LEGENDS  OF  THE  BEGINNING
        THE LEGEND OF NOVALIS

      (ABOUT   PARALLEL UNIVERSES)


Gravely ill and nearing death the poet
Novalis began to dream of unknown
cities, awakening in sleep to other
selves his soul inhabited in parallel
lives, drawn by the sound of a soft, lovely
music.  

Each city had something of the  sadness
of the inevitable, and  there grew in the
poet,  alongside a sense of familiarity,
the conviction that each of these
habitations, like ours, was fallen from a
state of grace.

He searched each night  for the source
of that ineffable melody, though he knew
beforehand that, in all possible worlds
and in all conceivable musics his
longing would never be appeased.  

Eventually he was persuaded to
abandon the quest for perfection (or else
he realized its attainment would be
tantamount to self-annihilation) and
decided instead, before he died, to
create one small thing that might
embody, if not the Ideal, at least the
noble state of longing it engendered.  

But the notes betrayed his intention, or
else he found himself unworthy of the
task, and  he fled from self to self among
the cities of his dreams, though failure
was his constant companion.

Some say he wanders to this day,
unaware that his movements trace the
melody he seeks, flawed but lovely,
unaware of the feverish hand that guides
his tireless steps, driven by an endless
longing.
THE LEGEND OF CAEDMON

(HOW A FICTIONAL
CHARACTER MADE THE
REAL WORLD)

One day (the story goes)
Heinrich von Ofterdingen
decided to invent a composer:
first he called him
Peter Ceniti ,
but soon he came   to prefer
the  pseudonym
Caedmon, he  
being  a tongue-tied shepherd
from Aglo-Saxon legend who is
given the gift of song in a
dream.

He did this for the  pleasure of
exercising his imagination,
although if you were to suggest
he was in search of
self-understanding, or the
opposite - escape from the
self, he wouldn't put up a fight,
since it's likely that the
pleasure of this exercise is
hard to separate from the
knowledge, the liberation, that
are its results.  

In any case what really
interested him is the relation of
art to life, so, strictly speaking,
he didn't simply invent a
composer, but pretended to
discover one of his works, then
attempted to reconstruct  his
life from what he had made.

This work he called
Wratlicu
Wyrd
(that's Old English for
Wondrously Strange); it's a
hybrid genre, part play, part
musical, part philosophical
dialogue, with musicians,
actors, dancers, mimes, and
all sorts of special effects.  
(Caedmon spares no
expense.)  

Wratlicu Wyrd begins in
Anglo-Saxon fashion with a
riddle:

I dreamt of Caedmon who
dreamt of Novalis                 
Who dreamt of a Wanderer
dreaming of a flower -
A flower from whose calyx I
was formed:
Who  am I?

This is, admittedly,  a little
dense, but the answer he's
looking for is
Saiwala, which is
Old English for
soul.  So
Caedmon, the composer,
dreams of (or thinks about,  or
reads from) the Romantic poet
Novalis, who has created a
character, Heinrich von
Ofterdingen, who, in the novel
of that name, dreams of a blue
flower in whose center a face
appears.  Now, if this face,
springing to life from the
flower, is understood as
saiwala, the soul, and if this
same
saiwala is the speaker of
the riddle, he who dreams of
Caedmon in the first place,
then we have here an image of
creation as beginningless, the
mystery we search being
embodied within us.  

At the work's end, after all the
action has been resolved,
Caedmon wanders onto the
stage once more,
accompanied by his lady love,
Sophy, and speaks, in a
casual way, about creating "an
unknown 19th century
composer, pretending to have
discovered his works, but
actually composing them
myself...He then becomes the
mask I wear to be able to write
real love music, of such naive
tenderness..."  "What will you
call him?" Sophy asks.  "I was
thinking
Heinrich von
Ofterdingen."
 

On the surface this is a rather
common twist - the deflection
from a traditional ending, the
last-minute surprise that
propels the work beyond its
final curtain.   But readers of
the
Geselleschaft will find here
the crucial moment, the crux of
all we do: the fictitious
character invents the real one,
the fantasy world conjures the
tangible world, so that the
riddle is enacted, the circle is
closed, the labyrinth is formed.  
In which we are willingly lost.



