Sunday, April 29, 2012

The Sinister Side of Elitism

or, On Democratic Elitism

Bunthorne, from
Gilbert & Sullivan's
It's not easy being an elitist. Properly filled the pursuit requires a broad education as the basis for a penetrating perspicacity. Now this doesn't sound so bad, the former being a calculated investment and the latter a tutored talent, and indeed if these only were the requirements we all would lay upon the daisies of  cultivated taste. What is required also, and much to the dismay of the elitist, is the consumption and voluntary regurgitation of pop culture poison.  This gastronomic, intellectual, and aesthetic sacrifice goes unknown to the philistines, consumerists, hooligans, fashonistas, who graze on whatever vittles their whims, credit cards, privates, and current wardrobes urge. To foist Lady Gaga upon someone whose daily bread is Mozart is inhumane at best.

If you are not yet sympathetic to the cause of the elitist think of his sad case this way: he has no allegiance to the contemporary, to the fresh and new, but to an idea. He is bound to some sense of proportion, meaning, or symmetry. . . to beauty if you will. So when he waxes nostalgic about the good ol' days of 1780s Vienna or sheds a tear for Cicero, shed a tear for him, for part of his soul rest there, and only there.

Yet the elitist infuriates his critics. How can you criticize someone who thinks what he likes is the best, or for liking the best? You don't criticize someone for liking the US Marines or the Yankees, do you? Then why for liking Mozart or the Berlin Philharmonic? Do these tormentors perhaps bear some shame that their favorite music is written by a semi-literate, or played by a band named after an insect, or rocks? How do you fault someone for rejecting the vulgar, or standing up for the minority, acts which are elsewhere always laudable and just? How to fault one who chooses, who elects, as elite in essence means, especially in the democratic West? Of course the internal contradictions and tensions ensuing from hating this man and praising his virtues whenever they occur in some other individual. . . well one pities the hamster.

Yet like most beliefs elitism can take a pernicious turn, a turn away from its inherently conservative roots. You see elitism in principle simply wishes to preserve the good, not to hold it capture. It does not want Cicero and Mozart to be held in an ivory tower only for elitists but rather wants to make sure he is not lost. It wishes the best to be known as the best far and wide. In some sense it does want an "aristocracy" that is, it does want the best to rule, but an idea can only rule when it is in the hearts and minds of many. True elitism then cannot be a passive hoarding but an active cultivation.

Fred Siegel's recent Commentary article is a good summary of elitism gone awry, of elitism which hopes to put a basket over high culture's sacred flame and to keep the masses in the dark, of elitism which hopes not to spread the best to the many but to keep the many without culture, since no culture is to be preferred to bad culture. Mr. Siegel has done the dirty work of cataloguing the anti-democratic, even dictatorial impulses of these would-be cultural guardians so I will spare myself the same agony. 

I would, however, like to amplify and explicate the criticism, especially as it stems from the issue of education. You see if one really believe what one likes is the best then it's hard to concede that it would turn out the loser in any aesthetic, that is to say, academic or intellectual, argument. So when you say that people don't like what is best you are really suggesting they lack the education to come to understand what is best. So teach. Write. Perform. Promote. Fund. Praise the good and criticize bad. Don't sit atop Parnassus wagging your finger. Don't mandate intellectual and cultural squalor, that is, spiritual impoverishment, whilst advocating for the material improvements of the very same people. 

Earlier we said that elitism in principle simply wishes to preserve the good, not to hold it capture. This today is easier than ever when with digital technology we can reproduce and share material without any loss of the original. How can this but help spread the good? It  can only fail to do so if you maintain that in a contest for the human soul Mozart would lose out to Lady Gaga. To the untutored and in the short run, he might. ( I would ask, though: how do you know Mozart is losing? Surely not by sales or profits when you can purchase the complete works of Mozart for less than the cost of one ticket to a modern pop concert.) Then again the untutored driver goes awry, the untutored architect errs, and so forth for all jobs. Man is born with previous few skills. Why not educate your brother? Are we to regard man as the noble savage as regards politics but otherwise simply a savage, and an irredeemable one at that?

It is not necessary to hold such a view to maintain one's aesthetic bona fides. In fact, refusing to spread what one professes to be the best or suggesting that there are people inherently unable to love the same is the surest way to discredit both.

Friday, April 27, 2012

Bucket List of the Mind

  1. To achieve at least C1 fluency in German, Italian, and Russian.
  2. To read the entire Old Testament in Hebrew.
  3. To read the Iliad and the Odyssey in Greek.
  4. To play through the complete keyboard works of J.S. Bach.
  5. To read the complete works of Shakespeare every year.
  6. To read the complete works of Plato and Aristotle.
  7. To acquire enough competence in Sanskrit to read the Indian classics.
  8. To sing Palestrina's Pope Marcellus Mass.
  9. To read Dante's Divine Comedy in Italian.
  10. To read the complete works of Charles Dickens
  11. To listen to the complete cycle of J.S. Bach's cantatas every year.
  12. To read the Summa Theologica and Summa Contra Gentiles
  13. To observe the 110 deep sky objects of the Messier Catalog; and the 400 objects in the Herschel Catalog.
  14. To commit the Psalter to memory.
  15. To read the complete works of Virgil in Latin.
  16. To read the Qu'ran in Arabic; and Avicenna's Metaphysics of Healing.
  17. To read the complete works of Nietzsche, Kierkegaard, and Dostoevsky.
  18. To read Kant's three Critiques.
  19. To work through Euclid's Elements
  20. To do all of this in a spirit of humility, gratitude, and wonder.

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Movie Review: Wrath of the Titans

Directed by Jonathan Liebesman. 2012.

Spoilers throughout.

Three or so minutes into Wrath of the Titans I was a happy man. I was wearing my big ol' goofy IMAX 3D glasses, I had a colossal cask of Coca Cola (from which I sipped but two or three times, as usual), and I was with a good friend. On screen a Greek man and his son fished and I learned that the gods were dying because people had stopped believing in them. Now I know ye pedants and Gradgrinds were already griping by this time. (Admit it!) I, however, was thrilled about this particular point. Immediately I envisioned the situation. . .

It's the Fifth Age of the world, the Age of Iron. Men have become wicked and corrupt and worse, impious. We see Athens overrun with sophists preaching of the lies about the gods, philosophers teaching about the "physical laws," empty and decaying temples, politicians voting to use the sacred funds for their own purposes, and war among the peoples of Greece. Mankind has put down its own laws and become drunk on its newfound power and prosperity. The primeval gods are going extinct and without their power the Titans will escape from Tartarus. These primordial monstrosities will undo the work of the Olympians and men.

