29th EDITION SERF UNDER_GROUND JOURNAL



MASTER and COMMANDER.

PART ONE.

Fer Judith C.


whaling_ship_3_x575



Ocean Reveries.


If yer happen ter have accompanied me in my Serf Under_ground, minnow voyages of discovery, yer may have noticed a few ocean references, a serf’s fascination with harbours ‘n such, a fateful attraction seems I share with quite a few other land lubbers.

Says Ishmael in the opening chapter of Herman Melville’s masterpiece, ‘Moby Dick’:

‘Circumambulate the city of a dreamy Sabbath afternoon. Go from Corlears Hook to Coenties Slip, and from thence, by Whitehall, northward. What do you see? – Posted like silent sentinels all around the town, stand thousand upon thousand of mortal men fixed in ocean reveries. Some leaning against spikes, some seated upon the pier-heads, some looking over the bulwarks of ships from China; some high aloft in the rigging as if striving to get a better seaward peep. But these are all landsmen; of week days pent up in lath and plaster – tied to counters, nailed to benches, clinched to desks. How then is this? Are the green fields gone? What do they do here?’


What do they there watching the water come ashore? Why they wish to embrace the Mysteries and escape the narrow certainties of life on shore, they wish to put to sea.

Here’s Ishmael again:

‘Whenever I find myself growing grim about the mouth; whenever it is a damp, drizzly November in my soul; whenever I find myself involuntarily pausing before coffin warehouses; and bringing up at the rear of every funeral I meet; and especially when my hypos get such an upper hand of me, that it requires a strong moral principle to prevent me from deliberately stepping into the street, and methodically knocking peoples’ hats off – then, I account it high time to get to sea as soon as I can. This is my substitute for pistol and ball. With a philosophical flourish Cato throws himself upon his sword; I quietly take to the ship.’


And if you can’t take to the ship, what’s the next best thing? Why it’s read the great stories about the sea, none greater than Herman Melville’s ‘Moby Dick, Ahab’s hunt for the white whale, and Patrick O’Brien’s grand historical fiction, ‘Master and Commander’ series, set in the Napoleonic era sea battles between England and France.

So let’s begin our great ocean circumnavigation of the globe with Captain Ahab’s quest to destroy the white whale. But if you happen to think Melville’s focus is this narrow quest, think again. Melville’s ‘Moby Dick’ is so much more, the theme of whales and whaling a metaphor for the mystery of life itself, its glory and the terror, no less. For while the fanatical commander of The Pequod may drive the action, the action is enlarged by the book’s master narrator, Ishmael-Melville.


whaletail


‘Moby Dick’ begins with a catalogue of extracts from the Bible, Pliny, Shakespeare, Milton and on to Nantucket whalers. Its narrative encompasses sermons, descriptions of the hunt and other experiences transmuted and transcribed through Ishmael’s expansive sensibility.

Says Ishmael, in the chapter, ‘The Fossil Whale':

‘Give me a condor’s quill. Give me Vesuvius’ crater for an ink-stand! Friends, hold my arms! For in the mere thought of penning my thoughts of this leviathan, they weary me, and make me faint with the outreaching comprehensiveness of sweep, as if to include the whole circle of the sciences, and all the generations of whales, and men, and mastodons, past present and to come with all the revolving panoramas of empire on earth, and throughout the whole earth, not excluding its suburbs.’


Mysteries and More.


There are the mysteries. Sailing in the Azores, south of St Helena, mysterious midnight sightings of the ‘spirit-spout’ of a distant whale:

‘It was while gliding through these latter waters that one serene and moonlight night, when all the waves rolled by like scrolls of silver; and by their soft, suffusing seethings, made what seemed a silvery silence, not a solitude; on such a silent night, a silvery jet was seen far in advance of the white bubbles at the bow. Lit up by the moon, it looked celestial; seemed some plumed and glittering god, uprising from the sea.’


And there are the glories. Travelling the long and narrow peninsular of Malacca, The Pequod sees on the horizon a semi-circle of whale jets up-playing and sparkling in the mid-day air. Coming closer the whalers find a great multitude of sperm whales herding as a continuous semi circle. When three boats are set down from The Pequod and approach the whales, they begin to display irresolution and consternation, swimming hither, thither and in ever expanding circles, Ishmael observes that had these leviathans been a flock of sheep pursued by three fierce wolves, they could not have evinced more dismay.

Gliding between two whales Ishmael’s boat enters the inner-most centre of the shoal:

‘We were now in that enchanted calm which they say lurks in the heart of every commotion. And still in the distracted distance we beheld the tumults of the outer concentric circles, and saw successive pods of whales, eight or ten in each, swiftly going round and round like multiplied spans of horses in a ring; and so close shoulder to shoulder, that a Titanic circus-rider might have easily over-arched the middles ones, and so have gone round on their backs.’


With no chance to escape from this inner centre, Ishmael’s boat must wait for a breach in the living wall. And as they wait, becalmed, they are visited by young whales, evincing a wondrous fearlessness or perhaps a still becalmed panic:

‘Like household dogs they came sniffing around us, right up to our gun whales and touching them.; till it almost seemed that some spell had domesticated them. Queequeg patted their foreheads, Starbuck scratched their backs with his lance…’


Gazing over the side of the boat another wondrous world beneath the surface:

‘For suspended in these watery vaults, floated the forms of nursing mothers of the whales, and those that by their enormous girths seemed shortly to become mothers. The lake, as I have hinted, was to a considerable depth exceedingly transparent; and as human infants while suckling will calmly and fixedly gaze away from the breast, as if leading two different lives at the time; and yet while drawing mortal nourishment, be still spiritually feasting upon some unearthly reminiscence; – even so did the young of these whales seem looking up towards us but not at us, as if we were but a bit of Gulf-weed in their new-born sight.’


