Balthusian Catastrophe

The effort to throw out the Balthus
Is warming the ghost of Sir Malthus:
“Our art’s overbreeding.
Too much painting needs feeding.
You empty the too-crowded salle thus.”

Updated Exhibit to Feature Adolf Hitler, Benito Mussolini, Saddam Hussein, Moammar Gaddhafi…

… Timothy McVeigh, and Nicolae Ceausescu.

France Secures its Title as the Most Literate, Cultured Country in the World.

… Penelope Fillon [wife of French presidential candidate Francois Fillon] was paid about €5,000 a month between May 2012 and December 2013 by a literary review owned by a billionaire businessman friend of Fillon. The editor said he had never seen her at the magazine and only knew of two short book reviews she wrote in that time, published under a pseudonym.

A year and a half worth of employment at 5,000 euros a month for writing two short book reviews. These people truly value the arts.

One of UD’s little claims to fame is that…

… she was in the last cohort of tourists to see the actual Lascaux caves. Her family was on its way to England, where her father had a fellowship at London’s National Institute for Medical Research, and among the places they visited were the caves full of paleolithic drawings of animals (and a few people).

The press of people wanting to see the caves began destroying the paintings, so in 1963 the original caves were closed to the public, and a series of nearby replicas were created. The latest replica, just opened, is the biggest and the best.

“There is no telling what an increasingly desperate Trump, a reality TV showman whose entire campaign has been an unmitigated flouting of conventional political, cultural and behavioral norms, will do in his final 90 minutes on the debate stage to try and affect a race that appears to be over or, perhaps more pragmatically, to attempt to save face by blaming his dim electoral prospects on an allegedly biased media and the unsubstantiated claims of a rigged election.”

Think Chris Burden.

Culture Clash

A rock band is performing in Cleveland, and it drew some conventioneers to its show.

They booed when the band leader talked about gay rights and stuff.

“You can boo all you want, but I’m the motherfucking artist up here,” [the lead singer] told his audience…

[At one point the singer] asked [the crowd:] “Who here believes in science?”

So much booing.

Shades of Brezhnev/Honecker.

Cleveland, today.

Germany, 1979 and 1990.

“Thirty-two years of meaningless fame to end up alone in my room, watching myself become extinct. My music growing fainter, all the time fainter, until no one plays it at all. And his growing louder, filling the world with wonder. And everyone who loves my sacred art crying, Mozart!”

Salieri’s final speech, from the film Amadeus.

Peter Shaffer, author of the play and the screenplay, has died.

As the presidential contest becomes surrealistic, journalists reach out to modernist literature.

Donald Trump’s distinctive rhetorical style — think of a drunk with a bullhorn reading aloud James Joyce’s Finnegans Wake under water — poses an almost insuperable challenge to people whose painful duty is to try to extract clarity from his effusions.

***********************

[Chris Christie, standing at a podium behind Trump, whom he has endorsed] had the eyes of a man who has looked into the heart of light, the silence. A man who had seen the moment of his greatness flicker, and seen the eternal footman hold his coat, and snicker.

And, in short, he looked afraid.

(The allusions are to T.S. Eliot’s The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock.)

************************

So, that’s fiction and poetry. Let’s round things out with a dramatic monologue for Christie — from Eugene O’Neill’s Anna [“Chris”] Christie:

And I was thinking maybe, seeing he ain’t never done a thing for me in my life, he might be willing to stake me to a room and eats till I get rested up. [Wearily.] Gee, I sure need that rest! I’m knocked out. [Then resignedly.] But I ain’t expecting much from him. Give you a kick when you’re down, that’s what all men do. [With sudden passion.] Men, I hate ’em–all of ’em! And I don’t expect he’ll turn out no better than the rest.

