BIENVENIDO, CENITI !
THE GREEN GRASSHOPPER
Introduced by Pietro Kennedy
“Never overlook the obvious” – that would be a good maxim in detective work, whether we
are searching for a serial killer or a serial technique. My colleagues at the Ofterdingen
Gesellschaft have been looking high and low these many months for our former editor–in-
chief, Peter Ceniti – in parallel universes, in the remote future, in the distant past – while, all
along, he has been a short train ride away, having escaped, with the elegance and economy
for which he is known, to the Long Island beach house of his youthful summers, and to the
rich vault of memories and melodies he found waiting there.
In truth it was the merest chance that led me to this discovery: I was on my way to a kind of
hybrid activity scheduled for last weekend in the Hamptons, an informal conference in the
open air where musicological opinions could be exchanged in the context of a softball game /
brewfest. (I keenly regret that, thanks to my “fortunate detour,” I wound up missing the fun!)
Exiting the expressway, preparing to turn onto the last long road along the south shore, I was
reminded of an earlier party from happier times at Ceniti’s summer cottage on the north
shore, facing the Long Island Sound. Was I overcome with nostalgia for my lost comrade, or
gripped by a mysterious premonition? I turned left instead of right, and headed through the
level fields of corn toward that desolate shore.
Arriving at the bungalow I found that the door was ajar (which is not the same thing as
finding that the jar was a door - let us be clear!) : I entered and quickly surmised I was
alone. Ceniti’s habitual tidiness made it difficult to ascertain how recently the place had
been occupied: his coffee mugs were neatly stacked, his swimming trunks hung on a
clothesline in the sun, mesh – outward.
But at the scholar’s desk I was rewarded beyond what I had dared to hope for. There, in a
neat stack, I discovered what I believe to be the missing pages from the controversial Secret
Notebook of Heinrich von Ofterdingen, allegedly torn out and confiscated by our erstwhile
I will leave to others the task of re-evaluating the Ceiti / Ofterdingen relationship in light of
this finding; I suspect the popular opinion will be that these papers were excised because
they indicate too clearly the authorship of Ceniti, while the “poetic conceit” of Ofterdingen
seems virtually forgotten.
My efforts instead will be directed to the explication and eventual presentation of the musical
sketches I found alongside Ceniti’s notes on the same beach house desk. These consist of
five large, unbound sheets of manuscript paper with hastily written motives and chords as
well as indecipherable scribblings. No particular order seems indicated, while the
provenance of the music would have been impossible to ascertain were it not for the
presence, on the shelf above the desk, of a number of large, bound musical scores. These
proved to be the oratorios Ceniti composed many years ago at the start of his career –
ambitious, cumbersome works in which the seeds of the artist’s later expression are first
found. The pages, yellowed with age, contain frequent markings made by a conductor, and
on one of the inside covers there even appears what seems to be a list of deli sandwich
orders, probably intended to refresh the performers during a rehearsal break. On that same
shelf I also discovered a number of books – mostly of the sci-fi / fantasy type, and scores by
other composers, including two neglected masterpieces of 19th century opera: The Barber
of Bagdad by Peter Cornelius and Berlioz’s Benveuto Cellini, and, most importantly, the 4th,
7th and 9th symphonies of Cenit's childhood idol, Anton Bruckner, along with Schoenberg's
Gurrelieder and Verklarte Nacht. A collection of DVDs of Star Trek, the original television
series, completes the catalogue of my findings.
It became possible to trace the thematic sketches on the manuscript paper to their origin in
the early works: this provided a chronology to the sketches, and that, coupled with Ceniti’s
ruminations on “stream of consciousness” technique, gave me the idea of elaborating the
material into a string sextet upon which I am currently working, which I hope to present by
summer’s end, and which I call The Green Grasshopper, for reasons the ensuing text will
make clear, though I will mention here that the choice of six performers can be understood
as representing the six legs of an insect, while the score I am preparing will utilize four
colors, with blue indicating thematic material derived from Ceniti's works, green for Star Trek
themes, red for Bruckner and Schoenberg, and black for non-thematic material.
The form of this single movement work is sure to be unique. To the uninitiated it will seem a
panorama of changing ideas, a fantasy wherein a lucid progression of emotional states
reigns in place of intellectual development. So much is to be expected from a familiarity with
all the quasi–improvisatory Ofterdingen phenomena. But to the careful listener a hidden
level of meaning will be discerned, directing the flow of melody: the score will present the
themes of Ceniti’s youthful works in the order of their appearance in the world – thus the
form will amount to a glimpse, as it were in “fast–forward,” of the artist’s evolving musical
imagination. Star Trek aficionados will also discover, melted into the musical discourse,
certain melodies conceived for that show by Alexander Courage, along with quotations and
transformations of the Bruckner and Schoenberg works. It goes without saying that, if the
music has any worth, the private allusions are unnecessary to its enjoyment, though there is
a special "double pleasure" that arises from the perception of both autonomous meaning and
coded significance. And whereas, with a traditional work, original themes are arranged in
conventional forms, here the opposite is true: it is the musical material that is derivative,
while the originality arises from their novel arrangement.
Inevitably such a task involves the arranger in problems of stylistic incongruities. I am
currently struggling with this matter; my tentative solution is as follows: reaching a
particularly intractable passage, I lay down my pen, repair to my colleague’s well furnished
kitchen and imbibe a cooling draught of smooth ale, or perhaps one of those little “wine
coolers” nestled on the refrigerator door. Returning to my work I find the contrapuntal lines
have blurred, the harmonies have melted, the timbres have dissolved into one great, fuzzy ur-
sound…I shrug, and I turn the page.
The reader will understand, I trust, my reasons for remaining in the Ceniti bungalow these
past few weeks: I do not wish to disturb the manuscripts he has left, or in any way risk
upsetting his probably fragile metal health; above all, I hope to catch him by surprise one fine
day as he strolls in (I imagine) sporting a broad sombrero, a fishing pole over his shoulder.
In the meantime the view is grand, all the beds are comfortable, and in an extra refrigerator
located in the basement there’s plenty more beer. It’s almost as if he was expecting me.
Here follows the text of the “Missing Pages”.
Baiting Hollow! The place seems smaller now that I’m grown, but otherwise unchanged
except for the shifting of sand about the jetties and the work of winter storms on the bluffs.
Exquisite pale pebbles still glisten in the shore–foam where the sky bends down to meet the
sea, and the black cormorants still perch on boulders (but this must be another generation!) ,
spreading their wings to dry in the air. That shell lying there reminds me of something I read
long ago, how crustaceans secrete calciferous matter continuously, in widening spirals, until
the moment of death; and I think: my fitful, darkly motivated secretions (I’m talking about my
musical and scholarly publications) project an invisible, spiral form, as the familiar themes
are periodically enriched by accumulated experience, or is it that experience grants us a
deeper appreciation of what the familiar has always possessed?
Sitting here on this bleached log as I did for so many summers, I find my thoughts drifting like
seaweed; the innocent impressions of the child become confused with the observations of
the youthful poet, and leitmotifs from Star Trek mingle with melodies of works I’ve nearly
forgotten writing. In this still space of heat and haze it is time that dances: I confront my
sundry selves in many mirrors, and what I had thought to be progress, a shedding of skins,
reveals itself as spiral loops in a single shell that is my life.
I’ve come to realize I am immeasurably more complex a being than I used to think I was: this
pleases me most of the time (except, for example, when I am filing my tax returns trying to
figure out how many dependents to claim). There’s my nature – all those atavistic instincts I
can conveniently blame for my lapses in behavior, and then, of course, there’s my nurture –
my family, the books I’ve read (like A Voyage to Arcturas and Perelandra and even The
Dreamquest of Unknown Kadath, and of course Magic Mountain), the pedagogues and
prelates, not to mention my memory of being thrown out trying to steal third base in a Little
League game with a teammate already occupying that spot.
There’s also a fairly good chance (as I’ve come to see things) that I possess an immortal
soul, and this complicates everything since, in addition to being the product of my genes and
my environment, there’s the possibility that my actions in previous lifetimes have
predisposed me in ways I’m unaware of so that even when I think I’m choosing freely I’m the
prisoner of my karma.
I short, I’ve evolved a typically Modernist, “fractured” view of the self: I am the sum of my
competing voices: as I said, an infinitely more complex situation than I used to imagine. Not
that I’ve actually read much Joyce or Kafka (God forbid!). But the form you might notice
unfolding here which could be described as “stream of consciousness” or “calculated
collage” or “free association” or perhaps “dreamy discontinuity” arises, in any event, from
the method of simply jotting down thoughts as they pop into my head.
So like some crusty sea creature I find myself traversing another cycle, winding another loop
in my spiral, by which I mean that I’ve returned to the summer shores of my youth and that,
returning, I’ve been flooded with remembrances, and that, remembering, I’m driven to rework
the old themes, reflecting upon them over time, elaborating, stylizing, or perhaps instead
crystallizing, distilling to essential form, or maybe just regurgitating, and, to be honest, I lack
the objectivity to determine whether this is wisdom or folly, whether I’ve become the sage
who in stillness gathers the universe to himself, or a persistent parrot stuck in a loop of
mindless repetitions. And so I waver between euphoria and stultifying malaise.
