Destroy This Computer

I believe I was first put on to this quotation by something on Alexander Galloway’s blog, perhaps in relation to his Uncomputable (2021). Regardless, this part of an interview with Milan Kundera for the Paris Review has stuck with me:

I always think of a Czech composer I have passionately admired since childhood: Leoš Janácek. He is one of the greatest masters of modern music. His determination to strip music to its essentials was revolutionary. Of course, every musical composition involves a great deal of technique: exposition of the themes, their development, variations, polyphonic work (often very automatic), filling in the orchestration, the transitions, et cetera. Today one can compose music with a computer, but the computer always existed in composers’ heads—if they had to, composers could write sonatas without a single original idea, just by “cybernetically” expanding on the rules of composition. Janácek’s purpose was to destroy this computer! Brutal juxtaposition instead of transitions; repetition instead of variation—and always straight to the heart of things: only the note with something essential to say is entitled to exist. It is nearly the same with the novel; it too is encumbered by “technique,” by rules that do the author’s work for him: present a character, describe a milieu, bring the action into its historical setting, fill up the lifetime of the characters with useless episodes. Every change of scene requires new expositions, descriptions, explanations. My purpose is like Janácek’s: to rid the novel of the automatism of novelistic technique, of novelistic word-spinning.

These computers are diagrams (of composition, of technique). Not all diagrams ought to be destroyed, only those that have lapsed into a dogmatic automatism.

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