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Sunday: July 19, 2009
I drove to Charlottesville today to see an HD broadcast of Racine’s Phèdre by the UK National Theatre, with Helen Mirren in the title role. Some desultory thoughts:
- At 56, I was probably younger than the median audience member. I hope they are being replaced by the newly old as they die off.
- The set was all scabby white concrete walls and floors on a more-than-human scale, like a modern art museum without any art on the walls, the kind where the art wouldn’t be missed. The vaguely archaic water fountain was an odd touch. On the right was a low wall with a bright blue sky behind it, which very effectively suggested a seawall with the shore just behind it.
- The Paramount Theater is well worth seeing in itself, and I’m going back in a week for a live performance of The Marriage of Figaro by Ashlawn Opera.
- When I saw Tartuffe in Charlottesville a couple of months ago, I was surprised by how simple the plot was, compared to Shakespeare’s comedies. With Phèdre, I was surprised how complicated the plot was, but that’s because I was semi-unconsciously comparing it to Euripides and Seneca, not Shakespeare. (It’s been 35 years since I read any Molière or Racine, and I’d never seen either on stage.)
- The translation, by Ted Hughes, worked tolerably well. It was advertised as ‘free verse’, but might as well have been prose, for all I could tell. It was mostly successful at avoiding stiff archaisms and disconcerting modernisms, though “futile placebo” sounded odd for a classical hero or a neoclassical playwright. The best line came from the nurse, Oenone: “this longing for death is going to kill us both”. How much of that is Racine, and how much Hughes, I do not know.
- The sound effects were irritating: mostly dull roars (to respresent the adjacent sea?) and indistinct wooshes. There were two glitches in the transmission, where the picture froze and the sound went off or changed to static, but neither lasted more than 4-5 seconds.
- I wondered whether people would clap at the end. It’s a natural response to a successful production, but the actors couldn’t hear us, and we knew it, which made it unnatural after all. As it turned out, there was plenty of clapping broadcast from London, so the brief flurry of scattered local claps quickly died down. The actors couldn’t see us, either, so most of us headed for the doors as soon as the show ended, not sticking around to watch the actors take their bows, assuming that was also broadcast.
- As for the acting, what can I say? Very professionally done, probably as well-done as a prosy translation of a verse play in a foreign language can be done. I’d like to see a French production some day, though I’d need subtitles. I will certainly go see the National Theatre’s next simulcast, All’s Well That End’s Well in October. I’m curious to see how it will compare to the American Shakespeare Center’s touring production, which will be previewing in town the first week of September.
Saturday: July 18, 2009
“Children need religion. They can always give it up later.”
(Le Plaisir, 1952)
Monday: July 13, 2009
Driving through Berryville, Virginia a couple of hours later I had to slow down for a police car on the shoulder with all its lights flashing. There was no other car on the shoulder, and the policeman was having an intense conversation with a shirtless bald guy on a ride-on lawnmower 20 or 30 feet off the road. I wonder if he’d been driving it recklessly in traffic. If he’d been keeping it off the road, it’s hard to think what he could have done to attract the attention of a policeman — assuming the grass he was cutting was his own. Or would drunk driving on your own property be illegal if it was sufficiently blatant? There were some very curly fresh-cut tracks in the grass.
Driving through Waynesboro, Virginia yesterday, I passed the entrance to The Eastside Speedway, a venue for drag-racing, Motocross, and demolition derbies. The one-block-long road leading to it is Al Gore Lane.
Update: (7/16, 10:16pm)
After Andrea Harris quoted me over at Tim Blair’s blog, commenter ‘Aristocracy of Grunts’ provided the photographic proof I was too lazy to get myself.
Tuesday: July 7, 2009
From a comment by ‘Brown Line’ on Matt Welch’s Hit and Run column in Reason:
Of course, the problem may well be that what Klein and other journalists are peddling isn’t news at all, but a news-flavored opinion product: not the same thing at all.
I wish I’d written that.
Saturday: July 4, 2009
I just realized what Obama reminds me of when he’s doing foreign policy: A brand new substitute teacher, fresh out of Ed School, his brain stuffed with ideas about inspiring hard-to-reach students by being their friend and sharing his deep knowledge of contemporary teen culture, five minutes into his first day teaching a Remedial Math class whose previous teacher took early retirement in mid-year to escape having to deal with them for one more day.
Friday: July 3, 2009
Those who have read Dante know that the Christian Hell has plenty of priests and bishops in it, and quite a few popes as well, including at least one who was damned before he died. As I recall (it’s been a while) the man who was pope in 1300 was so vile that Dante put him in Hell prematurely, with a devil taking his place on earth.
I wonder if it would help the liberals in Iran to argue that Muslim Hell has plenty of mullahs in it, and that plenty more are going there when they die if they don’t stop killing innocents. Would photoshops of likely candidates undergoing appropriate punishments help make the case?
Thursday: July 2, 2009
In a recent post at Chicago Boyz, David Foster asks “what the proper Greek would be for ‘government by clowns’”. There are several possibilities:
- A bomolochos was originally “one that waited about the altars, to beg or steal some of the meat offered thereon” (Liddell-Scott), but it acquired a less specific meaning “clown, buffoon”, which was standard in derivatives like the verb bomolocheuomai, “play the buffoon, indulge in ribaldry, play low tricks”, though the idea of begging may be included. So perhaps the best word for “government by clowns” would be bomolocharchy (0 Google hits).
- Since our rulers live at our expense, how about a word that means “one who eats at the table of another, and repays him with flattery and buffoonery”? Compounded with “-archy”, that would give us parasitarchy, whose meaning will be clear even to the Greekless.
- Another possibility would be an animal metaphor for clownishness. The Greek word for ‘ass’ (donkey, not butt) is ónos (plural ónoi), so the shortest word for “rule by clowns, buffoons, asses” would be onarchy.
- The other meaning of English ‘ass’ also provides a very approximate equivalent for ‘clown’, and you don’t need to have studied Greek to figure out what proctarchy would mean.
I’m sure there are other possibilities, but I can’t seem to find my English-Greek Dictionary at the moment.
Wednesday: July 1, 2009
I think it was Patterico’s Pontifications where I recently ran across a weblog called Verum Serum. An interesting name, since it has three or four meanings in Latin:
- True Whey (taking Verum as an adjective and Serum as a noun). I thought the second word meant ‘gravy’, but apparently not, at least in classical Latin. Which is too bad: “True Gravy” might almost work as a website name, but not “True Whey”.
- Late Truth (taking Verum as a noun and Serum as an adjective). Alternatively, this could mean “Too Late Truth” or “The Truth Too Late”, since the adjective has both meanings.
- Truth of the Chinese (taking both words as nouns, with Serum genitive plural). Just to be pedantic, “Chinese” here is plural, so perhaps “Truth of the Chinese people”. (Hmmm. That’s not clearly plural, either, since “people” may be a singular meaning “nation” or a plural meaning “persons, humans”. English is a tricky language.)
So which of these interesting possibilities is the right one? None, as it turns out: it’s only half Latin. As the proprietors say on their ‘About’ page, “Verum is Latin for truth, as in truth serum. Why Latin? Because we’re tired of the Catholic blogs hogging all the cool names.”
In its article on Leibniz, Wikipedia reports: “No philosopher has ever had as much experience with practical affairs of state as Leibniz, except possibly Marcus Aurelius.” Possibly? Privy Counselor of Justice to the House of Brunswick, trusted adviser to the Electress of Hanover and the Queen of Prussia, and Imperial Court Counselor to the Habsburgs are important positions, beyond the reach of most philosophers, but they hardly compare to being Emperor of Rome.