Tuesday, 30 June 2015

Plato: Apology - Socrates' Defense

How you have felt, O men of Athens, at hearing the speeches of my accusers, I cannot tell; but I know that their persuasive words almost made me forget who I was - such was the effect of them; and yet they have hardly spoken a word of truth. But many as their falsehoods were, there was one of them which quite amazed me; - I mean when they told you to be upon your guard, and not to let yourselves be deceived by the force of my eloquence. They ought to have been ashamed of saying this, because they were sure to be detected as soon as I opened my lips and displayed my deficiency; they certainly did appear to be most shameless in saying this, unless by the force of eloquence they mean the force of truth; for then I do indeed admit that I am eloquent. But in how different a way from theirs! Well, as I was saying, they have hardly uttered a word, or not more than a word, of truth; but you shall hear from me the whole truth: not, however, delivered after their manner, in a set oration duly ornamented with words and phrases. No indeed! but I shall use the words and arguments which occur to me at the moment; for I am certain that this is right, and that at my time of life I ought not to be appearing before you, O men of Athens, in the character of a juvenile orator - let no one expect this of me. And I must beg of you to grant me one favor, which is this - If you hear me using the same words in my defence which I have been in the habit of using, and which most of you may have heard in the agora, and at the tables of the money-changers, or anywhere else, I would ask you not to be surprised at this, and not to interrupt me. For I am more than seventy years of age, and this is the first time that I have ever appeared in a court of law, and I am quite a stranger to the ways of the place; and therefore I would have you regard me as if I were really a stranger, whom you would excuse if he spoke in his native tongue, and after the fashion of his country; - that I think is not an unfair request. Never mind the manner, which may or may not be good; but think only of the justice of my cause, and give heed to that: let the judge decide justly and the speaker speak truly. 

And first, I have to reply to the older charges and to my first accusers, and then I will go to the later ones. For I have had many accusers, who accused me of old, and their false charges have continued during many years; and I am more afraid of them than of Anytus and his associates, who are dangerous, too, in their own way. But far more dangerous are these, who began when you were children, and took possession of your minds with their falsehoods, telling of one Socrates, a wise man, who speculated about the heaven above, and searched into the earth beneath, and made the worseappear the better cause. These are the accusers whom I dread; for they are the circulators of this rumor, and their hearers are too apt to fancy that speculators of this sort do not believe in the gods. And they are many, and their charges against me are of ancient date, and they made them in days when you were impressible - in childhood, or perhaps in youth - and the cause when heard went by default, for there was none to answer. And, hardest of all, their names I do not know and cannot tell; unless in the chance of a comic poet. But the main body of these slanderers who from envy and malice have wrought upon you - and there are some of them who are convinced themselves, and impart their convictions to others - all these, I say, are most difficult to deal with; for I cannot have them up here, and examine them, and therefore I must simply fight with shadows in my own defence, and examine when there is no one who answers. I will ask you then to assume with me, as I was saying, that my opponents are of two kinds - one recent, the other ancient; and I hope that you will see the propriety of my answering the latter first, for these accusations you heard long before the others, and much oftener. 

Well, then, I will make my defence, and I will endeavor in the short time which is allowed to do away with this evil opinion of me which you have held for such a long time; and I hope I may succeed, if this be well for you and me, and that my words may find favor with you. But I know that to accomplish this is not easy - I quite see the nature of the task. Let the event be as God wills: in obedience to the law I make my defence. 

I will begin at the beginning, and ask what the accusation is which has given rise to this slander of me, and which has encouraged Meletus to proceed against me. What do the slanderers say? They shall be my prosecutors, and I will sum up their words in an affidavit. "Socrates is an evil-doer, and a curious person, who searches into things under the earth and in heaven, and he makes the worse appear the better cause; and he teaches the aforesaiddoctrines to others." That is the nature of the accusation, and that is what you have seen yourselves in the comedy of Aristophanes; who has introduceda man whom he calls Socrates, going about and saying that he can walk in the air, and talking a deal of nonsense concerning matters of which I do not pretend to know either much or little - not that I mean to say anything disparaging of anyone who is a student of natural philosophy. I should be very sorry if Meletus could lay that to my charge. But the simple truth is, O Athenians, that I have nothing to do with these studies. Very many of those here present are witnesses to the truth of this, and to them I appeal. Speak then, you who have heard me, and tell your neighbors whether any of you have ever known me hold forth in few words or in many upon matters of this sort. ... You hear their answer. And from what they say of this you will be able to judge of the truth of the rest. 

As little foundation is there for the report that I am a teacher, and take money; that is no more true than the other. Although, if a man is able to teach, I honor him for being paid. There is Gorgias of Leontium, and Prodicus of Ceos, and Hippias of Elis, who go the round of the cities, and are able to persuade the young men to leave their own citizens, by whom they might be taught for nothing, and come to them, whom they not only pay, but are thankful if they may be allowed to pay them. There is actually a Parian philosopher residing in Athens, of whom I have heard; and I came to hear of him in this way: - I met a man who has spent a world of money on the Sophists, Callias the son of Hipponicus, and knowing that he had sons, I asked him: "Callias," I said, "if your two sons were foals or calves, there would be no difficulty in finding someone to put over them; we should hire a trainer of horses or a farmer probably who would improve and perfect them in their own proper virtue and excellence; but as they are human beings, whom are you thinking of placing over them? Is there anyone who understands human and political virtue? You must have thought about this as you have sons; is there anyone?" "There is," he said. "Who is he?" said I, "and of what country? and what does he charge?" "Evenus the Parian," he replied; "he is the man, and his charge is five minae." Happy is Evenus, I said to myself, if he really has this wisdom, and teaches at such a modest charge. Had I the same, I should have been very proud and conceited; but the truth is that I have no knowledge of the kind. 

I dare say, Athenians, that someone among you will reply, "Why is this, Socrates, and what is the origin of these accusations of you: for there must have been something strange which you have been doing? All this great fame and talk about you would never have arisen if you had been like other men: tell us, then, why this is, as we should be sorry to judge hastily of you." Now I regard this as a fair challenge, and I will endeavor to explain to you the origin of this name of "wise," and of this evil fame. Please to attend then. And although some of you may think I am joking, I declare that I will tell you the entire truth. Men of Athens, this reputation of mine has come of a certain sort of wisdom which I possess. If you ask me what kind of wisdom, I reply, such wisdom as is attainable by man, for to that extent I am inclined to believe that I am wise; whereas the persons of whom I was speaking have a superhuman wisdom, which I may fail to describe, because I have it not myself; and he who says that I have, speaks falsely, and is taking away my character. And here, O men of Athens, I must beg you not to interrupt me, even if I seem to say something extravagant. For the word which I will speak is not mine. I will refer you to a witness who is worthy of credit, and will tell you about my wisdom - whether I have any, and of what sort - and that witness shall be the god of Delphi. You must have known Chaerephon; he was early a friend of mine, and also a friend of yours, for he shared in the exile of the people, and returned with you. Well, Chaerephon, as you know, was very impetuous in all his doings, and he went to Delphi and boldly asked the oracle to tell him whether - as I was saying, I must beg you not to interrupt - he asked the oracle to tell him whether there was anyone wiser than I was, and the Pythian prophetess answered that there was no man wiser. Chaerephon is dead himself, but his brother, who is in court, will confirm the truth of this story. 

