The Academic Senate of Upstate Consolation University has recently passed several new and exciting policies that will go into effect at the beginning of the fall semester. Among these dynamic and progressive measures are a ban on friendship and a plan to make the campus library entirely bookless. Minky Winceapple, formerly Chair of the Studies Studies Program, now serving as Under-Dean for Oversight of Policy Sensitivity, explains that the new regulations “are based off of grounded theory so as – intersectionally, of course – to promote the cross movement mobilization of marginalized people who have been disadvantaged by multiple sources of oppression.” Winceapple continues, “These policies will raise awareness by subverting structures of privilege through an extra-categorical strategy derived from critical thinking – such as the type of thinking I am using right now.” Measly Prudence, formerly Lead Vice-Coordinator of the Office of Dining Relations, now serving as Associate Provost for the Task Force on Inter-Varsity Diversity, seconded Winceapple’s enthusiasm: “We are implementing practices,” he said, “that will recognize and honor our multiple identities, co-facilitate an interconnective learning experience, and enable us to visualize how better to ventilate the bathrooms in the administration building – perhaps with the type of ventilation I am using right now.”
Along with Joseph de Maistre and Louis de Bonald, François-René Vicomte de Chateaubriand (1768 – 1848) rightfully takes his place as one of the most prominent of the early Catholic pro-monarchical Francophone critics of the French Revolution. Chateaubriand’s authorial career began in 1797 with the publication in England, where he had gone into exile, of his Essai historique, politique, et moral sur les révolutions anciennes et modernes considérées dans leur rapport avec la révolution française. Chateaubriand, like Maistre, had witnessed the Revolution directly and experienced its devastating effects personally. His younger sister died in a Jacobin dungeon; his elder brother and his sister-in-law lost their lives to the guillotine. Chateaubriand himself fell, seriously wounded, during the Siege of Thionville while fighting as a private soldier in the Émigré Army in late August 1792. He managed to make his way to Brittany, his home, from there to the sanctuary of Jersey, and finally to London where he commenced the impoverished ordeal of his long recuperation. The Essai, which runs to nearly six hundred pages, reveals its author’s erudition, which its successors such as The Genius of Christianity (1802) and The Martyrs (1809) would further attest. Chateaubriand proposes to study in detail the five revolutions that he can identify in antiquity and the seven in modernity with the twin aims of discovering the revolutionary causality and of applying that causality to an analysis of the French Revolution. Chateaubriand remarks that, according to the legends, Greek monarchy suffered a general catastrophe in the aftermath of the Trojan War. Even before Agamemnon’s ill-fated enterprise, however, the stories of Oedipus, of the Seven against Thebes, and even of Theseus suggest a crisis or weakening of kingship. The chaotic aftermath of the Greek victory in the Troad saw the demise of dynasties, such as that of the Atreids in Mycenae. Darkness descends over Hellas. When affairs once again emerge into the light, monarchy has vanished, its place taken by the turbulent poleis or as Chateaubriand calls them, not without prejudice, les républiques.
Chateaubriand makes the point, in his discussion of the historical poleis, that these democracies rarely in fact heeded the popular will. Rather, clever power-seekers manipulated opinion for selfish ends. Competition among power-seekers generated factionalism, which periodically broke out into open conflict. Laws intended to enrich the ruling class exacerbated the resentment of the poor against the rich. As Chateaubriand writes, “The poor in the state are infinitely more dangerous than the rich, and often they are worth less than them.” Chateaubriand never indicts the poor; he indicts those who create poverty. Once the difference between rich and poor exists, however, and especially when the manipulators have sabotaged the inherited social order, violent convulsion becomes inevitable. Chateaubriand cites the history of Athens from Codrus, the self-sacrificing last king of Attica, to Solon as a near-perpetual cycle of mobilized factions, tyranny, counter-tyranny, and, on exhaustion, attempts to repair political order through the writing of new constitutions. The Athenian project of acquiring an empire led to the city’s defeat and to decades of chaos until, at last, the Macedonian phalanx imposed a new order. A republic, in Chateaubriand’s assessment, is an inherently unstable type of polity.
