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from Territorial Rights by Muriel Spark

Territorial Rights isn’t Spark at the top of her game, but even Spark at half power is more inspired than most writers at their best. It takes place in Venice, where a handful of English acquaintances improbably, ridiculously, end up at the same pensione. One is a young man, Robert, who has recently walked out on Curran, his chicken queen, in Paris in order to chase Lina, a young Bulgarian art student who may or may not be under surveillance by Bulgarian spies (the novel was published in 1979 and takes place not long before then).

Robert disappears, perhaps at the hands of those same Bulgarian spies, and Lina befriends Curran, who in turn gets her a job doing sociology research for his friend Violet, yet another English expatriate who does research abroad for a private detective agency. Leo, who is traveling with Grace, who is in Venice to find out about her former lover, Robert’s father (also in Venice, with yet another adulterous companion) on behalf of Robert’s mother (back in England).

Lina moves into the attic apartment of Violet and soon after begins sleeping with Leo (Robert, remember, has gone missing).

Another scream, a bang, a man’s voice protesting, trying to placate. Violet precipitated herself out to the landing, in time to see the little lift descending and, through its glass windows, Lina with her head thrown back dramatically and, her hands clutching her head, giving out frightful animalistic noises.

The lift passed the upper floor of Violet’s apartment and reached the ground floor of the building. Violet, followed by Curran, had run down the flight of stairs to meet the descending lift, while Grace, outside Violet’s landing joined the banister audience.

Lina flew out of the lift, still yelling wildly, barefoot, dressed in a huge yellow flannel nightdress and throwing her arms around in a way which was quite alarming to watch. Violet caught old of her, and Curran, too, tried to hold her, both joining the exclaiming chorus of people above in the tall echoing palazzo. ‘What’s the matter? … Lina, whatever is the matter? You’ll catch your death … Stop … Wait! ….’

But Lina had struggled free in a flash and had opened the front door. She ran out on to the landing-stage. She turned with her back t the water for just a moment in order to cry out ‘Leo is the son of a Jew — I have slept with a Jew — God, oh God! — I must cleanse myself! I die for shame!’ And with a further shriek the girl half-turned and dropped into the canal.

That would be a canal in Venice.

You’re Welcome!

From the YouTube Music Video Archives: Don Juan by Richard Strauss

The most abstract idea conceivable is the sensuous in its elemental originality. But through which medium can it be presented? Only through music. Kierkegaard, Either/Or

Strauss wrote began this “tone poem” (his own term) in 1887, shortly after conducting Mozart’s Don Giovanni in 1885/1886 in Munich. He was also familiar with Paul Heyse’s play, Don Juans Ende, and a fragment by the German writer Nikolaus Lenau, based on the same subject.

Here are some fine Program Notes for the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, by Phillip Huscher:

Strauss’s Don Juan is not Heyse’s, nor Mozart’s, nor Lenau’s—despite words on the title page to the contrary—but a character entirely and unforgettably his own, defined in a few sharp musical gestures. (Now that Strauss’s tone poem—the term he preferred—has conquered the world’s concert halls, the figure of Don Juan is unimaginable without the ardent horn theme which, in Strauss’s hands, becomes his calling card.) Strauss once said his two favorite operas were Tristan and Isolde and Così fan tutte, and this work is informed by both the Wagnerian idea of undying love as well as Mozart’s understanding of passion as a fragile, ever-changing state of mind. It’s no small coincidence that, at the time he was composing this tone poem, Strauss himself fell madly in love with Pauline de Ahna, the soprano who would eventually become his wife.

Strauss worked on two tone poems during the summer of 1888. Macbeth, which gave him considerable trouble and wasn’t finished until 1891, doesn’t profit from comparison with Shakespeare’s play. But with Don Juan, composed in just four months, Strauss discovered the knack (which would rarely desert him thereafter) for depicting character, place, and action of cinematic complexity so vividly that words of explanation are unnecessary. Still, Strauss prefaced the score of Don Juan with three excerpts from Lenau’s poem, and at the earliest performances he asked to have those lines printed in the program. Later, realizing that the public could follow his tone poems, in essence if not blow by blow, he disdained such self-help guides and trusted the music to speak for itself.

