Thursday, March 31, 2011

A Hero of Our Time?

I've recently finished reading Mikhail Lermontov's A Hero of Our Time in the lovely Hesperus Press edition.  The book is a nice size, with easy-to-read type and a durable paperback format, with a fold-over outer cover.

I can't judge the fidelity to the Russian of the translation by Hugh Aplin, but it reads well in English. In an interview with Ready, Steady, Book, Aplin calls A Hero of Our Time, "right up there at the top of my list of favourites," and it shows.

Lermontov seems to me to be somewhat the anti-Jane Austen.  His hero (better anti-hero) is male, rather than female; Russian, rather than English; and so despicable that the respectable reader roots against him, rather than for him. But the social settings and the concerns and preoccupations of the characters are mutatis mutandis quite similar: the capital and the provinces, imperial adventures, military officers, affairs of the heart, engagements, marriage prospects, and the gambling tables.  The spa city of Pyatigorsk strongly recalls Bath, the setting for Northanger Abbey and Persuasion.

For more about Jane Austen and Bath, click on this handy reference card:

One question that presents itself: is Lermontov's anti-hero, Pechorin--ironically labeled by the title "A Hero of Our Time" also--and still ironically--a hero of our own time?  His obsessions—sex, wealth, social status—are certainly not that different from the obsessions of our time.  Neither are the conditions of his society—social stratification, endless military conflict, youth in search of excitement.

But if he's a "hero" of Lermontov's time and of our own time, is he perhaps a "hero" for all times?  Should we suppose that any time is all that different from any other?  After all, "Nothing under the sun is new, neither is any man able to say: Behold this is new: for it hath already gone before in the ages that were before us." (Ecclesiastes 1:10)

Monday, March 28, 2011

Slavonic, Slavonic, more Slavonic

Saturday, I ended up, by mistake, at St. Nicholas Cathedral on 97th street. By mistake, because I was aiming for the other Russian Orthodox Cathedral, the Synodal Cathedral of Our Lady of the Sign, where I wanted to hear the choir again.  I'd heard them a little over a year ago when the relic of the head of St. John Chrysostom visited from Moscow.

The head of St. John Chrysostom (more photos)
But mixed up the names of the two cathedrals and ended up at the wrong one. I stayed for the Vigil anyways.  Their choir isn't as good as I remember the one at the Synodal Cathedral being, but the Church is one of the most beautiful in Manhattan.

Photo part of a set of the Cathedral by Flickr user Chad Husby
The photo doesn't really do it justice, though part of that is that I visited at dusk.  In the dark Church, the Bishop had the sparkliest miter   This was two hours of solid Church Slavonic, of which I know about 5 words.  Fortunately, the words I know, like "Gospodi, pomiluj" (Lord, have mercy), are repeated often.  People think Latin is a challenge!  I suppose it'd be easier if I had a foundation in Russian.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

To the Gates of the Fukushima Daiichi Power Station

The Independent is not the world's greatest newspaper. It's the home of Robert Fisk (who inspired the internet term "fisking"). But, credit where credit is due, they've published an excellent article from Japan. Reporter Daniel Howden travels all the way to the gates of the Fukushima Daiichi Power Station.

Via Jonah's radiation guy, World's Only Rational Man.

Reformed Ex-Felon or Arminian Ex-Felon?

I can't tell if the New York Times is making a theology joke or not with their headline: "A Reformed Ex-Felon in Trouble Once Again". The article is about Barry Minkow who
has made many names for himself: as a boy-wonder entrepreneur, as a Ponzi schemer who served seven years in prison and then reinvented himself as a fraud-detection specialist, government informant and pastor.

His life took another turn when he was charged Thursday with conspiracy to commit securities fraud against the Lennar Corporation, one of the nation’s largest home builders.
The two churches where he was a pastor, the Community Bible Church of San Diego and The Church at Rocky Peak both have statements of belief on their web sites, but they're too sketchy for me to be able to tell if they are Reformed (which in today's Evangelical argot usually means Calvinist), or Arminian, or something else.

Here's an article from the Baptist Press with some background on the revival (so to speak) of Calvinism in the Southern Baptist Convention and the debate over whether it's a blessing or a scourge.