So we structure the series as a Tetralogy:
  1. Titanomachy: Rise of the Olympians
  2. Clash of the Immortals: The Trojan War
  3. Twilight of the Gods
  4. Roma Aeterna 
Part I depicts the overthrow of Cronos and establishes the reign of the Olympians. Part II explores the power and capriciousness of the gods. Part III looks at the birth of Western Civilization and philosophy, the death of the gods and the destruction of the Peloponnesian War. Part IV concludes with the resolution of faith and reason at Rome where the pious and diligent Romans defeat the Carthaginians.

And then the fire-breathing dog entered.

Dreams were shattered. Angels wept. Children cried in the distance. Then again it was a two-headed dog. One head spit the doggy kerosene and the other sparked it, because two-headed dogs just love flambé.  Anyway the attack is of course highly unusual because this dog usually runs a successful ceramics shop in the marketplace. I mean it is unusual because the Titans are escaping and the gods can't stop them because people stopped believing in the gods which made the gods lose their power so they need Perseus to. . . do what exactly? It took him five minutes to take down a dog and he's going to do what exactly to Cronus?

The plot at this point had a few choices: Perseus goes on a theological journey to discover the meaning of life, he goes on a proselytizing mission to remind the Greeks of their duties to the gods, or he goes to pick up a maguffin to blow up the bad guy. Guess which one it is!

So our hero needs to pay a visit to Hephasteus, but where to find him? A dying Poseidon tells Perseus to seek the Sea King's son Agenor, a demi-god like Perseus, who knows the way. Agenor has been locked up by Queen Andromeda. You see old Agenor tried to seduce the queen and when she refused, the rascal tried to run off with the crown jewels. (I laughed out loud at that clunker of a line.) Before you know it Perseus, Agenor, Andromeda and some disposable characters are off to find Hephasteus, whom they find on an island guarded by Cyclops. Now I did rather enjoy this sequence, even though it was badly shot and edited, because Agenor is actually a fun and puckish character. I don't know what precipitates his desire to become a team player in spite of his apparent dislike of his godly father, but he's funny. They should have played this scene even lighter with the Perseus and Agenor running around outwitting the Cyclops. They could have made the Cyclops Polyphemus and had the two demi-gods cracking jokes and taunting him: "Hey Polyphemus, guess who's here: no one!" "Hey Polyphemus, how's Venus doing, oh wait!" They also could have worked in a lot of plot, dialogue, and general logic resulting from the fact that Polyphemus was also a son of Poseidon. Yet I digress.

I'm going to kill my agent!
So they find Hephasteus who is more of an eclectic inventor than the smithy of the gods. Nighy does a good job, though, investing the god with a charming crankiness. Again I thought the scene, especially with the presence of Nighy, could have been pitched more comedic, "He knocked me off that bloody mountain and now he wants my help!" Poor Rosamund Pike delivers another horrendous clunker of a line and everyone's off to the underworld to rescue Zeus and combine his thunderbolt with Poseidon's trident. Before moving on, though, I have to underscore what a great job Rosamund Pike did with practically everything working against her. She looked great despite terrible camerawork, she was dignified in spite of wickedly idiotic dialogue, and she had presence onscreen even though the script gave her no significance whatsoever.

The rest of the movie is really quite lackluster. Not for a second do we think that any mortal armies stand a chance against the giant magma monster that is the freed Cronus. The burly fight between Perseus and Mars is competently executed but going in we know that Perseus has no chance based on strength alone and that he has to win. The question is of how will he do it. What happens is Perseus' son distracts Mars by walking up to him with a sword. Not attacking him mind you, but just standing there. This kind of works because it shows Perseus is superior and victorious because he is a father with a son willing to die for him, which is nice because it mirrors Perseus' quest to save his own father. On the other hand it doesn't demonstrate why Perseus is superior as a human, but rather only as a father. So here is where we see that even the movie's simple premise is not at all executed because it's point was that as a human Perseus was superior to the gods because he had virtues that could not be taken away. (That's actually my generous spin on one of the film's many wretched lines.) The plot, however, does not emphasize these or any virtues and in the end Perseus does not win on account of any one in particular. He wins on account of his son, the maguffin, and Zeus, which kind of defeats everything. There is one feeble attempt at explanation in which Andromeda says humans sometimes persevere in spite of the seeming impossibility of a task, but clearly the gods persevere also. Besides, Perseus never acknowledges or struggles with whether or not to give up.

A few items remain for discussion. The casting was very good. Worthington had the makings of the reluctant hero undertaking great burdens. He had romantic chemistry with Andromeda and a fraternal camaraderie with Agenor. Neeson was of suitable stature as the Father Zeus even if he didn't have Olivier's Olympian gravitas. The woefully underused Fines managed to give Hades a whit of pathos to his struggles with Zeus. It was, however, a blast to see the two brothers thwacking the rampaging critters as a divine tag team. This reminds me that there was some interesting potential for a parallel between Perseus and Agenor and Zeus and Hades but the script didn't even come close to weaving that thread.

I didn't find the effects or action very satisfying. It's easy enough to create big waves of rock and dust and such shots can no longer be the money shots of a film. The composited wide shots of the big  battles were brief and gave no sense of space hence the finale did not take on an epic feel. Compare it to the masterful battle outside the walled city in The Return of the King which 1) despite having four different armies attacking from different directions established and maintained a crystal clear sense of who and what was where, and 2) despite having a great variety of sets, places, and characters/monsters, establishes and maintains a perfect scale to tell us how big everything is. Speaking of incomprehensible, it was frequently impossible to tell how the action scenes resolved. For example, in the labyrinth leading to the underworld the characters are stuck between two walls pressing them. They push and push and then suddenly we see them all tumble out. What happened? The fully CGI shots of the underworld and the labyrinth were very nicely done, however. There was a logic to the design of the structures and a proper sense of magnitude. The best 3D effect of the film is Zeus' flight through the ancient crags down to the domain of Hades.

Overall, the appalling poverty of the script is the downfall of Wrath. These are rich and timeless tales and to turn them into something so insubstantial reeks of worse than a cheap cash-in, but complete indifference to the stories.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Review: Top Ten Star Trek: The Next Generation

N. B. Spoilers Throughout

The Next Generation is the best incarnation of Star Trek. There, I said it. Not the Next Generation films, mind you, which are sloppy messes, but TNG really was something special. It exceeded The Original Series not only in technical polish but in consistency of tone, preciseness of execution and simply in inventing unusual situations. It asked more interesting questions than its more serialized and character-driven companion Deep Space Nine. It had a clearer purpose than Enterprise and it wasn't Voyager. It even had the best theme in a rousing score by Jerry Goldsmith. TNG maintained a seriousness of purpose without becoming ponderous like the Battlestar Galactica remake. Its Wagon Train roots and lack of serialization kept the plots simple and the writers free to experiment with what are often little chamber plays from week to week without getting bogged down in various arcs and continuity complexities. With these virtues it came up with many fun technological conundrums and asked some serious questions along the way.

So without further explanation, the 10 Best Episodes of Star Trek: The Next Generation, according to your humble blogger.

