Solitary Hyper-Listening

Dear Editors,

Nikil Saval’s essay on the iPod (“Wall of Sound”) caught my attention, since I spent the past eight years writing a book about the culture of music listening in the 19th century. Saval raises important questions about the connection between music, technology, and participation. Have mp3 devices like the iPod changed us? How might we measure such a change?

Saval’s attempt to answer these questions, however, oversimplifies the history. For Saval, it all comes down to Berliner’s Gramophone, which facilitated a new era of “solitary hyper-listening,” broken only by a brief utopian moment in the 1960s, when members of the counterculture believed that music could bring people together for social change.

It is doubtful that the mere novelty of the phonograph was enough to determine lasting shifts in people’s daily behavior. Further, we need to question the notion that recording technology was a source of private and introverted musicality, and that the public concert was a source of shared experience and sociality. The 19th-century music lovers I’ve studied frequently reported feeling alone in their passion for music. They listened at concerts in the midst of friends and family, but insisted that such friends did not hear the same sounds and were not moved in the same way. The longing music lovers felt, as they awaited the next visit of an orchestra, was a little embarrassing; rather than risk condemnation or ridicule, they recorded their listening experiences privately in their diaries.

Even if we accept that music listening in the 19th century was fundamentally more social than iPod use in the 21st, the question remains: social how? There were different kinds of social relationships between audiences and performers, between audiences and works, and among audience members at urban concerts from their emergence in the 1830s through the early 20th century. Elites coyly displaying the latest fashion at a recital, young clerks sitting in an astonished hush while witnessing a virtuoso, and bourgeois reformers enacting the ideal of an educated citizenry through reverent listening were all participating socially in a music event, but with different motivations and beliefs about what that participation entailed and meant.

Our analyses of iPod listening ought to hold open the possibility that what’s going on now is equally layered. People may be listening to more music than ever, and frequently doing so through earbuds, but they are likely making sense of that behavior, relative to other forms of musical participation, in ways that scholars are only beginning to explain.

—Daniel Cavicchi

Practical Criticism

Dear Editors,

I enjoyed Emily Witt’s essay on her experience in Cambridge, which moves towards a powerful account of the hopes the poetry she encountered there embodies—all the more powerful for her approach being so tentative. While Witt’s observations on English culture may be mildly disparaging (but nothing to the average educated Briton’s disparagement of American culture), they alerted this exiled Briton to some oddities I’d failed to think about—especially the preoccupation with fire safety. After a lifetime of crashing into fire doors I find the open corridoricity of Chicago a great freedom.

As for poetry, her most useful insight is her linkage of Practical Criticism to the development of “Cambridge Poetry”—this seems absolutely right. There are, however, one or two unwitting (I can’t resist that) impressions I’d like to correct. Prynne is nothing like the caricature of the Cambridge port-swilling don. He does not drink, but his generosity to his students includes serving them with wine. More important to say: Prynne is not just a contrarian, but a serious and committed dialectician. It is as dangerous to depend upon a single phrase or action of Prynne’s as it would be to exhibit a sentence from Adorno’s Aesthetics as representing his “position.” Further, it is true that Prynne has mischievously relegated American literature to a second order in relation to the first-order Babylonian, Chinese, and English literatures. This made a political point following the rape of the Baghdad library. What should be known is his central role in introducing American poetry into Britain. Thanks to J. H. Prynne, as an undergraduate I was able to talk to George Oppen, Barbara Guest, and Edward Dorn among others, and to listen to Robert Creeley, Robert Duncan, and John Ashbery. Prynne was lecturing on Frank O’Hara’s “In Memory of My Feelings” when I arrived in Cambridge in 1972, at a time when O’Hara was routinely dismissed in the US as having been a New York social butterfly, and five years before Marjorie Perloff’s ground-breaking book.

— John Wilkinson

Dear Editors,

I was the “large, mild, and pink-cheeked British undergraduate” reading his poem in Emily Witt’s piece on “the cult of J. H. Prynne.” I feel that the below might be of interest, a) to prove that I didn’t do a shout-out to George Clooney in my poem and b) to let the record show that my poem had a swear in it too.


