Friday, September 10, 2010

Mozartian Eucatastrophe

"I coined the word 'eucatastrophe': the sudden happy turn in a story which pierces you with a joy that brings tears (which I argued it is the highest function of fairy-stories to produce). And I was there led to the view that it produces its peculiar effect because it is a sudden glimpse of Truth, your whole nature chained in material cause and effect, the chain of death, feels a sudden relief as if a major limb out of joint had suddenly snapped back. It perceives – if the story has literary 'truth' on the second plane (....) – that this is indeed how things really do work in the Great World for which our nature is made."

---J.R.R. Tolkein 'Letter 89'*

 The final allegro assai may be as fizzing as the overture which inaugurated his folle journée, but the true climax is the andante that precedes it, as the Count twice begs forgiveness (the second phrase intensifying the first), the Countess grants it in six bars of noble magnanimity, completing the melody he began, and the whole company takes it up in words that are banal - "Ah tutti contenti saremo cosi" ("Then let us all be happy") - but in music that is on the heights.
Mozart's reconciliations are real. They invoke the good in human nature. His vision embraces the pain and cruelty as well as the compassion - the darkness and the light; but it is the light that prevails.
 --- David Cairns Mozart and His Operas, p. 131-132

*see further, On Fairy-Stories

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Karl Richter Plays Bach

Toccata e Fuga in D minor, BWV.565

 Toccata e Fuga in G minor, BWV.915

Movie Review: Firefly & Serenity

(Television Series: 14 Episodes) 2003.

Take my love, take my land, take me where I cannot stand
I don't care, I'm still free. You can't take the Sky from me.
I'm not sure who could have predicted the success of Firefly and the rabid fan base which grew around the show. Certainly not the television executives who in 2003 canceled it after only 14 episodes, episodes  which they had already decided to air out of order. More perplexing to me, though, is the appeal of the show to fans. Do not mistake me, this is a fine show, but its appeal is particular, I think. A brief comparison to the Star Trek franchise may elucidate. First, there is not really much science involved. There is a lot of technology, but it is in the background. There is no technobabble, there are no crystals to rotate and there is no polarity to reverse. There is not a lot of the science, ostensibly part of the appeal to fans of science fiction. Second, the galaxy of Firefly is not the galaxy of the Enterprise. In Star Trek, the Federation is a big happy family, and that's really not too much of an exaggeration. The explanation for how Earth joins the United Federation of Planets is that World War III breaks out, in the aftermath aliens visit Earth, and everyone is so bound together by the experience that they create a world government and cure disease and poverty. That's the actual explanation (and I haven't left any details out, either!) Sounds like another infamous popular delusion.

The run-down of the galaxy of Firefly:

Here's how it is: The Earth got used up. So we moved out and terraformed a whole new galaxy of Earths. Some, rich and flush with the new technologies, some not so much. The central planets, thems formed the Alliance, waged war to bring everyone under their rule. A few idiots tried to fight it: among them, myself.
There is its, in the words of Malcolm "Mal" Reynolds, captain of firefly-class transport ship Serenity. The Alliance is not a vast benevolent organization. They decided, apparently without universal consent, to bring other people under their rule, and those other people dissented. I like the way the writers worded that, "under their rule." One often hears the sentiment instead expressed as, "under their rules," as if to say, "we just wanted them to follow our rules." Isn't it really the same thing, particularly if those folk don't very much care for your rules?

It's hard to say very much about the galaxy of Firefly, there being only 14 episodes and all. The core worlds are clean and pretty and safe, but controlled. In one episode, Reynolds' first officer and partner from the war, Zoe, won't step foot on an Alliance world. They can keep their parks, museums, and iridescent pools, and along with all that their Feds and cameras and rules.  Speaking of rules, the rules aboard Serenity are pretty tough too, though, and the Captain makes them. There are no votes, but you're free to leave whenever you like.

I like the title of the show too, Firefly. Sure it's the type of ship, but Serenity is the theme of the show, a fact best illustrated in the episode Out of Gas. Serenity is damaged and adrift and Reynolds is alone on board. Injured, he recalls how the ship and crew came together. He could have bought a bigger, fancier, better ship, one the dealer said "would have been with him his whole life." Instead he opted for beaten up old Serenity. Why? Because it called to him, somehow. He felt at home in it. He was free to choose it and, while it was imperfect, would cause him a lot of headaches, and needed constant maintenance and care, he wanted it. He could have bought the fancier ship and been secure.

