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The No World Concerto

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If I'm reading Porta correctly, the idea behind "The No World Concerto" is to construct a literary text as one might compose a twelve-tone musical composition. Before the innovations of Arnold Schoenberg, composers chose a certain key in which to compose their works (that's why you may see, for instance, "in A Major" in the title of a composition). This method of composition necessarily privileges certain notes and harmonic combinations above others, an artifact that twelve-tone meant to change: instead of granting primacy to notes contained within a certain key, it would force a composer to use all twelve notes of the chromatic scale equally in any given piece – essentially, a composer must cycle through the notes with a systematic regularity.

In addition to leveling, twelve-tone also hastened the demise of music's tendency to have a beginning, middle, and end (listen to a composition of Schoenberg's at random, and you will be hard-pressed to say if it is just starting up or about to close down); thus, it necessarily brought to the fore previously neglected aspects of music. Modeling "The No World Concerto" on twelve-tone principles has much the same effect on Porta's book, which resolutely declines plot or character in the traditional sense. It seems to be arranged less according to standard plot dynamics than to certain recurrent images, phrases, and even minor episodes. As do the notes in serialist music, these images and phrases appear with equal measure (perhaps even according to some preordained set of permutations). And, like musical themes, the plot points in this book continually recur, each time in elaborated and embellished form, only finally exhausting themselves in their ultimate expression.

This is all well and good, but as the great Oulipo author Harry Mathews once said, no matter how ingenious or intriguing the idea behind a literary experiment, its execution must produce "valid literary results." So how does "The No World Concerto" stack up?

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