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Monday, 29 June 2015

Sappho: One Girl

Like the sweet apple which reddens upon the topmost bough,
Atop on the topmost twig, — which the pluckers forgot, somehow, —
Forget it not, nay; but got it not, for none could get it till now.

Like the wild hyacinth flower which on the hills is found,
Which the passing feet of the shepherds for ever tear and wound,
Until the purple blossom is trodden in the ground.

Edmund Spenser: Of this worlds Theatre in which we stay

Of this worlds Theatre in which we stay,
My love lyke the Spectator ydly sits
Beholding me that all the pageants play,
Disguysing diversly my troubled wits.
Sometimes I joy when glad occasion fits,
And mask in myrth lyke to a Comedy:
Soone after when my joy to sorrow flits,
I waile and make my woes a Tragedy.
Yet she beholding me with constant eye,
Delights not in my merth nor rues my smart:
But when I laugh she mocks, and when I cry
She laughes, and hardens evermore her hart.
What then can move her? if not merth nor mone,
She is no woman, but a sencelesse stone.

Amoretti LIV

Sunday, 28 June 2015

Thomas Bernhard, the Alienator

For the sympathetic Anglophone charged with reviewing newly translated texts by the Austrian playwright and novelist Thomas Bernhard, the task is a paradoxically onerous one. Put aside the near certainty that Bernhard would have disparaged anything you might say about his work — not just disparaged it, but attacked it with an acid-tongued rant that eviscerated your words, your intellect and your pathetic petit-bourgeois existence. You still have to deal with the almost overwhelming ambition, common to Bernhard fans, to correct his woeful stature in the English-speaking world, as well as the equally oppressive realization that opportunities for doing so are fast running out.

The 21 years since Bernhard died after a lifelong battle with tuberculosis have witnessed a slow but steady trickle of translations, including Old Masters, The Loser and Extinction, which, with Woodcutters, form a loose tetralogy (or, in the formulation of the Bernhard scholar Gitta Honegger, a classical trilogy to which Old Masters is appended as satyr play). These four books, along with “Concrete,” “Yes,” “Wittgenstein’s Nephew” and the five-volume memoir “Gathering Evidence” — oh, and the plays, the plays! — together constitute what some people, this writer included, regard as the most significant literary achievement since World War II. Despite this, Bernhard’s international reputation has never solidified in the manner of a W. G. Sebald, Christa Wolf or Peter Handke, let alone the three most recent German-language writers to receive the Nobel Prize in Literature, Günter Grass, Elfriede Jelinek and Herta Müller — all of whom, one wants to say with a dash of Bernhardian bile, are vastly inferior talents when compared with the master.
All the more urgent, then, for one of those reputation-making panegyrics akin to that with which D. H. Lawrence resuscitated Herman Melville. But how to write it, when most of what’s left of Bernhard’s oeuvre would appear to be ephemera and juvenilia? Certainly it’s doubtful the two works on offer here, “My Prizes,” a slight if biting “accounting” of Bernhard’s literary awards, and “Prose,” a collection of short stories from 1967, will garner many converts. “My Prizes” (with the exception of a dozen or so pages to which I’ll return later) is essentially for the fans; the moral outrage it musters against the idea of state-sanctioned art is tepid compared with similar diatribes in the novels. And “Prose,” though published when the author was in his mid-30s, feels amateurish, perhaps because Bernhard came relatively late to literature, after a recurrence of his lung disease ended his dream of performing onstage. Like the early novels “Frost,” “Gargoyles” and “The Lime Works,” “Prose” (translated by Martin Chalmers) is most interesting, at least in hindsight, as a marker of the evolution of Bernhard’s style and sensibility. In “The Carpenter,” we encounter the line “The fault lies with the state,” which would practically become Bernhard’s mantra; in “The Cap,” there is the equally familiar narrator who feels “always close to going completely mad, but not completely mad” (which, curiously, is translated “crazy ‘but yet not completely crazy’ ” in the jacket copy). But both these and the five other pieces in “Prose” seem more like efforts at resistance to traditional narrative forms than fully realized stories.
In “My Prizes” (translated by Carol Brown Janeway), there are more consistent, and consistently Bernhardian, ­moments:
“Like me, they were all longing for death and they all, as I have already said, got their wish, . . . among them the former policeman Immervoll who was in the room next to mine and who, for as long as he was in a state to do so, came to my room every single day to play pontoon with me, he won and I lost, for weeks he won and I lost until he died and I didn’t. Both of us passionate pontoon players, we played pontoon together to kill time until it wasn’t time that was killed, it was he.”
There is George Saiko, whose “incessant articulation of his theories” about the novel “was already giving me a headache,” and Herr Piffl-Percevic (?!), the Austrian minister of art, culture and education, who “understood absolutely nothing about art and culture,” and probably nothing about education either, though it “may be” that he knew something about “calves and cows and . . . pigs,” but above all there is Bernhard himself, who says, perhaps a little too predictably, “It was all offensive, but I found myself the most offensive of all.” In almost every instance he promptly wastes his winnings — on one occasion he buys a car, on another a house — as if profligacy were the only acceptable way to dispose of such tainted funds:
“If, I thought, I want new storm windows to replace the old ones on my house which are almost totally rotted, I have to accept the prize, and so I had decided to take the Wildgans Prize and take myself off to the Löwenhöle Salon on the Schwarz­enbergplatz. I mostly thought that one should take money when it’s offered and no one should waste time fussing around over the how and the where, all these reflections are nothing but total hypocrisy and so I ordered the storm windows from my local carpenter. . . . No sensible person says no to 25,000 schillings out of a clear-blue sky, whoever offers money has money and it should be taken from him, I thought. And the Industrial Association should be ashamed of funding a prize for literature with a mere 25,000 schilling award, when they could fund it with five million schillings right there without even noticing it.”
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Constantine P. Cavafy: Waiting For The Barbarians

-What are we waiting for, assembled in the forum?

The barbarians are due here today.
-Why isn't anything going on in the senate?
Why are the senators sitting there without legislating?

Because the barbarians are coming today.
What's the point of senators making laws now?
Once the barbarians are here, they'll do the legislating.
-Why did our emperor get up so early,
and why is he sitting enthroned at the city's main gate,
in state, wearing the crown?

Because the barbarians are coming today
and the emperor's waiting to receive their leader.
He's even got a scroll to give him,
loaded with titles, with imposing names.
-Why have our two consuls and praetors come out today
wearing their embroidered, their scarlet togas?
Why have they put on bracelets with so many amethysts,
rings sparkling with magnificent emeralds?
Why are they carrying elegant canes
beautifully worked in silver and gold?

Because the barbarians are coming today
and things like that dazzle the barbarians.
-Why don't our distinguished orators turn up as usual
to make their speeches, say what they have to say?

