Sunday, January 17, 2010

Dylan on a Sunday

I've been thinking a lot about rhetoric and imagination, or maybe better forms or figures of speech and imagination. And I'm making a distinction between forms designed to foreclose and those designed to disclose. A theory, for instance, is designed to foreclose. It's primary function is to explain without remainder. A theory attempts to be a complete account of things. It's design is to orient us and settle things.

Metaphor is different. It is a way of speaking about something in new terms. It is pictoral and as such is trying to push us beyond the limits of straightforward speech. It is designed to disclose, widen and enlarge our landscape of interpretation. It is not designed to explain everything, but to leave open the possibility that there might be more to be said.

For what its worth here, the NT typically avoids the theoretical. There are, for instances, no complete theories of the atonement found anywhere in Scripture. There are, in contrast, several metaphors.

OK, Dylan. Dylan is known for his live takes in the studio. He's not interested in the perfect song. In a recent interview he talks about McCartney and others who in the studio can produce the perfect song. The problem with the perfect song, for Dylan, is that it leaves you with nowhere to go. The trick in performing the perfect song is to reproduce it in exacting detail. It is a closed structure.

Dylan sees his songs as living, breathing things. The album is a performance, a starting place. No perfect songs here. It is an open structure and further performances are variations on a theme. When I heard Dylan live, songs like "Lay, Lady, Lay," "Senor," "Ballad of a Thin Man," were very different from the original recording. The same song, undeniably. But not the same song. There's no reason to bootleg a McCartney concert, but Dylan bootlegs are revelations.

George Harrison invited Dylan to perform with him at the benefit, Concert for Bangledesh. Dylan was concerned about playing an arena and Harrison didn't know if Dylan would show up the night of the concert. Worse, Harrison didn't know that the songs they rehearsed would be played the same way they were rehearsed. And sure enough, when Dylan appeared, he played the same song they had rehearsed in a completely different time signature. Open structure. Not foreclosure, but disclosure.

Life requires both. But Ricouer and others have demonstrated that metaphor is fundamental to our making sense of things. I admit, I'm much more interested in pushing beyond the boundaries then I am drawing them.

No comments: