Friday, May 31, 2013

Hell, No

It's always telling when people pounce on a piece news and promptly declare I told you so! So it was with much amusement that I watched the stream of giddy reactions to Pope Francis' comments about salvation. The approbation flowed mostly from liberal quarters, Catholic and otherwise, rejoicing in. . . what exactly?

They interpreted Pope Francis' statement to mean that atheists can get into heaven. Now this might seem a charitable and Christian sentiment, and indeed there is a reasonable path to such a conclusion. For example, it's possible to believe God's love so vast that it simply swaddles all of his children in infinite forgiveness, irrespective of creed or deed. That's variously problematic, though not patently absurd, but it and the assumptions about Pope Francis' recent statement, especially in the context of the ambiguities Fr. Z mentions above, are potentially troublesome.

Namely, because some people are known to be quite bad, few think that everyone is going to heaven. So one naturally then wonders what's worse than what, and then because people can reform, how you can make up for sin. There is of course a simple, orthodox answer: repent in the sacrament of reconciliation. There's surprisingly little need to consider details if you're as good and grateful as possible. Of course, since this discussion revolves around atheists, repentance is not an option. The only alternative then is a calculus computing what you can do in life to make up for sin, a calculation in which all actions are fungible and the result of which is that everyone's tally neatly balances so they end up in heaven. If you do good deeds, then God won't send you to hell just for not believing in him. If you do great deeds, then God won't send you to hell for minor sins. If you do certain good deeds, then God won't send you to hell for not doing certain other good deeds. The conclusion here is that no one's in hell except Hitler and Caligula.

The origins of such expectations are not hard to imagine: it's difficult fully to imagine the joy of reunification with God, therefore our most potent experiences with love and joy are with our loved ones. As a result, we really cannot entertain the idea that our loved ones will be punished, let alone infernally, eternally damned. Can you look at your wife, or brother, or parent, and hold in your mind the knowledge that they're going to hell? If you could, you'd probably be deathly afraid. Yet we moderns don't really fear quite so much, we fret and worry and sputter about minutiae, but we don't fear. My thinking therefore, is that, just maybe, we don't entertain rosy notions about salvation because we believe in God's bountiful grace, but because we've refused to confront our fears. Fears about what kind of people we are, fears about the implications of our beliefs, fears about the unknown.

Nicolás Gómez Dávila, one of the great anachronisms of the 20th century, wrote that:
The Church was able to baptize medieval society because it was a society of sinners, but her future is not promising in modern society, where everyone believes he is innocent. [1]
Guilt: what a dismal thought it seems to the modern. To him, guilt is an accident of an insufficiently liberal system of ethics, the puritanism of some obtuse positive law, rather than part of our nature, a part inextricably bound up in our salvation. And so the modern makes paeans to peace and progress and perfection, when the medieval said with humility suscipe deprecationem nostram, and with joy miserere nobis.

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Movie Review: Dr. Strangelove

or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb
Directed by Stanley Kubrick. 1964.

Dr. Strangelove neither sweats nor abets squishy notions about the high-ranking peckers of the political order or the sanity of anyone up and down the military chain of command. Strangelove, however, doesn't smother its subjects in finger-wagging or withering scorn, but allows the crew helming the ship of fools to shine in their own bizarre blaze of imbecility. In fact, so absurd are both the characters and the stage that I don't know whether there's a single straight line in the whole movie.

The first drops of Kubrick's inky black comedy paint General Buck Turgidson, whom we meet not at  command desk or astride one of the military's great steel steeds, but amidst his pre-coital primping. So occupied is the tumid general with his preparations, in fact, that it's not he but his squeeze-cum-secretary, Miss Scott, who answers the phone. Unmoved by the gravity of the situation, the general has Miss Scott relay to him the facts of why there are strategic bombers en route to Russian targets.

The scene plays riotously for several reasons. The first is the sight of the bikinied Miss Scott inserted into the chain of command. Second is how she seamlessly switches between proper secretarial protocol when talking to the lieutenant on the phone and shouting at the general who's in the bathroom. Third is of course George C. Scott barking questions from his off-screen orifice. The scene climaxes when Turgidson flies out of the bathroom in an open Hawaiian shirt and shorts to answer the phone. The country's in the very best of hands.

The best character introduction in the film, though, is the shortest, and it's for the absurdly proper Group Capt. Lionel Mandrake, from the service's exchange program. When his base commander has ordered the nuclear strike and impounded personal radios so they can't be used to seed commands to spies, Mandrake finds one and in the process of impounding it, traipses throughout the base with the little box blaring its easy listening tunes. The scene is a perfect metaphor for Mandrake's cluelessness and ineffectual manners, and both contrast Mandrake as foil to the phlegmatic General Jack T. Ripper.

One of cinema's great characters, Jack T. Ripper is the grizzled general who, fed up with a feckless Washington and the corrupting communist infiltration which threatens not only the purity of the American polity but also the "precious bodily fluids" of her men, makes the very reasonable decision to buck the chain of command and begin a nuclear war by means of a preemptive strike on the Soviet Union. Sterling Hayden's performance at first seems simply the work of caricature, but it's much more than cigar-chomping and distended faces. There's a detached quality to General Ripper which at first seems pure insanity but also reads as a hyperbolic romanticism. Ripper is concerned with the manly duties, martial virtues, and the purity of the male essence. He prefers to do things himself and is prepared to take losses. The problem is that he's trying to live his old romantic vision not with a symbolic duel at twenty paces but by means of the most powerful weapons in human history.

Still, Ripper is as much out of his mind as out of his time, for romance aside, his conspiracy theories and apparent, if occasional, understanding of the cataclysmic results of his actions, just plain disturb us. In fact we share Mandrake's flabbergasted, flat-faced response to Ripper's serene hysteria. As General Ripper lectures about water fluoridation and forcing total American commitment to the end of days, we can only look on in horror. Yet all the while his confidence, the way he seems to chisel each penile pronouncement into the Washington Monument itself, America's great endowment, gives these bizarre epigrams a lapidary profundity.

God willing, we will prevail in peace and freedom from fear and in true health through the purity and essence of our natural fluids
I can no longer sit back and allow Communist infiltration, Communist indoctrination, communist subversion, and the international Communist conspiracy to sap and impurify all of our precious bodily fluids. 
And as human beings, you and I need fresh, pure water to replenish our precious bodily fluids.
Frightening as it is that General Ripper has his finger on the button at farcically-named Burpleson Air Force Base, where we are frequently reminded by a grim running gag of signs that, "Peace is Our Profession," the meat and potatoes of Dr. Strangelove are the exchanges in the war room.

Here Turgidson butts up against President Merkin Muffley as they try to deal with General Ripper's atomic insurrection. Muffley, the second in Peter Sellers' hat trick of performances in Strangelove, might be the straight man here, but he's no hero. Once he's been briefed on the details of Plan R, which we discover puts all and irrevocable authority in the commanding officer, who just happens to be General Ripper, he asks who ever approved such an idiotic plan. President Muffley is gently reminded, "You approved it, sir." Once everyone in the War Room realizes there's no turning back, Turgidson delivers the bleakest line and most outrageous understatement of the movie. "The human element seems to have failed us here."

Turgidson, however, rapidly reveals himself as one nut saner than General Ripper as he compulsively stuffs his mouth with chewing gum and articulates his plan to capitalize on Ripper "exceeding his authority" by proceeding with the strike. In a chilling moment, Turgidson, amidst articulating his plan, answers a telephone call from Miss Scott. He proceeds to pacify her randy whimpering by telling her that he'll be back shortly, and then proceeds to discuss his plan for "pacifying" the world (Remember: Peace is our Profession) by reading from his binder, titled, "World Targets in Megadeaths." When an outraged President Merkin objects, Turgidson replies:

Mr. President, I'm not saying we wouldn't get our hair mussed. But I do say... no more than ten to twenty million killed, tops. Uh... depended on the breaks.
Certainly not enough cause to let, as Turgidson cautions, "One incident invalidate the program."

Finally the Russians get involved, but only to hilarious effect. Ambassador Sadesky arrives and immediately begins taking reconnaissance photographs. The now manic Turgidson tackles him giving rise to Strangelove's most famous line:

Gentlemen you can't fight in here, this is the war room!