THE  LEGEND  OF  
ROOFRIDGE

OR

HOW  THE WORLD  WENT
AWRY


There once was a composer
and writer, by which I mean
someone who enjoyed
making music and telling
stories: as far as recognition
matters he might as well not
have existed at all.  In fact it’s
probably true that, as a
strategy to maintain his
conviction in the legitimacy
of his vocation in the face of
the world’s indifference (a
vocation that had come
gradually to fill his life with
purpose), this writer adopted
an exaggerated indifference,
scorning that fame in
advance which, had he
aspired to it, would have
eluded him, and cultivating
the air of a neglected
prophet.

In other words he suffered.  
And in his loneliness he
was further afflicted by  the
gap he saw increasing
between  his artistic aims
(which tended to be daring
and unfettered – why not,
since nobody’s listening? - )
and his comic ineptitude in
all practical matters,
proficiency in which would
have aided him
immeasurably in his work.  


Then came the Internet,and
it occurred to this writer  that,
if he were to create a
website of his own, he
would be divested,
permanently and utterly, of
the need for self-promotion,
which he despised and at
which he was such a
failure.  His work could
simply float “out there,”
quietly, patiently, ready to
reveal itself to anyone drawn
to its subject – matter.

At the same time, our
friend recognized that this
new format invited a drastic
re-thinking of the old, linear,
closed concepts in which
literature and music were
encased.  In place of the
logical progressions
inherent to novels and
symphonies,  he began to
imagine kaleidoscopic
forms of synchronous or
interchangeable parts,
forms without boundaries,
that grew and changed,
labyrinths and spirals,
circles and spheres, as well
as a new way of integrating
sounds and words so that
what he said would be
inseparable from the music
it alluded to, and the music
he wrote would seem to
explain the text.

Probably as a matter of pure
coincidence (a term which,
at that stage in his life, and
thanks largely to his
enthusiastic dabbling in
Chinese philosophy, had
come to be practically
synonymous with destiny)
his interest had settled on
the field of German
Romanticism.  So he
designated his new
creation  The Official Site of
the Ofterdingen
Gesellschaft, Heinrich von
Ofterdingen being his
pseudonym for a purportedly
unknown,  actually imaginary
composer of his fancy,
through whose works and
the commentary that arose
around them our friend was
enabled to address, from an
unusual vantage, issues of
historical, cultural,
philosophical, aesthetic,
ethical and metaphysical
interest.


His first mistake ( his Felix
Culpa –  happy sin, a term
Christians apply to Adam’s
primordial transgression
that called forth a loving
savior) was to employ in his
title the German word
,
Gesellschaft,
though this is
the proper term for the kind
of scholarly society he
wished to concoct.  For in
writing
Gesellschaft he
triggered a translation in the
computer program that
rendered his text (originally
meticulous and
idiosyncratic) in a very bad
German.  

Happening one morning
upon this mangled German
version of his site,  our
composer made a second
mistake, activating a link that
invited him to “translate
this.”  The German version
was translated back into an
even worse English that
seemed to toe  a line
separating madness from a
kind of hyper-lucidity he’d
never consciously intended.  
(For examples of these text –
transformations the reader
is referred to
Letters to the
Editor
.)

At the heart of this confusion
he discovered Roofridge.

Roofridge: a name he never
printed, but which ran
through the new translation,
a meaningless proper noun
that, for our startled writer,  
came to designate a dark,
distorting presence, a
destructive demi-urge
sprung from the nether-
regions of cyberspace,
whose purpose it is to twist
and malign all we carefully
design, or else whose
purpose is to leaven our
lives with saving humor (For
mo
re on this interpretation
see The Fountain of Youth
 
under
Publications.)  or to
transport us beyond the
confines of our tired,
habitual ways.


In any case the little world
our composer had made
didn’t turn out according to
his expectations, and this
eventually led him to wonder
if the same weren’t perhaps
true of the larger world he
inhabited which, as
everybody knows from
experience, is somewhat
awry.

As for notoriety, it came,
belated and tinged with
irony:  while the original
website still languishes
obscure, the Roofridge
version, that translation of a
translation, has achieved
great popular success with
German readers, spawning
seminars and  colloquiums,
tee-shirts and caps.

