Thursday, July 12, 2007

Now, THAT'S how to mix fiction and music

Haruki Murakami's essay "Jazz Messenger" in the New York Times says all that needs to be said about fiction and music. Here's part of it:

Whether in music or in fiction, the most basic thing is rhythm. Your style needs to have good, natural, steady rhythm, or people won’t keep reading your work. I learned the importance of rhythm from music — and mainly from jazz. Next comes melody — which, in literature, means the appropriate arrangement of the words to match the rhythm. ... Next is harmony — the internal mental sounds that support the words. Then comes the part I like best: free improvisation. Through some special channel, the story comes welling out freely from inside. ...

Finally comes what may be the most important thing: that high you experience upon completing a work — upon ending your performance” and feeling you have succeeded in reaching a place that is new and meaningful.

Here's some of what I wrote last fall about Jean-Claude Izzo:

Izzo seems to have had music very much on his mind as he wrote Total Chaos. This shows not just in the frequent invocations of music to set mood and define character, but also in a small aspect of the book's construction. The protagonist and two friends who figure prominently are of Spanish or Neapolitan stock. The milieu of the novel is 1990s Marseilles, which has new minorities, some African but mostly Arab. Throughout the novel, the protagonist and narrator, Fabio Montale, compares and contrasts the older immigrants with their newer counterparts. These observations are commentaries on the main action, something like a secondary theme recurring in a symphony and responding to the main theme.

As in a symphony, the observations build to a climax. As Montale's world reels into total chaos (bodies pile up, killers and victims turn out to be connected in unexpected ways, and fascists of an especially evil kind turn up in high places — or dead), the comparison of poor white Italian and Spanish immigrants with poor dark-skinned Arabs intensifies into identification. In one of the novel's numerous flashbacks, Montale and friends comtemplate with grim amusement the situation of Spanish and Neapolitan immigrants to Marseilles. "What are we, after all?" one friend asks, to which the other responds "Arabs!" and all burst into laughter, the climax and the realization of all that had been implied first by comparison and then by identification.
© Peter Rozovsky 2007

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