In the past week, I have had both an MRI and a CAT scan (both for entirely unthreatening conditions, worry not). So I feel qualified to tell you that if you have a choice between the two, choose a CAT scan — it’s faster, quieter, and you get to ride back and forth on the little exam table inside something that strongly resembles a donut.
The MRI machine, on the other hand, is loud, oppressively small, and takes a lot longer. It did, however, give me time to think about Gertrude Stein.
In Everybody’s Autobiography, Stein talks about flying all over America during the book tour for The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas, and looking down from the plane.
Quarter sections make a picture and going over America like that made any one know why the post-cubist painting was what it was. The wandering line of Masson was there the mixed line of Picasso coming and coming again and following itself into a beginning was there and the simple solution of Braque was there…. [I] always wanted the front seat so I could look down and what is the use, the earth does look like that and even if none of them had seen it and they had not very likely had not but since every one was going to see it they had to see it like that.
Or, as she put it in an earlier lecture, “No one is ahead of his time, it is only that the particular variety of creating his time is the one that his contemporaries who also are creating their own time refuse to accept.”
Why was I thinking about this?
Well, the MRI is, as I said, loud. But it was loud in a particular way — a persistent thunk thunk thunk, with a ch-ch-ch-ch-ch bomp bomp bomp bomp bomp bomp bomp bomp bomp bomp bomp bomp layered on top of it at irregular intervals and varying pitches for the bomp. That is, it sounded a lot like a minimalist composition.
It wasn’t a particularly good minimalist piece of music: it was more like a first draft by a novice composer. But it brought home to me how much Reich and Glass and all the rest were completely of their time, in all the ways Stein was talking about. And in the same way that when Stein looked down from an airplane and could see art where others saw an incomprehensible otherness, I owe the hours I’ve spent with Glass and Reich for the ability to find beauty while lying utterly still in a magnetic-resonance imaging chamber for half an hour as my arms and legs slowly fell asleep.