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Rational thoughts about art

October 12, 2008|Carolyn Kellogg

GROWING UP, I was very good at math. My reading scores were never as good. At home, bored, I would create massive long-division problems to see if the numbers would sift into patterns. For a long time I saw beauty there.

For me, the arts were different: They were about moving outside the rules. It started by pouring pea soup into your shoes -- if you could pour soup in your shoes, then why shouldn't children walk from a wardrobe into another world?

So I was surprised to find doctorate student and Valve contributor Joseph Kugelmass write:

I needed to be supremely rational and brilliant . . . and the way to do that was to create an environment that encouraged the furthest flights of intellect. Rather than getting stuck in the emotional, instinctual thrashings of pop music, I needed to climb up to the Olympian heights of classical purism: Mozart, Bach, some Beethoven, Vivaldi, Mendelssohn, Haydn, Scarlatti, and then other acceptable works . . .

As Kugelmass listened to these musicians, the works he found appropriately rational got whittled. Now he questions the entire project, and so do I. Is any music rational? Is it possible for music, no matter how formally complex, not to be emotional or instinctual, as well?

When I read, I often adore books that encourage the furthest flights of intellect. I love Thomas Pynchon and Don DeLillo. But I would not say these writers are devoid of emotion. "Ratner's Star," DeLillo's science-iest novel, is full of trepidation, expectation, loss and fear.

Is art a logical place to seek order? Or are we most brilliant when we're rational? Can literature or music get us there?

-- Carolyn Kellogg

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