Dd Book Club DISCUSSION, Week 4: Gestus Amidst Ultimate Uncertainty

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Of the many notes I have taken throughout Chapters 6 “City of Nets”  and 7 “The Art of Fear”, one particular yellow stickie sticks out:

Gestus. An important device. It is stuck right under this quote: “In a 1928 essay, ‘On the Gestic Character of Music,’ [Kurt] Weill elaborated the related idea of Gestus, or musical gesture. The literary critic Daniel Albright defines Gestus as the dramatic turning point ‘in which pantomime, speech, and music cooperate toward a pure flash of meaning” (205).

*Do you encounter Gestus often or ever in your creative or personal life (maybe that magic movie moment when a great piece of music is playing during a conversation with a friend who said something that triggered the best idea ever to move to a new country or cut your hair or resolve a particular creative puzzle)? If so, please share!

Portrait of Lotte Lenya, 1930.

Young Bob Dylan. Was hearing Lotte Lenya sing in the Village “Gestus” for him?












Other topics I thought worthy of discussion in these two intense chapters:

*Is the role of the influential arts bureaucrats aka Leo Kestenberg and Anatol Lunarchasrky lost to history, or do we have an equivalent advocate today? (Damien Woetzel?)

*What do you think of the difference between Kestenberg’s dream of promoting “the creation of ‘art for the people'” versus simply bringing high (potentially elitist) art to the people?(197)

*Can you imagine if the Weimar “hunger for wholeness” had not been subverted by fascism? The Bauhaus school and movement is so influential to many artists right now and I can’t help but notice the Pilates method I teach developed out of the rigorous pursuit of nature and physical culture of that era. What do you think Germany would have/could have become, looked like, sounded like, if only? (200)

*I was delighted by Ross’s evolution of a song: tracing Bob Dylan’s most famous lines back to his experience of a Lotte Lenya concert and study of ‘Bertolt Brecht’s lyrics for Hanns Eisler’ (211). Did you find this connection (Gestus!) surprising too?

*Isn’t it hard not to enjoy the innate surliness of Schoenberg? (215)

*Did you read a parallel to Hurricane Katrina and New Orleans in Ross’s description of Rise and Fall of the City of Mahagonny? (223) Or to Las Vegas?


Left, Prokofiev. Center, Shostakovich, Right, Khachaturian. 1945.

*What do you think of Shostakovich’s great contradictions and epic ambiguity? Do you hear them/feel them when you listen to his music? I was particularly intrigued by his use “of cartoonish musical stereotypes to undermine rather than illustrate the action onstage” in his operas (247) and his favored mode for chamber music which “might be called ‘dance on gallows’–a galumphing, almost polka-like number that suggests a solitary figure facing death with inexplicable glee'”(281).

*What do you make of the lukewarm response to Prokofiev’s Romeo and Juliet. Having just seen/heard the power of it via American Ballet Theater at the Met this summer I find it quite baffling….

Pick a topic, any topic, add a new topic, and comment! Let’s DISCUSS.

Last week’s mashup can be found here. Previous weeks can be found by clicking here. (The next post will be on Chaper 8, but in the meantime feel free to email me topics for Ch 9, 10, and 11. Catching up on the back log of posts and we will be up to speed soon.

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