Jan 232011

Last night I went to see the Canadian documentary Genius Within: The Inner Life of Glenn Gould which movie you should all see for its demonstration of how an intelligent and passionate artist talks and interacts with the world. Ever since I saw on TV years ago Gould’s performance in the CBC Cities series I’ve been entranced by the speed of his thinking (which, yes, recapitulates the speed of his fingers playing Bach). Also he was hilarious. See the scene in which he sings to the elephants at the Toronto zoo. Or, yes, touring downtown Toronto for the cameras at night, he says this: “I tend to follow a very nocturnal sort of existence mainly because I don’t much care for sunlight. Bright colors of any kind depress me, in fact. And my moods are more or less inversely related to the clarity of the sky, on any given day. A matter of fact, my private motto has always been that behind every silver lining there is a cloud.” Both scenes are in Genius Within. As is a gorgeous story told by Herbert von Karajan of Gould’s great Russian tour, when he was young and no one in Russia knew who he was. The Moscow Conservatory was less than half full when he started the concert. Within minutes people started slipping out to the telephones, calling their friends. You have to get to the Conservatory right now. By the beginning of the second half of the concert, the theatre was packed. Gould had to add to concerts to his tour. At his last performance in Leningrad, they waived the fire regulations and let in 1500 standing room ticket holders. Even the aisles were crowded.

And think about this, from the Glenn Gould Reader:

The trouble begins when we start to be so impressed by the strategies of our systematized thought that we forget that it does relate to an obverse, that it is hewn from negation, that it is but very small security against the void of negation which surrounds it. And when that happens, when we forget these things, all sorts of mechanical failures begin to disrupt the functions of the human personality. When people who practice an art like music become captives of those positive assumptions of system, when they forget to credit that happening against negation which system is, and when they become disrespectful of the immensity of negation compared to system — then they put themselves out of reach of that replenishment of invention upon which creative ideas depend, because invention is, in fact, a cautious dipping into the negation that lies outside system from a position firmly ensconced in system.


  4 Responses to ““Behind every silver lining there is a cloud””

  1. Thanks for the clips, dg. They are perfect accompaniment to this William James paper I am reading on attention. I’ve been a long-time fan of Glenn Gould so look forward to this movie, if I am ever able to get to a movie again.

  2. I love the bit in the first video where he suddenly gets up and walks to the window, the music continues to play in his head and when he sits down his fingers take over again.

  3. This looks fascinating. Thanks for posting.

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