Thursday, July 7, 2011

Fin ch'han dal vino Sing-off

Nine great Don Giovannis sing the famous Champagne aria. Only one will emerge victorious. . .

A fun treat, enjoying as we do comparisons amongst versions of a piece. (Always interesting to see what they do what that rising bassoon phrase, amongst other features.)

Fin ch'han dal vino calda la testa. . .

Taste, Character

One of the many throw-away jewels in T. S. Eliot's 1961 essay To Criticize the Critic is a distinguishing between fashion and taste. The point is worth developing particularly because of the trope that "taste varies." Let us begin as Eliot does, distinguishes between fashion, "the love of change for its own sake" and taste, which "springs from a deeper source." The former seems a sensible definition since fashion varies according to life's many vicissitudes. Fashion trends and without any regard for anything. To be fashionable one must simply change from something to something else. Before tackling taste I would posit another category, style. Style rather simply is some particular convention, but in particular it exists without any special regard for the reason behind the convention. It is simply a protocol, of greater or lesser specificity. Thus with this definition one does not have style per se but rather uses a particular style. This may seem an arbitrarily limited usage of the term but it leaves a some necessary room for defining taste.

Indeed taste springs from a deeper source, but more importantly I would suggest taste is unique insofar as it springs from any source at all, because in contrast to fashion and style as we have defined them, taste is a personal attribute. Taste is the reason for some style or blend of styles. Taste requires the active choosing and rejecting of certain styles according to some principles. Whereas style may be principled, accidental, or incidental, taste is always chosen. Taste is always cultivated, that is, taste requires character. To have a particular taste requires an awareness of possibilities and a preference for one way of thinking, of doing, of being. It is unique to the curious blend of influences upon a particular person and the way in which the individual synthesizes them. One might, for example, write in the style of, say Bach or Shakespeare, but one cannot in fact write actual Bach or Shakespeare. Taste then is in fact a component of character, themselves both essentially creative acts though admitting certain variables, namely that does not have control over what he is exposed to.

One is, as we have mentioned before, by nature, of a certain place and time and passing through. By our definition of taste then, to possess taste requires a sense of time and place, of one's tradition, of combining influences in the present, and all towards some future state of being.

To possess taste then is no small feat, requiring as it does a sense of self and other, of principled preference, and of tradition.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Mini-Review: Looking for Richard

Directed by Al Pacino. 1996.

Al Pacino walking around Manhattan asking people what they think about Shakespeare was not such a bad idea. It could have been played as a cheap trick setting up some point about how no one today appreciates Shakespeare or how we need to pedestrianize the Bard to make him "more accessible." These strolls through the city, though, avoid such tempting alternatives and instead simply ask people what they know and what they find difficult. Some people think Shakespeare is boring, others complicated. Some people have not heard of him, others can quote a phrase. They all, though, admit to a certain distance, a divide some of the actors we meet later admit to remembering from their first experience with Shakespeare. A ways through trying to explain the plot Pacino himself admits, "I'm confused just saying it to you. So I can imagine how you must feel hearing me talk." This frankness and the admission that the film is as much about the actors trying to find Richard as it is to help the audience is an effective, if not entirely necessary, hook to bring the audience into the endeavor of experiencing Shakespeare.

The film's structure of cutting among discussions of the film with actors and staged scenes is effective. Wisely both types of scene are always cut off before one gets to settled into seeing a film or watching a roundtable. The ability to intersperse actual scenes from Shakespeare, with full costume and music, with discussions, and even overlay them, is a great tool Pacino uses effectively to broaden the scenes, explaining who is doing what without getting caught up in a cycle of explication followed by the scene, followed by explication. . . The highlight of the film, though, is the actors and listening them discuss the film. For those beginning their experience of Shakespeare it is a wonderful resource to see a scene played a few different ways because it demonstrates both how much you have to understand the character to perform him consistently through a play and how there can be different meanings and subtexts to a given word, line, or scene.

