PimPhilipse - drowning in books
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This is going to be my third attempt to maintain a Club Read 20xx thread.
I read a lot of non-fiction: history, music, science, philosophy, and I try to participate in some group reads of the Salon du < topic du jour>.
My wish-list for this year:
Мы (We) by Zamyatin - in Russian.
The Idiot by Dotsoyevsky
Enlightenment Contested by J. Israel
The Italian Madrigal by Alfred Einstein
But I know I'm going to be distracted endlessly by thousand and one things that come across my path. Well, it's the experience that counts.
Salon du <whatever> read:
Judge not, lest ye be judged
The Pharisee stood and prayed thus with himself, God, I thank thee, that I am not as other men are, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even as this publican.
Laura Warholic is full of people who enjoy judging others. And they do this not by well-reasoned speeches, but by ranting. A. Theroux has tried to elevate the rant to an art form by letting his characters rant during up to dozens of pages. These rants are completely unstuctured and consist only of lists of factoids, often inaccurate or irrelevant, and suggesting an encyclopaedic knowledge of the speaker that is usually completely incongruous with the character as we have come to know him or her so far.
The hero or anti-hero is Eugene Eyestones. His eyes are extremely bad, which makes me wonder how he could have been a helicopter pilot in Vietnam, but his psychological eyesight is even worse, considering the time he spends with Laura Warholic, the epitome of anti-intellectualism. Eyestones writes for the magazine of Laura’s ex under the pseudonym of The Sexual Intellectual. We are given an example of his output in the chapter The Controversial Essay, where he rants for 40 pages on women and creativity, starting with the line: “A creative woman is an oxymoron” and then going on and on stating one factoid after another.
If Eyestones later on quotes Cicero, why can’t he let himself be influenced by Cicero’s rethorical talent? If he quotes Seneca, where is his stoicism? His version of intellectualism is utterly useless: he is quoting famous authors whenever a situation suggests that, but his life is not influenced at all by these authors.
What kept me reading was the sheer magnitude of the lists of insults, factoids, pop-culture references and so on. The book taught me that P.D.Q. Bach’s “Concerto for Horn and Hardart” plays on the name of a NY restaurant.
Also, having spent a few days in Boston this summer, I enjoyed seeing the city through a completely different perspective.
Pim, good to see you here.
But I know I'm going to be distracted endlessly by thousand and one things that come across my path. Me, too. Not such a bad thing. I look forward to seeing where the distractions take you.
René Leys read on advice by TomcatMurr.
I read this in French on a tablet: a scanned version from gallica.bnf.fr
An exciting story around the Chinese revolution of 1911. The narrator is observing how the Belgian adolescent René Leys is mixing up with the imperial ruling class.
The Trouble with Science by Robin Dunbar.
I had enjoyed his Grooming, Gossip, and the Evolution of Language and The Human Story so I expected a fun read, and I wasn’t disappointed, although the ‘trouble’ part of the title is definitely serious.
Focusing on natural science, Dunbar discusses some viewpoints like those of Popper, Kuhn and Feyerabend, and the idea that science is an activity that is specific to western culture, implying a) that other cultures may have no need for science and b) that no-one can be said to be right or wrong in this respect.
D. states that scientific methods have been observed in various other cultures (notably China) and even points to research that suggests that animals may use a limited form of science, where it takes the form of what he calls ‘cookbook science’ (as opposed to the higher form of ‘explanatory science’). Being able to hold a hypothesis after a number of observations have suggested it appears to be an evolutionary advantage, just like generalisation and classification.
However, the step to explanatory science appears to be hard to make even for most humans (trouble #1). As soon as the hypotheses become counter-intuitive or complex probability calculus or other math is required, the majority drops out.
The next step is a study of the human, primate and monkey brain to find out where it really excels, and this turns out to be social relations. Each increase in brain size (esp. the neocortex) is apparently used to deal with greater social groups: monkeys build and break alliances, primates are able to lie and cheat, and we all know what humans can do.
