colleagues. Many people have a tendency to undervalue what they can do and hanker after what they cannot; and many of these take the hankering no further than vague aspiration, yet fail to draw the conclusion that their daydream is thereby invalidated.

This can, in some people, have serious consequences - such as a wasted life. It is, I believe, a deep fault of character; which ought to be recognised and repented - because it is a species of avoidance by self-dishonesty.

It amounts to living a lie.

*On the other hand, Bazzana demonstrates that Gould was genuinely compositional - and in a musical way - in his radio 'documentaries'. If you do not know these, I would strongly recommend the 'Solitude Trilogy'. For this blog's readers, perhaps the third would be the best to start-with: The Quiet in the Land (1977) is about the Mennonites in 'modern' Canada. I was later inspired to attempt this genre myself 


Anonymous said...

I definitely can relate to this topic; as I personally spent a great part of my life yearning and trying to do something I was not meant to.
Laconically, it always amounts to wanting to do something God have not created you to do; something that would be harmful to you at that time (spiritually).

I would just like to add that what is described in the article is the better option - namely, that you try and fail repeatedly, banging your head against the wall; so you can finally turn around and 'repent'; in other words, you stop trying to do what you are not meant to do.

In fact, this is hard enough in these times of 'empowerment', where the dictum is that 'everybody should do what he wants', and people that 'give up on their dreams' are regarded as failures. Even a 'strong will' is a problem here, because you use it to clash with God's will.

However, there is the worse option, and that is when God allows you to succeed even if you shouldn't. I cannot really explain why that happens; yet, I have seen it with several friends that 'changed their life', started doing something and became successful at it; while it definitely was not something they should be doing, as it was harming them spiritually.

As an example, people who started exercising and 'eating healthy' - and indeed, they reached their goals by becoming 'attractive' (according to the standards of today) or even 'healthy' (at least superficialy); yet, turning spiritually worse for it.


Anonymous said...

PS: I would just like to add that it seems that even these 'things you shouldn't be doing' often point to something good; so while they themselves are not good, they lead you to something that is good - in the fashion of God that likes to turn even bad things into something good. But you first have to give them up to follow the lead...


Joe said...

I grew up in one of the Manitoba Mennonite communities that were the subject of "Quiet in the Land", so I started listening with great interest. But I only made it about 10 minutes in: how can it be considered a good idea to play two speakers simultaneously? Is it common to be able to hear (and understand) two things being said at the same time?

Bruce Charlton said...

@Joe - This is documentary as music - including counterpoint. The sounds of the words are a factor, as well as the meanings. You aren't expected to Get It All first time, just like you can't get a Bach fugue from one listening.

Lucinda said...

I was just talking to my husband yesterday about how the aspirational element seems to be an essential aspect of masculinity. Because I found I was often encouraging my husband to be more grateful for what he had already achieved, but looking around I began to notice that all the men I know have the exact same never-satisfied mentality.

So my idea now is to accept this as an aspect of masculinity, and instead of viewing it as some kind of ungrateful defect in men, just work around it somehow. It just seems like such an unhappy way to live. But it's not like it would be happy for the man to give up on something so essential to his masculinity. So this post gives me the idea; rather than encouraging a man to be satisfied with what already is, encourage more honesty and sobriety when talking about further accomplishment.

Dexter said...

If you have an unrealistic fantasy (say, you daydream of being a rock star or movie actor) but you know it's unrealistic and you don't take any real-world steps to achieve it - you don't quit your day job - is your daydream "invalidated"?

Bruce Charlton said...

@D - I would say yes, it is invalidated if you do nothing about it. And it may also be invalid even if you do make efforts - a life can be wasted in swimming upstream and being swept downstream.

Bruce Charlton said...

@Lucinda - Your comment was in 'spam' for some reason - better late than never.

Epimetheus said...

I'm not sure it's a true counterpoint, but it can also take a long time to do something worth doing. Tolkien first conceived his fantastical mythology while in 1917, and finished the Lord of the Rings in 1948.