Sometimes, though, you'll have a scene of discussion in which nothing is resolved and in which the actors do not seem to have gotten to the heart of the scene followed by a fine performance. One can't help but wonder, how did they get here? Other time's they are really just explaining the plot.
Too some of the scholarly justifications for getting down to the essence of Shakespeare don't quite work. One scholar mentions how it's more important to get to the bottom of every scene than "getting obsessed with the British way of regarding a text." Well what do you do with the text? A scholarly discussion would have been welcome here. Sometimes they merely point at the issue. Similarly, they do not so much explain how the meter works in Shakespeare as they just define what iambic pentameter is. (Because it's a big scary Greek word they even reveal it slowly on the screen.)

For a documentary, or "docu-drama type thing" as Pacino calls it, Looking for Richard is quite light on the critics, historians, and scholars. In one scene Pacino's collaborator Frederic Kimball grows quite adamant about the this point, insisting that the scholars should not get the special privilege of looking into the camera for their scenes if the director's point is to demonstrate that it is the actors who are the true possessors of the material. This seems plausible enough, yet we constantly see the actors scurrying about and quarreling trying simply to comprehend the play. The point Pacino seems to demonstrate is rather in fact that the actor has to become the scholar. Likewise the film's premise that Shakespeare is for everyone is not quite so perfectly true. On the one hand the film does demonstrate the beauty and truthfulness of Shakespeare by doing such a fine job of the acting. Surely the content is for everyone. On the other hand, despite how entertaining the film is, it also does a lot of teaching and explaining. Well if all of this teaching is necessary, then there is an inherent barrier isn't there? The actors need scholars, or to be scholars, the actors need the audience, the audience needs the actors, and so forth. There seems to be more truth in that line of thinking, that there are discrete but overlapping roles, than the egalitarian "we're all in this together" schtick. Such a discussion, however, would have necessitated another about culture, which surely would have bored the audience Looking for Richard was aiming at.

One senses that the director would consider Looking for Richard a success if someone who didn't like Shakespeare enjoyed this film. Yet for that person it took an entire other film, two hours of scholarship dressed up as entertainment, and leaving out the majority of the actual play, to get him into Richard III. I would consider Looking for Richard more of a success if it got someone into reading, studying, seeing, and enjoying the full play.

I enjoyed Looking for Richard very much while watching it, but seemed a tad more shallow after further consideration. That said, it is probably a good introduction for people living only in the 21st century. For people who already enjoy Shakespeare, the discussions are lively, enthusiastic, and frank, and the acting is fine. It was quite a treat hearing Estelle Parsons as Margaret delivering,
O but remember this another day:
When he shall split thy very heart with sorrow:
And say (poore Margaret) was a Prophetesse:
even though what made it to film was a composite and truncated version of Margaret's lines. 

Sunday, July 3, 2011

Movie Review: John Adams

Directed by Tom Hooper. 2008.

There is a great deal to admire in HBO's John Adams. Foremost perhaps is how well the screenplay fits the story to the medium. I often watch a program and conclude that the movie might have been better suited as a miniseries, or vice versa. Many television shows are not more than films stretched out unnecessarily, and usually inelegantly, to many times their proper length. John Adams overcomes this hurdle and takes advantage of the liberty that premiering on HBO provided. The series falls into seven parts of unequal length, avoiding the pitfall of having the story get chopped and stuffed into neat 50 minute segments. Too it accommodates details, spends more time in certain parts of the narrative than others, and skips over several periods, all of which would be hard to accept in a feature film. Indeed this is a fine screenplay and fine material for a miniseries.

John Adams' main theme is a rollicking martial tune orchestrated and its soundtrack is wholly appropriate, with selections influenced by Barry Lyndon and Master and Commander. The camerawork is a balance between plain television and elaborate cinematic styles, the former which would have grown dull and the latter which would have grown tiresome over the course of seven parts. The small simple interiors of the colonial houses really do make for a splendid contrast to the vast and ornate Parisian chambers.

Yet all of these technical details never distract and merely serve the story, which I am glad to say is a great success. It is not quite so much about the American Revolution though of course its events play a prominent part, but rather, and appropriately, about Mr. John Adams. I say "Mr. Adams" because it seems impossible for one not to develop an affection and admiration for Mr. after watching this series. Affection for this dutiful husband, father, and friend. Admiration for the citizen, lawyer, and political philosopher. Gratitude for the delegate, ambassador, vice president, and president.

