Literary notes

Gary Saul Morson:

Why is it, Solzhenitsyn asks, that Macbeth, Iago, and other Shakespearean evildoers stopped short at a dozen corpses, while Lenin and Stalin did in millions? The answer is that Macbeth and Iago “had no ideology.” Ideology makes the killer and torturer an agent of good, “so that he won’t hear reproaches and curses but will receive praise and honors.” Ideology never achieved such power and scale before the twentieth century.

Joseph Moore:

Up until current times, it would have been scandalous for a woman in a Catholic country to arrange her own marriage in defiance of her father. Romeo & Juliet is a cautionary tale against just such presumption. The nurse and the friar are the villains of the story, overstepping their rightful duties. Until modern times, readers of the play all understood this.

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For literature of a different sort, see Dr. Boli.

Odds and ends

Items of interest I came across recently.

Is anything still forbidden in Hollywood?

Jesuits, communism and Rod Dreher.

Jesuit vows and the Papacy. (Via TS)

A new Catholic journal?

The post-war conservative movement in the United States has not turned back the clock a single minute and has succeeded only in gradually lowering marginal tax rates as same-sex marriage became law in all 50 states….

If anyone else was interested in creating something like The Lamp it would have existed already. (In point of fact, something like it did exist in the late ’60s and early ’70s: Brent Bozell’s Triumph, almost certainly the only publication in which one could have read things like the traditionalist Catholic case for Black Panther militancy.1)

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Bonus link: Elizabeth Scalia on Paul McCartney and Christianity.

Today’s question

Rod Dreher:

Did George Washington Carver and Frederick Douglass live and die so Adidas could sell more shoes?

Also, is it true that this is now “the stupidest civilization in all human history,” or does it just seem that way because we’re stuck in the middle of it? If ours is not the stupidest, which ones are dumber?

Slightly askew

Our Lady of Minas Morgul Church:

The above is for real. The following isn’t, yet. Winston Churchill, detoxicated:

. . . Even though large tracts of Europe and many old and famous States have fallen or may fall into the grip of the nasty Gestapo and all the apparatus of Nazi rule, we clean-shaven Britons shall do our utmost best to be tolerant of this brute force. We shall even consider waving the white flag. We shall abandon France, we shall flee from the seas and oceans; while the enemy attacks, we shall make buttered scones and tea, while agreeing with everything superior feminists say without making one compliment about their appearances. Yes, there will be no derriere-gazing, breast-ogling, barbecuing or catcalling at these disinfected venues; any signs of romantic heterosexuality will be quickly flushed down the toilet bowl, with castration being the order of the day; we will act like obedient little eunuchs and keep our mouths shut and not hold the door open for any woman. And we shall lie in the sun on the beaches suntanning our toxic pale bodies, while shaving our legs with Gillette razors; and we shall plant daffodils in the fields and in the streets; we shall run screaming in the hills; we shall surrender for fear of toxic masculinity, and we shall worship our State masters, who love docile, brainwashed, easy-to-control, emotional, neutered clone-zombies; and if, which I do not for a moment believe, this island or a large part of it were subjugated and starving, then our Empire beyond the seas, armed and guarded by the British Fleet, would be ordered to hide in sheltered ports, until, in Gaia’s good time, the New World Order, with all its power and might, steps forth to the rescue and the liberation of those pyjama-wearing, beta-males rattling their chains with joy.

Bonus high-culture music video (via Joseph Moore):

Not quite English

From a news release that crossed my desk this morning:1

While at St. Christina the Astonishing, Mr. Redacted has become known for growing and developing the school’s professional staff and implementing a new community system to enhance the relationships among both students and faculty.

From Polysics’ “Plus Chicker:”

AKA! One. Two. Three. Four. Five. Six. Eighty-nine!
It’s baby baby baby baby portable rock!
Ok! Something in my reality might have broke.
AKA! One. Two. Three. Four. Five. Six. Eight-nine!

I’ll always do my thing.
I’ll always do my thing.

I lied too, ever since I saw you.

Which excerpt conveys more meaning?

