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Consorting with Pianos

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So here it is on Sunday, which is, as some of you kn0w, supposed to be my official Day of Rest.

Instead, I worked this morning, meaning I wrote things, and now I’ve got Beethoven’s Waldstein Sonata going on behind my head.

Beethoven on early Sunday mornings is always something of an ambiguous sign.   I like Beethoven well enough–especially the Eroica–but he’s a little too enthusiastic and thundering for me first thing in the day, and normally I don’t like the sound of the piano.

Any piano.

Unless it’s played by Thelonius Monk.

But here I am, with the piano pounding, and hence the title of the post.

And outside there is a bird chirping away in an annoyingly regular and unmitigated fashion.

And I’m sort of quasi-sick.

The interview went fine, at least as far as I can tell, but I woke up the next morning with a sore throat and serious aches, and I still have a sort throat and serious aches.

On the other hand, I reserve the perogative to be completely incoherent even when I’m feeling well, so there’s that.

A few things.

First, I decided to give Tolkein one more try, and over the last week I’ve read The Fellowship of the Ring for the first time.

I did rather better with it than I’ve done with it before, meaning I actually read it.  It turns out that the thing I hated about the writing–that it sometimes seems as if Tolkein was getting paid by the semicolon–stops being an issue after the prologue, and the writing afterthat is at worst workmanlike, which isn’t bad at all.

A couple of things.

First, it surprised me just how much was changed for the movie.  It really surprised me just how much was left out. 

I was under the impression, which was apparently wrong, that Peter Jackson had tried to change as little as possible and keep in as much as possible.

It sometimes got more than a little disorienting.

On the other hand, it was an interesting book, and it came with maps, and I’ve got the next to close at hand, and it’s become my reading project for the summer.

The second thing is that many characters are far more attractive (as characters) in the movie than in the book.  Tolkein’s hobbits are whiny and self-absorbed rather than stalwart and heroic.  And everybody seems to faff around a lot rather than getting on with it.

I’m a great supporter of faffing around if there’s some point to it–an insight, a movement in the character’s thinking, something–but in this case there just seems to be a lot of faffing for the sake of faffing.

On the other hand, I don’t tend to see faffing as a deadly sin, so that won’t stop me.

When I finished reading that, I did what I usually do and looked for something completely different to follow it with.

I came up with my old copy of Richard Hofstadter’s Anti-Intellectualism in American Life.

I’ve only just started rereading it, so I don’t want to go into a long song and dance about it,  but I find that I’m surprised at how much I’ve forgotten since my last reading.

I’m also more than a little heartened to see that he hits what’s really anti-rationalism–rather than anti-intellectualism–on the left as on the right.   We get a good beat down of progressive education as well as the First Great Awakening.

I’m becoming more and more convinced that Perry Miller had a valid point when he defined that Awakening as a revolt against Enlightenment reason–a resort to emotion and enthusiasm in religion, and large-scale distain for reasoned argument and scholarly exegesis in sermons and services.

Hofstadter points out that Transcendentalism was also a revolt against reason and in favor of feelings, just dressed up in more aesthetic language.

The other thing is that he’s just like everybody else in that he can’t seem to come up with a solid definition of “intellectual.” 

He abandons the first definition he comes up with without noting that he’s doing it, mostly, I think, because if you stuck to that definition, you wouldn’t have enough people to put into the “intellectual class” to make a book about.

The actual way he uses the word in most of the book corresponds to the way I tend to think about it, so my gut feeling is to leave it alone.

But not quite, and the not quite is making me a little nuts.

Hofstadter’s definition would leave out the Transcendentalists, because they were so vigorously pro-feeling and anti-rational (as a Romantic movement, they would have to be), and I think that intellectual they definitely were, even if muddled and thickheaded.

(“Couldn’t think their way out of a paper bag” is where I think I am with the Transcendentalists.)

But that brings me back to my obsession with New England.

Becuase the Puritans who settled New England brought with them a highly intellectualized religion.  They believed in a learned clergy, in trained theologians, a populace docile to the teaching  of men with high levels of education.