The heavy satire, though, lies in Muffley's conversations with the Russian president. The genius of conception here is all Kubrick's in seeing just how foolish we look when talking on the phone. Neither man takes on the gravitas of a statesman delivering an epoch-making oration but rather a frustrated, average man trying to get his take out order right. The genius of execution, however, goes to Sellers, who manages to escalate the ridiculousness of the conversation and imply of the Russian president's foolishness all by himself. Addressing his interlocutor simply as Dimitri, who the ambassador tells us has been satisfying his manly needs, Muffley talks to the man as if Dimitri is either drunk or of the mind of a child. Sellers' timing is impeccable here where Dmitri "interrupts" him and he assures his sensitive Russian counterpart that the call is not simply business and that, "Of course I like to speak to you. Of course I like to say hello." The very best of hands.

Now we get the last piece to the absurd puzzle. The Russians have a "doomsday machine" which will blanket the world in a radioactive cloud if even one missile hit its target. The ultimate and perfect deterrent, with one hitch. Dr. Strangelove, Sellers' last and most outrageous creation, wheels out from the shadows to shine an incensed light on the obvious.

The whole point of the doomsday machine is lost if you keep it a secret!

We seem to be averting disaster, though, when Captain Mandrake manages to decrypt General Ripper's doodles and discern the recall codes. One lone plane, however, is out of contact and its captain, Major King Kong, is going through with his orders. Never mind that he's about to start a nuclear war, he trusts in General Ripper enough to press on with the attack. Like his dense counterpart Colonel Bat Guano,  who nearly derailed Mandrake's attempts to forward the recall codes, Major Kong is oblivious to the situation. Unlike Col. Guano, though, who is simply oblivious to the obvious and impervious to common sense, Kong has been insulated by both technology and the chain of command from understanding or altering the situation.

With the unstoppable underway, the politicians in the war room seize on Dr. Strangelove's plan of last resort, wherein prime samples of the human species will be sequestered away underground to repopulate and emerge when the radiation has settled. No sooner has the end begun, though, then the politickers begin prepping the next war. What happens if the Russians tuck a nuke away and whip it out when the radiation has cleared? Better save a few.

Finally the men belie their disinterested judgment and verify their quality when they unanimously support the plan which requires them to do "prodigious service" repopulating the Earth with women selected for their "highly stimulating nature."

Best. Of. Hands.

Monday, May 27, 2013

Movie Review: Patton

Directed by Franklin J. Schaffner. 1970.

Since its release, Patton has split audiences into those who see in it a glorification of the military ethics and those who find  condemnation of it. Critics like to wax about what it's "really" about, but the opinion is in the eye of the beholder because Patton is a pure distillation of the warrior ethos. This is not an equivocating cop-out like the sentiment that the titular character is both "hero and villain," expressed in the Cosmo review quoted on the movie poster to the right. Instead, it's an invitation to consider the ancient warrior's virtues and his place in a liberal society. Steven Pressfield in his 2011 The Warrior Ethos pulls together examples ancient and modern to examine the question and here I'd like to look at some of the virtues he identifies through the example of Schaffner's Patton.

We already called the warrior virtues ancient, but are they modern too? Throughout Patton we see a man who identifies more with Alcibiades, Julius Caesar, and Napoleon than with his fellow commanders. On his way to the front, the general orders his driver to divert to a nearby field on which sit ancient ruins. Stepping out, Patton describes the ancient Roman sack of Carthage as if he sees it unfolding before him. He says:
Through the travail of ages,
midst the pomp and toils of war,
have I fought and strove and perished,
countless times among the stars.
As if through a glass and darkly,
the age old strife I see,
when I fought in many guises and many names,
but always me.
The poem distills from every man-of-war in every age, the warrior's ethos that pervades and unifies them all. Beyond merely identifying with his predecessors, Patton sees himself as the present incarnation of the pure warrior in a timeless continuum. Yet the warrior's ethos is no longer timeless, and everyone around Patton seems to see that he's out of place. His aide bashfully tells the general how his ideas, like his poems, just don't fit in nowadays. Omar Bradley (Karl Malden), his fellow general, tells Patton with a hint of fear and disgust, "I do this job because I've been trained to. You do it because you love it." Even the German lieutenant tasked to research Patton calls him a pure romantic warrior, a Don Quixote out of time. The question to us is whether Patton has a place in our society, or whether he's chasing windmills.

From the outset Patton seems to contradict the established liberal order. His very presence with all of his medals, stars, and commendations upsets the egalitarian order of civilian life. The General is in charge and his authority not only commands fealty to a superior but it shames the raw cadets who have yet to earn any prestige for themselves. He proceeds to shame them again, taunting them that at least, should their grandchildren ever ask what they did in "The Great WW II," they wouldn't have to say they "shoveled shit in Alabama." This also fosters a sense of unity with the army, distinction from both civilians and other regiments, and of course the enemy, whose fate he describes without a hint of pity or mercy. Later on he promises to send a soldier right to the front lines: he might die, but he won't sit a coward in Patton's army. In contrast to our natural inclinations toward self-preservation, Patton's warrior ethos gives honor to the man who fulfills the mission and shame to anyone who fails.

Likewise, where we in civilian society praise individuality, he calls individuality on the battlefield a bunch of nonsense. Instead, an army functions because of the soldier's obedience to the chain of command and compunction to fulfill his duty to the mission and his comrades. He does not glorify himself but functions as part of a team.

The differences mount. Where civilians reward the guy who finagles the best of all worlds, the warrior honors the man who lays down on the wire. As Pressfield writes, where we value moderation, the warrior values aggression. Where we value luxury, the warrior prepares for adversity. You can see this all in the satisfaction on Patton's face when he looks at the carnage on the battlefield. Observing the remnants of a bloody struggle he confesses to his aide, "God help me but I do love it so."

Alongside the warrior thread, though, is Patton's arc as a highly imperfect man. More specifically, Patton's change is a coming to grips with his vanity. He wants to be the hero of the war, sometimes at the expense of the allied agreements when he taunts his British counterpart Bernard Montgomery, sometimes at the expense of his men when he presses an attack simply to make time, and sometimes at the risk of shattering the chain of command when he exceeds orders disciplining men. Patton learns a little humility after he's put on probation after the successful Sicilian campaign and the film's finale is a bloody blast through the liberation of France and Patton's counter to Germany's final, ferocious assault. Patton shines here, pressing the American technological advantage and capitalizing on the training and discipline of his unit. The question of Patton's reform and self-awareness is never taken for granted, though, and after one of his outbursts ending with, "Let no one come back alive!" his aide notes that sometimes the men can't tell when he's kidding, to which Patton replies, "It's only important that I know." Is it, or ought not those taking the orders and to whom he reports, know too?

There's also one especially good line from one of the soldiers, from whom we seldom hear, who upon hearing Patton called "Old Blood and Guts," replies, "Yeah, our blood, his guts." The line stands out but in the right way, for it's a bit too easy to get wrapped up in the Great Man telling of history.

The structure of Patton revolves around the three set pieces of the North African, Sicilian, and post-Normandy operations in France and Germany, and for a nearly three hour picture, it's pretty sleek. Yes, the battles are a tad padded with wide shots and explosions, but every scene ties into Patton's arc and the arc of the war. Unifying the whole movie, though, is Jerry Goldsmith's march. It's a simple little tune which reveals its protean nature as it occurs in various guises throughout, here exuberant, there defeated. Sometimes it's full and vigorous, other times it's truncated, echoing ruefully into the distance. Sometimes in darkness it sours the stomach after a grisly defeat and other times in brightness it presages the glory of victory. Does it have any one true face, or are the permutations of the warrior's march the permutations of the warrior?