Because the barbarians are coming today
and they're bored by rhetoric and public speaking.
-Why this sudden bewilderment, this confusion?
(How serious people's faces have become.)
Why are the streets and squares emptying so rapidly,
everyone going home lost in thought?

Because night has fallen and the barbarians haven't come.
And some of our men who have just returned from the border say
there are no barbarians any longer.
Now what's going to happen to us without barbarians?
Those people were a kind of solution.

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Playing Elizabeth's Tune : William Byrd

Philip Sidney: Leave me, O Love, which reachest but to dust

Leave me, O Love, which reachest but to dust;
And thou, my mind, aspire to higher things;
Grow rich in that which never taketh rust;
Whatever fades but fading pleasure brings.
Draw in thy beams and humble all thy might
To that sweet yoke where lasting freedoms be;
Which breaks the clouds and opens forth the light,
That both doth shine and give us sight to see.
O take fast hold; let that light be thy guide
In this small course which birth draws out to death,
And think how evil becometh him to slide,
Who seeketh heav'n, and comes of heav'nly breath.
Then farewell, world; thy uttermost I see:
Eternal Love, maintain thy life in me.

Saturday, 27 June 2015

Francis Bacon: Of Love

The stage is more beholding to love, than the life of man. For as to the stage, love is ever matter of comedies, and now and then of tragedies; but in life it doth much mischief; sometimes like a siren, sometimes like a fury. You may observe that amongst all the great and worthy persons (whereof the memory remaineth, either ancient or recent) there is not one that hath been transported to the mad degree of love: which shows that great spirits and great business do keep out this weak passion. You must except nevertheless Marcus Antonius, the half partner of the empire of Rome, and Appius Claudius, the decemvir and lawgiver; whereof the former was indeed a voluptuous man, and inordinate; but the latter was an austere and wise man: and therefore it seems (though rarely) that love can find entrance not only into an open heart, but also into a heart well fortified, if watch be not well kept. It is a poor saying of Epicurus, Satis magnum alter alteri theatrum sumus [Each is to another a theatre large enough]; as if man, made for the contemplation of heaven and all noble objects, should do nothing but kneel before a little idol, and make himself a subject, though not of the mouth (as beasts are), yet of the eye; which was given him for higher purposes. It is a strange thing to note the excess of this passion, and how it braves the nature and value of things, by this; that the speaking in a perpetual hyperbole is comely in nothing but in love. Neither is it merely in the phrase; for whereas it hath been well said that the arch-flatterer, with whom all the petty flatterers have intelligence, is a man's self; certainly the lover is more. For there was never proud man thought so absurdly well of himself as the lover doth of the person loved; and therefore it was well said, That it is impossible to love and to be wise. Neither doth this weakness appear to others only, and not to the party loved; but to the loved most of all, except the love be reciproque. For it is a true rule, that love is ever rewarded either with the reciproque or with an inward and secret contempt. By how much the more men ought to beware of this passion, which loseth not only other things, but itself! As for the other losses, the poet's relation doth well figure them: that he that preferred Helena quitted the gifts of Juno and Pallas. For whosoever esteemeth too much of amorous affection quitteth both riches and wisdom. This passion hath his floods in very times of weakness; which are great prosperity and great adversity; though this latter hath been less observed: both which times kindle love, and make it more fervent, and therefore show it to be the child of folly. They do best, who if they cannot but admit love, yet make it keep quarter; and sever it wholly from their serious af Yairs and actions of life; for if it check once with business, it troubleth men's fortunes, and maketli men that they can no ways be true to their own ends. I know not how, but martial men are given to love: I think it is but as they are given to wine; for perils commonly ask to be paid in pleasures. There is in man's nature a secret inclination and motion towards love of others, which if it be not spent upon some one or a few, doth naturally spread itself towards many, and maketh men become humane and charitable; as it is seen sometime in friars. Nuptial love maketh mankind; friendly love perfecteth it; but wanton love corrupteth and embaseth it.

Essays, civil and moral (Harvard Classics)

Undoing Time: The Life and Work of Samuel Beckett

For Samuel Beckett, hindsight was the mode of true insight. That Time, written in English between June 1974 and August 1975, and first performed at the Royal Court on 20 May 1976, is one of the best dramatisations of his vision of being human. Like all his work, the play is founded, at some distance, in his own life experience, but it is framed, in every sense, in the language of the creative process. This time, unusually, the vision is a happy one, and its representation goes forward with pleasing ease. For Beckett, life was a matter of doing time, while writing was a way of undoing it - a process of transformation by which writer, written, and listeners enter together into a different understanding of not what, but how it is to be human.
Mid-stage, high up, off-centre, is the old white face of the Listener, who is also his own Author, surrounded by a flare of long white hair. His eyes are open, and his breathing is steady and audible. Three voices, all his own, address him in turn, as 'you', coming from both sides and above. He makes no response, except that his eyes close three times, and open three times. His part is to hear and to see, and shape what he sees by the rhythms of his breathing. When the voices finally fall silent, he gives a toothless smile.
The voices speak of and from three different moments in time and space, but their focus on the Listener creates a continuum. The stage directions say that the speech must be continuous, but the switching between voices must be perceptible. In other works, the voices (and the music) of inspiration invoked by the listening author, require his repeated intervention and evaluation to be urged, at last, into a synthesis that he can deem complete.
The emphasis is on the difficulty of the process. In What Where, for instance, Beckett's last play for the stage, the raw material has to be tortured and threatened into communicative form. In That Time, the artwork shapes itself smoothly to a perfect end, through the medium of an attentive Seer and Listener who has grown old in experience and the skills of his craft. Three evolving narratives cross-cut one another in four sequences, each time in a different order, moving chronologically forward. As stage time advances, different narratives take priority, but all three leach into one another; and they are unified by the artist who, looking inwards and outwards as the words flow by, acknowledges the themes, the insights and the patterns out of which he has repeatedly made himself, in a variety of other productions, and who can now smile at the sense of it all coming together, not in closure, but in the evanescent, moving forms which are those of Everyman's short life. Starting in 'that time', this speaking is 'gone in no time'.
Voice A invokes the child shaped by a desolate Ireland, hiding from the authority of the adults with his picture books and his own imaginary conversations, sitting on a stone in the ruins of the old tower beyond the end of the tram line, caught between tradition and modernity. This moment of first escape is doubled by the moment of final escape, when he went back to see it again, and found only the rusty rails left, and the rail station all boarded up and closed down. The old man returning cannot make his way back to the old refuge, but that was in any case only a trap, one of many to come. Now he can relive the scene in his own story, sitting on a doorstep and talking to himself, and finally fleeing Ireland by the ferry, taking with him only the best of that beginning: the old green greatcoat that was his father's legacy.
Voice B speaks for the lover, channelling the memory of a couple sitting on a long stone in the sun, with a little wood behind and a wheat field before them. It's hard to believe, says the voice, that you ever told anyone that you loved them, it was 'just another of those old tales to keep the void from pouring in on top of you the shroud'. There was no bodily closeness. Standing stock still, the couple played over and over the same old scene. In the end, this lover declares he gave up love, because his body was unresponsive, and there were no words left.
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Friday, 26 June 2015

