Sunday, September 26, 2010

"A Son of Liszt;" from Huneker's Melomaniacs

Benjamin DeCasseres describes the fiction of James Huneker as “Grotesque, bizarre, satanic, Latin to the marrow. A forbidden and blasphemous beauty lies over his work—the borderland nuances and moon-mad hallucinations of Baudelaire, Laforgue, Poe and D’Aurevilly.”

Part of this glorious moon-madness is the feel of deeply welling revelation. Lies and deception often cloud and distort, and unfolding takes place in reverse—stories awaken to reveal the past: a technique psychoanalytical in feel. We often trust these narrators when we should be cautious, and marvel when the very foundation of security falls quickly and silently away. To awaken is to discover a reality behind appearances, to transfer from the subconscious to the surface and see shapes of the unexpected.

Consider "A Son of Liszt" where we meet a personality driven by the sense of being destined to greatness through heredity. "I say, Piloti," says the narrator, "do you know that you look like Liszt?”

Restlessness is reaped in images of a dry town, with steadily increasing tides. Piloti suffers from debilitating self-criticism and doubt. He has been told by his mother that Liszt was his father. "She always wore black," reveals the narrator, "and after Liszt's death Piloti himself went into mourning."

Under a "sliced cantaloupe moon, full of yellow radiance," Piloti plays Liszt's sonata in B minor. "He rolled off the chorale with redundant meaning, and with huge, flamboyant strokes went through the brilliant octave finale in B major."

Piloti asks “But do I play like ...a Friedheim?” In the end he tells his mother that he would no longer be "cursed by ambition" if he had never been told the truth about his father being Liszt.

His mother tells him who his real father was..."My son, I never saw Liszt; you are--"
She tells him who his real father is great; take a look.

Is it true? At any rate it brings no relief: the complex centers on an appeal to eternity rather than simple comparisons of musical ability. Awakening comes late at night and truth (?) brings no consolation. “In the misty dawn I could see nothing but water.” Water, the great symbol of chaos--the forces of nature. “Little Holland was very wet.”

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