Likewise, he could have joined the Alliance. He could have been safe and secure and provided for on the central planets, but he wouldn't have been free. And that's what Serenity represents: freedom. He left the Alliance for the black, their word for space. They can take their land and security, he'll take freedom, and thus from the title song:
Take me out to the black, tell them I ain't comin' back.
Burn the land and boil the sea, you can't take the sky from me.
When Serenity breaks down in space, though, because one little part broke, and when the crew has to abandon the ship, and when Serenity gets boarded by salvagers who try to kill Mal and steal the ship, when the captain lies there bleeding, alone, and running out of air, he remembers how he got there, and we see the price of freedom, the great risk.

Indeed the outer planets are rough places. Deals go bad, violence ensues. Some people are nuts and some places have crazy rules. Some people end up not free anyway, enserfed to a local autocrat. It's no coincidence the show has a prevalent Wild West theme running throughout. What becomes clear throughout these 14 episodes, though, and what I presume would have been developed throughout multiple seasons, was what did create order. What did create order were the rules you agreed to, usually just the price and terms for a job: the law of voluntary trade. What counted most perhaps was reputation and in a pair of episodes we see a stark contrast. A sadistic torturing crime lord hires the crew of Serenity for a job. The crimelord, Niska, is very concerned about his reputation and wants to be known as a monster to be feared. In contrast, when pulling off the job, Mal realizes the job is to steal medical supplies from colonists out in the middle of nowhere. The higher up feds, when they learn of the heist, don't care. They don't care about local matters and aren't going to go chasing after "Band-Aids." After a change of hear Mal brings the supplies back and, meeting the local sheriff he has just hoodwinked, they have the following exchange.

You were truthful back in town. These are tough times. When a man can get a job, he might not look to close at what that job is. When a man learns all the details of a situation like ours, then he has a choice.

I don't believe he does.

In the end it was not the evil Niska who wanted to be thought of as evil bbut contracted out his crime or the evil Alliance who wanted to be thought of as good but chose to take the resources and not provide the promised protection, it was not them, their force, and their false pretenses of  creeds which determined the outcome of events, but of men like Mal who freely did what they thought was right. You can have all of the formal laws and promises you want, but its what you or an institution does and don't do that determines character. Mal doesn't "want to be thought" of: he doesn't stiff Niska and he was planning on leaving the medicine for the sheriff to find. He just wand to make things right and go on his merry way. He plays by his rules, sure, but here we see also a deference to natural laws.

Freedom is a messy business. Such a situation probably would never have happened on a core world, but neither would have taking a walk without being under surveillance and a lot of other things too.
But the alternative, in the words of Captain Mal Reynolds, is "government: a body of people. Usually, notably, ungoverned." The alternative to freedom is government, an institution which limits freedom to create freedom. Probably wouldn't make sense to people like Mal and Zoe, who said "I'm not so afraid of losing something that I'm not going to try and have it."

Directed and written by Joss Whedon. 2005.

[Spoilers within!]

What I left out of my discussion of Firefly was the story of the Tams, a brother, Simon, and his younger sister River. Their story was a subplot along the series but never came to the forefront and never got fully developed until Serenity. River, a teenage prodigy, was sent to an academy on one of the core worlds.  What happened to her there? Simon wasn't sure but he knew it wasn't good. A brilliant doctor, he nonetheless threw his fortune and career away to break River out. The two became fugitives relentlessly pursued by the Alliance, but sought and found refuge on Serenity.

Now Serenity has all of the sass and charm of Firefly, but since this is the conclusion of the story of the Alliance, the war against them, and the Tams, Serenity is less anarcho-captialistic Wild West and more anti-statist, anti-authoritarian slug-out. So yes, it's great too.

What Serenity has that Firefly lacked was a great villain. Here he is a ruthless Alliance Agent, but he's drawn not vaguely but in particularly statist mold. The Agent admits his methods are evil, freely calling himself a monster. He kills lesser Alliance officers and any known associates of Mel's crew. "If the enemy goes to ground leave no ground to go to" he says. Yet, crucially, he doesn't know his ultimate objective. He doesn't know what the Tams did. All he does is follow his orders, which are to retrieve the Tams at all cost. He's a monster but a bureaucratized one, granted authority from on high, from someone but who knows just who? He has absolute power with no accountability. Do you think anyone in the Alliance knows about these agents? Do you think anyone ever voted for them, "Hey lets create this class of trained assassins and let them do whatever they want! I second!. . .") Doubtful.

The Agent is a believer in his cause, and he does not worry about the means of achieving it. When going to confront the Agent, Shepherd Book tells Mel, "You have to believe in something" in order to beat this man. Indeed, Mel has to believe in freedom as much as the Agent believes in the Alliance.

At last though, we find out why the Alliance wants River Tam. You see, River has been acting odd, odd because at the alliance "academy" they did experiments on her to make her a telepath and assassin. (The biggest bit of science fiction in the series and movie.) While they damaged her brain, thus the odd behavior, they did make her partially telepathic. Yet they were foolish enough to let high ranking officials in the room with her, and River learned their secret.

