Music in the Fiction of Richard Powers

Pim Verheyen Pim Verheyen / / / /
“All Things Must Be Possible” (J. S. Bach)Maar muziek in literaire werken?De auteur Richard Powers (°1957) maakt originele connecties tussen muziek en literatuur. Over de grenzen van één kunstzinnige expressie, zoekt Powers een manier om meer uit te drukken dan mogelijk is in taal. Door muziek in zijn literaire werken te vertalen, nodigt hij zijn lezers uit om hun opvattingen te herzien ten opzichte van hedendaagse onderwerpen.

Music in the Fiction of Richard Powers

“All Things Must Be Possible” (J. S. Bach)

Maar muziek in literaire werken?

De auteur Richard Powers (°1957) maakt originele connecties tussen muziek en literatuur. Over de grenzen van één kunstzinnige expressie, zoekt Powers een manier om meer uit te drukken dan mogelijk is in taal. Door muziek in zijn literaire werken te vertalen, nodigt hij zijn lezers uit om hun opvattingen te herzien ten opzichte van hedendaagse onderwerpen. The Gold Bug Variations en The Time of Our Singing gaan over het accepteren van het anders zijn: het eerste boek gaat over de verschillen tussen bepaalde vormen van onze kennis, het tweede over de verschillen in huidskleur. Door de unieke vertaling van muziek in woorden, laat Powers zijn lezers kennis maken met onderwerpen zoals liefde, maar ook wetenschappelijk onderzoek.

“The world is only translation” volgens Powers (The Gold Bug Variations 516). Om een bepaalde kennis op te doen, kunnen we volgens hem eenvoudigweg onze kennis vanuit één bepaald onderzoeksgebied “vertalen” naar het andere onderzoeksgebied. Alle onderzoeksgebieden zijn immers vertalingen van hetzelfde thema. Men moet alleen het vertaalmechanisme kennen. Deze strategie tussen muziek en literatuur is mogelijk omdat alle kunsttakken gebaseerd zijn op dezelfde universele principes. Reeds in 1948 beweerde Calvin S. Brown in zijn Music and Literature: A Comparison of the Arts dat muziek en literatuur expressievormen zijn die vele gelijkenissen vertonen. Powers bouwt verder op deze connectie, maar vraagt zich wel af “how words might fit to music. But music into words? Don’t push your luck. It will run from any description like floaters skidding across the cornea when and only when you look directly at them” (The Gold Bug Variations 602).

Powers onderzoekt hoeveel men kan zeggen in een bepaalde taal. Hij doorbreekt de mogelijkheden van taal door muziek in zijn literaire werken op een originele manier voor te stellen. Muziek is echter zeer moeilijk om accuraat weer te geven in de literatuur, het kan alleen door het te “vertalen” in woorden. Door muziek in een andere kunstvorm te vertalen, of door de literatuur met andere kunstvormen te vergelijken, kan een soort bewustzijn van onszelf en de andere ontstaan. Dit idee was al aanwezig in de 19de eeuw, toen Goethe de term “wereldliteratuur” begon te gebruiken. Hiermee benoemde hij de praktijk van het vergelijken van literaire werken over de hele wereld om zo de tolerantie ten opzichte van de nationale culturen te verhogen. Powers bouwt verder op deze stelling en creëert een groter bewustzijn in de actieve lezer die open staat om nieuwe visies te ontdekken.

In 1991 schreef Powers zijn derde boek, getiteld The Gold Bug Variations. In het verhaal staat de vertaling van muziek en wetenschap centraal. Stuart Ressler, één van de hoofdpersonages, is op zoek naar een genetische code die aan de basis ligt van alle levende organismes. Hij vertaalt de “Goldberg Variations” van de alombekende componist Johann Sebastiaan Bach. Op deze manier bekijkt Ressler de structuur van een DNA cel in een nieuw daglicht. Zowel de compositie, de DNA cel, als het verhaal vertonen vele structurele overeenkomsten. Zo is bijvoorbeeld Bachs compositie gebaseerd op vier dalende tonen, beginnend van de noot do. Als resultaat van dit muzikale rekensommetje krijgt men dan de opeenvolging van de noten do, si, la en sol. De DNA cel bestaat ook uit vier nucleotiden, namelijk C, T, A en G. Dit zijn de letterbenamingen van do, si, la en sol. Niet geheel toevallig uiteraard. Het verhaal zelf gaat over vier hoofdpersonages: Stuart Ressler die een affaire heeft met zijn getrouwde collega Jeanette Koss en de relatie van Franklin Todd met Jan O’Deigh. Kort gezegd, het meesterwerk van Bach, het wetenschappelijk onderzoek en het verhaal van Powers zijn gebaseerd op het getal vier.

Een later werk van Powers dat verscheen in 2003 vertoont dezelfde interesse in muziek. In The Time of Our Singing wordt deze kunstvorm vertaald tot een utopische visie waarin alle mensen gelijk zijn, ongeacht hun huidskleur. Het verhaal gaat over de Duitse David Storm, een joodse wetenschapper, die trouwt met de Amerikaanse Delia Daley, een zwarte zangeres. Zij trouwen in een tijd waar deze gemengde huwelijken nog niet aanvaard worden. David en Delia proberen hun kinderen Jonah, Joseph en Ruth te beschermen tegen de harde buitenwereld en bedenken een uniek educatief experiment. Zij onderwijzen de kinderen thuis en brengen hen vooral veel kennis bij over alle soorten muziek. In het verhaal toont Powers aan dat muziek de mogelijkheid biedt om mensen met zeer uiteenlopende achtergronden samen te brengen. Hij doet dit door muziek uit verschillende stijlperiodes, van verschillende componisten en van verschillende genres te integreren in zijn verhaal. Zo brengt Powers bijvoorbeeld de Musica Antiqua van John Dowland samen met de romantische muziek van Franz Schubert, de spirituals van Paul Robeson en de jazzmuziek van Miles Davis. De auteur beseft dat het samenbrengen van deze verschillende muzieksoorten niet kan leiden tot een samenleving waarin iedereen gelijk is, ongeacht hun huidskleur. Toch maakt hij in zijn fictieve wereld een sterk standpunt dat muziek kan bijdragen tot het verhogen van het bewustzijn over deze problematiek.

Richard Powers brengt muziek en literatuur op een unieke manier samen. Hij nodigt zijn lezers uit om de rijkdom van vertalingen en verschillen te ontdekken. Wanneer men de vertalingen of de verschillen in het leven accepteert, kan men tot nieuwe inzichten komen over zichzelf en over de andere. Door The Gold Bug Variations te lezen, kan men bewust leren omgaan met de grote hoeveelheid kennis die de dag van vandaag overal te vinden is. In The Time of Our Singing daagt Powers zijn lezers uit om na te denken over de verschillen in huidskleur. Door muziek in de literatuur voor te stellen, kan Powers meer uitdrukken dan mogelijk is met woorden. Omdat muziek en literatuur geen grenzen kennen, zijn het de kunstvormen bij uitstek om een nieuw bewustzijn te creëren bij luisteraars en lezers die hun oren, ogen, maar ook hun geest open houden.

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Music in the Fiction of Richard Powers – Pim Verheyen

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Universiteit of Hogeschool
Taal- en Letterkunde
Publicatiejaar
2012
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