The V&A has ventured a bit ahead of the routine Love It-Loathe It-Love It Again taste cycle in their current "Postmodernism" show. Klaus Nomi, Grace Jones, Laurie Anderson, New Order, neon colors, asymmetrical typography, irony, kitsch, tongue-in-cheek theorizing, etc., etc., etc.
Or, rather, different disciplines have responded differently to the historicization of New Wave. The fashion press seem to dig it already. And of course the hip-hop and techno worlds have been sampling Devo and Tom Tom Club, etc. since the 90s.
The (straight, white, male) architecture press seems to be going apoplectic, straining to come up with the most incendiary words for how queer, irreligious and unpatriotic it all is. You'd think it actually was 1977 again.
I'm not exaggerating. Like all brainwashed consumption-addicts, they make a religion of Good Taste. And the one unquestionably good thing about Postmodernism was encouraging people to be curious, open-minded and sympathetic about stuff that had no value in maintaining ones status as an member of an elite. This blurring of class boundaries obviously sets off innumerable warning bells for those for whom the whole point of culture is defining themselves as rulers of it. God save us from Good Taste.
The 13 instrumentalists of the English Concert ensemble presented a sonic landscape last Tuesday that was so delicate and fine that it took some effort to hear. It was something outside the typical present-day alteration between amplified pop music and the big sound of a full classical orchestra. It was quieter than most chamber music recitals.
Partially it was the fact that they hardly ever all played simultaneously. Partially it was the very organic antique instruments, which were not designed for modern concert halls (One advantage of sitting close to the stage was hearing the clatter of the valves on the oboe, like the scampering of very agitated mice.) Above all it was the music—mostly by Purcell—which is dramatic, but a very intimate, introspective kind of drama.
Hence Andreas Scholl was the hero of the evening, because he not only sang the intricate music fluently, but dramatically realized the various moods of love (“Sweeter than roses”), semi-comic creepiness (“What power art thou”), bawdy (“One charming night”), religious rapture (“Now that the sun hath veil’d his light”), patriotism (“Fairest isle, all isles excelling”), overwhelming despair (“When I am laid in earth”), ….
His performance was always in character—he never used the music to show off. Though it’s obvious that he really got a kick out of the repeated word “drop” from “Music for a while”—he repeated it as his encore.
It was an intense experience. In our row there were a group of students furiously taking notes throughout the performance. And the woman next to me was in tears. As Dryden wrote, “Music for a while, / Shall all your cares beguile”.
The two halves of the program were prefaced by instrumental pieces by Heinrich Biber (1644-1704) and Georg Muffat (1653-1704) that were more than curiosities; they were delicious.
[Image: Veronese, The Choice between Virtue & Vice, 1565]
The situation is not only not absurd, but typical. Ferrando and Guglielmo pretend to be visiting Albanian noblemen. Dorabella and Fiordiligi pretend to be just passing the time until Ferrando and Guglielmo return from the war. It’s the story of a love between people who lie about their identities and people who lie about their intentions.
There’s something dark at work here. Don Alfonso and Despina teach the two couples how to be dishonest. They say they’re teaching them about reality. Despina clearly enjoys doing this, but she’s no Mephistopheles. For all her worldliness, she’s a child at heart. She just a hedonist. Don Alfonso is more difficult to read. He is constantly seen making trouble happen, frequently voicing ironic commentary on the action. But it isn’t malice. His vice is liking to be right too much. And in the end he exhorts the disillusioned couples to give up their absurd regrets, and be happy.
What happens? Ferrando and Guglielmo end up enjoying their game of seducing the girls. It’s a competition.
The response of the girls is more nuanced. One of them—Dorabella doesn’t see anything wrong with entertaining an entirely new love. Fiordiligi, on the other hand, makes a spectacle of her fidelity and undying devotion. But in the end she succumbes to the disguised Ferrando.
Why? What reasons are given for unfaithfulness?
2. A bird in the hand.
3. Does anyone honestly dislike flattering attention?
4. Delight in being given an opportunity to pity and care. The scene where the Albanian visitors pretend to drink poison is of course very silly, and played for laughs. But it provides the opportunity for the girls to drop their reserve and feel sorry for the strangers. The pleasure of this charitable feeling is the beginning of their love.
Epicurus was a saint, and he started a kind of religious community, intensely bound together by friendship. Ostensibly the one moral principle was pleasure, but the theory was several stages away from crude hedonism, which had already been tried. To the early Epicureans pleasure was most itself when it was shared in society by people of sensibility and unselfishness.
He’s an intelligent man, but it takes something more than intelligence to act intelligently.
Katerina Ivanovna …
… was naturally of an easily amused, cheerful, and peaceable character, but continual misfortunes and failures had made her wish and demand so fiercely that everyone live in peace and joy, and not dare to live otherwise, that the slightest dissonance in life, the least failure, would at once send her almost into a frenzy, and in the space of an instant, after the brightest hopes and fantasies, she would begin cursing her fate, tearing and throwing whatever she got hold of, and beating her head against the wall.
[Image: William Blake, illustration to Dante's Inferno]