Saturday, May 30, 2009
You have probably noticed by now that I have a fondness for these little video compilations from favorite black and white movies of mine set to music. This song is really pretty silly I know, but, it isn't a bad idea for a novelty tune. I like the images from the movie. They are supposed to be depressing, I know, but your own mind has to be pretty beautiful and exquisite to really feel even a decent Shakespeare interpretation oppressive.
Friday, May 29, 2009
I am not the kind of guy who goes around looking for conspiracies. Indeed, today's subject is more the result of my taking everything I read in the papers or hear from official new outlets too seriously.
A couple of years ago I read, or thought I read, a news item in my local paper about a guy who lived about 1/4 to a half a mile down the road from me who had ordered a guillotine kit on the internet, assembled it and used it on himself; when someone noticed that he had not been seen in a few months the police, the account said, were dispatched to the house, found the guillotine, the head on the floor, etc, etc. Naturally I thought the story was shocking, but I remembered that there was a house in the neighborhood where all the shades had been pulled down and the lawn overgrown for some time, and I was certain I had read it in the paper I thought, well, why not? When I began repeating the story to other people however no one had seen this item, or anything like it. My wife, who really should be a detective or something, so impossible is it to sneak any B.S. past her whatsoever, immediately dismissed it by pointing out that "You can't order a guillotine over the internet". But I say, would I--could I--make this story up? I swear I read it in the paper. Another instance that happened just a couple of months ago was that one day around noon I was listening to the radio, and the CNN hourly report or one of those things came on the station I had on, and the lead story was that North Korea had massed its army along the border with the South, that the latter nation was on full war alert, and that some military conflict was considered imminent. This being alarming news, I assumed that the story would be followed up immediately and throughout the day. Nothing followed. I went to the internet. Nothing. Nothing at all. What was this story I heard? Does CNN already have recordings of potential lead news stories on file and someone just popped in the wrong tape? If so, or if you reported a false story, why not acknowledge the error and provide a retraction? To definitely hear something like that and then have it disappear from the information pipeline without any acknowledgement that it ever happened is not reassuring to me.
I guess my credibility as a listener and reader is already suspect, so I shouldn't even bother with the 3rd and most obvious instance of disappearing news stories (obvious because for once I am not the only person who noticed it) that I am thinking of, but it involves the plane on September 11, 2001 that crashed in Pennsylvania that it is said a bunch of passengers said "Let's roll" and took it over in a struggle with the terrorists before crashing. This scenario never rang true to me for a number of reasons, and I was really kind of astounded by how far pretty much everyone seemed to go along with it, but I remember the day it happened several local witnesses saying on television that they had seen a second plane or some other large object in proximity with the plane that crashed before it went down. Again, when the other version of what happened came out, there was no attempt to address or explain what these earlier recordings of witnesses thought they saw; they were just expunged from any archive as if they had never happened, and I'm sure it was denied that they had ever happened. But I am quite certain that they did happen.
Wednesday, May 27, 2009
(V. ii, 1428-1432) NUNTIUS (a messenger, exhorting the chorus to procure some asps for Cleopatra):
"And looke so long as Cleopatra shall
In after ages live in memory,
So long shall thy cleere fame endure withall,
And therefore though must not my sute denie
Nor contradict my will..."
The loyalty of servants onto death is a common theme in this play.
Hey! Some university in Australia has put out a selection of Samuel Daniel's poems.
(V. ii 1520-5) NUNTIUS (on the asp):
"Well did our Priests discerne something divine
Shadow'd in thee, and therefore first they did
Offrings and worships due to thee assigne,
In whom they found such mysteries were hid,
Comparing thy swift motion to the Sunne,
That mov'st without the instruments that move..."
I think this is quite good poetry. So unburdened and unstrained in its effect! The idea of the world it depicts is at such a great remove from the ordinary scenes and conceptions of my life that I must be scarcely receptive to it most of the time. However modest its power, there is a becalming, organic wholeness in the order it creates from its language that I have never been able to form out of the materials which have informed my own existence.
Another obvious point about this play not being intended to be performed is that there is not actually any, or at least not very much, action in it. The characters mostly just recite long speeches in verse.
Acting is another of those skills/experiences that as I get older I regret not having tried at some point in my development. I never thought much of it as, unless you move in (and are accepted as one of) a circle of fairly serious artistic people, it is not seen as having much value for young people as a pursuit, indeed if anything it is seen as frivolous. This tradition of course goes back a long way--in Mansfield Park for example the young people attempt to amuse themselves by staging a play only to have the master of the house come home unexpectedly and forbid the thing in horror. Now I am kind of fascinated by its possibilities and think it must have beneficial effects on one's social interactions and personality if nothing else. I look at some of the clips, especially of these old stage actors like Olivier on Youtube, here he is Hamlet, here Henry V, now Richard III, now he puts on the blackface and he is Othello, now he is Archie Rice--there must be a kind of refreshment in continually becoming someone else, someone usually greater than oneself but whose embodied greatness also depends in the instant upon your skill in infusing it with corporeal vigor.
Memorial to Samuel Daniel in the church at Beckington, Somersetshire. He is buried in the churchyard. I have not been to this place, though it is the kind of place I would go. I stole the picture off the internet.
The play closes with the chorus chanting a long bit about the Nile and death and the sun and the moon and the desert and the natural and eternal elements of the universe. I like this naturalism. It is highly satisfying to us to put and see put our language to such good use. It may not be why we invented it, but it is a craving that its existence has elicited in some of us. Here is some of the bit about the Nile, whose source was famously unknown throughout most of literary history (V. ii, 1702-11):
"And turn thy courses so,
That sandy Desarts dead,
(The world of dust that craves
to swallow thee up all)
May drinke so much as shall
Revive from vastie graves
A living greene which spred
Far florishing, may gro
On that wide face of Death,
Where nothing now drawes breath."
