Monday, October 6, 2008

A Thing of Beauty in a Barbarous Time

Barbarus hic ego sum, quia non intelligor illis. — Ovid
With the economy imploding, and the wars, and crimes, and torture, and impotent political posturing -- even as the pockets of the people are picked on a daily basis -- there is a time, there must be a time for beauty, for a time apart the madness. We must remember what our humanity is, and why we even bother with the onus of civilization, with its exploitation and its barbarism.

Jean-Jacques Rousseau, in his famous essay, "Discourse on the Arts and Sciences," provocatively asked whether it wasn't such condolences that bound us ever tighter to the chains of oppression:
So long as government and law provide for the security and well-being of men in their common life, the arts, literature and the sciences, less despotic though perhaps more powerful, fling garlands of flowers over the chains which weigh them down. They stifle in men’s breasts that sense of original liberty, for which they seem to have been born; cause them to love their own slavery, and so make of them what is called a civilised people....

What would become of the arts, were they not cherished by luxury? If men were not unjust, of what use were jurisprudence? What would become of history, if there were no tyrants, wars, or conspiracies? In a word, who would pass his life in barren speculations, if everybody, attentive only to the obligations of humanity and the necessities of nature, spent his whole life in serving his country, obliging his friends, and relieving the unhappy? Are we then made to live and die on the brink of that well at the bottom of which Truth lies hid?
Let it be remarked here that Rousseau went on to write one of Europe's first and most popular novels, and even composed an opera of his own!

But philosophy is not my intent here, only to select a respite from the sorry spectacle that 21st century capitalism has provided us, and the sure prospect that, unless humanity grab history in its puissant fist, things will only be getting worse.

The following aria and duet from Richard Strauss's opera, Arabella, is some of the most beautiful music I have ever heard. The duet between the sisters in the last minute is as close to perfection as one will ever hear in vocal music. Who cares that the subtitles are in another language (Finnish?)?

Enjoy, and remember John Keats' epoch-making words:
A thing of beauty is a joy for ever:
Its loveliness increases; it will never
Pass into nothingness; but still will keep
A bower quiet for us, and a sleep
Full of sweet dreams, and health, and quiet breathing.
Therefore, on every morrow, are we wreathing
A flowery band to bind us to the earth,
Spite of despondence, of the inhuman dearth
Of noble natures, of the gloomy days,
Of all the unhealthy and o'er-darkened ways
Made for our searching: yes, in spite of all,
Some shape of beauty moves away the pall
From our dark spirits.

"Ich danke Fräulein - Aber der Richtige" from act I, Richard Strauss' Arabella, Théâtre du Châtelet, Paris (2002) -- with Karita Mattila (Arabella), Thomas Hampson (Mandryka), Barbara Bonney (Zdenka), Günter Missenhardt (Graf Waldner), Cornelia Kallisch (Adélaide), Hugh Smith (Matteo), Endrik Wottrich (Elemer), Olga Trifonova (Fiakermilli), Sarah Walker (Kartenaufschlägerin) et al. Christoph von Dohnányi conducts the Philharmonia Orchestra.

(Oh, yes, the Latin quote at the top, it's from the opening of the Rousseau essay, and is translated, "In this place I am a barbarian, because men do not understand me.")

1 comment:

Anonymous said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

Search for Info/News on Torture

Google Custom Search
Add to Google ">View blog reactions

This site can contain copyrighted material, the use of which has not always been specifically authorized by the copyright owner. I am making such material available in my effort to advance understanding of political, human rights, economic, democracy, scientific, and social justice issues, etc. I believe this constitutes a 'fair use' of any such copyrighted material as provided for in section 107 of the US Copyright Law. In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, the material on this site is distributed without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information for research and educational purposes. For more information go to: If you wish to use copyrighted material from this site for purposes of your own that go beyond 'fair use', you must obtain permission from the copyright owner.