Friday, February 17, 2006

Force of Assertion

In a column for PC Magazine, John C. Dvorak made the remarkably dumb prediction that Apple is planning to abandon its operating system and switch to Windows. Dvorak bases his assertion on a number of false premises and ignores a few basic flaws — like the fact that software is vastly more profitable than hardware, so it's a bit odd to predict that Apple will drop its popular software and instead manufacture high-priced computers for an already over-saturated bargain-bin market.

Dvorak has made his career by positing ridiculous predictions. He's worse than a financial analyst who is consistently proven wrong, because Dvorak's claims are patently stupid. It's like a meteorologist forecasting that tomorrow's weather will drop thousands of blueberry muffins from the sky. You don't have to wait and see whether the prediction will come true. It's just stupid.

But Dvorak keeps writing and readers keep responding, and I'm reminded of something George Bernard Shaw wrote.
It was from Handel that I learned that style consists in force of assertion. If you can say a thing with one stroke unanswerably you have style; if not, you are at best a marchand de plaisir; a decorative litterateur, or a musical confectioner, or a painter of fans with cupids and cocottes. Handel has this power. When he sets the words "Fixed in his everlasting seat," the atheist is struck dumb; God is there, fixed in his everlasting seat by Handel, even if you live in an Avenue Paul Bert and despise such superstitions. You may despise what you like, but you cannot contradict Handel. All the sermons of Bossuet could not convince Grimm that God existed. The four bars in which Handel finally affirms "the Everlasting Father, the Prince of Peace," would have struck Grimm into the gutter, as by a thunderbolt. When he tells you that when the Israelites went out of Egypt, "there was not one feeble person in all their tribes," it is utterly useless for you to plead that there must have been at least one case of influenza. Handel will not have it: "There was not one, not one feeble person in all their tribes," and the orchestra repeats it in curt, smashing chords that leave you speechless.
I've gotten some helpful feedback on this blog in the past few months. For one thing, people prefer the political columns to the CD reviews. I won't be abandoning jazz altogether, but I do keep that in mind when choosing subjects. I've also been told, regarding the political columns, that my position is sometimes difficult to decipher. Folks say they have to read an essay twice to figure out which side I'm on. (Believe me, it's the first time in my life I've been accused of being equivocal.)

I can appreciate the implied compliment, that I'm presenting a balanced view by lending voice to both sides. I don't aim to throw bombs; and if I'm achieving an intelligent tone, I'm glad. But Shaw was right. What he said about Handel is true, just as it's true about Miles Davis or Bill Evans or Thelonious Monk. The great voices never lacked force of assertion. With it, even an empty shirt like Dvorak can scrape by. So it's a tool I'll spend more time sharpening.


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