FOUR } Charles Ives: Sound
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} 83 —interval from felt to string a struck ear’s the soul’s seat set ringing —easy now song has a few rights can break a law if it likes if our ear veers hymnward it won’t wear no ribbon to match its voice —intellect is never a whole soul finds things there —must a song always be a song some in this book can’t be sung —Brian Teare, “Hello (Ives)” Secularity in the Euro-­American transcendentalist version is not a process of subtraction, taking away the religious residue and embracing the worldly core; it is not an inevitable process of desacralizing that accompanies urban and industrial/postindustrial life; it is not universally hailed as liberation from clerical oppression. Rather, secularity involves a complicated dialectic between the claims of present material existence, especially the drive for human fulfillment in the here and now, and the competing sense that there are other authoritative claims than those deriving from human beings, other sources of insight or inspiration than those leading to human “happiness.” Another way to say this is to observe that secularity radically queries both sides of this argu‑ ment, “fragilizes each context,” as Charles Taylor puts it.1 The worldly experience in modern and contemporary western cultures is object-­ oriented, spread out, richly complicated, and fragmented. The otherworldly experience often drives toward coherence and a search for the simplicity and centeredness sometimes, though not universally, found in religious traditions. In this broad-­brush way of Four } Charles Ives: Sound 84 { Chapter Four thinking, the experience of fragmentation pushes against the hunger for coher‑ ence, which pushes back. This dialectic is, again in Taylor’s understanding, what constitutes the secular age. Transcendentalism is an early experience of secularity understood this way: not simply as the evolution of a liberal spirituality out of the seedbed of liberal Protestantism, but as an expression of the desire for human flourishing in this world, pursued in a series of personal, social, and aesthetic experiments. These experiments sought to undermine remaining claims for Christianity’s version of supernatural truth, to challenge conventional forms of education and family life, to promote social reform, and to innovate new ways of speaking and writ‑ ing. In these senses, transcendentalists sought to make sense of an increasingly fragmented and disjointed early-­ industrial society and democratic culture by playing, as it were, with its pieces. At the same time, they were unwilling to give up all reference to religious (specifically, liberal Protestant Christian) language and references, and in fact embodied these in their essays, letters, and conver‑ sations. More deeply, transcendentalists were wedded to the notion that there existed a ground-­plan, a moral order, in the cosmos, that we discern intuitively, often in natural environments, and used their lingering religious/spiritual lan‑ guage to express that deep belief. So we might understand secularity not only as the interplay of worldly/human and otherworldly claims, but as the interplay of fragmentation and nostalgia. Often understood as a regressive and defensive mechanism associated with a longing for a time or place from the past and a sense of displacement from the present, nostalgia may also be understood less judgmentally as “essentially nor‑ mal unless it dominates the psychic economy,” as psychologist Daniel Werman proposes. Werman distinguishes between fantasy, which is a “substitute for the fulfillment, in the present, of a wish,” and nostalgia, which is “an experience of the past that is recalled, normally or pathologically, for itself.”2 Nostalgia, in fact, can be a principal source of aestheticized or aestheticizing production, perhaps most famously employed in Proust’s À la recherche du temps perdu. In Charles Ives’s music, the inclusion of snatches of hymn tunes and marches can readily be seen as nostalgic, recollecting a real or imagined time of cultural cohesion, of sets of values which have, in the present time of composition and/or the present time of listening, gone missing. Ives (1874–­1954) drew upon a rich knowledge and sense of the past, and few creative figures in the early twentieth-­century United States were as attuned to the influence of transcendentalism. He grasped the compet‑ ing claims of fissure and unity in the nation and its history and created some of the most challenging and original music in the Western canon. At Yale in the 1890s, everybody had nicknames, even faculty members, although theirs were not usually used to their faces. William Lyon Phelps, Charlie Ives’s Charles Ives } 85 English professor, was an exception...


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