Ishmael observes one of the babies, some fourteen feet long, seemed hardly a day old:

‘He was a little frisky; though as yet his body seemed scarcely recovered from that irksome position it had so lately occupied in the maternal reticule, where, head to tail, and all ready for the final spring, the unborn whale lies bent like a Tartar’s bow. The delicate side-fins, and the palms of his flukes, still freshly retained the plaited crumpled appearance of a baby’s ears newly arrived from foreign parts.’


And thus within circle upon circle these inscrutable creatures at the centre indulge in all peaceful concernments. Meanwhile a wounded whale, carrying half of a harpoon line along with it, in the extraordinary agony of his wound is dashing around in the revolving circle:

‘that by one of the unimaginable accidents of the fishery, this whale had become entangled in the harpoon-line that he had towed; he had also run away with the cutting -spade in him; and while the free end of the rope attached to that weapon, had permanently caught in the coils of the harpoon-line around his tail, the cutting tool itself had worked loose from his flesh. So that tormented to madness, he was now churning through the water, violently flailing with his flexible tail, and tossing the keen spade about him, wounding and murdering his own comrades.’


Then the entire herd of whales came tumbling upon the inner centre ‘as if to pile themselves up in one common mountain.’ Calm is transformed into horror.


The Expanded Self.


The reader experiences scenes like the above from Melville’s chapter, ‘The Grand Amada,’ through the expansive intelligence of Ishmael, always making connections between things and at the same time discerning differences.

In the Wordsworth Classics edition of ‘Moby Dick,’ there’s an insightful introduction by David Herd in which he explores the writing process of Ishmael-Melville:

‘Generous enthusiasm’ is the key. ‘Enthusiasm,’ one of Emerson’s favorite words, ‘in which any man’s particular being is contained and made one with all other,’ Melville calls it ‘the all feeling.’ But Ishmael is no naïve Emerson. Seated at the masthead on a summer’s day, he warns of the dangerous complacency of living too fully in the moment:

‘There is no life in thee, now, except the rocking life imparted by a gentle rolling ship; by her, borrowed from the sea; by the sea, from the inscrutable tides of God. But while this sleep, this dream is on ye, move your foot an inch; slip your hold at all; and your identity comes back in horror. Over Descartian vortices you hover. And perhaps at mid-day, in the fairest weather, with one half-throttled shriek, you drop through that transparent air into the summer sea, no more to rise for ever. Heed it well, ye Pantheists.’


For Ishmael, enthusiasm does not mean the disappearing self but the expanded self, for Ishmael, like Melville himself, feeds on reading, his narrative expanding, growing in stature with the texts he takes on. As he says in his chapter, ‘Cetology,’ I have swum through libraries and sailed through oceans,’ and observes David Herd, ‘with the enthusiasm of the autodidact,’ David Herd observes, Ishmael ‘ thinks of himself, and would think of his reader, as contemporaries of the ancients.’

‘Oh! The metempsychosis!’ says Ishmael. ‘Oh! Pythagorus, that in bright Greece two thousand years ago, did die, so good and wise so mild; I sailed with thee along the Peruvian coast last voyage – and foolish as I am, taught thee, a green simple boy, how to splice a rope!’


Melville’s opening ‘Extracts’ suggest what Melville has learned in the composition of Moby Dick writing with his books around him, but indicate also something of the enthusiasm, of reading pushed out as writing and transmuted into something else, that Ishmael-Melville is sharing with his reader.

‘… if we begin the book with an image of the writer or narrator as a antiquarian (accumulating books on his favorite subject), as we read, we soon understand that the extracts enfold a much more noble, generous enthusiasm. Melville, after all is not just a collector but a reader, and not just a reader but someone who reads to write.’


Herd makes a comparison with Robert Burton, anatomist of melancholy who says of his relation to the writers he has used and learned from, ‘The matter is theirs most part, and yet mine, (which Seneca approves),yet it becomes something different in its new setting.’

What Melville shows through his narrator, Ishmael, says Herd, ‘is that reinvention or self-expansion is an effect of going to the library. Ishmael never stops changing throughout the novel, displaying not the integrity of a conventional character, but the capacity for growth of a curious mind.’

I’d say, that between Ahab, the single-minded enthusiast and Ishmael the generous enthusiast, there hovers a Descartian void. Ishmael is able to tell Ahad’s story, Ahab could never tell Ishmaels’. Ahab is unable to deal with uncertainty and is horrified by any form of exchange, Ishmael can accept complexities and is able to appreciate what it means to live in what he calls ‘a joint-stock world.’

A voyage with master narrator, Ishmael and single-minded commander, Captain Ahab, a sea-trip like no other …

28th EDITION SERF UNDER_GROUND JOURNAL



MORE THOUGHTS ON … An Addendum On Love.




andjelcici-m1

                          Raphael's 'Angels'



Serfs like me think those gods don’t know much about love, sweet love in all its subtleties. Human love is an emotion asperger gods jest don’t get. Fer them its capture and retreat, a war game that captivates fallible earthlings too. But those complex humans, why some of them relate in ways the gods don’t dream of. Hear sweet love expressed in human poetry and song.




Schubert ‘Impatience.’  ‘Thine is my heart, and shall be thine, alone, for ever.’









An Arundel Tomb



Side by side, their faces blurred,
The earl and countess lie in stone,
Their proper habits vaguely shown
As jointed armour, stiffened pleat,
And that faint hint of the absurd—
The little dogs under their feet.

Such plainness of the pre-baroque
Hardly involves the eye, until
It meets his left-hand gauntlet, still
Clasped empty in the other; and
One sees, with a sharp tender shock,
His hand withdrawn, holding her hand.

