Sunday, December 09, 2007

Recent Passings (Vèvè Clark / Jane Rule / Karlheinz Stockhausen)

There've have been some notable passings in the last month. Just the other day came the news that Vèvè A. Clark, an important figure in African-American and African Diasporic literary studies, had passed away at the age of 62. As I commented on the CC listserve, Clark's death marks yet another loss of an important Black female scholar, particularly among the group that entered the academy and began teaching, producting landmark scholarship, and training students and developing and running programs from the late 1970s through the early 1990s. After receiving her doctorate at the University of California, Berkeley Clark had taught at Tufts before returning to teach in the Bay Area, and played a central role in the creation of the first PhD program in African Diasporic studies.

In 1991 she coined the phrase "Diasporic literacy" and developed the ideas behind it to describe a mode of analysis that looked beyond historicism and crosscultural contextualization to the multilayered understandings and valences that exist in Diasporic texts and productions. During my two years in Charlottesville I worked periodically--via email, letter and sometimes telephone--with Clark, and she was always unfailingly helpful, polite and brilliant. Berkeley and the world of letters have lost a major figure.

I also saw that Jane Rule, the pioneering Canadian lesbian writer and activist, passed away at the age of 76 late last month. A native of Plainfield, New Jersey, she was educated at Mills College, and subsequently immigrated to Vancouver, British Columbia, the province in which she lived for the rest of her life. I wish I could say that I've read her work, but I haven't. I do know, though, that she was the author of numerous works of fiction and essays, including Desert of the Heart, which I recall in its movie form, as Desert Hearts in 1985. As a film, it

The other day brought the news that legendarily notorious composer Karlheinz Stockhausen passed away, at the age of 79. Stockhausen was one of the leading figures in the mid-20th century art musical avant-garde, alongside the truly enfant terrible Pierre Boulez, and was also a close associate of a number of other important composers of that era, including John Cage. Stockhausen pioneered works in a series of styles, from total serialism, electronic and aleatory composition to renovations of medieval chant, culminating in a monumental series of operas, Licht, in the 1970s. Stockhausen's influence (like that of other 20th century musical experimentalists such as Claude Debussy, Arnold Schoenberg, Igor Stravinsky, and Bela Bartók), among a wide range of musicians outside the art music sphere, but particularly rock & roll, jazz and ambient musicians, was considerable and continues on today.

Over the years he grew increasingly spacy--as in, he strongly believed that his music was inspired by stars, that he himself had lived previous lives, and so forth, and his notorious detachment, however, perhaps reached its apogee when he proclaimed, in an outrageous but not atypical for him fusion of Nietzschean-Heideggerian mania, the 9/11 World Trade Center and Pentagon mass murder attacks as "the greatest work of art ever." He did later apologize. Paul Griffiths' fairly comprehensive New York Times review, with its somewhat vague description of Stockhausen's domestic situation at the end of his life (his menage à beaucoup), and a subsequent backhanded personal slap, is here. He is probably devising an ingenious piece of music from whichever plane of existence or non-existence he finds himself on now.

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