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Ravening Wolf

Posted by acdtest on February 24, 2004

Ravening Wolf

Naomi Wolf, in her now (in)famous article for New York Magazine wherein she accuses celebrated Yale professor Harold Bloom of sexual molestation, herself being the victim, gives the following as her reason for leveling the accusation some twenty years after the fact.

I began, nearly a year ago, to try-privately-to start a conversation with my alma mater [Yale University] that would reassure me that steps had been taken in the ensuing years to ensure that unwanted sexual advances of this sort weren’t still occurring. I expected Yale to be responsive. After nine months and many calls and e-mails, I was shocked to conclude that the atmosphere of collusion that had helped to keep me quiet twenty years ago was still intact-as secretive as a Masonic lodge.


I was also in a state of spiritual discomfort. Keeping bad secrets hurts. Is a one-time sexual encroachment by Harold Bloom, two decades ago, a major secret or a minor one? Minor, when it comes to a practical effect on my life; I have obviously survived. […] My career was fine; my soul was not fine. I had an obligation to protect others from which I had run away.

Every Yom Kippur, Jewish tradition requires a strict spiritual inventory. You aren’t supposed to just sit around feeling guilty, but to take action in the real world to set things right. We pray, “Ashamnu. Bagadnu. We have acted shamefully . . . behaved wickedly.” The sin of omission is as serious as the sin of commission.

Every year, I wonder about the young women who might have suffered because I was too scared to tell the truth to the people whose job it is to make sure the institution is clean. I am not at peace when the sun sets and the Book of Life is sealed: I always see that soft spot of complicity.

And does Ms. Wolf feel Bloom is a danger, and that he ought to be punished for his alleged action twenty years ago (he allegedly put his hand on the inside of Ms. Wolf’s thigh), and be removed from his teaching position at Yale?

Apparently not.

Is Harold Bloom a bad man? No. Harold Bloom’s demons are no more demonic than those of any other complex human being’s. Does this complex, brilliant man’s one bad choice make him a monster? No, of course not; nor does this one experience make me a “victim.”

So what, then, I kept thinking as I read the article, was gained by Ms. Wolf identifying Bloom by name in the piece (as opposed to identifying him by name in her private discussions on the matter with the powers that be at Yale)? If what she wanted to accomplish by writing the piece was what she asserts she wanted to accomplish — viz., make Yale University in future accept accountability in such cases, and set up grievance procedures that are genuinely strong — there was zero necessity for publicly identifying Bloom by name. Professor X or any other anonymous designation would have served the purpose equally as well.

Ms. Wolf’s declared purpose, that is.

But there’s a disconnect between that declared purpose and what Ms. Wolf actually wrote. Her article positively reeks of the dishonest. Not as it concerns the alleged twenty-year-old incident, which I suspect happened just as Ms. Wolf said it happened (and so what?), but as it concerns Ms. Wolf’s declared altruistic central reason for writing the piece, which declaration is, not to put too fine a point on it, a clear crock. The article has all the earmarks of personal vendetta — or worse, a bid for personal public attention too long in decline — masquerading as feminist do-gooding, and as such is nothing other than contemptible as it stands to unnecessarily damage permanently, or at very least permanently tarnish unnecessarily, one of the great careers in American letters.

Ms. Wolf needs to have more than her knuckles rapped for this little caper. And we won’t even speak of what New York Magazine needs rapped for its part in this business.


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Score Another For The Philistines

Posted by acdtest on January 24, 2004

Score Another For The Philistines

The murderous onslaught on high culture by the philistine horde continues, the latest salvo proceeding from the venerable New York Times as outlined in an interview with New York Times Book Review executive editor, Bill Keller.

The nub of it:

He [Keller] promised “dramatic changes” in the Sunday section [of the Book Review] now that head honcho Chip McGrath is stepping aside. He also indicated that the top brass is rethinking book coverage top to bottom.

And which way are the winds blowing?

Well, if you write non-fiction, review non-fiction, or prefer to read non-fiction, break out the champagne. “The most compelling ideas tend to be in the non-fiction world,” Keller says. “Because we are a newspaper, we should be more skewed toward non-fiction.”

What’s more, if you’re perplexed or simply bored with what passes for smart fiction these days, the Times feels your pain. More attention will be paid to the potboilers, we’re told. After all, says Keller, somebody’s got to tell you what book to choose at the airport.