Casting The Onion’s same-sex marriage movie, Defense of Marriage

So The Onion published a fun piece in the wake of the Supreme Court’s same-sex marriage ruling:

Scalia, Thomas, Roberts, Alito Suddenly Realize They Will Be Villains In Oscar-Winning Movie One Day

This was the photo collage they went with:

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Which naturally led to this:

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Patton Oswalt as Scalia, Danny Glover as Thomas, Channing Tatum as Roberts, and Michael Nyqvist as Alito. You’re welcome.

In other news, Scalia had a hilarious bit in his dissent:

The Federal Judiciary is hardly a cross-section of America. Take, for example, this Court, which consists of only nine men and women, all of them successful lawyers who studied at Harvard or Yale Law School. Four of the nine are natives of New York City. Eight of them grew up in east- and west-coast States. Only one hails from the vast expanse in-between. Not a single South-westerner or even, to tell the truth, a genuine Westerner (California does not count). Not a single evangelical Christian (a group that comprises about one quarter of Americans), or even a Protestant of any denomination. The strikingly unrepresentative character of the body voting on today’s social upheaval would be irrelevant if they were functioning as judges, answering the legal question whether the American people had ever ratified a constitutional provision that was understood to proscribe the traditional definition of marriage. But of course the Justices in today’s majority are not voting on that basis; they say they are not. And to allow the policy question of same-sex marriage to be considered and resolved by a select, patrician, highly unrepresentative panel of nine is to violate a principle even more fundamental than no taxation without representation: no social transformation without representation.
Funny because in saying what they are not, he neglects to say what they are: six Roman Catholics and three Jews. Hee hee!

Sighns of the Times

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Novelist as Barefoot Trinitarian

It was Miguel de Cervantes’ dying wish to be buried inside the walls of Madrid’s Convento de las Trinitarias Descalzas — the Convent of the Barefoot Trinitarians — where a dozen cloistered nuns still live today, nearly 400 years later.

As a young man in his early 20s, he fled Spain for Rome, after wounding a nobleman in a duel. By 1570, he returned home and enlisted in the Spanish navy. He went to war to defend the pope — and got shot in twice in the ribs, and once in the shoulder — an injury that left his left arm paralyzed.

And it was only then that he got kidnapped by Algerian pirates …

How’s that for a cliffhanger? Read the rest of the story at NPR, here.

Yuval Levin on Laudato Si

I find everything Yuval Levin writes worth reading. His commentary is always measured, well-reasoned, and insightful, taking the long view of even the most contentious political issues. He is easily one of the best writers at National Review.

Here he is writing about the latest encyclical, seeing it with a perspective and charity I certainly haven’t had:

I’m not Catholic, I’m Jewish, so you should certainly take my reading of papal documents with a healthy dose of kosher salt. But for what it’s worth, the kerfuffle over Pope Francis’s recent encyclical on (among other things) the environment seems to me to point to some interesting tensions at the heart of modern environmentalism.

A lot of critical interpretations of the encyclical have treated it as abusing the Pope’s standing and authority (in the eyes of Catholics and others) to advance a left-wing or radical environmentalist political agenda by dressing it up as Catholic doctrine. Having finally read the encyclical, I’m left thinking roughly the opposite is the case. The Pope is trying to hijack the standing and authority (in the eyes of global elites and others) of a left-wing or radical environmentalist agenda to advance a deeply traditional Catholic vision of the human good and to get it a hearing by dressing it up as enlightened ecology.

Read the whole thing here. And don’t forget to read the actual encyclical, either.

Three Short Poems about the Sásq’ets

Two Faces of the Sásq’ets
For some, folkloric kitsch,
for others, Gigantopithecus
blacki
, a Bering land bridge
migrant who’s still with us.

Near Bluff Creek, California, October 20, 1967
Near Bluff Creek, California, the Sásq’ets was yclept
Bigfoot, as attested by a plaster cast where he stepped.