The husband and father who spent time, years, away from his family. The lawyer who defended the British soldiers of the Boston Massacre. The author who wrote the  Massachusetts constitution between assignments to Europe. The delegate who, with the other members of the Continental Congress, risked his life to meet as a member of that body. (A body whose work was not to sign and flash about one glorious document, but to sit on endless committees and boards, to travel to and fro, and endlessly to debate the proper course of action.) The president who steered between British and French interests and immense pressure to declare war. Yet it is not quite so much that one comes away from John Adams impressed with the man's accomplishments so much as with his character. His character which he worked tirelessly to improve over his life, whose deficiencies (vanity, stubbornness, querulousness) he acknowledged and tried to remedy not for himself, but so he may carry out his duties to his family and country. He made a life's work of being a good man and one never doubts he lived the advice he gave his children, "Be good and do good."

Not just a life's work, but a life's effort. We mentioned some of his sacrifices, chiefly risking his life on a number of occasions and being parted from his family, which he undertook with heavy heart. He would, like any sensible man, have preferred to stay home with his books, farm, and family. Yet he went out far from his country of Massachusetts because he was asked and again we feel he lived the advice he gave to his children, that if offices will not be held by honest men, they will be held by others. He realized that some tasks require much. The life of a scholar requires many hours of lonely work. Scholarly success can be achieved no other way, as he told his sons. Again, while courting the help of the French for the Revolution, he defends his business and lack of knowledge of music thusly:

I must study politics and war, so that my sons will have the liberty to study mathematics and philosophy. My sons must study navigation, commerce, and agriculture, so that their sons will have the right to study painting and poetry and music.
In this seemingly simple statement lies an important observation about life, or at least Adams' own political philosophy: a man cannot avoid being born in a place and time and that he is both coming and going. Certain times ask certain things and surely Adams would have preferred to do much else, but he was bound by duty to certain endeavors. If he and his children were to be free, then he need to know of war and politics. It was for another generation to make use of his sacrifice and study music and poetry. The scene in which he explains the above to a room of French aristocrats is a fine contrast. Adams, from his own sacrifice, knows what he lacks and sees the cause: that he is bound to do other things. The French, not bound and free to do as they please, see only the freedom of status quo in which they bask. The political trajectories of the French and American nations add a poignancy to the scene, as do the frequent cuts back to Abigail maintaining the household in John's absence.

It would be impossible not to mention Mr. Adams without his wife for their relationship is one of the central threads of the series. Their lifelong friendship is inspiring and, in fact, reassuring. A decisive woman, she pushed against his stubbornness when he most needed the shove, she told him when he put to much in his speeches, and she told him when he just needed to shut up. She raised the children and ran the farm. Their witty quarreling is great fun to watch, both in their youth and old age. Of the rest of the cast we must mention two who steal more than a few scenes: Tom Wilkinson brings Benjamin Franklin's jocular sagacity to vivid life, and the philosophical remove of Stephen Dillane's Jefferson draws us into his scenes in the hope he'll reveal something to us.

Adams' reconciliation with Jefferson is a fitting conclusion for the film and their correspondence, potentially awkward to dramatize, is deftly handled. The correspondence of the "north and south poles of the revolution" is most enriching. The conclusions therein are not the designs of untested youths or thinkers at remove from the consequences of their prescriptions, but thought tempered by action, and hope tempered by sacrifice.

Saturday, July 2, 2011

Sacred Music Resources

Here is a brief round up of the sacred music texts I use, two of which were just released this past week and which have already and thoroughly impressed me. This is obviously not a comprehensive list but simply one of what I use and like. Two are wonderful introductions, one a good for transition away from certain tendencies and practices, two are good companions, and the last is a timeless treasure. Of course feel free to add your own thoughts and recommendations!

