Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Cato on Education

Reflecting this past Father's Day on the thought of the Roman poet Statius on his son and fatherhood I shortly thereafter came upon yet another discussion of national standards for education. Already with one great Roman in mind my mind drifted to another and his thoughts on education. These too center on fatherhood and family life. Let us consider them in brief, as reported by Plutarch*:
When he began to come to years of discretion, Cato himself would teach him to read, although he had a servant, a very good grammarian, called Chilo, who taught many others; but he thought it not fit, as he himself said, to have his son reprimanded by a slave, or pulled, it may be, by the ears when found tardy in his lesson: nor would he have him owe to a servant the obligation of so great a thing as his learning; he himself, therefore (as we were saying), taught him his grammar, law, and his gymnastic exercises. Nor did he only show him, too, how to throw a dart, to fight in armour, and to ride, but to box and also to endure both heat and cold, and to swim over the most rapid and rough rivers. He says, likewise, that he wrote histories, in large characters, with his own hand, that so his son, without stirring out of the house, might learn to know about his countrymen and forefathers. . .
–Life of Marcus Cato, Plutarch
Though this cultivation of, "the old habits of bodily labour" as Plutarch calls them elsewhere, will strike us as unusual for one reason, I hope the thrust of the passage would not strike us as odd at all: that it was important for Cato that he teach his own son. Well why wouldn't he? Why would you contract out something like learning and let someone else decide what, how, and for how long your son should study? Though we will address these points separately, we ought to emphasize that the education was private and at the parent's discretion. His son's education was ultimately his responsibility and he had the authority to determine what it ought to be. Could you imagine Cato submitting to a governmental "mandate" that he hand his son over to a state-run educational system in which the curriculum, location, methods of instruction, and evaluation were determined by distant panels of phds?

Considering the curriculum, Cato was famously skeptical of "Greek education," so he chose a more physical routine for his son. He was also concerned that his son understand and take part in the affairs of the republic so he learned of the law. In contrast the general and contemporary of Cato, Aemilius Paulus, was far more persuaded in the value of Greek education. (Yet though he hired expert tutors Paulus closely saw to his children's education. See Plutarch, life of Aemilius Paulus.) These men were passing on the traditions of their family and their own education to their children, choosing what they thought was best of what came before them. Cato would teach his son about Greek literature, but he might want to attach a warning to it. These men had a particular vision of Rome, Romans, life, and man that influenced, and in effect was expressed by, what they thought constituted a proper education.

How might Cato want to teach his son? With recitation, dictation, or some other emphasis? Does he care how long it takes him to do the work, does it matter that it takes his son forty-five instead of thirty minutes? Maybe he wants to teach one thing sooner rather than later. No one came knocking on Cato's door because he was teaching fractions in second grade instead of third. (Had they, they wouldn't have gotten very far.) Recalling again some recent effort at educational standardization I recall the architects of the plan left room for states to develop their own social studies curricula. This isolated moment of perspicacity of course begs a question: why stop there? Are children only different insofar as they live in different states?

Of course these questions all center around the purpose of education but beneath this question is a more profound one: what is the good for man? For to ask what a man must know is to ask what he ought to do and be. This, of course, ought to be left to the individual and, in the case of children, the discretion of parents. In his quartet of essays on education published together in the volume, To Criticize the Critic, T. S. Eliot wrote,

In so far as a system of education is something shaped by the conscious aims of a few men. . . there is always the grave danger of borrowing or imposing something which does not fit the ethos, the way of life, the habits of thought and feeling of that people.
The backlash against this view is easy to foresee and has merit Some will complain that children will be taught badly or be taught untruthful things. Others that not all parents are capable of teaching their children for whatever reason. These are wise concerns. Equally, though, we must beware of using the powerful, dangerous, and unwieldy tool of the state to correct problems. Any action by the state implies the sanction of its members who delegated their power. Earlier we asked what the purpose of education was and it seems safe to say it is not agreed upon. How can the state, then, act on education? How can it avoid acting for a particular interest?

The present crises of education are not trivial to solve and cannot be fixed by a few swift strokes of the state. No sudden influx of money, teachers, or resources will solve all problems. What is needed is a culture, i.e. a world of ideas and traditions, held by individuals and shared and discussed with others. Only this can point to what and education ought to do and thus what it ought to be. These ideas emerge in living and doing and it is in living and doing that the character of an individual and a people are formed. They are passed on not from president or secretary of education to citizen but from person to person, friend to friend, parent to child. They are known by reputation, not certification.

Cato's lesson is not so much that one must teach his children, although such is admirable and beneficial to all. It is seldom possible wholly to achieve though it may be far more easily done in degrees and by judicious prioritization of one's values. The lesson of Cato is to inherit, live, and pass on an idea of his family, country, world, and man himself to his children, and as much as possible to take a direct, personal care to do so. To see one's self both in place and time, and passing through. To see in education one's inheritance, oneself, and beyond. Lastly, to take a personal, direct care for these things.

* Translations by Dryden. The Modern Library Edition of Plutarch's Lives. New York. Reprint of Clough's edition of 1864.

Friday, June 24, 2011

A Mozart Timeline

A preliminary version of a timeline I created as part of a larger Mozart project. Hopefully this chart and similar will give a clearer sense of who were contemporaries. Included are prominent family, friends, collaborators and librettists, students, employers, and composers. The red-shaded area is the life of Mozart, who as you can see came and went in the lives of many of these people.

Suggestions (both for comprehensiveness and clarity) are of course most welcome!

(click to enlarge)

Sunday, June 19, 2011

amor ille penitus insitus

   From their father may your children learn peaceful ways and from their grandfather may they learn generosity, and from them both eagerness for glorious virtue.
–Statius, to Julius Menecrates

   He was mine, mine. I saw him lying upon the ground, a new-born baby, and I welcomed him with a natal poem as he was washed and anointed. When he demanded air for his new life with trembling cries, I set him in Life's roll.

   From your very moment of birth I bound you to me and made you mine. I taught you sounds and words, I comforted you and soothed your hidden hurts. When you crawled on the ground, I lifted you up and kissed you, and rocked you to sleep myself and summoned sweet dreams for you.
–Statius, Silvae (5.5, extracts)

Image: A Roman boy before his father practicing rhetoric (note the boy's scroll and hand gesture.) Detail from a sarcophagus. Mid 2nd century. Louvre, Paris.

Friday, June 17, 2011

Eliot on. . . the iPad?

Mini-Review of "The Waste Land" App for iPad

Title Page (click to enlarge)
No, not quite, but a new iPad app is dedicated wholly to T. S. Eliot's The Waste Land has arrived. Unlike simple digital versions like .txt files, more elaborately formatted .pdfs, and even indexed and hyper-linked eBooks this app achieves more than providing a digitized version of the text. Yes, you can perform all of the convenient zooming and searching you can on an eBook, but the Waste land app pulls together a variety of resources and bundles them into a polished unified interface through which to study and experience Eliot's masterpiece.

With one touch or swipe you can bring up notes on the text, switch to a look at the original manuscript, or even listen to a reading, including recitations from Eliot himself, Alec Guinness, Viggo Mortensen, and Fiona Shaw.

The ability to tap a line to highlight it blue is a surprisingly useful touch: sometimes it is helpful and simply pleasant to bring out one line and reflect on it. While there are many notes and other resources to bring up as you read, unfortunately there is no built in dictionary and you cannot add your own notes, though you can copy text from the poem. There are also previous few text-rendering options, in fact you can only change the size. As an e-reader it is far short of the wonderful Stanza, Stanza with its bookmarks, annotation, dictionary, and adjustable backgrounds, font style, font size, text color, themes, and night-mode. Too it lacks in-depth scholarship on the work and a bibliography pointing toward any. Lastly, like any convenient companion it risks becoming a crutch, without which one cannot read the text. As it may become a reflex to look up words, refer to notes, or refer to footnotes without first thinking about the text, the convenience here merely intensifies the temptation.

