Fugue State Lake, where the melodies are borrowed and the young artists have personality flaws

In the void left by Melinda Bargreen at the Seattle Times, I had assumed that there was a mass exodus of classical musicians to other nearby cultural hotbeds, like Spokane or Tacoma. In fact, I thought I had seen a satellite image of their migration, leaving gigantic, slimy trails of a yellowish mixture consisting of rosin, spit and reed shavings. This, as we all know, is clearly visible from outer space. But, I was horribly wrong. Apparently, Seattle still has classical music after all!

The thing is, you never get to read about it. Or, more accurately, when you do, you become so horrifyingly distressed it feels like you no longer know yourself, like you forgot your past.

[Violinist Stefan] Jackiw is a wonder, one of those young artists who immediately launches into a passionate, warm perfectionism, equally comfortable with the soaring neo-Romanticism and the pyrotechnic flashes of speed.

Oh boy (sigh). How many times must I say this? Word choice! Word choice! Word choice! Know what your specific combination of words imply! It’s not difficult to look up definitions these days, what with the on-web-line sites and their free “dictionaries” and web-robots. However, it seems quite difficult for many critics, which is why this post, this blog, has a life and will continue to have a life, for ever and ever and ever. AND EVER!

Not to say that this excerpt is particularly egregious—its meaning is kind of understood—but, come on man, its subtle awkwardness leads me to further inquiry (as I hope it does for any semi-literate reader) and, thus, John Sutherland receives a Royal Detritus Review.


Awkward phraseology number one:

...passionate, warm perfectionism...

I get “perfectionism,” I swear: the refusal to accept any standard short of perfection (OAD). However, unless, passionate is used synonymously with fervent, i.e. intense, how can perfectionism be passionate? Okay, fine. Jackiw is intensely determined to be perfect. But what about warm? How can perfectionism be warm? Is warm sincere? That’s an awkward way to say that, but acceptible. Though, why not say “intense, sincere perfectionism,” instead? That is certainly clearer and not befuddled by alternate definitions.

Whew! We worked through that mine-field alright. Now--and this is where it gets fun--what happens when we reread the sentence with our new, clearer, sense of perfectionism?

[Violinist Stefan] Jackiw is a wonder, one of those young artists who immediately launches into [an intense, sincere perfectionism], equally comfortable with the soaring neo-Romanticism and the pyrotechnic flashes of speed.

Awkward phraseology number two:

How does one “immediately launch” into perfectionism? Unless...oh shit. Really? No way. But just in case, let’s skip ahead to number three, just so I can get a better perspective.

Awkward phraseology number three:

[Violinist Stefan] Jackiw is a wonder...

Which definition of “wonder” are we using, Mr. Sutherland? I’ve got two plausible definitions, again from my trusty OAD:

1) [noun] The quality of a person or thing that causes [a feeling of surprise mingled with admiration, caused by something beautiful, unexpected, unfamiliar or inexplicable.

2) [noun] A strange or remarkable person, thing or event.

Since the first definition is a quality someone possesses, it’s unlikely the correct sense of “wonder.” Thus, we’re left with the second definition, “a strange or remarkable person.” So, like before, let’s insert that into the original sentence.

[Violinist Stefan] Jackiw is a [strange/remarkable person], one of those young artists who immediately launches into [an intense, sincere perfectionism], equally comfortable with the soaring neo-Romanticism and the pyrotechnic flashes of speed.

Awkward phraseology number four:

...equally comfortable with the soaring neo-Romanticism and the pyrotechnic flashes of speed.

For brevity’s sake, this implies that Jackiw easily acclimatizes himself to contrasting moods; he adapts well. And again...

[Violinist Stefan] Jackiw is a [strange/remarkable person], one of those young artists who immediately launches into [an intense, sincere perfectionism], [adapting easily to contrasting moods].

Awkward phraseology number five:

...one of those young artists...

He fits into a unique category of young artists.

[Violinist Stefan] Jackiw is a [strange/remarkable person], [similar to other young, unique artists] who immediately launches into [an intense, sincere perfectionism], [adapting easily to contrasting moods].


A small diversion for relief and a different, abstract color.

When reviewing “The Genesis Suite,” by several composers including Schoenberg and Stravinsky, John puts on his critic-goggles:

The visuals by Dale Chihuly, abstract colors projected onto metal mesh cylinders, stay properly in the background.

John, don’t you mean the visuals were abstract? Apparently no. Colors are abstract. Wow, I didn’t know that. You heard it here first, Detritusites!


Awkward phraseology number two, redux:

...immediately launches into [an intense, sincere perfectionism]...

Like I asked before, how does one “immediately launch” into perfectionism? Perhaps, it’s like flipping a light switch. But, more importantly, “immediately launch” from what, into perfectionism? I don’t know, but it must be a contrasting mannerism, such as being slobbish or lazy.

So finally...

[Violinist Stefan] Jackiw is a [strange/remarkable person], [similar to other young, unique artists] who [like a light switch, flip from slobbish(ism)] into [intense, sincere perfectionism], [adapting easily to contrasting moods].

(wipes sweat from brow) Whew! Sorry, folks. I know it took a while, but I had to show my work, as it were. I also had to be sure that I wasn’t going down an impossible path—remember the “oh shit. Really? No way,” from before? Well, oh shit! Really? No freakin’ way!

I thought that “perfectionism” sounded familiar, but couldn’t remember from where; I couldn’t place the term, until...

Wikipedia to the rescue!

Wikipedia delightfully reminded me that I last heard “perfectionism” in a psychology book. This is what the all-knowing Wiki had to say about Perfectionism:

Perfectionism, in psychology, is a belief that perfection can and should be attained. In its pathological form, perfectionism is a belief that work or output that is anything less than perfect is unacceptable. At such levels, this is considered an unhealthy belief, and psychologists typically refer to such individuals as maladaptive perfectionists.