10. Encounter at Farpoint Season 1: Episodes 1& 2 / All Good Things. . . Season 7: Episodes 25 & 26 

Humanity on trial.
The Next Generation had some weak episodes the first season but the pilot was not one of them. The slow-moving mystery plot balances out the spectacle of the shiny new Enterprise zipping around. Yet the technological marvel that is the Enterprise won't be enough to fulfill their mission to "explore new worlds and civilizations." An omniscient and omnipotent being halts their progress at the edge of the known and puts Picard and his crew on trial for crimes against humanity, or rather crimes of humanity. You see, this being, whom we'll encounter again under the name of Q, indicts humanity of being a cruel, violent, and barbarous race. Why should such cruel creatures be permitted to spread our violent ways throughout the galaxy? Unable to dissuade Q that despite his power lacks the authority to judge humanity or that the court in which they are tried is unjust, Picard makes an individualist counter to Q's critique of humanity. Humans have been cruel, Picard admits, but we who stand before you are not, and let us prove it. Q agrees, parting with the fatalistic judgment, "Captain you will find that you are not nearly clever enough to deal with what lies ahead of you."

This sets the tone not just for this episode but for the whole series. How do our beliefs reconcile with reality? Can we overcome challenges to our safety and our beliefs without compromising them? Are we doomed because of our nature? By what are we redeemed?

Five card stud, nothing wild, and
the sky's the limit.
Q's return in the series finale All Good Things. . . answers that question to a degree and in a way contrary to the show's mantra and Rodenberry's principle that mankind as a whole had evolved past certain barbarousness. In contrast Q tells them that "the trial never ends" which is tantamount to saying that every generation has both to inherit and animate its principles. The success of the Enterprise crew on its seven-year journey has not redeemed mankind but simply demonstrated the crew's own virtues along the way. It is fitting then that the show ends on a less philosophical and more personal note with a last game of poker amongst the crew we have come to know and care about. 

9. The Best of Both Worlds Season 3: Episode 26 & Season 4: Episode 1

Locutus of Borg
This is surely the best-known episode of Star Trek: Next Generation and it certainly is the series' most action-packed episode. As far as action goes you can't ask for much more. We see the Borg invasion of the Federation, the Enterprise in a desperate attempt to slow them down, and a fleet of starships in a last-ditch attempt to stop the them. Of drama we have Riker dealing with an ambitious rival and some big shoes to fill, and of course the assimilation of Captain Picard into the Borg collective as Locutus. There is some sloppy expository dialogue that could have been handled better. Surely Data doesn't have to explain the plan back to Riker as he's executing it. I think they would have worked that out in advance.

Overall though episode maintains a constant sense of tension from the relentless Borg and the fact that only the increasingly damaged and dispirited Enterprise stands between the agressor and the entire Federation. The show's centerpiece is of course the abduction and assimilation of Picard. This amplifies the above tension threefold, first by suddenly putting Riker in command, second by pulling Picard, the show's bulwark of reason and righteousness, out from under us, and last by turning Picard against us. Jonathan Frakes (Commander Riker) was spot on to call this ride, "Lightning in a bottle."

8. The Measure of a Man Season 2: Episode 9

Lieutenant Commander Data is an android, an artificially created. . . what? Person, human, being, life form? He has no biological ancestors although he has a creator.  He senses but has no emotions. He walks, talks, chooses. He is conscious. What is he? What is the measure of a man?

A Starfleet scientist essentially wants to take Data apart for research purposes, in the name of science if you will, but Data refuses. Before the Starfleet Judge Advocate General, Captain Picard must argue for Data's human right to his life and to Commander Riker falls the unhappy task of arguing that his friend is simply a machine, property of the Federation.

Riker argues that Data is a constructed machine created by an inventor, nothing more. In a shocking display he reaches out and deactivates Data, who simply slumps over. "Pinocchio is broken; its strings have been cut." Picard counters that it does not matter that Data was created, all things are created, but that he fulfills most of the criteria for a life form, namely intelligence and self-awareness. Of the remaining factor, consciousness, who can prove it of anyone? The JAG's verdict errs on the side of liberty but falls short of calling him a life form.
It sits there looking at me, and I don't know what it is. This case has dealt with metaphysics, with questions best left to saints and philosophers. I am neither competent, nor qualified, to answer those. I've got to make a ruling – to try to speak to the future. Is Data a machine? Yes. Is he the property of Starfleet? No. We've all been dancing around the basic issue: does Data have a soul? I don't know that he has. I don't know that I have! But I have got to give him the freedom to explore that question himself. It is the ruling of this court that Lieutenant Commander Data has the freedom to choose.
The JAG wisely backs off of the metaphysical and philosophical questions: indeed how can anyone be assured of another's consciousness? We all must ask the question and few are so bold as to offer an answer, yet we must arrive at some conclusion, however tentative, for our world forces us to act. Does Data have a soul and if not, does he have any rights? What is the measure of a man? Intelligence, awareness, the cause or conditions of his coming into being, or is it his end, his purpose, whatever he chooses or believes it to be?

7. Elementary Dear Data Season 2: Episode 3 / Ship in A Bottle Season 6: Episode 12

This pair of episodes, separated by several years in the series' run due to legal issues, addresses the same question as The Measure of a Man. It is also the least silly of the show's holodeck escapades. Hoping for some recreation, Geordi and Data play out some Sherlock Holmes mysteries on the holodeck. Unfortunately for Geordi, though, Data has all of the scenarios memorized and instantly solves the cases. Exasperated, Geordi asks the computer for a new mystery in the style of the Holmes stories and with a villain capable of defeating Data. The computer responds by creating Holmes' nemesis, Professor James Moriarty, who, whether by his vast endowment of intelligence or some other unknown way, achieves sentience.

The newly self-aware professor begins constructing devices within his Victorian hideout in the holodeck in an attempt to explain his world. Moriarty gradually learns of his imprisonment and his increasingly machines begin to exert real control over the Enterprise. The episode concludes satisfactorily enough since the self-aware Moriarty is no villain like his literary inspiration. It is the sequel, Ship in a Bottle, which is the payoff.

Moriarty is reactivated by accident years later and is not too happy at having been saved in the computer and ignored for so long. He starts to ask questions of his creators. How can you have created me and not known what I am? Do I or do I not even have the tools to understand my world and my self? You created me with desires but I cannot fulfill them. Why am I confined to the holodeck, this one room? I just want  to explore my world. Neatly sewing together these weighty metaphysical questions is a neat sci-fi plot about getting Moriarty off the holodeck that, in a clever parallelism, eventually leaves us too wondering just where everyone really is and who is in control of the ship.

