Saturday, July 31, 2004

Today's false etymology is brought to you by the letter Ξ and the restaurant business: "Eighty-six".

The term "eighty-six", as everyone knows, means to be out of something, as in, "We're eighty-sixed on bread. And spoons. And alcoholic beverages. We have iced tea and tortillas." It can also mean to get rid of something or someone, as, "Eighty-six that guy in the hat, and I don't care how many teeth he loses."

I have heard a number of attempts to trace the origin of this term, none truly convincing. But tonight I realized that it is of course from the Greek εξωθεω, I thrust out, I expel. Probably from the future tense: εξωθησω

Ta da! A false etymology just for you. I can't believe I do this sort of thing for free.
Let's take it to the next level--Thomas Aquinas style!

It would appear that original thought is something to be lauded. For all the world seeks originality in all things. Books are praised for it or denigrated for its lack; dramatic works rise or fall by its presence. Even science and philosophy are judged primarily by the quality of originality or uniqueness.

Moreover, since each man is an individual, he ought not to seek to be like or think as other men. For to each is suited a way of being, and to assume the way of another is to deny one's self and one's rightful unique position in the world.

Moreover, it would appear that without original thought we are but automata. For every action ought to have a reason in a rational creature. But if the sayings of the ancients are followed blindly, we are no better than ingenous devices for fulfilling maxims. Therefore we must think for ourselves without consideration for such maxims as have preceded us; or, better still, we ought to reach the conclusions for ourselves without that tyranny of the dead, tradition, to guide us.

Moreover, without original thought we would have none of the labor-saving devices we currently employ. We would have no plays, books, or poetry; very little music; and indeed no philosophy or science.

I reply: on the contrary, the great majority of original thought, is simply the re-invention of the wheel as a variety of inefficient polygons; what little is truly original is mostly wrong; and what remains which is neither unoriginal nor wrong is as rare as it is useful.

For the great men who are our ancestors were neither credulous nor simple. They were men of talent and often of genius, and such works of theirs as have survived are worthy to be studied for the theories they contain and the suppleness of mind to be gained by following their movements. Their beliefs, even when overthrown by modern thought, have endured such changes of Fortune's wheel before this, and will endure them again afterwards without being crushed beneath it. Nothing is sillier than the livings' assurance that they are cleverer than the dead, simply because they are living.

The number and variety of systems overthrown and returned to is legion; and each life is marked by these same revolutions in individual thought. The temporary downfall of a thinker or his thought is no reason to mark it as unworthy of study, since in the next season it will likely be the most favored. Even if its degradation is eternal, if it has endured for any length of time it either holds some seed of truth, or is a pitfall into which even the most cautious may descend. If it holds some seed of truth, it must be sought; if it is a tempting wrong turn it must be studied to be avoided in other areas.

Replies to objections: it is true that each man is an individual, with his own means of being-in-the-world. However, each man is also a member of the class {men}, which share certain common characteristics. It is these characteristics that concern all thought and discourse. For if the unique qualities were those which concerned thought, how might that thought be communicated? Qualities which are truly unique cannot be possessed by another. Therefore the concern of art, science, and philosophy is those qualities which are common. Thus, desires to express oneself are in fact desires to express precisely those qualities which are shared by another. Uniqueness of expression is indeed desirable, but only when old expressions of the same idea have grown stale and powerless. A new expression is but a means of reaching an old idea.

Moreover, that we cannot truly be reasoning creatures without reasoning entirely by ourselves is false. It is indeed true that blindly to follow maxims is the act of an unthinking creature. But this is not an argument against tradition; it is an argument for thought. Those who think through the teachings of the ancients have thought as far, and often further, than those who ignore them in the name of originality. Just as there is such a thing as Unoriginal Thought, there is Original Thoughtlessness. The ancients lead us down fruitful paths of thought, if we do the work to follow them. By our own weak powers, unaided by a guide, we cannot travel as far. To praise originality above all else means to ignore the noun to which its adjectival form ought to apply. It is Thought that we seek, the hard work which may come from studying the ancients, challenging them, and engaging with them. It is also hard work to begin from one's own first principles and create a system without reference to the thoughts of those who have come before--but it is hard work with an uncertain reward.

