It's our obsessive curiosity is the enigma wrapped around the riddle that is Glenn Gould
Yesterday, on would have been Glenn Gould's 78th birthday, I read an article on Gould's piano technique by New York Times critic Anthony Tommasini. He, like many other New Yorkers, have been pondering the Canadian legend since the Canadian documentary Genius Within: The Inner Life of Glenn Gould began screening in Manhattan at the beginning of the month.
At the same time, I've been trying to wrap myself around yet another new book on Gould (which isn't being published in English for another month, so I'll save full comment for later), the latest on what I believe is a case of ever-diminishing returns as we squeeze every last drop of juice and sift through the pulp of what was a pretty luscious piece of musical fruit.
The dissection of everything Gould into tiny little pieces is a strange symptom of our times.
Thanks to Twitter, I know what Justin Timberlake had as a mid-afternoon snack. Thanks to omnipresent paparazzi, I know Jennifer Garner prefers Starbucks or that Paris Hilton doesn't just have lipstick in her handbag.
Is this a natural human curiosity about the musicians, actors and other celebrities (I can't think of a word to describe Hilton, actually) that we admire? Or have we become stalkers?
In trying to push to the extreme every possible psychological and physiological and philosophical analysis about the nature of genius and eccentricity and Glenn Gould, are we interested or obsessed? Are we appreciating, or are we destroying the magic of art and craft?
What is it about our nature that compels us to go past enjoying artistic creation in the moment?
We appear to have a need to possess the object of our love so completely that we frequently run the risk of destroying it in the process (I cite as an example Michael Clarkson's awful The Secret Life of Glenn Gould: A Genius in Love).
But this is hardly something new, as 17th century Dutch philosopher Spinoza reminded me in his 1677 book, The Ethics, written as a series of postulates and proofs. (This is from R.H.M. Elwes' 1883 translation from the original Latin:
Postulate 36: He who remembers a thing in which he has once taken delight, desires to possess it under the same circumstances as when he first took delight therein.
Proof--Everything which a man has seen in conjunction with the object of his love, will be to him accidentally a cause of pleasure...in other words, he will desire to possess the object of his love under the same circumstances as when he first took delight therein. Q.E.D.
Just because it's nothing new to want to swallow up the object of your love doesn't mean we need to do it to our favourite artists and interepreters, is it?
Here a bit of Bach to set us on the right path, thanks to Gould, countertenor Russell Oberlin and Cantata BWV 54, Winderstehe doch der Sünde (Why don't you try to keep away from Sin, already):