They would not think to lie so long.
Such faithfulness in effigy
Was just a detail friends would see;
A sculptor’s sweet commissioned grace
Thrown off in helping to prolong
The Latin names around the base.

They would not guess how early in
Their supine stationary voyage
The air would change to soundless damage,
Turn the old tenantry away;
How soon succeeding eyes begin
To look, not read. Rigidly they

Persisted, linked, through lengths and breadths
Of time. Snow fell, undated. Light
Each summer thronged the glass. A bright
Litter of birdcalls strewed the same
Bone-riddled ground. And up the paths
The endless altered people came,

Washing at their identity.
Now, helpless in the hollow of
An unarmorial age, a trough
Of smoke in slow suspended skeins
Above their scrap of history,
Only an attitude remains:

Time has transfigured them into
Untruth. The stone fidelity
They hardly meant has come to be
Their final blazon, and to prove
Our almost-instinct almost true:
What will survive of us is love.

Philip Larkin.







Fragile, fraught love betwixt the sexes, maternal love and brotherly, sometimes almost other-worldly, who can explain it, who can tell yer why, fools give yer reasons, wise men nevah try…


Brotherly love? Says Michel de Montaigne, regardin’ his friendship and love fer Steven de la Boitie: ‘If a man urge me to tell wherefore I loved him, I feele it cannot be expressed but by answering, ‘Because it was he, because it was myselfe.’


Romantic love? ‘Tis mysterious … :




Somewhere I have never traveled.
gladly beyond



Somewhere i have never travelled, gladly beyond
any experience, your eyes have their silence:
in your most frail gesture are things which enclose me,
or which i cannot touch because they are too near

your slightest look easily will unclose me
though i have closed myself as fingers,
you open always petal by petal myself as Spring opens
(touching skilfully, mysteriously) her first rose

or if your wish be to close me,i and
my life will shut very beautifully, suddenly,
as when the heart of this flower imagines
the snow carefully everywhere descending;

nothing which we are to perceive in this world equals
the power of your intense fragility: whose texture
compels me with the colour of its countries,
rendering death and forever with each breathing

(i do not know what it is about you that closes
and opens; only something in me understands
the voice of your eyes is deeper than all roses)
nobody, not even the rain, has such small hands

e e cummings.




Here’s rich metaphor fer adult love in ‘The Silken Tent,’ ‘loosely bound by countless silken ties,’graceful acceptance of responsibilities with love.






The Silken Tent.



She is as in a field a silken tent
At midday when a sunny summer breeze
Has dried the dew and all the ropes relent,
So that in guys it gently sways at ease,
And its supporting central cedar pole,
That is its pinnacle to heavenward
And signifies the sureness of the soul,
Seems to owe nought to any single cord,
But strictly held by none is loosely bound
By countless silken ties of love and thought
To everything on earth the compass round,
And only by one’s going slightly taut
In the capriciousness of summer air
Is of the slightest bondage made aware.

Robert Frost.






Always serious territory with W.H, Auden.




Lullaby.



Lay your sleeping head my love,
Human on my faithless arm;
Time and fevers burn away
Individual beauty from
Thoughtful children, and the grave
Proves the child ephemeral:
But in my arms till break of day
Let the living creature lie,
Mortal, guilty, but to me
The entirely beautiful.

Soul and body have no bounds:
To lovers as they lie upon
Her tolerant enchanted slope
In their ordinary swoon,
Grave the vision Venus sends
Of supernatural sympathy,
Universal love and hope;
While an abstract insight wakes
Among the glaciers and the rock
The hermit’s sensual ecstasy.

Certainty, fidelity
On the stroke of midnight pass
Like vibrations of a bell,
And fashionable madmen raise
Their pedantic boring cry:
Every farthing of the cost,
All the dreadful cards foretell,
Shall be paid, but not from this night
Not a whisper, not a thought,
Not a kiss nor look be lost.

Beauty, midnight, vision dies:
Let the winds of dawn that blow
Softly round your dreaming head
Such a day of sweetness show
Eye and knocking heart may bless.
Find the mortal world enough;
Noons of dryness see you fed
By the involuntary powers,
Nights of insult let you pass
Watched by every human love.

W.H. Auden.








And how can yer have a selection of verses about emotions without a sonnet by the bard?




Sonnet 29.



When in disgrace with fortune and men’s eyes,
I all alone beweep my outcast state,
And trouble deaf heaven with my bootless cries,
And look upon myself and curse my fate,
Wishing me like to one more rich in hope,
Featured like him, like him with friends possessed,
Desiring this man’s art and that man’s scope,
With what I most enjoy contented least;
Yet in these thoughts myself almost despising,
Haply I think on thee, and then my state,
(Like to the lark at break of day arising
From sullen earth) sings hymns at heaven’s gate;
For thy sweet love remembered such wealth brings
That then I scorn to change my state with kings.






I myself am in love with the river god,
the silver perturbations on the surface
that disturb the river’s opacity, the
mysterious depths of cool indifference.

Say,how about you?

27th EDITION SERF UNDER_GROUND JOURNAL

THOUGHTS ON …




Whom the gods …


We envy the gods their longevity,
not recognizing that they envy us.
Envy the heightened drama of existence
that comes with knowledge of life’s brevity
– over before you know it,
– got to have something to show for it,
serious ambition, love, and dynasty,
creativity, can’t just sit around
like gods on Olympus clouds, dreaming
up low tricks to play on us below.


Those gods! Can’t keep their jealous eyes off us,
entertain themselves by fooling us,
mortals existing just for their sport.
Stuff of Greek tragedy, they have to fill
all those tomorrows and tomorrows
of eternity with something, theatre
of the absurd. Sometimes they even come down
to earth, like goddam randy Zeus, making
more mischief, more mayhem via god children,
like Herakles, son of Zeus, whom Hera makes mad
so that he kills his wife and children in
a frenzy. And then there’s Helen, daughter of Zeus.
Time to bring on the Trojan Wars.