Like Patton, has the warrior won the war but found himself antiquated? Both Patton and Pressfield seem to point the way. Pressfield concludes The Warrior Ethos with the story of Arjuna from Bhagavad-Gita, in which Krishna instructs Arjuna start killing his enemies. Pressfield writes,
The names of these enemy warriors, in Sanskrit, can be read two ways. They can be simply names. Or they can represent inner crimes or personal vices, such as greed, jealousy, selfishness, the capacity to play our friends false or to act without compassion toward those who love us.
In other words, our warrior Arjuna is being instructed to slay the enemies inside himself. [Pressfield, 80]
As with Arjuna, Patton has to turn his warrior virtues that brought him success on the battlefield and that he taught his soldiers, on himself. These are not the virtues of war, but life.

The final shot closes all arcs. The man returns home, having conquered his demons. The general returns triumphant, but having learned that "all glory is fleeting." The warrior walks past a windmill: is he still an anachronism, or will the warrior's virtues serve him, and others, in peace?

Pressfield, Steven. The Warrior Ethos. Black Irish Entertainment. 2011.

Sunday, May 26, 2013

Movie Review: High Society (1956)

Directed by Charles Walters. 1956.

Since I don't wish to speak ill of the dead, I'll credit director Charles Walters for managing to cast Bing Crosby, Grace Kelly, and Frank Sinatra in a film, punched up by none other than Louis Armstrong and His Band, and have the whole thing turn out a dreadful bore. To start, I'll do the opposite of High Society with its ten minute swooning cotton candy overture followed up by a title song followed up by an explanation, and cut to the quick with the film's two egregious problems.

First, High Society shifts in tone from scene to scene. To start, the title song sets the stage for a pure lovey-dovey romance where exciting ex-hubby Dexter (Bing Crosby) swings back into prissy debutante Tracy's life on the day before her wedding to a dull-but-marriageable George (John Lund.) Then Tracy gets swindled into allowing a pair of tabloid photographers to her wedding so the paper editor will suppress unflattering press about her father, a turn handled so seriously we expect a dramatic consequence. The tone shifts again when the photographers arrive and Tracy and her kid sister play up their high society parts with ridiculous parodies of themselves. Satire? Once more the tone twists when, due to Tracy's machinations, her father and uncle are each pretending to be the other. Farce? A comedy of errors?

Finally the tone swerves to the serious when Tracy has cutting conversations with Dexter and then her father, who in turn tell her to have respect for human frailty and then not to be so cold "as a bronze statue." Not only do these scenes clash with the rest of the movie, but they block a flashback in which Tracy and Dexter swoon together during an evening sail. This is either tone-deaf editing or a desperate attempt to vary the visuals. Either way it fails.

Now I read a clever comment which  cautioned viewers to approach High Society as if it were an opera, forgiving its undulating plot and tone as one does an opera's preposterous twists and turns. Unfortunately, we cannot forgive High Society for two reasons. First, the tunes are dull, haphazardly placed, and far from unifying disparate material, don't even elevate any of it. Second, nothing actually happens in the first hour of the movie.

This is in fact the movie's second egregious problem. Yes, people come and go, but the plot doesn't move by the activity we see. Tracy's mother Liz talks about her husband's previous philandering, Dexter talks about his love for Tracy, Tracy talks about what and whom she likes and dislikes, and the photographers ask a lot of questions about their socialite-hosts, but nothing happens in front of you. The arrival of the Dexter and then the photographers, the swap between Tracy's uncle and father, none of this triggers a course of events. As a result the scenes just lay next to one another until we're an hour in and we have neither a plot-in-motion nor, through tone, any sense of what might, ought, or ought-not happen.

In fact, the first hour has just three redeeming bits. The first is a bit of chemistry between rag reporters Mike (Frank Sinatra) and Liz (Celeste Horn.) Even their dippy duet, devoid as it is of anything resembling music or poetry, breathes a little life. The second bit is a pair of references, to Circe and then Lord Macaulay. Had these two ever ever worked their way into a mainstream picture today would have been scrubbed out of it before anyone ever uttered their names. The last noteworthy bit is Grace Kelly walking around inexplicably dressed like a Greek goddess.

At any rate, after the midway musical number ends, Louis adds, "Now we're getting warmed up." Sort of. The second act proceeds like a better movie, albeit a cheesy one. The action weaves through the set-piece of a party where Dexter, Mike, and George all vie for Tracy, or at least hover around her. Unfortunately, although she's out of sorts we can't tell whether she's finally self-aware and angry at herself, stymied about which man to choose, throwing a hissy fit, or just plain drunk. This would be less of a problem were she not the only developing character.

Once more, of course, the tone just won't settle down. After a serious heart-to-heart between Dexter and the lonely Liz and a steamy scene between Tracy and Mike, we think a serious denouement is in the works. . . and then the two fall in the pool. . . and stagger back drunk in bathrobes. . . to Dexter and Roger, who then have words about class. What a mess.

So the wedding finally arrives and you know what, who cares? I don't know whether Dexter is looking out for Tracy so she doesn't marry a jerk or whether he wants her for himself, and I don't know anything meaningful about their relationship. I don't know whether George is a rube or a stiff or a phony, and I don't know what he really feels for Tracy. I don't know whether Mike is really in love with Tracy simply because he's drunk for the last hour of the movie. Finally, I don't know whom Tracy loves or whether I'm supposed to empathize with her as an anguished lover, scrutinize her as a spoiled debutante, or pine after her like one of the guys. Or should I be rooting for one of the guys I don't know or care about?

The conclusion wraps things up as if something significant had preceded it, but though things work out, the lack of development leaves you fairly indifferent to the outcome. Sadly, this is a first rate cast put through the hoops of a movie with flat dialogue and skimpy plotting which the director simply doesn't pull together. What a disappointment.

Saturday, May 25, 2013

On Charm

I vaghi fiori
Giovanni Palestrina
A heated debate followed one of The Atlantic's puffy articles this week when Benjamin Schwartz's The Rise and Fall of Charm in American Men rang in the next bout of history's longest-running conflict. In fact the wrangling in the comments impresses, given the lightweight nature of the piece, and to me highlight a few points. First, no one is sure what charm is. Second, everyone thinks charm is desirable. Third, charm is lacking today and no one knows why. Let us see if we can lighten the befuddlement.

First off, while Schwartz never defines charm, the dictionary seems adequately to have done so as, a power of pleasing or attracting, as through personality or beauty. That's not half bad, for charm is certainly a magnetic force of attraction. Another definition clarifies further, saying that to charm is, to act upon (someone or something) with or as with a compelling or magical force, a property which emphasizes the natural, seemingly mystical, pull toward the charming.

A still better definition we find, though, in the more obscure source of a Renaissance treatise on beauty. Here, Florentine poet and man of letters Agnolo Firenzuola, leaning on Petrarch and Boccacio, calls our mysterious property vaghezza. From these poets he isolates three properties of what we broadly call charm: wandering, desire, and beauty. I'll depart from Firenzuola's analysis but consider myself these properties, which seem to me wisely discerned.

Rembrandt Laughing
Wandering is perhaps the most surprising of these traits, for why should that which moves itself, move us? Firenzuola wrote that what we see at ease moves us less than what we must work for, an observation which might figure into the raging gender war, but this seems at best a secondary property. First, though, we must clarify that it is not simply movement which charms us, for no one finds a swinging pendulum or spinning fan charming. Nor do we find sunsets or blowing leaves charming, although we might describe their motion as beautiful. Rather we find charming that which seems animate, that is, alive, and full of vitality. Too this is a property particular to people, for although animals move themselves we do not find them charming. It is the self-possession of an individual, moreover an awareness of his place in the world and an ease in that place, that we find charming. The charming man neither hurries or tarries, speaks too much nor too little, or suffers from want or excess.

He exists with joy in the order of the world, or even seems himself to order it, and thus we rejoice in the apparent excellence of both him and "his world." Such is why the charming are so desirable to others. The charming man extends his apparent good order around us, hence the propensity for the charming-and-devious to use their power for swindling others. We comply with charmers because we are so persuaded that the ease with which they move signifies the rightness of their order. Even the man of intelligence may be persuaded by a charming man, for in seeming to find the mean in personal conduct and himself to be happy, the charming man approximates wisdom. For this reason, charm may conceal a lack of wisdom, lead to wisdom, or flow from wisdom, and hence the various disputations about its essence and goodness.