The Alliance called for colonists to settle a distant planet, Miranda. Once terraformed and running, they engaged in a little social engineering, piping a gaseous drug into the air processors. The drug, "Pax" was designed to weed out aggression and make everyone peaceful. It worked, making everyone so peaceful and passive they just stopped trying, working, and breathing. They just stopped doing everything, and died. The drug had the opposite effect on some, though, who reacted with extreme aggression. They became known as Reavers, barbarous and vicious men who eventually took over a portion of space and began raiding other vessels. No one had known where the Reavers came from, just that they appeared and started pillaging. Now we learn they were created by the Alliance experiment.

After the conspiracy is unmasked, Mal shares his plan and a little more:

Now I'm asking more of you than I have before, maybe all. As sure as I know anything, I know this: they will try again. Maybe on another world, maybe on this very ground swept clean. A year from now, ten, they'll swing back to the belief that they can make people better. And I do not hold to that. So no more running. I aim to misbehave.
No social engineering, no tinkering, no tweaking.  

Serenity opens with a flashback. River remembers a day at school where she was taught how the alliance brought peace and order to the galaxy, but were resisted by the ungrateful and uncivilized folks on the outer planets. "Why were the independents even fighting us? Why wouldn't they want to be more civilized?" One student asks. Another says, "I hear they're cannibals." The teacher then asks, that with all the dangers of the galaxy, and "with so many social and medical advancements we can bring to the Independents, why would they fight so hard against us?" River, then still a child, albeit a prodigy, says,

We meddle. People don't like to be meddled with. We tell them what to do, what to think. Don't run, don't walk. We're in their homes and in their heads and we haven't the right. We're meddlesome. 

The teacher replies, "River, we're not telling people what to think, we're just trying to show them how." Sure, only "how" as long as the "what" ends up being the same. Anyway, that was before they cut up River's brain and programmed her to be a mind-reading assassin.

The climax is a great space battle in which Mal lures the Reavers and the Alliance into battle and he notes with great satisfaction, "The chickens come home to roost."

Some might find the anarchic theme of Firefly romantic, that it's a pipe dream of a world without government and force. I don't think it's so romantic, in fact the galaxy depicted is a mess, and as I said above, some people end up not free anyhow. Yet as imperiled as Mal and the crew of Serenity often are, they follow only the rules they will and they're all on Serenity by choice. That "love" is the key, Mal says, though we might express it more specific terms. It's what keeps the motley group together, what keeps the beat up ship in the air, and what makes Serenity a home, and the crew a family.

There's no place I can be, since I've found Serenity.
You can't take the Sky from me.

 Captain Mal Reynolds and crew,

P.S. The theme to Firefly, written by creator Joss Whedon, is a rare instance of a song perfectly embodying the show, and I think lends credence to my anarchic interpretation.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

A Paen to Contraltos

In my last post, I highlighted the work of Kerstin Thorborg, a Swedish contralto. Today, I'd like to highlight the work of a contemporary contralto, Virginia Warnken. As far as I know, Ms. Warnken is relatively unknown, but since first hearing her voice, I have been captivated by it.

Contraltos are the rarest of voices: but, for me, possessed of a loveliness and gravity and grace quite unlike any of the other vocal ranges. Their rarity serves naturally to increase their value. Do listen to Ms. Warnken and wonder at her art: her confidence in her lower register, her evenness of tone, and her depth of feeling.

Monday, September 6, 2010

Mostly Mozart Festival, 2010

I just finished reading Jay Nordlinger's New York Chronicle review of the 2010 Mostly Mozart Festival in the  September issue of The New Criterion. Regretfully I cannot share any of my own opinions of this year's festival as I did not attend any of its concerts. My reasons for abstaining are not new but are quite simple: there is not enough Mozart and the concerts are not sensibly programmed.

As an exercise I have taken the liberty of assembling a few concerts which I believe do not share those defects. I have attempted to pay attention to practical matters of length and instrumentation.

Each grouping has a particular theme, so to speak: the evolution of the string quartet, a contrast of  harmonic practices, song and lyricism, counterpoint and liturgical style and evolution, influences on Beethoven, evolution of the concerto, and so forth.

Now I certainly do not expect these programs to be deliberately performed at the festival any time soon, but perhaps the complementarity of the pieces in each group will be to your edification and listening pleasure. Feel free to make your own suggestions in the comments!