1.



















Sophocles: Chorus from Antigone.


Wonders are many on earth, and the greatest of these
Is man, who rides the ocean and takes his way
Through the deeps, through wind-swept valleys of perilous seas
That surge and sway.

He is master of ageless Earth, to his own will bending
The immortal mother of gods by the sweat of his brow,
As year succeeds to year, with toil unending
Of mule and plough.

He is lord of all things living; birds of the air,
Beasts of the field, all creatures of sea and land
He taketh, cunning to capture and ensnare
With sleight of hand;

Hunting the savage beast from the upland rocks,
Taming the mountain monarch in his lair,
Teaching the wild horse and the roaming ox’
His yoke to bear.

The use of language, the wind-swift motion of brain
He learnt; found out the laws of living together
In cities, building him shelters against the rain
And wintry weather.

There is nothing beyond his power. His subtlety
Meeteth all chance, all danger conquereth.
For every ill he found a remedy,
Save only death.



2.









William Butler Yeats: Long-Legged Fly.


That civilization may not sink,
Its great battle lost,
Quiet the dog, tether the pony
To a distant post;
Our master Caesar is in the tent
Where the maps are spread,
His eyes fixed upon nothing,
A hand under his head.
Like a long-legged fly upon the stream
His mind moves upon silence.

That the topless towers be burnt
And men recall that face,
Move most gently if you move you must
In this lonely place.
She thinks, part woman, three parts a child,
That nobody looks; her feet
Practice a tinker shuffle
Picked up on a street.
Like a long-legged fly upon the stream
Her mind moves upon silence.

That girls at puberty may find
The first Adam in their thought,
Shut the door of the pope’s chapel,
Keep those children out.
There on the scaffolding reclines
Michael Angelo.
With no more sound than the mice make,
His hand moves to and fro.
Like a long-legged fly upon the stream
His mind moves upon silence.




3.









Archibald MacLeish: You Andrew Marvell.*


And here face down beneath the sun
And here upon earth’s noonward height
To feel the always coming on
The always rising of the night.

To feel creep up the curving east
The earthly chill of dusk and slow
Upon those under lands the vast
And ever climbing shadow grow.

And strange at Echbatan the trees
Take leaf by leaf the evening strange
The flooding dark about their knees
The mountains over Persia change.

And now at Kermanshah the gate
Dark empty and the withered grass
And through the twilight now the late
Few travelers in the westward pass.

And Baghdad darken and the bridge
Across the silent river gone
And through Arabia the edge
Of evening widen and steal on.

And deep on Palmyra’s street
The wheel rut in the ruined stone
And Lebanon fade out and Crete
High through the clouds and overblown

And over Sicily the air
Still flashing with the landward gulls
And loom and slowly disappear
The sails above the shadowy hulls

And Spain go under and the shore
Of Africa the gilded sand
And evening vanish and no more
The low pale light across that land

Nor now the long light in the sea
And here face downward in the sun
To feel how swift how secretly
The shadow of the night comes on …

* Reference to Andrew Marvell’s Poem, ‘To His Coy Mistress.’




4.








Oh Ozymandias!

Well that’s all, folks …

26th EDITION SERF UNDER_GROUND JOURNAL



FIGURES IN A LANDSCAPE.





Adrian: Though this island seems to be desert, –
It must needs be of subtle, tender and delicate temperance.

Adrian:The air breathes upon us here most sweetly.

Sebastian: As if it had lungs, and rotten ones.

Antonio: Or as ‘twere perfumed by a fen.

Gonzales: Here is everything advantageous to life.

Antonio: True; save means to live.

Sebastian: Of that there’s none, or little.


‘The Tempest.’ William Shakespeare.






Human response to landscape – repeating some lines by Nietzche:

All nature faithfully! – But by what feint
Can Nature be subdued to art’s constraint?
Her smallest fragment is still infinite! And so he paints but what he likes in it.
What does he like? He likes what he can paint.

Guess we all, you and us serfs, impose our own preoccupations upon the landscape. No such thing as the innocent eye.






wave

Figures in a Landscape 1.



Just look at them! Hokusai’s
small figures in a landscape,
a master’s thirty-six views of
Mt Fuji, calm, serene even,
two sweeps of the calligrapher’s
brush capturing its perfect
conic symmetry.

There they are, clambering like
beavers up its slopes, though they’re
not fooled by Nature’s randomness,
know Nature gives but also takes,
look how they wrest a living
from it, pit their energy
against it, pulling together, even
against that great wave.



1280px-Ejiri_in_the_Suruga_province


Figures in a Landscape 2.



In Hokusai’s woodblock-print,
Ejiri in Suruga Province,
Nature in playful mood
blows the leaves from trees,
sends scribes’ papers sailing
sky-wards, snatches hats
from the heads of peasants
who react with strange
physical contortions,
clutching flailing clothing,
grimacing into the wind.


1280px-Pieter_Bruegel_the_Elder_-_Hunters_in_the_Snow_(Winter)_-_Google_Art_Project

Hunters in the Snow.



In Bruegel’s masterpiece
‘Hunters in the Snow,’
though peasants skate upon
the frozen river, no
winter wonderland is this.
Silhouettes of leafless trees
stand stark against a leaden sky
that matches matt-grey river.
Exhausted dogs, hunters with meagre prey,
peasants laboring on the snow fields,
each trying to survive the Little Ice Age.


caude

A Pastoral in Iambic Pentametre.



