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One post a week from today. We need Loisir for 3 goals: Chaconne, Goldberg Variations, Novel. Argh?

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Pursuit of Happiness

Happiness

MoR, before he croaks, has three happily looming tasks to carry out with exact deadlines:

1) Performing ‘as is’, plus improvising, J. S. Bach’s Chaconne on a guitar (here A. B. Michelangeli demonic version: )

Here our Neapolitan Walkiria Maria Tipo’s version (much more poetic, singing) :

2) Performing ‘as is’, plus improvising, all J. S. Bach’s Goldberg Variations on a guitar (here Hungary’s leading guitarist József Eötvös’ version: “the transcription of the century”: )

A piano keyboard. Click for credits and to enlarge

I used to play a few of those outstanding variations on the piano, 40 years ago although Bach’s Well-tempered Clavier was my playground.

I luv Sokolov’s performance though I deem Maria Tipo to be a bit better (if only she danced more: Bach danses)

[Maria tipo btw was awarded the “Diapason d’Or” for her Goldberg Variations recording]

ψ

[Fulvia (100% real): “Too ambitious, Giorgio, I am afraid for your health, dear man. C’mon, I mean: you stopped playing for 40 years …”]

ψ

3) Making a novel out of his blog which has been a terrific wisdom journey that possibly confused readers but did greatly enriched he who is writing.

[Flavia (80% fictional) : “You pallonaro romano, swollen head!! False prophets btw clearly disconcert those who meet them, which doesn’t necessarily imply they’re unhappy. The prophets of malchance. Ah! What kind of perverse reward do you get from all that???”]

“You just shut the fuck up” (non ehm fictional)

Rude, ok, but not in slightly Romanesco-spoken Italian.
(its regularity, incidentally, not diminishing its effectiveness)

:twisted: :oops: :oops: ]

 

Performing. How

Performing, in MoR’s book (in everybody’s lol) means enacting before an audience.

An uploaded YouTube video – where he who is writing can be seen and heard – is a sure output.

Whether the video will be shot in MoR’s studio or on a stage, with just one person or another guitarist or whatever interacting and jazzing back, it remains to be seen.

One post a week
(at least)

Thus having been fussily said, and needing MoR some more time to lazily reflect & relax (otium) in order not to fail reaching 1) 2) 3):

We’ll post once every 7 days, id est Man of Roma might even post repost one / three / ten times ecc a day should he feel like it, although every seventh day starting from today – unless the unwanted guest arrives – and article will appear.

Capitoline She-Wolf. Rome, Musei Capitolini. Public domain

All the best
From Mediterranean West

ψ

Related posts from the MoR (on the connection between relax and creativity)

1, 2 (in italiano), 3

Cherry in the pie:

Bertrand Russell’s In Praise of Idleness

Obesssion and balance in creativity. Greeks’ and Romans’ Golden Mean (& Paolo Buonvino’s, a Sicilian composer.) Dialectics (5b)

diary

Read the original non pruned post and discussion.

Draft. Pictures might be changed /added.

Notice. I’ll stop posting until April 23rd. Easter reflection (a notion you can expand chez Tarot psychologique.)

ψ

James Evershed Agate (1877 – 1947), British diarist and critic, once wrote:

“Now that I am finishing the damned thing I realise that diary-writing isn’t wholly good for one, that too much of it leads to living for one’s diary instead of living for the fun of living as ordinary people do.”

What is said above applies equally to blog-writing / writing tout court since, when dealing with passions the challenge is always the right measure.

The ancient Romans developed the fine art of cuisine so that the delights of life were augmented, but there was undeniably gluttony in some milieus.

I remember that, much younger, I stopped composing music since it had become an obsessive pastime that basically swallowed me up.

Life should be harmonious. A single part should not devour the rest (as Benedetto Croce, master of harmony, reminds us.)

Benedetto Croce

Benedetto Croce (1866 – 1952), filosofo italiano

Christopher: You wrote: “Life should be harmonious. A single part should not devour the rest”
If everyone lived according to this precept there would be no civilisation and we would all be living short and brutish lives.

MoR: “Hard to say, although my post regards happiness more than creativity in the arts & sciences. Besides, creativity seems related to both balance and unbalance (take Vincent van Gogh etc.).

You possibly suggest that big creators lived disharmony in their life. Frank Lloyd Wright devoted *most* of his time to architecture, Einstein to physics etc.

Ok, but one has to see how these people actually spent their days.

I remember a Roman top advertising agency, at the end of the 80’s, where extremely well-paid copywriters and art directors were walking around in robes and were sunbathing on an elegant terrace overlooking the Parioli district’s skyline (where the rich and famous live, or lived).

I was puzzled at first because these creativi seemed to do everything except what they were paid for. The agency’s output was though brilliant and rivalled Milan’s creativi (the best we’ve got in this country).

One often needs quiet and relaxation to produce ideas, which suggests ‘balance’.

Moving to bigger examples, Beethoven’s music conveys to me the image of ​​an unhappy person.

There are many elements of anger, of obsession, in his music. His life was almost certainly disharmonious: Beethoven’s father was an alcoholic; Karl, the composer’s nephew, whose custody Beethoven had obtained, attempted suicide. And so forth.