6. Booby Trap Season 3: Episode 6

A thousand-year-old booby trap.
This is the best of The Next Generations's many excellent sci-fi puzzle episodes. The Enterprise, in examining the wreckage of a starship destroyed in an ancient battle, realizes it has wandered into the very same trap that destroyed the ship being studied. The Enterprise tries in vain to flee but even at maximum warp they are stuck. A device hidden in the wreckage drains their power. When they try to destroy it the device begins emitting radiation which will eventually kill them. The more power they throw at this thing the worse their situation gets. It is simply a blast to watch Geordi devising different plans, running simulations, and even creating a holodeck approximation of one of the Enterprise's designers to get the Enterprise out of this booby trap and Picard piloting the ship through the asteroid field at the end is the icing on the cake.

5. Tapestry Season 6: Episode 15

Tapestry wears its purpose on its sleeve as a rather frank riff on A Christmas Carol and It's A Wonderful Life. The omnipotent Q allows Picard to re-live a moment from his life that he a considers a mistake: an impulsive brawl that nearly killed him. The diligent and moderate adult Picard regrets a youthful indiscretion, his foolish challenging of two physically superior and violent aliens over a trifle. Picard wants to pull these strands out of the tapestry of his life. Q gives him this opportunity and Picard takes it, not only righting one wrong in avoiding the fight but taking a missed chance and pursuing a romance with his then only-friend Marta. The result of pulling on these threads, though, is that the rest of Picard's life unravels. His relationship with Marta destroys other friendships and doesn't blossom the way he'd hoped, and playing it safe in that brawl never gives Picard the gumption to pursue the captain's chair. He ends up a middling science officer instead. Seeing the damage he caused, Picard gladly lets history pan out the way it did and, seeing the knife pierces his heart, smiles with the knowledge of what it means and the life that awaits him. Indeed self-knowledge is the theme of the episode. Even as an older man, and a prudent and reflective one at that, Picard didn't realize what had shaped him and how he had shaped himself. Simply put, it is hard to get "outside of oneself" and look in, however necessary it is to do so. The ever-playful Q, repeatedly chiding Picard's pretenses of knowledge, is the perfect vehicle for such an exploration.

4. Sarek Season 3: Episode 3

Vulcan tears.
Ambassador Sarek, Spock's father and one of the diplomats who shaped the Federation, boards the Enterprise to complete long-standing negotiations with some delegates. He comes with a disease, however, one unique and shameful for Vulcans who pride themselves on the exercise of pure logic and the suppression of all emotions. This disease causes sudden and uncontrolled emotional outbursts. At a concert, the Vulcan who should be intellectually admiring the structure and form of the music instead weeps at its beauty.

Unfortunately for everyone else on the Enterprise, Sarek's extreme Vulcan emotions are spilling over to the rest of the crew, causing violent outbursts amongst the people we have come to see as quite normal over the past few seasons.  These scenes ask an uncomfortable question: do we look so foolish, so out of control, so out of place, when our emotions get the better of us? In the final scene Picard has volunteered to shoulder the burden of Sarek's emotions while the Ambassador completes his mission. The two men share each other's thoughts, Sarek sustaining himself through Picard's discipline and Picard enduring the onslaught of Sarek's unchecked emotions. The torrent of love, sadness, regret, and anger pouring out of Picard is both drama and spectacle to behold, a frank reminder that no slave to passion is free or happy. Yet we cannot close off our emotions like a Vulcan nor if we could would we then be happy, rather it is our lot seek the moderate path.

3. The Inner Light Season 5: Episode 25 & Lessons Season 6: Episode 19

The inner light
The premise here seems like your typical sci-fi fodder: Picard's mind is infiltrated by an alien probe and he begins to live a life within the world created by the probe. The episode certainly could have been a flop but it is the sense of internalization maintained throughout that makes this episode succeed so far beyond the premise. You see, we the audience know the world on the Enterprise in which Picard lives and from which he has been cut off and when he moves into his new world we move with him. We make the same assumptions and take the same risk of leaving the old world behind. When Picard returns at the very end to the world of the  Federation and the Enterprise we identify most strongly with him and only then realize the intimacy that has developed between us and him We feel connected and almost bound to Picard and quite alienated from the rest of the crew that "we and Picard" left behind. This is dramatically compelling but also supports a philosophical spin. How "real," if you'll pardon the philosophically imprecise word, are the experiences from the life induced by the probe? Are they every bit as real as experiences induced by other phenomena? Are they just as real because they are experienced, or thought? Lastly, as individuals, that is, isolated beings who can never share the intimacy we feel with Picard, how isolated are we, truly and unavoidably? How much of others', even beloved persons', inner worlds are beyond our reach?

Lessons picks up this question and uses the theme of music to address the question. Picard was given a flute as the only physical token of his life lived by means of the probe. It becomes a symbol of his internal life and when he plays it, in fact it is more. When he plays it Picard re-creates that world. (It is also the only way he can do this.) When Picard falls for a new crew member, a multi-talented science officer as forthright as he is reserved, he feels strongly enough to share his music with her. To share his music is to share his innermost world. The scenes of them playing music together take on a great dramatic and philosophical significance as well as a bittersweet beauty.

2. Darmok Season 5: Episode 2

What does it mean to communicate? What is so important about communicating? The Enterprise encounters a people whose language is totally incomprehensible and despite a fervent desire for cultural exchange neither side can make any headway. The alien captain hopes to break the impasse and beams Captain Picard, against his will, down to the planet along with himself. There and together, the alien hopes, the two men will learn to communicate. Why? There is a monster there and the alien captain hopes this shared struggle will bring the two strangers together.

"Gilgamesh and Enkidu... at Uruk."
"Darmok and Jalad... at Tanagra."
"Picard and Dathon... at El-Adrel."
It doesn't seem likely for a while as the two repeatedly misunderstand one another. Finally Picard discovers that the alien communicates by metaphor and is able to piece together the story the captain is using to speak to Picard. In that story two enemies come together to a lone island where they face a danger together and leave as friends. That night over a campfire Picard is asked to tell one of his, that is, our, stories to the alien captain who lies wounded. Picard tells the story of Gilgamesh and Enkidu, the Earthly analogue to the alien's story. As Picard tells the story of Gilgamesh we see that just as in the stories the shared danger has brought the two strangers together and we sense the human and humanizing authenticity of the experience of sharing those stories.

1. The Masterpiece Society Season 5: Episode 13

No episode of Star Trek raises so many political, moral, and philosophical questions and with as light a touch as The Masterpiece Society. The Enterprise, tracking a stellar core fragment, discovers an inhabited planet in the fragment's path. This is no ordinary civilization, though, but one wholly self-contained and sealed in a hermetic dome. They don't wish to contact outsiders and they don't need to because they are also genetically engineered "to perfection." Congenital diseases are screened out before birth and each member of this "Masterpiece Societyis designed for his purpose in the society. A judge interprets their laws and advises always that the wishes of the founders be honored. Yet without the help of the Enterprise their society will be destroyed by the stellar fragment.

