Something Positive - Something Negative

General discussion about Leonard Cohen's songs and albums
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B4real
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Something Positive - Something Negative

Postby B4real » Sun Mar 28, 2010 9:56 am

Lenurn.jpg
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What Do You See? Half close your eyes. Could be either or couldn’t it?
" Beauty is truth and truth is beauty" said Keats or as Leonard says "The end of a Grecian Urn"

Well that’s the way I felt about Leonard’s verses when I first read them. Besides the overall amazing imagery of his words, my initial impression was the positive/negative aspect of some of his words. To me it does seem that this ambiguity is omnipresent in his work.

Now, as you can see, I’m more of a visual person and have a different way to blacken a page than with the written word.

I need your help here to understand Leonard’s reason for approaching these contrasting ideas in this manner.

Is it just to attract attention to the main thrust of the work? Or is it to confound the reader for a purpose? Maybe it is used to enhance a hidden meaning. Is it an official poetry device?

Here are some examples of what I mean:

I am not life
I am not death
I am not slave or free…

A flame that doesn’t need to live
and doesn’t need to die…

Where none was sick
and none was well…

Death is old, but it’s always new…

I need you, I don’t need you…

We’re both of us beneath our love
we’re both of us above…

I can’t forget but I don’t remember what
I can’t forget but I don’t remember who…

The open hearted many
the broken hearted few
the broken hearted many
the open hearted few…

I will kill you if I must, I will help you if I can
I will help you if I must, I will kill you if I can…

May everyone live, and may everyone die
hello my love, and my love goodbye…

All suggestions welcome. :)
It doesn't have to be perfect, it just has to B4real ~ me
Attitude is a self-fulfilling prophecy ~ me ...... The magic of art is the truth of its lies ~ me ...... Only left-handers are in their right mind!
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TineDoes
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Re: Something Positive - Something Negative

Postby TineDoes » Sun Mar 28, 2010 12:20 pm

B4real wrote: my initial impression was the positive/negative aspect of some of his words.
Thank you for this very interesting question. I like to think of contrasting or complementing idea's rather the positive/negative. Can one idea exist without having counter part; is there an urn without the profiles? However, one could be blind and not ever see the urn, only the profiles, Or vice versa. What the beholeder sees depends on personal experience or openmindedness to see both sides of an idea/issue.
"Death is old, but it’s always new…" Death is very new when one has just lost a dear one (I recently lost my mother). But death is also old.... As long as there was life there was death. I think that with these lines Leonard Cohen shows us that both aspects of an idea/issue exist, each because of the other.
"There’s no forsaking what you love ...."

Rotterdam 2008; Antwerpen, Dublin 2009; Gent 2x, Lille , Las Vegas 2x 2010, Gent, Amsterdam, Dublin 2x 2012, Antwerp, Berlin, Rotterdam 2013
GinaDCG
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Re: Something Positive - Something Negative

Postby GinaDCG » Sun Mar 28, 2010 11:03 pm

Do you have any (non-mathematical) familiarity with "the standard model" of physics? The standard model contains paradoxes (Schrodinger's Cat comes to mind) which make no narrative sense to us. The math, I'm told, makes sense (not that I have the math chops to agree or disagree with this.) But our poor brains are just not set up to see any unity behind what appears to us to be paradox.

Most of us think in words, not numbers. We are tied to language. Vocabulary and grammar are the tools of communication and the very medium of thought. And language is the essence of mental liberation; it allows us to organize our experiences into narrative frames and link our own experiences to concepts and ideas of others. But language, flexible as it is, can not allow us to grok how Schrodinger's cat can be simultaneously alive and dead. The very words "alive" and "dead" chain our thoughts into a "this or that" world which the mathematics tell us is illusion.

So, does language expand our consciousness, or limit it?

To borrow a page from the examples from your first post,-- I believe that language does both: it frees us our minds from a dreary, one-dimensional simple cause and effect view of our lives; but it also limits the ideas we can express to ourselves and each other. Hence the functional practicality of art: it allows us to grasp that which simple words can not convey.