The Love of Her Life - The Story of Elizabeth Bishop and Lota de Macedo Soares

Elizabeth Bishop -- in person and in her poetry -- was wry, discreet and a little peculiar. A Vassar girl and a disciple of Marianne Moore, Bishop rejected the confessional, politicized bent of her contemporaries. (She refused even to be included in anthologies of women's poetry.) Shunted about unhappily as a child, Bishop chose as her theme displacement, and as her aesthetic self-abnegation: a sometimes arid neutrality, the opposite of attention seeking.
How stunning, then, to learn that the love of Bishop's life was a swaggering Brazilian woman, the aristocratic self-trained architect Lota de Macedo Soares. A bold and funny self-promoter, Soares spearheaded the development of Parque do Flamengo, an elaborate public park in the center of Rio de Janeiro.
There was a fairy-tale intensity to the women's romance, which began when Soares nursed Bishop back to health during what was intended to be a brief visit to Brazil. Instead, Bishop stayed on, and the couple nested happily together for 12 years, spending much of their time in the ultramodern home Soares had designed in nearby Samambaia. But the love affair that began blissfully ended in sorrow: alcoholism, depression, adultery and, finally, suicide. ''Rare and Commonplace Flowers'' is an account of this romance, and in its mix of novelistic techniques and biographical reportage, it might well have appalled the more introverted of its two subjects.
''Art just isn't worth that much,'' Bishop wrote disapprovingly to Robert Lowell after he used his wife's letters in his work. A reader, she said, couldn't tell ''what's true, what isn't . . . how much has been 'made up,' and so on.'' Carmen L. Oliveira shrugs off such warnings (her background is as a novelist). As readers, we are made privy to private conversations, as well as to the comments of a gossipy Greek chorus of pseudonymous Brazilian friends. Oliveira is hardly alone in this sort of genre bending: the past several years have witnessed many fiction-inflected biographies, most notably Edmund Morris's ''Dutch: A Memoir of Ronald Reagan.'' But while ''Rare and Commonplace Flowers'' blurs lines, it is really not especially radical; mimicking a chorus of scandalized friends, after all, is not the same as making them or their opinions up. And Oliveira's sources are fairly straightforward: much of her description of the women's private lives, for example, derives from the recollections of their maids. In fact, the book is at its best describing some of the most subjective sequences: for instance, the private bliss of the Samambaia idyll, the ''house and rock / in a private cloud.''
In any case, Soares was a character made for a novelistic treatment. She was charismatic to a fault -- the type of person all Rio wanted at their parties -- but also bullying and monomaniacal. Where Bishop tended toward paralyzing self-criticism, Soares possessed a grandiose ambition that was both admirable and, when she was thwarted, painful. Even while enmeshed in the bureaucratic tangle that would eventually defeat her, she had the chutzpah to send the governor of the state of Guanabara (basically Rio de Janeiro), who was her biggest political ally, an outrageous letter proposing herself as his successor and wryly comparing herself with other candidates. Politics is the art of conquering, she pontificated: ''After five years in government I hope to have all the members of the House, if not on my side, then at least incapacitated and impotent.'' (She also promised to finish all the governor's projects ''except for those that don't please me,'' and to replace his statues of thin women with statues of fat ones, both because the thin women were an ''unpatriotic allusion to the state of our underdevelopment'' and because fat women better resembled Soares herself!)
''Rare and Commonplace Flowers'' has become a Brazilian best seller, and one can see why. For although the book is superficially an exploration of a love affair, it is also deeply concerned with national identity, the nature of the Brazilian character and the effort to build Brazilian cities. Much of the latter half dramatizes Soares's doomed attempt to gain control over her park project. To an American reader, unfortunately, these hyperdetailed political wranglings quickly become confusing; they are, at heart, the notes of urban-planning meetings. And despite the novelistic sheen, and the intrinsically dramatic elements of the story being told -- Bishop's drinking binges and eventual infidelity, Soares's drastic descent into depression and suicide -- the book becomes surprisingly sketchy as it progresses. (In an introductory note, the translator, Neil K. Besner, describes his difficulties with the more florid rhythms of Portuguese, and perhaps these gave the original more dramatic tug.)
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Thursday, 25 June 2015

Sir John Davies: To The Rose



YE of the Garden, Queene of flowres,
ove's cup wherein he nectar powres,
ngendered first of nectar ;
weet nurse-child of the Spring's young howres,
nd Beautie's faire character.

est iewell that the Earth doth weare,
uen when the braue young sunne draws neare,
o her hot Loue pretending ;
imselfe likewise like forme doth beare,
t rising and descending.

ose of the Queene of Loue belou'd ;
ngland's great Kings diuinely mou'd,
ave Roses in their banner ;
t shewed that Beautie's Rose indeed,
ow in this age should them succeed,
nd raigne in more sweet manner.

Wednesday, 24 June 2015

Franz Kafka’s badly healed wounds

Prague, mid-1880s. A young boy has been keeping his parents awake by repeatedly asking for water; exasperated, his father picks him up and carries him to the communal balcony (or Pawlatsche), where the child is left for a while, dressed only in his nightshirt.

This episode forms the dramatic climax of Franz Kafka’s “Brief an den Vater” (“Letter to his Father”), a lengthy epistle in which the thirty-six-year-old writer takes stock of his relationship with his father, Hermann. As cases of child mistreatment go, the incident is certainly harmless; indeed, Kafka concedes that Hermann used physical punishment only sparingly. The threat of violence, however, was ubiquitous, and the Pawlatsche episode embodied this traumatic sense of exposure: “For years to come I suffered agonies when I imagined how this giant man, my father, the ultimate authority, would come, for practically no reason, and carry me from my bed to thePawlatsche at night, and that I was such a nothing to him”. The charge, then, is not physical but psychological cruelty: a lack of empathy and affection combined with techniques of intimidation, which, however transparent, had a lasting impact on the child.

Hermann Kafka never got to read this letter. Instead, it has become the closest we have to Kafka’s memoirs, a story of mutual misunderstanding and alienation, charted in a series of evocatively sketched scenes: father and son at the swimming pool, the little boy feeling dwarfed by his father’s powerful physique; at the dinner table, where Hermann lectures his children about table manners which he himself cheerfully ignores; and, some years later, Hermann bluntly telling his adolescent son to visit a prostitute to quell those irksome physical urges. The letter, then, is less a source of factual information than a psychological portrait of Kafka’s early years. For all its power of psychological analysis – the tone is rarely self-pitying but almost forensically detached – it is a carefully constructed document, which shows off Kafka’s superior rhetorical skills: his method of dialectical analysis and his masterful use of understatement. The fact that Kafka nearly always gives his father the benefit of the doubt, scrupulously casting around for attenuating circumstances, makes his accusations all the more devastating.