This setup produces quite the pay off. Is the society's isolationist policy to be followed if it dooms the people? What allegiance does the current generation owe the founders? Can individuals opt out of this social compact? Is the genetic screening moral? Certainly not to the blind Geordi, who would have been "screened out." Captain Picard and Counselor Troi debate the merits of their engineering program and conclude that knowing one's lot in life with certainty is undesirable. Why, though? What in fact is such ambiguity? Is it truly liberty?

In the final act Hannah asks why they, if they are so advanced, have not invented the technology aboard the enterprise. Geordi replies that necessity really might be the mother of invention. Is this really true? It doesn't seem to be necessity per se that spurred on the technology of the Federation. If it did then why wouldn't it help the society right now? The actual issue is either the quantity or diversity of scientists available. Hannah is the only astrophysicist whereas the Federation has the benefit of many minds. Does this mean that if she were truly the best she could accomplish any feat in any given amount of time? Surely not. Does this imply some sort of social necessity for progress?

Yet it is Hannah who seeks asylum, an act which would spell doom for the planned society in which each member is necessary. Too, the society's leader, Aaron Conor, falls for Counselor Troi. He too lets his personal interest supersede not only his political responsibility to his people but his genetic programming to protect them. Is this an argument for a liberal society or an indictment? On the one hand their society was doing just fine before the Enterprise came and on the other it could not continue without adapting.

In the final debate, when Captain Picard asks if those seeking asylum would consider waiting a few months until passions subside she asks, "Would you live in a ship in a bottle? You live to explore. We only ask for the same privilege." Aaron replies by asking her to consider staying with her people, her family. Hannah is arguing that the free exercise of her will is necessary for. . . well she doesn't say precisely. To that Conor argues not that she is wrong, but that the result of her choice in this case will definitely have catastrophic results for others.

Though the Enterprise has saved the lives of the colonists, the society was not saved. Picard concludes not with any neat bow tying matters up, but the frank admission that, "In the end, we may have proved just as dangerous to that colony as any core fragment could ever have been."

A technical sci-fi plot in which Geordi and Hannah tinker with the tractor beam, the warp core, and Geordi's visor in an attempt to move the fragment neatly knits together all of these moral, political, and philosophical issues. Perfect Trek.

Monday, April 9, 2012

Short Books, Long on Wisdom (I)

All of these books are very short ( > 150 pages) but exceptionally insightful; many of these books would be accessible to curious and attentive teenagers. All will sustain multiple readings. The topics range over philosophy, theology, poetry, science, music, architecture and psychology. Above all, these short books are a school in which to learn the "art of living," a liberal education for those whose notions of wisdom aren't measured by the catena of degrees after a surname.
  • Marilynne Robinson, Absence of Mind
  • Wendell Berry, Life is a Miracle
  • Edmund Rubbra, Counterpoint
  • Richard Weaver, Ideas Have Consequences
  • E.F. Schumacher, A Guide for the Perplexed
  • David Watkin, Morality and Architecture
  • George Grant, English-Speaking Justice
  • Owen Barfield, Saving the Appearances
  • Josef Pieper, Leisure: the Basis of Culture
  • Viktor Frankl, Man's Search for Meaning
  • Abraham Joshua Heschel, The Sabbath
  • Romano Guardini, Letters from Lake Como: Explorations in Technology
  • Ivan Illich, In the Vineyard of the Text
  • Roger Scruton, On Hunting
  • C.S. Lewis, The Abolition of Man
  • Martin Buber, The Way of Man
  • Etienne Gilson, Methodical Realism
  • Michael Polanyi, The Tacit Dimension
  • Dietrich von Hildebrand, Marriage: The Mystery of Faithful Love
  • Leszek Kolakowski, Metaphysical Horror

Fund the Arts?

His cats, however, look amiable.

Privileged this morning to enjoy a day of leisure, that is, rest and study, upon waking I picked up my iPad to read a bit. I set upon Bach's cello sonatas to highlight the insights that awaited me. Zipping through my Twitter feed I brought my vigorous fingering of the screen to a hasty halt: Lo! Alex Ross has tweeted. I tapped through and began to read the article he had posted. As I read a cloud formed in my mind. A haze fogged my vision. My synapses writhed and my neurotransmitters gushed in an attempt to explain what I read. It wasn't just me, either. I'm certain Casals split a string as I spoke the crazed falderal in the vain hope that my ears could translate what had befuddled my eyes. Alas and Alack! They could not.

You see there is a particularly gross caricature of conservatives that irks me. In this fantasy Dick Cheney is Medusa, who plans to replace all of the world's museums with oozing oil rigs. He rides a chariot cast from melted Greek bronzes and pulled by a Brobdinagian Hydra of Conservative High Philistines. You cut of the Goldwater head and Reagan pops up. Cut off the Burkean head and Scruton rears his ugly one. One neck supplies an endless supply of Bushes. Before the beast marches the Grand Army of Conservative Neanderthals, their dragging knuckles raising such dust that their approach blots out the sun.

That a quiet, soft-tempered conservative man sits at his desk reading Latin and listening to Bach does not enter into this chimerical relief. That peace, quiet, and privacy are his preferred environment does not gel with his reputation for bloodletting. His childlike love of family belies the news stories that he lets children die in the streets and his hobbit-like love of the earth and all things growing nips at the fib that he cares not for the environment.

I would be an unserious or dishonest man not to admit the above descriptions are themselves caricatures. Neither image, of the conservative as saint or scion of darkness, is likely to be found with great ease or in great numbers. What to make of this article by a Mr. Will Robin from his blog Seated Ovation I'm not sure. What to make of Ross' Tweet of it, which can only be seen as a semi-tacit public endorsement, I know a bit. It's like finding Jersey Shore sandwiched between Ikiru and Wild Strawberries on his DVD shelf, or I suppose Lady Gaga between Bach and Mozart. It's embarrassing. Yes, we all come to moments of exasperation with our political opposites, moments in which we heedlessly lap up material which is more polemical swiping than scholarship. Yet these moments are brief and regretted as indulgences to baser impulses. To grace such fetid fair with display, let alone the slightest approbation, is to tread without wisdom.

Yes, I really am blathering on about this reflexive Tweet of a thoughtless essay but I think the occasion is quite revealing. You see I do think people change over time, but slowly and almost imperceptibly until they suddenly seem a caricature of their former selves. This is so because we to become more like our surroundings. Being surrounded by people who are crass and rude rubs off on you. One cuss becomes two becomes three until those all-too-versatile four-letter words have replaced a good deal of your vocabulary. Theodore Dalrymple has a recent and customarily noteworthy take on the phenomenon, but the ability of habits to form and change your character is as old as Aristotle. For my part I've recently been enjoying the series Edward the King in which, somewhere late in the series, someone shouts ass! It comes as quite a shock given the genteel world we've grown accustomed to in the program.