Johann Sebastian Bach aged 61 (1685 – 1750). Click for source

Johann Sebastian Bach aged 61 (1685 – 1750). Click for source

 

Bach’s music on the contrary (with its powerfully abstract architectures that unfold like a majestic river flowing) is much more enriching consoling, imo, and well fits the image of ​​the patient German artisan, whose methodical, quiet work was conceived as a service to God. Bach was a musician but also a good Christian, a good father, a good husband and a good teacher – which suggests harmony of life.

Which doesn’t mean many breakthroughs weren’t the product of unbalanced lives. The commonplace of the deranged genius is more than a commonplace imo, though it’s not my post’s point.

Cheri: “Your point is well taken. My grandfather always told me that moderation is the key to a balanced and contented life.”

MoR: “Hi Cheri! I like roots (as you probably like your Jewish or whatever roots), this blog being a search for roots from a past that, I believe, is still working on us Latins, though not only on us.

Enjoying the pleasures of life without excess, drinking without getting drunk, a life outside compulsions or obsessions – I am often obsessing / obsessed – is not only wise, it is part of a lifestyle, and an element of grace.

To me this is particularly evident in the French, the Latin people I possibly love most.

Neapolitan Benedetto Croce, ‘master of harmony’ …

Incidentally, the Olympian beauty seeping through his works is probably of Hellenic origin, and, like the Hellenic miracle arose from formidable difficulties (if we may compare a huge thing to a small one) Croce’s serene attitude and sharp mind came at a hard price: at 17, on vacation with his parents and his sole sister, their house being wiped out by an earthquake he barely survived and remained alone.

Claudia (my daughter): “Croce’s picture doesn’t exactly conjure up Hellenic beauty!?!?”

Potsoc: “I agree with Cheri. Many creators were, indeed, unhappy people but as many had a relatively simple and happy life. The examples given speak by themselves.”

MoR: “Someone must have already done it, Potsoc le Canadien, but it’d be interesting to systematically analyse the biographies of creators (in both arts & sciences) in search of a correlation between creative intelligence and lifestyles.

My post was more about the gratification from a life with nicely distributed, non compulsive, activities, but one can blabber a bit and wonder if Balzac, for example, was compulsive in his writing.

He may have been, but his work – so vital, energetic & rich with an immense number of vividly depicted characters – suggests a life not spent exclusively on a desk with a pen in his hand.

A correlation between scientists’ lifestyles and their innovation level seems much harder to establish. They (seem to me to) reveal less about themselves.

ALL this, in any case, is a-blowing in the wind, Paul.”

Potsoc: “I guess nobody wrote a Ph.D thesis on the subject and I will not write it.”

MoR: “Ah ah ah, right Paul :-) Getting stuffy, I know.”

Sledpress: “The need for quiet and mental space in which to be creative can’t be denied, but does that support an argument against being too obsessional as a creative person?

I can only write fiction (or songs, or music) when I’m in an obsessional fugue, and it is bitter for me, because I want to have at least something of a life otherwise — probably few people are willing to have their spouse or friend snarl “GO AWAY!” should they be so unfortunate as to come ask about dinner or the water bill when one is creating.

But if I put the chisel down, it’s cold when I pick it back up, and what I wrote mocks me. (Blog posts and so on don’t count; those are five finger exercises.) I can’t start the fire again if I’ve let myself be jollied into putting it out so as to make nice on the rest of the human race. And if I don’t create something, who cares if I lived? It won’t matter.

I’ve already lost the thread of so many good ideas (maybe not lightning genius, but worth something) that I could spend the rest of my life in mourning, and for what in the end? People who really were only bored or wanted me to do them something. I vote for the obsessed people, myself.”

MoR: “You say, Sled:

“I can only write fiction (songs, music) when I’m in an obsessional fugue, and it is bitter for me, because I want to have at least something of a life otherwise …”

“If I don’t create something, who cares if I lived? It won’t matter”

Well, if creation & obsession necessarily go together with us, and creativity is our top priority, let us embrace obsession, why not.

Besides, obsession, as far as I can tell, may produce compellingly emotional results etc.

As for my experience, the insignificant (though much important to me) things I have written or composed were produced in both situations: within a quiet, balanced routine of life; or via obsession, pain, sacrificing the rest.

I sometimes think that, had I more discipline, I’d be able to kill two birds with a stone and reach a synthesis.

Paolo Buonvino 001

What I mean, I’m witnessing an example of creative discipline in my neighborhood, where a certain Paolo Buonvino is leaving a couple of blocks away from my home (it, en wikies.)

Italian from Sicily, conductor, composer of film scores, Buonvino’s music is extremely good, Sicilian-sunny and much appreciated. I exchanged a few words with him. He gave me some inspired advice on related-to-music stuff. Flavia and I have visited him once at his home.

In short, he’s the classic example of one who, compelled to compose scores at appalling speed, is nonetheless able to enhance productivity by finding the right breaks, walking about the rione, enjoying something at a bar (an ice-cream, a coffee, a cake) or watching trees or the sky on a park bench.

You see him around, always relaxed, a mobile at his ear, talking quietly with loads of people (this amazing ease with human relationships being typical of many Italian from the Mezzogiorno.)

So Paolo Buonvino, despite high productivity rates, manages to live quite well. A gift from heaven? Hard to say but some creative discipline should be taught when very young, I believe.”