Joseph Haydn
String Quartet Op. 33, No. 2 in E-flat

String Quartet in G major, KV.387
String Quartet in D minor, KV.421
String Quartet in E-Flat major, KV.428

Joseph Haydn
Symphony No. 84 in E-flat

Overture to La Clemenza di Tito, KV.620
Symphony No. 35 in D major, KV.385
Symphony No. 36 in C major, KV.425

Overture to Le nozze di Figaro, KV.492
Arias from Figaro: Porgi amor & E susanna non vien!. . . Dove sono
Rondo in D major
Piano Concerto No. 18 in B-flat, KV.456
Piano Concerto No. 23 in A major, KV.488

Misericordias Domini, Offertory in D minor, KV.222/205a
Kyrie in D minor, KV.341
Adagio and Fugue in C minor, KV.546
Requiem in D minor, KV.626

Piano Concerto No. 27 in B-flat, KV.595
String Quintet in E-flat, KV.614
String Quintet in D, KV.593
Clarinet Quintet in A, KV.581

Sinfonia Concertante in E-flat, KV.364/320d
Serenade No. 10 in B-flat, KV.361/370a

String Quartet in A major, KV.464

Ludwig van Beethoven
String Quartet No. 5 (Op.18) in A major
String Quartet No. 15 (Op.132) in A minor

C. P. E.  Bach 
Concerto in F minor

J. C. Bach
Concerto in A

Piano Concerto in E-flat, KV.271
Piano Concerto in D minor, KV.466

Wagnerian Singing: Another Unscientific Comparison

By chance this morning, I came across a recording of Kerstin Thorborg (1896-1970), a Swedish contralto, singing Erda's warning to Wotan, "Weiche, Wotan, weiche."

The quality of her tone left me immediately impressed and awestruck. This, I thought, is how Wagner is to be sung. And we are fortunate, indeed, that we have recordings from the likes of Thorborg. To compare, here's a recording from Christa Ludwig, by any account, a fine mezzo, singing the same role.

Despite the improvement in recording technology, it's clear that Thorborg's singing is on a different plane than Ludwig's. Giving precise reasons why I think this is so would depend on my having a better knowledge of vocal technique than I do. But there may be an important question behind these off-the-cuff comparisons: why is it almost the universal consensus that Wagnerian singing has declined so swiftly since the early and mid-20th century? I offer no answers, only a blow upon a bruise: two more comparisons to drive home the difference.

First, Kirsten Flagstad (1895-1962) sings Isolde's Liebestod:

And Deborah Voigt here sings the same (I was unable to acquire a recording-quality video: it is a live performance.):

Finally, Set Svanholm (1904-1964) sings the Preisleid:

And Ben Heppner sings the same:

I intend no slander on Ludwig, Voigt, or Heppner. All of them are (and in the retired Ludwig's case, were) very fine singers, perhaps the finest we can expect for the present. But I suspect many more such adverse comparisons could be made: I entirely neglected the roles of Siegfried, Wotan, Hans Sachs, Lohengrin, and Parsifal. But I know of no one who seriously contends that there has not been a lamentable decline: the greatness seems to have gone out of Wagnerian singing. Despite our extraordinary recording technology, we seem to have arrived on the scene too late: the decline outran our technological advance. Perhaps it's only a passing thing, but we should at any rate be grateful for the recording jewels we do possess: the happenstance encounters with greatness that grace a beautiful Labor Day.

Sunday, September 5, 2010

A Dangerous Fascination

Updated: Please see below.

I feel remiss for not mentioning in our recent discussion of Santayana's Three Philosophical Poets: Lucretius, Dante, Goethe two points of intersection with the dramas of Richard Wagner. Here will will look at the first point of comparison, regarding Dante and his treatment of the lovers Paolo and Francesca. Santayana writes,
Love itself dreams of more than mere possession; to conceive happiness, it must conceive a life to be shared in a varied world, full of events and activities, which shall be new and ideal bonds between the lovers. But unlawful love here cannot pass out into this public fulfillment. It is condemned to be mere possession–possession in the dark, without an environment, without a future. It is love among the ruins. And it is precisely this that is the torment of Paolo and Francesca–love among the ruins of themselves and all else they might have had to give to one another. Abandon yourself, Dante would say to us,–abandon yourself altogether to a love that is nothing but love, and you are in hell already. Only an inspired poet could be so subtle a moralist. Only a sound moralist could be so tragic a poet.

Canto V, 127

Noi leggiavamo un giorno per diletto
  di Lancialotto come amor lo strinse;
  soli eravamo e sanza alcun sospetto.

Per piu` fiate li occhi ci sospinse
  quella lettura, e scolorocci il viso;
  ma solo un punto fu quel che ci vinse.

Quando leggemmo il disiato riso
  esser basciato da cotanto amante,
  questi, che mai da me non fia diviso,

la bocca mi bascio` tutto tremante.
  Galeotto fu 'l libro e chi lo scrisse:
  quel giorno piu` non vi leggemmo avante.

Translation: Allen Mandelbaum

One day, to pass the time away, we read
  of Lancelot–how love had overcome him.
 We were alone, and we suspected nothing.