Indeed TV is a particularly powerful method of habit-forming since it's influence is over long periods of time. Because of that length of time, as I have articulated before, at some level we perceive television as real. I can't imagine what watching one of the many graphic criminal shows week after week will do to you, to say nothing of reality TV. Considering politics again, take Comedy Central's lucrative tag-team of John Stewart and Stephen Colbert. Funny they may be and often, but their shows consist of nothing more than relentlessly excoriating "the right" and without any formal standards of logic or argumentation or broad consideration of facts. Any honest man would call it, at best, infotainment. With scant exception, I say those I know who are fond of these shows are cynical, they think they are highly intelligent, and they are not nearly as informed as they think they are. Over time their image of their opposition has veered toward the cataclysmic scene I sketched before. Their change wasn't deliberate but it was unchecked. They think the Democratic Party is at worst incompetent but best left in charge because the Republican Party is manic. Add Stewart's plangent appeals to reason, the fact that his only real criticism is that people are stupid, and Colbert's shtick of mocking the reason (i.e. alleged lack of reason) of the right, and you have a feedback loop frightful to look upon. . . from the outside.

We can see then that pandering is not such a mild vice. We need little encouragement, already seeking out as we do, people, places, facts, and so forth, that allow us to perpetuate what comforts us.

Robin's Argument is of course no such thing. It is simply a series of assertions about government funding of the arts and cheap shots at conservatives. Though this rattle-banging falderal cannot be taken seriously I will endeavor to respond. I will spare any further mention of the embarrassing flaccidity of the argument as well as the extent to which using that clip from the television drama West Wing falls squarely within the behavior we looked at before. That said, I will address the points as they should have been made and as they would have to be made to respond.

The first issue is obviously the legal one, that is, the constitutional one. Our government is not set up as a pure democracy but a democratic-republic which requires deference to written law and also a declaration which acknowledges an overriding and inviolate natural law. I hope that sounds as serious as it is. If that doesn't sound reasonable to you then you're not a democrat since "Democracy" implies both the rule of the many and individual sovereignty, but simply a majoritarian. So if you want to spend on anything not spelled out in the constitution, prepare an amendment. That's the process. If people don't think it's appropriate for the government to do at all, whether or not it produces good, then that's the end of it.

The next issue would be when such a hypothetical amendment were being debated. Remember a government acts for all people, so any law should be supported by as high a majority of people as possible. By definition the fewer people that support it the less democratic it is. So to fund the arts, art itself would have to be defined. If that enterprise doesn't cause you some concern then you've put the cart ahead of the horse. Must it have a specific purpose, or should it not have specific purposes? Must it consist of specific parts? May it be abstract? Must it be intellectual? What about expressive content?

Then, whether you settle on funding art by a particular definition or anything calling itself art, you have more questions about the content. Should art be funded independent of content? What about art advocating breaking the law, or treason? What about religious art? These seemingly detailed questions beg another, which is of course why fund art? It's not as if art has some special edifying power apart from its process and the idea it expresses. Any old self-expression isn't necessarily of value and in a free society not everyone shares the same values.  Cato taught his son fighting, riding, and boxing in addition to reading whereas Aemilius Paulus gave his son a Greek education. (See Plutarch on these men for the details.) Take a guess whether or not Cato or Paulus would have tolerated meddling in their sons' educations?

Apart from processes, though, there still remains to discuss the ideas and as ideas are unavoidable in expression there is no such thing as funding " just the arts" because you're in effect funding specific art and specific ideas. So you end up with a council or individual enforcing standards. Now if everyone agrees, fine (maybe). None other than Destutt de Tracy, an Enlightenment thinker most influential on Jefferson, didn't see a problem with the government promoting republican values. (Why would a republican government not want to promote republican values?) Still: in that situation would it or would it not be propaganda? Bear in mind, this is a problem stemming from propagating ideas on which people already agree:  republican government. Imagine the storm around ideas on which people disagree.

Besides those points, who appoints the members of this committee? Do they run for the office? Is this an "office?"  For how long do they stay in office? Or is this committee just another government bureaucratic entity no one understands or oversees except those with enough pull to tug the ears of its members? Are they appointed in the way the "Secretary" or "Czar" is? Is that very democratic? To whom are they responsible? How? Robin speaks of "the symbolism of the position." Shouldn't in a liberal society, the symbolism of any office of authority make one a tad, oh, nervous? This issue is no less than the problem of government itself and that this serious matter is glossed over by Mr. Robin as wanton conservative mongering is nothing short of outrageous (and illiberal.) Robin continues with this wistful thought about a best-case scenario for what we'll benignly call the "post" in dispute:
Maybe we would end up with someone with a lot of political clout. . .
You see in the Res Gestae of Augustus the emperor states that during his reign he had no more potestas than any of his political colleagues but rather only more auctoritas. That is to say, technically he had no special power buy he wielded such enormous influence that he was the one in charge anyway. This might be laudable if there were no government at all, maybe, but to praise political muscle instead of the authority conferred by the office is once more, illiberal, undemocratic, and un-republican.

Even more illiberal is the following proposition:
Any attempt to create a position at the level of Secretary of Arts/Culture would be a political debacle. Let’s say we somehow actually get the position approved (can you imagine the nightmare of congressional hearings?). . . 
Whence this contempt for the political process? Aren't the problems of electing officials worth having in a free society? Aren't they more then "debacles" and "nightmares?" Shouldn't liberals consider undemocratic processes "nightmares?" Good grief!

So instead of treading this authoritarian path consider how you yourself, directly, might spread the arts without the use of force and perhaps even for free:

  1. Make instructional videos, podcasts, or materials.
  2. Write a book.
  3. Make a website.
  4. Subscribe to a scholarly publication.
  5. Donate everywhere you can as much as you can.
  6. Buy things from institutions whose causes you support.
  7. Perform wherever and whenever possible.
  8. Tutor people.
  9. Raise money for a local school's scholarship or competition.
  10. Pay for someone's education. 
Lastly, to promote the arts is to change men's hearts. Never underestimate this task and how little grand designs will succeed at it. No society has or will embrace "art for art's sake." Nor should one. They need ideas to want to express. I'll leave it to Nietzsche to explain the greatest folly of "funding the arts."
If forced to speak, philosophy might say: Wretched people! Is it my fault if I am roaming the country among you like a cheap fortune-teller? If I must hide and disguise myself as though I were a fallen woman and you my judges? Just look at my sister, Art! Like me, she is in exile among barbarians. We no longer know what to do to save ourselves. True, here among you we have lost our rights, but the judges who shall restore them to us shall judge you too. And to you they shall say: Go get yourselves a culture. Only then will you find out what philosophy can and will do. [Emphasis mine.]
Culture, although Robin so casually adds it to the title of his newly minted post, "Secretary of Arts/Culture," is by no means easy to define. It is certainly not something that can be planned, bureaucratized, produced, or administrated. It is not the same as "education." For a fuller discussion of this  topic I direct you to T. S. Eliot's Notes Toward the Definition of Culture and some of our other essays below.