Original Manuscript
These are all relatively minor quibbles about a nonetheless polished app which brings many valuable resources together around this landmark poem. For such I do not consider the $13.99 at all unreasonable. One could easily spend much time and more money trying to pull all of this together. Too, there is no reason the authors of this app cannot update it. As it is, though, it makes a fine addition to one's Eliot library both for the notes and performances and for the convenience of having it available on the go (and in better formatting than a simple text file.) It also makes a respectable introduction to the poem and I certainly hope its attention in the iTunes store brings it to the attention of a more technologically-centered generation who might not be willing to pick up an un-annotated, non-zooming, static, silent, dead tree version.  Hopefully its success will help bring about more, and more variety, of this new type of dedicated application. I certainly hope it does not usher in a spate of "consolidated study" versions with synopses and multiple choice questions geared toward helping students pass tests on the poem rather than understand and enjoy it.

On a personal note, how refreshing to see Eliot in the iTunes store. What a treat to see something rarified amongst clutter, something that instead of pandering to the fickle, and frivolous instinct that craves plants vs. zombies, challenges you. Something that engages rather than pacifies, that rewards with ideas instead of points, and that you can revisit forever, not just use for the next five minutes waiting for your flight. It's a taste of the timeless in the perhaps the most dynamic of spaces.

A few images:
(click to enlarge
Copious notes; less-than-attractive rendering of the Greek.


Thursday, June 16, 2011

A Clockwork Orange: 10 Frames

Some choice stills to accompany our review of Stanley Kubrick's A Clockwork Orange on the 30th Anniversary of its filming.

click to enlarge

"There was me"

fire-breathing Alex

post-civilization ultra-violence
#1. Mass in G?

Lad about town
new and improved
old droogies' revenge
nicht diese töne!
"I was cured."

Movie Review: A Clockwork Orange (Part II)

Directed by Stanley Kubrick. 1971.

The central act of Clockwork revolves around Alex's punishment, of which we might make three distinctions: incarceration, his study under the prison chaplain, and his medical treatment. The significance of the first is obvious enough but worth mentioning. Yes, the prison functions first to keep Alex away from "ordinary peace-loving citizens," but its regimen and the screaming, stomping warden are designed to break Alex of his tendency to do what he pleases. This seems to affect his current behavior but not his character, given his "biblical daydreams."  His study with the chaplain is more complicated, for on the one hand the padre tries to instill fear of divine punishment into the congregation of criminals and on the other he tries to get Alex to comprehend his sins and consciously do good. Ironically, he will later criticize Alex's treatment because it forces the patient to do good merely out of fear and removes his choice to embrace good. 

The scenes of the treatment remain the film's most infamous, featuring as they do scenes of Nazi parades set to Beethoven's Ninth, the "sacrilege" Alex complains about. The irony of these scenes is of course that Alex loves Beethoven and the ultra-violence. Such is the message of the chaplain and Clockwork. Too the doctors condition him against the good without even realizing it, a most significant accident. Is it possible the doctors do not realize the significance of Beethoven? Too, they were really going to use Beethoven, and the 9th, as background music?  Now while they might have realized and dismissed the fact that they were removing Alex's choice to do good, they did not realize they were destroying his ability to see and enjoy the good even in the absence of evil. Therefore the scene in which Alex is brought before the committee of bureaucrats, a scene staged in a theater-like environment to emphasize how the scientists and politicians are parading and debuting him like a trained specimen, Alex is capable only of debasement. 

The final act of Clockwork is antithesis to the first. Where Alex was at large in Act I, raping and pillaging society, here society has its revenge on him. He has been replaced by his family, who has let a boarder move into his room. (Amusingly, their house is redecorated and the mother's hair is another color, as they've moved on to the next fad. They continue in their obliviousness.) Alex is beaten and robbed by a group of elderly indigents and abused by his former droogs who now, with the authority of the state because they are police, get revenge. In the scene where the former-droogs water-board Alex, one stands on each side of him and you can see their officer numbers: 665 and 667. Alex, between them, is clearly the enemy of society. 