In speaking of beauty I will quote Firenzuola, who writes that charm is, "a beauty that attracts and sparks the desire to contemplate and enjoy it." [Eisenbichler & Muray, 36] As alluded, at the personal level we seek to enjoy the company of the charming. We find enjoyment in their apparent harmony with the world and with us. Not inappropriately, we call this harmony beautiful, although not friendship per se, which has other requirements. Hence again the propensity to abuse charm, for it may simulate the appearance of friendship with simple friendly feeling.

At the aesthetic level too, though, we seek beauty. The beauty of the human face which charms us and moves eros through us may move us either toward love, friendship, and giving, or to lust and utility.

Finally, although we described charm as appropriate only to people, we might attempt discuss two potential qualifications. The first is for certain places, which are not properly called charming because they are not vital or self-possessed, but which draw us into their order and beauty. We call them charming nonetheless because we project ourselves into them and in doing so feel a part of order and beauty, and thus at peace. Hence the charm of a well-ordered farm, a cozy cabin, or a simple nook in nature where we feel at home.

The second potential qualification is for music, because a musical idea 1) exists in time, 2) has shape and character, and 3) seems to act and react. The seems there is the catch, though, for the musical idea is the will of the composer and not self-possessed. Still, though, but for that one qualification would we not call both the seductive and sensuous Adagio and the bumptious Rondo themes of Mozart's Clarinet Concerto KV.622, like Rembrandt chuckling above, charming?

Does that theme not seem at peace with itself and the world? Does it not call us?

Charm may be misconstrued and misused, but it's a call to something greater, for to charm one must know oneself and cultivate the good, and to be charmed we must be open to goodness and beauty. If we wish charm to return, that is where we ought to start.

Eisenbicher, Konrad and Murray, Jaqueline (trans. & ed.) On the Beauty of Women, by Firenzuola, Agnolo. University of Pennsylvania Press. 1992.

Friday, May 24, 2013

A Flotilla of Credentials

The worst part about graduation ceremonies is not the speechifying. Nor is it the seizure-inducing bursts of photographic flashes or the heavy, thick spring air. It's not even the sight of that flotilla of vaunted credentials puffing its way through rows of parents. It's the robes.

First offending is the sheer ridiculousness of their design. All poofy and flowing they're just the wrong combination of priss and pomp. Too, could they be more elaborate than with sashes and cords and tassels and hats? And don't forget the stripes, borders, and crests. And hoods, don't forget the hoods, because academia is apparently so complicated for academics that they need to color code each other. Well, that's uncharitable. Perhaps it's simply that the reward for years of study is getting to dress like a Baroque Halloween Oreo.

Worse than this fashion faux pas, though, is the arrogance of wearing one's achievements on his sleeve. And chest, and head, and every other part of the body. If this is not the epitome of arrogance I shudder to see the real thing. All clothing has to do is suggest a quiet, kept dignity, and this sort of peacocking should be verboten and stamped into the dirt. Yes, academic work is quiet and solitary. So? Grad-uation is about promotion, not celebration, and pulling out the fancy dress because academics feel unloved doesn't serve the discipline so much as turn the ceremony into Carnivale. Then again, had Socrates the opportunity I'm sure he would have opted to look like a cross-dressing troubadour on Star Trek.

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Knock Knock

Out and about today, your blogger-on-the-move stopped to observe a door. This may sound dull but it was such a fair, husky specimen of pine that I thought of all the good it did for the owner, keeping out all manner of rapscallions, hoots, and antics. Anyway, at some point during its sentry duty, this noble, woody custodian wronged a man. His crime was not being locked or damaged or anything so reasonable and invisibly remedied. No, our door committed the sin of excessive opacity, and for this crime he was sliced open and fitted with a window. Yet the invasive procedure apparently exceeded the skill of the craftsman, for instead of fitting the door with a slick porthole, they slapped a piece of clear plastic between molding on either side. But wait, the horror continues.

You see, as I observed the ingress a visitor approached and knocked. On the plastic. And as the plastic bounced around in its frame I felt the pain of the door, once a mighty gatekeeper who permitted but the faintest noises through to its owner. After this fleeting reflection on door's life,  I felt each dry, hard, clank bounce and multiply through every fiber of my being.

Duly dislodged from my pre-prandial observations, I hurried along with one thought in my head: who in his right mind would have knocked on that part of the door? Why, why I ask! Could this individual not feel the disruptive cacophony of her verberations? In the rueful position of her quarry I would have exercised my right not to answer the door.

There are many ways to get someone's attention, most of them unacceptable. Think of the pomposity which a select breed of churl conveys in summoning a waiter with two slow, deliberate, paternalistic strokes of the hand. Snapping, whistling, and shouting are all right out.  So is touching, tugging, and tapping people.

In hailing a stranger, a gentle pardon me is the only acceptable interjection. Of knocking on doors, two or three gentle raps must do. In either case, if you don' get his attention, there's a hint for the taking.

Monday, May 20, 2013


Lovers of the Latin Mass make various paths in justifying the traditional form of the Roman Liturgy. It is reverent, it is beautiful, it is time-honored. We explain its structural coherence and its sense of motion. We talk about beauty and utility of Latin. True all, but such efforts are mostly useless. What is not useless, however, is our affection for the Extraordinary form.

We just plain love it. The quiet, the focus, the postures. We love the rhythm and gravitas of the Latin. We love the music, whether the ecstasy of high classical compositions, the dense webs of renaissance polyphony, or the unadorned lines of plainchant. We love the feeling of continuity with Catholics of every time and place. We love every bit and the glorious totality of the mass in which one feels at home.

In contrast, I've never heard anyone express any affection about the Novus Ordo, let alone wax poetical about it. Yes, they may like going to an NO mass, but that's because of what it is by nature, or what they think it is, not the form it takes. They like it or respect it because they know it is important, not because its form transports or enraptures them.

They may like singing at mass, but they don't like Marty Haugen. I've never heard anyone express that they love how their lector-neighbor reads the passages, or how their hairdresser distributes Holy Communion. Never have I heard someone confess a call to universal brotherhood when the cantor raises her arm to incite invite, the congregation. I still seek the encomiastic literature praising the seventh inning stretch that is the sign of peace. Now I've never heard anyone even try to defend these practices on empirical grounds, but that's the point: without reference to a principle, the only common appeal of these practices is whim.

Of course these gestures are not intrinsic to the NO and were you to strip them and follow the letter of the reform, you would find a mass resembling the Latin. Doing so of course puts off the progressives, who never consider themselves progressives, which suggests that their loyalties are not to the law of Sacrosanctum Concilium but whatever post Vatican II version of it they first embraced. It was an emotional embrace, too . They turned, and they will not turn again. Never mention that SC promotes chant and Latin and never ask them to point out where it mentions moving altars and receiving Holy Communion in the hand. They turned, but not to SC.

The old days for sure had demerits. Yet for all the degeneration of the ars celebrandi, the old masses inspired devotion. The NO, for all of the hope that it would appeal to the ethos changing times, seems not to have. Have there been more secular generations than those born in the 1970s and 80s, generations born to the boomers who got on board the reform bandwagon?

Worse than failure is the wholesale lack of culpability, a refusal that what they supported might not have served its purpose. It was the hippies or communists or conservatives who were at fault, not the reformers. When I hear such arguments I think of Gordon Ramsay's TV show Kitchen Nightmares. In every episode, the desperate owners with their business on the verge of closing have called in Gordon, who before tasting asks them first to rate their food on a scale of 1-10 and then explain what's wrong with the restaurant. The owners invariably reply that their food is a 10 and the problem is that there are not enough customers. When he tries to change the menu they predictably reply that they don't want to alienate their customers, to which an enraged Gordon replies, "There's nobody in your damn restaurant!"

Likewise, there's no acknowledgement that a flat, languid mass in a modern church, with sappy music, in the common tongue, with disposable missalettes, untrained lectors, hand-shaking, umpteen extraordinary ministers of Holy Communion, a rambling and incoherent homily, and asides tossed in here and there, might be harming people. There's no sense of reverence for what worked or responsibility to make sure that what they do is working now. Progress came, and thus improvement.

Or not. Maybe what we have is a sucking lack of vitality. Empty pews, empty coffers. We have an artistic world which can't muster for the dusty paradigm any more than pop-tune wannabes every bit as forgotten and unloved as the Toronto Mass of whenever. We may have traded in the eternal for the ephemeral, but still today the most exciting work is being done in the chant world, where interest and resources are simply exploding. Funny about the timeless.

Saturday, May 18, 2013

App Review: Beethoven's 9th, by TouchPress

By TouchPress, 2013.

When I reviewed The Orchestra from iOS app developer TouchPress back in December, I wrote that while splendid, the format would better benefit a detailed study of one work rather than selections of several. Well, ask and ye shall receive. TouchPress now gives us its presentation of Beethoven's Ninth Symphony.

All the polish that defined The Orchestra is back: the curated, scrolling score, the smooth seeking. On top of these refinements TouchPress has added a number of features, from the color-coded identification of the key area, to brief descriptions of the many moods and gestures, and the option to view the original manuscript, all at any moment in the performance.

In place, though, of the new performances recorded with multiple camera angles that made The Orchestra stand out, this time we get four full landmark recordings of the 9th: 1) Fricsay's 1958 recording with the Berlin Philharmonic, 2) Karajan's 1962 also with the BP, 3) Bernstein's recording with the Vienna Philharmonic in 1979, and 4) and John Eliot Gardiner conducting his own Orchestre Revolutionnaire et Romantique in 1992. Three of the recordings are audio only and Bernstein's is a complete, taped performance. Aside from having four stellar recordings of the 9th, you can switch among them at any moment during the performance. It is of course revealing to hear the differences in conducting from performance to performance, but the differences seem even more stark than if you had simply switched CDs or even mp3s because the shift is so seamless. How much more varied the differences of shape, tone, and tempo when so closely juxtaposed.

While all of these features are available during a listening, the app also includes brief interviews which you can separately watch. In these shorts, experts reflect on a few important points about the 9th from their perspectives as conductors, scholars, and performers. Here John Eliot Gardiner analyzes a section, there Albrecht Mayer reflects on performance challenges, and Paul Morley on learning to listen. There is great variety among these discussion and they're genuinely revealing about the 9th, not just boilerplate about the greatness of the work or maudlin effusions about "what Beethoven means to me." The developers clearly edited down longer interview to brief discussions of specifics, a good call since a topic like Beethoven's Ninth will make anyone ramble.

One feature I would like to see developed is the series of short recordings in which an expert discusses the piece while himself listening to it. A staple of DVDs, these casual reflections are rare in the musical world and seem to stimulate more personal, frank, reactions because of the frisson from the performance in the background. It's treat enough to hear Sir John Eliot Gardiner talking about Beethoven, but it's just plain fun to see him perk up when a favorite part is coming up.

Overall, this is a brilliant app, a combination of CD recording, DVD performance, score, manuscript, program notes, and analysis, all wrapped up in a smooth, slick interface that lets you cycle through it all with ease and bring up exactly what you want at any moment during the piece. Not bad for $15.

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

On Intimacy

and the thrill of harmony.

I'm eating a piece of cake, and it's delicious. Savoring each bite I revel in the flavors, first the rush of sweetness and the velvety cream. Then tonguing away the cream I reach the strawberry which pops between my teeth like a balloon, radiating its tartness around my mouth. At last the soft banana base rounds out the experience.

Why should food taste so good? Why is a fine confection so satisfying? Aristotle said that man takes delight in his senses because he delights to know, and coming to know the world he comes to know himself. I would propose to elaborate on this, that sensory delight is akin to a sense of harmony.

Harmony, that elusive, seemingly chimerical balance of elements has been sought after by creators of every stripe, be they philosophers or artists. What sense of rightness we find in harmony. Whenever we find it we experience it as a universal, as if we've stepped out of our corporal confines into a perfect, infinite home. In an instant we are lost in the ecstasy of consummate belonging, for it seems harmony knows no limits since the more details we uncover, the more intimate our encounter and the more thrilling the reverberations.

Of personal affairs, is it not thrilling to get to know someone? I find it terribly exciting to learn someone's tastes, what thoughts turn in their minds, and what makes them laugh. What delight is there in giving someone an intellectual tickle. At the highest level of friendship, though, rests a mutual and magnifying satisfaction in being, a reflexive love of oneself as other. This is naturally an affection which exists in activity, but though the activity can be cut off by distance, the friendship and love persist in the existence of in the friend's virtue and verisimilitude. With people we experience harmony as sympathy, but Cicero of course elevated the concept of friendship not only to consensio but consensio omnium divinarum humanarumque rerum cum benevolentia et caritate. 

This cosmic, transcendent dimension of harmony is available to us, besides in the ineffable, through art.   I am never more transported than in this one mere minute, one tiny fugato of Bach's cantata 102, but what world in this grain of sand.

It's an entrancing passage, the accented rising quavers and descending semiquavers cutting through the increasingly dense texture, here above, there below, each a fleeting revelation above the ceaseless walking of the bass line.

The pleasure of harmony is essentially sympathy with the beautiful, whether in character or appearance.  Such is why, as Aristotle and Cicero observed in friendship, that one must cultivate it in oneself to experience it in perfect sympathy with someone outside oneself. In art, one must be orientated toward the beautiful. In neither case can one simply "be oneself" for the bad and ugly will find no sympathy with their opposites.

Our own experiences of harmony, fleeting in art and firm in friendship, are far more than aesthetic or moral experiences, but glimpses of what Benedict XVI called the "mystery of infinite beauty," that ineffable reconciliation of the self and the transcendent.

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Masterworks, $1

Reflecting again on my recent Met excursion, I recall another telling moment which occurred upon entry.

As the first of the party to arrive I stepped onto one of the lines to purchase our admission pins. It was a slightly misshapen line, actually, and while the asymmetry first irked me, my position to the right of those ahead me proved useful, for I spied their donations. From these two people who each purchased two pins the museum made a whopping $4. Despite that I handed the teller my own donation whilst beaming with pride, I was aghast.

Consider, though, that you'll find no one with more qualms about state-funded anything than me. Too, the Met has been fairly lambasted of late for being less than forthcoming about the voluntary nature of the contributions. I don't here see those as the issues though, since either way, I want the museum to have funds to operate. Now I don't know an awful lot about its finances and whether it is efficiently run and who of its employees makes what salary. I would prefer to  know soI could give a more precise donation, be it more or less, but the suggested donation is not so implausible as to concern me.

I suppose one could take a principled stand and pay a paltry sum if the museum were known to be corrupt or grossly mismanaged, but to my understanding, the Met is neither, and I hope it continues to exist. Too, I would prefer it to run without tax dollars, therefore I see my contribution as more, not less, important.

Still more to my point, though, I wonder precisely what thought goes through the mind of an individual with a Coach handbag around her shoulder and an iPhone in one hand as she hands the teller at the Metropolitan Museum of Art a $1 bill. Was it for the Tiepolo? The Monet? Was everything she saw worth precisely that to her, or did she determine that what she paid to the Met in taxes was exactly the proper amount? Perhaps she knows what the museum needs to run? Who can say, but I find it hard to believe that your average couture-wearing gadget-toting bourgeois can't spare a little more.

For my part, even if I had some objection to its funding or existence, I would find it hard to walk amidst the masterworks had I made such an infinitesimal contribution to their preservation.

Monday, May 13, 2013

Put More Arts

In the great taxonomy of baffling statements a special place is reserved for those which guarantee that the author has no idea what he's talking about. Since the article in question reads more like press release, I'm not sure the author is so much to blame here. He does, at any rate, open with a doozy.
Increasingly, many colleges and universities are looking to put more arts at the center of campus life and in the process, foster creativity.
So short, so innocent, no? If only he were talking about park benches or lamp posts and not art. What galls me about this sentence is its flippancy, its subtle arrogance. What disrespect is there for nearly each of its words. Please, read the sentence a few times and pause on the words. Now see if the following definitions are familiar to it.
  • College - a col-legium, a speaking together, a collaboration of scholars for learning and fostering the liberal arts and sciences, involving the sharing of ideas in the presentation of lectures and debates. 
  • University - a community of colleges with various purposes whose sum total offers the corpus of knowledge of the day and some unity of pedagogy.
  • Art - techne, poiesis, expression of concept, outgrowth of spirit, through craft.
  • Create - to bring into being
Though the words are the same, the article uses not the language of philosophy, but of bureaucratese. There is no debt to ideas, only utility. Such a statement has more in common with an interdepartmental memo requesting a 2.5% increase in paper production for the month than any artistic credo. Here, college means "place where classes are taught" and university means "big college." Art means "anything called art" and create means "result of activity." The goal here is not love, virtue, beauty, honor, piety, or any such principle, but the cliche art. Art must be put in so art can come out and we'll have more art.

