At the Bottom of the Ninth



Like Beethoven, the Creator is a joiner; not of organizations but of sections assembled separately in different places and then somehow brought together; the places are our category “space”, then, when brought together, “time” – Philip K. Dick

Cologne cathedral has the largest church façade in the world. As I stepped out of the train station there it was, looming like a mountain in all its gothic glory. The sudden sight of this vast structure made me aware of a strong sense of the sacred. This feeling endured for days. The cathedral, which has become my favorite of all churches, was telling a story in its architecture and art, as all good cathedrals do, but the sacredness welled from a feeling that something that evokes spiritual emotion from large numbers of people for nearly a thousand years somehow encapsulates this feeling within itself like a giant battery. Simply staring at the walls and buttresses and you feel energized with the hopes and prayers and aspirations of all the times gone by, as if time suddenly got caught in a whirlpool there. As if time had become space (which is maybe what sacred geometry and thus cathedral architecture really achieves).

Cologne Cathedral

Cologne Cathedral

By using his music to enclose huge volumes of space for the listerner Beethoven committed the ultimate political act of liberating-expanding-the individual. – Philip K. Dick

After I left Cologne I rode down the Rhine river to the elegant little town of Bonn, which was Beethoven’s home. The house is now a museum and there I saw his violins and violas and pianos, and his notebooks and letters. I also saw his assorted collection of hearing aids, large brass trumpet-looking objects, and his conversation books, which were books in which his friends scribbled to keep him engaged in social conversation once he had become too deaf to understand anyone. I marveled at the courage of this man, to continue working as a musician as his hearing slowly faded away, and the efforts he made to stay connected in a world without acoustic technology. Maybe what spurred him to heights of creative genius was that very urge to stay connected, to banish his social isolation.


Beethoven (Bonn, Germany)

Riding the Deutsche bahn  across the Rhine country after these excursions, I reflected on the sympathy I felt for Beethoven, since I too am experiencing the same hearing loss. I felt a strange connection on thinking about it, rather similar to what I felt at Cologne, only it was towards this one man whose house and material possessions I had just viewed. It was as if time had collapsed and his experience and mine were merged in some temporal overlay.

I decided to pull out my kindle and read awhile, and being in a philosophical frame of mind I chose to read some of Philip K. Dick’s Exegesis, which is a mammoth tome of ramblings that leave the reader with no prediction of what subject Phil would write on next. As I read, PKD started to talk about time, and then about Beethoven. I was transfixed; this is one of those coincidences you take seriously.

Beethoven, PKD opined, was able to turn time into space through his music. He channeled some vast eternal force into a solid experience. And PKD further noted that Beethoven and the listener merge in some way, rather like a vinyl record needs a record player, a needle moving across the grooves, for the music to appear, to be real. I had heard this idea before, that an artist’s work only truly exists when someone is understanding and appreciating it, but also that the dead live again in people who suddenly share some figment of their consciousness through their art.

How real is a Beethoven symphony without one of us? We are part of the equation with it, and essential to it. – Philip K. Dick

Normally, people need a cathedral or a symphony to merge time and space and identity and achieve a spiritual synthesis. But sometimes, other deep experiences suffice. It is not the real truth, that Beethoven had progressive hearing loss and I have progressive hearing loss. It is truer to say progressive hearing loss exists, and Beethoven and I both encountered it and it became part of us. And in the moment that I thought this, we were both the same person.



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