Joshua Cohen, a young American author whose first novel/cadenza/jeremiad blew my mind last year, is (if wikipedia is to be believed) having his new book published by Dalkey Archive press. It is a match made in heaven (hopefully the correct one). I read his collection of stories published by Twisted Spoon early last year and immediately sought more.
He’s one to watch, a bright spot in an otherwise mostly moribund under-30 crop of US writer (exceptions apply, naturally).
Anyway, I stumbled upon this interview with Mr. Cohen today, and was delighted by his casual brilliance and old-soul cynicism. It is the same allusive, spiderish sensibility that lives in the books.
The closer, to begin, on Art:
The day that everybody became interested in art is the day that art would cease to exist: July 4th, maybe, whatever year sufficiently far in the future for me, for us, not to worry.
On form (and he’s speaking here of his A Cadenza for the Schneidermann Violin Concerto, but it wouldn’t take too much imagination to apply this to the novel in general):
This book is a cadenza because, if it is a cadenza, it has an audience already: everyone’s already seated, within the pages, ready for reading, or not. It’s a novel written with no requirement for readers, perhaps. It’s sold out, before it begins. I was fascinated by the form, or non-form, or anti-form, of the cadenza. It seems like a period of grace, of temporary insanity. It has its conventions, but it has no rules. It has its history, but it has no practical progress beyond the individual—again, the personality. It lives, and dies, by its nightly practice—always different, always the same.
FJO: What do you think someone with a background in contemporary music might get from this book that others would not?
JC: If you know “music,” or music theory, or instrumental practice, or score instructions in German, in Italian, you might get more of the esoteric joking, the insider punning—the vocabulary, the language. But in my experience, a background in music, as you put it, does not always translate to a background in, let’s say, biographical music: Knowing the technicalities of music is not the same as knowing the lives of musicians, of composers, and this book celebrates the life of music, musical lives, much more than it might observe theoretical thought.
The difference would be, perhaps, the difference between music and musicology. Or, maybe, the difference between what’s been called “program music,” and the actuality, or reality, of such a program. I like the sea, I like all seas, more than I like La Mer. I am more interested in Schoenberg than in dodecaphony, though dodecaphony is a part of Schoenberg, and though Schoenberg—as a person, as a mind—is at least a twelfth or so of dodecaphony.
This book is much more an analysis of death than it is a comparative analysis of the Requiem of, say, Berlioz and Verdi. Requiem, by the by, has no plural.