Sledpress: “There is a trapdoor when someone has asked a creative person to produce something. I say this from experience.
Somehow it frees you to be both creative and human. I don’t know how this works. Only that knowing someone *wants* what you can create substitutes for the energy that otherwise only comes from obsession and a sort of rage against the people who don’t understand why you are working so hard to produce a composition or poem or story, however minor.”

Potsoc: “I moderate a group called “Imaginations”, each week we meet around a theme, different each week, and we write a short piece on the week’s theme that we will read to the group the following week. It’s much fun…and work but we all enjoy it and it has been going for most of ten years with a core of 5 steady participants and another 5 or 6 that come and go.”

MoR: “Sledpress, Paul, you two imply that creating for someone ‘waiting’ for your production can release the pressure?

I agree, an act of communication, then, almost always good. When I was writing the Manius so-to-say novel my motivation were you, the bloggers of my circle, ‘waiting’ (so I felt) for each new installment and the resulting fun, as Paul says, the jokes that we shared etc.

When a publisher told me one day that he was interested, the magic vanished. I tried to continue, but felt only the obsession (plus depression for my failure, lack of discipline.) I quit writing.

Potsoc: “Being approached by a publisher is an altogether other proposition, I agree. Sharing with friends is just plain fun.”

Sledpress: “Yes! You are touching on something that I meant.
If a publisher dangled money in front of me I might still be motivated. Because money is something squeezed out of one’s bloodstream (unless one is one of the one-per-cent who wallow in it), so it is like enthusiasm.

However the biggest fun was an experience like yours, of people hanging on for the next installment to find out what happened!!!

Stephen King writes of something like this in his classic novella “The Body” which became the film Stand By Me.

The pathetically young kid with the gun in this clip — earlier the film shows him telling stories around a kids’ camp fire with everyone asking him what comes next, what comes next. King later called this “the *gotta.*” “I gotta find out what happens.”
I miss having people who cared about that, which happened to me for five minutes.”

MoR: “You’ve said, Sled:

“the biggest fun was an experience like yours, of people hanging on for the next installment to find out what happened!!!
I miss having people who cared about that, which happened to me for five minutes.”

When was that and where? Can we reach it?”

Sledpress: “Oh, that was my silly detective novel, an inner circle read every chapter as I wrote it — the way Dickens used to work, releasing installments before the story was all set down. Then as I wrote, with caricatures of everyone who is politically active around here, I looked forward to the public consternation it would cause, another incentive.

And oh yes, I made it look as if the author was a local newspaper editor who had been a real jerk to me a couple of times — it was easy to lift little quirks of style from his editorials. People pestered him about it for years.

It got one good review even. A lot of it is free.

Along the way it let me say and even discover a lot about my outlook on the whole “res publica”, the “public thing” that constitutes local political life, which both attracts and repels me — so many people trying to be important, yet actually doing important things despite their flaws. It is really the only thing I ever finished.

Everything else I ever did disappointed me and I threw it over or put it in the drawer, but I had people asking for this, so I had to finish it, amateurish as it may be. I wrote like hell for two months and was burned-out for two more but I wish I could do it again. Only I’m afraid to yell GO AWAY at the few friends I really have.”

MoR: “Wow. Quite a good review. I’ll read the book as soon as I can, or rather buy it (I also missed your poems over at your blog: my next comment)
In the meanwhile, a portion of the review, to the benefit of readers:

“Is this story (MURDER ACROSS THE BOARD by *******) of local interest? Sure. But the writing here is so good it is irrelevant. This is just as good a murder mystery as you will find anywhere, with a compelling story and clever writing to match. The story is truly twisted […] and the murder-mystery here is fun and energetic. No one is who they seem in this fast read, and as the story unfolds, the plot rolls along like a freight-train. What may have started as a goof on some friends or a dig at local politics has turned into a clever, engaging page-turner.”

Sledpress: “Mind you, another reader said it was cliched and awful. Then again, the point was to throw every trope of gritty detective stories into a story about local politics. Looking back I thought it needed tightening, but I’ve always hugged that one rave review to my heart.
I’m editing the pseudonym in your comment just because it really did piss off a number of people, one of whom is a habitual troll, and I’d prefer they didn’t find this blog too easily.”

Sledpress: “Oops, I was on a dashboard when I wrote the above reply and thought we were talking on my page. Oh well — if you wouldn’t mind “asterisking” the author name. Trolls shouldn’t find you either. ”

MoR: “Well, there are good and there are bad reviews, always. Who the hell cares?
I have ‘asterisked’ the author’s name, as you asked me.
And, tell this troll I am ready here waiting.”

Conversation with Christopher & Sledpress on Bach, Vivaldi, Glenn Gould, the Russians. Dialectics (5a)

MoR: “…. What I mean is that we all have our obsessions, themes, leitmotivs (read the 2008/2014 original unabridged conversation]

This seems evident in people we know well – close friends, family members, colleagues. We are aware of their fixations … It can be a father (or mother) figure obsession, a pervading mental escapism that comes out in many occasions, behaviours – it can be anything.

Leitmotivs are also present in the works of writers, musicians, scientists etc., more complex to detect it being the big part of a critic’s job to probe their works in search of elements which make the stylistic imprint of an author.

Take Russian composer Sergei Rachmaninoff. We often recognize his music because of this bizarre Arabic-scale leaning he had and that may related to some profound experience … had he Tartar ancestors? Was he desperately in love with a Muslim girl?”

Christopher: “I think I also detect jazz influences in Rachmaninov’s music. Was he, then, also once in love with an American jazz-loving girl?!!
… [Besides] these influences may also have affected other Russian composers, like Rimsky-Korsakov (Scherezade) and Tschaikovsky (4th movement, 6th symphony). I think also of Borodin …”

MoR:

I also detect jazz influences in Rachmaninov. Was he, then, also once in love with an American … girl?”

He was. And the girl was black. Which brings to mind Bach and his clear penchant for black boys (not over the age of twelve though!). It explains why his music is so ‘dancing’.

“… melancholic oriental/Arabic influences … in Rachmaninov … Rimsky-Korsakov ….Tschaikovsky”

Right, ok, Rachmaninov was simply Russian, and Russia is partly Asiatic.
You seem to like Russian music, Cristo. I do too (Shostakovich, Prokofiev) but most of the time I need Bach, Rossini or Busoni.

Sentimental music like Rachmaninov’s (his pianism though, wow!) … enough.

The Russians
‘encounter’ Bach via Gould

Russian Sokolov is my favourite Bach performer at this moment though your compatriot, Glenn Gould, has opened the path. He btw went to Moscow in the 50′s and made communist Russians ‘encounter’ Bach’s works (until then neglected as ‘religious music’.)

You might enjoy Gould’s Russian journey and its consequences on the Russians.

And, some Bach dancing by Grigory Sokolov (‘dance’ lol starts at 2:20).

Cristopher: “I watched these videos – particularly the Glenn Gould Russia one – with much interest.

Gould’s youth, pianistic brilliance, and his coming into their midst suddenly and from so far, Russians, from their awed reception of him, may have seen him as a Redeemer, the One who would lead them away, who would transport them to a Paradise, far, far removed from the drab Socialist Realism from which they could bodily never flee.

Was Gould deserving of all this reverence, not just in Russia but everywhere?

This is explored in this provocative piece written some twenty years ago by another concert pianist, a fellow Canadian, who knew Gould well.
When I read of the extremely eccentric Gould I think of the extremely eccentric Bobby Fischer – equally a genius, albeit in another skill entirely. Both appeared to reside somewhere within the continuum of Autism.

In the matter of Bach, while I appreciate his brilliance, and surmise he would be the preferred musical taste for mathematicians, I have always found him as a result, cold.
Far more my cup of tea is the warmth and sunniness of Bach’s contemporary (and your fellow countryman) Antonio Vivaldi.”

MoR: “Awesome, Christopher.

[The Russians] may have seen [Gould] as a Redeemer, the One who would … transport them to a Paradise, far, far removed from the drab Socialist Realism from which they could bodily never flee.

I agree. Generally, a good knowledge of Bach is important, as far as my music comprehension, to any professional musician and possibly to the Russians of that time even more.

“Russian art: sensuous, intuitive,
mystically powerful”

An English philosopher (Last and First Men, 3, rephrased) wrote:

The Russian mode of art is blended with a passion of iconoclasm, sensuousness and a remarkable, mystical, intuitive power that can profit a lot from German discipline and rational mind

Adapted to Gould’s trip tp Russia, they need(ed) Bach like bread (who doesn’t need bits of German discipline btw? We do.]

Metaphorically – I’m getting confused – Bach is like a gym where one works out up to sheer power – made more (mystically) vigorous by doses of Ashtanga (excruciating lol) Yoga. Although, playing Bach well can be learned via toil.

Classical music: pureness,
clarity, proportion

Italian music plus Mozart, Haydn, Schubert etc instead – since you’ve mentioned Vivaldi- reaches beauty through the alternative paths of pureness, clarity and proportion – things from a certain heritage (Classical Antiquity), not easily learned.

I may dig Bach more than Rossini or Italian opera, although yes, it takes some training to appreciate Bach’s music (I studied it at the Conservatory.)

An exotic thing, probably, like when German radio stations are so full of Italian Bel Canto (try NDR Kultur Belcanto.)

I read your article.

Indeed, an Elvis-type cult has grown up around Glenn Gould. But I don’t quite agree with the article points. Gould operated two miracles imo: 1) made a large number of people appreciate Bach (no small feat) and 2) he taught pianists to squeeze Bach beauty out of a piano. Now much-better-than-Gould Bach pianists exist imo (Sokolov etc) but it was Gould who opened a path. Sokolov himself said he was heavily influenced by GG.

So Canadian Gould was in my view a genius.

Sledpress: “My Transgender Ex, back in high school days, played Bach obsessively — the Goldberg Variations and the Well Tempered Klavier. He (I guess it is now she though I am not sure of the stage of progression) could neck seamlessly while playing the Inventions. A person of Russian Jewish provenance as it happens. It left me with a lifelong impression of Bach’s keyboard work as an almost violent synthesis of erotic and cerebral energy.

I always sensed it, nonetheless, as a sort of Tantric energy that never actually grounded itself. The classical idioms, Mozart and Schubert cases in point, touch the earth in a way that reaches my heart.

Did Protestant Bach, with his two wives and twenty children, represent a kind of creative energy that had to keep climbing to heaven because the ground seemed like the wrong place to be? Not cold, but ruthlessly contained, scooped up at every level and taken to a higher one. It says Come Find Me If You Have The Chops. Schubert’s lieder or the Mozart Clarinet Quintet hold out a gift instead.