The letter’s impact on Kafka scholarship, on perceptions of the man and his work, cannot be overstated. Peter-Andre Alt, in his biography Kafka: Der ewige Sohn (Kafka: The eternal son, 2005), uses it as a template, arguing that Kafka never really outgrew the – literal as well as figurative – role of the son; thus Alt casts even Kafka’s last lover, the twenty-six-year-old Dora Diamant, as a mother substitute. For all its erudition, Alt’s 750-page biography pales in comparison with Reiner Stach’s rival project, begun in the mid-1990s, which explores the forty years of Kafka’s life in three volumes totalling 2,000 pages. In response to the inaccessibility of certain documents, particularly the Brod bequest, Stach started his project with the well-documented middle period (Die Jahre der Entscheidungen, 2002; The Decisive Years, 2005), then moving on to his later years (Die Jahre der Erkenntnis, 2008; The Years of Insight, 2013). The present volume, Die frühen Jahre (The Early Years), which charts Kafka’s childhood and adolescence, his university years and first employment, concludes the trilogy.

The sheer size of his project gives Stach scope to go further and dig deeper than previous biographers. Whole stretches of Kafka’s early life remain shrouded in obscurity; there are no surviving diaries and only a few letters from the time before 1910, for Kafka regularly destroyed batches of his own manuscripts, diaries and letters. The biographer thus needs to draw on contextual materials: on school reports, viva transcripts and the recollections of contemporaries. Stach’s narrative is the result of years of archival research, and he is scrupulous in laying open the gaps in his material. Rather than resorting to conjecture to fill these gaps, he uses a combination of literary techniques and historical contextualization to bring events vividly, and often spectacularly, to life.

The two opening chapters, forming a kind of diptych, are a case in point. The story begins on July 3, 1883, Kafka’s birthday. It is a hot summer day, and the people of Prague are flocking to the beer gardens. Their monarch, Kaiser Franz Josef I, is on a visit to Graz, where he attends Mass and visits the local shooting club. And yet this seemingly uneventful day marks a turning point in political history. For the first time, elections for the Bohemian parliament resulted in a Czech majority, and contemporaries were quick to recognize the significance of this day for Austria–Hungary, a multi- ethnic state governed by a German-speaking elite.

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What to Make of Heidegger in 2015

NEARLY 40 YEARS AFTER HIS DEATH, the philosopher Martin Heidegger continues to influence philosophers, political theorists, and intellectuals across a broad diversity of fields. Leo Strauss and Herbert Marcuse in the United States; major figures in European radical Marxism (such as Jean-Paul Sartre and Gianni Vattimo); Japanese thinkers as Count Kuki Shuzo and Keiji Nishitani; renowned architects, filmmaker, and novelists such as Daniel Libeskind, Terrence Malick, and Tom McCarthy have carefully studied and were deeply influenced by the German thinker’s analysis of human existence and his critique of modern hyper-technological rationalism. Few would deny that Heidegger is one of the most influential thinkers of the 20th century.

Next year will mark the 40th anniversary of his death. Yet he will not be commemorated in the way many of his disciples, such as Hannah Arendt, Richard Rorty, and Jacques Derrida, have been. Evidence that Heidegger at one time was a member of the Nazi party has led to a chilling effect on the way he is being studied, and remembered: his thought is once again being set aside because of his political adventure, and apparently racist views.

Even though such contemporary philosophers as Peg Birmingham, Eduardo Mendieta, and Simon Critchley won’t forgive the German thinker for his political opinions, most of them continue to study and develop his philosophy. His contribution stands with those of classical philosophers such as Aristotle, David Hume, or Gottlob Frege.

Heidegger is not the only great philosopher to have racist and antidemocratic views: Aristotle justified slavery, Hume considered black people to be naturally inferior to whites, and Frege also sympathized with fascism and anti-Semitism. Although Heidegger’s involvement with the Nazi Party has been known since the late 1980s, the recent publication of his Schwarze Hefte (Black Notebooks) offered more evidence of his racist (anti-Semitic and anti-Catholic) views, triggering a backlash. The president of the Martin Heidegger Association recently resigned from his post; the University of Freiburg is about to replace Husserl’s and Heidegger’s chair for a junior professorship in logics and analytic philosophy of language. This decision is currently shaking the international philosophical community: aside from the fact that logic and the philosophy of language also rely upon philosophers with anti-Semitic views (Frege), the decision would destroy one of the most important centers for the teaching and research of phenomenology and hermeneutics. This is why, according to intellectual historian Martin Woessner in Heidegger in America, “although Heidegger was a Nazi and anti-Semitic throughout his life, his widespread influence alone demands that we continue to both read and criticize the most controversial philosopher of the twentieth century.”

Heidegger analyzed and confronted ancient philosophers such as Heraclitus, Plato, and Aristotle and also more modern thinkers such as Descartes, Leibnitz, and Kant. His studies of Hegel and Nietzsche have become indispensable texts among specialists. But Heidegger did more than teach us different ways to read these philosophers; he was also interested in their logical, aesthetic, and ontological problems and how they related to his time. This is probably why his most important book, Being and Time (1927), which he published at the age of 37, was more than an attempt to overturn 2,500 years of Western thought. It also sought to retrieve and elucidate the meaning of Being as philosophy’s essential question. According to Heidegger, elucidating this question would allow us not only to recognize how partial had been all previous responses, but also to identify the dominant and oppressive role that science and technology play in our lives.

Heidegger is also the architect of one of the more important points of inquiry into the question of Being and our technological world. In one of his most important lectures, titled What Is Called Thinking?, he distinguishes philosophy from sciences by pointing out the latter “does not think in the way thinkers think.” Scientists calculate within framed paradigms, but philosophers think both the frame and the paradigms within which sciences thrive and progress. The German thinker does not believe that physical and life sciences are useless but simply that they are framed within what he called “metaphysics.” The sciences (often also philosophy) are metaphysical every time they attempt to understand things through eternal entities (whether ideas, God, or the laws of modern physics) and (objectively) present references. For example: when we ask what something “actually is,” such as an apple or an ethical value, the answer is never “this red apple” or “that ethical value I apply” because those are simply temporary examples. The correct answer would be what we consider an apple or ethical value always to be. However, the problem with this response according to Heidegger is that it presupposes an eternal and present entity that will always tell us the truth no matter who and where we are.

Instead, as Heidegger explained (his complete works will amount to 102 volumes), truth is not what corresponds to an eternal and objective reality but rather what unfolds to us as human beings in a given space, time, and tradition. This means that our primary encounter with the world is not objective, that is, the experience of a spectator staring at a world, but rather an involved one where things are filled with human meaning. This is also why Heidegger distinguishes between authentic and inauthentic existence. But is it possible to live an authentic life in this metaphysical age, where Being has been forgotten in favor of entities? What does this world look like? As Heidegger once told Der Spiegel:
Everything functions. That is exactly what is uncanny. Everything functions and the functioning drives us further and further to more functioning, and technology tears people away and uproots them from the earth more and more. I don’t know if you are scared; I was certainly scared when I recently saw the photographs of the earth taken from the moon. We don’t need an atom bomb at all; the uprooting of human beings is already taking place. We only have purely technological conditions left.
These technological conditions are the result of overlooking Being in favor of beings, that is, the disclosure of worlds for what gets revealed within those worlds. This is why science “does not think” but rather “calculates.” Ever since modernity, when the human subject became the point of reference for everything and nature was reduced to what can be subjected to human domination, the essence of the species has been framed (Ge-Stell) by a power we do not control. This, after all, is the sensation we all have today where “the only emergency,” as Heidegger once said, “is the absence of a sense of emergency.” The fact that in 2015 we are all monitored, spied on, and soon also biogenetically engineered confirms the German philosopher’s prediction of a world “where self-certainty has become unsurpassable, where everything is held to be calculable, and especially where it has been decided, with no previous questioning, who we are and what we are supposed to do.” This is why, as we can see in this video from 1969, Heidegger does not believe we need to better describe the world in order to change it; rather, we must learn to interpret it differently.

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Thomas Tallis: 'Spem in Alium’

Spem in alium (Latin for "Hope in any other") is a 40-part Renaissance motet by Thomas Tallis, composed in c. 1570 for eight choirs of five voices each, widely considered to be the greatest piece of English early music and one of the greatest choral works ever composed.[citation needed] Along with Tallis's Lamentations, H. B. Collins described it in 1929 as Tallis's "crowning achievement".

Take a look at Classic FM’s Hall of Fame, and there among the poll of listeners’ favourite classical pieces you’ll find a surprise. Coming in at number 89, just ahead of Tchaikovsky’s Nutcracker and only just behind Albinoni’s Adagio, is Thomas Tallis’s sacred vocal work Spem in Alium Nunquam Habui – “I have no other hope (than God)”.
Why should an immensely complex piece in a dead language have struck such a chord? Part of the reason is the current vogue for spiritual music, which has sent CDs of chants by Spanish monks and The Priests soaring up the album charts. But there is something extraordinary about this particular piece. It’s like an ocean of sound, where individual voices are glimpsed for a few seconds before they vanish back into the mass.
Beyond that, the piece is a masterful combination of rhetorical persuasiveness and architectural cogency. By the time he wrote it, possibly around 1568, Thomas Tallis had a huge reputation as a composer of artfully complex music, full of arcane technical devices and hidden symbols. Born around 1505, Tallis had worked his way up from being the musical director of a modest little priory in Dover to being a key member of the Chapel Royal in London. He was right at the centre of power, which in one way was advantageous as it gave him the best singers and players to work with.
But in another way it was risky. England in the mid 16th century was convulsed by religious upheaval. The initial traumatic break with the Roman Church brought on by Henry VIII led to the forcible closing and desecration of ancient monasteries (including Waltham Abbey, where Tallis was one of many who lost their living).
A new liturgy in English was established through the reign of Edward VI, but all these reforms were undone by the Catholic Mary Tudor. Stability only arrived with Elizabeth I, who reverted to her father’s faith, but turned a blind eye to Catholics who wanted to practice their faith in private.
One of these so-called “recusants” may have been Thomas Tallis – we don’t know because he was clever at covering his tracks. He certainly proved to be a master of the simpler style demanded for the new English liturgy. But right to the end of his life he composed for private patrons who hankered after the florid, complex works of the old Catholic musical establishment. And the biggest of all these “underground” Catholic pieces is Spem in Alium.
You might think that simple piety was the impetus, but professional rivalry played just as big a role. In 1567 a 40-part Mass by the Italian composer and diplomat Alessandro Striggio was performed privately in London, and it’s likely Tallis was present. A contemporary diarist recalled that a “music-loving Duke” – probably the Catholic fourth Duke of Norfolk, later arrested for plotting to topple Elizabeth from the throne – “asked whether none of our Englishmen could sett as good a songe.”
Tallis rose to the bait, and produced something that for technical ingenuity and dramatic pacing beats Striggio’s piece hands down. Simply managing 40 independent parts so that they sound well and don’t tread on each other’s toes is hard enough. But Tallis goes beyond simply managing. He uses his eight five-voice choirs in every conceivable combination, sometimes flowing into each other, sometimes set against each other, and saves the glorious 40-voice sound for dramatic high points.
It’s thought the piece may have been premiered in 1570 in the octagonal banqueting hall of the Duke’s country residence of Nonsuch Palace, with the choirs dispersed on the galleries above the audience. This would give the music an added spatial dimension, sometimes appearing to ricochet back and forth, sometimes rotating around the listeners’ heads. It’s an astonishing idea, anticipating Stockhausen’s modernist experiments with spatial music by 440 years.
History doesn’t say whether the Duke, recently released from prison, enjoyed the piece he’d helped to bring forth. In any case his freedom was short-lived, as he was implicated in another plot and executed in 1572 for treason.
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Monday, 22 June 2015

The Young T.S. Eliot

IF IT IS TRUE that the child is father to the man, then no poet disavowed his paternity as successfully as T.S. Eliot ’10, A.M. ’11, Litt.D. ’47. Looking at the severe, bespectacled face of the elderly poet on the cover of his Complete Poems and Plays, it is hard to imagine that he was ever young. By the time he died in 1965, Eliot had achieved a position of almost papal authority in the world of literature, confirmed by the award of the Nobel Prize in 1948. Generations of readers grew up revering not just his broken, haunting poetry, but his magisterial criticism, in which he revolutionized the canon of English poetry with serene confidence.

In a sense, the role of “the elder statesman”—the title of one of his verse plays—was one for which Eliot had been rehearsing his whole life. His first great poem, “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock,” was written mostly in 1911, when he was 22 years old, yet it is preoccupied with debility: “I grow old…I grow old…/I shall wear the bottoms of my trousers rolled.” He would assume the same tone eight years later, when he wrote “Gerontion” in the voice of “an old man in a dry month…an old man,/a dull head among windy spaces.” And it was with an air of final resignation that he began “Ash-Wednesday,” asking, “Why should the aged eagle stretch its wings?” He was still 41, but it is clear that old age was not a chronological matter for Eliot. It was the condition of his imagination, a name for the attenuation of passion which he simultaneously dreaded and desired.

For many years, the young, American Eliot was effectively erased by the imposing image the adult, British Eliot created. “It is the final perfection, the consummation of an American,” he wrote in an essay on his fellow expatriate Henry James, “to become not, an Englishman, but a European—something which no born European, no person of any European nationality, can become.” In turning himself into such a European, Eliot buried his Americanness deep enough that it takes some digging to recognize it. Matters weren’t helped by the long delay of the Eliot estate—controlled by the poet’s second wife and widow, Valerie Eliot—in publishing his full correspondence, as well as his voluminous uncollected prose.

Although Eliot remains absolutely central to the history of modern poetry, his personal authority inevitably declined in the years after his death, in tandem with changes in taste and critical method. The issue of his anti-Semitism, while never a secret—the anti-Jewish passages in his poetry are quite overt—also helped to cloud his reputation, when given renewed attention by scholars like Anthony Julius. With much of his criticism out of print, and biographers given only limited access and permission to quote from his writing, by the end of the twentieth century Eliot had become a blurrier figure than would once have seemed possible.

