February 19th, 2004

Cecelia Bartoli

My wife and I saw her tonight, singing early classical music. She sings like... well, not like an angel, but miraculously nonetheless. She is making an effort to revive Salieri, who is remembered as Mozart's bete noir, but who is rarely listened to. (See the play, "Amadeus," for a view of Salieri as a pitiable envy-eaten bad guy.) She made him worth listening to. In addition to her phenomenal vocal control, the lady was a very impressive actress. She signed CD's after the concert, and the line was so long that the Symphony Hall ushers were amazed. We got the tickets because my sister was unable to use them. Lucky us, unlucky sister. Well, we bought her a CD and got it autographed for her.

Rhyme of the day:

In her voice.

Mystery of the Romantic Manifesto

The mystery to me is what makes this Rand book mysterious to people. I know some people have trouble reading it because she is very harsh on some artists, with strong moral overtones. Thomas Wolfe (not Tom Wolfe) gets ripped for writing with evaluations disconnected from reality. Tolstoy gets knocked for writing the most evil book in serious literature - Anna Karenina. Shakespeare gets a certain amount of respect but is nonetheless called a determinist and the father of naturalism.

All this is scary to a lot of people, especially if they LOVE some of these people's writing. What is Rand saying about ME, who, for instance, likes Shakespeare a lot?

The Shakespeare case is especially interesting. Rand seems to subscribe to the "tragic flaw" interpretation of Shakespeare's heroic characterization. Of course, this may not apply so well to the comedies or histories, but let's leave those aside since Shakespeare's current reputation rests MAINLY on the great tragedies.

So is it true that Shakespeare's tragic heroes are cursed with tragic flaws that decide their fates? I think too much can be made of this, but it is clear there are grounds in Shakespeare for this view. His characters often TALK about their uncontrollable flaws, usually while they struggle to get them under control. Well, just because they HAVE flaws, does that truly mean they are uncontrollable? After all, the characters ARE struggling to take control of their own characters and lives, doesn't that prove they really do have free will and volition? Doesn't this prove Rand wrong wrong wrong for asserting that Shakespeare is a determinist?

Maybe not, if we look at the issue from a broad perspective. I'm reading Alan Ayckbourn's "The Crafty Art Of Playmaking," and in passing he comments on characters and their function in plots:

"They will either control their destiny - and therefore the plot - or be innocent victims, swept along by it."

If you have read much of Shakespeare's tragedies, which alternative do you think fits? Do the characters control their destinies, or not? Because that, for Rand, is the key to the volitional variety of literature, Romanticism: the characters must seem in control of their destinies.

By the way, Ayckbourn's book is excellent.

Rhyme of the day:

A jealous old Moor named Othello,
Was really one hell of a fellow.
He choked all the life
Right out of his wife,
And said, "Well, I never was mellow."