Frank Brickle and The Complete Poetical Works of TE Hulme

Frank Brickle and The Complete Poetical Works of TE Hulme

21 August 2021 /Reports


Frank Brickle’s latest big project is setting the Complete Poetical Works of T.E. Hulme (Pound’s selection).

I understand the setting will be for voice, cello and two guitars. He used this instrumentation for his settings of Emerson’s “Merlin I” and Guillaume d’Aquitaine’s “Farai un vers”. His use of guitar might be explained by his working relationship with guitarists – Gunnar Berg Ensemble, Bowers Fader Duo, Vox n Plux, Cygnus, but it’s got much more to do with timbre-creep – a slow process where the old bourgeois instrumentations recede deeper into the past.

Dina Koston felt strongly about this and she spelled it out to me very carefully: the string quartet is 19th Century, while instrumentations with guitar and percussion are 20th C.

Since then, I’ve refined this. I have to say that Pierrot is now as stale as the string quartet.

Bang on a Can defines the 2nd bourgeois soundworld; it is a folk/rock instrumentation, psychedelic/British invasion. Brickle follows BOAC, hoping to discover another Scott Johnson. Johnson’s pitches are as good as his Rock instrumentations.

Bourgeois I is pre-1918; it lingers.
Bourgeois II is the folk/rock bourgeois.

Cygnus and Yvonne Zehner’s Gunnar Berg Ensemble get away from Bourgeois I by going for the lightness and transparency of the Renaissance and Baroque, and it can go electric into folk/rock/psychedelic.

Setting Hulme is an anti-Romantic impulse and so avoiding anything redolent of Bourgeois I (pre-1918) is consistent with setting Hulme.

Timbre is deep, but there is much more lurking in the depths when we conjure TE Hulme.

“The deities’ wanderings about the alphabet would make an interesting Odyssey.”,

says TE Hulme, as he outlines his Tory philosophy.

“For a long time, and still for some people, the word was God. Then we became bored with the letter G and went on to R, and for a hundred years it was Reason, and now all the best people take off their hats and lower their voices when they speak of Life.”

Last time I read this essay I got the context & nuance a bit wrong. It’s more a diatribe against the “horror of constancy”, which he calls the modern disease.

There are some things that do not change and his worldview is focused on that — the disagreements between two parts of the brain is constant. The verbal brain’s disagreements with the guts and sinews and instincts.

We might take away a critical paradigm—however novel or wierd something (some artifact of human activity, like art) looks or seems, the root structure & dynamic will relate to the human bedrock–disagreements with the guts and sinews and instincts. This is where I agree with Hulme, if I’m not misreading him, and it’s likely I’ll read him better next time, as withessed by the fact that this time I read him better than last time.

And I find a point of disagreemet coming out of today’s reading of Hulme’s essay.

His complaint–his putting his finger on the modern disease–is real and deep and reasonable, but….

He says the Romantic error starts with

“Ossian and the old ballads, i.e. something exotic and strange to the 18th century people… And then they found a different, a supernatural, and heightened conception of men, and it was that which makes any movement properly a romantic one.”

Yet, nevertheless, dreams *are* strange; masks (MacPherson pretending to be Ossian/Merlin/Homer/Dylan ) *do* put us into a dream space. And dreams just happen; when someone documents something that was a dream or clearly dream-like, isn’t it silly to accuse that person of Romantic impulses other than respecting the dream? Disrespecting dream Images is dangerous! I suppose dreams are Romantic, but let’s consider that they are a primal romanticism built deep inside us. Dreams are Tory by Hulme’s own reasoning.

Dreams are Tory by Hulme’s own reasoning.

The poor man died so young, but if he lived through the war someone would’ve argued this and he would’ve had to revise his Tory philosophy considerably.

And, this Wagnerian paradigm was our operating system from Ossian thru the American folk music movement and onward to David Lynch.

Hulme’s impulse to write, his itch, his motivation is deep and deserves our study. I am reasonably certain that Hulme’s point relates to Hoffmannsthal’s Chandos letter. Hulme’s Tory essay and the Chandos letter share some complaints.

Hofmannsthal, like Wittgenstein and also like William James & Pierce take a direction that seems motivated by something that motivated Hulme. Hofmannsthal left poetry and pursued theater–theater as action, while Hulme gave up sentiment and presented images.

Hermann Broch explains Hoffmannthal’s Chandos crisis as a strong need to get away from the “I”. Is that not an anti-Romantic impulse that is much akin to Hulme’s?

I have to concede that Hulme is onto a powerful rock-paper-scissors

Images can become the stuff of dreams, but an image can sideline dream-bluster, action is on a third plane.

Three independent spheres-

It is a bit Tory of Bricke to dwell on Hulme instead of, say, Julia Kristeva? I mention Kristeva because I feel she is very current, up to date, but not a bridge burner. ls it Tory to disregard the changing of the subject that happens inevitably over time? Hulme’s questions did not go away, we were merely distracted by succeeding questions.

Henry James was fond of this phrase from Benjamin Paul Blood: “There is no conclusion. What has concluded, that we might conclude in regard to it?”

Here is the postmodern condition. I uphold the principles of the antipenultimate revolution! You are beholden to the values of the penultimate revolution! And no one yet understands the present revolution.

Let no one interfere with another’s internal dialogue. To each her own revolution.

I uphold the principles of the antipenultimate revolution!
You are beholden to the values of the penultimate revolution!

In Vilnius next month I give a talk called

Two Revolutions Ago
–Absolute Values, Stranded Assets, and Integration

A favorite Brickle work for the Hulme instrumentation:

–William Anderson