After all his former acquaintances have reaped their revenge Alex at last falls prey to two political groups. First is a cabal who hopes to use him as an example to damage the current administration. Yet the leader of the group turns out to be the writer Alex beat and whose wife he raped in Act I. Overcome with rage the scorned author exploits Alex's conditioning and seeks revenge, blasting Beethoven into the bedroom in which Alex is confined. Coming full circle, the current administration, amidst a brewing scandal about their treatment of Alex, finally bribes him. Alex is once again free and the final shot suggests what he will do. Alex went from a raging id ignored by society, to a criminal imprisoned, to a creature experimented on, to a criminal scorned, to a criminal exploited, to a criminal sanctioned. 

A less-optimistic counterpart to 2001, Clockwork shares with its predecessor one key feature: a lack of any specifics about where the good does come from. We see this too in Barry Lyndon, where the titular character, a peregrinate and self-interested pleasure-seeker, occasionally does good. Precisely why. . . All three films leave this question in the hands of the viewer. Too Clockwork, a more politically conscious movie than either Barry Lyndon or 2001, asks what is the appropriate, and legitimate, response to such acts? At last we can probe the question with which we began:

In order to avoid fascism, does one have to view man as a noble savage, rather than an ignoble one?

If man is not born good (the noble savage) then how is he going to become good? It is certainly easy to see in Clockwork fascism, but we also see weak and foolish parents, a cultural wasteland, and a lack of piety and tradition. As we have asked before, might these be, or be part of, the remedy we seek, and the alternative to the state? What exists between the extremes depicted here, between a crumbling society with a depraved Alex at large, and a clockwork of oranges?

Clockwork surely leaves us with many questions about man in society, but also many questions about man himself. Whence, whither? Noble? Savage? How from one to the other? Is the journey ever complete?

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Shakespeare and the Roman Regime

Paul Cantor, Clifton Waller Barrett Professor of English at the University of Virginia and author of Shakespeare's Rome, leads a discussion on Shakespeare and the Roman Regime.

Monday, June 13, 2011

Movie Review: A Clockwork Orange (Part I)

Directed by Stanley Kubrick, 1971

Though A Clockwork Orange is certainly Kubrick's most controversial film, it is so for a rather banal, if legitimate, reason: that it depicts extreme violence. Clockwork should be controversial for the questions it poses (and does not answer) about man and about his society. This is especially true for a society which prides itself on being free. Kubrick summarizes the question posed by Clockwork: In order to avoid fascism, does one have to view man as a noble savage, rather than an ignoble one?
I feel as if I do some injustice to the director and his movie to start with his description of it rather than my own reaction but one cannot cut any more clearly to the essence of Clockwork. Man may be born free without being born good. If he is not to be restrained, then what will his nature carry him toward? Can he be restrained in a legitimate fashion? The subtext of all of these questions is this: where does the good, in man and society, come from? Too we may ask, how do men relate in its presence and, more problematically, its absence?

This dichotomy between man and society, and more fundamentally between man and other, is neatly mirrored in the first and final acts of Clockwork. In the first Alex is unconstrained in what can only be described as post civilization. He commits wanton and terrible acts of violence unconstrained by himself, his cohorts, his parents, or others citizens. The opening shot sets the stage: an extreme close up, zooming out. The close up is humanizing, forcing an intimacy with Alex, but as the shot zooms out the alien surroundings distance us. We see in place of tables and common decor that the bar is filled with hospital-white nude mannequins in varieties of suggestive positions, all in sharp relief against a black background. Yet Alex and his cohorts blend in strangely well with their white get-ups. Alex is certainly comfortable, with his feet up. His first words set the tone for this half of the film, "there was me." Of course, this is his world. All is him. The music of course unnerves and alienates as well, synthesized as it is, but more importantly is the fact that the piece is funerary music. Yet who has died?