The dumping of the links

Let’s get rid of links, some of them old and starting to smell, beginning with a couple of quotes for a windy Thursday:

Charles G. Hill:

The more I see of what passes for democracy these days, the more ardently I embrace monarchism.

R.R. Reno:

Political honesty means telling the voters who you are and what you promise to do—and then governing as that person and in accord with those promises. By this measure, Trump is the most honest political figure of his generation.

*****

Quiz time: school or prison?

School or prison?
Building A
School or prison?
Building B

The answers, and some comments on education, are here.

*****

Shamus Young:

… there’s a game everyone is playing today and it really is bad for you. Having played this game for eight years I can tell you first-hand that it really does impact the way people behave and perceive each other. And I’m not talking about in-game behavior, here. I’m talking about real, lasting consequences in the real world. I’m talking about a game that can actually change the way you see other human beings, and how you treat them. It’s a game that’s genuinely harmful and continues to impact your thoughts and behavior, even after you stop playing it.

*****

Paradoxes of counting numbers: Chicago mathematics, or “a clown car of felonies.”

(Via I don’t know, but…)

*****

Revolution for the hell of it: Gary Saul Morson on 19th-century Russian nihilism:

Russia was also the first country where young men and women, asked to name their intended careers, might well say “terrorist.” Beginning in the 1870s, terrorism became an honored, if dangerous, profession. It was often a family business employing brothers and sisters generation after generation. Historians sometimes trace modern terrorism to the Carbonari of early-19th-century Italy, but it was Russia that gave it unprecedented importance. You cannot relate the history of czarist Russia in its last half-century without the history of terrorism. As we now associate terrorism with radical Islam, Europeans then associated it with “Russian nihilism.” By the early 20th century, no profession, except literature, enjoyed more prestige among well-educated Russians.1

(The Weekly Standard, where this article appears, may not be around much longer. If Morson’s piece becomes unavailable there, you can read substantial excerpts at Isegoria in a series of posts beginning here. Morson was also responsible for And Quiet Flows the Vodka.)

*****

Phyllis McGinley in 1953:

The Old Feminist

Snugly upon the equal height,
enthroned at last where she belongs,
She takes no pleasure in her Rights
who so enjoyed her Wrongs!

*****

The notion that anthropomorphized a thousand bales of straw: a defense of “Dr. J. Evans Pritchard, Ph.D.” (It’s an old post, but I only recently discovered it.)

Four years ago, I sat across a conference table from an assistant dean with a Ph.D in the humanities who, with no evident trace of self-loathing, asked me to write bullet points summarizing the “workplace relevance” of medieval literature. (That day I confirmed that the soul really does exist, because I felt mine howling to leave my body.)

*****

Puzzle: what does this sequence represent? The answer, with notes on “boundary violations,” is here.

Odds and ends

VCV Rack

Back in ancient times, synthesizers such as those played by W.W. Carlos and Keith Emerson were assembled from various single-purpose modules, linked together by a multitude of short cables. To change the sound, the musician rearranged the cables and fiddled with the controls on the modules. It was laborious, but with perseverance you could make something like Switched-on Bach or Tarkus. Eventually these modular monsters were replaced by compact synths with fixed architectures, which were easier to program and to transport. Later ones added polyphony and memory for patches, so the musician could play chords and recreate sounds instantly.

Although many of the later synths were immensely useful and desirable, none ever sounded quite like their forebears. Emerson’s modular Moog in particular was legendary. During the past 20 years or so, there’s been increasing interest in modular systems. Notably, the Doepfer “Eurorack” format has become prevalent in certain parts of the electronic music world. A musician can buy whatever modules he wants from a variety of manufacturers and combine them as he pleases. Unfortunately, purchasing modules gets expensive.

However, if you have a reasonably powerful computer, you can run the VCV Rack, a virtual Eurorack. The basic rack, including all you need to make funny noises, is free, and there are many more modules you can download to play with once you get the hang of it, most of which are also free. It’s available here.

