Monday, January 2, 2017

Post-Truth Invades My Turf

It has been a while since I went on a rant about Jonah Lehrer. The last time I indulged was when I decided to take on an excerpt from his book Imagine: How Creativity Works. The result was a post to this site entitled  Performing Precise Research with Blunt Instruments.”

I suppose that one of the symptoms of the post-truth era is that you cannot keep a sloppy researcher down. This afternoon I found myself reading the “Igor Stravinsky” chapter from Lehrer’s more recent book, Proust was a Neuroscientist. This turned out to include an analysis [sic] of Stravinsky’s score for the ballet “The Rite of Spring;” and, by the second page of the chapter, I was already fuming over the inaccuracies and misconceptions in Lehrer’s efforts to try to describe the riot that took place when this ballet was first performed. His basic point was that, in the due course of time, mind usually figures out how to make sense of what first strikes it as disturbing noise; but Stravinsky himself made that point much better in his Poetics of Music lecture. (Lehrer even quotes a significant excerpt from that lecture. He credits Stravinsky but neglects to mention the source.)

Truth be told, however, I am less annoyed with Lehrer than I am with Google. This morning I was trying to track down the source of a Stravinsky comment that I have frequently cited:
To listen is an effort, and just to hear is no merit. A duck hears also.
Basically, Google kept pointing me at Web pages that were full of clever quotations, none of which offered up anything about source (or, for that matter, context). A PDF file of Lehrer’s chapter was one of the few search hits that promised to provide useful background. However, as may be guessed from the above, Lehrer was no better at crediting the “duck” source than he was in acknowledging Poetics of Music.

Eventually I realized that the source could well have been one of Stravinsky’s conversations with Robert Craft. So adding Craft to the Google search got me to Stephen Walsh’s book, Stravinsky: The Second Exile: France and America, 1934–1971. An Amazon search got me to just the right page, which provided far more context for those sentences than I had dared imagine. Unfortunately, while I could get the chapter number and the footnote number, I could not read the footnote itself. (Thanks, Amazon!) Fortunately, the book is in the San Francisco Public Library; so I should be able to settle the source question tomorrow morning!

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