And time and time again that reading led
  out eyes to meet, and made our faces pale,
  and yet one point alone, defeated us.

When we had read how the desired smile
  was kissed by one who was so true a lover,
  this one, who never shall be parted from me,

while all his body trembled, kissed my mouth.
  A Gallehault indeed, that book and he
  who wrote it, too; that day we read no more."

The tale is of course a familiar one, as Dante himself tells us earlier in Canto V:

Vedi Paris, Tristano; e piu` di mille
ombre mostrommi e nominommi a dito,
ch'amor di nostra vita dipartille.

"See Paris, Tristan. . ."–and he pointed out
  and named to me more than a thousand shades
  departed from our life because of love.

But the comparison here is rather more specific:

Tristan und Isolde: Act II
Isolde! Geliebte!... Tristan! Geliebter!
Jon Vickers & Birgit Nilsson


Mein! Tristan mein!

Mein! Isolde mein!

Mein und dein!
Ewig, ewig ein! 

The scene for all of its beauty is rather overwhelming and as such a little uncomfortable. The lovers are so seized, so heedless of time, everything. . . and we too grow transfixed by the scene which grows more and more detached and ethereal as the motives of transport and love weave together. Somewhat frighteningly effective, I think, which led Nietzsche to say how it exercises "such a dangerous fascination, such a spine-tingling and blissful (süssen) infinity." [1] (emphasis mine)

Indeed. "Why cannot these lovers shroud themselves forever in the sweet twilight of night and death that should indissolubly unite their souls and their destinies?!". . . Dante was filled with such pity he fainted after Francesca told her tale.

 René Kollo and Johanna Meier. 1991.

Update: I did not intend to suggest Wagner shared Dante's view of the lovers' situations, merely that  we might me inclined to compare them. Indeed one might find something quite different in Wagner, for example:

"The redemption through love that Wagner dramatizes in his mature operas is not an escape into another world in which the sufferings of this one are finally compensated. It is rather a demonstration of the value of this world by showing that something else is valued more. The sacred moment, in which death is scorned for the sake of love, casts its light back over the entire life that had led to it." –"Death-Devoted Heart: Sex and the Sacred in Wagner's Tristan and Isolde" by Roger Scruton. 2004.

See also:
Death Drive: Eros and Thanatos in Wagner's "Tristan und Isolde"
Linda Hutcheon & Michael Hutcheon
Cambridge Opera Journal, Vol. 11, No. 3. (Nov., 1999), pp. 267-293.

[1] Ecce Homo. Warum ich so klug, 6.

Saturday, September 4, 2010

An Unscientific Comparison of the Old and New Roman Lectionaries

I randomly selected a day in the Lenten calendar (Friday of the 3rd Week in Lent) to compare the readings in the ancient Roman liturgy and the liturgy of Pope Paul VI (my comments are below the readings):

First, the reading from the liturgy of Paul VI (appointed for last March 12):

"Thus says the LORD:
Return, O Israel, to the LORD, your God;
you have collapsed through your guilt.
Take with you words,
and return to the LORD;
Say to him, “Forgive all iniquity,
and receive what is good, that we may render
as offerings the bullocks from our stalls.
Assyria will not save us,
nor shall we have horses to mount;
We shall say no more, ‘Our god,’
to the work of our hands;
for in you the orphan finds compassion.”

I will heal their defection, says the LORD,
I will love them freely;
for my wrath is turned away from them.
I will be like the dew for Israel:
he shall blossom like the lily;
He shall strike root like the Lebanon cedar,
and put forth his shoots.
His splendor shall be like the olive tree
and his fragrance like the Lebanon cedar.
Again they shall dwell in his shade
and raise grain;
They shall blossom like the vine,
and his fame shall be like the wine of Lebanon.

Ephraim! What more has he to do with idols?
I have humbled him, but I will prosper him.
“I am like a verdant cypress tree”–
Because of me you bear fruit!

Let him who is wise understand these things;
let him who is prudent know them.
Straight are the paths of the LORD,
in them the just walk,
but sinners stumble in them."

Now, for the lesson appointed in the usus antiquior:

"In those days, the children of Israel, and all the multitude came into the desert. And the people wanting water, came together against Moses and Aaron: And making a sedition, they said: "Would God we had perished among our brethren before the Lord." And Moses and Aaron leaving the multitude, went into the tabernacle of the covenant, and fell flat upon the ground, and cried to the Lord, and said. "O Lord God, hear the cry of this people, and open to them thy treasure, a fountain of living water, that being satisfied, they may cease to murmur." And the glory of the Lord appeared over them. And the Lord spoke to Moses, saying: "Take the rod, and assemble the people together, thou and Aaron thy brother, and speak to the rock before them, and it shall yield waters. And when thou hast brought forth water out of the rock, all the multitude and their cattle shall drink." Moses therefore took the rod, which was before the Lord, as he had commanded him, And having gathered together the multitude before the rock, he said to them: "Hear, ye rebellious and incredulous: Can we bring you forth water out of this rock?" And when Moses bad lifted up his hand, and struck the rock twice with the rod, there came forth water in great abundance, so that the people and their cattle drank, And the Lord said to Moses and Aaron: "Because you have not believed me, to sanctify me before the children of Israel, you shall not bring these people into the land, which I will give them." This is the Water of contradiction, where the children of Israel strove with words against the Lord, and he was sanctified in them."

