Poetry of the Will

Film music should be subliminal, but in rare cases it rises above the film to a level that is distracting. Every time I’ve watched the part of The Shawshank Redemption underscored by Thomas Newman’s Brooks was here, I’ve leaned into the music and missed the scene. It is sublimely sad, simple and economical in the way that is typical of Newman’s music.

That isn’t to say I dislike the scene or the film, which teeters on that edge between hopelessness and hope. But the music is the greater thing. Thomas Newman is a mystical, almost metaphysical composer of film music.

I’m reading Balzac’s Le Père Goriot, A. J. Krailsheimer’s translation, distinguished by its lively dialogue and closeness to the original. It is a terribly sad and harrowing story. Newman’s score came to mind when I read, “The capacity of emotions to distil a kind of energy is quite remarkable”. His music is all about emotion and mood, also Balzac’s supreme talent.

Much as I like Dickens, his characters are caricatures, for comic or pathetic effect. They convey mood but I never believe in their existence. Balzac’s characters live and breathe and have a life long beyond the completion of the story.

“Père Goriot was sublime. Eugène had never before had the chance of seeing him transfigured by the ardour of paternal love. The capacity of emotions to distil a kind of energy is quite remarkable. As soon as he begins to express a strong and genuine emotion the most brutish of men gives off a special fluid which alters his features, animates his gestures, modulates his voice. Often under the stress of passion the dullest human being attains the highest degree of eloquence in concepts, if not in actual words, and seems to move in a realm of luminous brightness. At the moment that old man’s voice and gestures communicated his feelings with all the intensity that marks out the great actor. But are not our finer feelings the poetry of the will?”

4 thoughts on “Poetry of the Will

  1. Hello Anthony. Great to read you here, and miss you on Twitter! Yes, I think that I agree on Balzac and Dickens. But I think Dickens has been so distorted by contemporary ‘Victoriana’, that we can no longer read him ‘quietly’ as it were. I’ve been reading Ginzburg, Threads and Traces, quite brilliant. Hope that you are well. Best from here, Susanna


    • Hello Susanna. The Ginzburg book looks very interesting. Thanks for mentioning it. You may be right about Dickens. Once in a while I dip into Twitter to read a few accounts, including yours. I frequently contemplate returning to Twitter in some small way to keep up you with you and a handful of friends. Hope you are well. Best, Anthony


  2. Hello Anthony, Yes, all is fine here. Hope it is with you too. The Ginzburg book is quite extraordinary, managing to be both densely erudite and limpid reading. I am also inside Magda Szabo’s The Door which is wonderful. I went to Hungary in January, and so am reading Hungarian authors non-stop: Peter Nasa, The Melancholy of Resistance by Krasznahorkai and now Szabo. It’s lovely that you dip back into Twitter and read our accounts. It is also great that Melissa tweets your blog. So, yes, do come back one day! Best from here, Susanna


    • I’ve ordered the Ginzburg, Susanna. It sounds like just my sort of thing. I’m torn about Krasznahorkai: thought The Melancholy of Resistance very fine, as I did to a lesser extent War and War (though there is a set piece in the latter that is one of the most powerful I’ve ever read); conversely I thought Seiobo There Below juvenile rubbish-and a grand example of how publishers use the lit-blogging community-to such an extent I am unlikely to read more Krasznahorkai. I’m very thankful to Melissa for her continued interest in this blog. I feel sure that I’ll make some sort of limited return to Twitter one day. Thank you also for your interest and commenting. It is much appreciated. Best, Anthony


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