No one, regrettably, has ever translated the Essai into English. Those who can handle French and who interest themselves in the irony that Reaction arises from Revolution will find a reward in examining it. Fortunately, Chateaubriand treated of the Revolution elsewhere, as in his autobiographical Memoirs from Beyond the Tomb, composed in the last ten years of his life and issued after his death; and he alludes to the Revolution in the final section of The Genius of Christianity. The tableaux of revolutionary France that Chateaubriand paints in the Memoirs exercise a powerful compulsion over the reader, revealing as they do the anti-civilizational ferocity of an insurrectionist campaign to establish, all in the name of reason, the regime of liberté, égalité, et fraternité.
“Rien n’aura eu lieu que le lieu.” – Mallarmé
Plato had a cyclic – or “spiraling” – view of history, in which the cycles bear the regular scars of catastrophe, the plural catastrophes being epochal in the root sense of articulating a dehiscence between one age and another. The most dramatic expression of Plato’s catastrophic theory of history comes with the story of Atlantis and the Prehistoric Athens in the two linked dialogues, Timaeus and Critias. The Atlantis story has a pedigree, which Timaeus supplies. The statesman Critias, who narrates the legend in the two dialogues, heard it in his youth from his grandfather, who knew it in turn from his source, the famous lawgiver Solon, who got it from certain records kept by the Egyptian priestly college at Saïs in the Nile Delta. Solon visited there in early career on an embassy from Athens. The filiations of memory that permit Critias to rehearse the story are important in context because Plato, putting his notion in the mouth of an Egyptian priest, believes that one effect of the regular cataclysmic events is periodically to interrupt the record of history and reset cultural development at its degree-zero. When the earth shakes or fire falls from the sky or the oceans rise to inundate the land, civilization, painfully built up over the centuries, vanishes under the onslaught of nature; only a few mountain-dwellers or lucky, remote people survive. Since the simple, unlettered survivors take no custody of the written lore, almost every verbal trace of the smashed civilization also vanishes. The priest tells Solon that quirks of nature permit a few exceptions, and that the Nile Delta is one of them – a place unaffected by universal disasters, where continuous records chronicle humanity’s adventures going back tens of thousands of years into the past. Atlantis and the Prehistoric Athens attained high civilization; their achievements, technical and political, indeed put to shame all the societies of Solon’s day, including Attic society. A scourge of earthquakes and flooding obliterated both nations and the stunned survivors managed to live at a stone-age level of material culture only.
Insofar as people today remember Massachusetts-born T. Lothrop Stoddard (1883 – 1950) at all, they remember him vaguely as a once-popular writer-journalist who had the bad taste to address forthrightly matters of race and immigration, as those topics concerned American national policy, in the decades before the Great Depression. People over forty who read the footnotes while studying English might recall that F. Scott Fitzgerald alludes to Stoddard obliquely in The Great Gatsby conflating his name with that of his contemporary Madison Grant. A few people might further connect Stoddard with the Johnson-Reed Immigration Act of 1924. Stoddard lobbied for it, another black mark against his name by contemporary standards. The wispy image of Stoddard will therefore suggest to most people, should it improbably appear to them, that the man belongs on the distinctly politically incorrect side of right attitudes and behaviors; they will adjust their emotions accordingly. Yet Stoddard contributed his considerable cachet to such causes as Pacifism and Eugenics, having been allied in the latter project with that darling of the Twenty-First Century Left, Margaret Sanger; he saw himself, in part, as an American Friedrich Nietzsche, rather as Fitzgerald saw himself as an American Oswald Spengler. Stoddard presents a fascinating case precisely because of his anomalousness when measured against early Twenty-First Century political templates. The regime of Multiculturalism must see in him only a scandal; on the other hand, he seems to be an ideological forerunner of the Democrat-Party abortion constituency. Stoddard’s case, discomfiting to all sides, suggests the limitations and rigidity of contemporary politics, from which candor has been banished. An excellent writer, he appears to have argued his brief honestly and without malice; much of what he says about race – take for example his contention that multi-racial societies are dubious propositions that diminish social trust – finds support in recent studies, such as those of Robert Putnam. How to square it?