So delightful, the pastoral landscapes
Of Claude Lorrain, where, bathed in misty haze
In golden valleys, comely shepherds dressed
In Grecian robes, graceful shepherdesses,
With names like Philomene and Diocles,
Beneath cerulean skies and splendid trees,
Pass halcyon days in leisurely pursuits,
Pipe madrigals, sing songs, enjoy the fruits
That Nature doth provide, each in its time,
The early cherry, fig and later lime,
While sheep, lambs, bullocks, kine and fallow deer,
On sweet pastures graze conveniently near.

One wonders what they do when Winter comes?
Retreat to one of those ancient ruins
In the Claude Lorrain landscape, spend Winter
Nights discussing Plato and playing chess.
All so golden age and innocent






The Old Couple.



Every year the forest creeps closer,
Small pines encroaching in the meadow,
Tiny outposts in enemy territory.

Seems to the aging couple, days and years
Are also changing, days seem shorter, nights darker,
Does the harvest moon wane faster than before?

Tonight there is a frost. Against the cold he selects
Another pine log from the pile, lifts it firmly
With his strong forearm, throws it on the fire.

The fire crackles and sends out sparks. In its glow
His wife looks like the girl he married long ago, hair
Glinting, shadows concealing the lines around the mouth.

Shadows, too, hide his stooped shoulders,
Bowed by years of doing battle with the elements.
In the dark forest, the bark of a lone fox.

Early morning, sun’s already melting the frost.
The postman calls, a rare event. Foreign
Postmark, the couples daughter arriving from France,
Grandchildren in tow, they’ll spend Easter on the farm.

Outside, the day grows warm. In the budding plum tree
A thrush bursts forth in song.




kelly 5

Ned Kelly – Sydney Nolan



Back-yard Haku.



Back-yard barbecue,
Oz outback dream-time, tossed down
With cold beer and prawns.






Beneath Canopies.


Something fascinating
about canopies.
Lying on your back in a meadow,
gazing up and up at a blue canopy
that seems to go on for ever. Or
here, beneath tall trees, canopy
of patterned leaves, hidden world
of green mysteries, squirrels’ abodes
in northern hemisphere, possums’
in southern hemisphere, gatherings
of birds in both. Or kinda’ in reverse,
you’re peering, at ground zero,
into forests of clover, watching
ants following scented trails,
mantids that lurk in thickets like
ancient dinosaurs. Then there’s
the magic of familiar things, walking
in wet weather, the pavement
shining beneath your feet, rain
drumming down on your umbrella.

 


25th EDITION SERF UNDER_GROUND JOURNAL

LIBERTY – whatever.

1


‘Houston, we have a problem…’


Yer may have read an earlier post here on Serf Underground, 8th Edition, ‘The Case for Dynamic Disequilibrium,’ where I discuss Joseph Schumpeter’s famous book, ‘Capitalism, Socialism and Democracy.’ In his book, Schumpeter attributes the prosperity of the West, post the Industrial Revolution, to people’s freedom to innovate. The innovative process of dynamic disequilibrium that Schumpeter identifies in the West, moving resources from the old and obsolete, to new and more productive employment, is the very essence of its economic development and a nation’s prosperity. Schumpeter argues that a modern economy is always in disequilibrium. It is not a closed system like John Maynard Keynes macro economy, but is forever growing and changing. It is biological rather than mechanistic.

In the process of dynamic disequilibrium, Schumpeter argues, the only genuine profit is the profit created by the innovator. Profit is not surplus value stolen from the workers but is the cost of staying in business, the cost of capital formation to defray the costs of the future, the cost of maintaining jobs and creating new ones. .

Relating to profit, Schumpeter later identified the problem, during the First World War, of government mobilizing liquid wealth. Through taxation and borrowing, the State had acquired the power to shift income and control the distribution of the national wealth. Where Keynes saw this as a magic wand to achieve social justice, Schumpeter saw it as an invitation to irresponsibility because it eliminated safe guards against inflation. In the past, the inability to tax or borrow more than a small proportion of the country’s wealth had made inflation self limiting, now the only limit against was political self discipline.

Schumpeter was skeptical that governments would be politically self disciplined and argued that capitalism would be destroyed by the very democracy that had helped make possible. For in a democracy, to be popular, governments would buy votes to stay in power. Nations would increasingly become ‘tax states,’ shifting profits from producers to non-producers. Capital for tomorrow would be consumed, democracy would come under increasing inflationary pressure and eventually, Schumpeter predicted, inflation would destroy both democracy and capitalism.


Reflecting on the French Revolution – etcetera.


Edmund Burke, writing in 1791, his cautionary letter ‘Reflections on the Revolution in France,’ saw threats to the basic principles whose observance sustained western constitutional government and free society. Burke recognized the problem of cavalier exercise of authority demonstrated by events in Paris that were based on Rousseau’s doctrine of natural rights, a doctrine that Burke perceived as gaining ground in England. Burke wanted to shake the complacency of those who believed that the French were simply imitating the modest English Revolution of 1688, which he argues was restorative of constitutional and established rights and very different from the clean slate reconstructing of society from scratch, which was taking place in France. Wary of the untutored and unsocial impulses that lie beneath men’s acquired civility, Burke considered that the social institutions that have evolved in a complex, historical process and have stood the test of time are what allow men to live together in any degree of peace and freedom.

The political creed to which Burke subscribed, an off-shoot of the ‘Glorious Revolution of 1688,’ was united by hatred of arbitrary power and by a wish to be guided by and governed by the certain rule of law. Burke argues that the Revolution of 1688 did not seek to overthrow constitutional law but to preserve ‘ancient indisputable laws and liberties, and that antient constitution of government which is our only security for law and liberty.’ (‘Reflections,’ Oxford Press, P31.) Without the means of some change the State is without the means of its conservation, he argues. Without such means of correction it might even risk the loss of what it most wishes to conserve and these ‘ two principles of conservation and correction acted strongly at the two critical periods of the Revolution and the Restoration.’ (R. P22.)

‘We wished at the period of the Revolution and do now wish, to derive all we possess as an inheritance from our forefathers.’(‘R P31.) ‘ In the famous law of the 3d of Charles 1, called the Petition of Right, the parliament says to the king, ‘Your subjects have inherited this freedom, ‘claiming their franchises, not on abstract principles ‘as the rights of men,’ but as a patrimony derived from their forefathers.’( R P32. ) Whereas, says Burke, the revolutionaries in France, operating from first principles rather than empiric study are so taken up by their principles that they totally forget man’s nature. To legislate on the principle of human rationality is to present a one dimensional picture forgetting that men may also be irrational, self serving and violent. With regard to the excesses and social misery brought about by the revolutionary government’s ad hoc decisions, Burke argues that if the parliament had been not been dissolved, it may have acted as a balance and corrective of the excesses of the National Assembly and its judiciary owing its place to the National Assembly, not knowing by what law it judges nor under what authority it acts. ( R.PP 208/9.) .

In Burke’s account there is much to be said for his comparison between the stability of English politics and a non-arbitrary rule of law, and the anarchy in France. The English recognized that property, in its widest definition, defined as certain rights, land, goods and including the value in labor of a pair of hands, each defined and guaranteed in law, was what brought men from the savage to the political state and kept them there. Burke was horrified that the French revolutionaries attacked the corporate property of the Church and émigré nobility and questioned what property could be claimed secure when the French taught examples such as these.


The Abandoned Road.


Friederich Hayek, a century and a half after Edmund Burke, shares many of his views on the nature of society and the proper task of government. Writing in the period of another European cataclysmic event, The Second World War, Friedrich Hayek, in his classic book on human liberty, ‘The Road to Serfdom’ argues that while the crisis to the freedom of nations by German fascism is very real, for at least the twenty-five years before that, the spectre of totalitarianism had become a real threat:

‘We had been progressively moving away from the basic ideas on which European civilization had been built. That this movement on which we have entered with such high hopes and ambitions could have brought us face to face with the totalitarian horror has come as a great shock to this to this generation, which still refuses to connect the two facts. Yet this development merely confirms the warnings of the liberal philosophy which we still profess. We have progressively abandoned that freedom in economic affairs without which political and personal freedom has never existed in the past.’(‘The Road to Serfdom.’ Routledge. 2010. P13.)

Western Civilization, observes Hayek, is also abandoning that basic individualism inherited from classical antiquity, from thinkers such as Thucydides, Pericles, ( say, I’m adding Socrates to this list, ) Cicero, Tacitus through to thinkers of the Renaissance like Montaigne and Erasmus, defined as:

‘the respect for the individual man qua man, that is the recognition of his own views and tastes as supreme in his own sphere, however narrowly that is circumscribed, and the belief that it is desirable that men should develop their own individual gifts and bents.’ (P14.)

With the increasing prosperity of western nations as an outcome of the free growth of economic activity, itself the undersigned and unforeseen by-product of political freedom, for some classic liberal philosophy came to be regarded as a negative creed because it could offer to particular individuals little more than a share in progress, a progress that came to be taken more and more for granted.

Some people turned to socialism to replace the impersonal mechanism of the market by collective direction of social forces to consciously chosen goals. What the ‘democratic’ socialists failed to recognize and what the founders of socialism had understood was that their ideas could only be put into practice by a strong dictatorial government with much in common with fascist and communist nations like Hitler’s Germany and Stalin’s Soviet Union. Lenin’s old friend, Max Eastman, felt compelled to admit that ‘instead of being better, Stalinism is worse than fascism, more ruthless … anti-democratic, unredeemed by any hope or scruple.’ (M. Eastman,’ Stalin’s Russia and the Crisis of Socialism.’1940 P82.) Foreign correspondent Francis Voigt, writing of developments in Europe in 1939, observed that ‘Marxism has led to Fascism and National-Socialism because, in all essentials, it is Fascism and National-Socialism.’ (F A Voigt. ‘Unto Caesar.’ 1939. P 95.)

To allay these suspicions and connect with the strongest of all political motives, people’s craving for freedom, says Hayek, increasingly the socialists began to make use of the promise of a ‘new freedom,’ not ‘freedom from coercion,’ since all pulling together is a must in a collective state, but ‘freedom from the despotism of want,’ necessitating a new authoritarian principle in human affairs.


23

 



Planning For Freedom?


To assert the complexity of civilization as an argument for central planning is to misapprehend the working of competition, argues Hayek. The very complexity of the division of labor under modern conditions precludes one person or central body from consciously balancing all the details of changes that continually affect the conditions of demand and supply of commodities. Only the price system under competition, because it enables entrepreneurs to gain the information they require by watching comparatively few prices, allows this to happen.

Not only is a central board of experts unsuited to survey and act upon the complexities ‘out there,’ there’s the historical record of failed long term plans and great leaps forward based on ‘expert’ predictions. If you’ve read Nassim Taleb’s ‘The Black Swan’ concerning unexpected ‘black swan’ events in history and understand the folly of assuming the future will mirror the past, you’ll be wary of long term plans. In Taleb’s chapter entitled, ‘ The Scandal of Prediction,’ he cites a study by Philip Tetlock showing that highly qualified ‘experts’ are not significantly more reliable in their predictions than their less qualified associates and no different from the rest of us when it comes to learning from our mistakes. Having ‘skin in the game,‘ or personal liability that concentrates your decision making is another factor missing in the think tank predictions of a bureaucracy, ie. Paul Ehlich, Joseph Stiglitz et al, but we won’t go into that!