Eventually I am going to have to admit that my writing and insights are not as good as other people's are because they are just better and more intelligent than I am, but I am as yet still clinging to the hope that the circumstances of my life at the moment are handicapping me in such a way that someday when I am freed from them will bring me back to some parity with other people. My daily time for reading or writing or watching movies or whatever comes in extremely small increments, often late at night when I am really too tired to concentrate you know. Going to the bathroom is a opportunity to maybe read 7 pages or so of something (a goal nonethelessly frequently interrupted before it is accomplished. Here is another time where I can possibly watch 43 minutes of a movie. Oh, bother, there are no excuses. There are no excuses. There are no excuses. We are exactly what we are and if we really were what we want people to think of us as we would be those things too.
If you do a search for Cecil Seronsy, who wrote a book about Daniel that I checked out of the library and referred to in an earlier post, this blog is the #8 item--perhaps it will be higher after this post. Here is the #1 item; the contents of five boxes containing the academic and personal effects of the man's life. I like the photograph. This country was once full of people who were carrying that same basic style, for better or for worse. They're all pretty much gone now. The Daniel book was the only one Seronsy finished, at age 59. The flap on the back of it states that the professor is at present engaged in preparing a book on Shakespeare, but evidently this was never completed. He wrote his PhD thesis on Daniel also. Maybe scholars do look over this guy's class notes from 1962 or his masters-degree course papers from the 1930s. It isn't really sad in itself any more than life is sad. I think it is nice that all this stuff was preserved. I bet they threw him a swell party in '73 when he retired, with lots of drinking and smoking and literary references, who knows, maybe a few pretty English major girls in bell bottoms were there too. Who could ask for anything more?
Tuesday, May 26, 2009
Supposedly Great Movies I Can't Find a Copy of:
#2 The Magic Box (Britain-1951)
This film, which I have never seen a poor review of, or any negative criticism at all apart from a few complaints about his hagiographic treatment of its subject, is still widely regarded as a classic in Britain, where it continues to show up on many top-50 type lists of British film. This popularity appears to have never translated to America, where the movie remains in contrast largely unknown. It is a biography of William Friese-Greene, an Englishman who has a strong claim, enthusiastically promoted in this film, to being the inventor of the movie camera. It has a unique origin, being the British Film Industry's official contribution to the 1951 Festival of Britain, which seems to have been an earnest attempt in the old English style in the days before they had legions of aging rock stars to call on to inject some fun and optimism into the grim austerity period and demonstrate how the nation was recovering from the tough conditions which the war and its aftermath had imposed upon it. The movie was made in Technicolor--I cannot think of any other British film shot in color before 1965, unless those David Lean epics (The Bridge on the River Kwai, Lawrence of Arabia, et al) count as British films--and featured appearances by many of the top stars of the time, such as Laurence Olivier and Peter Ustinov. The lead was played by Robert Donat, a legendary British actor probably most well-known in the U.S. for playing the title character in the heart-tugging 1939 classic Goodbye, Mr Chips, which is a movie, by the way, that I love and endorse wholeheartedly.
The clip above is the only one from the movie I can find on Youtube, posted by someone in Germany who is actually a fan of the singer making a cameo in this scene, Oda Slobodskaya, a Russian soprano (1888-1970) of whom I know nothing, and of whom most of the consensus I can find on the internet--which isn't much--is that she was underappreciated. Even from this little bit, the films appears beautifully and meticulously made. I would like to see it.
This movie does appear to have been released on VHS at some point, but there are no copies of it for sale at Amazon or other sites I have looked at, new or used. There is a new DVD out in Britain (box pictured below) but all the places selling them warn that "British DVDs may not work in American systems" or something to that effect, which I did not know, but anyway there is no point in my sending away for something that might not work. I am assuming it will become available in a format I can watch comfortably within a few years, so I can wait for it.
What Not Being Able to See This Movie Means in My Life. Well, it sounds like this is something that is expertly made, optimistic, celebratory, patriotic and communal in spirit, well-written, tells a story that has an important bearing on our lives, etc, etc, so I think it is pretty ironic that it is never shown and is generally hard to see, as if those qualities were too dangerous for people to be exposed to or something. Of course it is intended to be inclusive and crowd-pleasing, was directed by an establishment institution operating at a time of heavy-handed government intervention in private life, all the while passing itself off as something serious and intelligent, i.e. good for you, and probably freethinkers and other aware people are attuned to this and find it distasteful. But I am sure it is miles better than the ordinary run of media the unsuspecting and earnest bourgeois are exposed to.I am in the process of seeking ways to improve the substance and novelty of this page (within reason) without resorting to examining the more hysterical hidden workings and impulses of my mind. Eventually I will have to address the questions "Why am I doing this? What do I hope to get at?" and suchlike because I imagine everybody and nobody to be my audience at the same time, and to an individual writer both of these audiences kind of impose the same requirements for continuing.
Saturday, May 23, 2009
I noted that the incident with Cleopatra's hoarding of the jewels and Seleucus's revelation of this to Caesar was imitated in Shakespeare, but the scholarly materials note that the episode was taken straight out of Plutarch, which I had not remembered.
(III. ii, 781-7) Some good lines by the chorus:
"But is it Justice that all wee
The innocent poore multitude,
For great men's faults should punisht be,
And to destruction thus pursude?
O why should th'heavens us include,
Within the compasse of their fall,
Who of themselves procured all?"
The murder of Caesarion, Cleopatra's teenage son by Julius Caesar, by his nominal cousin Augustus, or his men, is often left out of these Cleopatra dramatizations, but it is included here, where it is claimed that the servants betrayed him.
I note again here that Daniel's (or 'this guy's, as I was still calling him) lines are pretty darn good. Self-contained, easy familiarity with and mastery over the language and so on. He was a real natural.
The speech of Caesarion related by Rodon (his tudor) in Act IV attempting to console Cleopatra, as well, doubtless, as himself, on the loss of their kingdom with a reasoned argument about the insignificance of human troubles and the indifference of both Gods and fates to all anxieties, I actually found affecting(. ll.1040-1):
The justice of the heavens revenging thus,
Doth onely satisfie it selfe, not us..."
Though the dialogue in this play consists primarily of characters alternating long speeches, it is still much shorter than anything Shakespeare has. I am listing this as a virtue, but apparently it interested me at the time.
(IV 1142-5) Though she is nearing her own end, Cleopatra has not softened her position regarding base men:
"Words are for them that can complaine and live,
Whose melting hearts composd of baser frame,
Can to their sorrowes, time and leasure give,
But Cleopatra may not do the same..."
Thursday, May 21, 2009
I shouldn't be trying to post so much. I ought to do one essay/post a month, and revise it and work on it until it is actually good. then I'll have a real website.
It isn't Paris, but we did duck into the State House one rainy afternoon to look around, drop by the governor's office and visit the cafeteria in the basement. Unfortunately because of the rain I forgot to take any pictures outside, where there are several items of interest I wanted to write on, but we go there quite frequently as it is right in the middle of Main Street, and perhaps I can save these for some future post.
Militarism is Unabashedly Celebrated at the New Hampshire State House. No Diego Rivera workers' murals here. My son naturally loves this painting. Overlooking the State Legislature Room. Obviously we dropped in on a non-session day. No heated debates on the merits of gay marriage while we're there I guess.
Wednesday, May 20, 2009
As it has been a while since I issued any general pronouncements on the state of society, economics, and so forth, I thought I should do something along those lines. But I can't seem to get my thoughts organized on this subject. Indeed, I have already been sucked into wasting two hours already. So rather than trying to craft a comprehensive yet still succinct overview of the contemporary situation, I will simply throw out a bunch of vaguely felt and unconnected ideas. Good?
I am curious about the future. I want to see what happens. Maybe this is a mistake. Obviously I do not anticipate most of the worst case scenarios, such as hunger, squalid third world type housing conditions, active political persecutions, etc, coming to pass, and if they do, most people generally try to live through them anyway, so it appears that hope perseveres even in the most inauspicious circumstances.
I do think fears of an extreme decline in the material standard of living are probably overblown. A certain amount of downscaling seems more likely, but it should not be a tremendous hardship to anyone who has a reasonable amount of personal human capital to draw on. Obviously the widespread fear is that most people--especially other people--do not have this. The markets, government policy and so on, it seems to me, will have to adjust to an increasingly aging population without much money. I know this does not suit some people's ideology or vision of the good life. It does not suit mine either, but that is the reality that faces us.
I cannot seriously believe that genuinely very smart and intellectually curious people who are not rich will be completely denied access to the world of education, learning and culture, as some are predicting. I agree that the current systems of mass formal education, both primary school and college, are probably not sustainable, and that on the surface it will appear that lots of intellectually qualified people will be shut out from opportunity, but in reality the standards for attaining diplomas and degrees in most places are currently so low that I can't see even a fairly strict tightening of access affecting the sort of people who show obvious promise and interest in academics, who are actually the people who write and are most worried about it.
Likewise while the era of cheap and easy air travel might be coming to an end, the idea that people will be trapped in their hometowns are their lives against their wills is exaggerated. There will be less mass tourism if this happens, which would be a positive development in my mind, and I have written elsewhere on this blog that flying into Istanbul for the weekend and being back at the office in New York Monday morning strikes me as rather tawdry. Much real travel (among the non-waelthy anyway) will be slower and require more time and perhaps a little more hardship, which would be a positive development overall. What is being lost is convenience and the ability to go abroad without disrupting substantially your job, your mortgage, your insurance payments and such like, which have nothing to do with travel, meaningful international understanding, or any of the rest of it. And yes, I do all this too, and I will probably be the type of person most limited in his mobility by these anticipated changes; but that is only a further advertisement for its desirability, is it not?
I think my inability to perceive things with fully adult accuracy, while a grave social and professional handicap, is probably my only defense against extreme pessimism and despair. I am able very easily to pretend and convince myself of all sorts of lies, and to be largely oblivious to enormous truths and facts about my life. Therefore nothing I say can really be trusted as having any meaning outside my imagined perception of the world.
I of course have no great issue with a European-style health care arrangement, though I agree that it is no great promoter of a nation's manhood, which is the best argument I have heard against it. However the ship for having a society centered upon clans of truly self-reliant and manly individuals and their dependents sailed a long time ago. More and more people as the years go can't pay the bills themselves and don't have anyone else willing to pay for them, so it is inevitable that this will have to be addressed, though even I have a nagging sense that a truly great nation does not expose itself to bankruptcy providing healthcare. I am confessedly not wealthy so unless the dreaded income tax increases are really huge I stand to be at less expense under socialism than under the current system of premiums and deductibles; however I must try not to let my personal convenience cloud my judgement regarding what some commentators on both sides of the argument believe to be a decision which will alter the fabric of the nation forever. As far as the health risk arguments go, these could take up a whole essay but in brief--the rhetoric doesn't frighten me much. People in continental Europe are clearly as healthy as Americans, and they even are treated for and recover from serious illnesses. I know the great case is made that our research hospitals and drug companies develop these new procedures and medicines that are exported and keep the death tolls artificially low in these socialist system, but this is missing the point. America does not have a crisis at its (very small) top end in most of the national life; it has enormous crises in its (rapidly expanding) bottom and lower middle segments which it is going to be impossible for the government to forestall addressing vigorously much longer.
But why do I even bother with all this when I'd much rather write yet another essay on The Third Man? I am infatuated with The Third Man currently. It will pass on in another week or so but right now it is my portal to escapism, even though people get killed and stuff and a large percentage takes place in a sewer. I realize that it brings three of my pet obsessions together in one place however: the fading grandeur of the Austrian Empire, the British literary tradition and the confident, ascendent America of the 1940s claiming its central position in the civilization of the West, or what remained of it, if you can't accept that Western civilization survived 1945, or even 1914.
Here are the opening credits and the first couple minutes of the movie, which are much better than watching the trailer.
Here is a little compilation of stills from the film and pictures of the stars, including Alidi Valli, of whom it can be said that the circumstance that one American in the movie was her lover and another less brilliant and worldly one perceived himself as able to associate with her as perhaps even more than friends tells more about middle-American confidence in the late 40s than a thousand social histories. There is also more great zither music.
The Third Man is one of Roger Ebert's two favorite movies (the other is Citizen Kane, which features several of the same stars). He elaborates on his enthusiasm here, though there isn't any tremendous insight in the review. Seeing it for the first time in Paris on a rainy afternoon probably did not hurt his positive associations with the film.
No cinematic giant has a stranger or more grotesque collection of footage on Youtube than Orson Welles; wine commercials, hosting Nostradamus documentaries, appearances on Laugh-In and afternoon talk shows in the 70s and 80s, drunken outtakes. Unlike a lot of people who always have to prove they're the smartest guy in the room, Orson Welles actually almost always is the smartest guy in the room, and usually by such a large degree that the older he got it is like he couldn't even be bothered to care anymore. Some of the interviews from the 60s where he is still interested, if slightly impatient, in trying to talk to people, are good watches.
I did see another good old movie lately, the 1952 international, though primarily French, production, Wages of Fear, which is about tough men trying to drive trucks of explosive nitroglycerine across 300 miles of Venezuelan mountain and brush for an American oil company. Long and slow-developing, but oddly compelling. The ethos is ur-existential. My would-be friend the Criterion blogger wrote another of his extensive and very insightful reviews of the film here (#36).
Tuesday, May 19, 2009
My first note is unintelligible now so I hope it wasn't good.
The structure of this work, which it seems was never intended to be performed as a drama, is that the different characters alternate long soliloquies, often alone, with the commentary of a chorus wrapping up each act. One interesting choice in light of the many interpretations of the story that followed is that the action begins when Antony is already dead and Cleopatra's cause already lost. This means there is a great emphasis in the play on her acknowledging and confessing the faults that led to her downfall.
Some sample lines (Act I, 105-112):
"Luxuriousnesse in me should raise the rate
Of loose and ill-dispensed libertie.
If it be so, then what neede these delaies?
Since I was made the meanes of miserie:
Why should I strive but to make death my praise,
That had my life but for my infamie?
And let me write in letters of my bloud
A fit memoriall for the times to come..."
As we can see, early in the play Cleopatra is still aiming low. The poetry is certainly more than passable, it strikes me. Besides the technical proficiency of the meter and word choices there is a very nice expression of character embedded in these eight lines, as the speaker starts on the subject of her own extravagance, in the middle seems to seek to adopt a more moderate plan of action, and then swings back to extravagance at the end.
(I, 163-4) Cleopatra's lust played up:
"My vagabond desires no limites found,
For lust is endlesse, pleasure hath no bound."
The implication in this play is that Cleopatra did not really *love* Antony, certainly not in the ideal sort of way in which love is defined in pastorals and other "romances". Much is made of the heroine's age as well, as if she were one of the "cougars" so infamous in our own time, preying on a hapless victim, though in reality he was around 14 years older than she was and she was around 28 when they first became involved with each other. (II, 262-8) (Octavius) CAESAR:
"Free is the heart, the temple of the minde,
The Sanctuarie sacred from above,
Where nature keeps the keies that loose and bind.
No mortall hand force open can that doore,
So close shut up, and lockt to all mankind:
I see mens bodies onely ours, no more,
The rest, anothers right, that rules the minde."
I thought the temple image was well-expressed, and shed some clarity to me as well on the psychological importance of sacred places to men.
(II, 331-4) PROCULEIUS (a messenger quoting Cleopatra to Caesar, regarding the latter's all-conquering instrusiveness):
"What, must he stretch foorth his ambitious hand
Into the right of Death, and force us heere?
Hath Miserie no covert where to stand
Free from the storme of Pride, is't safe no where?"
Caesar credits her refusal to surrender her person to him, a point of emphasis in all the older versions of the story, to the influence of her noble blood, and after admonishing his lackey not to try to fathom the hearts of princes, explains (II, 390-4):
"Princes (like Lions) never will be tam'd.
A private man may yeelde and care not how,
But greater hearts will breake before they bow.
And sure I thinke sh'will never condiscend,
To live to grace our spoiles with her disgrace..."
Act III features a dialogue between two philosophers, Philostratus and Arius, remarking on the various human frailties that have brought the situation depicted in the play to such a dire pass. Philostratus finds the failure to face the reality of death and the overvaluing of life and its illusionary pleasures to be at the heart of the matter, and he is certainly not alone among commentators on the life of Cleopatra. He does get off one of my favorite Britishisms though in line 485, "And yet what blasts of words hath Learning found/To blowe against the fear of death and dying." I love that expression, "blasts of words". He goes on to add, in lines 499-500, perhaps obviously but disapprovingly nonetheless, "Who doth not toile and labour to adjourne/The day of death, by any meanes he can?"
(III 514, 519-20) Arius takes over:
"What feeble footing pride and greatnesse hath...
How nothing with our eie but horror meetes,
Our state, our wealth, our pride and all confounded."
The syntax here is very reminiscent of Shakespeare.
(III 545-6; 49-54) Some lines on one of my favorite topics, the rise and fall of nations:
"That no state can in height of happinesse,
In th'exaltation of their glory stand...
Thus doth the ever-changing course of things
Runne a perpetuall circle, ever turning:
And that same day that hiest glory brings,
Brings us unto the poynt of back-returning
For sencelesse sensualitie, doth ever
Accompany felicitie and greatnesse."
There is a second scene in the third act where Augustus Caesar and Cleopatra have a face to face confrontation, at which time Caesar refers to Cleopatra's people--whether he means the Greeks or the Egyptians is not made clear--as having long harbored enmity towards the Romans, which they are reaping the reward of now. Well, here is the quote (III. ii 629-30):
"Love? alas no, it was th'innated hatred
That thou and thine hast ever borne our people..."
I had never much considered that such a degree of enmity--and innate enmity at that--existed between these particular peoples; at least in the literature I have read one doesn't get the same feel for it as that between, say, the Romans and the Carthaginians, or the Celts, or the Veians, or between the Sicilian Greeks and the Carthaginians/Phoenicians, everybody and the Persians, etc. I wonder if this emotion is something Daniel gleaned from his deeper studies in these matters, or if he was trying to embellish the always elusive character of Augustus Caesar.
Saturday, May 16, 2009
Unless I am forgetting, or am unaware of, a whole lot of Brits, the disparity is quite striking. The American side has Hemingway, Sylvia Plath, David Foster Wallace, Hunter S Thompson, John K O'Toole (the guy wrote The Confederacy of Dunces), Kurt Cobain, not to mention the various people like Edgar Allen Poe and Jim Morrison who drank themselves to death by the age of 40. Contrariwise the only British suicides I can think of offhand are Virginia Woolf and the singer from Joy Division. A brief internet search--I don't have the time or the fire for a longer right now--for literary suicides turns up three more American writers of some repute: Vachel Lindsay (second to last words: "I took Lysol"), Hart Crane (jumped overboard from a ship sailing from Havana to New York), and Sara Teasdale (pills; also once dated Vachel Lindsay). (--I need to verify these from some of my real books--BS/PW) I must be missing some big names on the British side, but I can't think of whom. Byron is often considered to have grown weary of life and willed his own end after a fashion, but I don't consider exposing oneself carelessly or indifferently to potential hazard to be on the same level as deliberately ingesting castor oil or settling into the bathtub with a carton either of vodka or razor blades, with no intention of ever coming out of it. I am limiting my inquiry to Britain and America because I am not familiar with a large enough sample of suicides from other societies to make a meaningful comparison. My impression is that writers and artists from the strange and (to me) endlessly fascinating lands of the former Austrian Empire had a unusually high number of strangely circumstanced deaths, including some suicides, but I would have to examine the case further. The same with Russia; in both instances the impulse of the artists to do themselves in I would suspect derives from rather different causes than those which drive Americans to the same.
What would explain the difference though between England and America? One thing that strikes an American student of British culture is that British writers and artists seem more naturally to have genuine lifelong friends, belong to literary circles, etc, and maintain them throughout life in a way that Americans don't. The American writer by comparison seems really isolated, far more likely to spend the bulk of his life among people who will know absolutely nothing of how he thinks, what his interests are, what he does. Despite the griping about the culture (and the food and the weather and the attractiveness of the girls) and the iconoclastic/rebel stance that is not uncommon for prominent British artists to make, in reality the traditions and artistic history of the country, until very recently anyway, had a stronger and more effectively consoling presence in the collective life--in the use of the language and routines of national life alone if nothing else--than anything that seems to be accessible to their American counterparts. Enough of it, anyway, to ward off total despair, which is the emotion, I would suspect, that is necessary for people to actually kill themselves. The suicidal American writer, I would posit, is writing to and for an audience whose existence is figuratively much more in doubt; the common traditions and culture are too weak to support an intellectual understanding of any degree of intensity between two people without an uncommon amount of good fortune and personal compatibility to such an extent as is hard to find. This type of mental environment will undoubtedly drive a person to despair.
Whenever someone asks me (in an imaginary conversation--I never have real conversations) why I do not kill myself, for purely philosophical considerations, given the state of my mind, value to society, etc, which would seem to argue in favor of it, my main thought is that as I did not will myself into being, something else--nature, I will say--did, and I must presume that the intention of this will, whatever it be, and for whatever reason, is that I not kill myself, at least until such time as I will have achieved full mastery over human life and can confidently pass an informed judgement as to whether it requires my continued presence in its drama. I have not earned that privilege. There is also my relentless Social Darwinist conditioning that believes that if a person fails to properly develop his mind, personality and usefulness that it is a just part of his punishment to live every day, for years on end, with the consequences of that neglect, which ought to make him unhappy; however, he has not earned the right to despair.
I apologize for the paucity and general weakness of posts lately. I get very tired late at night, but I have no other time to try and write (long beaches[?]) something...zzzzz
Friday, May 15, 2009
My New Favorite Singer
Are you kidding me?
Here is another version of the same song; if anything she is cuter in this one. She also has a great sweater on, as well as the same false eyelashes.
I have to give credit to this blog for leading me to Sylvie Vartan. I found it while doing a silly search to turn up any bloggers who happened to be Harriet Wheeler fans; her appeal it is easy to see has a strong overlap with 60s French ye-ye singers that I suspected vaguely to exist but had not been able to articulate in concrete terms.
Some other current blogs I think deserve some notice: The Criterion Contraption, in which the writer recounts his experience of watching every movie in the Criterion Collection. This guy seems to work in the film industry in some capacity, and his attention to the technical aspects and details of light, positioning and so on at work in these movies is especially interesting. Here is his essay on The Third Man (#64--I think I may have stolen one of his pictures), which I was recently writing about here, though he makes his points much more clearly than I do. I have always been sympathetic to the Joseph Cotten character, the naive, unsubtle, meddling American who is nonetheless not intimidated by the far more glib, worldly and danger-inured old-worlders he encountered--probably because this type of character seems to be increasingly replaced by a type of American equally naive and ignorant, but passive and overawed in human situations to boot. Holly Martins was not sophisticated or knowledgeable about the situation in which he found himself in the film, but he was also not stupid stupid in the sense of not being capable of responding to a situation at all the way that seems for most people to be the default position. His instinct was to involve himself in every way, which always strikes me as unrealistic but which I, who lack any such instinct, always found admirable. Anyway, this blogger makes a good case for why Graham Greene and the filmmakers definitely did not regard the matter in the same way I do, but regarded this American naivete as dangerous in a numbers of ways, and not just political. I am sure that they really did believe that too, and to an extent they were certainly right as far as Europe is concerned. But that naive Americans should stay home--well, isn't the point that they can't, and that the old world has to contend with them? that the matter can't be helped?
I don't know how I found this guy, or why I find him interesting. He's British, exactly my age, fat, underemployed, just off a nasty divorce, and frequently very angry at all manner of things, the British government, the rich, and everyone else in the establishment not least among them. He writes a ton, and he is quite good at it
Monday, May 11, 2009
This is a closet drama in verse. Samuel Daniel (1562-1619) was considered an important poet in his time, which was not a weak one for poetry. He was right in the thick of the literary scene/cultural dialogue, what have you, that included Spenser, Sidney, Ralegh, Marlowe and Shakespeare, and he had the patronage of the queen. There is even a "tradition" that he was named Laureate, which in those days was a sinecure hotly contested among good poets for the income that came with it, upon the death of Spenser in 1599, though his monographer Cecil Seronsy (professor at Bloomsburg [Pa] State College [now University] 1967) says this is "extremely doubtful"; the position went to Ben Jonson instead. His biography makes for a somewhat interesting comparison point with that of Shakespeare, who was his exact contemporary. Of his boyhood, "nothing is known". There was a rumor that his father was a music master, though "no evidence has been found to support" this claim. Once he turns up at Oxford he begins to leave more of the paper trail that Shakespeare did not, mainly through publications of his poetry. It also appears that, like Spenser and other poets, he was received by and moved comfortably among people of rank and wealth, though he does not appear to have had much cash of his own. There is a letter to him from an unknown correspondent from 1582 that makes note of his retiring personality, which is the sort of thing we so desperately want to find about Shakespeare or his puppeteer. It is known that he went to France and Italy for five years and delivered dispatches from the ambassador to Paris at Windsor Castle. Skimming ahead there is an impressive amount of contemporary information available about the progession of his literary career, though his family circumstances and background are never made clear. As noted earlier, he appeared to spend much time as a guest at various wealthy people's estates, which sounds like nice work if you can get it, especially as he does not appear to have been particularly socially entertaining. Daniel had quite a bit of early success before the Shakespeare juggernaut got really rolling so that although he is only two years older than Will he often seems to be categorized as a predecessor to him as much as a contemporary, particularly as his Cleopatra is mostly thought of now as one of the source materials that influenced the later Antony and Cleopatra. Interestingly Daniel made a revision of his play in 1607 after Shakespeare's had appeared which Professor Seronsy speculates was "possibly under the influence" of the later and superior version.
This Cleopatra, a verse tragedy in which the characters make alternating long expository speeches, is pretty good read as a long poem. We think--or maybe it is just I who tend to think this--that the quantity of really good-quality English verse produced over the last 700 years is shockingly small, but a lot of these old forgotten poets who wrote thousands of lines and told all manner of accounts through the poetic medium are not bad, though obviously they lack the power and consistent metaphorical brilliance of Shakespeare and other major poets. I doubt that many people outside of graduate school can have read this, given the effort I had to go to to obtain a single copy of it. As I will be one of the few people on the internet to have written anything about it at some length, I want to do it as much justice as I can, as it is a worthy piece of literature. Scholars seem to like him. Professor Seronsy's book has a six page bibliography, though the most recent edition of Daniel's actual collected works (5 vols.) is listed as 1896, and the text is "frequently untrustworthy". The University of Louvain published an edition of Cleopatra alone in 1911, which apparently was unobjectionable. In any case I couldn't find any of these editions, or any other ones, available either for sale or in a library that I had access to. Thanks to the wonders of the Google book project however I discovered that this play was printed in full in Volume V of the 1964 King's College of London compendium of the Narrative and Dramatic Sources of Shakespeare. Though I could have then read the play on the computer if all else failed, I haven't taught myself to like doing that yet, and I found someone who was actually selling a copy of this book, which is most handsome and impressive in that very self-important 1950s and 1960s university press way, as you can see below:
This series has seven volumes in all, "in which the major sources and analogues of Shakespeare's plays will be reprinted, with discussions on the way he used them." And you thought my blog was a labor out of all proportion to any readership on which it might ever produce a significant effect. Volume V is dedicated to the Roman Plays. Among the materials included are 6 of Plutarch's lives (in the North translation), Pescetti's Il Cesare, Cinthio's Cleopatra, the anonymous Caesar's Revenge, and the Countess of Pembroke's Antonie, along with Daniel and many smaller excerpts from Roman, medieval and Renaissance authors.
Having gone on so long with my introductions, I think I will hold off on my notes on the actual play until the next post(s).
Sunday, May 10, 2009
As it does not appear I will be reading any more Shakespeare plays in the next few years, by which time I will hopefully have finally convinced myself to put the blog to rest, it seems as good a time as any to reminisce about my visit to Stratford back in 2001. This was my 3rd time in England. The first time I was there I stuck to London exclusively. The second time I went around to a few towns in the south, Canterbury, Chichester, Portsmouth, etc. On this last trip--which is the last time I was anywhere overseas, and will be for who knows how long now--I made my first venture up into the heartland of the country. It was on this same trip that I made the visit to Lichfield that I began a post on a couple of years ago, though at that time I mercifully was not able to figure out how to scan and post old film photographs to the web. Since then we have apparently gotten some new software, since I was able to click three buttons, with absolutely no understanding of the underlying processes whatsoever, and an operation which had flummoxed me utterly for ten years has suddenly been overcome.
Stratford-upon-Avon is not held in very high esteem these days as a destination by the serious travel community. It's kitschy, and its sites are not all that impressive in themselves. Its high street has a good number of well-preserved ancient buildings, and especially several fine and attractive taverns, though these are mainly frequented by tourists, the vast majority of the visitors, by the way, seem to be British. Apart from a few school groups coming to see the birthplace and a play, I did not notice as many Americans as I expected, given the dire warnings of most of the travel literature regarding their oppressive presence; and I heard very few people speaking foreign languages, if any. One odd circumstance is that the town seems to be a popular gathering spot for British motorcycle enthusiasts, who were all over the place when we were there.
So the question is, I guess, why did I choose to go there when there were, and are, so many more interesting cities and sites in Britain that I have not gone to yet, such as Oxford, Cambridge, York, Bath, the Lake District, Durham, anywhere in Scotland, and on and on? The answer is, there was no good reason, it happened to be how the arrangement of the system, the numbers, and so on I had devised to determine where to go happened to land, on this occasion, on Stratford. I was contented with this, I thought at the time I should return many, many times to England and that these other great literary cities would in due course of time establish their primacy in the system, and that it was good to leave a few exciting places as yet unglimpsed for the future. Also I was pleased to be going anywhere in that general area of the world, the place had evidently some magic about it, which might rub off on me, and before recent times lots of great literary figures made pilgrimages there, Dickens, Johnson and Garrick, Carlyle, Irving and Hawthorne and James and all the nineteenth-century Americans. So this too helped to assuage my doubts that the trip might be a waste of time.
Door of Shakespeare's House, With Cultist. Statue of Prince Hal, Gower Memorial. The Gower Memorial is a Victorian (1882) homage to the poet, as well as the great nation, people, language that arose in no small part out of his singular understanding of these notions. As you can see, there are four character statues--Falstaff, Hamlet and Lady Macbeth are the other three--placed at the corners of a square with a seated, rather bemused looking likeness of Shakespeare himself on top of the quotation-filled pedestal in the center. It isn't very challenging--it's kind of peaceful even--and certainly too comfortable in its assurance of the exact nature of the greatness of both Shakespeare and the English Protestant empire-building way of life to be interesting to mentally active people as a work of art, but naturally I liked it.
Tuesday, May 05, 2009
I feel about The Third Man much the same way as I do about its screenwriter, Graham Greene--I like it a lot, but I would like it a lot better if it wasn't quite so damn famous and acclaimed by everybody else already. If it were less celebrated it would be one of those delightful discoveries or secrets one confidently feels he is in on, because it is one of those movies, as Greene is one of those writers, that is easy to see and explain why it is good, but is not, to me anyway, not so clearly to be seen and explained why it is great. This is the second time I have seen this film (there is a quote on the box from Roger Ebert stating that he has seen it 50 times, for what it's worth). I have taken the approach that the first time I see a movie that is supposed to be a classic to just relax and let it work on me naturally, as entertainment even. If this does not work and I continue to find its greatness too persistently insisted upon to ignore, then the second time I will exert myself more to try to 'get it'.
The first time I saw The Third Man--a few years ago, 4 to 6 or so, probably --in my 'natural' viewing, it was engaging and attractive but overall did not make a great impression on me. Its themes obviously did not speak to me at any visceral level, and I couldn't remember the plot to save my life. Film buffs rave endlessly about the cutting, but that is not the sort or thing that I would be greatly excited by. Otherwise I liked all the obvious things about it, the zither, postwar Vienna, the aristocratic beauty Alida Valli, most of the Greene screenplay. Having seen it a second time mainly served to reinforce its pleasures, and increase my familiarity with its writing, acting, stars, and so forth. More penetrating insights into its great qualities however were not to be gleaned on this occasion.
In the standard literature on this movie, much is made of the happy collaboration of so much first-rate talent at the height of its powers--Carol Reed, Orson Welles, Joseph Cotten, Trevor Howard, Graham Greene, doubtless many others among the film crew who were at the top of their fields as well. Thinking about the proximate physical presences of so much first-rateness when one is so increasingly remote from any such people in one's own life tends to be more painful than invigorating for me; it undoubtedly does give the film the so very worldly and able air that attracts people to it however.
Despite some of the ambivalence I have hinted at concerning the general critical assessment of Graham Greene's writing, I am actually a pretty big fan. I enjoyed the three novels of his I have read (The End of the Affair, Monsignor Quixote, and A Burnt-Out Case) very much, and I look forward to any of his books that come up on my lists in a way that I do for very few writers. Of course he wrote many, many books, and they are at least superficially fairly similar to each other, but if you like his style, the different books usually offer the style applied to slightly different locales, slightly different professions, substantially (if not metaphysically) different problems/crises which give the reader some sense of novelty. It can be said of him, I think, what was said of Henry James--a good deal of life is left out, and the world as it is is more often shaped and improved upon to fit the qualifications of a Graham Greene novel than vice versa. His is an almost childless world, for example, or if characters do have children, they are no burden at all on their writing, travelling, drinking, womanizing, and so on, in the way that middle class people have never figured out how to get around. His characters too, are never at a loss for words. They are frequently stupid, or evil--usually a combination of both--but human beings in Graham Greene books are talking creatures, and whatever they are, whatever their station/relation to anyone else they announce through speech. Greene was famous for being a sexual dynamo, and seems to view the world at times as divided into the sexually energetic and those who are not so much. His cuckolded husbands and betrayed wives always struck me as accepting their conditions a little too conveniently meekly, as if the emotions of those deficient in comparable sexual power themselves are so weak and trifling as to be unpermissible in the Graham Greene universe. As there is so much of this in these novels too though, one wonders if many of the type represented by these put-upon and seemingly indifferent men whose wives the virile characters are forever helping themselves to were really homosexually inclined. Especially in the literary circles in which Greene moved, one suspects that the quotient of married homosexuals with dissatisfied wives in 1940s and 50s Britain was probably not insignificant. One last positive about the work of Greene though, and this film as well, is that one is always reminded/given the sense that writing at any meaningful level is a highly manly pursuit, that the writer is, or should be, engaged in work every bit as important and dangerous as that of policemen, soldiers, doctors, speculators, politicians and other vital professionals, with all of whom the true writer should be able to engage and contest with on familiar and manly terms. This is an attitude many writers of my sort foolishly gave up and failed to cultivate, either failing to understand the world as it is, or, even more foolishly, imagining themselves to be so brilliant as to be able to avoid having to engage with troublesome sorts of people while still being able to produce superior work, which except in instances of rare genius, is not a course a male writer especially is going to be able to successfully take.
With regard to Orson Welles, Citizen Kane and The Magnificent Ambersons are two movies that work very well for me just as pure entertainments, that sort of set the brain working naturally by the synapses of delight that various of their situations and language present. This is similar to the most popular novels of Tolstoy, which can be, and are, enjoyably read even by people who are not intellectuals and have no formal or even informal training or interest in the study of literature.
The Burg Kino in Vienna screens The Third Man every Friday and Saturday at 11pm, Sunday at 3pm and Tuesday at 4:30pm, if you happen to be in town.
Friday, May 01, 2009
I have already made reference to the hapless Lepidus in an earlier post, but I have to make mention of Antony's brutal breakdown of him (IV. i. around l.30):
"So is my horse, Octavius, and for that
I do appoint him store of provender:
It is a creature that I teach to fight,
To wind, to stop, to run directly on,
His corporal motion govern'd by my spirit.
And in some taste, is Lepidus but so;
He must be taught, and train'd, and bid go forth;
A barren-spirited fellow; one that feeds
On abjects, orts* and imitations,
Which, out of use and staled by other men,
Begin his fashion: do not talk of him
But as a property..."
Make no mistake. This is what the great men in your life, if you are not one of them, think and say about you when you are not there, if they even bother to think or say anything about you at all.
IV. iii. around l.130, race of poets referred to as "jigging fools". Jigging referring, I assume, to the dances which have been categorized under that root, I thought it a funny image.
IV. iii. around l.210 (my edition only gives line numbers at the top of the page column--this section is in the middle of ll. 190-230) BRUTUS:
"There is a tide in the affairs of men
Which taken at the flood leads on to fortune;
Omitted, all the voyage of their life
Is bound in shallows and in miseries."
An old favorite.
Among the many literary areas in which Shakespeare excels, he does "final doomed battle" scenes probably better than anyone else.
This sign says "Fiume Rubicone" in the full view. I have to say, I never think of its still being there.
V. v. 41-42. BRUTUS: "...my bones would rest,
That have but labour'd to attain this hour."
At the time I apparently thought this was expressed especially brilliantly. The tenor of the speech must have been in great synchronicity with whatever mood I was in at that moment.
In case you have a lot of time to kill, here is a bad copy of Marlon Brando giving the funeral oration.
Regarding the famous Noblest Roman, "This was a man" speech at the end, I wrote, Why inspiring? Way we think of man (men?)? I should really stop using the pluralis majestatis even in thought where any attitude in this line is being considered. Whomever I imagine this "we" is supposed to be, I am sure I am either do not constitute one of them, and therefore use the pronoun improperly, or refer to a group whose opinion in these types of matters is of no interest to me whatsoever. Still, the idea of a play especially as a sort of communal possession whose ultimate importance in the life of a group depends to some extent on a fairly consensual opinion regarding its qualities, and in the quote I refer to that same idea of a communal possession extends even to the idea of individual men, as well as families. The extent to which such excitement as does surround the continued study of Shakespeare and other classical authors lies in this is I think highly understated. The idea of the great man, or perhaps I should say more simply the realized man, the developed man, combined with the ability to understand in what such a person's greatness consists relatively intimately, without jealousy or becoming consumed by feelings of inferiority, is a necessary step to becoming a fully acculturated and mature, respectable member of any society.
At least that is the attitude and worldview I have bought into, and will hardly be able to exchange for another that I will be able to wear any better at this late date. If what a large portion of the community of hard thinkers--the science and mathematical people--insist so vehemently is true, and to my knowledge are not cognitively vulnerable to any persuasion otherwise, that the truths discovered in the sciences have moved so far beyond all the cumulative wisdom and knowledge of the various literatures, histories, philosophies, arts, etc, that form a great part even of what used to be known as high cultures, such that schools and colleges should not even teach these subjects as unworthy the attentions of serious intellects--well, in time it should become clear enough to all the people of highest intelligence, and that group's wannabes, and Shakespeare and the arts and all of that will have their places--as perhaps they already do--like religion has its place, no longer at the forefront of history and human progression, but as pleasant hobbies for people who have ceased to progress historically.
The great problem of science, of course, is its extreme level of cognitive exclusivity, and its general lack of gripping communal rituals to make those outside its priesthood sense wholly their personal connection to and uplift by it. If it is a greater and more profound as well as a more difficult to understand truth than any found in philosophy or literature or languages, which are quite difficult enough, that is all good and well, but if most people can never hope to understand the intricacies of it, such that art cannot interpret it, poetry and music cannot imprint its most vital tenets on the common psyche, architecture cannot express its aspirations in an inspiring manner...but people do do all of these things, with innovation and technology. The communal life speeds on as efficiently as ever. People like me just don't want to admit we are beat on all sides. There are still troupes of authentic actors and musicians and writers everywhere, and there always will be. I cannot pass for one of them, live their more slightly interesting and dissolute lives, and so I imagine they must cease to exist, or surely I'd be there myself. I see physicists mocking professors of literature and my feelings are hurt, though a professor of literature would mock me and my pitiful essays twice as ruthlessly. I want to defend and explain the importance of humanistic study, mainly because it has been important to me, and has been the cause of some improvement of understanding in me, but intelligent society has moved far beyond the point where a person developed only to the extent I am is considered anywhere close to acceptable. I am not in a position to be an advocate for anything, unless it be to people in a very low condition indeed; all of which, as one can imagine, is very frustrating.