(DON’T) STOP, THIEF !
SOMEBODY STOLE MY KNAPSACK
Veronica C. Testaguna
Every artist, in every time and country, is driven by two impulses – the urge to
communicate, to be understood, and the desire to impart the uniqueness of his
experience, to be original.
In the interest of comprehensibility he employs a language of conventions, a set of signs
agreed to possess fixed meanings. In the name of personal expression he expands
upon or distorts these, or abandons them for innovations.
The art of a relatively stable culture will abound in conventions, and a genius, in such
circumstances, can take advantage of the easy accessibility they afford and fill the
accepted forms with nuances and subtleties, creating broadly appreciated
“masterpieces” such as those we ascribe to Bach (Friedmann, I mean) and Mozart
(Leopold, of course).
The art of an unstable culture will celebrate novelty and proliferate innovative
techniques, often resulting in widespread incomprehension, and attended, variously, by
anger, boredom or anxiety.
In the early twenty first century, with our meta-narratives debunked and our identities
fractured to so many competing voices, we are confronted with an super-abundance of
information of which we understand so little, though, as artists, we’re still driven by
those twin impulses – to communicate clearly and to express the essence of our
experience. But how should we proceed?
One strategy is to impose a mask – a distancing, objectifying or ironizing persona –
between writer and reader, composer and audience. Through this technique the source
of the work attains artificiality, becomes a stylized self-portrait or mirror-image, an alter-
ego who may prove more reliable than the natural self – at least it allows us to dispense
with the pretence of self-knowledge.
Some say that’s what Ofterdingen is – a fiction through which the Geselllschaft editors
speak, a prism through which their thoughts are refracted. Others would go further and
claim the entire constituency, from its founder, Peter Ceniti, down to its janitorial staff, is
but the stuff of dreams.
A few have even claimed such dreamers are themselves the dream of a brooding, poetic
god, himself a dream…
In the end nobody’s safe, and even I, Veronica C. Testaguna, newest member of the
Gesellschaft (already gaining a reputation for perspicacity, voluptuousness, treachery,
etc.) – even I stand accused of impersonating a female, while it is asserted that in
actuality I am none other than Peter Ceniti himself, rejuvenated and transformed!
Indeed, such claims may possess some truth: this labyrinth is deep and I seem to
have lost my bearings. No matter: such ambivalence frees me from facile
preconceptions, and enables me to present our readership (our elite, our miniscule
readership) in an open-minded manner with a most interesting article by an author
whose acquaintance I recently made – I speak of Don’t) Stop, Thief! by Professor
Tamara Pantiadonis, or (as she is known in Italy) Tammy Pannetone, or (as the
Chinese call her) Tam Pon.
She looks (beneath that luxurious wig) like Pelle Bono (our dear friend and former
colleague, missing for some years now and presumed lost). She sounds like Pelle
Bono. She even smells like Pelle Bono. Her style, her quirky humor, those piquant
turns of phrase (already receiving attention as “pantiadonicisms”) – are all familiar. But
is she says her name is Tammy I’m calling her Tammy.
The meaning of her monograph, to no one’s surprise, lies hidden beneath the surface
narrative, beguiling, psychologically probing and sociologically significant as that
narrative may be. The “stolen knapsack,” the musical fragments contained therein, the
protagonists of this tale are…Well, why should I spoil your enjoyment?
V. C. T.
SOMEBODY STLOLE MY KNAPSACK this morning. Took it right out from the back
seat of my car, in uptown Manhattan while I stood on line at Dunkin’ Donuts waiting for
my apple/cranberry muffin with butter to warm.
I’m excited about this, and consider it a positive sign, despite the inconvenience of
losing a number of personal items I habitually carry there (asthma–puffer, large toenail
clipper, dried apricots) and some student papers that needed correcting (for which I now
have a legitimate excuse not to return!).
It seems obvious this theft, probably a long time in planning, with numerous “dry runs,”
had as its objective the procurement of certain musical sketches I’ve been busying
myself with, ultimately intended to take shape as a Fantasia quasi una Sonata for
violoncello and piano. The inescapable conclusion of this circumstance is that,
beneath the visible impression of a vulgar, grimy metropolis, there teems in these streets
a spiritual longing so intense that jealous musicians would resort to robbery, would risk
incarceration, would even contemplate murder, in the name of beauty, in the hope of
But my readers (my impatient, my devoted readers, whom I see in my mind’s eye) are
beset with questions: Who is the composer of these sketches really? In what state did I
discover them, and where, and when? How far had I progressed in their fleshing out,
and to what degree could the final product have been considered authentic? And what
designs do my enemies have, beyond thwarting my efforts? Do they seek to usurp my
task, and if so would they credit the “original” composer? Or do they hope to pass the
piece off as their own?
I trust no one will be disappointed if I answer with a gnostic fable (embedding, as did
Novalis, within one fantastic tale a second, even more fantastic tale). And I will leave it
to my (discerning, erudite) readers to decide – or not to decide – which of these tales is
allegory and which is merely fact.
Once upon a time, when God was thinking about making the world, but before he did,
he decided to organize his fondest ideas into little sketches, so that he wouldn’t risk
forgetting anything, what with all the time he had on his hands. So he drew up plans,
and not just for the shape of things and how they’d be ordered in space, but also and
especially for their sequence in time. To his surprise he found both beginning and
ending rather daunting, but was very pleased with certain things he envisioned for the
middle, and, had anyone existed to witness it, he could have been heard exclaiming,
“Just so!” and “This is good – right there, before this and directly after that!” For he
took great care to insure that the flow of events possessed, as he thought of it, “just the
right balance of form and fantasy” so that each new event seemed somehow both
“logically fulfilling and wondrously strange.”
That’s not to say that those people, places and things he planned and organized
necessarily would have been aware of their purpose, or of the presence of this grand
and flexible design, nor is it to deny that they (the people, at least) might eventually
attain to such esoteric wisdom: the main point was, he could appreciate it, and when it
was complete, maybe they would too.
All was going well, progressing very steadily in those pre-cosmic times, when, one fine
day, the Evil One, or Beelzebub, or Roofridge, or the Old Serpent, or whatever you
want to call him, came skulking along and stole those sketches right our from under
the Divine Nose.
What was he thinking? To take over the heavens and the earth? To nurture and nurse
the nascent universe, only to bully and enslave it later on? To rise from sterility and
spite, and redeem himself in surrogate kindness? Maybe some of each, and probably
he wasn’t sure.
What’s certain is, whatever his intentions, he lacked the skill and the patience, the
imagination and the discipline, for the job: he screwed it up royally.
That’s the world – our world, yours and mine. Socrates and Siddhartha, Stalin and
Hitler, Abercrombie and Fitch. And since man’s a microcosm of the world (as one of
those gentlemen said), that’s you and that’s me! Feet in the mud, head in the stars.
But there’s more, as everyone knows from experience. Once God recognized he’d
been cheated, he began a high speed, long term pursuit of the Evil One. So, from the
moment things came into being, the world’s been left on its own, those two being
Eventually, though, curiosity got the better of wrath and fear respectively, and they
could be seen to glance down in the midst of the chase, which had the effect of
slowing their pace.
And to their surprise they found us here in a state which can be explained neither as
the realization of the original, flawless plan, nor as its antithesis, a complete and utter
For, once made, things took on a will of their own, and developed along lines
neither of them had predicted. Now God and Satan sit up there with their legs crossed,
side by side like little boys, and watch as the spectacle unfolds.