The Gospel appointed in the Liturgy of Paul VI:

'One of the scribes came to Jesus and asked him,
“Which is the first of all the commandments?”
Jesus replied, “The first is this:
Hear, O Israel!
The Lord our God is Lord alone!
You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart,
with all your soul,
with all your mind,
and with all your strength.
The second is this:
You shall love your neighbor as yourself.
There is no other commandment greater than these.”
The scribe said to him, “Well said, teacher.
You are right in saying,
He is One and there is no other than he.
And to love him with all your heart,
with all your understanding,
with all your strength,
and to love your neighbor as yourself
is worth more than all burnt offerings and sacrifices.”
And when Jesus saw that he answered with understanding,
he said to him,
“You are not far from the Kingdom of God.”
And no one dared to ask him any more questions.'

The Gospel appointed in the usus antiquior:

At that time, Jesus cometh therefore to a city of Samaria, which is called Sichar, near the land which Jacob gave to his son Joseph. Now Jacob's well was there. Jesus therefore, being wearied with his journey, sat thus on the well. It was about the sixth hour. There cometh a woman of Samaria, to draw water. Jesus saith to her: "Give me to drink." For his disciples were gone into the city to buy meats. Then that Samaritan woman saith to him: "How dost thou, being a Jew; ask of me to drink, who am a Samaritan woman? For the Jews do not communicate with the Samaritans." Jesus answered and said to her: "If thou didst know the gift of God and who he is that saith to thee: Give me to drink; thou perhaps wouldst have asked of him, and he would have given thee living water." The woman saith to him: "Sir, thou hast nothing wherein to draw, and the well is deep. From whence then hast thou living water? Art thou greater than our father Jacob, who gave us the well and drank thereof, himself and his children and his cattle?" Jesus answered and said to her: "Whosoever drinketh of this water shall thirst again: but he that shall drink of the water that I will give him shall not thirst for ever. But the water that I will give him shall become in him a fountain of water, springing up into life everlasting." The woman said to him: "Sir, give me this water, that I may not thirst, nor come hither to draw." Jesus saith to her: "Go, call thy husband, and come hither." The woman answered and said: "I have no husband." Jesus said to her: "Thou hast said well: I have no husband. For thou hast had five husbands: and he whom thou now hast is not thy husband. This, thou hast said truly." The woman saith to him: "Sir, I perceive that thou art a prophet. Our fathers adored on this mountain: and you say that at Jerusalem is the place where men must adore." Jesus saith to her:"Woman, believe me that the hour cometh, when you shall neither on this mountain, nor in Jerusalem, adore the Father. You adore that which you know not: we adore that which we know. For salvation is of the Jews. But the hour cometh and now is, when the true adorers shall adore the Father in spirit and in truth. For the Father also seeketh such to adore him. God is a spirit: and they that adore him must adore him in spirit and in truth." The woman saith to him: "I know that the Messias cometh (who is called Christ): therefore, when he is come, he will tell us all things." Jesus saith to her: "I am he, who am speaking with thee." And immediately his disciples came. And they wondered that he talked with the woman. Yet no man said: "What seekest thou?" Or: "Why talkest thou with her?" The woman therefore left her waterpot and went her way into the city and saith to the men there: "Come, and see a man who has told me all things whatsoever I have done. Is not he the Christ?" They went therefore out of the city and came unto him. In the mean time, the disciples prayed him, saying: "Rabbi, eat." But he said to them: "I have meat to eat which you know not." The disciples therefore said one to another: "Hath any man brought him to eat?" Jesus saith to them: "My meat is to do the will of him that sent me, that I may perfect his work. Do not you say: There are yet four months, and then the harvest cometh? Behold, I say to you, lift up your eyes, and see the countries. For they are white already to harvest. And he that reapeth receiveth wages and gathereth fruit unto life everlasting: that both he that soweth and he that reapeth may rejoice together. For in this is the saying true: 'That it is one man that soweth, and it is another that reapeth.' I have sent you to reap that in which you did not labour. Others have laboured: and you have entered into their labours."Now of that city many of the Samaritans believed in him, for the word of the woman giving testimony: "He told me all things whatsoever I have done." So when the Samaritans were come to him, they desired that he would tarry there. And he abode there two days. And many more believed in him, because of his own word. And they said to the woman: "We now believe, not for thy saying: for we ourselves have heard him and know that this is indeed the Saviour of the world."

Now, leaving aside all questions of translation (another vexing problem in the Roman liturgy, despite the fact that everyone else seems to do a bang-up job of it), the choice of these texts in the respective lectionaries make a good case for what I'm trying to argue: that the modern Roman lectionary is deficient hermeneutically, in its ability to typologically relate the Old Testament to the New Testament. In the readings appointed in the missal of Paul VI, we have lovely readings, and yes, there's an inner logic that guides the selection and correlation of these two readings. But it's not a correlation hallowed by tradition. In fact, one gets the impression that any other OT reading, on a similar theme, might have sufficed (and in fact, in a different year [I'm not clear on whether the Gospel readings in Lent change according to the cyclical year] the Old Testament reading might very well be different.

What's interesting is that my Roman missal (1962), published by Baronius Press quite recently (but probably an edited reprint of an older edition) explicitly mentions, in the marginal notes above the readings, the typological significance of the rock (that gives forth water, at the intercession of Moses and Aaron): "During the forty years passed in the desert, Moses and Aaron asked God to bring forth from the rock (a figure of Jesus Christ) a spring of living water, so that all the people could quench their thirst." And about the Gospel, the commentator writes, "During these forty days of Lent, the Church entreats our Lord Jesus Christ to give us the living water about which He spoke to the woman of Samaria near Jacob's well, the water which quenches the thirst of our souls forever." Now these two brief comments, strung together in a moment's sermon, draw a satisfying parallel between the OT and NT reading. No verbose homily is required; perhaps no homily at all is required, especially not if the worshiper has attended the liturgy long enough to come to know the Lenten readings and recognize the typological significance of the OT reading. This kind of experience of the mass of Paul VI is almost impossible, however, since the readings change from year to year, destroying the integrity of the liturgical year and disrupting the ability of even the most devoted Mass-attendee to follow the logic of the lectionary.

Finally, it's significant that the editorship of the ancient Roman lectionary was popularly believed to be the work of ST. JEROME. The work of editing or revising a liturgy is tied up inextricably in the Christian past with outstanding sanctity of life: it's why we attribute our liturgies, rightly or wrongly, to saints. This holds true for the East, and for the West, until the Reformation, and in the Roman Church, until the publication of the missal of Paul VI.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Delacroix Don Giovanni

I was doing some research and came across this painting which seems not at all to be mentioned on the internet, or at least not identified. Lest it fall into obscurity. . .

The Last Scene From Don Giovanni, by Eugène Delacroix.

1824. 55.9 by 45.7 cm. (Private Collection)

As he did with Medea About to Kill Her Children, Delacroix captured a psychologically rich moment, manipulating our knowledge of what is about to transpire. Here, only Leporello and Donna Elvira know the Commendatore has taken up Don Giovanni's invitation to dinner.

Delacroix on Mozart and Don Giovanni:

[Mozart was] 'undoubtedly the creator. . . of art carried to its highest point, beyond which no further perfection is possible', [1]

[On Don Giovanni] 'What an admirable fusion of elegance, expression, buffoonery, terror, tenderness, irony, each in just measure.'[2]

[1] A. Joubin, ed.: Journal d'Eugè Delacroix, Paris [1950], I, pp.346-47

[2] ibid., pp.185, 186-87

See also:

Johnson, Lee. 'The Last Scene of "Don Giovanni" ': A Newly Discovered Delacroix. The Burlington Magazine, Vol. 138, No. 1122 (Sep., 1996), pp. 605-607

Judd, Percy. Delacroix on Music. Music and Letters Vol. 43, No. 4 (Oct., 1962), pp. 340-344

Brief Notes on Rhetoric and Argument

If you read enough Classical literature you may, as I have, become a bit of stickler when it comes to argument and rhetoric. Read any Classical literature, let alone Demosthenes and Aristotle, and you are bound to notice how prominently public speaking and "making your case" figures. Making your case and making it well was an integral part of the Greek world, from Homer through the Athenian democracy, and the Roman world from republic through empire. From the great argument between Agamemnon and Achilles which opens the Iliad, through the orations and debates put down by Thucydides from the Peloponnesian War and Demosthenes' denunciations of Philip of Macedon, to Cicero's great corpus of speeches, rhetoric was an integral part of the Classical world.

For once, and perhaps only once, I will spare you readers some details. Today we will not go on a journey through time and trace the 3,000 history of rhetoric. We won't talk about Tisias and Corax and the birth of rhetoric, rhetoric vs dialectic, sophistry, Demosthenic use of articular infinitives, Ciceronian prose cadences, or the Aristotelian enthymeme. Maybe we will discuss these things one day, sooner if by popular demand (ahem!) but not today. In fact it is no enlightenment or inspiration which brought  me to discuss rhetoric at precisely this time.

As I said, knowledge or familiarity with the aforementioned makes one rather conscious of actually proving ones points when one attempts to make them. (It also tends to embolden the perpetually quarrelsome.) Such also tends to make one cognizant of deficiencies of argumentation where one finds them, which is in quite many places. One typically finds such errors in political articles, but sloppy arguments really do pop up everywhere. Many have been popping up of late and I thought it would be instructive and a little fun to re-post it here and go through it in my customary way. Unfortunately I cannot reprint any here in sufficient length to make my method useful and I don't think the author or publication would consent to re-print it here for such a purpose.

Instead, then, I thought I would share some of what I do with and to my own writing and essays I am analyzing. The following is not comprehensive, rather it is just a quick run through of my default steps in analyzing an essay. Some of these procedures are obviously not needed for needed for every essay.

If it is not my own writing I copy and paste it into a word processor witch which I can highlight text. I think most any will do this.

1) Re-read the article, not skipping anything.

2) Attempt to find the point of the essay. This is sometimes impossible but this is just a preliminary look. If you cannot find it, attempt to synthesize it and formulate it into as succinct a statement as possible. (Because x, therefore y.) In a complex essay, find the point of each paragraph.

3) Strike through (example) everything not related to the author's point or those which are clearly irrelevant.

4) Consider definitions, i. e. what words actually mean. If an author's definition of a word is unclear his entire enterprise is on shaky ground. Highlight key words in red and ask yourself how the definitions of these words affect the argument.

5) Highlight in one color all of the assertions, i.e. "X is blue." Aside from the extremely obvious, (The sky is blue) remember that the author has to prove everything in this color. If you find very many assertions the essay was probably written for someone who already agrees with the author on a number of fundamental points.

Yet it is not possible in every essay to lay out one's first principles and build them up from there. Nonetheless every article has such principles and the author ought to admit them. As such, then, it is often what is unwritten which dictates the direction and/or conclusion of the article. Because of this it is desirable one should know the first principles of the author as well as possible.

One also ought to consider the nature of the argument. For example, take the two main types of arguments:
  1. Didactic arguments reason from the principles appropriate to each subject matter.
  2. Dialectic arguments reason from premises generally accepted to the contradictory of a given thesis.

Now such should pare down the essay to the actual argument, but not all arguments are created equal. I find the following short list on spurious arguments and quasi-arguments from Book II of Aristotle's Rhetoric quite handy. I have skipped a few since they are included above.

  1. assert of the whole what is true of the parts, and vice versa
  2. painting a colorful picture of the situation without proving facts
  3. using single instances as proof
  4. representing the accidental/incidental as essential.
  5. representing as causes things which are not causes but simply happened along with or before the event in question
  6. leaving out mention of time and relevant circumstances.
  7. confusing absolutes with particulars (e.g. since improbable things do happen, it is probable improbable things will happen, thus what is improbable is probable.)

Of course not all arguments are born bad, some go bad and some are not appropriate for the given  situation. For example:
  1. Deference to authority or precedent relies on the truthfulness of the authority or precedent.
  2. Arguments based on probability, like proof a fortiori (if a quantity does not exist where it is more likely to exist it does not exist where it is less likely), rely a great deal on the relative risks of the situation.
  3. It is important to define your terms, yet one can dishonestly (or conspicuously) do so, for example excluding all of the negative aspects of a word from your particular use of it and ascribing them to an opposing idea. As Aristotle said, "a definition is a thesis." [Post. An. I.ii. 72a], i.e. the laying down of something, not an affirmation of its existence.
  4. Sometimes actions may have both good and bad consequences.
  5. If two results are the same, their antecedents are the same. (Maybe, but not necessarily.)
One must also consider supporting data and its representations such as charts, graphs, et cetera. Polls and other statistics are notoriously malleable, but also consider presentation: is the presentation of the data unnecessarily complex or conspicuously simple? Is the data up to date? Does it have the necessary context? What were the methodologies for collecting it? What conclusions, mainly yours but also contrary ones, can reasonably be drawn from it? Indeed it is difficult and often impossible to verify such data, but if you don't. . . Of course there is a degree of trust between author and reader, and we assume when we see quotations, for example, they were not taken out of context.

Lastly, one ought to consider the counter-arguments the author addresses. Does he address any? Does he only address ones which are obviously foolish or fallacious? Does he attack the person who made the argument instead of the argument itself? Ideally the author should address all of the best arguments to be made against his case. In making ones case one invariably comes up against potential contrary positions, but if the author hasn't seriously and rigorously attempted to make his case, then he probably won't foresee any objections to it either.

Happy arguing!