Because most philosophies that frown on reproduction don't survive.

Friday, April 10, 2015

Linkety Links

I've been accumulating these links all week, but I haven't had time to post them because I've had the sudden opportunity to revise an opus from my younger days, a play I wrote when I was 16, which is having another youth group performance this summer. You say the litany of humility, and then someone hands you something you wrote twenty years ago, and all pride and self-love is mortified pretty quick. So I've been rewriting in double-time to get this thing ready before the auditions on Monday.

Looking back on my early writing efforts, I can say that the dramatic side of the play still works. The scenes fit together, the style works, and the structure is sound. But the lines themselves, the writing! Heavy-handed, unfunny, inelegant. When I get stuck with revision, I have to remind myself that anything I put down afresh can't be worse than what's already there.

I'm grateful at least that I have the chance for a rewrite. It would have been a true test of humility if it had been performed now as written, with my name attached.


You can't start 'em on lit crit too early, and that's why, on April 1, the Paris Review debuted The Paris Review for Young Readers, featuring such delights as American Lunchroom by Bret Easton Ellis, Goofus and Gallant Read Poetry, and Your Struggle: Karl Ove Knausgaard Helps You Navigate the School Yard.


Brandon had up an interesting post recently talking about conspiracy theorists:
One of the unusual features of conspiracy-theory thinking, distinguishing it from many other kinds of bad thinking, is that conspiracy-theories tend to be unusually evidence-rich. I guarantee you that the average 9/11-Truther knows massively more real and genuine evidence about the collapse of the towers than your average person who rejects 9/11-Truth conspiracies. Very, very few people who are not inclined to believe some conspiracy are motivated to dig into the details to the extent that believers in the conspiracy are -- usually, in fact, it's only people who are irritated enough by the conspiracy theory to spend massive amounts of time and effort answering the arguments that conspiracy theorists multiply.
Following nicely on the heels of that, I came across what is perhaps an example par excellence of the genre: Did Leonard Nimoy Fake His Own Death So He Could Seize Control of the Illuminati?
Details of Leonard Nimoy’s early childhood are necessarily vague. The media has fed us a predictable timeline of predictable life events, though his genealogy is, at best, obscure. However, it is clear that Nimoy’s March 26th birthdate does anticipate his future role in New World Order propaganda for it was on that day in 1484 that William Caxton printed the first translation of Aesop’s Fables and also, in 1830, when the Book of Mormon was published in Palmyra, New York. (Star Trek has long been accused of being a palimpsest of these two works.)

However, the most fascinating counterpoint to Nimoy’s manufactured backstory is the theory that he may have been the secret love child of playboy Maurice de Rothschild and Grand Duchess Anastasia Nikolaevna of Russia. Smuggled to America at an early age, he was entrusted to a nondescript family in suburban Boston, then a safe haven of New Deal liberalism despite the ravages of the Great Depression. His lineage was crucial, as we shall see, for it bound the child to the two great dynasties of hidden rule — the Romanovs and the Rothschilds. It was also a dangerous bloodline to possess, as the treachery of both families knows no bounds.

As a Rothschild, young Leonard was naturally raised as a Jew and even as a teenager, he betrayed all the trigonometric and sensual qualities of that exotic race.
Best comment on the post: "This is so irresponsible. Now he knows we know."


In a moment of serendipity, I turned on the radio a few Saturdays ago and came in partway through the Metropolitan Opera's broadcast of Lucia di Lammermoor by Donizetti.

Based on the novel by Sir Walter Scott, Lucia di Lammermoor is the story of a girl forced by her brother to break her betrothal to her beloved to marry a man with money. On the wedding night, she suddenly appears before all the wedding guests, having stabbed the bridegroom in their chamber. The opera contains one of the most famous mad scenes in the history of mad scenes, in which the soprano floats ethereally, insanely, above the rest of the world, her hands and wedding gown stained with  blood. A hauntingly virtuosic feature of this aria is Lucia's duet with a flute, in which she echoes and harmonizes with this music only she can hear.

Joan Sutherland, duet with flute 8: 36 - 10:16

Joan Sutherland is a world-class singer, but not much of an actress, and it doesn't help that there are no horrified guests to provide a backdrop. Here, now, is a stunning performance by Natalie Dessay, in which the flute is replaced with Donizetti's original scoring for water harmonica -- an instrument that just sounds like someone slipping into madness:

The duet is at 4:00 - 5:14, but note how here it really is only Lucia who hears the phantom accompaniment. The melody at 4:26 gives me chills.

I know that there are some who think of opera as a pure art, but that's ridiculous. How can you separate the singing from the acting of the role? Sutherland's voice is exquisite, but no one believes she's going mad. Dessay here is on fire, and every note seems to follow from, or be in reaction to, the breaking of her mind. I believe her, in a way that I didn't believe Dame Sutherland. Sutherland is performing. Dessay is.

(Also, love the set design with the huge moon looming in the background, a clever remark on the theme of madness.)