In one way the following scene shows us who by providing a scene of complete contrast to the preceding. An old drunkard lying on the street sings an old tune. Unlike Alex he speaks in a tone and with a vocabulary familiar to us. Too his song is more familiar and comfortable for us than the synthesized funeral music from Alex's introduction. Whereas Alex sat comfortably with his feet up this man is sprawled out on the floor. Alex drank milk with stimulants to heighten his senses, the old man drank to dull his. The old man complains about the lack of law and order and the ruthless youths as Alex prepares to go out for, "a bit of the old ultra-violence." As Alex beats him the fundamental contrast is laid bare: between self and other.

The following scene sets up the social world of Clockwork, beginning (again with a close-up) of an elegant theater arch, set to the overture to La Gazza Ladra. Yet this will be another contrast of extremes. As the camera zooms out the theater is seen to be in disrepair and on its stage, littered with dilapidated theater props, a gang is about to rape a woman. Alex and his droogs intervene but of course not to rescue the woman but to challenge the rival thugs to a fight. So Alex with his boys in their white jumpsuits and Billy with his in fatigues and Nazi insignias fight in the burned out theater. It is a post apocalyptic, post civilization scene that would not be out of place in Mad Max. The elegant overture plays on providing a constant counterpoint to the violence and depredation.

The following scenes in Act I all serve to emphasize two observations:  Alex's actions are brutal and unconstrained. The first point being fairly evident we may consider the second by means of observing the characters. Clearly Alex has no control over himself but clearly no one has any control over him either. His droogen followers though they try to adjust the power structure remain beholden to him while his parents are wholly unaware of what he is up to and. His mother's purple hair, the way she recounts Alex's excuses as if they are plausible, and the bizarre decor of the home all suggest they are not only hopelessly unaware of Alex's actions, but hopelessly distracted. The scene where Alex, home from school, receives a visit from the delinquency officer is also subtly significant. Denuded except for his underwear Alex is quite vulnerable in the scene. (Seeming especially vulnerable are his genitals, a fact we only notice due to the extremely large covering usually covering them.) Alex enters the room with his usual bravado, leaning against the door frame and daintily crossing his leg. The character of Mr. Deltoid introduces the last new character of Clockwork. We might call it the state, or perhaps we might call them the guardians. Either way, they are entrusted with, or claim, the use of force. His physical ways with Alex, culminating with a punch to the crotch, emphasize this and are prelude to next act. These people are in charge and they're going to come for Alex. Deltoid says,
If you have no respect for your horrible self you at least might have some respect for me, who has sweated over you. A big black mark I tell you, for every one we don't reclaim. A confession of failure.
The statement is a very telling one. First, it implies Alex ought to respect himself. How would Alex know this? From school, his parents, by nature? How should he know what is respectable? Second, it is a confession of the need and right to "fix" people. Somehow Alex is a failed person and these people are going to right him. (We ought to bear these questions in mind later when we consider how one might right Alex without the tactics depicted in the movie.) Yet the histrionics of Mr. Deltoid also convey a certain impotence, an admission that his nice-guy measure have failed. As he drinks a glass of water he discovers, after we do, a pair of dentures sitting in them. Sure enough in the following scene in the record store Alex is at the top of his game. With the Turkish march from Beethoven's 9th playing he struts around a circular chromed record store dressed as an 18th century dandy, walking stick and all. The march, far from being prelude to the chorale (i.e. communal) finale of Beethoven, is here a sort of solo parade for Alex as he strides through the store, his reflection bouncing about everywhere as he peruses the wares. The lighting and synthesized music give the scene a carnivalesque feel.

At last, though, Alex is set up by his spurned droogs and, having just committed a murder, arrested. The imagery of the murder, along with Alex's attire, all suggest the libidinous (more in the Latin sense of a wanton drive than any strictly sexual desire) and appetitive urges driving Alex.

Repulsed as we are by Alex now, what will we see in the state and society's treatment of him?

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Music Between Nature and Architecture

Leon Botstein talks about the relationship between music and architecture in a natural setting and how different periods show the different connections between the two seemingly distinct fields.