But even though the Times covered the Calvinist revival a bit in their 2009 Mark Driscoll article, I'm guessing there really isn't a wink from the copy editor in the Minkow headline after all.

If you're wondering where Catholics stand on these issues, I recommend (as I have before), James Akin's article "A Tiptoe Through TULIP".

Friday, March 25, 2011

Berlitz Breakup

I've been brushing up a bit on my German.

The book German Step-by-Step professes to offer "a vocabulary of 2,600 words chosen especially for their frequency of use." It has a relentlessly chipper tone:
With GERMAN STEP-BY-STEP [sic], accent and pronunciation problems are solved forever. There will be no need to fear appearing gauche before a waiter or salesperson, no terror at buying a train ticket or sending back a steak cooked rare instead of medium. You will discover the music and rhythym of language as spoken by those born into the culture and tradition of a nation.
So I was somewhat shocked by this example conversation in the section on when to use the familiar "du" form for "you". It goes south fast:
Verliebte gebrauchen auch die Du-Form.
Lovers also use the "you" (familiar) form.

Liebst du mich?
Do you love me?

Ja, mein Schatz.
Yes, my treasure.

Ich liebe dich sehr.
I love you very much.

Für immer?

Wer weiß? Wer kann das sagen?
Who knows? Who can say that?

Warum sagst du — „Wer weiß?"
Why do you say — "Who knows?"

Du bist ekelhaft!
You are horrible!

Ich hasse dich!
I hate you!
Next time they talk, they may have to switch from "du" back to "Sie".

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

The Illusionist

I saw The Illusionist Sunday.

My companions didn't like it at all. But really, see this movie for the beautiful visuals and the friendly humor.  Though neither of those things comes across exceptionally well in the trailer below. It's a stunningly picturesque depiction of Scotland, as well as a homage to the then (1950's) vanishing and now vanished world of vaudeville. Like most animation, if you see it, you should do so on as big a screen as you can find.

Seeing this movie on Sunday was the breaking of my resolution to shift money from my movie budget to my book budget (after I spent more than I planned on books on Saturday). But my companions had between them seen almost every other non-obscene movie playing in Midtown and besides the MPAA was warning that the film contained smoking, which is often a good sign (e.g. Thank You For Smoking or Goodnight, and Good Luck).

There's apparently a big scandal about how and whether the "shooting" script and the final film with its publicity materials departs from the original script and does or does work as an apologia (and/or apology and/or apology) for screenwriter Jacques Tati's behaviour towards his illegitimate daughter and/or his younger daughter. (That's a confusing sentence, but the dispute is very much an unsettled one.)

I came to the movie without knowing about all this controversy.  There's some further confusion about the plot, probably partly because the style of the film is to have very little dialog and what little there is is mumbled and often in French or Gaelic. According to the publicity materials:
THE ILLUSIONIST is a story about two paths that cross. An outdated, aging magician, forced to wander from country to country, city to city and station to station in search of a stage to perform his act meets a young girl at the start of her life's journey. Alice is a teenage girl with all her capacity for childish wonder still intact. She plays at being a woman without realizing the day to stop pretending is fast approaching. She doesn't know yet that she loves The Illusionist like she would a father; he already knows that he loves her as he would a daughter. Their destinies will collide, but nothing – not even magic or the power of illusion– can stop the voyage of discovery.
But Roger Ebert read the plot somewhat differently:
The story involves a magician named Tatischeff [Tati's full last name--SJH] who fails in one music hall after another and ends up in Scotland, where at last he finds one fan: A young woman who idealizes him, moves in with him, tends to him, cooks and cleans, and would probably offer sex if he didn’t abstemiously sleep on the couch.
Well, I can see why the family is upset about that movie if it's also about Tati's relationship with his daughters.  I thought of all the controversy when I read Jennifer Reeser's poem "Despair" in this month's First Things. While the poem is in the 2nd person and I can separate the authorial voice from the author, I'd feel awkward to be her daughter right about now.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Saturday in New York (Not the Fourth of July)

Down at St. Michael’s, the Russian Catholic (they might say Russian Orthodox in union with Rome) Church in SoHo, they don’t give up “Alleluia” for Lent—at least during vespers.

