Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Buggermania and Other Madnesses

TLS July 9 2010

from J.P.E. Harper-Scott's review of Roland John Wiley's Tchaikovsky, and Adam Zamoyski's Chopin: Prince of the Romantics:

Very touching are Tchaikovsky's letters to his brother Modest in 1876, which show him racked by his urge to perform sexual acts that he admits are contrary to his Christian belief. "Buggermania," he writes. "forms an impassable gulf between me and most people." Admitting to thoughts of joining a monastery, Piotr implores his brother, whose sexual interests were similar, to exercise control over himself. Some of the letters are more explicit than others. of Josef Kotek, fifteen years his junior, he writes, 
When he caresses me with his hand, when he lies with his head inclined on my breast, and run my hand through his hair and secretly kiss it . . . passion rages within me with such unimaginable strength . . . . Yet I am far from the desire for a physical bond. I feel that if this happened, I would cool towards him. It would be unpleasant for me if this marvellous youth debased himself to copulate with an ageing and fat-bellied man.
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Wiley's musical commentary lays occasional critical emphasis on prelest', a concept veering from simple attractiveness to more dangerous seductiveness and corruption; he regards this as "a Russian element deeper than hackneyed determinants of nationality, enhancing it in pieces where no phrase of folk song ever sounds" . . . .
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Recent musicology has out the body interestingly near the centre of its discourse about the production and meaning of music, but Zamoyski's drift here, by contrast, is that the body serves only as a conduit of the sempiternal, its shabby humanity burnt off by exposure to the fires of creativity.

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from Paolo D'Iorio's review of Handschriften, Erstausgaben und Widmungsexemplare, edited by Julia Rosenthal, Peter Andre Bloch and David Marc Hoffman:

Nietzsche scholars will be delighted to find in this new book a reproduction of one of about ten known copies of the first edition of the fourth part of Thus Spake Zarathustra (1885). This copy contains a significant dedication: "To my revered, dear friend Franz Overbeck with the request to keep secret this ineditum--and many other requests", which reminds us, better than any philological explanation, of the different editorial and philosophical status of the fourth part of Thus Spake Zarathustra. While the first three parts are published works made available to the general public, the fourth part is a private printing, which Nietzsche wanted to keep secret.
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Finally, a mention of the page that Nietzsche gave to the doctor of his madhouse as his "testament" on May 5, 1889. It contains staves, music, words, scribbles: some of them perfectly readable, though most are virtually indecipherable. This is the only document in the collection not to have been transcribed. Nietzsche has always been one of the strongest advocates of life, despite all its pain death and madness, and the presence of a speechless testament in the middle of these beautiful manuscripts and remarkable books is particularly appropriate, because it reminds us, better than any philosophical explanation, how difficult it is to be an advocate of life.

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TLS June 11 2010

from Lorna Hutson's review of David Hawkes's John Milton: A hero of our time:

Hawkes's insistence on the centrality of usury to understanding the development of Milton's thought illuminates the psychic tendency involved in the early poetry. One of Hawkes's arguments for Milton's immediate relevance to the present moment is the poet's claim that the truths he revealed were ahead of his own time, and would only be understood by succeeding ages. As young as twenty-two, Milton imagined for himself the life of study and contemplation that would make him a prophetic poet. This situating of a studious life in the context of the financial investments that paid for it makes the reader aware of the poet's stressful sense of psychic investment, of the strains of living one's life as a debt that risks going unpaid.

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from Llewelyn Morgan's review of Ellen Oliensis's Freud's Rome: Psychoanalysis and Latin poetry:

But if at times one can feel that the theory is flattered by the superlative talents of the critic, that nicely conveys the manifold merits of Freud's Rome: for me Oliensis's reading of Scylla's erotic pursuit of Minos in Metamorphoses 8 does not amount to a case for penis envy, but it is from any perspective a superbly illuminating account of the episode, stylish, perceptive and psychologically acute. With this of all topics I am bound to allow that the problem may be mine. Does the proliferation of feet in Catallus 63 play out a castration anxiety? Maybe not/ But it cannot be anything but therapeutic for classicists to be told that "synecdoche is the rhetorical counterpart of the fetish".

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TLS July 16 2010

from Guy Dammann's review of the 63rd Aldeburgh festival of Music and the Arts:

One can never be prepared for someone like [Pierre] Boulez. His identity seems entirely bound up with the paradox, implicit in the idea of artistic originality, of necessity as the flipside of novelty.
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Now months shy of his 102nd birthday, [Elliot] Carter is in as good a position as any to compose a work with the title What Are Years?, a setting of five poems by Marianne Moore. Scored for chamber orchestra, with an array of pitched and unpitched percussion, the limpid instrumental writing provides a sleek bedding for beautifully measured vocal lines which support the wittily skewed angles of Moore's verse. In both the poems and the music, detail surrenders itself imperceptibly to confrontation with mystery.
In the final, title song, a bird is observed "growing taller" in the act of singing, It sits captive between fear and desire but voices the infinite reach of human longing: "satisfaction is a lowly thing, how pure a thing is joy". The line is carried through a steep crescendo into a resounding chord, amid the decay of which the soprano intones "This is mortality. This is eternity". 
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Scored for a folksy, almost comic ensemble which includes basset horns a contrabass clarinet and parts for mandolin and banjo, [George Benjamin's] Into the Little Hill is less an opera than a piece of ritualized musical storytelling. At its heart is the dramatic contrast between the compromised reality in which we accept, as the minister puts it," all faiths because we believe in nothing", and the realm of unbridled presence accessible only to the innocent children (and rats), who blissfully follow the piper's Pythagorean strains to the light that blazes under the hill.
In one sense, Into the Little Hill can be understood as a kind of negative Gesamkunstwerk--a total work that has renounced all totalizing claims. With the aid of John Fuljames's minimal staging, the work affords a limitless space and time for the imagination through the bewildering beauty of its gestures. Though the audience are left no less bereft than the townsfolk in the story, the work engenders a strong and emboldening perception of one's own freedom to pull together each phrase, image or utterance. At the same time, it suggests an easier, more honest relation to history than that which dominates the gloomy horizons of Boulez and Berio. The illusions of the past cannot be brought back, or its horrific losses made good, but the structure of our relation to ideas of infinity and perfection remains the same, brought to being neither through enchantment nor disenchantment, but through the effort to create and comprehend beauty [italics mine].

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from Stephen Gaukroger's review of Edward Skidelsky's Ernst Cassirer: The last philosopher of culture:

In his Essay on Man, [Cassirer] writes that
language, myth religion, art, science, history are the constituents, the various sectors of [the circle of humanity]. A "philosophy of man" would therefore be a philosophy which would give us insights into each of these human activities and which, at the same time, would enable us to understand them as an organic whole.
Such insight is to be achieved, on Cassirer's view, through an appreciation of the symbol-making nature of human beings. While other animals are immersed in the immediacy of worlds of their own, human beings go beyond these limits, and must construct symbolic forms of understanding--myth, religion, language, art. science--to find their way in a way which is not their own, even if it remains of their own making.

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from Siriol Troup's review of Gunter Eich's Angina Days: Selected poems, translated by Michael Hofmann:

"All poems are too long", [Eich] said in 1965. "I'm graphic, black-and-white, I'm in favour of omission, abbreviation, shorthand . . . . I ask questions, I don't give answers". . . . His writing becomes a decision to see the world as language, an attempt to translate from a language in which word and thing coincide. We translate, he says, without having the original text.

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