Three Portraits

How do you capture an individual? How do you condense an essence into an expression? Not over the course of a novel or film but in as short a time as possible? What medium do you choose: word, image, or sound? Are they all even possibilities? Perhaps I have made the task sound unduly difficult for surely we all have favorite photographs of ourselves and others. How often, though, are these images mere captures, mere documentations. Usually one can simply say, "He looks happy," or "she looks pretty." Quite difficult it is to suggest that the state in the photograph is the character of the person. We might think of a particular picture as being a "classic" or "typical" look of someone we know, but how do you suggest that in just one viewing?

With those questions in mind, let us take a look at how three masters did it in three different mediums.

Sargent, Nancy Astor

The painting is probably the form most associated with the notion of a portrait. Maybe such is so because the medium is especially suited to a balance of both the literal and figurative. Here Sargent balances just those choices, capturing the decisive character of the viscountess with that so bold line down the left of her figure. The shimmering sash is a splash of flair and serves to lead one's eye back up and left to her face. Inclined forward and turned to you, one feels as if she's deigned to look at you for a moment before moving on. Indeed she is the woman who, as the story goes, told Winston Churchill, "If you were my husband, I'd poison your tea."

Catullus, 41 & 43

Ameana puella defututa
tota milia me decem poposcit,
ista turpiculo puella naso,
decoctoris amica Formiani.
propinqui, quibus est puella curae,
amicos medicosque convocate:
non est sana puella, nec rogare
qualis sit solet aes imaginosum.
Salve, nec minimo puella naso
nec bello pede nec nigris ocellis
nec longis digitis nec ore sicco
nec sane nimis elegante lingua,
decoctoris amica Formiani.
ten provincia narrat esse bellam?
tecum Lesbia nostra comparatur?
o saeclum insapiens et infacetum!

Catullus' colorful vocabulary is a wonderful counterpart to Sargent's palette.  This pair of poems forms an indirect attack on a certain Mamurra, a Roman prefect under Caesar and well-known profligate, by way of his girlfriend. Here Catullus lets it rip from line 1 with defututa (you'll have to look that one up yourselves, dear readers) and follows it up with her fee. Catullus caps off the first salvo with the delicious little phrase, "turpiculo naso," a "somewhat ugly" nose. So call together her relatives to come take care of her, because with her looks she must be quite out of her head to charge that price. Certainly she's not used to consulting the mirror.

43 is a catalog of the defects of this Ameana, with her perfectly awful features. Her nose is of not minimum size, her feet are not pretty (perhaps too big), her fingers are too short, and her mouth is, we might say, too runny. Just what Catullus means by lingua, whether speech or actual tongue, is not specified but she's not very refined with it.

Mozart, Sonata for piano in C, KV.309 (284b)

Mozart wrote this movement for Rosa Cannabich, the daughter of Christian C., director of the court orchestra at Munich. Mlle. Cannabich was Mozart's pupil while he wrote this musical portrait of her in the autumn of 1777, when the composer was 21 and Rosa 16. In a letter to his father Mozart reports his student was "a very pretty and charming girl. She is very intelligent and steady for her age. She is serious, does not say much, but when she does speak, she is pleasant and amiable." He goes on, "She is exactly like the Andante. . ."

II. Andante un poco adagio, in F

Standing out foremost in this sonata are the sarabande-like rhythm and continuous variations between forte and piano. Mozart emphasized this andante "must not be taken too quickly" and indeed to do so would be to disrupt the genteel pace and motion which unifies the expressive contrasts. Could Mlle. Cannabich have been, or anyone be, as charming as this sonata, so expressive yet gracious, and growing lovelier still in each variation?

While we see these are each brilliant portraits, it is hard to say whether their success owes to some separate skill for portraiture. These artists all demonstrate a talent for color and a command of large and small scale structure elsewhere. Is it some balance of a keen perception and skill in the medium? One might suggest they are simply works of exaggeration, but I would propose a turn of thought from T. S. Eliot, the "working up of the ordinary into poetry," and "expressing feelings which are not in actual emotions at all." Hence the difference between an accurate depiction and a living portrait.