After the service ended, I headed a couple blocks down and across Mulberry Street to McNally Jackson Books, an independent bookstore, where I bought three books and left resolving (pace Walker Percy) to go to the movies less frequently to make up for the extravagance. I’ve gotten better at going to the library, but am not any better at returning the books on time. The price advantage over buying books slips away with my impressive ability to rack up late fees. (I'm so good at racking up that I could get a job as a set dresser on The Hustler.)

But returning to the checkout counter at McNally Jackson: the clerk ventured that I had made three fine choices. Flattery will get you everywhere, sir! Truly, I’ve lost his exact words, but they left the impression that it was more than just a case of “The customer is always right.”

It helped though that two of the three were from their recommended picks table, though in one case that was just a coincidence. They were recommending the collected poems of Elizabeth Bishop, which I was coincidentally seeking out. The latest New Criterion reviews an exhibit of the poet’s paintings at James S. Jaffe Rare Books, so I was looking to refamilarize myself before heading up to see them, maybe this weekend.

We read through Geography III in high school. Poems, as the collected works is called, fell open to one of the verses originally collected in Geography III:
In the Waiting Room
In Worcester, Massachusetts,
I went with Aunt Consuelo
to keep her dentist's appointment
and sat and waited for her
in the dentist's waiting room.
It was winter. It got dark
early. The waiting room
was full of grown-up people,
arctics and overcoats,
lamps and magazines.
My aunt was inside
what seemed like a long time
and while I waited and read
the National Geographic
(I could read) and carefully
studied the photographs:
the inside of a volcano,
black, and full of ashes;
then it was spilling over
in rivulets of fire.
I love this poem, because it recalls for me so strongly an experience that was part of my childhood, the early darkness of winter afternoons in New England.

The clerk wanted me to know that Poems is part of a publishing project from FSG that also includes a Elizabeth Bishop and The New Yorker: The Complete Correspondence—the power of the independent bookstore with clerks who are encouraged to be knowledgeable about books and urged to sell them intelligently., actually suggests the same thing, but a visit to a brick and mortar Barnes and Noble wouldn't have.  That book is going on the long-term reading list, the scales tipped for the reason the clerk suggested, insight into the editorial workings of the New Yorker during the years Bishop published there.

Not from the recommendation table was another copy of Noli Me Tangere. I’m on about page eighty and my copy disappeared a week ago into the maw of the LIRR. I’d previously tried to replace it at the Strand, but, if you go to the Strand looking for something in particular, you’re not all that likely to find it, though you may go home with three or four other unrelated things.

But I haven't made any more progress through Noli, because I've been distracted by the other book I bought from the recommendation table: The Long Ships by Frans G. Bengtsson.  Michael Chabon's charming introduction was also published in The Paris Review. Their staff picks pushes a metaphor way to hard in describing the book. I can go with calling it a Viking Hustle and Flow, but Peter Conroy sums up, "After all, it's hard out here for a thane." Ouch.  The new paperback edition from New York Review Books Classics.

After my book binge, I had dinner at Two Boots, something I've somehow managed to miss in my (wow, as of last month, now six years) living in New York City.  Their pizza has a cornmeal dusted crust, which I actually like, but they're much too fond of putting chicken on pizza, something I find entirely inexplicable.  In fact, that and their "funky" decor were probably the two reasons I hadn't eaten at one of their branches already.  But, they manage to serve tasty pizza by the slice that is actually hot, a common failing, so I expect I'll be back again.