Relating to complexity of modern society, Hayek also states: ’It is no exaggeration to say that if we had to rely on conscious central planning for the growth of our industrial system, it would never have reached the degree of differentiation, complexity and flexibility that it has attained.’ ( P52.) Supporting this, Jane Jacobs (ref my Serf Underground, 21st Edition,) cites the development of Venice and mushroom towns, and other case studies demonstrating that the growth of cities and import replacement is a messy process independent of government planning, and in fact hindered by it. ( Jane Jacobs, ‘Cities and The Wealth of Nations.’)


Arbitrariness All Over Again.


The creation of a broad, permanent framework of laws within which the productive activity is guided by individual decisions, the ‘Rule of Law,’ is very different from the laws governing economic activity by a central authority, which is necessarily arbitrary.

‘When the government has to decide how many pigs are to be reared or how many buses are to run, which coal mines are to be operated, or at what price boots are to be sold, these decisions cannot be deduced from formal principles, or settled for long periods in advance. They depend inevitably on the circumstances of the moment … and in the end somebody’s view will decide whose interests are more important.’ (P77.)

You are now replacing formal law by substantive rulings, imposing moral decisions at the discretion of a central authority or a judge. So here comes the moral imperative bit. Because successful planning requires the creation of a common view, we must all be persuaded to pull together, come to regard the central social plan as ‘our’ social plan.

‘Socialists,‘ says Hayek,’ the cultivated parents of the barbarous offspring they have produced, traditionally hope to solve this problem by education.’ (P117.) But what does education,’ in this sense mean? Why it means the general acceptance of a common weltanschauung, a definite set of values, and the problem becomes how to develop a movement supported by a single world view? An Austrian socialist , speaking of the socialist movement of his country, reports that its characteristic feature was its pervasiveness, creating special organizations for every field of activity of its workers and employees. ( G Wieser. ‘Ein Staat Stirht,’1938. P41.)

Then of course, we have creation of myths, there’s a long tradition in history, from Plato’s ‘Noble Lie,’ to Hitler’s myth of ‘The Master Race,’ those assertions about the connections between facts, which, once they have become ideals directing the activity of a whole community, may not be questioned. Those who retain an inclination to criticism must be silenced because they could weaken public support. Coercion, persuasion and pervasiveness, the methods, the whole apparatus for spreading knowledge, schools, press, radio, cinema, used to strengthen the belief in the rightness of the decisions taken by the central authority.(P164)


A serf sum up.


Well this serf’s not too happy with the way guvuhmints are spending our money as though there’s no tomorrow, no likely black swans on the horizon or inflation. What would Schumpeter or Nassim Taleb say? Then there’s the matter of that individualism we inherited from classical antiquity and the Renaissance, from Socrates, Tacitus to ,Montaigne, Erasmus etcetera, that ‘respect fer the individual man qua man?’ With the need ter have everyone all pulling together towards a single goal, everyone’s activity’s supposed ter derive its justification from a united, social purpose. There must be no art fer art’sake, no science fer science sake – no spontaneous, misguided activity that may produce unforeseen and perhaps seditious results. Ferget individuality. Oh Socrates!

Back ter the turnip field.





CROSS OVER THE BRIDGE.

 

SERFS JEST WANT TO HAVE FUN.

 

In the Xmas break, drove with a coupla’ family members from Melbourne, Oz’ largest city in the south, ter our northern largest city, Sydney. Interstate rivalry, ‘Sydney versus Melbourne’ has been going on fer evah, like barracking fer football teams, but hafta’ say I luv Sydney – these photographs will show you why.

 

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Stayed in an apartment block at McMahon’s Point looking directly across the harbour through the Sydney Harbour Bridge ter that other Sydney icon, the Sydney Oprea House. Is there another harbour anywhere, in all its changing moods, save Venice maybe, as glorious? OMG!

 

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There it is. The Sydney Harbour Bridge. An Australian icon, symbol of the strength and resilience of a nation hit hard by the 1930s’ Great Depression, and symbol also of the wondrous construction capabilities of a nation’s people. When it was built, the Sydney Harbour Bridge was a feat to celebrate, the erection of the largest steel-arch bridge in the world, 612 feet longer than the bridge built in 1916 over the East River in New York.

 

A BRIEF HISTORY OF THE BRIDGE.
 

In Australia in 1788, the first English settlement, with its contingent of convicts, was established at Sydney Cove on the southern shore of Port Jackson. As new arrivals came, the settlement spread to the north shore. If settlers wanted to get from one shore to the other, they were obliged to cross the harbour by ferry or punt, or travel the long way round by road. In 1815, ex-convict and architect Francis Greenway considered the question of the building of a harbour bridge that would allow the settlement on the north shore to expand, but it was not until a century later that the proposal could be taken up.

Two people, Dr John Bradfield, and Premier Jack Lang, were largely responsible for getting it up. Dr Bradfield, of the New South Wales Public Works Department, in 1912 proposed the building of a bridge across the harbour as part of his grand vision for a suburban railway network in Sydney. Plans had to be put on hold with the outbreak of the First World War, but after the War, bills were pushed through Parliament for its construction. A report by The Bulletin, Newspaper, 23/03/1932, (P3.) acknowledges Bradfield’s efforts:

‘While the matter was before the Parliament, Bradfield almost lived on the premises. The Minister made a speech or two on the floor of the house. Bradfield made a hundred in the lobbies and the party rooms.’

The second mover and shaker, the New South Wales Premier, Jack Lang, raised the necessary finances for the building of Bridge and ensured its completion during the difficult Depression years.

 

CONSTRUCTION.