Your musical selection this morning…

… a big UD favorite, is Julia Lezhneva, singing Rachmaninoff’s Daisies to accompany UD on her train ride up to Boston. I like almost everything Lezhneva performs, but this small song in particular always gets me. And that’s odd, because it’s not the sort of music I generally like — “art” songs, sentimental, with titles like Daisies, drawn-out atonalities… I ask myself why I like this piece so much and here’s my list of possible reasons:

1. There’s a close-to-perfect feel to the performance – one Russian singing another, a perfect match of singer and song in terms of language and sensibility. It’s what a critic would call a “gem.” (Lezhneva won this competition, by the way – youngest singer to do that.)

2. The performance showcases what I find so amazing about Lezhneva – the way her voice always seems part of the score. Know what I mean? She’s so smooth, so inside the music, that there’s a seamless connection between piano and voice. Her sensibility is slightly self-abnegating – she’s no prima donna – and this deepens the sense of her fidelity to the music above all rather than her personal dramatic projection. (This is probably why I’m not put off by the sentimentality of the song.) Yet her voice as instrument is so remarkable that this never means she disappears inside the score.

3. Her voice as instrument? To my ear she has a piercing clarity and accuracy with her notes – not just the basic acrobatic fact of a soprano who can hit something really high, but the smooth ease with which she does that … The way her high notes aren’t like — deep breath! hit that sucker! — (and that’s a feeling I sometimes get with Joyce DiDonato, despite my deep respect for her singing). There’s something sedate and, as I say, undramatic about Lezhneva, which seems just right for this small Rachmaninoff piece – the ability to set a mood and sustain it, explore it a bit, resolve it.

Interestingly, the only Lezhneva stuff I’ve heard/seen that I haven’t liked is her operatic stage stuff. The same gestalt that makes her no Maria Callas makes her… no Maria Callas. There is something neat, self-contained, delicate, bird-like, about Lezhneva, with her modest height, her slight body, her small features, her paleness, her wispy light brown hair — she is the anti-Callas. Her effect is powerful in part because of the contrast between her unremarkable physical presence and the vocal power she generates; quietly faithful to the score, she gives you space to respond and not over-respond. She holds things back, which in my aesthetic experience tends to mean that the power of the expression is heightened.

I guess another way of saying this is that she ain’t very sexy – can’t see her getting much traction with this ditty.

Ay, Rubio! Ay Rubio!

Your beautiful repetitions are the heart of poetry and song.

Alan Rickman

1946-2016

*************

Disturbing resemblance to Spiro T. Agnew.

“She was a young American…

… All the way from Washington...”

Typical of wee UD to have gotten the Bowie lyrics wrong – and wrong in a way that made the lines be about her, a young American from Washington…

*****

She heard the song for the first time in an Evanston Illinois apartment shared by four Iranian engineering students at Northwestern University. She remembers loving it so much that she just sat there, for a long time, listening again and again.

David Bowie has died.

“I don’t think [as a playwright] you start [by saying to yourself] I’ve got this to say about anything. You don’t have anything to say about anything. You delve into a particular corner of yourself that’s dark and uneasy, and you articulate the confusions and the unease of that particular period. When you do that, that’s finished and you acquire other corners of unease and discontent.”

Brian Friel, author of Dancing at Lughnasa, has died.

*********************

His comment about the origin of certain kinds of writing is similar to what Don DeLillo said the other night at the New Yorker festival:

“That assassination [of JFK] was the thing that made me a novelist,” he said. “The power of it… I couldn’t come to terms with it.”

*********************

Add A.R. Ammons:

[Poetry] comes from anxiety. That is to say, either the mind or the body is already rather highly charged and in need of some kind of expression, some way to crystallize and relieve the pressure. And it seems to me that if you’re in that condition and an idea, an insight, an association occurs to you, then that energy is released through the expression of that insight or idea, and after the poem is written, you feel a certain resolution and calmness. Well, I won’t say a “momentary stay against confusion” (Robert Frost’s phrase) but that’s what I mean. I think it comes from that. You know, [Harold] Bloom says somewhere that poetry is anxiety.

The Queen of Spain Comes by her Kafka Shirt Honestly.

She studied literature at university.

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