Hiking in the Blue Mountains
Sitting on a log, I heard
a footfall behind me stop. I rose
slowly, turned and saw
the Sásq’ets, stinking and pilose …

Ballade of the Fisherman’s Children

A Chilean fisherman, after drinking a couple of pisco shots, rests in the shadow of his boat on the beach of Quintero, Chile, 19 April 2002.

Our father is drunk again and sings a piece
Upon the deck, a snatch, a riff, a shard;
He ought not sing so crazy loud – suffice
To say the compass turns upon his word;
For neighbors want to hear – but what they’ve heard
Expressed is smiling tongue and laughing face –
A drunken fisherman who’s overboard
       With sister moon, now hushing father’s eyes,
       And brother sun, now blinding father’s voice.

He swigs his wine and holds a sloshing glass
Through which he spies opinions, preferred
Because they sound so good to folk so nice:
“I love that dirty water…!” sang the horde
Outside my father’s door – and he concurred.
For home’s a planted anchor, worldly-wise,
But progress blows with sweetened breezes toward
       Our sister moon, who’s hushing father’s eyes,
       And brother sun, who’s blinding father’s voice.

Within his wobbly tune, a note of grace
Is breaking through – to sober up and guard
His voyage. “Praise to you…” But lost in bliss,
As weevils in a bit of moldy bread,
Does he see that now twilight’s come aboard?
The shadows growing dark as sharks across
The dimming sea – they skim for us – are bored
       By sister moon, who’s hushing father’s eyes
       And brother sun, who’s blinding father’s voice.

O fisherman of men, not fish nor bird
Nor all the songs of earthly paradise
Can hook the world (the bait our dangling Lord) –
       Not sister moon, who’s hushed up your eyes
       Nor brother sun, who’s blinding Peter’s voice.

Korrektiv goes to the Jesuits…

Unknown

Here.

From the YouTube Music Video Archives: Ständchen by Richard Strauss, sung by Kathleen Battle

The most abstract idea conceivable is the sensuous in its elemental originality. But through which medium can it be presented? Only through music. Kierkegaard, Either/Or

This was written in 1887, the second of six Lieder published as opus 17, originally poems by Adolf Friedrich, Graf von Schack (1815 – 1894). Just 24 at the time, Strauss was already the the court music director in Meiningen and well on his way in his career as a conductor and composer.

Albert Combrink has written a great little precis of the song, including an explanation of what different keys meant to Strauss. He also includes a translation that’s better than the bubbles in the Battle video above.

Ständchen by Adolf Friedrich, Graf von Schack (1855-1894)

Mach auf, mach auf, doch leise mein Kind,
Um keinen vom Schlummer zu wecken.
Kaum murmelt der Bach, kaum zittert im Wind
Ein Blatt an den Büschen und Hecken.
Drum leise, mein Mädchen, daß [nichts sich]1 regt,
Nur leise die Hand auf die Klinke gelegt.

Mit Tritten, wie Tritte der Elfen so sacht,
[Die über die Blumen]2 hüpfen,
Flieg leicht hinaus in die Mondscheinnacht,
[Zu]3 mir in den Garten zu schlüpfen.
Rings schlummern die Blüten am rieselnden Bach
Und duften im Schlaf, nur die Liebe ist wach.

Sitz nieder, hier dämmert’s geheimnisvoll
Unter den Lindenbäumen,
Die Nachtigall uns zu Häupten soll
Von unseren Küssen träumen,
Und die Rose, wenn sie am Morgen erwacht,
Hoch glühn von den Wonnenschauern der Nacht..

Ständchen in free translation by Albert Combrink

“Love Song”

Open up, open up, but softly my child,
So as not to wake anyone from their sleep,
The stream is barely murmuring, the wind hardly causes quivers
In a leaf on bush or hedge.
So, softly, my young girl, so that nothing stirs,
Just lay your hand softly on the door-latch.

With steps as soft as the footsteps of elves,
that hop over the flowers,
Fly lightly out into the moonlit night,
Sneak to me in the garden.
Around us sleeps the blossoms along the trickling stream,
Fragrant in sleep, only love is awake.

Sit down, here it darkens mysteriously
Beneath the linden trees,
The nightingale over our heads
Shall dream of our kisses,
And the rose, when it wakes in the morning,
Shall glow from the joyous showers of the night.