I. Psallite Sapienter

This slender paperback is an excellent introduction to the Tridentine Mass. It consists of 189 points ranging from one sentence to one paragraph per point. The points are grouped into a few categories: 1) Basics, 2) The Music of the Missa Solemnis and Missa Cantata, 3) Special Days and Seasons, and 4) Occasions and Miscellany. This volume could not be clearer, often simply saying, "Do this and not this." Indexed and with a short bibliography pointing the reader toward more explanatory sources.

II. The Parish Book of Chant

Of the six books we are discussing here, this is probably my favorite, due in no small part to its elegance. Though it is only about 200 pages, the volume is hard cover and because of this combination of slender size and hard cover it feels particularly sturdy. It's not something your sweaty palms are going to wear away down after a few months of singing. Too the pages are bright white and the layout of the whole volume is pleasing and easy on the eyes. At about 6in wide by 9in high, it is just the right size for singing from, stacking, and carrying around.

This volume includes select: chants for the ordinary of the mass, general hymns and chants, and seasonal chants. The ten page guide to reading and singing chant and the two-page guide to liturgical Latin pronunciation are among the most lucid you'll find. English translations are provided throughout.Worth buying even if you have the last item on this list.

III. Simple Choral Graduale

Of the six volumes here Richard Rice's Simple Choral Graduale is the most approachable. Without any Latin and with modern music notation, someone who has grown up singing the Responsorial Psalms in English can sing this music. Too the page layout is similar to the usual Responsorial settings. Also, from the foreword, "the melodies are written in step-wise motion, seldom exceeding a range of a fight or rising higher than middle-c. The melodies generally employ one or two repeated phrases (three for the longest texts.) Harmonies are simple and rarely chromatic, enabling choirs of modest forces to master the choral texture with minimal effort. This volume is a wonderful book to start with to bring these entrance, offertory, and communion antiphons into Mass alongside the accompanying psalm verses. It's also a subtle wedge, I mean opportunity, for breaking out of the four-hymn syndrome.

IV. The Catholic Choirbook

This is a thoughtfully edited compilation of some of the best Catholic music, all appropriate in both text and style. From Fogliano and Byrd to Stainer and Elgar this is not simply a collection for medieval music aficionados but of the most beautiful and appropriate music for the Catholic Mass. Included are famous settings by Byrd, Palestrina, and Mozart but also wondrous pieces by lesser-known composers like Remondi and Lotti. The volume contains indices by composer, piece, and part (SATB, SSA, et cetera.) English translations of all texts precede the piece. The spine and layout allow for the easy making of copies, which is handy because copying and sharing of the music is permitted under Creative Commons license 3.0.

V. Simple English Propers

Another beautiful hardcover from the CMAA, about the same dimensions as the Parish Book of Chant but longer. This volume is a great gift to the Catholic community and an opportunity to return the mass propers to their place at mass. To quote the 1969 Vatican Consilium, "What must be sung is the Mass, its Ordinary and Proper, not 'something,' no matter how consistent, that is imposed on the mass."

The settings employ not just the chant modes (instead of modern scales) but preserve the mode in which the Latin chants in the Graduale Romanum were composed. The whole volume is in English, with translations from the Gregorian Missal (as published by Solesmes) and Revised Grail Psalter. In addition to the English and introduction to chant, throughout the book words/syllables on the termination are italicized and words/syllables on the final note are boldfaced.

VI. Graduale Romanum/Graduale Triplex

There is only Latin in this book! That includes the introduction, indices, and all titles. (Alright, the two page foreword discussing the manuscripts is in English, French, and German.) Still, without a knowledge of Latin, the ecclesiastical vocabulary for the liturgical year, and an understanding of the liturgical year, you might be hard pressed to get the most from this volume. It includes no helpful guides like the above volumes, but you get with one beautiful volume (semi-hard cover with place ribbon) the book of the Roman Rite. The antiphons for the propers and the settings for the ordinary, they're all here. Everything on this list is essential reading. This collection is priceless.

Read Jeffrey Tucker on The Real Catholic Songbook.

N.B. While we have discussed only paper books, it would be foolish to look over the wonderful resources at, where you can also find free, legal, editions of much of the above. Lastly, check out and of course ChantCafé.

Friday, July 1, 2011

Crazy Libertarians!

There exists a discrete genre of journalism native to the internet. This writing, of the short and pointless variety, is too vapid to find a way into even the most fluffy or pandering papers. I do not mean to suggest this species of writing is usually poor, for in fact it is not. In fact I often find the pieces well-crafted. To what end, you surely ask. These pieces must conform to a few rules. First, they must have a clear audience, i.e. clear worldview, to pander to. Second, it must convey the centrality of that view. Third, it must not offend said audience. Fourth, it must entertain. Last, and this feature is most unique to this species, it must make other views appear alien.

This piece from NPR is a prime slice.

It starts off with a kitschy premise: bacon. I doubt this event, about a gathering in the woods in which nothing happened, would have been newsworthy in any way without a trendy hook, in this case, bacon.

The use of the word "best" in the phrase "best pitch" is extremely clever. Was it his best pitch? Did the man say, "here's my best pitch?" Did the author ask for his best pitch? We don't know and it's operative because calling it "best" implies that his pitch, and the whole event, is as good as libertarianism gets. It implies that if this event sounds ridiculous or doesn't work, this best effort, then the whole libertarian endeavor is daft.

The next bit is even more clever. Permit me a brief quotation:

As I'm asking about food safety, we are interrupted by another customer, who happens to have a handgun strapped to his belt.  

"We'll regulate him," he says. "If he poisons me, I won't buy his food. And he'll be done."
The sense here is odd, since adding the bit about the gun makes "We'll" seem like it refers to the man and his gun. One can almost feel the man pat his pistol as he says, "We'll regulate him." Being libertarians the man surely meant by "we," himself and the author of the article, i.e. the patrons of the business. The last sentence is clearly explanatory. The man is explaining, using himself as an example, what would happen if here were poisoned: the man's reputation would be done. So here we have a very simple encounter reported in such a way as to make a completely ridiculous reading of it plausible, but reported without saying anything untruthful.

Another quote:

Trying to give up the U.S. dollar means a lot of extra math. You hear it all day long. How much is silver? How many grams in an ounce?
"A lot of extra math?" Really? Converting units and looking up information that's been in the backs of marble notebooks for untold years? "A lot of math?" These people are wacky, I tell ya! They're doing "a lot of math." Nuts! "It's 8:30 in the morning, in the woods, and people are checking the precious metal prices on their cell phones." Egads! Of course the irony is that people with dollars are checking the prices too, but because the government is printing money. But no, the people freely engaging in private commerce are the kooks.

The point about government regulation, the FDA and USDA, is supposed to imply again, that even in this libertopia in the woods, you depend on the government, I suspect falls flat even among the people the article most precisely targets. The example clearly suggests you cannot escape the government, because they regulate practically everything.
But the guy just shakes his head. He only takes the round silver coins, not the laminated strips of silver I have.
Uh oh, back to the bank table! The horror! Better contract out the work of managing my money to the government so I can sit here and stuff my face! Viva la libertà!

The final two sentences drive home the point the author began with and the tone which he established in using the word "best:" that this is as good as libertarianism gets, and it doesn't work.

This piece is a clear species of the genre. Foremost it is entertaining and completely uncritical of the view, this time unspoken but implied as the opposite of that which is depicted, it places at the center of the world. It has a clever hook and it makes its subjects appear alien and lacking in the realization that what they are doing is in fact odd and nonsensical. The piece is very much like a very bad ethnography, slyly poking fun at the people it observes.

Whether or not he fancies himself a liberal Franz Boas the joke is on the author for it is indeed what he did not report that has become the center of the article. The inflation, the fistfights, the theft, starvation, thuggery. I guess there wasn't any. So a bunch of libertarians gathered in the woods and conducted their affairs privately, without force, incident, or need of assistance. Crazy libertarians!

N.B. I pass over the title, clearly intended as a diminutive to compare the attendees to children at summer camp, because authors often do not have a say in the title of their piece.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Cato on Education

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, June 24, 2011

A Mozart Timeline

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

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

(click to enlarge)

Sunday, June 19, 2011

amor ille penitus insitus

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

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

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

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

Friday, June 17, 2011

Eliot on. . . the iPad?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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