Saturday, July 30, 2016

The World History Project, or the Mother of all Recycles

It Always Starts With Music:

Remember my post about recycling? Sure you do! (NOT for the boring environment, idiot! That doesn’t exist anymore!)  I mean to listen again to every single record I own! Typically in the order the music was made.

I do this every so often. It helps me re-appreciate some under-listened-to or haven't-listened-to-in-a-while music. It helps me remember the time when I first heard it.

So why do it again?

Well, it’s time. I last did it around 2000-2002. (Yeah, it takes that long.) In 1977, when I only had about a hundred albums, it only took a few months.

And this will probably be the last time I do it. I’m pretty fatalistic, so I imagine I won’t get another decade to do it again.

Oh, don’t cry. Hypochondriac that I am, I’ll probably outlive everybody. (The key to a long life is to not enjoy it!) The point is that I’d never presume to do so.

But the “real” reason I’m doing it has to do with my World History Project.

Birth of a Dumb Idea: Novels

This will go down as one of the dumber things I’ve ever done, but I like my little cheap thrill projects. They simulate real life, which I’m somewhat averse to.

Anyway, the World History Project is where I read Important Books in Chronological Order.

Now, why would I do that?

I think it started with a funny column by Ian Frazier in the New Yorker. It was sent to me by Roommate and Friend Mike back in the 1980s.  It’s about Great Novels. He mentions Remembrance of Things Past, Bleak House, Ulysses, Madame Bovary, Buddenbrooks and War and Peace.

Always one to want to read The Great Books, hear The Great Albums, see the Great Movies, eat the Great Pizzas. use the Great Bathrooms, etc…, I was intrigued.

So, armed with a gift certificate (remember those?) for Barnes and Noble (remember them?), I bought some Great Novels I seem to remember getting:
Moby Dick
Don Quixote
Bleak House
War and Peace
The Brothers Karamazov

All of which I’ve since read (No big deal, it’s been thirty years.) except Buddenbrooks.

But did I just read them?  Of course not.

Never one to leave well enough alone, I began to think that the best way to read them would be in chronological order. Better to see the “development of the novel” (Like I’d know it when I saw it, but whatever.) The real reason is that I can’t just do something. It’s got to be planned, pre-meditated fun. Yes, I’m the original Buzz Killington.

Then, it occurred to me that if I were to really do that I’d have to include a lot more books than I actually owned. But which ones?

Well, I’d already started keeping a list of books I wanted to read. And then I’d keep my eyes open for articles that recommended books. And thus the Book Spreadsheet was born.  Yes, another spreadsheet.

So I read and read and read, making my way from Don Quixote (1615) to The Way of All Flesh (1884).

Then something happened.

Nine F*cking Eleven, or Don’t Know Much About History:

I continued to read over the fall of 2001, but like a lot of other ignorant Americans, I realized I needed to know more about history.

I decided to start over again.

But this time, I’d include history. And after scouring my own bookshelves and libraries, I found myself back around 1000BC, reading about Rome, Greece and anything momentous from elsewhere.

Despite my best efforts, my focus ended up being Western history, which in a way defeated my original purpose of not just learning about it but of also getting outside it. I’ll still allow myself the odd tangent here and there. (Yes, in my limited brain, the entirety of non-Western history constitutes a tangent. Call me what you will. Just not Steve King, okay?)

At the Movies:

And now I realized that I didn’t have to limit myself to books.  Sometimes a movie could cover some important time period or event in a relatively short amount of time, that a book would otherwise take weeks to get through.

And while I’m at it, why not include movies that aren’t strictly historical?  If they were Great Movies (see above) I should seem them. And if they weren’t historical Great Movies, I’d just watch them when I got to the time period in which they were made. Of course, this would mean that they wouldn’t start showing up in the WHP until the twentieth century.

And did I mention that this also goes for Great Television?

Care to guess how many DVDs are in my Netflix Queue?

And Art, for Art’s Sake!:

And as long as I was going back that far, I’d also read things like the Gilgamesh, The Canterbury Tales, The Inferno, some Shakespeare  and even the Bible.

But I also found Janson’s History of Art amongst my books, and realized that since I was making room for plays and poetry why not Art?  The history would add context to the art I had trouble understanding before.

My Own BC and AD - Pre and Post 9/11:

Now, one weird aspect (one Jaybee?) of this process is that I split everything into pre and post 9/11. And I will read the former in order. Why?  Well, I got it into my head that it all leads up to that moment.

I’ll allow myself to read post 9/11 things. I can’t live my entire life in the past now, can I?

The Last Great Recycle, or It Always Ends With Music, Too:

And what does that Recycling I was talking about before have to do with all this?

I was going to do the Recycling thing anyway, so why not do it in the context of the WHP? I was going to listen to the music when it was composed anyway.

And it’s already started.

My “earliest” album used to be  a cassette tape from Friend Joann, containing all sorts of oldies-but-goodies running from 1700 to 1900 or so by the Academy of St. Martin-In-the-Fields.  It has since been replaced by Chants by the Benedictine Monks of Santo Domingo de Silos, which I place at about 800 AD.

Then I jump to Monteverdi’s Madrigals which show up around 1638 AD.

I’m sure there were a few tunes hummed during these intervening 838 years but I may never hear them.

As you can see, things are a bit hit or miss here. Again, with the odd exception I’m pretty confined to Western Music,

And Classical music in particular. There’s a case to be made for including all kinds of folk music, but I honestly wouldn’t know where to begin. I’m hoping that some of that will make its way through Celtic and British bands like Fairport Convention.

So why am I telling you this?

To explain why I’d get an album of Chants or Madrigals in the first place, I guess. But also why I’ve recently gotten Vivaldi’s Four Seasons and Handel’s Water Music, which I’ll deal with later.

So where am I now?

Oh, about 1726.

Book: Gulliver’s Travels by Jonathan Swift
Movie/TV: Nothing at the moment, but I’m considering “Outlander”, which starts around 1743.
Music: Handel, Vivaldi, Bach

The Last Great Recycle, or Running Out of Time:

So you can see the size of the useless and futile task I’ve set for myself.  It will encompass books and art and music and film.  This music recycle will take MUCH longer than usual since my progress on reading will hold things up.

If 1977 it took a few months, 2000 a few years. This will take, well…

So I’ll be checking in periodically on this, writing posts filled with my incomprehension of Classical music, treating Bach no better than Beck, and vice versa.

Back when I was about 18 and joined a book club (remember those?), I looked at my now crowded bookshelf and realized that I would be dead before I actually read all of these books.

Now that I’m 58, this has become much truer, and it applies to my records, too.

So, this recycle will give me a chance is to hear everything one last time.

Does that sound pessimistic?  I think it sounds optimistic that I think I’ll make it all the way through.

Hmmm. Maybe the real reason I’m doing it is because I secretly think it will keep me alive…

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