I also read The Bride of Lammermoor to imbibe the original story. There's drama aplenty, but one of my favorite moments was the betrothal itself, which Scott, in a moment of dry understatement, abridges between two moments of high personal conflict.
Lucy wept on, but her tears were less bitter. Each attempt which the Master made to explain his purpose of departure, only proved a new evidence of his deisre to stay; until, at length, instead of bidding her farewell, he gave his faith to her for ever, and received her troth in return. The whole passed so suddenly, and arose so much out of the immediate impulse of the moment, that ere the Master of Ravenswood could reflect upon the consequences of the step which had had taken, their lips, as well as their hands, had pledged the sincerity of their affection.
And the consequences are dire indeed, and both parties have cause to rue the engagement long before the fatal end, so let this be a lesson to all the hasty young things out there not to get engaged without careful deliberation.

Scott, in his introduction, relates the true history of the case, as he heard it at his mother's knee:

THE Author, on a former occasion, declined giving the real source from which he drew the tragic subject of this history, because, though occurring at a distant period, it might possibly be unpleasing to the feelings of the descendants of the parties. But as he finds an account of the circumstances given in the Notes to Law's Memorials, by his ingenious friend, Charles Kirkpatrick Sharpe, Esq., and also indicated in his reprint of the Rev. Mr. Symson's poems appended to the Large Description of Galloway, as the original of the Bride of Lammermoor, the Author feels himself now at liberty to tell the tale as he had it from connexions of his own, who lived very near the period, and were closely related to the family of the bride.
It is well known that the family of Dalrymple, which has produced, within the space of two centuries, as many men of talent, civil and military, and of literary, political, and professional eminence, as any house in Scotland, first rose into distinction in the person of James Dalrymple, one of the most eminent lawyers that ever lived, though the labours of his powerful mind were unhappily exercised on a subject so limited as Scottish jurisprudence, on which he has composed an admirable work.
He married Margaret, daughter to Ross of Balneel, with whom he obtained a considerable estate. She was an able, politic, and high-minded woman, so successful in what she undertook, that the vulgar, no way partial to her husband or her family, imputed her success to necromancy. According to the popular belief, this Dame Margaret purchased the temporal prosperity of her family from the Master whom she served under a singular condition, which is thus narrated by the historian of her grandson, the great Earl of Stair: "She lived to a great age, and at her death desired that she might not be put under ground, but that her coffin should stand upright on one end of it, promising that while she remained in that situation the Dalrymples should continue to flourish. What was the old lady's motive for the request, or whether she really made such a promise, I shall not take upon me to determine; but it's certain her coffin stands upright in the isle of the church of Kirklistown, the burial-place belonging to the family." The talents of this accomplished race were sufficient to have accounted for the dignities which many members of the family attained, without any supernatural assistance. But their extraordinary prosperity was attended by some equally singular family misfortunes, of which that which befell their eldest daughter was at once unaccountable and melancholy.
Miss Janet Dalrymple, daughter of the first Lord Stair and Dame Margaret Ross, had engaged herself without the knowledge of her parents to the Lord Rutherford, who was not acceptable to them either on account of his political principles or his want of fortune. The young couple broke a piece of gold together, and pledged their troth in the most solemn manner; and it is said the young lady imprecated dreadful evils on herself should she break her plighted faith. Shortly after, a suitor who was favoured by Lord Stair, and still more so by his lady, paid his addresses to Miss Dalrymple. The young lady refused the proposal, and being pressed on the subject, confessed her secret engagement. Lady Stair, a woman accustomed to universal submission, for even her husband did not dare to contradict her, treated this objection as a trifle, and insisted upon her daughter yielding her consent to marry the new suitor, David Dunbar, son and heir to David Dunbar of Baldoon, in Wigtonshire. The first lover, a man of very high spirit, then interfered by letter, and insisted on the right he had acquired by his troth plighted with the young lady. Lady Stair sent him for answer, that her daughter, sensible of her undutiful behaviour in entering into a contract unsanctioned by her parents, had retracted her unlawful vow, and now refused to fulfil her engagement with him.
The lover, in return, declined positively to receive such an answer from any one but his mistress in person; and as she had to deal with a man who was both of a most determined character and of too high condition to be trifled with, Lady Stair was obliged to consent to an interview between Lord Rutherford and her daughter. But she took care to be present in person, and argued the point with the disappointed and incensed lover with pertinacity equal to his own. She particularly insisted on the Levitical law, which declares that a woman shall be free of a vow which her parents dissent from. This is the passage of Scripture she founded on:
"If a man vow a vow unto the Lord, or swear an oath to bind his soul with a bond; he shall not break his word, he shall do according to all that proceedeth out of his mouth.
"If a woman also vow a vow unto the Lord, and bind herself by a bond, being in her father's house in her youth; And her father hear her vow, and her bond wherewith she hath bound her soul, and her father shall hold his peace at her: then all her vows shall stand, and every bond wherewith she hath bound her soul shall stand.
"But if her father disallow her in the day that he heareth; not any of her vows, or of her bonds wherewith she hath bound her soul, shall stand: and the Lord shall forgive her, because her father disallowed her."—Numbers xxx. 2-5.
While the mother insisted on these topics, the lover in vain conjured the daughter to declare her own opinion and feelings. She remained totally overwhelmed, as it seemed—mute, pale, and motionless as a statue. Only at her mother's command, sternly uttered, she summoned strength enough to restore to her plighted suitor the piece of broken gold which was the emblem of her troth. On this he burst forth into a tremendous passion, took leave of the mother with maledictions, and as he left the apartment, turned back to say to his weak, if not fickle, mistresss: "For you, madam, you will be a world's wonder"; a phrase by which some remarkable degree of calamity is usually implied. He went abroad, and returned not again. If the last Lord Rutherford was the unfortunate party, he must have been the third who bore that title, and who died in 1685.
The marriage betwixt Janet Dalrymple and David Dunbar of Baldoon now went forward, the bride showing no repugnance, but being absolutely passive in everything her mother commanded or advised. On the day of the marriage, which, as was then usual, was celebrated by a great assemblage of friends and relations, she was the same—sad, silent, and resigned, as it seemed, to her destiny. A lady, very nearly connected with the family, told the Author that she had conversed on the subject with one of the brothers of the bride, a mere lad at the time, who had ridden before his sister to church. He said her hand, which lay on his as she held her arm around his waist, was as cold and damp as marble. But, full of his new dress and the part he acted in the procession, the circumstance, which he long afterwards remembered with bitter sorrow and compunction, made no impression on him at the time.
The bridal feast was followed by dancing. The bride and bridegroom retired as usual, when of a sudden the most wild and piercing cries were heard from the nuptial chamber. It was then the custom, to prevent any coarse pleasantry which old times perhaps admitted, that the key of the nuptial chamber should be entrusted to the bridesman. He was called upon, but refused at first to give it up, till the shrieks became so hideous that he was compelled to hasten with others to learn the cause. On opening the door, they found the bridegroom lying across the threshold, dreadfully wounded, and streaming with blood. The bride was then sought for. She was found in the corner of the large chimney, having no covering save her shift, and that dabbled in gore. There she sat grinning at them, mopping and mowing, as I heard the expression used; in a word, absolutely insane. The only words she spoke were, "Tak up your bonny bridegroom." She survived this horrible scene little more than a fortnight, having been married on the 24th of August, and dying on the 12th of September 1669.
The unfortunate Baldoon recovered from his wounds, but sternly prohibited all inquiries respecting the manner in which he had received them. "If a lady," he said, "asked him any question upon the subject, he would neither answer her nor speak to her again while he lived; if a gentleman, he would consider it as a mortal affront, and demand satisfaction as having received such." He did not very long survive the dreadful catastrophe, having met with a fatal injury by a fall from his horse, as he rode between Leith and Holyrood House, of which he died the next day, 28th March 1682. Thus a few years removed all the principal actors in this frightful tragedy.