As for Vivaldi, I fear I cannot bear him. My late and ex once spoke sighingly to me of “deedle music,” meaning Vivaldi and his ilk, and it was one of the reasons I fell in love with him.

Repeated minor seconds or octaves in OCD splendor. Auditory equivalent of a handwashing fetish.

Both that and Bach would speak to an autistic type of exponent. I’m glad that Gould pumped for Bach.”

ψ

Awesome Sledpress too.

More with Dialectcs 5b where some incandescence will glow too within a discussion on how to reach creativity outside any obsession (by following the Romano-Greek golden mean).

See you soon then.

Giorgio

French, Italian, and American Great Songs. Lucio Dalla’s Caruso (plus Lara Fabian’s English-subtitled version). 2

 

Lucio Dalla singing 'Caruso'

L. Dalla singing ‘Caruso’. E. CAruso was a great Italian tenor who once stayed in a Sorrento hotel in 1921, a few days before dying of cancer. Enrico Caruso was giving lessons to a young woman he perhaps felt love for. His room, with a beautiful piano, can be visited today

“Ma sì, è la vita che finisce
ma lui non ci pensò poi tanto,
anzi si sentiva felice
e ricominciò il suo canto… “

ψ

Lucio Dalla got back 50 years later to that same room overlooking breath-taking Sorrento’s gulf and composed ‘Caruso’ on Enrico Caruso’s same pianoforte.

Dalla’s best song possibly, and a tribute, from a Man of North Italy, to Neapolitan songs considered by him the best in this country

[See below another version of Caruso with English subtitles.
PS. American readers are kindly requested for advice about ‘A great American Song’ due in the next post of the series ;-) ]

Qui dove il mare luccica e tira forte il vento
su una vecchia terrazza davanti al golfo di Surriento
un uomo abbraccia una ragazza dopo che aveva pianto
poi si schiarisce la voce e ricomincia il canto.

Te voglio bene assaje
ma tanto, tanto bene sai
è una catena ormai
che scioglie il sangue dint’e vene sai.

Vide le luci in mezzo al mare
pensò alle notti là in America
ma erano solo le lampare e la bianca scia di un’elica

sentì il dolore nella musica, si alzò dal pianoforte
ma quando vide la luna uscire da una nuvola
gli sembrò più dolce anche la morte

guardò negli occhi la ragazza, quegli occhi verdi come il mare
poi all’improvviso uscì una lacrima e lui credette di affogare.

Te voglio bene assaje
ma tanto tanto bene sai
è una catena ormai
che scioglie il sangue dint’e vene sai.

Potenza della lirica dove ogni dramma è un falso
che con un po’ di trucco e con la mimica puoi diventare un altro
ma due occhi che ti guardano, così vicini e veri
ti fan scordare le parole, confondono i pensieri

così diventa tutto piccolo, anche le notti là in America
ti volti e vedi la tua vita come la scia di un’elica

ma sì, è la vita che finisce ma lui non ci pensò poi tanto
anzi si sentiva già felice e ricominciò il suo canto.

Te voglio bene assaje
ma tanto tanto bene sai
è una catena ormai
che scioglie il sangue dint’e vene sai

ψ

French-speaking Belgian-Canadian Lara Fabian‘s (1970) Caruso version sung in Italian with English subtitles.

Dutch-Sicilian-French mother tongue, Lara Crokaert (Fabian) can sing in French, Italian, English, Spanish, Portuguese, Russian, Hebrew, Greek and German.

Brava, Hats off.

She became famous touring in Quebec with her breakthrough 1994 album ‘Carpe diem’.

 

 

The Last Days of the Polymath

An earlier post kicked off an interesting conversation on the meaning of the word ‘culture’.

Dev, Lichanos, Andreas Kluth, the Commentator, Paul Costopoulos, sledpress, Rosaria, zeusiswatching – all were so nice to participate.

Being ‘cultured’ – we discussed – does it make any sense today? Why does it call up “stuffy, out-of-date rich people in drawing rooms?” in the English-speaking countries (Lichanos,) while it is still (a bit) appreciated in Italy France or Germany?

Apart from any possible European snobbery, elitism – being a ‘man of culture’ is not bad in my view and it is not elitist in that it can now be extended to the great number, this great number now watching realities – while they could buy a library only kings could afford in the past: something like a failure to me, not many doubts about it.

Only less than a century ago the Marxists, in their utopian folly, desired the totally developed man for everybody, which Antonio Gramsci adapted with his mass Leonardo da Vinci concept, that I always found fascinating.

The problem now is that a modern (mass or non mass) Leonardo is less viable because we know a lot more in so many more fields.

So the big gurus or maîtres à penser, providing the big picture people are so hungry for, are disappearing. Void is advancing and people, more and more confused, fall into the hands of organizations like Scientology and similar.

However, is this trend really inevitable, one may wonder?

Here is a conversation over at Lichanos’ – Journey to Perplexity.

It is about the death of the polymath and it started around Lichanos’ excellent review of “2001 a Space Odyssey” by Stanley Kubrick.

Lichanos. Dev, thanks for the kind words, and I am very happy that you find my reviews interesting! I am a civil engineer – no connection to the film industry at all, but I came to my profession by way of studying philosophy and art history, so I am not, so I am told, a “typical” engineer.

Such a background used to be unremarkable for engineers, say, 60 or 100 years ago, but today, at least in the USA, it is unusual.

Dev. I know what you mean. I think that’s unusual every where in the world nowadays. Even considering the fact that all science and engineering had it’s foundation in philosophy earlier. I mean many scientists in the earlier times were originally philosophers.
But, I’m sure you are a very good civil engineer too.
Should I tell you that I studied Electronics Engineering in my undergrad too. :)
But I never worked as an engineer..
Anyways, I look forward to go through many of your earlier posts -especially the film/literature related ones- in the coming days.

Man of Roma. Lichanos, you are definitely not a ‘typical’ engineer. Dev, I don’t know you enough to say something.

We are shifting from Kubrick, but you are both evoking the polymath, he who knows a lot about a lot. This essay The Last Days of the Polymath is a good read (though Western-centric) and describes how the polymath is disappearing.

We Europeans had always the impression that this prevalence of specialization is due to America and her big influence. Although it may be simply necessary, with a corpus of knowledge so greatly expanding.

It seems clear, Dev, that by today’s standards many scientists of the past were polymaths.

Polymath is an English term. In Italy we say ‘tuttologo’ etc. Polymathy is still a bit ingrained in the Latin countries curricula. The ‘Liceo classico’ in Italy still educates the young in this way, probably because the universal-man ideal, the ‘homo universalis’, was developed during the Italian Renaissance – one example, I like to think, where being provincial could be an advantage.

ψ

I was hit in fact some time ago by a review on a book, Genes, Peoples, and Languages by Luigi Luca Cavalli-Sforza. The review was written by Jared Diamond, an American I think. Cavalli-Sforza is an Italian who started at Stanford a revolution in human genetics from the 1960s onward and basically proved that ‘races’ do not exist.

“It would be a slight exaggeration – argues Jared Diamond – to say that L.L. Cavalli-Sforza studies everything about everybody, because actually he is ‘only’ interested in what genes, languages, archaeology, and culture can teach us about the history and migrations of everybody for the last several hundred thousand years.”

The Indians should be naturally born polymaths, due to their holistic approach, although today, with the speed of their economic development, they seem somewhat obliged to imitate the Westerners and be monomaths as well. But there are so many polymaths over there!

Man of Roma. My comment was not a paean to my country. It was a paean to the Greek Paideia and the Roman Humanitas, where the Renaissance man comes from.

Polymathy as a tendency is also dangerous, it encourages flitting around, dabbling, people who cannot stick at anything (I know it too well), Giacomo Casanova (mentioned in the essay) being a high-level example of it: he was good in mathematics, in philosophy and theology, but not too good.

A metaphor in the said essay that I liked: flirting, promiscuity – they are no good. It’s the real polygamy, the numerous & deeply lived marriages that make a real polymath.

I digressed. I’ll then add Kubrick was a genius and had a tendency towards polymathy, as the amazing variety of his films attests – Spartacus, Lolita, Dr. Strangelove, 2001, A Clockwork Orange etc. – as well as his passion for music, photography, he also being a great producer & marketing man (I heard at the radio he used to commercialize all the gadgets of his movies by himself, the heart-shaped glasses Sue Lyon wore, for example.)

Lichanos. Dev, MoR: No need to apologize for digressing here! If not here, where can we let our minds and conversation wander?

I love that word tuttologo!! Better than polymath, which sounds so dry to my ear. As for being spread too thinly, comme une dilettante, in English there is a saying, “Jack of all trades, master of none…” Still, the culture of the amateur and the dilettante are attractive to me as long as there is not too much superficiality.

I recall reading a critique of Voltaire once, I forget by whom, that railed against him: “The man has opinions on everything!” The implication was that he was flippant and felt the need to pronounce on all topics, even if he was formulaic. The size of his collected works was presented as evidence. Perhaps something there, but he was quite deep enough of the time to redeem himself, perhaps.

Regarding the engineering profession, I must say, 1st: I never could understand electrical circuits beyond the most basic. I understand water systems, and everyone says that they are similar, but not for me! 2nd: My father, retired, is an electrical engineer. He once drove me past an old industrial building in downtown Brooklyn where he said he worked at one of his first jobs after WWII. They build a computer there and had to knock down an exterior wall to get it out!

Louvre Pyramid, Paris, by architect I. M. Pei. Click to enlarge and for credits

In the pre-WWII days, “patrician” familes were happy to send their sons to engineering school. Now they only become lawyers or MBAs. It was a status profession. Some say that the dominance of corporate industry after WWII succeeded in capturing the educational institutions and molding them to its own ends, i.e., the production of ready-made technicians in large supply to keep wages lower. There is something to it. Within my sort of engineering, there is still a sort of envy of doctors and lawyers who used to be seen as gods, and are still, on TV at least, seen as worthy of celebrity and dramatic presentation. They tend to earn a lot more too! On the other hand, architects, a definite prestige profession here, get paid much less than engineers and always cut each other’s throats competing for business. I think the solution to this economic, status “problem” is to make it harder to become an engineer, to require additional liberal arts training in addition to the technical curriculum. This would restrict supply, but this is not popular position. Thus, the griping about “low status” and complaints that “nobody really knows what engineers do,” go on.

