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Tag: Charles Dickens

Botero’s Abu Ghraib

Botero's Abu Ghraib

Fernando Botero standing before three of over 80 of his stylized
depictions of atrocities committed at Abu Ghraib


the role of art has always been to bring
attention to injustice, Goya, for instance,
famously, Picasso’s Guernica“, without
which Guernica would be forgotten, in
literature the servile position of women
and those marginalized by industrialization
in the works of Charles Dickens, Henrik
Ibsen, Émile Zola, in music the strident
strains of Shostakovich indelibly
imprinting the cruel depredations
of the Soviet system in his searing
compositions, just click

Botero, as the others, has given here
impermeability to what had been merely
news items, something tragic but lost
amongst so many other tragedies, by
giving it ideological breadth, depth and
substance, giving it the modern postion
of an altarpiece, a place of ardent

we have after all no more churches,
only malls, we rely on potent images
for our moral guidance

therefore art


Debussy’s “Études”

 Man with a Guitar - Georges Braque
                    Man with a Guitar (1914)
                               Georges Braque 
while we’re on the subject of études, listening to 
hundred years later, 1830s to 1915, would prove
instructive, I deemed 
picture me deeming, August 3, 2012, my brow
just slightly pensively constricting 
if the basis of music as defined by the Classical
period depended on beat, tonality, and the repetition
of the tune, usually of both musical statements, these
apparently essential components of course would be
the first places to bear the scrutiny of probing musical
minds, seeking to find, seeking to set more expansive,
more profound dimensions to the areas of their quest,
that’s what artists do 
and this of course is exactly what happened starting
with Beethoven, by the time of Chopin music had
relaxed its stricter Classical rhythmic precision,
allowing great expansive gestures in the more
malleable tempi, tempos, producing the effect of
more compassion and soulful examination than
the earlier less indulgent, more disciplined code
the fact of having musical tapestries, sound patches,
take the place of melody, narrative, in the musical
presentation of Chopin also suggests a more
diversified, dare I say prismatic, telling, than the 
linear account of for instance Mozart‘s solitary
tuneful wanderer
it also evokes incidentally the vagaries of the
inconstant heart rather than its unflinching
condemnation, a repudiation of atavistic
Christian ecclesiastical intolerance 
by the time the old order was about to be extinguished,
in 1915, at the onset of the First World War, Debussy’s
Études, like Chopin 12 of them per set, had seen
social injustice – see Charles Dickens, see Émile Zola,
see Karl Marx – the improbable discoveries of science –
Darwin, Freud, Einstein – the car, the airplane,
photography were changing everything, the old
paradigms no longer applied, were irrelevant, even
harmful, in this new context, the First World War 
would prove all that 
in the language of music, tempo, melody, repetition
would be inevitably subverted
Debussy produces erratic tempi, foregoes melody for
harmonic exploration, combining incidentally the
musical patches of Chopin with the intellectually
driven investigations of Beethoven for a more
cerebral understanding of music, a music for the
head, with expert displays of pianistic skill, indeed
prestidigitation, for, along with the intellectual
rigour, spectacle  
is this then still music 
is Post-Impressionist painting still art  
what would 1915 have said
above is Georges Braque‘s nearly contemporary, 1914,  
man with a guitar, who’d a thunk it

lll. Unlike are we, O princely Heart! – Elizabeth Barrett Browning

from Sonnets from the Portuguese

lll. Unlike are we, unlike, O princely Heart!

Unlike are we, unlike, O princely Heart!
Unlike our uses and our destinies.
Our ministering two angels look surprise
On one another, as they strike athwart
Their wings in passing. Thou, bethink thee, art
A guest for queens to social pageantries,
With gages from a hundred brighter eyes
Than tears even can make mine, to play thy part
Of chief musician. What hast thou to do
With looking from the lattice-lights at me,
A poor, tired, wandering singer, singing through
The dark, and leaning up a cypress tree?
The chrism is on thine head,—on mine, the dew,—
And Death must dig the level where these agree.

Elizabeth Barrett Browning


this was the Nineteenth Century of course with high drama
and overt sentimentality running amok, look at any of Dickens’
heartwrenching urchins and orphans, for instance, that’s

the Twentieth Century determinedly picked it up, especially
after the First World War, opera became Broadway, get over it
the clarion call, life’s short, enjoy it

here’s George and Ira Gershwin’s Let’s Call the Whole Thing
a much more Twentieth Century resolution

granted Elizabeth is not on the verge of leaving her husband,
who will remain, despite her protestations, ever true and devoted,
and she knows it, but albeit both their “ministering two angels
look surprise / On one another, as they strike athwart / Their
wings in passing”,
both couples seem ready enough to
move on

and only Death will dissolve their differences, “dig the level
where these agree”,
East is East and West is West, she says,
and Yin will never be Yang, Death alone will level the playing
field of our terminally divergent destinies

thanks for that, Elizabeth


psst:”Let’s Call the Whole Thing Off

Things have come to a pretty pass,
Our romance is growing flat,
For you like this and the other
While I go for this and that.
Goodness knows what the end will be,
Oh, I don’t know where I’m at…
It looks as if we two will never be one,
Something must be done.

