Meeting Philip Glass

chuck close phillip glassMeeting Philip Glass

(painting by Chuck Close)

This summer I was unexpectedly able to apprehend Phillip Glass on his way from the St. Louis opera house to the reception, I rudely stopped him for a moment and grabbed Phillip Glass’s hand. He is eighty now, a little frail but still traveling. His entourage saw that I had neither camera nor sharpie, so they paused curiously and allowed me my three seconds.

My carefully rehearsed spiel failed, and I managed to blather mainly “thank you for your work” and breathless gibbered something philosophical about how his circular forms could convey both enlightenment in Satyagraha and entrapment in the Trial. Amid the crowd and the noise he gave me that moment. He grasped my hand, and said kindly, “isn’t it the other way around?” and then he was whisked away.

At first I felt sad and confused that my seemingly insightful comment had been thus discarded. But I kept thinking about it. The look on his face said “you’re getting there; keep on seeking truth; never sit down and think you have it all figured out. Don’t take your own insights so seriously.”

The Trial is about being trapped in meaningless, ridiculous authoritarian prescriptivism. It is also about being trapped in self and bound by shame. I read Kafka’s Metamorphosis in college and struggled with it. So he turns into a bug, and gets an apple stuck in his back, and basically dies of his own disgustingness? WHAT?

Glass’s musical embellishment of Kafka’s ruminative circles of entrapment obsessive self-doubt helped me see that the Trial and the Metamorphosis both illustrate toxic self-shaming.

I think that shame is pandemic in western culture, and it causes a lot of people to either project their feelings onto others, causing contempt and bullying, or to direct their shame inward, causing depression, anxiety, addiction, and lack of autonomy.

But the other piece of it, the part I didn’t get until I after held his hand, was the role that the absurdity can play in helping you escape the wheel. Shocked by absurdity, you realize that you are taking yourself too seriously. Smush that ego already. Don’t ruminate about how great you are OR about how bad you are, and go about your life’s work.

I felt some of his wisdom, his kindness, pass to me, with the injunction that I pass it on and not hoard it. Thank you, Phillip Glass.

Click to access Satyagraha_libretto.pdf


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