It's a Keyenesian approach to art, really. Never mind the details of life, human nature, and philosophy: put something in so something comes out. It doesn't matter what it is. More is better, so if you need more something put more something. What does anyone with an emotional reaction to art, a love of and fear for its power and fragility, make of such irreverence?

Of course the statement is perfect prelude to what follows where the really gobbledygook starts flowing.
[the] Creative Campus Innovations Grant Program was created "to seed innovative, interdisciplinary programs that brought together artists with a range of community and campus-based partners in order to stimulate arts-based inquiry and elevate the role of the arts in academic life."
So you seed a program to get artists partnered with people to "stimulate arts-based inquiry." Wait, what? What is that, how do you do it, and why would you? And they're elevating the arts on what principle? And why does bringing people together automatically elevate it?

Now it gets real.
While Creative Campus projects fell into both (cooperative and collaborative) categories, the truly collaborative projects proved most transformative for both participants and the larger campus.
Transformative? What did they transform into? Badgers? Muffins? I guess when you have no point to a project, whenever you're done you just say that you "did art" and that it "transformed you." Yay art. Because art.

Saturday, May 11, 2013

Music of Middle Earth: The Fall of Gil-galad

Gil-galad was an Elven-king
Of him the harpers sadly sing:
the last whose realm was fair and free
between the Mountains and the Sea

His sword was long, his lance was keen,
his shining helm afar was seen;
the countless stars of heaven's field
were mirrored in his silver shield.

But long ago he rode away,
and where he dwelleth none can say;
for into darkness fell his star
in Mordor where the shadows are.

It's possible my favorite part of The Lord of the Rings is that seemingly least popular first book. You know, the slow-moving three hundred or so pages of walking, singing, and all-around hobbitry. Critics often carp about whether a story has a satisfying ending, but I love a satisfying beginning, learning names, places, and the laws of the land. A great author creates not only characters but a specific sense of time and place. The intimate opening chapters to Tolkien's romance succeed as a sumptuous introduction both to the characters and Middle Earth. One of the author's beloved poems in these pages, The Fall of Gil-galad, is a prime example of painting characters, time, and place.

Structurally, the poem is quite simple: three stanzas of two end-rhyming couplets, each line consisting of four iambs. At a slow pace, the iambs give the poem a limping, dolorous quality, appropriate to the sad tale, and apace the poem sounds a song of war.

The opening stanza sets up a character ancient and exotic to the hobbits: an elf, and a king at that. In using harpers for the more common harpists, Tolkien avoids excessive sibilance in the already alliterative line. The second couplet paints in some tantalizingly incomplete details about the tale: why was it the last realm? What's the significance of the land between the mountains and the sea? Where is 'between the mountains and the sea?'

Stanza two casts Gil-galad in a hero's relief. It's a subtle touch painting the warrior with the firmament reflecting in his glistening armor, as if Gil-galad himself emanates some pure, astral grandeur. It also foreshadows the hero's end and the metaphor of the last stanza.

Tolkien concludes by drawing Gil-galad's death in two metaphors reflecting the second stanza. The first, long ago he rode away, picks up the martial theme, and the second, into darkness fell his star, draws on the celestial imagery. The first line of this stanza throws us and Galad into ancient history and the last line, in effect, places us in the present day of the story and the dominance of Mordor.

Aside from this nice segue back to the story, the poem is effective in the narrative. First, it's a splash of  history whose gaps and mysteries give Middle Earth a lived-in quality. The fact that the poem is incomplete amplifies both the passage of time and the sense of the present as fallen era after Gil-galad's "silver age." Second, by describing the poem as translated, Tolkien suggests a multifarious Middle Earth of peoples, places, and languages. Finally, giving this little lay to Sam, a hobbit of often humble expression, paints the servant and gardener in the unexpected role of an ancient bard, and giving knowledge of the poem to Strider, whom we have already seen as far too articulate to be a mere ranger, grants him a unique, if presently unclear, claim to the past.

It's more than a narrative device, though. Whether wistful or forceful, the Fall of Gil-galad is an affecting little poem, lovingly crafted and given a happy little home in the sprawling story that completes the tale.

The Typographical Art of the '28 Prayer Book: D.B. Updike's "Some Notes on Liturgical Printing"

Arguably, one of the most magnificent achievements in American printing is Daniel Berkeley Updike's Standard Edition of the 1928 Book of Common Prayer of what was then known as the Protestant Episcopal Church of the United States. Updike was an Episcopal by birth, and so familiar with the Anglican liturgy. Prior to producing the Standard Edition, he had made a careful study of the history of printed liturgical texts, Catholic, Anglican, and Orthodox. This essay, printed first in The Dolphin, no. 2 (1935), is the result of his historical and aesthetic study of the typographical art of his predecessors. The moment I first handled a Book of Common Prayer, many years ago, the typeprint and durable binding immediately convinced me that I was handling a book consecrated by centuries of Christian wisdom and experience. Later, I would enjoy a similar feeling, handling an old Roman hand missal. Our predecessors in the faith knew the value of a beautiful object, hallowed to the service of God. Need I say that we could learn from the practical and aesthetic wisdom of J.B. Updike?