So with our big brains we still may be unable to grasp what great scientists do. Enter trouble #2: popular science writing. This, D. states, is more often than not transforming fundamental science in nice-to-know factoids. As a result, the general public has a completely false image of what scientists really are doing. And this causes trouble #3: less and less students choose to study natural science. Given our huge dependency on the output of science and technology, this may spell trouble for society in general.
D. gives a number of suggestions of changing the curriculum in order to make science more accessible and more wide-spread in the general public, but they seem rather impractical. (Let everyone do one year of science-service in a lab?!)
We’ll see how it all works out.
Monteverdi and the end of the Renaissance
This fall I was rehearsing madrigals and liturgical music by Monteverdi and contemporaries, and one day I noticed this book lying around. I ordered it as soon as I came home.
The first chapter (which I had leafed through at the rehearsal) places the end of the Renaissance at the point where people realise that they have to go past the examples from the classical writers. Tomlinson mentions Galilei, who wants to dump the accepted geocentric model of the cosmos, the poet Guarini, who writes Il Pastor Fido which conflicts with the poetics of Aristotle, and finally Monteverdi who with his seconda prattica writes music that seems to conflict with Pythagorean concepts of harmony.
In the next chapters he follows M through his eight books of madrigals, considering the poets that he is using and the harmonic development. Since my knowledge of harmony is not terribly good, I cannot judge T’s treatment of this subject, but the textual analysis is quite interesting.
At our concert we sang the following madrigals:
Baci soavi e cari (I)
Luci serene e chiare (IV)
Lasciatemi morire (Lamento di Arianna) (VI)
and in a distant past I’ve sung
Intorno a due vermiglie e vaghe labra (II)
Ecco mormorar l’onde (II)
O primavera, gioventù dell’ anno (III)
They are all discussed in the book. ‘Baci’ is a text by Guarini, T shows how M is fooled by G’s complex syntax, and so places a fermata in the middle of a sentence:
Quant’ ha di dolce amore,
perché sempr’ io vi baci, 対rmata!]
O dolcissime rose,
In voi tutto ripose.
All that is sweet in love,
whenever I kiss you,
oh sweetest roses,
resides in you.
‘Luci’ is a text by Arlotti, who was working for Gesualdo as a singer. Gesualdo had originally set the text to music, and M is more or less elaborating on Gesualdo’s setting.
The Lamento di Arianna is based on a fragment of an opera that is now lost. The text is by Rinuccini. The soprano who sang the role of Arianna managed to get the music of the lament and used that during her subsequent travels through Italy - copies of the music remain in libraries all over the place.
‘Intorno a due vermiglie e vaghe labra’: poet unknown, but apparently inspired by Marini. Kissing is compared to all kinds of natural phenomena: stars in the sky, jewels in the earth...
‘Ecco mormorar l’onde’ is a text by Tasso, pastoral description of a dawn where the fact that the observer is suffering from love is only revealed at the last line.
‘O primavera’: text by Guarini. Nature is invoked, but then it turns out that the narrator has love-problems:
O primavera, gioventù dell’ anno,
bella madre di fiori,
d’herbe novelle e di novelli amori:
tu ben, lasso, ritorni,
ma senza i cari giorni
delle speranze mie. Tu ben sei quella
ch’eri pur dianzi sì vezzosa e bella,
ma non son io quel che già un tempo fui,
sì car’a gl’occhi altrui.
Oh springtime, youth of the year,
beautiful mother of flowers,
of new grasses and new loves:
well may you return, but -
alas! - without the hopeful days
so dear to me. Well may you be
that which you were before, so charming and pretty,
but I am not the same as I once was,
so dear to the eyes of another.
For each of the madrigal books, T identifies a paradigm that M uses in selecting poetry to set to music, and he shows how these paradigms fit with M’s stylistic developments in composition.
An enjoyable, if sometimes confusing read.
I'll have to redo it when I know more about musical theory.
Read your review of The Trouble with Science with interest. I teach science to international students, so will definitely seek out this book.
Monteverdi and the End of the Renaissance Enjoyed listening to and looking at your links. Beautiful music. The book sounds interesting, but my lack of knowledge of musical theory might also confuse me.
We is definitely better in Russian -- or at least reads a bit better. The English translation (despite being one of the better ones) looses something of the mood of the novel... something untranslatable that touches the mind in the Russian version. But then I am not sure if that will be true if someone's native language is not from the same language family -- I never was able to pinpoint what I was missing, it was more a feeling lodged in my subconscious than anything else. It's pretty similar to the spark missing in some works originally written in English that I had read in Bulgarian or in Russian and then read them in English.
Thankfully, this does not happen for each book.:)
Great post on Montiverdi pim, thanks for all the links. I must get this book. Monteverdi had a most interesting life and career. The Hymn to Ave Maris Stella absolutely knocks me out every time I hear it.
>12: I believe you, but it's going to be a pretty slow read - I have to look up about 10 words per page. Still, the book is small enough to allow me to finish it in a couple of months.
Gesualdo: The man and his music
Following the madrigal trail, the relationship that Monteverdi and Gesualdo appear to have had and the fact that I had begun (years ago) to collect the recordings of his madrigals by a Dutch ensemble, I decided to read this book. The first 91 pages try to give a biography, but apart from the bits of him murdering his wife and her lover, his life is quite underdocumented.
There is a discussion of the various opinions on the fresco in the monastery S. Maria delle Grazie that G commissioned.
Most agree that the figure in the lower left is Don Carlo himself, the persons in heaven are also uncontested, but the identity of the people in the purgatory is still debated. Those that are assisted by angels could be his victims, but who is the winged child?
An important phase was his visit to Ferrara where at the court of the Estes G married into the family, and then stayed about two years, during which he published his first two madrigal books, and then composed and published two more. The musical life in Ferrara was substantial, more on this in the upcoming read The Madrigal at Ferrara.
The courtier Fontanelli is sent to welcome G in Argenta, about 35 km SE from Ferrara. He writes to the Duke on 18 February 1594:
“The Prince, although at first view he does not have the presence of the personage he is, becomes little by little more agreeable, and for my part I am sufficiently satisfied of his appearance. I have not been able to see his figure since he wears an overcoat as long as a nightgown; but I think that tomorrow he will be more gaily dressed. He talks a great deal and gives no sign, except in his portrait, of being a melancholy man. He discourses on hunting and music and declares himself an authority on both.Of hunting he did not enlarge very much since he did not find much reaction from me, but about music he spoke at such length that I have not heard so much in a whole year. He makes open profession of it and shows his works in score to everybody in order to induce them to marvel at his art. He has with him two sets of music books in five parts,all his own works, but he says that he only has four people who can sing for which reason he will be forced to take the fifth part himself, although it seems that he is confident that Rinaldo will enter into the singing and do well.
He says that he has abandoned his first style and has set himself to the imitation of Luzzasco, a man whom he greatly admires and praises, although he says that not all of Luzzasco’s madrigals are equally well written, as he claims to wish to point out to Luzzasco himself. This evening after supper he sent for a cembalo so that I could hear Scipione Stella and so that he could play on it himself along with the guitar, of which he has a very high regard. But in all Argenta we could not find a cembalo for which reason, so as not to pass an evening without music, he played the lute for an hour and a half. (...) It is obvious that his art is infinite, but it is full of attitudes, and moves in an extraordinary way.”
The bulk of the book deals with his music, cooperation with poets, teachers, followers, other composers. The reception was very well until in 1776 Burney in his History of Music writes a most scathing paragraph on the Prince: “... his points of imitation are generally unmanageable, and brought in so indiscriminately on concords and discords, and on accented and unaccented parts of a bar, that, when performed, there is more confusion in the general effect than in the Music of any other composer of madrigals with whose works I am acquainted.”. And so on.
Enjoyed your review of Gesualdo: the man and his music. I take it you do not agree with the comments by Burney. A fascinating fresco.
Did you know there is a Werner Herzog documentary about Gesualdo? It's called Death for Five Voices. It's typical Werner Herzog, i.e. kind of strange and quirky, but that fits pretty well with Gesualdo's life and music. I enjoyed it.
It's lying next to my DVD player, I just need to stop reading and start watching...
Two Renaissance Book Hunters
Inspired by the story of Poggio's life given by The Swerve, I started reading his letters to his fellow-bookworm Nicolaus de Niccolis.
The letter of his visit to the baths in Baden-Baden has funny comparisons of the manners of the German and Italian people.
Later, Poggio writes much from London, where he works as a secretary for some churchman, these letters talk mostly about the lack of ancient texts in England and the need to go back to Italy.
When he returns to Rome he again has full access to his favourite authors and discovers more manuscripts. Moreover, when Lorenzo an Cosimo de'Medici visit Rome, they take Poggio for a tour of the city in search of ancient inscriptions.
After being accused of keeping some texts for himself, he writes:
"I am surprised at what you write, that you suspect that I am hiding works which were in the inventory so that they may not be known. How did this get into your mind, when you have known me to my very fingertips? Would I ever wish to hide anything from you? Have you not always had a share not only in all my actions but even in all my thoughts? Do you not know that nothing good is fun to own without a friend to share it? Get rid of the idea that I should want anything not to be public property that was written for public enjoyment."
Gaukler, Dirnen, Rattenfänger. Aussenseiter im Mittelalter
Surprise-finding at the 1 Euro bookshop. Outsiders in the middle ages, for whatever reason: profession, bad health, race, belief...
One of the professions that had a bad reputation was keeper of a bath-house. This is illustrated in a way that made me think of Poggio's visit to Baden-Baden:
Aeneis by Virgil.
After having read La Divina Commedia this summer (note to self: write something about it) I was intrigued by the role of Virgil in the inferno, so when a new translation by Piet Schrijvers appeared with parallel Latin text I decided it was time to tackle the work. The translation is in hexameters, emulating the Latin form, while remaining quite readable. I sometimes looked at the Latin text when the Dutch seemed a bit out of place, or when I wondered what the original would be. Schrijvers tries to help the non-classicial educated reader somewhat by filling in names of gods that are absent in the original, and he translates 'Thyrreni' as 'Etruscans':
(VIII,604) haud procul hinc Tarcho et Thyrrheni tuta tenebant
Dicht in de buurt bevond zich het veilige kamp van Tarchon
en de Etrusken...
(XII,106) Nec minus interea maternis saeuus in armis
Aeneas acuit Martem et se suscitat ira
Ondetussen scherpt Aeneas zijn krijgslust en woede;
hij is gehuld in de wapens die Venus hem heeft geschonken
It was interesting to compare with Vondel's translation in alexandrine verse:
Eneas, moedig en belust dien krijg te slechten
Door 't aangeboôn verdrag, wet midlerwijl zijn moed
Niet koeler met geweer, hem in dien oorlogsgloed
Door 's moeders gunst besteld, ...
The story so far: after the sack of Troy, Aeneas and a couple of his friends escape from the slaughter and sail away, aided by Venus, the mother of Aeneas. She has determined that the Trojans shall found a great nation in Italy. However, Juno (still pissed off by the judgement of Paris) wants to exterminate every Trojan to the last man. They pass Carthage, causing Dido's death and the moral start of the Punic wars, visit the Hades to learn about Rome's great future and fight their way into Italy. The poem ends abrubtly when Aeneis has killed Turnus, the greatest antagonist of the Trojans in Italy. Since Virgil died before he could finish the book, one may guess the ending he might have chosen.
The tale can be considered a piece of propaganda for Octavianus Augustus, but it is surprisingly impartial towards the Carthaginians and the Italian enemies.
The descent of Aeneas into Hades must have been the inspiration for Dante to make Virgil his guide in the inferno.
Interesting the translator keeping to the original hexameters; I was wondering whether there was a rhyming scheme to be kept in place as well. This can seriously distort the meaning of the text.
Luckily the original was available which made it possible to find out (more or less) what the original meaning was
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