The books over movies resolution lasted only slightly more than 24 hours, as a forthcoming post about Sunday will recount.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Rudolf Buchbinder Votes Against "Authenticity" Before He Votes For It

Stuart Isacoff profiles Viennese pianist Rudolf Buchbinder in Thursday's Wall Street Journal. The article's pull quote was the bolded part of this paragraph:
But fitting together, in Mr. Buchbinder's view, never means compromising a personal vision. "When you grow up in Vienna," he explains, "you feel lucky, because you believe you are in the musical center of the world—the home of Haydn, Mozart and Beethoven. Yet the only reason this music is still alive after hundreds of years is that there is no such thing as 'an authentic' interpretation. If there were, the music would be dead. Take a sample of recordings of Beethoven's Fifth Symphony by 10 conductors, and they will all be different. You can't say there is one right way."
Fair enough, but this later paragraph puts a different spin on things:
... Mr. Buchbinder also likes to play music by George Gershwin, though he won't play the "Rhapsody in Blue" with orchestra, because the composer didn't write it for those forces.
Wait. So there's no such thing as authenticity, but he won't play an orchestra arrangement of Rhapsody in Blue, because Gershwin didn't write it for those forces. That seems like a concern about authenticity to me or something very close to it.

What Students Should Learn in College

This is a finished version of a post first drafted in 2005.  On the way are posts about some of the books I've been reading this month.

K. Anthony Appiah in Slate on what students should learn in college:
I've been on committees at a couple of great universities charged with the task and, putting aside the political difficulties (which I guess you can do, if you have a magic wand) you come to see it's one of those problems you can't solve, only manage. Here's the basic dilemma: If you say that a general education should teach you all the stuff worth knowing, there's far too much to fit around a major in a four-year education. If you say, on the other hand, that it should teach you only the essentials, there's too little. You can live a perfectly decent life with what you have to know just to get out of high school; indeed, many people do.
That dilemma is why you can't put aside the political and, more broadly, the philosophical.  Prof. Appiah has settled on a combined platform of equipping students with mathematical tools to participate in the policy debates of society and also broadening them beyond a parochially national perspective.  Call it technocratic cosmopolitanism.  Dude, at least it's an ethos.

But, it is an ethos.  This is a solution to a philosophical problem.   Assuming the purpose of teaching is to improve students' lives, answering the question, "What should a university teach?" requires answering the question, "What is the good life?" or "How shall we live?"  When we seek to answer that question in a communal context, like a university, and act on our answer, we're also engaging in politics.

But seeking to set aside the political, which in our society almost always involves setting aside normative philosophical judgments, prevents us from judging the solution in the proper context.

Some colleges judge knowledge of the Bible to be more important than courses in statistics or a junior year abroad.  If he hadn't set aside the political and, by implication, normative philosophical considerations, Prof. Appiah might be able to persuade them.

Bonus Big Lebowski/Walter Sobchak/Slate content: "Walter Sobchak, Neocon: The prescient politics of The Big Lebowski".

Friday, March 18, 2011

The Melodica

There was a melodica player on the subway last night.

The melodica has all the irritation of the accordion with none of the charm.

But check out James Howard Young's multi-tracked melodica project:

For all your melodica needs, appears to be pretty comprehensive.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

St. Patrick's Day

“Ut Christiani ita et Romani sitis.”

“As you are children of Christ, so be you children of Rome.”

Ex Dictis S. Patricii, Book of Armagh, fol. 9

The County Mayo Association with a statue of Our Lady of Knock at the 2010 Philadelphia St. Patrick's Parade (Photo by Jeff Meade from Flickr under a Creative Commons Attribution License)

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Does the Phil Care About Selling New Music?

I got a marketing e-mail today from the New York Philharmonic pitching the 2011-2012 season.

Since taking the podium at the New York Philharmonic, Alan Gilbert has been noted for his promotion of new music (or at least "newer" music). The Times (of London) wrote in January 2010:
For the moment, however, Gilbert resembles a more controversial figure in the orchestra’s past. Pierre Boulez enjoyed confronting the world’s most conservative audiences with the world’s most modern music, resulting in a string of critical successes and box-office failures. Since then new music has been kept at arm’s length. Until now.

“New music wasn’t presented in the best possible light in the past,” Gilbert admits. “It wasn’t clear why the orchestra was playing it or whether the orchestra really believed in it.”