Their organizational descendants are now one half of the “United Church of Christ.”  Their New England churches still make a point of announcing that they remain “Congregationalist.”

They are also the most thoroughly modernist denomination in the country, even more so than the Episcopalians, who are actually split on social issues.

For a while out here, long before anybody had declared gay marriage legal anywhere in the country, they were running ads pointedly aimed at gay people and touting how “inclusive” they were.  They were also performing same sex weddings before anybody was legally recognizing them.

The preachers of the First Great Awakening would have said that this only proved what they contended, that religion aimed at the head instead of the heart was pernicious and false.

I don’t know what we would say now.

I do know that my throat is killing me and I’m getting a minor case of the shakes.

So I’m going to go put on The Emperor’s Concerto and eat some ice cream.

Written by janeh

June 29th, 2014 at 8:56 am

Posted in Uncategorized

2 Responses to 'Consorting with Pianos'

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  1. In fairness to Peter Jackson, he had more than 1200 pages of book to deal with. That would make for a 20+ hour trilogy, and I think even the extended editions won’t get you past 13-14 hours. I understood his cuts and in FELLOWSHIP I mostly agreed with them. I wasn’t equally pleased with his changes, especially to dialogue and personalities, but that’s a whole separate rant. Visually, he was almost spot-on. Now, when you finish TWO TOWERS there WILL be a rant. We can take turns.

    Faffing around. Very much so in FELLOWSHIP and much less so afterward. I’ve never been able to decide how much Tolkien was indulging himself, and how much he’s showing us the minds of long-lived people in a traditional world. Notice how the worst delays involve elves? They know intellectually that everyone needs to keep moving, but it doesn’t seem to sink in that this means cutting short the ceremony and courtesy. Of course, Elrond’s several thousand years old–and a young person next to Galadriel. Time has a different meaning to them.

    Anti-intellectualism. Yeah. But I think we’ve got multiple forces at work. The NET are–well, maybe not so much anti-intellectual as incapable of clear thought. And while something has clearly gone wrong in the mainstream churches, you can make as good a case for lack of intellectual rigor as for lack of emotion.

    The rest is–drat: I’m going to sound New Left here. I think it’s worth keeping in mind that the people who write and get published critiques of “anti-intellectualism” are one side of the debate. The terms they use may be loaded and the evidence carefully selected. Every grammar Nazi will tell you people dislike him for maintaining the standard. He will never EVER tell you they dislike him for maintaining an unreasonable or inconsistent standard, or for missing the point.

    When I’ve seen college degrees and their holders openly despised, it wasn’t because the fellow with the BA or PhD was intelligent or well-informed, but because he was in a position of authority, had at best only an academic understanding of the situation, and thought he had nothing else to learn. That, to my way of thinking, is intellectual FAILURE. Reasoning is to be tested and facts to be verified. But there’s a lot of that going around, and I think most of the people involved would rather call their critics “anti-intellectual” than admit they sometimes have a point.

    Now we’re going to do the “knowledge for its own sake” bit again. But in fact, if a scholar spends his life in a classics department working out disputed variants of Homer, he is not despised by the bulk of the populace. They don’t think of him at all–and THAT, I think, galls some of them.
    But if you’re restoring a lost breathing in Homer so other people will admire you, then it’s no longer knowledge for its own sake, is it?


    29 Jun 14 at 4:27 pm

  2. I don’t want to get involved in a Literary criticism discussion with Jane but I was struck by “Tolkein’s hobbits are whiny and self-absorbed rather than stalwart and heroic.”

    Isn’t that the point Tolkein is making? The hobbits are ordinary hobbits living a peaceful rural existence. They are suddenly lumbered with a very difficult and unexpected job and do the best they can.

    Tolkein insisted that the books were not about either World War. But I think of the hobbits as conscripts just like the men who landed in Normandy on D Day. Men who didn’t want the job but made the best of it.


    30 Jun 14 at 12:27 am

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