That we would have little art, science, and philosophy without original thought is true beyond a doubt. However, as has been said before, to deem a work's virtue to be its originality is to ignore the true factors of worth. A work may be entirely original and entirely devoid of thought. There have been instances. Men may be better served by a work which does not "challenge their pre-conceptions" if those pre-conceptions are in fact true. To be constantly challenging the common wisdom is never to be advancing it. Where common ideas are wrong they may well need changing; but to change them because they are common is to act thoughtlessly.

Nothing is more useful than a true idea. But such an idea, although it may be original, is so only accidentally. The essential aspect of it is that it is true, and it is this aspect which gives the idea its worth. That we cannot swallow an idea without the spice of novelty is a sign of weakness of digestion, not delicacy of taste.

Thursday, July 29, 2004

I would gladly introduce an intestinal parasite into my system for the chance to drink with Dave Barry.
A recent Spam poem:

ligament,the whole boulevard,elfin,into the oblong,secular,wood and decided.simply,ukhodeev himself took,soothsayer,duplicate keys belonging

A "smoky and wavering conceit", indeed. The unexpected benefits of Bayesian filters! I particularly like "into the oblong,secular,wood and decided." Decided what? And who is Ukhodeev? Maybe she knows.

Agrippina


Lovely; irreproachably fine voices; and I was heartily glad when it was over.

It's Handel. I've heard it before--some of it, in its entirety--in others of his works. Handel didn't mind stealing from himself.

I like Handel, but three hours of it left me worn. Agrippina was a powerfully good actress and singer. Ottone, a counter-tenor, received well-deserved accolades. Poppea was suitably round-heeled. But THREE HOURS. I needed a drink, which I had, and then I needed another one. And then a quick lie-down.

For some reason I have no trouble getting through Parsifal. Maybe because Wagner has some, y'know, variation. I mean, really, the words to any of those arias could be exchanged and no one would know it. Maybe not the one that goes "You well deserve this honor (how my heart rages)". But all the other ones. Yurgh.

So, it was still good. Well, except the second act. That could have been cut, without losing anything but some diverting T&A. Which is probably why they kept it. "It is quite dreadful to consider with what sad and futile perseverance...at one time censored matter...have been toiled through by misguided millions in quest of the authors' rumored indecency.... Besides, he does get in the way of indecency so very little for his trouble."

ISS has some neat software. I particularly like the cable supported roof structure modelled on their Robot Millenium before being constructed.

I mention this purely for the enthusiasts amongst us.

Wednesday, July 28, 2004

James Branch Cabell's name has all but been forgotten in the annals of literature, and anyone can understand why. He wrote eighteen books describing what he considered to be the three ways of dealing with life. And he was being generous: he's actually got just one story to tell, and he tells it over again and over again. So why read him?

Well, for one thing, it's an interesting story. It's one that all of us have been through, even if it does not, as he implies constitute the whole of existence. And for another, he tells it very well.

I've recently been reading some of his reviews collected in Some of Us: An Essay in Epitaphs, which is a rather nasty review of the writers who were popular during the 'twenties. Of particular note is his review of Sinclair Lewis, often praised for his realism. Cabell makes the point that Lewis is anything but realistic; he has instead stumbled upon one of the great archetypes in his Babbitt.

Cabell is capable of extraordinary nastiness with the most remarkably lovely prose. In Some of Us, for example, he has a footnote regarding a correction:

It has been suggested to me by Mr. Seward Collins of the Bookman that "Mr. Paul E. More has devoted a dozen lines to Mr. Hergesheimer, on page 62 of Modern Currents in American Literature," --and one thankfully acknowledges the academic value of this information. Even so, because of my doubt if any aspersions printed that far on in a book by Mr. More can be regarded as actually published, I am permitting my original text to stand unaltered.

He's got a talent for a sort of prose Shakespearean sonnet: extremely structured (even among the eighteen books there is an architectonic based on the "three possible attitudes toward human life"), with a couplet at the end that generally deflates the whole thing, if properly used. Even his sentences end that way: "And I did not know that civilized persons any longer retained sufficient credulity to wring a thrill from god-baiting." (Jurgen, which got him famous by being censored. He never forgave it). It reminds one of Byron's Don Juan: "He learn'd the arts of riding, fencing, gunnery,/ And how to scale a fortress-or a nunnery." "A little quietly facetious about everything," as Byron put it, and Cabell's philosophy is certainly that.

Of course, that's rather rich coming from a fellow whose fifth birthday was along these lines:

Miss Florine Hirsh made a beautiful Bo Peep as did also Miss Maggie Branch a real Titianesque beauty. Miss Sallie Bruce as Bettie Blue was charming, and her brother Charlie, as Tom the Piper, played all of the tunes he knew when he was young. Misses Ethel and Mary Pace were present, Miss Mary as a Contrary Mary, which we feel sure she was not, and Miss Ethel unable to take character because of a broken arm. Miss E. Whitlock was also Mary Quite Contrary; she was a pretty little girl and will learn to be anything else but contrary before she grows up we feel sure.

If we have omitted any names it is only because we were so bewildered by the beautiful cortege as to lose our wits and those left out must pardon the omission. The parlors were handsomely decorated with Easter lilies and doves, and from the centre arch hung three large Easter eggs. The supper table was adorned with flowers and a golden nest with a goose ridden by Old Mother Goosey, which nest was filled with pretty eggs, one for each girl, afforded mu[c]h delight. The merry party broke up at 9 o'clock, and all left wishing Master Cabell many happy returns.

More Cabell?

While everyone is talking about the political impact Fahrenheit 911 may or may not have on the election, I should like to state, for the record, that my politics have indeed been changed by a film this year. I will not be voting for Doctor Octopus, no matter what campaign promises he should make. Charismatic, yes, intelligent beyond the ken of the other politicians, indeed, but I worry that he is overly influenced by special interest groups. Viz., his hideous mechanical arms.

Things That Have or Had Pointy Teeth


Musk Deer
Smilodonichthys rastrosus
Anglerfish
Vampires
Ferrengi
Javelinas
Narwhals
This Bunny!

Which it was just too neat not to show you. That rabbit's dynamite!
Stupid Internet finally lets me back on.

Saturday, July 24, 2004

And now a brief moment of exultation: Whole Foods was having a really terrific wine sale, and we have scored big time. Worthy of note: the Gruet Blanc de Noir.

We sell a number of the Gruet wines in the restaurant: their '01 Pinot Noir, the Chardonnay, and both the Blanc de Noir and the Gilbert Gruet Grande Reserve. Generally, customers open with some scoffing remark about New Mexico wines, to which the reply generally runs something like: "Oh, but the Gruets are originally from Champagne. They came to New Mexico and loved the growing conditions; poor soil, a high temperature change over the course of the day, and very low humidity all make the grapes suffer, that the wine can prosper. The Pinot Noir in particular has interesting plum and black cherry notes, and finishes with an astonishing minerality..." And so on.

The Blanc de Noir is among my favorites. Nice fruit and toasty-ness combine for ridiculously enjoyable drinking. Kate and I served it at our wedding. But the Gilbert Gruet Grande Reserve is, bar none, the best vin de methode champagnoise I have ever had the pleasure of encountering. If you can find it, snap it up and lay it away for a special occasion.

Friday, July 23, 2004

Proclus forgets that Justice is also blind entomologically. Rimshot!

Also, he missed his chance to use the phrase "immanentize the eschaton". But you should read his post anyway, because it's damfine.

And a good way to introduce our new Current Pick: Forensic entomology

Simon Boccanegra

Absolutely fabulous. There's just something about Verdi that makes me break down; last year at La Traviata I at least had the excuse of having enjoyed champagne and a good deal of red wine before hand, but the duet between Boccanegra and Amelia had me sobbing. Again. What glorious music, though; and what a magnificent opera.

After Don Giovanni, which was also lovely, Simon Boccanegra felt cleansing. They're both great operas, but Don Giovanni demands intense intellectual participation really to enjoy it, and its characters are sympathetic only at the cost of our own moral or aesthetic sensibility. But Simon Boccanegra has characters with whom one can sympathise; their tragedy comes from the situation, and Boccanegra's end is far worse than he deserves (unlike Giovanni's), creating that fear and pity that I enjoy so much.

Superbly sung, and superbly acted as well, which one cannot always say. Paolo, especially, when forced to curse himself, had me unconciously clenching my fists, he portrayed his terror so well. Boccanegra walked the thin line he must, between tyranny and weakness, and won over the audience completely. And Amelia brought an innocence to her part that well suited it, and her interventions to save Boccanegra's life had a pleasant urgency to them.

UPDATE: Jack liked it too.

Mr. Micklethwait posts on the educational aspect of blogging. I've been thinking similar things myself, about a different sphere.

I've been, for the first time, teaching fairly regularly in my martial art. In fact, once we move to Elsewhere, I plan to open up a school. This, of course, is a rather involved undertaking; I need to know how to teach well, among other things. Thus, practice.

One reason for teaching is the desire to give something back, to the art or to one's own teacher. It's a sentiment I certainly share. But I'm also finding that there are great benefits for me, even though, of course, the students benefit more.

As I try to demonstrate the techniques, I find that I need to clarify them for myself as well. If I don't know exactly where the sidekick prepare is, I won't be able to show a student. And if I don't know why it's there, they won't be able to remember it. Nothing aids memory like knowing the reason behind something.

So as I lead them through the basic techniques (which, supposedly, I have down cold), I find myself re-learning and deepening my knowledge of those same basic techniques--I'm becoming a better martial artist, and better student, through teaching.

And watching others make mistakes and learning how to correct those mistakes allows me to generalize knowledge that was in danger of becoming specific to my body. If I only know how the technique looks and feels to me, I don't really know the technique, which after all is available to anyone with the requisite physical ability. It's all pleasantly philosophical that way.

Sunday, July 11, 2004

Field trip!

Kate, jack, our pseudonymless friend Any, and I just got back from Bookworks, where Steve Bodio was signing copies of Eagle Dreams. Money quote: "I like to take advantage of what cultures have to offer. So I took the antibiotics and the horsemeat."

Peculiar reviewed the book earlier, and I followed suit. I still can't recommend it highly enough, and I'm not just saying that because one of Steve's falconer friends bought a round of vodka for us all.

It's no secret that Nietzsche liked Wagner, then turned on him rather nastily:

Wagner represents a great corruption of music. He has guessed that it is a means to excite weary nerves—and with that he has made music sick. His inventiveness is not inconsiderable in the art of goading again those who are weariest, calling back into life those who are half dead. He is a master of hypnotic tricks, he manages to throw down the strongest like bulls. Wagner's success—his success with nerves and consequently women—has turned the whole world of ambitious musicians into disciples of his secret art. And not only the ambitious, the clever, too.— Only sick music makes money today; our big theaters subsist on Wagner.
--Der Fall Wagner

But what I hadn't known was that despite Nietzsche's rather...intemperate attitude towards Christianity--

I call Christianity the one great curse, the one enormous and innermost perversion, the one great instinct of revenge, for which no means are too venomous, too underhand, too underground and too petty - I call it the one immortal blemish of mankind.
--Twilight of the Idols

--he could not remain unmoved by Wagner's most directly Christian opera (despite anyone's maunderings about Buddhism and Schoepenhauer), Parsifal. As he wrote to his sister:

I cannot think of it [the overture to Parsifal] without feeling violently shaken, so elevated was I by it, so deeply moved. It was as if someone were speaking to me again after many years, about the problems that disturb me - naturally not supplying the answers I would give, but the Christian answer, which, after all, has been the answer of stronger souls than the last two centuries of our era have produced. When listening to this music one lays Protestantism aside as a misunderstanding - and also, I will not deny it, other really good music, which I have at other times heard and loved, seems, as against this, a misunderstanding!