The “Boléro effect”, as he calls it, which says that if you put a piece such as Ravel’s Boléro at the end of a programme you can slip anything else in earlier in the evening, was all too common. “You may be able to get people to buy tickets this way, but the clear message it sends out is that we don’t really believe in this,” he says. “It says: ‘Deal with it and we’ll get on to the fun stuff later.’ That is not a message we believe in.”
Which brings us back to the marketing e-mail. It leaves me with the impression that the new music is backed with something less than the full faith and credit of the New York Philharmonic. The Phil's Phlacks write:
The new 2011-12 season of Alan Gilbert and the New York Philharmonic has been announced! It is no less than a feast of musical masterpieces — three Mahler symphonies, a festival of Beethoven symphonies, Mozart’s Mass in C minor, and much more — plus exciting premieres from the composers of today.
If new music is important, it's important enough to give us a name. "Exciting premieres"? This breaks the basic rule of writing: Show don't tell. Who are these exciting new composers? The copy doesn't persuade me. If the composers' names aren't worthy to stand alongside Mahler, Beethoven, and Mozart in the marketing e-mail—not as equals necessarily, but at least with a second billing that mentions their names—why should we be excited about them?

As for myself, I'm hoping to hear them do Leos Janácek's The Cunning Little Vixen in June.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

America's Newspaper of Record

...that's the New York Post, for those of you not up on your John Derbyshire sobriquets.

Here's a couple recent oddities from its hallowed Hamiltonian pages.

Today's Classroom Extra (no link) is a short biography of Albert Einstein. Suggested classroom activities include, "Write a report explaining Einstein's theory of relativity." I'm sure the kids will get right on that!

Last Week's Post included Page Six Magazine featured an article, "When Preppy Weds Hippie". If I told you the article was about Lauren Bush, Princeton graduate, granddaughter and niece of presidents, product of a high school the local Chronicle called "one of Houston's most exclusive prep schools", you'd probably ask, "So who's the hippy?"

But no, she's the hippy. The prep is David Lauren, son of the Polo Ralph Lauren founder.

There's a whole discussion to be had about whether Polo Ralph Lauren is really preppy or is just an appropriation of a culture or even a parody. But, we'll leave that as an exercise for the reader.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Not exactly...

Fr. Thomas Kocik wrote a post recently on the New Liturgical Movement about a proposed audio-book style version of the Latin Nova Vulgata.

This strikes me as an odd and not particularly useful project in this post-Summorum Pontificum world.
Vatican Press, in partnership with Faith Comes By Hearing (a non-profit, donor-driven, interdenominational ministry committed to the mission of reaching poor and illiterate people worldwide with the Word of God in audio), is preparing to record the Latin edition of the New Testament, the Neo-Vulgate,
A Latin edition. More on this below.
for use in Catholic seminaries, parishes, and personal individual study worldwide. The Neo-Vulgate is currently the official or "typical" Latin edition published by the Catholic Church for use in the Roman Rite. As the first vernacular translation of the Bible, it is only fitting that it be among the languages in which Faith Comes By Hearing makes Sacred Scripture available in audio using the rendering of the translator, St. Jerome (342–420 A.D.).
What? Jerome did two translations of the Bible into Latin. The Neo-Vulgate is not either of them. It's a new edition. Hence the "neo" or "nova" in the name.
It will also be available for free download onto technology devices for academic and devotional use.
Those of us who are regularly worshiping in Latin and studying the Latin scriptures for that purpose are overwhelmingly not using the Nova Vulgata, but the 1962 missal versions. Serious academics working on Biblical studies are only using the Latin (they use the Greek and the Hebrew) if they are doing specialized historical studies on previous interpretation (e.g. editions of sermons written by those who used the Vulgate). But they're not using the Nova Vulgata for these studies either.
The Latin Vulgate is the substratum for the prayers of the Roman liturgy and offers the spiritual milieu for it. I ask you to consider giving this worthwhile project your prayerful and financial support. To hear, as well as to read, the Holy Scriptures in Latin – the first language into which the original Hebrew and Greek were translated – would be a fine source for reinforcement of biblically grounded faith and cultural enrichment.
There's a historical error here too.  The first language into which the original Hebrew of the Torah was translated wasn't Latin, but Aramaic and then later the Greek Septuagint.

Friday, March 11, 2011

A Life at the Track is built from Days at the Races

I've just finished reading Ted McClelland's Horseplayers: Life at the Track.