IN THE LAST FEW YEARS, however, all that has changed dramatically. Before her death in 2012, Valerie Eliot helped to prepare a full new edition of Eliot’s letters, edited by Hugh Haughton and John Haffenden, which has been appearing at a steady clip. (Five volumes are now in print, covering the period 1898 to 1931.) Last year, a second major Eliot edition began publication: his Collected Prose, edited by Ronald Schuchard. The first two volumes of this digital-only series include Eliot’s surviving writing from high school and college, as well as the work that made him famous as a critic in the late 1910s and early 1920s—essays like “Tradition and the Individual Talent” and “The Metaphysical Poets.” And this spring, Robert Crawford published Young Eliot, the first volume of a new biography that far surpasses all its predecessors in the depth and range of its familiarity with Eliot’s world.

The result is that even though the youthful Eliot remains an elusive presence, we can get closer to him than ever before. In particular, the flood of new Eliot material helps to make clear how important the poet’s time at Harvard was to his development. Indeed, of all the American poets who studied at Harvard—and the list is a long one, including writers as various as Robert Frost ’01, Litt.D. ’37, and John Ashbery ’49, Litt.D. ’01—it’s possible that none was shaped by the College more deeply than Eliot, the greatest of all. From the fall of 1906 until the spring of 1914, Eliot spent every academic year but one as a Harvard student, first as a surprisingly indifferent undergraduate, then as a budding philosopher in the graduate school. These were the years in which Eliot discovered his vocation, wrote his first mature poems—including “Prufrock”—and imbibed the wide-ranging texts and ideas that would fuel his work for years to come.

Indeed, the famous eclecticism of “The Waste Land,” which incorporates quotations from multiple languages and literatures, can be seen as a tribute to the educational philosophy that governed Harvard during Eliot’s time there. Under the presidency of his distant relative Charles William Eliot, the College had introduced an elective system that gave students wide leeway in choosing their own classes from a variety of subjects and departments. Later in life, Eliot lamented this undergraduate freedom: “I was one of the victims of the ‘elective system,’” he wrote in a letter to his mother. He had been “so interested in many things that I did nothing thoroughly, and was always thinking about new subjects that I wanted to study, instead of following out any one.”

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Sunday, 21 June 2015

Thomas Wyatt: 'Whoso List to Hunt, I Know Where Is An Hind

Anne Boleyn

Whoso list to hunt, I know where is an hind,
But as for me, hélas, I may no more.
The vain travail hath wearied me so sore,
I am of them that farthest cometh behind.
Yet may I by no means my wearied mind
Draw from the deer, but as she fleeth afore
Fainting I follow. I leave off therefore,
Sithens in a net I seek to hold the wind.
Who list her hunt, I put him out of doubt,
As well as I may spend his time in vain.
And graven with diamonds in letters plain
There is written, her fair neck round about:
Noli me tangere, for Caesar’s I am,
And wild for to hold, though I seem tame.

Saturday, 20 June 2015

“I want to be the Irish Nietzsche”: what the Übermensch meant to Bernard Shaw

“The difficulty now is to get rid of me,” Friedrich Nietzsche wrote to his friend Georg Brandes in the late 1880s. And Shaw would have agreed. In Shavian style, he liked to use Nietzsche’s name but to distance himself from the one or two translations of Nietzsche’s books he had read.
After he wrote his “comedy and philosophy” Man and Superman early in the 20th century, a number of critics, including his friend William Archer and also G K Chesterton, assumed that Shaw was a disciple of Nietzsche. It is true that in his letters and prefaces he was using Nietzsche’s name quite freely. He did so partly because he believed that British culture was becoming too backward and inward-looking. To change this internal focus he championed what was new and foreign in philosophy and the arts. In his art criticism he praised Whistler; in his theatre criticism he blew the trumpet for Ibsen, Chekhov and later Strindberg. And he devoted much of his music criticism to Wagner, with whom Nietzsche had quarrelled.
Shaw enjoyed making lists of American, Scandinavian, German and Russian writers. In the preface to Man and Superman he introduces readers to a series of authors whose thinking could be taken as somewhat similar to his own: “Goethe, Shelley, Schopenhauer, Wagner, Ibsen, Morris, Tolstoy and Nietzsche”. We do not think of Shaw being heavily influenced by Tolstoy, Goethe (who also used the superman for Faust) or Shelley. But Nietzsche’s name has stuck to him partly because he used the word “Superman”, a translation of Nietzsche’s “Übermensch” from Thus Spake Zarathustra. It was a “good cry”, Shaw thought – which was to say, a good piece of advertisement, which would contribute nicely to the title of his new “comedy and philosophy” for the stage.
People read Nietzsche for his philosophy; they go to Shaw’s plays for their comedy. In the dream sequence of Man and Superman Shaw mentions Nietzsche as having found himself in hell. The Devil, who represents Shaw’s hidden pessimism and speaks in Shavian parodies, believes Nietzsche’s loss of “wits” in his final years on earth had been inevitable. His career became a cautionary tale. He had been led into pessimism by a lifetime of searching for an optimistic philosophy while ignoring the lessons that human nature and human history could have taught him. But after a period in Shaw’s hell, he regains his wits and his confidence, and takes the escalator up to heaven as if he were happily entering a university again. After which we hear no more of him.
This short, somewhat misleading, discussion by the Devil about Nietzsche in the dream scene was cut from the recent production of Man and Supermanat the National Theatre, with the result that there is very little to connect Nietzsche with Shaw. It is a hundred years since the play was first produced in its prodigious entirety (at the Royal Lyceum Theatre in Edinburgh on 11 June 1915) and cuts were essential – a reading of it all took over five hours.
Nietzsche lived “Beyond Space, Beyond Time”, far from Shaw’s world. In contemporary political life, Shaw was a committed socialist who, in 1912, gave £1,000 (equivalent to £50,000 today) to help start the New Statesmanand also bought shares, becoming one of its original proprietors and directors. “I won’t write,” he promised. But he could not help himself and soon became a prolific contributor to the paper – in none of whose articles and reviews is there any mention of Nietzsche.
What did Shaw admire in Nietzsche? In the absence of God, both were seeking a purpose. There was Nietzsche’s belief in struggle which Shaw acknowledged as necessary for essential improvement; there was also his attack on traditional moral values that acted as a brake on necessary change. He was clever and imaginative and sometimes original. But Shaw was not one of Nietzsche’s “brethren” who is urged to see “the rainbow and the bridges of the Superman”.
The first of Shaw’s writings said to have been influenced by Nietzsche was his essay “The Quintessence of Ibsenism”. But this was written at the beginning of the 1890s, before he had read any Nietzsche. In 1896 he read “Nietzsche contra Wagner”, translated by Thomas Common, and reviewed it in the Saturday Review. His review paints an unattractive pen portrait of Nietzsche, certainly not of someone who would become a great influence on his thinking. “Such a philosopher is as dull and dry as you please: it is he who brings his profession into disrepute,” he wrote. “Nietzsche is the champion of privilege, of power and of inequality.” He described the philosophy as a “fictitious hypothesis”, by which he meant that nothing came to Nietzsche as the result of actual experience. It was all put together by “a mere dead piece of brain machinery . . . Never was there a deafer, blinder, socially and politically inepter academician.”
There were obvious differences between the two writers. Nietzsche was an academic; Shaw never went to a university. Nietz­sche it seems came to believe in the usefulness of war, while Shaw was continually trying to take power away from men with guns and hand it to men and women of imagination and intellect. Nietzsche believed that “convictions are prisons” while Shaw gloried in his convictions – one of them being his belief in the equality of income. He pointed to “suggestive combinations of ideas” that were “pregnant with vitality” in Nietzsche’s writings. But many of these sallies seemed “petulant and impossible” and his epigrams appeared to have been “written with phosphorus on brimstone”. Some critics may see the well-known epigram in Human, All Too Human – “A joke is an epigram on the death of a feeling” – as tailor-made for GBS, with his many jokes and his apparent poverty of emotion. But Shaw himself maintained that an essential ingredient of truth was humour.
“I must really read some of his stuff,” Shaw teased William Archer soon after the publication of Man and Superman. But the more he learned about Nietzsche, the more disapproval he felt for what would be his growing authority on modern literary criticism. “Not for a moment will I suffer anyone to compare me to him as a critic,” he concluded. In a letter to his American biographer Archibald Henderson some four months after Man and Superman had opened at the Court Theatre in London, he wrote that “Nietzsche’s notions of art, his admiration of the Romans &c, are very unlike any view of mine . . . and his erudition I believe to be all nonsense: I think he was an academic in the sense of having a great deal of secondhand booklearning about him . . .”
Whereas Shaw travelled widely and was a public and political figure, Nietzsche nursed his genius in a hothouse, creating powerful ideas that were remote from life outside. Brought up in a clerical background, he had no belief in Christianity, which he considered a trick that disarmed people of the courage they needed to deal with the suffering in life. But with God dead what was the purpose of human beings? Were they part of an unknown experiment or was everything meaningless? He saw the possibility of men and women retreating into animals. Or might they progress in positive ways that he could inspire, transforming them into superhumans to take the place of gods? Nietzschean philosophers have made ingenious attempts to reassemble his queries and contradictions into an equation pointing to a solution that removes meaning from intention and changes even nihilism into a positive doctrine.
Shaw’s hope lay in the children of mixed marriages and, in Back to Methuselah, an ever longer span of life changing our focus on what is necessary and desirable. He believed in the life everlasting – but not necessarily for the individual. When he looked back on our history he was overtaken by a dark pessimism that animated the speeches of the Devil inMan and Superman. But when Nietzsche looked back, he saw some hope in the Roman empire, suggesting that slavery was a necessity for a mentally aristocratic life. “Men shall be trained for war,” he wrote, “and woman for the recreation of the warrior . . .” Shaw believed that women should have as many children as they wanted – but each one preferably by a different man so we could break through our social and tribal barriers. When Nietzsche looked into the future and beyond the sinking sun he imagined a paradise full of light and logic, a distant utopia of which he was the prophet. Within universities, Nietzsche’s language is peculiarly stimulating, the word “warfare” meaning little more than a tense intellectual debate. But carry that language into the streets and it becomes dangerously aggressive. Early in 1889, shortly before the birth of Hitler, Nietzsche went mad.
What Shaw may have envied was Nietz­sche’s posthumous fame and authority. Occasionally he would call himself a Nietz­schean but this should not be taken too literally. For example, he wrote to his German translator while at work on Man and Superman: “I want the Germans to know me as a philosopher; as an English (or Irish) Nietz­sche (only ten times cleverer) . . .”
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The triumph of spirit - William Wordsworth