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A Lack Of Critical Mass

Posted by acdtest on July 8, 2003

A Lack Of Critical Mass

his Newsweek article by Douglas McLennan on the reasons for the present sad state of classical music in this country declares a simple but fundamental truth. In the classical music world, no media buzz, no legitimacy and no audience. While it’s true that it’s possible for meaningful buzz to be generated sans media participation, it’s a very rare occurrence indeed. The media is what generates buzz, and in the world of classical music, at the center of that media buzz generator is first, foremost, and always, the classical music critic. What McLennan is bemoaning — and he’s spot-on correct about it — is the lack of a healthy and vital mass of informed critical ferment in the classical music world today. Or as he puts it:

[T]he main reason classical music is no longer on the menu of cultural literacy is that somehow it lost the critical mass of a critical community that listens/talks/writes about music as though it matters and where there are frequent debates, multiple judgments and competing ideas to keep things energized. How can you build artistic consensus that keeps renewing itself if you lack critical voices? Without that consensus, it’s difficult to argue that classical music deserves a place at the table.

Just so.

Today what we have in the mainstream media for the most part are either critical incompetents, or critics who think as does this culture commentator who, speaking of capital A art generally, opines that

…the old freshman-in-college quarrels of “Is it art?” “Is it great art?” [are] to my mind, at least these days, Who cares? Or rather: I prefer to see [discussions] about art not get hung up on such questions. […] [There are] people who, bizarrely enough, like these discussions, and there are also people who like to come out gunning for a fight. Snooze-ola. Spare me. Puh-leeze. I’m outta here. […] [What’s of interest are] such topics as, How did you respond? What moved or touched you? What did you notice about the work, about how it’s put together, how it works, and what it reflects?

How very progressive. How very postmodern. How very today.

Such attitudes, by and large, seem to be typical of our current crop of mainstream classical music critics as well, and are reflective of the degree of effeteness to which they’ve largely degenerated. When genuine performing artists and composers argue among themselves about classical music (as opposed to the poseurs, who are legion and no better than the present-day mainstream critical crowd), they argue about things such as music and non-music, great music and trash, and meticulously detail their cases and state their claims in terms as hard-nosed and absolute as if they were so many propositions of Euclid. And, if it comes to it, as it on rare occasion does, they’re ready to defend those cases and claims with fisticuffs if need be.

The generally debased and PC-contaminated crowd which today constitutes the mainstream classical music critical fraternity relishes nothing so much as engaging in discussion of classical music in ways more appropriate to genteel luncheon and dinner parties where it’s considered the height of gauche to argue in any manner that might upset the digestion of those seated at table. Arguing in that gentle, genteel way makes members of this critical crowd feel they’ve been winning, intellectually probing, stimulating, and “with it,” when all they’ve managed to be is glib; nattering on about nothing of real substance or pertinence while at the same time keeping hands clean, hair un-mussed, and digestion undisturbed — theirs and their readers’.

Well, I’ve a bit of news for this critically well-manicured bunch: Your brother mainstream classical music critics of prior eras would have none of such gentle, genteel pap, even in proper and oh-so-civilized Victorian England. When they discussed or wrote on matters musical they were not in the least afraid of dirtying hands, mussing hair, and disturbing digestion. They carried on their dialogues red in tooth and claw if need be, as in those culturally more concerned eras we had in the mainstream media that healthy and vital mass of informed classical music critical ferment the lack of which today McLennan so bemoans; a critical fraternity made up of courageous and erudite classical music critics who felt that anything musical worth arguing about was worth perishing for.

Will we in future ever again regularly see their like in the mainstream?

Only The Shadow knows, but I have my doubts.