I live right near Aqueduct, though I've never made it out there, but I have been to the summer meet at Saratoga once.

The book is well done, but it betrays its origins as an edited and reworked version of newspaper columns (even though he had a book contract already while the columns were being written.) The profiles of the people he meets at the track don't go as deep as you might like: newspaper column depth rather than magazine column or book depth. The same book suffers from the same difficulty as a memoir or as participatory journalism, never digging as deep into the authors psyche as a book like Ted Conover's Newjack: Guarding Sing Sing. Of course, Newjack wasn't Conover's first rodeo as Horseplayers seems to be for McClelland. I'll be keeping an eye out for a sophmore effort.

I discovered the helpful glossary at the back only when I had finished the book, but there was still no entry there for exacta! (I used the internet to look it up.)

One more thing about reading Horseplayers: a little more knowledge about handicapping gives me a sharper appreciation for this bit from A Day at the Races:

Thursday, March 10, 2011

So Good It's Bad

Dana Stevens writes in Slate about Love Guru:
There are good movies. There are bad movies. There are movies so bad they're good (though, strangely, not the reverse).
I'm not so sure this is true.  Basically, the point here is that there multiple meanings for the words "good" and "bad".

But given this fact, aren't there all sorts of movies so "good" they're bad? Think, for instance of "morally improving" movies.  Pauline Kael has an interesting comment about this in Afterglow: A Last Conversation With Pauline Kael:
[T]hey thought I was awful for panning the kind of movies I panned, the earnest movies, what's now called the independent film—the movies that have few aesthetic dimensions but are moral and have lessons and all. There was a great deal of sentiment for that kind of movie at The New Yorker, and from its readers. This was, after all, in the sixties and seventies, and New York was still full of a lot of refugees from Hitler, and they took movies very seriously, and morally. And my frivolous tone really bugged them. ...

Today, there's so much more of a feeling for films as aesthetic objects rather than as morally improving objects. But I was writing for a magazine that stood for moral improvement—New Yorker editorials during my years there could be so abstractly moralizing. There were things there that were so at odds with what I was doing that it amazes me that I lasted.
That captures the point, I think. A certain kind of moral movie could be called "so good it's bad."

I'm not sure if Kael intended to contrast taking movies seriously with appreciating them as aesthetic objects. Can't we take seriously aesthetic objects, even if they don't have "messages" attached? It's also interesting to think about how the "independent" label has broadened since Kael said this. Certainly today, plenty of what are called independent films are aesthetically focused, rather than message films. I'm not sure this wasn't even the case when Kael wrote the above.

This post was started in 2008, I don't run around the 'net searching for reviews of bad old Mike Myers movies, but I did want to clean up some of the drafts still lingering on Blogger. Finishing up this post makes me miss my former coworker and friend CeOtis Robinson, who definitely would have loved discussing this question.

Tuesday, March 08, 2011

Essays About Latin

Professor Emeritus William Harris of Middlebury college has a great collection of essays on studying, translating and appreciating Latin.

How Many Roman Missals Do We Need?

Responding to a post on the NLM about Midwest Theological Forum's plans to publish an edition of the new English Missal, Fr. Franklyn McAfee commented:
I hope they also will do an edition of the Missale Romanum (1962).
This got me thinking. Between the Benzinger reprint from PCP and the Vatican edition we're pretty well situated for 1962 Missals at this point, if perhaps not so well situated that another edition wouldn't be a good thing.

And anyways, what's the harm in another edition? Actually, there is a downside: economies of scale.  The balance on the 1962 Missal might still tilt towards additional editions.  I'm not as convinced that we need as many editions of the new missal as have already been announced.

While I'm glad we have other art choices than those of the Liturgical Press edition, is the difference between the Midwest Theological Forum edition and the Magnificat edition going to be worth the increased price of both missals?

Now, is there anything we can do about this? Unless we're liturgical publishers, probably not. Centralized control probably wouldn't work any better. But liturgical publishers should try to make sure they're offering something different from what the competition is offering and not just multiplying their offerings uselessly and wasting everyone's money and time.  Newman House Press apparently has plans for a Latin/English Missale parvum, which sounds interesting.