Tuesday, March 15, 2011

What Mozart Saw

"Though ... [Mozart] lived through the French Revolution you search his letters in vain for anything other than the most oblique references to this continental cataclysm.  He had no feeling for nature and no interest in the visual arts.   In his letters home during his wide-ranging travels he describes everything he heard and nothing he saw."

I found this quote by Anthony Tomassini here--one more confirmation of my belief that we each perceive the world in radically different terms.

Years ago we lived next door to the retired director of the National Arboretum.  He was an affable gentleman who asked my permission to prune our tree--the sight of our unkempt ornamental pear was distressing to him.  One day I was in the car with him, and he kept a running commentary on all the sidewalk trees we passed.  For me, at that time, a tree was an indistinct mass of green atop a brown pole, but on that drive I realized that when our neighbor looked at the world, he saw trees.

A gardener friend looks at the world and sees bushes (which for me are an indistinct mass, etc.).  She doesn't just keep track of her own bushes, but of those in neighboring villages as well.  We'll drive past some stranger's yard and she'll say "That lilac suffered a lot last winter.  But it seems to be recovering nicely now."

My zoology professor saw birds everywhere.  He'd be driving us to a field trip and out of the corner of his eye point out little brown fluttering forms that I could barely see, much less identify.

My husband perceives the world in terms of fulcrums and levers, forces and currents.

I drive down the road and see dogs, and here in Vermont--lucky me--also chickens and cows and horses and goats.  

And I notice sounds (so like Mozart, no?), which is both a blessing and a curse.  The sound of birds is the essence of spring for me, and their silence in the fall depresses me as much or more as the fading light.
I am acutely attuned to people's voices, their volume and pitch, the rhythms of their speech.  When certain announcers come on the radio, I have to turn it off, or leave the room.  I know several people with the habit of letting out a sudden explosive laugh, and when I talk with them I find myself flinching in anticipation.  I cannot read if there is music playing.  I can barely make myself enter a store during the Xmas season.

Not only do we all perceive different worlds, we are different worlds.  And this reminds me of a magnificent quote by Proust about the function of art:

"...style for the writer, just as color for the painter, is a matter not of technique  but of vision.  It is the revelation, which would be impossible by direct and conscious means, of the qualitative difference in the way in which the world appears to us.  This difference, if it weren't for art, would remain the eternal secret of each of us.  Only through art can we come out of ourselves and know what another sees of that universe which is not the same as ours, and whose landscapes would have remained as unknown to us as those of the moon.  Thanks to art, instead of seeing a single world, our own, we watch it multiply, and we have as many worlds at our disposal as there are original artists."  (My translation.)

8 comments :

  1. I have a friend who is always amused when I convert real life to an algebra problem. I can dig it.

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  2. Another version of what Proust is saying: if you're a hammer, the whole world looks like a nail.

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  3. Thanks for this treat in writing (an art, yes?)which reminds me to be aware of others sensitivities. How interesting that Mozart had so narrow a focus, though. I think of so many visual and performing artists who notice everything, and incorporate same into their art.

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  4. Welcome, Dale! The peculiarities of geniuses have always fascinated me. Proust, for instance, could only write inside a cork-lined room....

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  5. If ONLY I had a cork-lined room.

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  6. Wonderful wonderful wonderful. You reminded me that when I was on road trips with my father, he would (as my mother described it) farm the entire distance between our house and destination, commenting on the crops in the fields and the condition of the sheep and cattle. My husband - an electrical engineer - drove around Oahu and commented on the transmission lines, insulators etc, and I shook my head at him.

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  7. Mali, I heard Ian McEwan being interviewed after "Atonement" was made into a movie. He was asked if the actors looked like the characters he had envisioned. He seemed disconcerted by the question, then said something like "I never 'envisioned' the characters. I just wrote them."

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