You say eether and I say eyether,
You say neether and I say nyther,
Eether, eyether, neether, nyther,
Let’s call the whole thing off!
You like potato and I like potahto,
You like tomato and I like tomahto,
Potato, potahto, tomato, tomahto!
Let’s call the whole thing off!
But oh! If we call the whole thing off,
Then we must part.
And oh! If we ever part,
Then that might break my heart!
So, if you like pajamas and I like pajahmas,
I’ll wear pajamas and give up pajahmas.
For we know we need each other,
So we better call the calling off off.
Let’s call the whole thing off!

You say laughter and I say lawfter,
You say after and I say awfter,
Laughter, lawfter, after, awfter,
Let’s call the whole thing off!
You like vanilla and I like vanella,
You, sa’s’parilla and I sa’s’parella,
Vanilla, vanella, Choc’late, strawb’ry!
Let’s call the whole thing off!
But oh! If we call the whole thing off,
Then we must part.
And oh! If we ever part,
Then that might break my heart!
So, if you go for oysters and I go for ersters
I’ll order oysters and cancel the ersters.
For we know we need each other,
So we better call the calling off off!
Let’s call the whole thing off!

George and Ira Gershwin

the 50 greatest books in English

should you have been following the contest in the Globe and Mail, here’s the latest:
Mark Twain, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn
Marcel Proust, Remembrance of Things Past
Charles Darwin, On the Origin of Species
Dante Alighieri, Commedia (The Divine Comedy)
Plato, The Republic
Miguel de Cervantes, Don Quixote
James Joyce, Ulysses
Karl Marx, Das Kapital
St. Augustine, Confessions
Niccolo Machiavelli, The Prince
my recent response :
first of all of the first ten choices of the 50 greatest books in English only three strictly fit the bill, the others are culled from everything already from French and German to verily Ancient Greek and Latin, by way of medieval Spanish no less, and Italian
with this I have no cavil but for not paying proper heed to translations, translators, and their varied abilities for delivering accurate goods, both in substance and in spirit, some references should be made to preferred renditions, I would suspect Dante for instance in even competent prose would be no match at all for nearly any in thoughtful verse, and these superior options should be duly credited and recommended, otherwise where is the “English” in these “50 greatest books”
“Remembrance of Things Past” got me off, it is my supreme masterpiece along with “The Iliad”, it got me interested in this contest, further choices did not disinterest, and I held back scepticism
however having just read Plato on essentially your instigation, and found him outrageous, indeed offensive, not least of all because he actually proposes to castrate Homer, censor parts of him, to fit a cockeyed political agenda, a tyranny in fact – for where is the line between tyranny and even enlightened kingship – a tyranny he would of course administer himself
Plato throughout merrily essentially rambles, nearly incoherently, certainly without any real relevance to ourselves, unless you want to start a tyranny, while his audience, Thrasymachus, Glaucon and the rest, let him ramble, tyrannically, for over four hundred nearly interminable pages
could they be thinking, could we
and where is Homer for that matter on your list
to propose a list of the 50 greatest books one would have to have read a good part of the canon, or have a pool of such people, for where otherwise is the validity of the contest, you can’t even begin to make those choices without having read too many of the masters that haven’t made the list yet
where is of course Shakespeare in all this, where is this pinnacle of English literature, where is Dickens, where is Henry Fielding and the boisterous “Tom Jones”, the gothic Emily Brontë of “Wuthering Heights, the ethereal and unforgettable Virginia Woolf, where, closer to home, are Truman Capote, Vladimir Nabokov, with each their masterful groundbreakers, “In Cold Blood”, “Lolita”
I won’t even start on literary titans in other languages
the choices in English to date have been quaint, “Ulysses” belongs there, “Tom Sawyer” instead of “Huckkleberry Finn”, but with next week F. Scott Fitzgerald’s “The Great Gatsby” the choices of your panel become questionable
where is Somerset Maugham’s “The Razor’s Edge” then, “Of Human Bondage”, or any of his perfect short stories if you’ll first give precedence to the entertaining but not nearly as prolific, nor able, Fitzgerald
I suspect not read  

or closer to home where is “The Grapes of Wrath”, one of, just one of, John Steinbeck’s towering achievements
James Agee’s “Let Us Now Praise Famous Men” with Walker Evans, or his sublime “A Death in the Family”, right up there with “To Kill a Mockingbird”, Harper Lee’s triumph, where are these, could they have been read but still not trump next week’s trifle
where is “Gone With the Wind”, Margaret Mitchell’s magnum opus, in every sense of that first word, magnum great, magnum wonderful
where is the sensuous and searing “Alexandria Quartet” of Lawrence Durrell
more esoterically perhaps but no less deservedly where are the sublime “Diaries of Anaïs Nin”, an unparalleled account of a life lived at the very centre of cultural exchange in New York and Paris starting at the Jazz Age, moment by telling moment,  and ending in the psychedelia of the Sixties and Seventies, written with stark and consummate ablility, artistry, and frankness
where for that matter is Anne Frank’s diary, about which a moment of silence would rather do than my mere words to sing its highest praises
there are only 40 places left, please fill them thoughtfully

                                                                                                                                                                    thank you