Cohen uses the surface self-contradictory phrases you referred to (and others) to point to a reality which lies between the 2 poles. One method of parsing such phrases is to concentrate not so much on where they differ, but on where they are the same. Example: "A flame that doesn't NEED to live/ and doesn't NEED to die." The flame does not need to exist -- it simply exists. "Need" is a word of ego. It is an emotion, indicative of a self-defining agent. But here Cohen says, there is no egocentric self-will involved in this flame's existence.

Or "Where NONE was sick/and NONE was well;" Literally, this means that no one is either "sick" or "well" -- they (we) are all somewhere in between these two states (reminds me of myself and everyone I know.)

My favorite of your examples is "I need you, I don't need you/ And all of that jivin' around." Here Cohen is eloquently expressing the freedom and limits of his Chelsea Hotel lover and how she views/viewed the event: the sex came with no strings attached, no demands of need or ego. It was just the sex. In the Chelsea Hotel. On the bed. And for our narrator as well, the encounter has lost it's "jiving around" as "That's all/ I don't really think of you that often."

Language is liberating, but can become stale, and is sometimes confining. A poet is someone who wrings new meaning out of that damp washcloth -- producing unexpected drops for the thirsty soul.
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hydriot
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Re: Something Positive - Something Negative

Postby hydriot » Sun Mar 28, 2010 11:58 pm

Schrodinger's Cat doesn't contain a paradox. It is perfectly sensible, and is based around the old philosophical question of 'If a tree falls unnoticed deep in a forest, does it make a sound?'
“If you do have love it's a kind of wound, and if you don't have it it's worse.” - Leonard, July 1988
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Re: Something Positive - Something Negative

Postby IMM » Mon Mar 29, 2010 12:59 am

@Hydriot - it appears that you might, or might not, be a conventional person from Copenhagen. ;-)
There are big arguments in physics about the Copenhagen interpretation these days.
My guess is that Heisenberg is still uncertain.

Perhaps some of the duality in the imagery is similar to some types of questions posed by physics.
A physicist I once read about - when asked whether light was a wave or a particle, said of wave-particle duality, that the difference between the viewpoints was a bit like arguing about the difference between beers and pints - they were really the same thing. :shock:
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Re: Something Positive - Something Negative

Postby humbled » Mon Mar 29, 2010 1:51 am

I have heard many ingenious interpretations of Cohen’s music and seen many types of analytical models being brought to bear. However GinaDGC post’s use of the quantum theory is, in my experience, unique. Not that it is an invalid method; on the contrary, it may provide useful insight, only not for someone of my limited abilities to be sure.

That said, I think it is important that a full understanding of the tool used is necessary in order that one is not lead astray. First, the mathematical model is just as inscrutable as the colloquial description. Niels Bohr famously stated: “Anyone not shocked by quantum mechanics has not yet understood it“.

The great mathematician Johnny Von Neumann working at Los Alamos was asked by a scientist about a particularly intractable problem. Von Neumann said it could be solved using the method of “characteristics”, which he then described. The puzzled scientist told Von Neumann he couldn’t understand the method of “characteristics”. To which Von Neumann replied: “in mathematics one does not understand one simply gets used to things”.

An important point to make is that the concept of Schrödinger’s Cat is understood to exist only in potentia. Put simply, it only exists while the Schrödinger wave equation is evolving, i.e. out of the human ability to experience it. As soon as the wave form collapses (a measurement is made) one of the two states is actualized and you either need kibble or a shovel. My dog puts it on a more basic level. She notes two types of cat, dead cats and cats she hasn’t caught yet.

In Buddhism a kaon can be instructive and a way to insight, in physics it denotes an incomplete model.


Bringing this back to Cohen’s music; if he ever writes a song that contains a mention of that famous live/dead cat I think we may take it as him strongly signaling a metaphor at work, rather than his experience of such; the Chelsea Hotel and acid trips notwithstanding.

This does bring up a question I’ve always had: can Cohen’s music be described within a topological dimension or is a Hausdorff-Besicovitch dimension required???

P.S. It can be shown experimentally the photon is a particle.
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Re: Something Positive - Something Negative

Postby IMM » Mon Mar 29, 2010 1:59 am

humbled wrote:P.S. It can be shown experimentally the photon is a particle.
Uggh - I've been cut - twice --- I've been double slitted!! :shock: :cry:
the mathematical model is just as inscrutable as the colloquial description.
Mathematics is language(s) -- albeit with strict grammars.

--- edit
I should add (for those trying to follow my sense of humour) that I was trying to reference this experiment
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Double-slit_experiment
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B4real
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Re: Something Positive - Something Negative

Postby B4real » Mon Mar 29, 2010 1:17 pm

Thank you everyone for your input - much appreciated :)

Now you will have to forgive my sense of humour. When anyone mentions Schrodinger's Cat I immediately think of Bob Dylan's song 'Ballard of the Thin Man' and this line - "Something is happening but you don't know what it is, do you Mr Jones?" :razz: I knew I shouldn't have drifted down the board into the "Something Else" section :roll:

All jokes aside, any and all discussion of the contradictory images in Leonard's verses will always hold my interest.
Because I have been in the art industry for over 35 years, I tend to see Leonard's words as actual physical images in my head and then on to my canvas; so this yes/no aspect of his work I find fascinating to interpret. Your contributions, from their varied sources, can only help me to understand this element of his work even further. They say a picture is worth a thousand words but I think it is quality not quantity that tells the story more succinctly.
It doesn't have to be perfect, it just has to B4real ~ me
Attitude is a self-fulfilling prophecy ~ me ...... The magic of art is the truth of its lies ~ me ...... Only left-handers are in their right mind!
GinaDCG
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Re: Something Positive - Something Negative

Postby GinaDCG » Mon Mar 29, 2010 3:04 pm

A small, humble clarification: I did not mean to imply that Cohen himself was using any metaphors from the standard model of physics; merely to use this as an example of the limitations of language which require a writer to write in contradictory statements to get at truths between and among vocabulary and syntax.

And I am thrilled that I have found a place (remember I live in West Virginia) where I can make a reference to Schrodinger's Cat and people "get it." I purchased a T shirt with a large cartoon cat posing for a police photo which reads "Wanted/ For Quantum Indeterminancy/ Schrodinger's Cat/ Dead or Alive." No one got it. A distressing number of people point to the shirt and ask "What's this about?" I try to explain --but . . . naaah; one just can't summarize parts of the standard model to strangers standing behind you in the grocery check-out line. Excepting one trip to a local gym where a man walked up to my excitedly, pointed to my shirt and said, "That's hilarious! Do you understand it?" Turns out the man was a physics professor from a local college and he was delighted to find that he was not the only person in town (or in the gym) who had heard of Schrodinger's Cat.

And Humbled, -- thanks for alerting me to the Hausdorff-Besicovitch Dimension, whose properties may indeed help with the interpretation of many of Bob Dylan's "middle period" songs: "You ain't a'goin nowhere."
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Re: Something Positive - Something Negative

Postby humbled » Tue Mar 30, 2010 12:27 am

GinaDCG:
You have done a very good job in highlighting the inadequacy of language. Language is designed to communicate those things common to human experience in everyday life. The dead/live cat is an example of a “coherent superposition” this is something that, by definition, can never be directly experienced and so the inability of language to describe it.

It can also be seen in the idea that the speed of light in a vacuum (c) cannot be exceeded. Except that R.Chiao at Cal Tech has been racing two photons against each other since 1993, the photon that wins is the one that exceeds the speed of light. This has been confirmed in many other labs across the world.

It is also seen in the idea that a photon is a particle/wave or some combination. This is not true. The photon is a particle. WE can determine if it exhibits wave or particle-like behavior by the measurement WE make on it. The photon has nothing to do with it, as in the double slit experiment. All these misunderstandings are because we are interpreting into language the math that underlies these concepts and it is, as you pointed out, inadequate at best.

IMM:
The double slit experiment does not demonstrate that a photon is both particle and wave. It demonstrates that we can determine which behavior will be exhibited. Interestingly the interference pattern is not even directly due to the experimental setup. It is actually due to a lack of information. The interference pattern only occurs when we cannot determine which slit the photon has passed through. This can also easily be demonstrated by experiment. A photon detector is placed in each slit and the experiment run, if a detector goes off to tell us which way the photon went (the missing information is provided) the interferences pattern is lost and is replaced by a white band of equal intensity from end to end. Since photon detectors, like anything else, aren’t perfect it is possible for a photon to get by without being detected. If we run the experiment with detectors but neither go off we get the interference effect back again, because of the loss of information. Pretty neat huh!?

hydriot:
If a tree falls in a forest and there is no one there to hear it how do you know a tree fell in the forest -- let alone if it made a sound.
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Re: Something Positive - Something Negative

Postby humbled » Tue Mar 30, 2010 12:29 am

B4real:
To return your thread that I feel we hijacked just a little bit…
Cohen is a master in using symbolism. I think that is what I get most from his work. He often highlights paradox (your positive/negative). I think he does this because paradox is a sign that you have bumped up against the limit of your knowledge. You cannot move past the paradox by continuing down the path you are on, it will always lead back to the paradox. You must think in new, possibly very uncomfortable new ways. That is what I get from Cohen’s works; he wants to point the way to enlightenment. The enlightenment you get can only come from inside you, all Cohen can do is to move you to seek it in your own way.

That is why I don’t think, for me anyway, that knowing what Cohen intended is of any help in interpretation of his works. Do I need to know what El Greco intended to be moved by his art? Do I need to know what the creators of the sculpture of Shiva dancing the Dance of Creation intended to meditate on the meaning? I don’t see that I do or could. I think that is the basis of art.
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Re: Something Positive - Something Negative

Postby IMM » Tue Mar 30, 2010 4:21 am

humbled wrote:The double slit experiment does not demonstrate that a photon is both particle and wave. It demonstrates that we can determine which behavior will be exhibited.
I never claimed it was either or both, but that both descriptions attempt to get at 'it'.
That you do not wish to have 'it' simultaneously manifest it's aspects, is itself a mystery. ;)
You have arranged your experimental conditions to collapse my wavefunction, and I bow out of a discussion, which should, perhaps, be elsewhere.
humbled wrote:To return your thread that I feel we hijacked just a little bit…
Sometimes, when the rhythm and meter of words such as these, pass the pair of openings that are labeled as my ears, the pattern results in a pleasing interaction.
It seems to work with the written as well as the spoken wyrd.
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Re: Something Positive - Something Negative

Postby humbled » Tue Mar 30, 2010 5:33 am

IMM, sorry my mistake.

And let me just change this:
To return your thread that I feel we hijacked just a little bit…

To this:
To return your thread that I feel I hijacked just a little bit…

and bow out of the discussion.
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Re: Something Positive - Something Negative

Postby IMM » Tue Mar 30, 2010 8:10 am

@humbled - I certainly do not wish you to bow out, and I feel as though I hijacked the thread as well.
I didn't want to get into anything like the delayed quantum eraser experiment - but was struck by the parallel. Quanta can manifest as either a particle or a wave -- but, as Feynmann notes, the complementarity of the particle/wave duality prevents the simultaneous manifestation as both particle and wave.

Have you tried to see the vase and the head profiles in the image at the top of this post at the same time?
I guess I was wondering if the poet's
I will kill you if I must, I will help you if I can
I will help you if I must, I will kill you if I can…

wasn't a mechanism to the elucidate the dual manifestations of a single 'it' .
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Re: Something Positive - Something Negative

Postby GinaDCG » Tue Mar 30, 2010 2:00 pm

Hey! I'm going to shoulder in here and remind everyone that I'M the one who hijacked this thread. Credit/blame where credit/blame is due! (Perhaps my T shirt says more about me then I realized?)

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