I conclude with a favorite quote of mine from volume I of the Gulag Archipelago:

An engineer? I had grown up among engineers,and I could remember the engineers of the
twenties very well indeed: their open shining intellects, their free and gentle humor, their
agility and breadth of thought, the ease with which they shifted from one engineering field
to another, and, for that matter, from technology to social concerns and art. Then,
too, they personified good manners and delicacy of taste; well-bred speech that flowed evenly
and was free of uncultured words; one of them might play a musical instrument, another dabble
in painting; and their faces always bore a spiritual imprint.

Dev. MoR and Lichanos, wow, what a discussion and exchange of thoughts going on!

MoR: Thanks for sharing your views on polymaths. I agree with you that for most people trying to be polymaths is not a good idea. I mean one life is hardly long enough to do one thing properly, so dabbling in various things is never easy. But then, the best of the people have been, in some ways, polymaths. You are very right that Kubrick was in a sense a polymath. Each of his films were so different from each other in terms of genre, treatment etc. What made him special was that he was a chameleon. Nobody could really guess what to expect from his films. He was an excellent photographer and editor too. Plus, as you mentioned, he took great interest in the marketing of his films, even designing the promos and posters.

Lichanos: Nice to read your views. My father is a civil engineer and was a good one. Well, understanding circuits was never easy for me either. I guess I concluded it years back when I finished my engineering that most people are not ready to become an engineer at the tender age of 18. I somehow finished my degree in time and tried to get away from the engineering side of things as soon I got an opportunity. Not because I looked down at engineering, rather I thought it deserved so much respect and discipline that I’m not ready for it. Sadly, most engineering schools across the world just make assembly line engineers who can get decent jobs and raise a family. But, not really nurturing questioning/scientific minds.

Similar to what you quoted in the end, even when my father graduated in the late 60’s in India, they used to be proud of their engineering degrees; even more than the doctors or even the bureaucrats of those times. This is not really true anymore.

Man of Roma. Dev and Lichanos: you both then confirm that engineers are declining socially. Damn. My youngest daughter is graduating in civil engineering! ;-)

Lichanos. Dev: On Engineers – yes, I think you hit it right on the head. BTW, I didn’t go to school to get an engineering degree until I was 23 or so. I NEVER could have made it at 18, even if I’d wanted to!!
MoR: I’m sure your daughter will do just fine. Everyone wants things built right! If she works in the field, on-site, it’s very much in demand, but a very demanding job! I could not stand it, I’m sure. I look out my window at the World Trade Center site and think, “How the HELL do they get everything to come together on time?” I’d have a nervous breakdown.

Capitoline She-Wolf. Rome, Musei Capitolini. Public domain

Previous installment:

Culture, Kultur, Paideia

Related posts:

American Engineer, German Philosopher & French Politician: Gramsci’s Ideal Blend for the Modern Leonardo da Vinci
Democracy, Liberty & the Necessity of a Solid Education of the People

Natural Language Learning as Nonconscious Acquisition

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Language Variety. Click for credits.

Second Language Learning

This is our third post on foreign language education (see 1 and 2) and we remind readers how we had stressed the importance of massive exposure to listening and to reading. It is the so-called input method: listening and reading extensively in the new language, input, will naturally lead to output, namely speaking and writing. The native language is often called the ‘first language’ (FL or L1), while the new language is called the ‘second language’ (SL or L2). L1 and L2 can be more than one.

If listening and reading are important, which of the two is preferable? Both I would say.

Listening is important for the correct pronunciation and for oral communication. Even if we don’t have the chance of talking often to foreigners, listening has become very accessible thanks to podcasts, satellite TV or DVDs where one can change languages & subtitles, etc. So why not plunging into it? Tunisians and Albanians have a decent knowledge of Italian thanks mainly to TV.

Reading for (Self) Improvement

Reading has though a few advantages in my opinion.

1) Easiness. Reading is easier at first. Understanding TV programs or films can be a beginner’s nightmare, much depending on how our mind works.

2) Availability. Despite the new technologies books or magazines availability and portability are hard to beat.

3) Path to complexity. In most cultures there usually is a difference in complexity between the spoken and the written language, up to the extreme of diglossia. The language that the Roman soldiers brought to the provinces of the Empire was different from that of Cicero or Seneca. Classical Arabic is more complex than the language spoken in the streets of Cairo. Tamil, spoken in India, Sri Lanka, Singapore etc., comprises this written-spoken difference plus adds further intricacy according to situation, caste and religion.

4) Path to language as art. Reading allows us a contact with the literature of a civilization. It is a wider concept than just learning legalese or IT English for our profession. Here language acquisition identifies itself with overall cultural acquisition. Literature (a) in fact is so well crafted as to transmit aesthetic pleasure – which requires some gradual initiation to be appreciated, as with wine (or Indian spices.) Literature (b) also transmits the deep values of a culture (sometimes of any culture,) a long story that can’t be discussed here.

[Well, we belong to a generation that did believe in literature as magistra vitae. It seems we’re not alone in this. Just check ‘literature’ out in dictionaries and encyclopaedias. The 11th edition of the Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary defines literature as “writings having excellence of form or expression and expressing ideas of permanent or universal interest.”]

Book. Click for credits.

What to Read

In case we are allergic to literature what should we read? Well, ‘any content that interests us most’ is an answer. ‘Everything’ is another good answer, from crap to technical stuff to newspapers. Newspapers present the greatest variety of linguistic registers (from colloquial to literary) & jargons (language of sports, politics, entertainment, celebrities, sciences etc.) Same thing with magazines. I remember an English teacher telling us she had started as a child by reading every issue of Woman from A to Z. After one year her knowledge had jumped from elementary to advanced.

Should we use graded texts or ‘jump into the deep’? No predefined rule. Lichanos said here he got exhausted reading Balzac in French. I also was put off at first by English literary works. While some prefer a no-parachute approach, I stumbled upon the Longman graded books whose gradualism worked fine for me. It allowed me the pleasure of reading valuable texts even at a beginner’s level. I thence made use of the Bible in the same way, in lack of other easy materials, for the study of Latin and Greek. The Bible translation by Jerome (347 – 420 AD), the Vulgate, has for example great educational potential in my view being a marvellous mixture of vulgar and classical Latin. Since the Romance Languages (Italian, French, Spanish etc.) descend from vulgar Latin, the ‘vulgar’ proved an effective bridge to the ‘classical’ (here Latin Vulgate text.)

No Grammar then? Also grammar is useful, provided it is not the base of language study. Learning irregular verbs and plurals, analysing phrasal verbs etc., all is useful for mastering a language. Which grammar to use much depends on our taste and cognitive learning style. Often our old school-time grammar is better than any other grammar.

Old Books. Click for credits.

Writing. Style & Content

Ok. Let’s imagine we’ve progressed and our speaking and writing are now decent. This being a blog, we’ll focus on writing style.

If content is what you say, style is how you say it. There must be some balance between the two in order to avoid extremes such as dullness or affectation. Such balance can also vary according to the situation and the audience. To the ancient Romans concinnitas was the art of arranging the elements of a sentence with harmony and taste.

Developing a good style in a new language is such a daunting task! One trick is that of choosing an author whose style we consider suitable and read his/her works a lot. It can be a starting point for developing our own style. It’s the input method again, though at a higher level. Style and gusto are an art, and “every art is taught by example” – as Muzio Clementi, an Italian musician, put it.
Again I insist on valuable texts. Isn’t it like with dance? Would we learn from an inept or clumsy dancer?

But once more, as with grammar, style rules can help too: advices by writers – like Hemingway, who recommended to prune adverbs and adjectives -, the study of figures of speech or of creative writing patterns etc.

Ψ

As a conclusion, this post has focused on a natural approach to SL learning based on imitation, on a “subconscious” silent acquisition through input which favours language production and a feel for correctness (and for style), this being complementary to formal and “conscious” rule learning (check this web page .)

A few theories have been developed around this natural method. Stephen Krashen’s (Comprehensible) Input Hypothesis is probably among the best known. Krashen, from USC (University of Southern California,) is a language guru whose work has stirred many disputes. I find his work stimulating although he made like a religion out of it, evidence being he has become a full-time activist of his ideas.

Although I always was fond of the input method I am convinced that best results can be achieved by combining various methods of learning.

Ψ

Related posts:

Experiences of a non Mother Tongue Blogger
Some Language and Reference Tools Utilized for this Blog
Power of Reading
Guess What is Better than Prozac
Books. Our Own Film Inside Our Head
Books, Multimedia and E-learning
Locking Horns with a Young Roman
Merry Saturnalia! And a Roman New Blog

A Dear Old Friend Got Lost in the Intricacies of the Planet (or of his Mind)

E8 beautiful geometry. Click for source.

This, together with this music, is to commemorate Angelo, colleague and friend, systems & networking engineer, mathematician and physicist as well as passionate linguistic, a totally eccentric, harmless and absent-minded individual who since the end of the 80s onwards did violence to a nature inclined to quiet studies, as if to test himself – his father had been very successful internationally as a hydraulic engineer – and embarked on deeds greater than him.

A quiet and shy person, he was deprived of both that minimum knowledge of men and those qualities required for planning and successfully implementing solutions in troubled regions of the earth.

He worked here and there as if bitten by an incurable malaise, eager to explore languages within dangerous areas of Africa, the Middle East and South America. His inadequacy produced in him an anxiety which kept growing in the course of the years – some of his projects turned out to be unrealistic  – and which we clearly felt in his letters, which became more and more sporadic although no less significant.

Ψ

When one day mails from him arrived more bizarre than ever and written in a patchwork of languages, of which a few artificial and invented by him, we clearly understood that something was wrong.

No more than ten, these letters are all we know of the apparently most difficult period of his life. A sort of final communiqué? Gods only know. They have been exchanged as relics among relatives and friends, their delirious depths plumbed in search of secret signs or revealing thoughts. They are too private to be published, but if I did you’d probably understand how interesting, ingenious, defenceless, crazy, tormented, adorable he was, without any doubt one of the weirdest and best persons I’ve ever met.

Extropian, another sui generis (and fortunately sedentary) character, and the friend possibly closest to him, keeps on saying he started to get worse the day he discovered Garret Lisi’s theories on quantum mechanics and stubbornly tried to give a contribution to them, although, knowing Extropian too well, I doubt this to be much more than a jest to play things down a bit, or, as we say, per sdrammatizzare.

His last mail, written on October 21rst not many years ago, is absolutely incomprehensible.

Searches conducted by relatives, friends and the institution he was working for in the country where he was operational at that time produced no results. He seems to be vanished.

Ψ

If you are still alive, Angelo, why don’t you contact us, dear friend? In which meanders of this planet (or of your mind) did you lose your path?

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