As a child, William Wordsworth imagined he heard the moorlands breathing down his neck; he rowed in panic when he thought a cliff was pursuing him across moonlit water; and once, when he found himself on the hills east of Penrith Beacon, beside a gibbet where a murderer had been executed, the place and its associations were enough to send him fleeing in terror to the beacon summit.
Every childhood has its share of such uncanny moments. Nowadays, however, it is easy to underestimate the originality and confidence of a writer who came to consciousness in the far-from-child-centred 18th century and then managed to force a way through its literary conventions and its established modes of understanding: by intuition and introspection he recognised that such moments were not only the foundation of his sensibility, but the clue to his fulfilled identity.
By his late 20s, Wordsworth knew this one big truth, and during the next 10 years he kept developing its implications with intense excitement, industry and purpose. During this period, he also elaborated a personal idiom: "nature" and "imagination" are not words that belong exclusively to Wordsworth, yet they keep coming up when we consider his achievement, which is the largest and most securely founded in the canon of native English poetry since Milton. He is an indispensable figure in the evolution of modern writing, a finder and keeper of the self-as-subject, a theorist and apologist whose Preface to Lyrical Ballads (1802) remains definitive.
Wordsworth's power over his reader stems from his success in integrating several potentially contradictory efforts. More than a century before Yeats imposed on himself the task of hammering his thoughts into unity, Wordsworth was fulfilling it with deliberate intent. Indeed, it is not until Yeats that we encounter another poet in whom emotional susceptibility, intellectual force, psychological acuteness, political awareness, artistic self-knowledge, and bardic representativeness are so truly and resolutely combined (William Blake also comes to mind, but he does not possess - indeed he would have disdained - the "representativeness".)
Take, for example, a poem such as "Resolution and Independence". Democratic, even republican, in its characteristic eye-level encounter with the outcast, and in its curiosity about his economic survival. Visionary in its presentation of the old man transfigured by the moment of epiphany. Philosophic in its retrieval of the stance of wisdom out of the experience of wonder. Cathartic in the forthrightness of its self-analysis. Masterful in its handling of the stanza form. Salutary - not just picturesque - in its evocation of landscape and weather, inciting us to perceive connections between the leech-gatherer's ascetic majesty and the austere setting of moorland, cloud, and pool. In a word, Wordsworthian.
Furthermore, "Resolution and Independence" exemplifies the kind of revolutionary poem Wordsworth envisaged in the Preface. It takes its origin from "emotion recollected in tranquillity"; that emotion is contemplated until "by a species of reaction the tranquillity gradually disappears, and an emotion, kindred to that which was before the subject of contemplation, is gradually produced and does actually exist in the mind". What happens also in the new poetry (again, these are the terms of the Preface) is that a common incident is viewed under a certain "colouring of imagination"; ordinary things are presented to the mind in an unusual way and made interesting by the poet's capacity to trace in them, "truly though not ostentatiously, the primary laws of our nature".
Faced with the almost geological sobriety of works such as "Tintern Abbey", "Michael", "The Ruined Cottage", and the celebrated "spots of time" in The Prelude, it is easy to forget that they are the work of a young man. These poems, which enabled Wordsworth to speak with such authority - not just about the creative process but about the attributes of a poetry adequate to contemporary conditions - were written while he was still in his 20s. Yet the note is sure, the desire to impress absent, and the poems thoroughly absorbed in their own unglamorous necessities.
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