Julia, on the white goods, my
Decaffeinato Intenso
desires you in aluminium.

Pick a gem from the thirty-six cup
tasting box, and place your choice
into the capsule support. Sip

and be mine. All possibility and roast-
blends in these boutique ten-packs.
Wash out your sludgy homegrounds,

for my love is vacuum-
tight and proprietary,
and just as the palm civet
shits the weasel-coffee, so these foil bullets
come hard and steam hot from my guts
and your machine
will take nothing else

but me
in any colour you like.

—Richard Osmond

Nothing but Butterfly

Dear Editors,

It’s time to refresh our hockey vocabulary. Kent Russell’s “Against the Butterfly” [nplusonemag.com/against-the-butterfly] concludes with the following words: “Butterfly goalies believe that there’s nothing else to learn; goaltending has an end and they are it. Certified butterfly goalies go out to teach butterfly goaltending and produce other butterfly goaltenders who are not real goaltenders, but who produce still other butterfly goaltenders who are not goaltenders.”

But there are only butterfly goalies. The hero of your article, Tim Thomas, is a butterfly goalie, though he plays the role expansively, with his own explosive and inventive style. What is his style called? I don’t know, but it’s a worthy question. Naming the subspecies of the butterfly would make them easier to argue about on the ice and in the stands. It would make them easier to teach, to learn, and—for the inspired—to develop further.

A butterfly goalie was first defined in opposition to a stand-up goalie, but stand-up goalies have been extinct since the ’90s, and their disappearance has taken the punch out of the butterfly definition. All pro goalies use the butterfly move when the puck’s shot low or when the play is in tight to the net. Thomas butterflied his way to the Stanley Cup and Conn Smythe Trophy.

If we preferred watching Thomas this year—if so many other NHL goalies were unspectacular, as you argue—it’s because Thomas was the very best. In the playoffs, he was a genius. In the future, he won’t be a genius all the time. He’ll get pulled when, for some inexplicable reason, routine shots slip through his equipment and land softly in the back of the net. We loved watching him this season because he overcame the existential anxieties all athletes face, and which goalies, as the last line of defense, face with particular pain when playing badly. Thomas focused. Luongo couldn’t focus, and so he invited doubt, and doubt made him porous. It couldn’t have helped that Thomas, his mirror image at the other end, shimmered with a radiant, untiring confidence.

Can what Thomas does be taught? Should he be a model for a new goalie pedagogy, one more free and unorthodox? Yes and no. There is nothing inherently corruptive about the popular François Allaire butterfly style. It does not enslave goalies and make them cowards, victims of their learning. This idea is offensive. It assumes students have no minds or imaginations of their own, that they swallow their learning whole, without hope of the new. The Allaire pedagogy is not The Nothing—devourer of the collective goaltending imagination. There is no such thing as a certified butterfly goaltending instructor. This isn’t Bikram Yoga.

If anything, Thomas proves that at base the so-called butterfly style works. He adheres to its fundamentals, whether consciously or not. But he interprets it according to his own strengths. And he dances too. Dominik Hašek danced, but his dance was inimitable and weird (though we all learned to jam our sticks and to do a reverse two-pad slide from him). Maybe this new dance needs a name, or maybe there need to be a couple of names set up in opposition. We can’t call it the butterfly, because that’s too general and no longer means anything. Nor can we continue to call new styles unorthodox, because that isn’t helpful. Names make new dances easier for people to embrace. Names make dances popular.

—Jesse Ruddock
Harvard Women’s Hockey, 2000–03

Easy Come, Easy Go

Dear Editors,

I left a GAP bag with two pairs of pants, a navy sweater, and a copy of your newest issue at the party on Saturday. I actually found those pants on the subway (!!) coming down to the party. They were in my size, so I took them, with plans to wash them a lot before doing anything with them.

I hope the errant bag of pants didn’t cause any alarm!

—Laura Mayer

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