A Journal of the Irrepressible

Archive for March, 2004

The Time of Our Singing

leave a comment

review by Brian Charles Clark

The Time of Our Singing
Richard Powers
Picador USA, 2004

In the fifth century B.C., the Greek philosopher Empedocles wrote, “Come now, hearken to my words; learning will enlarge your mind…. I shall tell of a two-fold process.” The two-fold process of Empedocles is the mind-enlarging weave of ideas that run through the novels of Richard Powers: the struggle between Love and Strife, of Aphrodite versus Thanatos, of remembering and forgetting, of music and science. Powers writes his two-fold vibrations with intense lyricism, fierce intelligence, and the improvisational pacing of a free jazz combo: masters of their instruments, the riffing interplay of sentences is always challenging the reader to keep up, pay attention, read more to fill in the gaps in learning the novels expose.

In The Gold Bug Variations (1991) the two-fold vibration consists of a double helix of love stories set twenty-five years apart. These twined stories are the strands of a code, and stranded stories in as much as the characters abandon themselves to memory and grief. One love story is between a hot-shot molecular biologist unraveling the “four-note” DNA code (Poe’s “Tale of the Goldbug,” a story about a code) and a married woman; the other between an art historian who rediscovers the molecular biologist, long since having quit science, working as a computer programmer (or “coder”, as such professionals are sometimes called) and a librarian (who works with the encoding of knowledge) who helps the historian unravel the biologist’s mysterious life story. The theme that twines the two stories together is the simple aria of Bach’s four-note Goldberg Variations as played by the young Glenn Gould, the pianist who also did a disappearing act. In The Gold Bug Variations, Powers translates music into science, and history into the living breath of the present. He writes, “Translation, hunger for porting over, is not about bringing Shakespeare into Bantu. It is about bringing Bantu into Shakespeare. To show what else, other than homegrown sentences, a language might be able to say.” Read the rest of this entry »

  • Share/Bookmark

Written by Brian

March 5th, 2004 at 12:33 pm

Posted in fiction, music, reviews