December 21, 2007

Far Out

On Karlheinz Stockhausen.
Slate magazine, December 21, 2007.

3 comments:

Lisa Hirsch said...

Your wording here stopped me dead in my tracks:

Orphaned by the war—his mentally ill mother euthanized by the Nazis, his officer father killed near the conflict's end—

"Euthanized"?

Matthew said...

The best evidence is that his mother, confined to an asylum, died as part of a systematic Nazi effort to exterminate the mentally ill. The word, especially since we mostly associate it with animals, seemed to sum up the eugenicist way the Nazis regarded patients like her, her no doubt helpless position, and the cruelly bureaucratic rationale behind her death.

(I think in current usage, the term "euthanize" has lost the overtone of a benign, voluntary action. I haven't heard the word used that way in a while—over the past decade or so, notice how "assisted suicide" has become the more-or-less ubiquitous term. In fact, on more than one occasion, I've heard "euthanize" as a pejorative substitution from the anti-assisted-suicide side of the argument. )

sfmike said...

That was the best Stockhausen essay I've read, period. It actually makes me want to listen again to his music, which scared me when young.

My favorite observation was: "[Stockhausen] caused one last scandal after 9/11, when news reports quoted him calling the destruction of the World Trade Center "the biggest work of art there ever has been." Stockhausen protested, with justification, that his words had been taken out of context—but by that time, his context was so individual that almost anything would be."

I though it was the only intelligent contemporary remark about 9/11 other than Susan Sontag's short, rude remarks in "The New Yorker," which also got her into a heck of a lot of hot water. It was pretty obvious at the time, though, that the "work of art" was going to be used and interpreted by everybody from Bush/Cheney to Israel to the Muslim world to the 9/11 conspiracy theorists, all in their own way, to the unhappiness of everyone else in the world. May we soon move on to a new tale.