I spent several recent lunch hours fiddling with the VCV Rack, and a couple of things quickly became apparent. First, it’s not easy to get an interesting sound out of it. The early synthesists had to work hard to make their music sound good.

Second, videos are the worst way to teach anything. There’s very little text documentation for the rack, so I sat through a number of videos explaining the basics. Good grief, they’re such a waste of time. In principle, videos should be perfect for this job — you can see the connections being made and hear the sounds that result. In practice, you get a guy rambling for half an hour trying to explain something that could have easily been summarized in three minutes. Advice to anyone making an instructional video: before you plug in your microphone, make a detailed written outline of what you want to cover. Better yet, write out what you want to say and skip the video entirely.

*****

Charles G. Hill brings tidings from Japan of a man who “married” a holographic representation of the vocal synthesizer “Hatsune Miku.” Hill linked to a video featuring Miku’s voice which is apparently extremely popular but which doesn’t show what the software is capable of. Here are a couple that better illustrate how a pathetic dweeb could become fixated on the computer-generated image of an anime-style girl: Miku in concert; Miku on a desktop.

Vocal synthesizers, of which Vocaloids are the most successful, occasionally come in handy for those of us with lousy voices. I’ve made use of Miku myself. Others include Plogue’s Alter/Ego and Chipspeech, and Wolfgang Palm’s Phonem.

*****

Francis W. Porretto wonders if anyone remembers Vaughn Meader and David Frye now that their targets are gone. The First Family was before my time, but I do remember hearing one particular skit by Frye frequently at the left end of the FM dial.

*****

It’s been scientifically established that nearly any pop song can be improved by remaking it as a polka or surf tune. In a similar vein, J Greely recently wished that the cast of Dr. Who had turned a recent episode into a Bollywood musical. I haven’t seen that episode so I can’t say for certain, but I expect that would indeed have been an improvement. I suspect, in fact, that most television shows would benefit from being transformed into Bollywood musicals. (Just wondering: are there any Bollywood musical production numbers featuring surf guitar?)

*****

This is terribly unfair, I know, but Cardinal DiNardo in the picture above looks very much like how I visualize Wormtongue when I read The Lord of the Rings.

Miscellaneous quotes, decline and fall edition

Fillyjonk:

… something I read in this week’s The Week that is one of the sadder things I’ve heard recently: apparently animal behaviorists have found some dogs are “depressed” because of a lack of eye contact – because their owners spend so much time staring at their smartphones….

The Z Man:

The classical period featured a celebration of human beauty. The artists strove to capture the ideal of man in those beautiful statues we still have today. The medieval period had the celebration of God and his love for man. Walk into an old cathedral and you immediately feel the essence of that relationship. Of course, our canon is packed with poetry exploring the beauty of life, all of which was composed in a prior age, by men who are strangers to us now.

Walk into a modern building today and you know what it is like to be in the chute at a slaughter house.

William Torrey Harris, U.S. Commissioner of Education 1889-1906:

Ninety-nine [students] out of a hundred are automata, careful to walk in prescribed paths, careful to follow the prescribed custom. This is not an accident but the result of substantial education, which, scientifically defined, is the subsumption of the individual.

and

The great purpose of school can be realized better in dark, airless, ugly places … It is to master the physical self, to transcend the beauty of nature. School should develop the power to withdraw from the external world.

*****

Continue reading “Miscellaneous quotes, decline and fall edition”

The sylph with the hairy chest

A pas de deux from the 1935 ballet Светлый ручей (The Bright Stream), with music by Shostakovich, libretto by Adrian Piotrovsky and choreography by Fedor Lopukhov, re-choreographed by Alexei Ratmansky for the ballet’s 2004 revival. There’s a story behind the ballet, and not one with a happy ending: “A work meant to be light, entertaining, and uplifting had proved the downfall of its creators.”

Are there straws in Vatican City?

Pope Frankie in perspective:

On September 1, 2018, this successor of Gregory I, who saw Latin civilization crumbling, and Leo IX, who grieved at the loss of Constantinople, and Pius V, who pitied souls lost in the heretical northern lands, implored and lamented: “We cannot allow our seas and oceans to be littered by endless fields of floating plastic. Here, too, our active commitment is needed to confront this emergency.” The struggle against plastic litter must be fought “as if everything depended on us.”