If you enjoyed (or hated) this essay you may enjoy (or hate) the following: 

Saturday, April 7, 2012

On Graduation

We here at APLV would like to extend warm congratulations to a fine young woman, Derpina, upon the eve of her graduation from college. Congratulations Derpina! As you know, though, we're a curious bunch here at the blog and simply can't resist thinking about things. We just cannot stop wondering: what's Derpie going to do with her gilt diploma? Join us in a little speculation?

Right away we're a little worried because Derpie spent a lot of money on  her education, $100,000 in fact. Unfortunately Derpie didn't have that much money coming out of high school so some generous folks lent her the money. They were so kind in fact that they didn't even ask what Derpie was going to study in college or whether her degree would get Derpie a job and whether she would be able to pay back the money. Fortunately Derpie's parent's have a good amount of money saved so maybe they'll help. Let's move on then.

So what's Derpina going to do with her degree? Well let us see, she majored in comparative literature. Hmm, what can Derpie do with that? Uh oh! Derpie's having trouble getting a job. For some reason she can't find an employer who needs his literature compared. Shocking? Perhaps. Yet Derpina went to a liberal arts college. What does that mean? It means she went there not just to prepare for getting a job but to enrich her mind and character. She went there "to ask important questions." Well what did she ask, we ask.

Here we need to make a teensy distinction because while Derpina's school wrote "A Liberal Arts School" on the brochures and they offered music and philosophy and history, poor Derpina didn't actually get a Classical Education. What is a classical education in contrast to a progressive education? Well, why don't we just compare a classical education to what Derpina actually got in a few of her classes.

I. History

Since Derpina didn't major in history she only had to take two classes of history to satisfy the demands of the "core curriculum" for the "Bachelor of Arts" degree. Both classes met twice a week for four months and cost several thousand dollars each, plus the cost of text books. What did Derpina get for her money and time? In her American history class they spent the first class making some general remarks about history. Then they went to a play instead of class. Another time the professor was away and sent a graduate student to fill in, who showed a video. They spent one class watching a movie about women's suffrage and another about Christopher Columbus enslaving natives. Several classes were taken up by exams. There aren't that many classes left for teaching are there? The professor taught one class about the "robber barons," one on child labor, another on FDR's "Second Bill of Rights," and lastly one on the Vietnam War protests.

In her European history course the professor taught the class like a seminar instead of teaching and the students discussed the role of women in different periods of history.

A Classical Education in history would have taught Derpina a great deal more. She would have analyzed the Classical historians as authors with their modes of analyses: Herodotus' stories to preserve the deeds of the Greeks, Thucydides' painstaking accounts "not meant to entertain," Livy's exemplars, and Plutarch's "parallel lives." She would have learned of the different types of government, republican, democratic, oligarchic, monarchical, the characteristics of each, how each one might degenerate into another, and which Plato and Aristotle praised the most. Derpina would have seen the bright side of democracy in Pericles' shining funeral oration and its dark side in the Melian debate and the invasion of Sicily. She would have seen both the need for change in the expulsion of the Greek tyrants, but also the terrible price paid by subverting the traditional laws in the legacy of the Gracchi. She would have seen that sometimes returning generals leave their armies at the gates, like Cincinnatus, and sometimes they enter with them like Marius, Sulla, and Caesar.

In American history, then, she would study the American republic in the light of the ancient republics and the American Declaration of Independence and Constitution in the light of Roman Twelve Tables, Solon's reforms, and the Greek and Roman courts. In short, she sees that the ancient problems are our problems. Hooray!

II. Logic and Rhetoric

Uh oh! Isn't this embarrassing? Unfortunately Derpina did not have to take a single class in logic in college. She never reads Plato's dialogues or any of Aristotle's logic. She doesn't know about different forms of argumentation, fallacies, about appeals to emotion, about induction vs. deduction. What to do? How can Derpina think? How can she systematically and reliably interpret the world around her? Nothing else in the world, no other experience or form of study, can fill this lacuna in her education. Oh noes Derpina!

It looks like Derpina didn't study rhetoric either. She never read Cicero and Demosthenes to see examples of the best oratory ever written, its attention to cadence, rhythm, periodic length, imagery, argumentation, small and large scale structure, rhetorical devices, and so forth. She doesn't know from Aristotle and Quintilian the different components of a speech, the types of speeches, or topics which one debates. She doesn't know what the emotions are or how to appeal to them. In the absence of such understanding she cannot express herself well or determine when someone else is expressing himself well. Oh my!

III. Literature and the Arts

We've been so harsh on Derpina's education let us see if we can put her major, comparative literature, to good use. Oh good, it seems she studied Shakespeare and George Eliot, surely that must be of some good? Indeed such are worthy studies, yet Derpina cannot really appreciate Shakespeare without a knowledge of Classics, especially Plutarch. Without a knowledge of Plutarch's history, the classical mythology, and the classical languages, Derpina's study will be considerably hobbled. How? Well it's hard to understand, let alone appreciate and enjoy, Shakespeare's vast vocabulary without knowing the lives of his words and many images without knowing the stories of the Greeks and Romans. Yet there is another way in which Derpina's study is hobbled by a dearth of Classical learning.

Wolfgang Sebastian Handel,
composer of Aida.
Derpina only took a survey music course and no art courses. She knows a half note is larger than a quarter note, the oboe is a woodwind, and that Beethoven was deaf, but that's about it. She has not knowledge of musical structures of counterpoint and harmony or historical contexts of styles. She doesn't know it, but this makes her major all the harder to pursue because each of the arts enlivens the others. She can't let Handel and Tiepolo bring Julius Caesar to life, Verdi Macbeth, or  Mendelssohn the world of A Midsummer Night's Dream, because she doesn't know who they are. In short, she studies her discipline in isolation without the Classics weaving the strands into something greater than the sum of its parts.


Perhaps we ought to stop here lest we be thought cruel. It's not a point in need of repetition that a Classical education in fact is education. In need of emphasis, though, is this: it is one thing not to be educated and quite another to be uneducated and think you are wise. To lack a liberal education is not the worst of things. Nietzsche praised the Romans when he said they were at their best when they lived without philosophy as a traditional agrarian people. To graduate from a liberal arts college without a liberal arts education is indeed a waste but such a waste is often the fault of the student. It is something different altogether to spend a small fortune on a liberal arts education, follow the school's curriculum to the letter, and still get nothing for your time. Like Derpina, that student takes from such an education an undeserved confidence dangerous to others and a gross and dangerous ignorance dangerous to himself. Told you have been given all the tools for life, wouldn't it be fair for you to think that when life goes awry, there's nothing more to be done?

Such a student doesn't have Plato and Aristotle to form the bedrock of his mind. Latin and Greek don't teach him to read and write with precision. The advice in the Rhetoric doesn't make him skeptical of the demagogue and the Republic doesn't make him wary of the social engineers. Ovid and Catullus don't ease his heartbreak and Horace doesn't teach him to enjoy simple pleasures. Marcus Aurelius doesn't tell him to get over himself and suck it up sometimes. To understand such a loss as an absence of guidance gives one a sense of the gravity of the deprivation but it is worse still because understanding binds one to the world. The world is for knowing and we are epistemophiliacs, lovers of understanding. The desire to understand is part of our nature and thus to begin to know the world is to begin to know oneself. So indeed it is a crime that the student has no map and a catastrophe that he has no world, but it is a tragedy that he, unawares, goes about without a self.

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

An Overture for Richard?

I am not one of the pesky many perpetually scoffing at programmatic music for being "limited." Yet. . . in this one case I simply must give new purpose to Rimsky-Korsakov's battle music from The Legend of the Invisible City of Kitezh. It will be quite a different purpose but I hope you agree one quite a fine fit. 

I propose seeing Korsakov's scene as an overture to Richard III. From the outset the dark winds suggest ill intent and the lengthening line Richard's invasive scheming. The brassy six-note figure evokes here throbbing (and later in the violins, stabbing) as much as marching and the opening wind figure most appropriately accompanies it. The rising range of the orchestration depicts Richard's rise and the rising tension matches his increasing viciousness.  

The spacious and grand theme that follows is the essence of what fascinates us in Richard. It's a soaring and rapturous theme, seductive in its primal heedlessness. Its opening figure is repeated against increasingly martial strings and drums until climaxing in a dazzling and colorful explosion of vigor, violence, and self-assertion. Growing darker and more malevolent, though, the theme is then itself besieged by ferocious drums who hound and snap at it until, put to flight, it limps off. (This dactylic figure could easily also be Richard's horse trotting off.) A baleful shadow of its former glory the theme makes its last overtures now, shrinking after each attempt. Its last gasp is way up in the oboes, and the last bit of energy it expends is on the shock at its fate.

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Mozart on Film: Bergman's Die Zauberflöte

Bergman's opening scene to Mozart's final opera is itself a miniature masterpiece. We begin with the Three Ladies veiled and with spear in full warrior-maiden mode. A visually imposing presence, Bergman arranges the armed trio in a tableau bathed in flashing light and smoke. Their dark clothes against the light background emphasize the menacing sight and Bergman raises their dominant position further by shooting from a low angle.

Musically we now have a falling scalar figure alongside shouts of victory. Which will Bergman utilize? He chooses not to use the falling scales to emphasize the falling of the dragon but the calls of "Triumph!" to accompany close-ups of to the Ladies. These close-ups, preceded by a marching figure in the winds, further the Ladies' warrior look by showing us their flared nostrils and gaping maws. Yikes!

Tamino, looking equal parts comfy and conked-out, rolls around on the floor alongside the comically kicking dragon. In one smooth motion the camera pans up from the flaccid Tamino to the dying dragon to the victorious Ladies who now unveil to look upon their spoils: a handsome prince whom the camera dwells upon in closeup. With the shot fixed on Tamino the Ladies' hands enter the frame, emphasizing their agency and interest while contrasting the previous image of them as marauders. Those hands that had just thrust spears are now seen closeup in their silken femininity as they cradle and caress (and compete for) Tamino.

In the same unbroken shot they raise up Tamino and each Lady has a turn at his ear.

The relative stillness of the camera throughout the Ladies' movement in the shot gives the moment an ethereal quality.

Bergman holds the next shot in close on the two singing Ladies and pulls out to accomodate the third who joins them. This might seem more literal, with the camera mimicking the music, but it works because the joining Lady was the last to look upon Tamino and her delay makes it seems as if she lingered upon him longer, unable to tear herself away. This simple shot itself is worth lingering on a while longer. Do you notice the tension in the shot to the right? Where are we supposed to look? The left Lady attracts our attention because her blondness makes her brighter but the right Lady is taller, hence the introduction of the third Lady to the left and slightly lower feels like a resolution.

Bergman creates this scene with the barest minimum of movement but the fullest utilization of color, size, and spatial arrangement. It has life and energy without relentless motion. It is also the most sensual image so far, centrally displaying in close distance the Ladies' slender necks. Their heads then turn left to Tamino, first the right lady, then the left, then the center and in such order because our eyes must follow the center Lady. (Watch the clip trying to follow one of the other two and see how awkward it feels.)

The Ladies surround Tamino in another engaging tableau. Unlike before when they barely grazed him now the Ladies get handsy. Their caressing and wandering hands complement the music which here begins with an excited energy of quavers in the Ladies' voices against clipped quavers in the strings. This motion gives way to a throbbing iambic motion in two of the Ladies as the third is completely carried away. Visually and musically the Ladies are having their own private moment with Tamino. What could be less relevant here than the text about bringing him back to the Queen?

No sooner, though, do the ladies start eyeing the competition. The ladies enter one at a time, each offering to stay behind with the newfound stud and each in turn getting interrupted by one of the other Ladies who insists she be the one to stay. Musically this is handled with successive entries and visually Bergman has each entering Lady step in front of the other, blocking her competition from the camera. Bergman follows Mozart and repeats the pattern twice, the women working their way up to the camera until finally each thrusts herself forward, forcing the camera back.

Bear in mind that for this part of the scene the Ladies look directly into the camera, which is now at eye level instead of beneath them. Naturally this creates the impression that they are competing for us instead of what's-his-name. Bergman completes the moment with a cutthroat smile. If you're not drawn in at this point. .  .

The Ladies twirl their bodies away from us and start arguing about who will get to stay behind. ("I'm supposed to go?!") The camera quickly pans back and forth across the Ladies' faces as they argue. The staging of the Ladies here is quite brilliant. The two back to back have to turn their necks to argue, which adds tension, and the uppity response from the third who is left out makes way for a visual joke. Lastly, the continuous and close physical contact gives the scene a sensual charge.

Next each Lady how she won't leave Tamino for the others and Bergman is somewhat pressed to handle these musical repetitions with visual language. He arranges them as a pair discussing with the third separate, first in the foreground, then in the background, and with them joining all together to say "Nay Nay!" in between. This simple trick proves surprisingly effective at creating a sense of variety.

They join hands and circle around the dazed prince as if preparing for some more touchy-feely but instead they share a kiss amongst themselves: a truce. None of them will have Tamino. It cannot be.

Convinced of their defeat the Ladies move in front of Tamino and bemoan their loss, swooping forth one after the other like Mozart's stretti, first falling then rising. The Ladies turn and twirl until rising in proud acceptance and then collapsing in dejection. They return to him one last time, grasping him ever more boldly in knowing they'll get no further. . .

. . . before at last gracefully bowing out.

In short, Bergman's staging of Mozart is brilliant. Making use of all of his visual resources he is able to create a beautiful, effective and in fact quite simple visual vessel for Mozart's music.