Perhaps it’s better that way.
THE   LEGEND  OF  HEINRICH  
VON  OFTERDINGEN

OR

THE STORY  OF  A  STUBBORN  
BOY


Once upon a time there was a
little boy who liked to play the
piano.  In the beginning, each
new piece he encountered
seemed miraculous and
unique, but over time he began
to perceive an affinity among the
works he loved, as if they sprang
from the same secret source he
sensed beneath the heavy world
of tangible things.  

But as curiosity led him to
experiment with rudimentary
compositions of his own, be
came to see that this hidden
kingdom lay within him, or
existed as an invisible bond
between like-minded people.  
Quite naturally, these early
essays imitated the styles of his
favorites, as he strove for the
lyricism of Schubert, the
voluptuousness of Chopin, the
pious ecstasies of Bruckner.  

When the boy grew older and
decided to show some of his
music to teachers and other
musicians, he was informed  
that such sounds were
unacceptable, regressive, even
laughable.  The reasons for
such judgments the young man
understood only partially –
reasons having to do with
cultural progress, originality, and
the avoidance of sentimentality
in the modern age.  He was
inclined to trust such
pronouncements and decided,
with the open-mindedness of
youth, to embark on a study of
contemporary  music, a
repertoire which, though it
intrigued him intellectually, left
him cold, his hope consisting in
the thought that, through such
study, the unfamilia rworld
would reveal its hidden feeling,
and that, ultimately, his own
style would evolve organically
into some kind of acceptable
modern form.  
(This was crucial, since without  
integrity an artist lacks all
motivation.)

But the day of his conversion
never arrived, and though he
came to appreciate those  
currents that drove early
Modernism,  he could never
bring himself in line with their
artistic consequences.  He
came to feel the victim of a dark
inheritance, and began to  
ponder means of escape.
Turning his back on native
traditions, he looked to eastern
sounds, experimenting with
natural tunings and
microtonality,  rhythm and color,
ritual and chant, wedding
ancient concepts to electronic
technology.  

Now derision gave way to
incomprehension: he found that
what people wanted was
Schubert after all, so long as it
was truly Schubert.  And it struck
him that the reception of a work
seemed to depend not merely
on its inherent qualities but on
its provenance as well.  The
Impromptu, written 200 years
ago, is lovely; if it is discovered
to have been penned last week,
it  becomes somehow a
travesty.  

Then, one fine day (some years
later, our composer having now
become a professor despite the
persistence of much confusion
in his mind),  being provoked by
the intense scrutiny of German
Romantic piano music, it
occurred to him, as an exercise
in imagination, to create a little
piece that, while utilizing the
stylistic elements of the 19th
century, avoided the imitation of
any particular artist.  

But almost immediately he
came to see that, for authenticity’
s sake, such a work would
require a real human being as
author, so he created one:
Heinrich von Ofterdingen.  But
again, he realized, for such  a
figure to possess the depth of
as living man, there must be a
world he inhabited, though not
the fallen world of our bygone
19th century (which led, after all,
to the cul-de-sac of
Modernism).  No, what was
needed was an alternate Age of
Romanticism, existing in
another universe, parallel to
ours, in which Ofterdingen lived
and worked, his harmonies,
textures and forms subtly
different from ours, faithfully
expressing a world-view more
felicitous (thanks to which his
future would come to be
plagued neither by  
industrialism nor technology,  
nationalism nor pathology).  


A futile exercise, regressive and
self-indulgent?  Or an invitation
to examine our past, as well as t
inheritance, even, perhaps, a
chance to take another path?  

As for the little boy, he is alive
and well: having refused to
accommodate his vision to the
world as it is, he is busy, with
the help of Heinrich von
Ofterdingen, at trying to
accommodate the world to his
vision.