The word "liturgy," from which comes the word "liturgical," is derived from the Greek leitourgia, signifying public worship, but in English its primitive meaning was the service of the Holy Eucharist, sometimes called the Divine Liturgy, because it is a service instituted by Christ Himself. There was, too, a secondary meaning, which has now obscured the original idea; it signified the set formularies for the conduct of divine service in the Christian Church. Liturgiology is the science, if it may so be called, which pertains to liturgies, their construction, peculiarities, forms, and use; and liturgical printing is that branch of typography which has to do with the arrangement and printing of such forms.
To understand liturgical printing as it is now practiced, we must know something of its typographic history, for it has retained the marks of that history to the present day. The first liturgical books were, of course, manuscripts, and although in the earliest of these there appear to have been scanty directions for the performance of divine service, when fuller directions came into use the writers had in some fashion to differentiate the words to be said or sung from the accompanying directions as to where, when, and how to say or sing them. The easiest way to show this was to write the words to be said in one color and the directions in another, the latter sometimes in a smaller letter as well. The words to be said, being of major importance, were written in black, and red was adopted for the directions. These directions, being rubricated, were by a transference of meaning called "rubrics. " Apparently the word "rubrics" first appeared as applied to a liturgical book in a Roman breviary printed at Venice in 1550; but it occurs in manuscripts of the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries. "Lege rubrum, si vis intelligere nigrum," says the adage: "Read the red, if you wish to understand the black."
As early printed books were nothing more than a mechanical imitation of manuscripts, when liturgies came to be printed they followed the arrangement of liturgical manuscripts, with text in black and rubrics in red. The materials used for manuscripts and books differed--manuscripts being usually on vellum, printed books on paper--though even in printed missals vellum was often used for the canon of the Mass, since the pages devoted to this were subject to wear by constant handling.
[1] Both in manuscripts and in printed missals, the canon was arranged in considerably larger type than the rest of the book, and the old name given to a large size of blackletter type, "canon," is a reminder of this. A smaller size was called "brevier," which was sometimes used for breviaries. For a very long period blackletter type with rubrication was altogether used for all such books; [2] but later roman type was adopted, with, however, precisely the same rules as to rubrication. A good deal later italic type (invented by Aldus about 1501) was, for economic considerations, employed to represent rubrics, as this avoided the necessity of printing in two colors; and this plan was adopted for inexpensive editions of liturgical books, though sometimes a very small size of roman type was used instead. This, in brief, is the story of the development of liturgical printing.
Indeed, rubrical directions exist in the Bible--for instance, in the Psalms the word Selah, which appears to be some sort of musical direction, meaning, probably, an interlude. Whether any difference was made in the characters used for Selah in Hebrew manuscripts, I do not know, but it is a fact that the differentiation in the use of type in liturgical printing was not confined to Christian liturgies. In Hebrew modern books of devotion one finds the same thing. Rubrical directions are indicated by the insertion of a Hebrew character in outline, or by the use of a small size of the normal Hebrew character. Furthermore, the important sentences or words in the service are indicated by very large type, precisely as in Roman Catholic missals, or by setting certain words in capitals, as in the American Book of Common Prayer. The earliest Greek Orthodox liturgical book printed in Russia was Chasovnik, a book of hours, issued at Moscow in 1565--the second earliest dated volume printed in Russia, the first being an edition of The Acts of the Apostles printed in 1564. These books were printed in the Cyrillic character, a letter derived from late Greek capital letters. Liturgical books of the Greek Orthodox Church appeared prior to that date outside of Muscovy, the earliest ones having been printed at the end of the fifteenth century in Poland--at Cracow in 1491. These, too, were printed in "Church Slavonic," using the Cyrillic character.
Two modern books printed at Moscow are good examples of comparatively recent Greek liturgical printing, for under the Soviet regime such books are no longer produced. The first book mentioned is a service book (Sluzhebnik) of 1894, and the second (Trebnik), of 1906, is of the same nature. Both the Sluzhebnik and the Trebnik came from the press of the Synod Printing Office (Sinodalnaya Tipografia) of Moscow. These books are printed in red and black, and an illustration of a page in the Sluzhebnik volume is reproduced. Before the Revolution, the Synod Printing Offices of Moscow and of St. Petersburg were the chief printers of Greek Orthodox liturgies and of devotional works generally. Although the Moscow establishment came under the jurisdiction of the Most Holy Synod only in 1721, its history goes back to 1563; as for the St. Petersburg Printing Office, it was active for over two centuries prior to the Revolution, with some intervals.
As far as I have been able to examine the eighteenth-century books used in the services of the Orthodox Church, they are roughly put together and are not very good pieces of typography. But the rubrication in all these books, whether old or new, appears to be governed by the usual rule that words to be said are printed in black, and directions for their use in red, as in Roman Catholic and Anglican rubricated prayer books. When only black is employed, the rubrics are printed in a smaller size of type.
These Greek Orthodox service books are so unfamiliar to most English-speaking people that they have little practical value for the reader, except as showing the universality of certain methods of printing liturgical books.

For liturgical printing, as English-speaking people know it, we have two sources--Roman Catholic liturgical books and the liturgies in use in the Anglican Communion. These differ in some particulars.
The printing of the authorized Roman Catholic books is chiefly in the hands of three publishing houses, Desclée & Cie of Tournai (otherwise known as the Société de St. Jean l'Évangéliste), Pustet of Ratisbon, and the Vatican Press, at Rome, about each of which something should be said.
The brothers Henri and Jules Desclée, who had already built a monastery on their property at Maredsons, Province of Namur, Belgium, founded a printing press in 1882 at Tournai, and under the name Société de St. Jean l'Évangéliste published a series of admirable liturgical works, arranged according to the best liturgical traditions, harmoniously decorated, and technically excellent. They had a part in the musical printing required in the movement for the reestablishment of the liturgical chant, inaugurated largely through the influence of the Benedictines of Solesmes. Their editions served as the basis of the Vatican edition ordered for universal use by Pius X.
In the Desclées' books the principle that the directions are to be printed in red and all else in black is consistently followed, and headings such as "Introit," "Gradual," "Epistle," or "Gospel," are rubricated, as these are in a sense directions Moreover, references to passages in the Old and New Testaments are rubricated, for they are merely guides to the verses quoted and would not be said. For the same reason, apparently, the running headlines describing the contents of the page below appear in red, for they, too, are directions as to the day, hour, or occasion of the service. But for purpose of convenience the headings of each new section on the page are printed in bold black capitals--which, while not absolutely consistent, is convenient for purpose of speedy reference. In these books the "Amen" to prayers is treated as a response--as it actually is--and is preceded by R/ in red in rubricated editions, and the words of all versicles--short sentences said by the officiant--are preceded by V/. In the matter of initials there appears to be no fixed rule, and prayers begin with rubricated initials or black initials, as taste directs. I think this is a mistake. Strictly speaking, prayers should have initials in black, for these initials are part of a word to be said, and, moreover, black initials have a better typographical effect. Rubrics in these books have initials in black, which I think also open to exception, for rubrics, except in rare instances, require no initials; but if used, such initials should be rubricated also. A more serious fault is the introduction of gothic initials in prayers printed in roman type. As a whole, however, these books are consistent and careful pieces of typography.
The Pustet family was of Bavarian origin. In the first quarter of the last century Friedrich Pustet, who had been a bookseller, started a printing house at Passau which four years later, in 1826, he transferred to its present location at Ratisbon. Enlarging the establishment and adding a paper mill to the plant, the firm began to print and issue liturgical books in 1845, and later added facilities for the printing of church music. In 1870 the Pustet house was given the style of Typographus S. R. Congregationis, and the Vatican authorities have placed in its hands the editio typica of all liturgical work. The best books issued by Pustet are excellent, but their product is uneven and they have been less fortunate in their decorations than the Desclées, whose books show a greater uniform excellence. A disagreeable feature is the use of colored lithographic frontispieces and pictures, and a later series of these, intended to be more modern in feeling than those they supersede, are no improvement on them. "In the latest Pustet Missal," writes a correspondent learned in these matters, [5] "the incipit letter of the text itself is often in color, usually red. Another characteristic is the introduction into the Canon of certain parts of the varying Communicantes and Hancigitur prayers, to obviate turning the page at that important moment of the service. In general, this new Pustet Missal pays attention to the pagination of the prayers."
The Vatican Press (Tipografia Vaticana), founded by Pope Sixtus V in 1587, was housed in the palace in the building known as the Cortile della Stamperia and an interesting "specimen" of its types and characters for musical notation--Indice de Caratteri, . . . esistenti nella Stampa Vaticana, & Camerale--was published in 1628. Shortly afterward, the Congregation of the Propaganda established a separate printing office for the needs of missions, in which connection it issued, during the seventeenth century, a series of grammar-specimens of its various exotic alphabets, the first of which, Alphabetum Ibericum, appeared in 1629. This press later developed into the Tipografia Polyglotta. In 1910, Pope Pius X effected an amalgamation of the two, under the name Tipografia Polyglotta Vaticana, and arranged a modern and finely equipped plant. The new office prints the usual output of the Curia, especially the Acta Apostolicae Sedis, as well as the special choral editions of the liturgical chant, and the typical editions of the missal, breviary, ritual, and other service books.
The Vatican editions of plain song printed in one color, italic being used for the rubrics, are practical, workmanlike, and handsome; they are well adapted for what they are meant for. "The typical editions of the Vatican Press have the custom of printing the top of the page in red for the title--for example, Praefatio solemnis in festo Sancti Josephi, but using black for this same title as a heading for the actual preface itself. Furthermore, in the actual directions, when a text is referred to by name, the text itself is printed in black. For example, 'Dicto Pater Noster et Credo,' the underlined words are in black, the others in red"--precisely the use in rubricated English prayer books. To persons wishing to consult authoritative Roman Catholic liturgical books, the Desclées' publications will serve the purpose best. The books to be looked at are the Missal, Breviary (in four volumes for the four seasons), Rituale, and Officium Majoris Hebdomadae (Offices for Holy Week).
For Anglican prayer books the three authorized houses are the University Press, Oxford, the University Press, Cambridge, and the King's Printers. These have in the Anglican Communion much the same authority as the publications of Tournai, Ratisbon, and Rome in the Roman Catholic Church. 
  The chief of these three houses is the Oxford University Press, which dates from about 1517, though there was a long interruption in its work and it was only in 1585 that it began its present function. Its chief promoters were Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester; Archbishop Laud, who secured for it a royal charter; Dr. John Fell, Dean of Christ Church, and later Bishop of Oxford; and Edward Hyde, Lord Clarendon. The printing of Bibles and prayer books was secured to the University in 1675, largely through Fell's efforts. Its present equipment numbers some 550 fonts in 150 characters, a foundry, a bindery, a paper mill, etc. It is governed by a body styled "delegates," headed by the vice chancellor. In its prayer books "every attention has been paid to accuracy and excellence of printing and binding, to the provision of editions suited to every purpose and every eyesight, and to the efficient and economical distribution of the books all over the world at low prices. In all these respects a standard has been reached which is unknown in any other kind of printing and publishing, and which is only made possible by long experience, continuous production, and intensive specialization." [6] Of the hundred editions of the prayer book, the Coronation prayer book of 1902 in octavo and the Fell prayer books are perhaps the best known, but the smaller editions are often exquisite though unobtrusive specimens of printing. Just as the Roman Catholic books of devotion continue to need constant additions through the canonization of new saints, so "the accession of a sovereign makes it necessary to print a large number of cancel sheets, which have to be substituted for the old sheets in all copies held in stock or in the hands of booksellers."
The Cambridge University Press, now four hundred years old, has printed Bibles and prayer books since early in the seventeenth century. Baskerville produced for this press, in the eighteenth century, some prayer books, more remarkable because he printed them than for any merit of their own. Creditable as are the Cambridge books and those issued by the King's Printers, Messrs. Eyre & Spottiswoode, I should recommend the consultation of the Oxford prayer books to students of English liturgical printing. The Anglican use in printing these official prayer books differs from the Roman use only in minor details, the chief of which is its employment of italic for responses, eliminating the use of R/ before each response. Italic even in rubricated editions of a prayer book has in Anglican books come to signify something not readily signified otherwise, i.e., a response, as, for instance, the responses to the suffrages in the Litany, and to the versicles in Matins and Evensong, and "Amen" when said by the people. For the printing of Protestant orders of service this use of italic is desirable, for to the average congregation the V/ and R/ would be unknown, but when a response is printed in italic the R/ mark should be omitted. The rule that italic should never be rubricated still holds. In both Roman and Anglican uses, notes indicating references to the Bible which are not said are rubricated. In the folio Oxford prayer books the Collect, Epistle, and Gospel are printed in full measure and, as far as may be, on facing pages, enabling the book to be carried, open, from the "Epistle" to the "Gospel" side of the altar. The quarto prayer books are printed in the traditional double column, which in liturgical books saves space and avoids ragged pages. Both editions are printed from the celebrated types given to the University by Bishop Fell, and are duly rubricated, but are disfigured by the introduction of a ponderous series of seventeenth-century Dutch "bloomers," as that kind of initial letter is called, mixed with free initials, both kinds being rubricated. A better piece of printing is the octavo Coronation prayer book, also from Fell types, issued in 1902--though a bad fault is the rubrication of italic in the catechism. There are also a number of liturgical books issued by Anglican convents, private societies, or persons, which, while having no authority, are interesting pieces of typography.
So far our attention has been given to rituals of liturgical and historic churches. But modern Protestantism is more and more leaning to liturgical forms, either for constant use or for certain occasions. Protestant "orders of service" offer no great difference in typographic treatment from services in the Book of Common Prayer, except that they very often introduce the names of those taking part in them, composers of the music, the words of hymns, or anthems that are sung. The prayers, being extempore, cannot be printed, and for that reason these "orders of service" lean toward the form of programs, and the endeavor should be to avoid this as much as possible. As far as feasible, everything that can be ascertained beforehand should be printed in full, and the names of those taking part in the service should be as inconspicuous as possible and grouped on a separate page. Decoration should be omitted, and, above all, the indiscriminate use of crosses avoided. Further than this it is not possible to give any very detailed directions, as each service is a problem in itself. In general, what is said should be made of the first, and who says it of secondary, importance.

A wise lady of my acquaintance once remarked that although moral laws were clear, simple, and explicit, the cases to which they could be applied in their entirety were few; and she added that this was because the circumstances or situations to which they were applicable were in themselves often confused and complex. I am reminded of this dictum in connection with our subject, for while it seems simple to say that all directions in a liturgy should be rubricated and all else printed in black, along with the understanding of a difference between liturgy and rubrics there must be some knowledge of the particular liturgy in question, as it is used. This knowledge demands some further acquaintance with the theological views implied or expressed therein, and I doubt whether a printer unfamiliar with the ritual of the historic communions could acceptably print services for them. Certain theological views lead to certain acts; and these acts have to be expressed by certain words used in certain ways, and these words and ways have to be fostered, or at least not impeded, by the typography that presents them. Nor are rules for rubrication, etc., simple from another point of view: they cannot always be pushed to an absolutely logical conclusion without doing violence to the appearance and convenience of the book when in use. So while such systems are of very general application, there are "exceptional exceptions," and one must know when these are allowable. The following axioms may be of practical use to persons to whose lot it falls to prepare for printing, or to print, liturgical work.

Concerning Type

  1. Roman initial letters, either free or block, should be used with prayers set in roman; and gothic initials if prayers are set in blackletter.
  2. Rubrics at the beginning of an office or service do not require initials, the initial occurring in the first prayer following the rubric. But, if used, the initials should be printed in red.
  3. Paragraph marks before rubrics may be printed either in red or black, but when a number of rubrics follow each other, black paragraph marks separate them from one another more clearly. In some Roman Catholic books a black arabic figure is substituted for the paragraph mark, but then only when a considerable number of rubrics follow each other.
  4. When it is intended to indicate a versicle and its response, V/ and R/ marks should be used in either red or black. But in Protestant services, as these marks are unfamiliar, the words Minister, People, etc., may be employed, printed in italic.
  5. Italic, being a substitute for rubrication, should never be rubricated.
  6. "Amen" when said by the people should be printed in italic in a service printed in one color, but when said by the clergy only should be printed in roman. Note that in Roman Catholic services the "Amen" is preceded by R/ in red or black when said by the people.
  7. A Maltese cross X is a sign of blessing and should never be used except to denote that the sign of the cross is to be made. Almost the only exception is its use in the singing of the Passion in Holy Week, when it indicates the words of our Lord; or before the printed signature of a bishop.
  8. Prayers, psalms, hymns, etc., must be set throughout in the same size of type and with the same leading; and rubrics must follow this rule and be uniform throughout the work.
  9. While blackletter may be used for titles or display lines on title-pages, or for running titles, it should never be used for prayers in a liturgy to be publicly used.
  10. The use of colored inks to indicate liturgical seasons (i.e., violet for Lent) is always to be avoided.

    Concerning Arrangement

  11. A rubric should be on the same page with the prayer, etc., to which it refers, and should be closer to the text following than to the matter preceding it.
  12. The breaks caused by the turning of a leaf should occur, if possible, at the end of prayers that are followed by anthems or hymns.
  13. "Turnovers" should be avoided during prayers, psalms, or lections. But turnovers during music are less objectionable than during portions of the service which are said or intoned.
  14. A versicle should never have its response appear on another page.
  15. In Anglican services the canon and the prayers following should always appear on pages facing each other, unless the Roman use is followed of a facing representation of the crucifixion.
  16. The traditional form of service books was in double column, probably adopted by calligraphers to save space, and to avoid blanks by short lines on a wide page. For books of private devotion this is allowable. In books for public use, however, a full-page measure is preferable, since it is easier to follow. In the Roman Catholic missal, the canon is probably for this reason sometimes printed full measure, though the remainder of the service is set in double column. This also applies to the arrangement of plain song, which must be set in full measure for the same reason.
* * *
Here these notes on liturgical printing end. So little of a practical nature has been written in English on the subject that they may be a slight contribution to a codification of the rules applying to it. In an age when there seem to be more questions than answers, it may be asked what need there is of such minute rules at all. But in this instance there is an answer. It was made by St. Paul when he said to the Church at Corinth, "Let all things be done decently and in order."