(Via William Briggs.)

From Leigh Brackett to Rian Johnson

David Breitenbeck:

I don’t want to make a generalization, but it really does seem like the quality of film and filmmakers has steeply declined even in the thirty-odd years since Return of the Jedi. Even absent George Lucas’s quixotic attempt to write and direct the entire prequel trilogy himself after decades of comparative idleness, we have a huge, multi-billion dollar company like Disney staking a massive investment in these films and the best they can come up with is the uneven Rogue One. The quality of writing and storytelling in these later films is nothing short of an embarrassment, at times offensively so, and now we don’t even have the excuse of George Lucas trying to make it a personal project. This is a branch of the top entertainment media company in the world throwing enormous amounts of money and promotion at a project with The Last Jedi as the result. Meanwhile, some forty years ago, that same ‘branch’ made The Empire Strikes Back.

Something certainly changed in the meantime, whatever it might have been. Somehow we went from Leigh Brackett to Rian Johnson.

Armando Simón:

This invisible crisis in literature becomes self-evident if we list all of the great fiction writers in fifty year increments….
In fact, the evidence practically shouts out at you. The pattern that emerges is surprisingly that of a bell shaped curve!

1800-1850
Washington Irving, Fenimore James Cooper, Edgar Allan Poe, Nathaniel Hawthorne.

1851-1900
Edward Hale, Harriet B. Stowe, Henry Longfellow, Walt Whitman, Joel Harris, Mark Twain, Mary dodge, Louisa Alcott, Bret Harte, Henry James, Horatio Alger, William D. Howells, Kate Chopin, Emily Dickinson, Herman Melville.

1901-1950
Upton Sinclair, Booth Tarkington, Owen Wister, Sarah O. Jewett, Edith Wharton, O. Henry, T. S. Eliot, Zora Hurston, Richard Wright, Christopher Isherwood, B. Traven, Margaret Mitchell, John Steinbeck, Walter Clark, Walter Edmons, Frank Norris, Stephen Crane, Jack London, Ambrose Bierce, Willa Cather, Sherwood Anderson, Thornton Wilder, Sinclair Lewis, Cronell Woolrich, John Marquand, William Saroyan, Ezra Pound, William Faulkner, Thomas Wolfe, Ernest Hemingway, Carl Sandburg, Sara Teasdale, John Dos Passos, Clarence Day, Thorne Smith, Pearl Buck, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Dorothy Parker, Robert Penn Warren, H. P. Lovecraft, Jack Schaefer, Marjorie K. Rawlings.

1951-2000
Anais Nin, Kurt Vonnegut, Joseph Heller, Robert Frost, Mario Puzo, Shirley Jackson, Charles Jackson, James Thurber, James McCain, Leon Uris, Robert Ruark, James Michener, Ayn Rand, Joyce Carol Oats, John Toole, Robert Heinlein, Saul Bellow, Isaac Asimov, Raymond Chandler, Taylor Caldwell, Harper Lee, Flannery O’Connor, Tom Wolfe.

2001-2018
*no entry

What is most alarming is that there is no new generation of high quality writers in sight to take up the torch. All of the writers that came into prominence in the last period are already dead, or like I said, have one foot in the grave.1

Are these observations accurate? It’s easy to believe that western civilization is in rapid decline, but I’m too disconnected from contemporary American culture to say if that’s actually the case.

Today’s quotes: straws and charity

Joe in Indiana:

Seriously, of all the plastic waste in the world, why straws? Little plastic tubes must be a fraction of nothing in the giant landfill we call Earth. How about getting rid of the plastic packaging that surrounds just about everything as an anti-theft measure these days? You can’t cut it, tear it, pry it apart, or even bite it open. We bought a new toy for the granddaughter and by the time we got it open she was too old for it.

Ken the Brickmuppet:

… there’s no greater expression of charity than forcing other people to sacrifice.