Since Jackiw’s perfectionism is “intense and sincere,” It’s easy to think that the level of his perfectionism might be unhealthy. Thus, Wiki on Maladaptation:

A maladaptive behavior is a behavior or trait that is not adaptive — it is counterproductive to the individual. Maladaptivity is frequently used as an indicator of abnormality or mental dysfunction, since its assessment is relatively free from subjectivity.

However, Jackiw, as John notes, is also adept at switching on and off his behavior. Wiki on Dissociative Identity Disorder:

Dissociative Identity Disorder, as defined by the American Psychiatric Association's Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM), is a psychiatric diagnosis that describes a condition in which a single person displays multiple distinct identities or personalities, each with its own pattern of perceiving and interacting with the environment.

But these aren’t the only things associated with perfectionism.

Perfectionism is a risk factor for obsessive-compulsive disorder, eating disorders, and clinical depression.

And we all know where clinical depression leads:


Depersonalization (or depersonalisation) is an 'alteration' in the perception or experience of the self so that one feels 'detached' from, and as if one is an 'outside' observer of, one's mental processes or body. It can be considered desirable, such as in the use of recreational drugs, but it usually refers to the severe form found in anxiety and, in the most intense case, panic attacks.

Bipolar Disorder

Bipolar disorder is not a single disorder, but a category of mood disorders defined by the presence of one or more episodes of abnormally elevated mood, clinically referred to as mania. Individuals who experience manic episodes also commonly experience depressive episodes or symptoms, or mixed episodes in which features of both mania and depression are present.

Or even Suicide

Studies show a high incidence of psychiatric disorders in suicide victims at the time of their death with the total figure ranging from 98% to 87.3% with mood disorders and substance abuse being the two most common. [...] Suicide among people suffering from bipolar disorder is often an impulse, which is due to the sufferer's extreme mood swings (one of the main symptoms of bipolar disorder), or also possibly an outcome of delusions occurring during an episode of mania or psychotic depression. Severe depression is considered a terminal illness due to the likelihood of suicide when left untreated.


But Jackiw isn’t the only one with this potential behavioral abnormality, according to John, he’s just one in a group of “those young artists.” And suddenly it all becomes clear. Classical music is not dead, it’s dying, because our young artists are offing themselves.

And here is what Fugue State means.


David Rakowski said...

Know what your specific combination of words imply!

The verb (imply) must agree with the subject (combination). You said "The combination imply".

Word choice, indeed.

Empiricus said...

Pfft! Words of passion always fail me.

Gustav said...

Okay, so I'm no grammar expert, but I think that "words" is the subject of that sentence. For example, it could have been rewritten: "Know what your words imply!" However, "Know what your specific comibination imply(ies)" doesn't necessarily make sense without context. "Specific combination" is modifying the noun "words".

But then again, I may be being stupid here.

Murderface said...

Sorry Gustav, but Rakowski is correct: your, specific, and the prepositional phrase of words all modify the noun combination. That wasn't what I was moved to comment on, however.

What I really wanted to say is that Dale Chihuly is a boring hack.

100% tangential, and no, I don't feel like supporting my opinion.

Pre-emptive counter-argument for those who disagree with my assessment: Shut up. No, you shut up. No, you!

I feel much better now: I got to correct an objection to a grammar correction, and I got to espouse a contrary opinion on a popular visual artist. I'm the poster boy for Stuff White People Like.

That's just fucking great.

Empiricus said...

RE: Davy

-'nuff said. Plus, open invitation: promote yourself here if you feel like it. I'm sure some of the Detritusites would like to know what you're up to.

RE: Murderface

No shout out for the satirical Lake Wobegon reference? What's up with that?

David Rakowski said...

Well ....

Since you went out of your way to get the "Davy" part right... even though "up to" ends a sentence with no fewer than two prepositions ...

But still, I don't self-promote. Except perhaps anonymously, same way you guys blog.

Empiricus said...

RE: Mr. Up-to

(A deep Winston Churchill sigh)

Eating words has never given me indigestion.

What? I just liked the quote. I hear you on the whole self-promotion thing. Cheers!

Murderface said...

RE: Empiricus

I missed a satirical lake Wobegon reference? Where was it?

Murderface said...

Oh. Was it the title?

I'm confused.

Anonymous said...

1. This interpretive reduction by Empiricus is fancy. Nevertheless any interpretation is meaningless because Joan Sutherland writes words as a one-eyed postal worker shoots paintballs after a hard day of work.
2. Beethoven disliked prodigies.
3. Performers commonly agree that the stress of achieving perfection in an age of doctored recordings stifles musical creativity. If anything, recordings are murdering classical music.

Mmm, now that you mention it, maybe there's a bit more truth to this awkwardly worded review!

anzu said...

"Phew! We worked through that mine-field alright."

Not to nitpick, but I don't believe alright is a legitimate word. Gertrude Stein used it all right, but it doesn't make it legit. My Garner's Modern American Usage eschews any use of "alright". (And yes, I am fully aware that punctuation belongs inside the quotes, but everywhere else except in work situations, I consciously refuse to do this, because it makes no grammatical sense to me, and the typesetting reasons they originally raised for doing this in this country (but not in other English-speaking parts of the world) is so twentieth-century. . ..

Empiricus said...

Not to nitpick, but is there any room for vernacular or slang in a post that doesn't go after grammar?

Can colors be abstract? My thought is, no, they can't.

End comments.

Anonymous said...

rakowski just put a bunch more piano etude movies on youtube. "doesn't self-promote" my foot.

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