The opening bars of Ernest John Moeran’s Symphony in G-Minor (completed in 1937) etched themselves in my memory when I first heard them in the early 1970s in Neville Dilke’s 1970 EMI recording with the English Sinfonia – and they have haunted me ever since. Over a four-four ostinato based in the horns, the violins play a sweeping, folksong-like melody with a character both heroic and tragic; it is a melody strongly vocal in its outline, but full of developmental implication, which the composer ingeniously exploits. According to Geoffrey Self’s 1986 study of Moeran (1894 – 1950), work on the Symphony began as early as 1924, but its author it aside for a decade before resuming it. Moeran worked initially on what would become the Symphony’s slow movement, deriving his motifs, as Self informs his readers, from a traditional Norfolk melody, The Shooting of his Dear, which he had arranged previously for chorus. Self argues that The Shooting of his Dear appealed to Moeran more due to the pathos of its lyrics than to its inherent melodiousness. The song tells the story of a young fowler who accidentally kills his beloved while out hunting and how her ghost appears at his trial to plead clemency. The murder of the innocent, as Self sees it, figured centrally in Moeran’s conscience, as he had served in the British Army in the Great War, in which he had been severely wounded. Moeran’s symphony thus began with the folksong, on the basis of which the slow movement builds an elegiac fantasia; and when Moeran took up the score again a nucleus of motifs derived from the same Norfolk tune informed the thematic material of the other movements, including the sweeping theme at the commencement of the first movement’s Allegro. In Self’s analysis, the Symphony in G-Minor constitutes itself as a subtly and ingeniously worked out musical unity, as complex in its construction as any other major musical work of the mid-Twentieth Century.
No doubt but the derivation of the score’s thematic material from a few basic melodic cells conveys itself unconsciously to the lay listener. The main laical reaction to Moeran’s score, however, consists in feeling oneself overwhelmed by the work’s lyrical richness and its constant implication of carrying forward a musical narrative endowed with a powerful meaning. Self points out that the Symphony in G-Minor partakes in complexity and meaning in another way – through its pattern of allusions to other symphonic scores. He names Jean Sibelius, and in particular his Second, Third, and Fourth Symphonies as generating echoes in Moeran’s partitur; and Peter Tchaikovsky’s Sixth and Sir Edward Elgar’s Second Symphony and his tone-poem Falstaff. Self poses a rhetorical question: “What if [Moeran’s] music were to work by using our knowledge of other, specific works, and ones which are accepted loci classici for particular emotional gestures?” Self believes that Moeran often consciously made musical allusions so that musically astute listeners “would take account not only of the Moeran passage, but also of its model.” In this way “the total listening experience would be compounded of Moeran heard in light of the model – on occasion, indeed, the Moeran [passage] might make ironic comment on the model.” Elsewhere in his book, Self gives evidence that Moeran extended this practice to the large-scale works that succeeded the Symphony, and in so doing aligned himself with the mid-century convention of literary allusion, as in the novels of James Joyce and D. H. Lawrence or the poetry of T. S. Eliot.
Hugo Alfvén (1872 – 1960) jumpstarted the genuinely Swedish school of concert music in the last decade of the Nineteenth Century and sustained his effort during the first half of the Twentieth Century. Following the example of the Russian composers, the ones denominated as “The Mighty Five,” Alfvén assimilated the heady tradition of Swedish folk music to the conventions of symphonic music. Alfvén wrote three “Swedish Rhapsodies.” The first, from 1908, celebrates the vestigially Catholic and vestigially Pagan festival of “May Eve.” The composition imitates Swedish folk-tunes, but all of the thematic material in Midsommarvaka is original to Alfvén. The composition falls on the ear as spontaneous and “natural,” but the score is brilliantly unified. Midsommarvaka is, in effect, a short symphony, in four movements, on Swedish themes. I have loved it since I first heard it in the early 1970s and I am happy to share it with the community of the Orthosphere.