One wonders how much of Nietzsche's dislike of Wagner was driven by envy (and this despite one's firm conviction that psychological motives ought never to be ascribed to anyone, no matter how deserving). After all, Wagner had the woman and the life that Nietzsche wanted, and moreover, Nietzsche's "Nachklang einer Sylvesternacht" reduced Wagner not to ecstasy but to derisive laughter. All of which was a rather composed (rim shot!) response compared with Hans von B├╝low's declaration that Nietzsche's work was equivalent to raping Euterpe.

Each fellow arrived at immortality in the end: Wagner through his music and Nietzsche through his philosophy (and thank Heaven it wasn't the other way 'round!). It just seems that Wagner enjoyed the trip so much more.

"I wonder why people really acquire demons and resort to bewitching others[.]"

I friggin' adore Jonah Goldberg right now.

Saturday, July 10, 2004

The Cozumel Thrasher, thought extinct for nigh on a decade, has been re-discovered.

Boy, you'd think a bird with a name like that would have no problems gulping down a boa constrictor like a robin with a worm. But perhaps not.

If I were Dave Barry...never mind.

Story via Eurekalert.

Friday, July 09, 2004

With the aptly named MESSENGER, we're headed back to Mercury.

Things That Are Over-Rated



Classical Guitar
The Renaissance
Martinis
Agnosticism
Van Morrison
Wristwatches
High School
The Original Star Trek Series
The Scarlet Letter
"Golden Age" Comics
String Theory
Hot Tubs
Computer Graphics
Elves

Thursday, July 08, 2004

"The entrance seemed to me like a very long, narrow passage, or a very low, dark, and constricted furnace. The ground appeared to be covered with a filthy wet mud, which smelt abominably and contained many wicked reptiles. At the end was a cavity scooped out of the wall, like a cupboard, and I found myself closely confined in it. But the sight of all this was pleasant compared with my feelings."

To each his or her own. "Like a lord's great kitchen, without a fire in't."

Aside from a slow shoving-match over control of the armrest to one's right, there's a lot of spare time if one is flying. I occupied it with "mind-sword", which means that I imagined possible self-defense situations and my response to them. For example, what if someone get a knife onboard? (Which would not be that hard, given the caliber of security at airports. Am I the only one who, as I shuffle forward in my socks, waiting to retrieve my belongings, dreams of challenging them all to an iaijitsu duel? "Taste my watered steel, you dim-eyed troglodyte! I shall send you to the Land of Wind and Ghosts, that your intestines may be eternally devoured by wild boars! Yes, I have two forms of ID.") Well, I've got my bag, which I could use to block it, or a seat cushion, or Being and Time, which might as well make itself useful by taking a cut for me. Any of these things could be used to help avoid being cut. I went through a number of scenarios like this one: multiple opponents, different weapons, different situations. It's a useful exercise in itself, and potentially life-saving. I considered each time what weapons I had, even those things which were perfectly acceptable to carry on.

For example, my crochet hook. Obviously I can jab at the eyes or throat with it, if I hold it like a small stick (fingers wrapped around it, thumb along the line). It makes an decent although not terrific addition to a hammer-fist strike, when held in a clenched fist. Attacks with it to sensitive areas can cause a good deal of pain, although it's not a great weapon for such things, and it does give me a little extra reach.

The hook can be used on the ears or nose of the opponent, for example when grappling. Pulling back on the nose can cause them to raise their chin, giving me an opening for a choke. If I've got a hand, I can hook under the fingernails if they're long enough, causing a great deal of pain. The webs between the fingers are also potential targets, although I find them ineffective and difficult to keep hooked.

The crochet hook as a whole can be used to augment wrist or finger locks, held like a pencil. And this is when it really becomes effective. The middle, ring, and pinky fingers hold while the crochet hook, under the ball of the first finger, is ground against the bone. The pain this causes will keep the opponent from trying to break out directly against the lock, and acts as a potent distraction. The crochet hook can also be used as a fulcrum in certain wrist-locks, allowing one to bend the wrist more easily and preventing removal of the lock. In certain positions it can be driven against the tendons of the arm or wrist to cause pain and to weaken a hold.

Moreover, throwing the crochet hook can be a distraction. Most are metallic and brightly colored, attracting attention even if they will do no damage. The opponent may not know that there's no sharp end.

The crochet hook is an ideal weapon for those self-defense situations which are not deadly: an unfriendly drunk, for example. The pain and increased efficiency of the wrist locks may bring him to his senses, or allow you to control him until he regains them himself. It's not a great weapon against a knife, or even against a bare-handed opponent. You're better off not concentrating on it to the exclusion of other options. But as an unpleasant addition to seizing and controlling, it's excellent.

My brief examination of the crochet hook as a weapon doesn't really do it justice--there's much more to it, especially regarding the wrist locks, to which it is a surprisingly diabolical addition. I'll just leave with this last thought: knitting needles are okay for carry-on, too. Even the circular ones. A man must have a heart of stone not to enjoy those possiblities.

Don Giovanni


Which is a great opera. It's one of the two Mozart operas that are studied back at Whatsamatta U, switching out with the Magic Flute. After seeing Don Giovanni, I can't see why the other is included at all. One simply spends all one's time saying, "Well, we're in E flat major, the 'Masonic key'," and not getting anywhere. Don Giovanni one can sink one's teeth into, bite off a big chunk, and chew on it for a while.

Let's assume that the singers all did fine, or at least did not offend my untrained ears. Two exceptions: Donna Elvira absolutely nailed "mi tradi quell'alma ingrata", and Don Ottavio seemed self-conscious and uncertain. Which is perhaps not out of character, but it came across as the actor's nervousness. He was a stand-in, not the usual Don Ottavio, but I certainly would have wanted "a little more time" before I married him. Several decades, at least. "Non mi dir", indeed.

Lights up on some red, red brick buildings. Leporello is in a brown leather jacket and hat, and I'd say he was slinking about the place, but the actor is way too bouncy to slink. He looks like a great big brown leather beach-ball, and he's bobbling about stealthily.

Don Giovanni enters with Donna Anna. Am I naive? I never thought that Donna Anna might have been a willing participant in the seduction, but that's how they're playing it. She's all over him like the cheap suit that he is, in fact, wearing. After talking with jack, I can see how it makes sense, with what she says later to Don Ottavio ("I thought it was you"), but for some reason I never conceived of her that way. Perhaps it's just that there's some ambiguity otherwise, and there's certainly none here. Donna Anna, by the way, is showing a lot of skin.

The Commendatore comes in, looking just this side of decrepit, which brings a chuckle from the audience as he swings his sword just like some men of that age drive: slowly, and to no particular end. The production played a lot of scenes for farce which didn't seem to me to be inherently farcical. Leporello, whom I consider to be quite sinister, for all his sarcasm and haplessness, was a stooge. Donna Elvira stomped about the stage with her elbows firmly out, and her encounter with the disguised Leporello involved a great deal of bad touching. She was turned from a woman seduced and scorned into the butt of a joke between Giovanni and the audience, and because of that "mi tradi quell'alma ingrata", while beautifully sung, lacked the emotional foundation to be truly affecting.

I don't know why they chose to play so much of the opera so broadly. It's already funny; I don't need to see Masetto doing the "staircase" behind a hedge, then pulling himself around like a seal, to laugh at his predicament. In fact, the broadness of the playing diminished the tension between the comic aspects of the opera, and the creepier elements just under the surface. Masetto is having his betrothed taken before him, and if we laugh at his attempts to get her back, and at Leporello's antics to prevent him, it's with unease. We're laughing at the destruction of innocence. Mozart may have called it opera buffo, but the libretto has it right: dramma giocoso.

The same with Donna Elvira. Her pursuit of Giovanni is amusing in its obsession, but unless we're convinced that she really does love him, and that her love is worthy of respect, her insistence at the banquet that he repent carries no weight--it's just another attempt to capture him. Playing her as a farcical harridan diminishes Giovanni's wickedness, and thereby diminishes the opera. He's made less mad, bad, and dangerous to know, and we're more comfortable watching him. He loses the power to make us truly worried, and that power is what fascinates us. In this production, even his killing the Commendatore was made off-hand and at least mostly justifiable.

Fortunately, they can't do too much to the music. Don Giovanni shone through the acting in several places. What was really brought home to me as I watched this time was how Giovanni himself leads the opera, musically and dramatically. Even when he's offstage the characters onstage are looking for him, discussing him, in short, reacting to him. He is the only character capable of effective action, with one exception: the Commendatore's statue.

Musically, he's constantly re-interpreting the notes of others into his own key; he takes command whenever he sings with someone else. This technique is his seduction. Even Leporello could call the big ones "majestic" and the little ones "charming". But Giovanni has a presence which is conveyed through his music, and which allows us to understand the power he has. He is always in control of the situation, until the end.

And at the end he's lost it. The Commendatore will not be swayed, and will not allow Giovanni to re-interpret his music. Indeed, the Commendatore's music subsumes Giovanni's, just as Giovanni's spirit is overcome by Hell.

The descent into Hell was well done technically, I thought, with great yellow lights behind the action, nearly blinding one. Giovanni leapt into the pit with a little yelp, but as I said above, he seemed very tired. I'm sure we would have had a truly blood-curdling scream from him otherwise.

But because Giovanni's crimes were downplayed, and he was become a cheerful rake rather than a figure of power, it left me little moved. This Giovanni didn't deserve it, and the opera became a story of hard-hearted law striking down any occupation not its own, which is predictable and well-worn. Here's the paradox: if Giovanni doesn't deserve to be dragged screaming to Hell, I'm not going to be interested enough to watch him. He'll hardly be that figure which so fascinated Goethe and Kierkegaard. He can't seduce if we don't know that his seduction is wrong: the wrongness is the appeal of it. We allow him to convince us, for a little while, to be part of the story that he's telling. And it is a story for which he needs an audience.

Giovanni needs his Leporello not so much for his serving abilities, but as that audience. Leporello, with his little book full of names, stands in for us. He too is watching as the Don makes his next conquest, and when we see his glee at each new woman, we see a little of ourselves reflected in him. Which, if he's not a beach-ball, is disturbing. He's a voyeur and a petty servant, and he willingly serves a murderer and rapist, just to see what comes next (despite all his protestations about money). And we're just the same, watching Giovanni and laughing at the helplessness of those around him. It's only through Leporello that we get any information about Giovanni, who is himself silent on the subject. And no character more than Leporello complements Giovanni muscially. Even his first aria, "Notte e giorno faticar" is, we discover, an echo of his master's "Fich'han dal vino" (or is his master echoing him?).

I wonder if those in charge of the production didn't play it this way because they didn't have faith in their singers' ability to bring off the more difficult task of making us understand the characters. Donna Elvira, when we understand her, becomes a figure of fear and pity. Her very arias are conflicted, and to make us understand the opposing forces in her soul and in her heart requires a great effort. Either the producers lacked faith in their singer, which is doubtful, or they lacked faith in their audience.

And why not? A descent into Hell becomes a cipher if we don't believe in the possibility of eternal damnation. How can you convey the horror of it to an audience that denies its existence (and indeed, these days denying the existence of Hell is the chief spiritual belief people confess)? Still, I would have liked to have seen characters with some dramatic complexity, to accompany their muscial complexity.

Ah, well. It's Mozart. And it's Don Giovanni. How wrong can you go? Nit-picking aside, a fabulous night and a lovely time. "The three finest things in creation are the sea, Hamlet, and Mozart's Don Giovanni," as Flaubert put it. I'd add champagne, but there you go.

UPDATE: I'll be adding online reviews as they come.
Marni really dug on it. Johnny solidarity!

Thursday, July 01, 2004

A spectacular archaelogical site has come to light in the vicinity of Desolation Canyon. Good to know these things are still out there, and that Deso really is as remote and promise-crammed as it seems from the river.