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An Appalling State Of Affairs

Posted by acdtest on June 2, 2003

An Appalling State Of Affairs

one are the days when one could pick up the nation’s “Newspaper of Record,” turn to the music page of its Arts & Leisure section, and be both delighted and enlightened by the erudite critical writings of a Harold C. Schonberg, or an Edward Rothstein. But the time for the regular on-music writings of such critical heavyweights at the Times is now past. Today we’re treated to the on-music writings of such critical midgets as Ann Midgette (perfect!), and Anthony Tommasini. I’ve previously had occasion to remark on Ms. Midgette’s appalling cluelessness and ignorance on matters Wagnerian, and now we have proof that Mr. Tommasini’s cluelessness and ignorance on such matters is fully as appalling (actually further proof, for this is not the first time Mr. Tommasini has made an ass of himself in print on matters Wagnerian) as is made abundantly clear by two telling comments in his review of the new production of Wagner’s Tristan und Isolde at the Vienna Staatsoper (covered by Mr. Tommasini because it marked the debut of American soprano Deborah Voight in the role of Isolde).

Writes Mr. Tommasini:

The only way the legend [of Tristan and Isolde as treated by Wagner] has psychological resonance is if you accept that the love potion is a kind of truth serum that unlocks their inner erotic yearnings. Such dangerous emotions, the opera suggests, are nothing but trouble.

The above is, of course, arrant nonsense. The opera — the music-drama — has no “psychological resonance” if one accepts that the potion drunk by the two lovers has any magical or pharmacological effect at all, either as a love potion or “truth serum.” The drama has psychological resonance only when one understands that the potion has no effect as a potion per se, but rather because the two lovers are both convinced it’s a powerful death potion (i.e., poison), and are therefore both certain they’ll be dead within a matter of minutes, and so for the first time feel completely free to confess fully to each other their long-secret and forbidden love, each for the other.

As to the opera suggesting “[s]uch dangerous emotions…are nothing but trouble”: More sheer ignorance on the part of Mr. Tommasini. The music-drama in fact celebrates those “dangerous emotions.” And if it “suggests” anything about Tristan’s and Isolde’s love (and it does more than merely suggest) it’s that a love that profound can be consummated only when both lovers have become part of the great World Soul; become one with the Universal One (as in one-ness).

As if Mr. Tommasini’s above quoted gibberish were by itself not enough, we have this from him as well:

In a telling turnaround of imagery, at the end of the opera, when Isolde confronts the dying Tristan, she stands again at the end of [the] metal table, this time facing not the armored shell of Morold but the human shell of her beloved. To signal his death, she shuts his eyelids with her hand, blocking out the hated light of day; to signal her own death, she simply stands by him motionlessly and covers her own eyes. Mr. Krämer [the director] makes metaphorical staging seem humane and free of cliché.

I bypass the stage business of the metal table and the armored shell of Morold, which are but conceits of this clearly Eurotrash production, one which Mr. Tommasini saw fit not to savage as it surely deserved, and move on to his praising of the eyelid-shutting and covering, and Isolde’s “death” at music-drama’s end: the famous, and famously erroneously-called, Liebestod (“love-death”).

In his mindless praising of that rank bit of stage idiocy, Mr. Tommasini is clearly ignorant of the fact that it was not for nothing that Wagner referred to the ending of his great mystical paean to love not by the term Liebestod — a term he reserved to denominate the prelude to the first act of this three-act music-drama — but by the term Verklärung (transfiguration). And for good reason, too. Wagner’s stage directions indicate explicitly that Isolde does not die, but rather sinks as if transfigured onto the dead Tristan’s breast. Not only that, but for a full ten minutes or so prior to her transfiguration, Isolde, hallucinating, imagines Tristan alive and standing before her, beckoning to her. As far as Isolde is concerned neither she nor Tristan is any longer part of the world of air, earth, and sky. That, in fact, is the whole point of the Verklärung. The very last thing Isolde would be doing is closing Tristan’s eyes or covering her own. She’s after all in the throes of an ecstatic vision. But to read Mr. Tommasini’s clueless comments, one would have no idea just how idiot, and counter to the sense and substance of both music and text, that stage business really was, or that anything about it was even amiss.

As appalling as this all is, the truly appalling thing is that the sort of ignorance displayed by Mr. Tommasini is not an exception today when it comes to writings on matters of high art in the mainstream media, but rather the norm — everywhere. One is tempted to exclaim with Cicero, “O tempora! O mores!“, but what’s the point. With the triumph of pop culture world-wide, all critical writing on the high arts in the mainstream media has been dumbed down to the point of misinformation, even insult, and hardly worth the paper it’s printed on, or the phosphor by which it’s made visible on-screen.

Welcome to the brave new world of the 21st century.

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