The performances of the Russian, St.-Petersburg based, musical group Otava Yo, whose self-explanation is accessible here, much impress me. We live in an age where actual identity, that of the living person, finds itself in opposition to identity politics, which obliterates the living person for the sake of a wicked abstraction. Otava roots itself in the soulful tradition of Russian and (I believe) Ukrainian folksong. The old Cossack ditty, Oy Dusiya, Oy Marusiya, in lezhginka rhythm, taps into the richness of an authentic ethnic tradition. The moment in the video when the young woman sees herself in the mirror in traditional costume is particularly moving. Whoever directed the video directed it well. From the folk-costumes to the reference, through several historical layers of recorded music, to the lore of song, and to the fashioning of folk-instruments, the visuals tell a story of the debt to ancestry. Those who repudiate tradition condemn themselves to a shallow plagiarism of the prevailing correct opinion, while those who embrace the patrimony find themselves endowed with originality and creativity. Otava Yo’s women fetch me especially. They seem unembarrassed in being beautiful, which they are extraordinarily – and they pay tribute to feminine beauty in a powerful way, not least in their ritual hauteur. If anyone could explain the samovar subplot, I would welcome enlightenment.
My article on Oswald Spengler and William Olaf Stapledon – Two Eccentric Theorists of the Origin of Language – appears in the current number of Anthropoetics: the Journal of Generative Anthropology. Assuming the framework of Eric Gans’ “scenic” and “evenemential” model of the origin of language, the article examines the convergent intuitions of Spengler and Stapledon that language represents a distinctive break from animal signage rather than a gradual development on the basis of animal signage. Spengler, in his Decline, and Stapledon, in his Last Men in London, agree that language and religion spring into being simultaneously in response to a breakdown of the instinctual order in the proto-human group, a breakdown that is exacerbated by the increasing mimeticism of the individuals who comprise that group. The first sign designates both the group and the emergent consciousness, which what is suddenly a community rather than a mere group perceives as God. The argument also draws on René Girard’s concept of the origin of culture in a “sacrificial crisis,” which provides the starting-point for Gans’ theory. I reproduce three paragraphs from the article’s Introduction. –
Cognoscenti of Generative Anthropology will have acquainted themselves with the history of language-theory in its broad outline as well as with the narrower history of those investigations of things human that sought plausibly to account for or to characterize, in one way or another, the origin of language and by implication the totality of institutions. Generative Anthropology is itself a late instance of the latter and its originator Eric L. Gans, in his study of The Scenic Imagination: Originary Thinking from Hobbes to the Present Day (2008), offers a rare and succinct survey of logo- and etho-genetic hypotheses, as one might call them, from the Seventeenth Century down to the Twenty-First. Gans writes, “My thesis is that human experience, as opposed to that of other animals, is uniquely characterized by scenic events recalled both collectively and individually through representations, the most fundamental of which are the signs of language.” It belongs to Gans’ thesis that, “If the human is indeed a series of scenic events… then the human must have originated in an event… the representation of which, the first example of language and ‘culture,’ is part of the originary scene itself.” Gans’ term “originary scene” refers to the logically necessary first occasion when the mutual awareness of the ego and the tu, mediated by an object of contention, articulated itself in a gesture or utterance that, lodging in the newly commenced self-acknowledgment and mental continuity of the group, could be recalled or repeated. Gans makes his own case for the intuitive likelihood of the originary scene, but there is a simpler argument all the more poignant for originating outside of Generative Anthropology, while lending it logical support. Every word in every language is a coinage. Whatever the word, there was a time of its coinage, of its first instance, before which it never existed. Traveling backward in his time machine, the observer would notice, first, a de-ramification of tongues until, an initial bifurcation into two dialects being annulled, only one tongue existed. In the case of that tongue, the traveler would then witness a diminution of vocabulary until he arrived at the first, and in its day singular and only word of that tongue’s vocabulary. He would have arrived at the origin of language.
Hermann Scherchen’s 1958 recording of Gustav Mahler’s Symphony No. 2, “Resurrection,” the first to have been taped in stereo. The band is “The Vienna State Opera Orchestra,” actually a pick-up orchestra that assembled strictly for recording sessions.
A classic account of the “Good Friday” Interlude from Act III of Parsifal, as recorded by Wilhelm Furtwaengler with the Berlin Philharmonic in 1951.