Needless to say, a little feedback would be appreciated, but nobody gives a damn about my
work; I’ve learned to live with that, consoling myself with the thought that outer success
would only have tempted me to sell out, whereas the practice of art as “die Erhebung des
Menschen uber sich Selbst” – Novalis’ term, “the transformation of man over himself” –
bears its own austere rewards. Still I’m human, you know? and am chronically plagued by
hopeful fantasies of certain colleagues nodding in approbation at my subtleties, or of
faceless scholars of international repute scribbling enthusiastic requests for copies of this or
that score, or of the barber down the street (who stares balefully through the glass at me
each morning since our “misunderstanding” some years ago) – the barber or the young
woman at the Pharmacy counter smiling at the recognition of my name (“I was listening to
the radio the other day and I heard…”).
But you’re wondering whether I’ve become unhinged, and perhaps even if, in these frank
utterances I am unwittingly confessing to the manufacture of the entire Ofterdingen
phenomenon. To such questionings I respond with a simple, direct maybe, acknowledging
at the same time that it was imprudent to steal third under the circumstances, but that I
desired to demonstrate to my coach a degree of independent thought, not to mention a
certain dramatic flair. You must admit, in any case, it was the last thing the opposition was
Meanwhile there are other instances of spiral formations as with the resonant wave–form of
a ringing bell (whose subtle a-periodicities produce a palpable halo of partials) or in the
revolution of certain planets about their suns. Rigid periodicity, like rigid symmetry, is
lifeless, as epitomized by the demeanor of a certain colleague of many years whose
ridiculous bow-tie spreads its wings beneath the ridged, inverted pyramid of his chin as he
glides aloofly through the halls of academia, masking beneath the distracted air of the
intellectual a dark jealousy, a secret loathing for me…
To be fair, though, for every trauma I suffered as a child I probably inflicted two: I really
shouldn’t have said those things to the chubby girl in my biology class – for all I know she
never recovered, and while I wasn’t directly responsible for that car spinning out and
banging off the divider on the bridge that rainy morning, I really should have stopped to see if
the driver was hurt, especially since, a moment before the accident, I may have swerved a
tiny bit into her lane.
The problem is my perceptions and actions are influenced by a disproportionate love for a
single person on whose account I am willing to mistreat all others. I am ashamed of this,
knowing it’s wrong, but seem powerless to improve my condition. So I wind up despising as
well the object of my affections, until in the end I only wish to be apart. But of course this is
impossible since, as you must have guessed, it is my self whom I love so dearly.
But those pebbles seemed to offer some hope: cool and quiet, smooth like flattened eggs
from centuries of watery caresses, shot through with mesmerizing dark lines and spots, like
miniature modern art, frozen images of hot flowing prehistoric juices cooled, coalesced,
crystallized. Escape! (I remember thinking) - escape from symmetry (farewell, Professor
Bow-tie!) and subjectivity (farewell, my selves, my loves!) to something clean and free,
random and right, a nugget of infinite spirit in compact, finite form.
…I walk the beach as I did in my childhood,
Then unknowning, now abandoning art,
Never thinking, never feeling, but being,
Dreaming like a plum–colored stone
Whose vast interior design is simple
Yearning forging form…
Was it exciting, liberating, standing on the shore with the sun on my back, seeing into those
stones? Certainly. Did it yield much poetry and music? Indisputably. Did I find in this
pantheistic epiphany the justification for a looser moral code? - Did I make the whole damn
thing up to be able to act like a jerk with a free conscience? Possibly.
Which would explain why I’m back here, where I began, wondering: what is the opposite of a
spiral? The image of concentric circles swirling inward to infinitesimality, the metaphysical
flush of a toilet. But with Heinrich von Ofterdingen I have some hope. With him I can hope
to climb out from myself while remaining a man. The beauty of his world gives me the
spiritual space to breathe - the space I've been fighting all my life for - in the face of
pessimism, modernism, you-name-it-ism - as well, it calls our past to judgment and invites
change, calls me back to confront my deeds and my doings, here at Baiting Hollow, the
point of intersection between Ofterdingen's and the real world, the place where what is
converges with all that might be.
Oh magical beach, oh radiant inner vision! A pale green grasshopper appears before me, a
motionless enigma, seeming to express, in his graceful equipose, all my experiences, all my
contemplation, distilled to fluent, elegant form, leading me to wonder: from the shambles of
my life, scattered about me on this beach, may it be that love one day shall mount?