THE  LEGEND  OF  
ANDREACCHI

( ABOUT  A  PAST  THAT  
MIGHT  HAVE  BEEN)


Among the works attributed
to  the writer known
pseudonymously as
“Caedmon” there is a most
curious short story entitled
“Fishers of Dreams,” from
the collection  “Baiting
Hollow Trilogy.”  We here
reproduce the closing
chapter from that work in full:

We stand upon the deck of
my father’s summer house
in Greenport on a night of a
thousand stars, facing the
quiet bay, united after many
and memorable journeys.  
My father is speaking to us,
relating how our family
name, instead of Ceniti,
could actually have been
Andreacchi.  Long ago, in
southern Italy, my great-
grandfather some sort of
nobleman, conceived a
child with a peasant
woman.  Unwilling to
bestow patrician status on
the boy, the reluctant father
gave for surname that of the
child’s mother.  From this
accident sprang the line
leading to my own father, to
me, and to my three sons,
all gathered at this moment
on the shores of Long
Island.

Unlikely world or what is!  
Infinite expanse of might-
have-beens!  The vast night
sky seems pregnant, like
that peasant woman, with
unrealized possibilities,
each point of light indicating
an alternate world…

I close my eyes and
imagine:

Io sono Pietro Ceniti,
Calabrian fisherman.  
Behind my seaside village
rough mountains harbor
inaccessible  bandits led by
my infamous cousin, Paolo
Cucchi…

Or again:

I am Pelog the Slendrous.  
My grandfather emigrated to
the jasmine isle of Bali and
married a Hindu princess.  I
preside over a gamelan and
dance, in deep trance, over
burning coals…

Or yet again: Men call me
the Petro Ranger.  I roam
the seven seas with the
bounty of nations on my
head.

I open my eyes, behold
again the world as it is, and
think of Ouspensky.  One
leisurely day many years
ago, I found myself back in
the neighborhood of my
childhood, browsing in the
Public Library.  And there,
among the thousands of
volumes I happened on  his
New Model of the Universe,
a collection of esoteric
essays written in the first
decades of the twentieth
century on philosophy and
science, and spirituality and
the occult.  There I was
introduced to the idea of
eternal recurrence, as well
as the theory that time, for
Ouspensky the fourth
dimension, possesses as
well a fifth dimension, the
temporal equivalent of what
in space we call depth.  The
combination of these ideas
– the circularity of
recurrence and the
multiplicity of parallel,
synchronous time-lines
constituting alternate
realities, led Ouspensky to
the image of time as a
spiral such that, through
recurring lives, we possess
the ability to choose
differently, to alter, to
improve the past, to
transcend the fateful
mechanism of periodicity.



By way of analogy my
thoughts turn to music.  The
distant sound of a pair of
shawms seems to float
towards us, borne on the
lapping tide.  I recognize
with delight the Tibetan
style, with its elusive
heterophonic texture.  As
one instrument performs a
simple, nuclear melody, its
twin entwines it with
ornament.  The two parts
never quite achieve
separate identities, nor ever
totally merge to unison: one
seems a variation on the
other.  I smile, recalling a
scholarly western dispute
as to whether this kind of
complex relationship
evidences a consciously
cultivated technique or is
simply the result of
continual mistakes by one
player or the other, what
with the absence of written
notation as a means of
teaching, learning and
remembering.

Between the deck and the
water sits a lawn where
three trees are growing.  
They are similar in size and
shape, it is the lack of rigid
symmetry that gives
meaning to the individual
and beauty to the group.  I
am reminded of the near-
symmetries of primitive art.  
Can it be that what we
celebrate both as divine
fecundity and creative
imagination is but the
perpetual inability of god
and man to remember the
tune aright?  Is life but a
great mistake, a pre-cosmic
cataclysm Milton described
as Fall, but that scientists
call the Big Bang?  Lao-tzu
speaks of mystery opening
into greater mystery,
darkness into deeper dark…

I turn from the water
and the vast sky, and face
my flesh and blood.  Shall I
speak to them now of such
things?  And is it possible
that, one day, a day like this
one, we shall all stand here
again, rapt in silent
wonder?  Or is it enough to
realize that, in this lifetime,
there are cycles of days and
years, of recurring
situations and
opportunities?  Happy the
man who awakens in this
world so such
understanding:  I have been
here before; I need not
repeat wrong actions until
habit become ingrained as
destiny.  I freely choose to
change my ways, to improve
self and world a little bit, in
the blessedness of now, in
the holiness of here.

Wordless, we re-enter the
house.  Then, bidding my
parents good-night, we
drive back towards Baiting
Hollow where, doubtless,
new dreams await.