Wednesday, February 18, 2009

"The Passionate Shepherd to His Love"--Marlowe

I have been away, thus the lag between postings--it is even more hopeless for me to try to get on a computer on vacation than it is at home. I hope the break has had some kind of refreshing effect on my brain. Feeling that one has written something decent every now and then may be the cheapest of all thrills, but it is one I have not been having much of lately, and I find my being strangely empty to have to do constantly without it.

I lay out in the sun for two days, albeit with my shirt on, but for the first time in my life I have what might plausibly be called a tan, as well as a few blond highlights in my hair. The tan would look a lot better if I had remembered to take my sunglasses off--the coloring of my face currently resembles that of a raccoon--but being, in private anyway, the utter narcissist that I am, I am taken with the effect of it. It at least looks different, something of which sort I realize I have been craving for at least ten or eleven years but could not quite think or determine on what exactly to do, and how to bring it about.

This Marlowe poem is one of a set of three, the other two, Ralegh's "The Nymph's Reply to the Shepherd", and Donne's "The Bait", being direct responses to the first. I was going to kill them all in a single posting, but as I don't have anything really to say about them--wonderful little concoctions of words and thought though they all are--each one will get a separate, and hopefully short, post, primarily about something else. I do care about the poems though, and all that they stand for. It gives me great satisfaction to think about them, not 'in themselves', but as little monuments of history that I have came upon, as upon an engraved stone in some windswept field or other, and must record the encounter with a snapshot of myself in some undefined proximity to the stone. This is primarily what literature is to me, but this approach still can dominate your life in myriad ways, which are not fully appreciated by the crowd that actually understands what all the books and pictures and historical developments actually are about

When I was in Florida I went one afternoon by myself to the Ringling Art Museum in Sarasota. I had been there once before but I had had my children with me and had only made it about halfway through the collection before it closed. I had not seen any such old art in person for several years, since one of my sons climbed up onto an Empire bed with a satiny-looking green and gold coverlet at the MFA in Boston, which you are not supposed to do. While I felt in pretty good spirits in the early rooms, among the Rubenses and the medieval triptychs and the Renaissance both early and late and the Dutch masters and the Poussins, seeing one of which--there were two on display this time--had so excited me on my previous visit there, I was not really at ease, and felt somewhat estranged both from the pictures and the scene in my current state of mind. It was much more crowded than it had been the other time I was there, with almost everyone in the place being over 60, and giving off much more of a vacationing/wintering/sightseeing vibe than an "art vibe", whether pretentious or earnest or edgy. The exception was a high school group of very conservative-looking but gentle-seemed, well-groomed Christians (they were earnest). I had the thought that perhaps I could not really look at art and enjoy it anymore, as I often think I should stop reading too and focus more on my lawn or something for a few years, that a person has to have attained some degree of coherence within himself and in his relation to the world to be able to encounter books and artworks and people and get--or give--anything out of it. When I was the age of a student I was credible enough as one to get away with reading poems and thinking about artworks to some extent, that it seemed natural enough to think them, as well as my own relationship to them, to be matters of real importance, to be meaningful. I still believe that they are meaningful, in their most developed senses--I was not sure, however, whether they were any longer meaningful to me.

As I moved along however the crowd thinned somewhat and I came on some rooms dedicated to nations and time periods that were more in line with my own current feelings and desires. First there was a picture by a Dutch artist, Nydacker I believe was his name, one of those 18th-century evocations of the sublime featuring a wooded and vaguely wild-looking mountain in Italy, which sentiment appealed to me. Then there was the Spanish room, which had a portrait of Philip IV by Velasquez, who never fails to rouse my excitement with regard to human possibility, and two crucifixions by El Greco, which also hit me right where I was standing--why I cannot seem to forumalte--so to speak. After this was a room devoted to 18th century French painting, which I have to think must be one of my favorite schools, though I never have put much thought into the matter, based on the placid mood in which paintings from this time ever put me. Unfortunately Vigee LeBrun's portrait of Marie Antoinette in her salon holding a partially closed little book after the French manner of little books was covered with a plastic sheet; but you could still sort of see it. This was a very good painting. After this was a room with 5 floor to ceiling wallpaper-like panels featuring Arcadian scenes, also from the 18th century, which is also the sort of thing I love, and finally there was a room devoted to the era of the Grand Tour--Venetian cityscapes, outrageous interpretations of scenes from Homer and classical antiquity set amongst modern architecture and landscaping, evocations of civilized and learned adventure. All of these 18th-century attitudes served to prop up my sense of being connected to some nobler experience and conception of humanity for a few hours, which is what I had come for, and always "come for" to speak more broadly, though certainly different attitudes and periods and types of paintings have this effect on me at different times. 18th century art is quite fantastical even when it was not necessarily trying to be. The portraits and landscapes of the age are wonderful, but they are not convincing as resembling any man or place that ever really existed. This is the need that evidently requires feeding in me right now. My feeling about the poem sticks upon the simplicity--the at the same time highly artful simplicity--of the expression of the desires that are what it is about. Simplicity and clarity of expression of generally complicated conceptions as much as is possible, are I believe--at least to some portion of one's audience--the ultimate aims of all serious artistic efforts. What is most notable to me in this poem is the number and organization of images evoking earthly romantic bliss that are introduced and contribute to the overall sense of the poem in a limited space. That is the brilliance, the art, the purpose of the exercise. There doesn't need to be anything more to it than that.

Here is a soothing little video which features a recitation of the poem at the end.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Winter Pictures II

View of NH Route 9 somewhere between Hillsboro and Keene. I saw my only moose on this same stretch of road about 7 or 8 years, on Memorial Day. It was a small one. On the Sledding Hill at Living Memorial Park in Brattleboro. There was a gaggle of alternative-looking families right beside us, shaggy beards and flannel on the guys, shawls and braids for the women, old innertubes and slabs of cardboard for the kids' sleds, but they still all had their cellphones out and were talking to their brokers and tax preparers.

I attend a wedding as one of the minor (probably 4th tier) guests. Since I don't think anyone really reads the site anymore--even my one follower has abandoned me, as I predicted would happen--there is no reason to hide my physical, as well as intellectual, decline from the world any longer.

The Making of Valentines. If you are a certain kind of family, you have to be at least modestly creative in your Valentine making nowadays to demonstrate that your children will be prodded to make some effort in life to not be a drain on the productive portion of society in order to retain a reasonable level of respectability in the demi-monde of schools and parenting (These painted hearts will be made into necklaces, incidentally).

Late Christmas!

The Sledding Hill at camp, Brattleboro (actually Dummerston) VT

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Peak Eras For Various Sports (A Personal View)

That's right. All the major sports aren't as good as they used to be either. Just to prove that I am not an absolute fuddy-duddy, I know that are many things going on right now which are in their golden ages, where you can find the real genius and spirit of the age. Unfortunately however, I have no idea what any of these things are.

Pro Football's aesthethic peak spanned roughly the era of the 14-game schedule, 1961-1977. I might even restrict it to the 60s, before the AFL-NFL merger, because I like smaller, exclusive leagues, and the 70s saw the debut of a lot of new and ugly stadiums, but there was also a lot of interesting stuff going on in the early-mid 70s--the George Allen Redskins, the colorful Raiders teams, the great Miami teams, the great early Steelers teams, the very good Minnesota teams back when that franchise played outdoors in what wouldn't be an acceptable stadium for a Division II college team today. The outstanding work of the NFL Films company in this era, when the corporate arm of the league as well as the coaches and players took themselves considerably less seriously than they do today, reveals all kinds of fascinating nuggets of detail about both football and everyday life in the 1960s and 70s that are astounding to see, or in some cases be reminded of, now. Everything was comparatively so small-time, or perhaps I would better say, on a reasonably human scale. The stadiums, the media coverage, the money, the players' bodies, the locker room amenities, are all phenonema well within the realm of ordinary experience. The crowd at a modern game is so individually insignificant and stifled, overwhelmed by the spectacles of technology, money and modern security, as to be little better than ants. In most of the stadiums (stadia?) of the 60s they tended to be closer to the field, in more intimate communion both with the players and other people around them, less distracted by other demands on their attention; the filmed crowd shots of the era reveal livelier and more engaged expressions (as well as better clothes) than fans have nowadays, who if they are acting in an energized manner are probably responding to television or some other media provocation than anything they can see with their eyes. When the Eagles used to play at Franklin Field (which is still used, by the way, as the home field of the University of Pennsylvania), or the Colts at Memorial Stadium, even the grass and mud were recognizable as the same sort you had in your backyard if you lived in the area. Now the grass is grown in a lab and flown in, because the local stuff isn't good enough. The whole enterprise descends more and more into fakery every year. I could go on, but I must proceed to the next sport now. Baseball. The heyday of baseball all around, as a participatory as well as professional sport, was probably from 1880 up until around 1918. By the 1920s you finally began to get modern parents like Bob Feller's who actually aspired for their children to be professional ballplayers, which was simply unheard of before World War I, and made calculated decisions to achieve that goal, as well as much more sophisticated methods of scouting and developing young talent by the pro teams, which sorts of developments inevitably suck some of the joie de vivre out of any enterprise, however unintentionally. Pro baseball remained essentially conservative however--from the 1910s to the 1950s there were virtually no new stadiums, no franchise shifts, no changes in the playoff system, no expansion, after the advent of power hitting in the 1920s few major changes in the way games were played, strategies employed, etc. After 1947 of course there was an infusion of black players, though this was primarily limited to a handful of teams and did not immediately lead to major shifts in the way the game was played. The game became really a contest of pure talent, whose players could best execute the time-tried methods (usually the Yankees, as it were). In this regard baseball had a second classical period from around 1920 to 1957, when the Dodgers and Giants abandoned Ebbets Field and the Polo Grounds for California. Though these moves were for a long time often lamented, and definitely demarcated the end of an era that will never return, there was really nothing else to be done. The old neighborhoods around almost all the old ballparks were in terminal decline by the late 50s (though the swiftness of the decline in Brooklyn and New York--the atmosphere in those neighborhoods and stadiums even in '51 and '52 had still been so intense bustling--perhaps amplified the shock) and it was absurd that in 1957 there were no major league teams west of Kansas City or south of St Louis, however much those of us in the northeast like to pretend those regions aren't really part of the country. The world that had nurtured classical baseball was suddenly gone, and had probably been prolonged about as long as it possibly could have.

Baseball in the 60s, for all this, was not that bad. Looking back it seems a little bland now, pitching-dominated, no offense, still overwhelmingly white, but unlike in the 20s and earlier decades, of the increasingly homogenized, boring, bourgeois strain of whiteness that no one interesting likes, boring new stadiums (except for L.A.), scary, crumbling old stadiums (+ Shea, which was scary and crumbling even when it was new), very behind the times on issues like marketing, playoffs, night World Series games, statistical savvy (though the decade saw the first rumblings of this coming tsunami). These faults and blindnesses make the era seem endearing now though. The 70s are remembered unfondly for astroturf, domes and polyester uniforms, as well as the emergence of agents, batting gloves, pitchers who had no intention of completing games and other elements that removed us even further from the cornfields of the baseball ideal. On the positive side, there were some truly outstanding teams in the decade, the Orioles, the A's, the Reds, the Yankees, which were excellent top to bottom with largely the same cast of players over a period of several years. As baseball is, after all, a team game, one of its greatest--perhaps its primary--pleasure comes when it is able to produce a great team, which the dynamics of the modern game, expansion, free agency, etc, seem to have made increasingly difficult. The 80s were rather blah, memorable to me mostly for a series of pitchers breaking out with incredible one-season runs (John Tudor & Dwight Gooden '85; Mike Scott '86; Orel Hershiser '88, etc). Nowadays even if a guy gets that hot, they shut him down out of fear he's going to hurt his arm rather than let him ride out whatever magic has possessed him, and likely won't possess him anymore after the winter anyway.

Problems with the game now: Way too many teams. Not near enough good pitchers; even bad teams should have one or two good pitchers who battle to 16-14 or 14-17 records with otherwise good stats. Interleague play further dilutes the schedule. Expanded playoffs too much of a crapshoot, renders the long regular season less meaningful & destroys its natural flow, way too much organization/parental/adult involvement at the amateur level, way too many mediocre relief pitchers deciding games. The passion of the unselfconscious people of the nation for the game, at least in America, seems to have been declining since World War II. It's a very bourgeois sport now, in America (there is always the Dominican Republic, I guess) which is always deadly to anything's spiritual vitality.

One thing I wanted to fit in, but couldn't, was about the economics of baseball in say, the 1930s and 40s. The St Louis Browns, traditionally a woeful team, drew about 2,000-3,000 fans a game for the better part of 2 decades, in a era before TV, before merchandising and modern concessions, before there were many opportunities to bring in income. If they had a radio contract--and I don't know that they did--there is no evidence that there would have been a large audience for the broadcasts. How did they survive at all? The only thing is that I know they owned the stadium from way back and rented it or leased it out to the Cardinals (both teams shared the park), who were after 1925 or so always the main team in town, for them to use to. That must have been what kept them afloat.

Pro Basketball. 1970-1979. This is when the NBA was supposed to be dead, of course, before Magic Johnson and Larry Bird, and then Jordan, saved it in the '80s. Like most things in this world, the league was much more interesting when "no one" was paying any attention to it. Similarly the defunct ABA, though always a shoestring operation on the brink of collapse in its time, is now often lamented, especially by people my age who can't have much memory of it, let alone followed any of its seasons in a serious manner. Again it is a matter of smaller/better-looking and more interesting gyms, construction/competitiveness of teams, manner of play, and manner of presentation. With regard to the arenas, this was the period when the NBA began making its move towards trying to attract a more upscale clientele, since in the some cases the fan base coming to the games had gotten a little more urban than the right kind of people liked. The Pistons used to play in a place called the Cobo Arena in downtown Detroit; the typical crowd at a game in the '70s consisted primarily of white auto workers and black people. Wildly dressed pimps, drug dealers, and other hustlers and their entourages occupied a lot of the best seats near the court. The team relocated, with the league's enthusiasm, to the enormous, suburban and calculatedly impersonal Silverdome in 1978, and has never returned to the city since. The number of teams was probably about right at this time. Most of the good teams in the decade were not of the two-superstar-and-three-warm-bodies-who-stay-out-of-the-way model that has predominated in recent years, but had six or seven really capable, multidimensional players who were essential to the personality of the team (think of the beloved '70-'73 Knicks, or the '74-'76 Celtics, neither of whom were clearing out the floor for one superstar to put up 35 shots a game). The pregame activities in this era involved rolling a rack of balls out onto the floor, taking some layups, shooting around, and watching the crowd file in. No dimming of lights, fireworks, player introductions modeled on the coronations of Roman Emperors, and contrived music blasting from the sound system at choreographed intervals were necessary.

Real Hockey fans--i.e. Canadians--seem to long for the days of the original 6 teams, which lasted from the 20s all the way to 1967! Like baseball, hockey is a game that sees itself, and is seen by its fans, as central to the life and history of its people, so it was conservative for a very long time and thus woke up one day perceiving itself to have been left behind more market-savvy sports. In trying to catch up it has overcompensated and finds itself currently in a rather ridiculous state--the spectacle of the shootout, and even the 5-minute overtime, that the players despise so that parvenu fans will not have to endure a tie, while at the same time appeasing the players by awarding a point for the tie in the standings, is the most glaring, but not only example of this. Having teams in so many cities where hockey has never been part of the culture isn't giving the sport any positive energy. Montreal never took to big league baseball wholeheartedly though the sport actually had a long tradition in the city; why does anyone think hockey will blossom in Phoenix? Philadelphia is something of an exception to this, in that the sport has been able to nurture a pretty intense fan base for the local franchise really out of nothing. The team had the fortune to be both very good right away, and at a time when all the other local pro teams were terrible, and nasty in a way that appealed greatly to the Philadelphia psyche. The Flyers franchise is still riding on the goodwill generated by the championship teams of '74 and '75. A similar level of enthusiasm never took root in Washington, for example.

I don't know enough about the days of the original six and Hall of Famers being discovered on the frozen ponds of the syrup country of eastern Ontario to lament this period with proper feeling, so I am going to default again to the period of 1970-1980 as my favorite in the annals of a sport. I love the configuration of the league at this time. By the end of this period you had a 21 team league in which 16 teams made the playoffs. All the teams except the L.A. Kings and arguably St Louis and Washington were in Canada or plausible hockey cities in the northern U.S. Best of all, for the playoffs there was no rigid adherence to division or conference alignments. Teams were seeded 1-16, which allowed for such Stanley Cup finals as Montreal-Philadelphia, Montreal-Boston, Montreal-New York Rangers, and New York Islanders-Philadelphia, which could never happen now. Also the good teams and serious fans were in the same places for the most part, without which you can't have a great era.

I'm not really a big hockey person at all, but...there is a lunch counter-type restaurant in Montreal that I have gone to a couple of times when I've been there, the walls of which are a shrine to the many great Montreal Canadiens teams of the 1950s-1970s. Montreal is often celebrated as a cosmopolitan city, lots of bilingualism, beautiful women, cool students, fine dining, bars open till 4am, European attitudes, etc, but it is also one of the great provincial cities in all North America when you stumble into such places, bars, restaurants, shops, etc, as will take you back 30 or 40 years to a mindset that is vaguely familiar from reading or films or other remote experience but that you have not been conscious of for some time. Anyway this poutine-serving lunch counter with all the pictures of lost hockey players evokes this kind of feeling. I also have to wonder if the increasing presence of European players from a variety of nations has not had additional effects on the cohesiveness of teams and the connection the fans can feel with players, in addition to the greater money, earlier estrangement from a common culture, etc, for NHL teams are really heavily European in make-up now, and their devotion to the Canadian hockey mythology is, one senses, not a very significant part of their psyches.

The main problem with College Football for anyone in the northeast in the last 50 years is that all the major teams are in faraway states, of many of which we know nothing (Oklahoma? Alabama? Boise State?) and others of which (Texas, California) are psychologically analagous to Russia or Japan. I tend to think of the 20s, 40s and, surprisingly, most of the 60s, as fun periods for college football. The 1910s look pretty raucous too, judging by the drinking-oriented and other high-spirited songs that sprung up during that era around the football scene, but I have little sense of the drama of the actual game itself as it existed in that time. One thing these eras have in common is that they were periods when middle class people, both adults and students, were not as cynical in general about colleges as they are at many intervals of our history, including, I think, today. There seems to me to have been more enthusiasm and optimism, in much of the popular media of the day anyway, that happenings of great moment, both intellectually and in the drama of life (I am thinking of Animal House here), could be expected to occur on college campuses. This general enthusiasm combined with the natural high spirits of youth probably had a spillover effect on the atmosphere surrounding football. I don't think it was so much that people actually cared more about football than they do now--probably they didn't in fact--but their relationship to and involvement in its rituals was different. Again, the football was more rooted, more connected with the idea of the university, its particular social life, its dining halls even--people are drawn to that kind of thing--rather than ESPN and the corporate world. Football players as a whole were no more scholars than they are now--the Gipper himself, it is well known, never went to a single class his last season and spent his afternoons in the pool halls of South Bend, or more likely, Chicago--though in the WWII and postwar era especially, there did seem to exist a sense on the part of the colleges that they had some responsibility to educate athletes.

I touched some on what I think are the woes of college sports in this up-and-down post of a few years back.

The omphalos of College Basketball is without any doubt the Palestra in Philadelphia, Saturday afternoon, Big 5 doubleheader circa 1965, the streamers flying on the court, half the people in the gym know each other one way or another, either from the neighborhood, or the parish, or high school. Well, that's all over now. The Big East however had a good thing going on back around 1983-87 or so. There used to be games on ESPN every Monday (there still are, actually) and Wednesday nights, and I followed the league quite closely. At that time the league was very Catholic (Pitt was mediocre and Connecticut was one of the worst teams in it). You had St John's with Mullin and Carnessecca and the whole New York vibe, Georgetown in its heyday, Villanova was good, Providence had Rick Pitino when he was still an up and coming guy. If Georgetown wasn't visiting most of the teams still played home games in their ratty little on-campus gyms--St John's was like a high school gym, there were no seats behind the baselines, just a wall at either end of the court. The schools were not displaying huge amounts of wealth and outlay on their b-ball programs--the recruiting was heavily local too in that era--yet they would get into the tournament and regularly drub their larger and more lavishly funded opponents (I'm talking to you, Kentucky). Naturally that couldn't last. Three important league teams played big time football, and they threatened to leave the conference. They are appeased by bringing in (freaking) Miami, which, even though they aren't any good at basketball, completely changes the whole personality of the league. Rutgers and West Virginia I'm OK with. Where else are they going to go? And besides, I kind of like West Virginia--I used to go to summer basketball camp there for one thing because one of my high school coaches had played there, and it's actually a nice place--and also they get no respect from the big forces in either football or basketball yet consistently field top 25 or higher teams. But then you have all those midwestern teams, not to mention an absurdly gargantuan league. It's a joke. Marquette? DePaul? Yes, they're Catholic, but can't they start their own geographically appropriate league? South Florida, same league as Syracuse and Seton Hall? And I like Notre Dame, but they don't belong in the Big East either.

I apologize for the various incoherent paragraphs here, especially at the end. I am very tired, and I want to be done with this post.

Sunday, February 08, 2009

Dorian Gray--Part 3

In Chapter 14 there is a little rapture about Venice, with a nod to Oxford thrown in at the end of it, that I take to be an homage to Ruskin. Really, Wilde, for such a supposed iconoclast and fastidious upholder of artistic standards, seems to have held an unusually large number of his contemporaries, and their work, in high esteem. Gray, the morning after murdering Hallward, is turning over the pages of a volume of Gautier's poems--Wilde gushes about the beauty, exquisiteness, etc, of these too--when he comes to one about Venice. "Devant une facade rose/Sur le marbre d'un escalier." "The whole of Venice (he thought) was in those two lines." Of course it isn't--not for an aesthetic ingenu anyway--though perhaps the goal of education and experience is to be able to comprehend a great deal of meaning in such clear and concise terms. But the point of the book I think is either that it is not, or that Gray/Wilde has not absorbed the totality of the intellectual environment is which he moves to make such distinctions in a meaningful way. "...Venice, like Oxford, had kept the background for romance, and, to the true romantic, background was everything, or almost everything." Literature would not exist without sentences like this--I do believe that, too--but again the foreground must be somehow commensurate with the background, for the background to have any meaning. The novel Dorian Gray itself, for all its abundant charms and the cleverness of its conceit, is lacking the high purpose and understanding that a work of art must possess to be a world masterpiece; it is not good that way, and its author I believe is aware of this at a pretty conscious level; it is one of those books of which it will always be said 'it is one of the finest things of its kind'.

Oh yes, regarding the trip to Venice: "Basil had been with him part of the time, and had gone wild over Tintoret." If the world gains nothing else from this blog, I hope that somebody might be reminded that if he should ever go to Venice, he needs to see the Tintorettos. This has become in the space of a year a pleasure I was not aware of having missed to the 11th or 12th greatest regret of my life; and that rank may rise yet if I keep being reminded of it.

Chapter 15: "It was a small party, got up rather in a hurry by Lady Narborough, who was a very clever woman, with what Lord Henry used to describe as the remains of really remarkable ugliness."

Same party: "...Lady Alice Chapman, his hostess's daughter, a dowdy dull girl, with one of those characteristic British faces, that, once seen, are never remembered..." Something tells me I probably would have thought this girl was hot in some indefinable way and been agitated all through dinner. Something of the sort happened to me once. I was seated across the table at some dinner from a girl with a singularly homely face--it was as if during the formation of her features they had not set at the proper time, though whether too early or too late I could not make out--and who was quite boring to boot, eating salad and vegetables only, along with water, and talking of nothing the whole time but how she got up at five every morning and went on a four-mile run (to her credit, she did appear to be of well-above average fitness); alas, I found myself distracted for much of the meal, wondering if she did not have any interest in me as a lover, etc. (Chapter 17) This one is kind of famous, but it is good: "The man who could call a spade a spade should be compelled to use one. It is the only thing he is fit for."

Chapter 18: "Success was given to the strong, failure thrust upon the weak. That is all." This is essentially the theme of this whole blog, so in theory it should shut itself down now, having long established what side of the muscular equation it lies on, but as we all know the weak only cease to talk under direct compulsion or intimidation; then you won't hear a peep from them, they do as they are ordered, but given enough leeway to pretend to substance, they will indulge in it every chance they get. This of course is the great curse of the internet.

Some of the Background for Romance, Oxford.

"It would not look well to go on." Lord Henry regretfully calling off the day's hunt after one member of the party has accidentally shot and killed a beater. Lord Henry is one of those amoral and contemptuous characters who is at the same time clever and highly amusing, his social skills a template for anyone who aspires to be cool, knowing, and in demand, and never is. He is at the same time undeniably wicked, but this does not seem to bother anyone of importance and influence, perhaps the occasional eccentric genius or virtuous millionaire can look coldly upon him with some sting, but for the normal person it is hard to know how to take him. As your disapproval of his behavior is meaningless, and as his social qualities are so desirable to you, you of course must train yourself not to covet them, which is supposed to be one of the aims of a proper humanistic education, anyway; which is why the widespread denunciation of the liberal arts as outdated and useless that is afoot in the republic is a disturbing trend for its moral and psychological health.

Chapter 19: "It is an odd thing, but everyone who disappears is said to be seen at San Francisco. It must be a delightful city, and possess all the attractions of the next world." I don't know where this came from, but I find the coincidence (I wanted to say karma, but the dictionary indicates that that implies a transmigration of souls, which I don't think applies here) interesting, since I was just mentioning San Francisco, a place to which I have never been and rarely think about, in another recent post (about the Caine Mutiny).

Here is how it would have looked in Oscar Wilde's day. One is tempted to say he'd be more at home there now, but the Victorians may have had more of a appetite for the rough and tumble of life than we give them credit for. Compared to similarly privileged and sexually-inclined characters in later books like Brideshead Revisited, the fops in Dorian Gray are like Greek warriors in the manly energy of their artistic and social pursuits. (Note that we have a hint of 'heavy industry' in the picture).

"...I always contradict the aged. I do it on principle. If you ask them their opinion on something that happened yesterday, they solemnly give you the opinions current in 1820, when people wore high stocks, believed in everything, and knew absolutely nothing." Absurd, but it still amuses in many instances.

I confessed at the end that I didn't know how to take this book morally. Our age, with the exception of a few extreme, mainly sexual, vices, has strayed so far from presenting any very comprehensive moral code by which the individual might be expected to govern himself that Gray by comparison, though his code is more of an anti-code against moral (but fastidious in its observation of social) propriety, comes across as a man of principle. People's political affiliations, and the dogmas attached to these, I suppose provide the equivalent of moral codes, but a political movement cannot properly appeal to any idea of universal absolute right without making a mockery of itself. It is pretty clear that Dorian Gray is seen as having transgressed against essentially immutable and universal laws, and that that is why he, morally, and his picture, become grotesque. Yet am I not long gone down the same path myself, by any reasonable estimate, if not with the same excess and abandon? Or was Gray's immersion in vice far worse because he was given such an exquisite intelligence and beauty, genuine talents? You see I have no idea how to move about in such a room.

Chapter 20: "There was purification in punishment. Not 'Forgive us our sins', but 'Smite us for our iniquities' should be the prayer of a man to a most just God." I think many highly intelligent people must instinctively feel this. It requires real religious genius to be both intellectually able and honestly come to embrace the prospect that you, or your soul, will be entering into some variety of no-strings-attached eternal bliss in which you will know constant ecstasy being anything imaginable on earth.

From the Pre-Blog Archives: I was curious to go back and see what I had written when I read The Importance of Being Earnest a few years back. It was not one of my better analyses. From July 11, 2004:

"(Wilde) is perhaps the most optimistic and reassuring of all authors really, one never suspects there is anything to be troubled about in the world, that good humor and amusement suffice. It begs the question (sorry--pretentiousness alarm going wild) of his 'importance' which seems to be that of the shining light or comet. I had not realized how much his method relies on irony. That, and an especial delight for the (painlessly) outrageous declaration and his unique personality. Almost more a great literary character than author."

Wednesday, February 04, 2009

Winter Pictures I

I haven't resorted to the pictures option for a while. Given my dismal rate of posting recently, I feel that inner urgency to slap something up here. February is always a slow month. Last year I think I got 3 posts up the whole month, and that was in a leap year. The combination of the missing days, the cold office, and the of late annual trip to Florida makes for not much writing.

I am not, by the way, the first to break out the cold weather excuse to try to justify failure. You will remember that before he was able to finish Paradise Lost, Milton lamented for many years that the damp and unsunny climate of England appeared to be unsuitable for epic poetry and such other glorious achievements as the Mediterrenean world had produced.Christmas was great, but Ted Williams did not survive the holidays intact. Not only did he lose his head, but most of his bat is gone too. You can see the little hands on the left still cannot leave the man be even long enough to snap the picture. Of course in real life Ted Williams's head was removed from the rest of his corpse and is currently in a deep freeze in some cyborgenic facility anticipating reincarnation (not his idea, by the way), so the situation pictured here has that much more poignancy.

It was actually only -4 the morning I took this picture, but I thought the light had a somewhat Siberian appearance about it. Aided greatly by the total absence of any economic or cultural vibrancy in the neighborhood, no doubt.

We are trying to take up skating and other winter activities. You can never have too many physical skills or become enough accustomed to all variety of weather and temperature. People love vigor, especially in the young. I certainly do not espouse the kind of sports fanaticism that we see some parents adopting, but I would like to cultivate something of a Byronic attitude towards both mental and physical experience, which is also controversial because Byron and his followers tended to die young, and we seem to prefer that people have no personality at all and live to be 80 than that they live like men and possibly die in the prime of life. But I was just recently reading about when Byron was 22 and travelling in Turkey, and he and a friend came to the point on the shore of the Dardenelles where it was traditionally held that Leander had swum the 4 miles across the straits every night to lie with Hero, and Byron's immediate instinct was that he and his friend ought to swim the passage as Leander did. Granted, he caught the ague on this adventure and nearly died, but, I thought at once, this is exactly the kind of response a 22-year old man of a properly developed spirit and an acceptable amount of humanistic education ought to have when presented with such a situation. And it was not one that I would have had, to undertake a physical feat from Greek mythology. It would never have occurred to me.

I prefer to go light on the overly heart-tugging stuff, but we need to get the baby in here. Back to the ice rink crowd, the hardcore hockey and skating people are a pretty intense subculture in these northern towns that I had not fully appreciated because I had not done any of those things until now. And there really are a lot of girls with that upswept and pulled back hanging-out-at-the-hockey-rink Sarah Palin hairstyle. They look pretty good though.

Preserve America. Welcome to Brattleboro. I guess Preserve America is one of those organizations like the Main Street Communities group that sponsors old cities and tries to keep them from bulldozing their historic old centers. If you were familiar with Brattleboro, you would probably find the rather fusty Preserve America message to be ironic. Brattleboro is one of those towns where the city council passed a ordinance that Bush and Cheney, should they ever happen to pass through town, are to be arrested for crimes against humanity. The community theater's hot play this autumn was about Karl Marx, and the singer Paul from the group Peter, Paul and Mary was due to come to town recently for, as the posters said, an evening of music, politics and humor (I'm a lefty sympathizer, but the prospect of having to endure this sent a chill even into my bones). The local progressive book store has stacks of "Fascism Sucks" and Che Guevara t-shirts beside the cash register. No, I'm not making that up. I'll have to take a picture next time I'm there, though I suspect the progressive people who work and hang out there won't like it. I still like hanging out there, and I still kind of like them, even though I think they go somewhat overboard with the militant posturing, but I don't think they get that.