You may read the whole book at Project Gutenburg.


Very interested in reading the newly released translation of Umberto Eco's 1977 guide, "How To Write a Thesis":

We in the English-speaking world have survived thirty-seven years without “How to Write a Thesis.” Why bother with it now? After all, Eco wrote his thesis-writing manual before the advent of widespread word processing and the Internet. There are long passages devoted to quaint technologies such as note cards and address books, careful strategies for how to overcome the limitations of your local library. But the book’s enduring appeal—the reason it might interest someone whose life no longer demands the writing of anything longer than an e-mail—has little to do with the rigors of undergraduate honors requirements. Instead, it’s about what, in Eco’s rhapsodic and often funny book, the thesis represents: a magical process of self-realization, a kind of careful, curious engagement with the world that need not end in one’s early twenties. “Your thesis,” Eco foretells, “is like your first love: it will be difficult to forget.” By mastering the demands and protocols of the fusty old thesis, Eco passionately demonstrates, we become equipped for a world outside ourselves—a world of ideas, philosophies, and debates.


bearing said...

This s a great set of links today. Thank you for them.

I almost couldn't stand to watch Joan Sutherland. Maybe it is the habit of irony, postmodern self-distancing from anything enacted with too much earnestness, but I was embarrassed for her, the set and the makeup and her gestures are all so ... cheesy. The latter clips are wonderful.

I want to read Umberto Eco's thesis-writing manual too. I wonder how the advice translates from humanities to hard sciences. I laughed ruefully at the bit about photocopying everything and thereby "owning" the information. Only a few years ago I mustered the courage to throw out my stacks of photocopies from my 2004 PhD thesis. Sometimes I still wish I hadn't done it, but it was a door that needed to be closed.

MrsDarwin said...

Bearing, I absolutely agree that the Sutherland video is hard to watch, which is partly overacting (it's not hard at all to listen to!) and partly a lack of visual focus. I think that this aria could be riveting sung alone on a stage, but the direction wasn't there in Sutherland's case. But again, so beautiful.

Here's some more Natalie Dessay, as the Queen of the Night: