So: I am finally going through all the books, and then the papers, in my office.
My office is being moved soon – rather sooner than I'd expected: repeated insistence on a clear date on my part gave rise to a flurry of emails assuring me that it wouldn't happen until mid-September; but now of course some administrator somewhere has changed his mind.
Or perhaps not: another administrator, always obliquely unsympathetic to our department, may simply be rushing me. (She retires next year... as she, for some reason, pointed out to me in our discussion. We may be feeling similarly about this.)
But, given that I have a huge mess of books and papers – approximately 9 of those tall Billy bookcases? –
and, even more importantly, given that my professional tastes and goals have changed in the past fifteen years...
it is a good idea to cut back (not as much as the administrator hopes – perhaps 10-15% will go) and look through things.
In the 80s and early 90s, I was fascinated with many aspects of music and musicology, gender and theory and modernism, history and ideas and people and... oh, tons and tons of things.
This all solidified a bit across the upheavals of the 90s: it became a bit clearer what I was good at, what I'd never be good at, and most of all what I cared about. The general move from a fascination with complex systems to more existential concerns, partly as a result of AIDS, emotion, bodily experience, and an anxious realization that many complex systems have little to offer beyond their own complexity, made me feel as though I was leaving Castalia... and that I was right to do so.
Then the crash landing in Newcastle, after expulsion from Australia, left me with chaotic feelings of retreat and anomie – nothing that I had formerly found interesting seemed alive any more. Yes, of course, I should have been grateful for this job, but it was hard to experience that... and so many projects dissipated into thin air.
But lately even the Stäbler book has been finished!...
I'm thankful for the shifts of the past two years: this would have been emotionally painful before those transformations.
Still, books raise many flashes of wistfulness, disappointment – gladness; missing certain people, recalling them happily or with annoyance. There are people who have simply vanished from the face of the planet, as far as I can tell – a difficult thing in an internet world, that makes one wonder.
And, strangely enough, some old ideas and projects are starting to seem interesting again...
Many, many books on modernism. Some repeat what others say, but more cheesily, with terrible illustrations. Some are by composers – if I don't care much about the composer any more, and it's an incoherent personal tour of various thoughts, it's out. Many overviews of modernism, avant-garde, technique: some are better than others – the wonky ones are jettisoned.
Loony, wide-ranging babbling by composers, even good ones, is of limited appeal. Only the ones who can actually make a point and stay focused are worth keeping.
Look at all those Stravinsky books! Are they all really useful?... but ultimately I only got rid of one of them.
Darmstadt: a wide range of composers and ideas interest me. But hey, not all of them – this collection on Goeyvaerts will never be opened again. Slush pile for library.
I've always been impressed – probably too impressed – by General Theories of Everything. Antiquated ones can go (Toch, Zuckerkandl, etc.); ethnomusicological tours of all time periods and places, which are inevitably vague and cloudy; and a range of I-Know-A-Lot-About-Music-And-I Know-What-I-Like overviews of why the great is so great. Or why the great is good, in any case, or other nonsense like that. Too many silly people who were too impressed by bad translations of Hanslick.
It's slightly strange how many works on feminism and gender studies are on the shelves: did I really buy everything that was for sale at all those conferences in the 90s? Yes, of course, I'm known as part of the generation that championed gender studies, but... so many of them say exactly the same things. There are merely better and worse writers...
Anything on gay composers stays, but a lot of the purely feminist can go the library, especially if I don't care about any of the musicians being written about. That's easy.
The answer is obvious – anything that works on Kh sets can go; Perle's first book makes sense to me, his second might as well be in Early Assyrian. Too much trouble for one lifetime, it goes to the library.
And what about weird theory – such as the peculiar photocopied pages on Schat's tone clock that were sent out by a New Zealand composer, bound in with an impassioned, handwritten letter pleading that all musicians must take this theory seriously, or otherwise we would drift down the sinful paths of atonality?... (I see from her Wikipedia entry that she resigned from university teaching to join the Divine Light Mission. Well, modernism is next to craziness, we all know that.)
Am I keeping Wuorinen's Simple Composition just so that I can make fun of the title?... He is always rather cranky, as it happens. (Sure he's gay but who cares – and he was crazily abusive of Monk, whom I like.) Dump it (him).
And how about books by other individuals I have come to thoroughly dislike over the decades?... unless they're absolutely necessary, dump 'em. (And no I'm not naming names here. Besides, you almost certainly can imagine the top five, or bottom five perhaps, of the nastiest musicologists in the Anglophone world... since the 90s there has been a great resurgence of unpleasantness in our profession. Some people think that is because these people are more right than others... they will have a bad time in a Buddhist hell, I think.)
I cannot believe how much I have spent on books I don't much like... oh well.
Did you ever fantasize about getting back all the money you've wasted in your life? Falling for embarrassing sales pitches: that car... yes I know, I've read my Adorno, we live in Late Capitalism.
Yet this doesn't create depression or anxiety: a surprising number of ideas actually look interesting – as though I could get back into them.
We'll see how the move itself goes – but the conceptual world of this move isn't such a bad one...
And it's nice to clear things out.