 
The winning designer of the Sydney Harbour Bridge was Ralph Freeman, consulting engineer to the English bridge contractors Dorman, Long and Co. Some facts of its construction. The Bridge is held together by rivets only. There are no welded or bolted joints essential to the main structure. Approximately six million rivets add around 3,200 tonnes to the weight of the Bridge. An Australian firm, McPherson Pty Ltd of Melbourne, supplied all the rivets to Dorman, Long and Co. To ensure the rivets would withstand heavy loads, a system of quality control was set up in which two or three rivets from each batch were tested to the recommended levels.

The Bridge’s arch was built in two separate halves stretching out over the harbour until they were joined in the middle. In August 1930 the steel cables which were anchoring the two halves were loosened and both sides of the bridge were lowered to allow them to be set into place. The completion of this major phase was celebrated with a half day holiday and bonus of two shillings for the bridge workers. The Sydney Morning Special Bridge Number, 16/03/32 describes the response by the Director of Construction to the drama of the event:

‘Mr Lawrence Ennis, a big man who did a big job, has confessed to stress of emotion at the critical stage when the half arches were about to meet. It was night time. He was unable to speak as the parts joined and settled into place. Then after some little time he said, ”Well boys, that ‘s that, and thank God she is home.” Those present shook hands They had achieved something that many engineers in various parts of the world had said was impossible.’

 

CONTROVERSY.

 

Controversy? Say, when is there not? The Bridge’s official opening, 19th of March, 1932, a gala event. But lots of politics behind it. Say when is there not?

Premier Jack Lang’s loan raising for public works, the ‘Lang Plan,’ which included finance of the Bridge, was highly controversial to many. His threat to suspend interest payments to English bond holders had raised the threat of socialism, even communism.

A rallying protest movement , ‘The New Guard,’ (1)  led by returned service man Eric Campbell, collected 400 000 signatures on a petition calling for Lang’s dismissal. While the movement seems to have revealed some latent fascist tendencies to restructure parliamentary democracy, the New Guard was predominantly a protest response that came to nothing after Lang was later on dismissed from office.  A comic element during the opening ceremony on the day was the cutting of the ceremonial ribbon by a member of the New Guard, Captain Francis De Groote, in a dash on horse back.  Lang had decided to by pass royalty in the Bridge ceremony and cut the ribbon himself. De Groote was seized and taken into custody and later fined five pounds. The ribbon was retied and Lang performed the honours.  The Bridge was now open!

 

COSTS.

 

The Sydney Harbour Bridge was to cost 4,217,721 pounds, 11 shillings and 10 pence, but came in at twice that amount. To pay for it a toll was approved. The Sydney Morning Herald,  on 16/03/1932 published the schedule of charges:

‘Motor cars and sidecars, including the drivers, will be charged /6 each and a charge of /3 will be made for each adult (other than the driver, ) travelling on these vehicles.  Each child in a vehicle will be charged /1.’

The Bridge was paid for in full in 1988. Beauty and order out of controversy. Icons and controversy. Hmm … and then there’s that other controversy, the Sydney Opera House. But that’s another story.

(1) Eric Campbell ‘The Rallying Point. My Story of the New Guard.’MUP. 1965.

24th EDITION SERF UNDER_GROUND JOURNAL


TRIAL AND ERROR AND FIZZ IN THE ARTS.


RESONANCE THEORY & OTHER THINGS.



Art historian Ernst Gombrich, in his essays relating to expression and communication, ‘Meditations on a Hobby Horse and Other Essays on the Theory of Art,’ examines an expressionist theory that art and music are the natural language of emotion.

According to this theory, the resonance theory, a natural equivalence exists between emotional states and sensations, sights and sounds. We experience, for example, sensations such as ‘warm, light, bright, red, fast, high,’ as ‘friendly,’ while sensations such as ‘cold, heavy, dark, blue, slow, deep,’ are experienced as ‘hostile.’ Gombrich uses an analogy from wireless to describe the resonance theory, ‘the artist as transmitter, the work as medium, and the spectator as receiver,’ the artist broadcasting his message in the hope of reaching a mind that will vibrate in unison with his own. Say, sounds romantic don’t it? (p 56.)

While Ernst Gombrich accepts that there is some inborn disposition in all of us to equate certain sensations with certain feeling tones, he argues that whatever message an unstructured canvas of blue paint conveys to the applauding critic is not inherent in the blue paint itself but relies on its meaning within a context. Gombrich argues that expression and communication do not function in a void but take place within an evolving traditional art form and genre. Without such shaping, messages would die on route from transmitter to receiver, ‘not because we fail to be ‘attuned’, but simply because there is nothing to relate them to.’ (p 68.) Without acquaintance with the potentialities of the artist’s medium and tradition in which he works, the natural equivalence which interests the expressionist could not come in to play. What strikes us as dissonance in a Haydn symphony, for instance, would pass unnoticed in a post Wagnerian context, and even the fortissimo of a string quartette may have fewer decibels than the pianissimo of a symphony orchestra.

Gombrich explores form and function in the visual arts, which, though they play no part in the resonance theory, are the great divide between traditional conceptual art and the illusionist styles of China, ancient Greece and the Renaissance. Concerning form and function in the evolution of art, Gombrich observes that substitution may precede portrayal. Meditating on a child’s creation of a hobby horse, Gombrich identifies two conditions needed to turn a stick into a hobby horse, firstly, that its form makes it possible to ride on, and secondly, that riding is something that matters. For the child creating a hobby horse, as for the conceptual artist creating his image, the creation does not need to be a faithful imitation of an object’s external form, it needs only those relevant aspects that function as a key that fits some biological or psychological lock. A baby sucks its thumb as a substitute for the breast, a child rides a stick as if it were a horse. The stick, in another setting might function as a sword, or in the context of ancestor worship act as a fetish for a dead king. (p 7.)

Keeping in mind that representation is originally substitution, the greater a child’s wish to ride, the fewer may be the features that will do for his hobby horse. But at a certain stage a horse will need eyes for how else can it see? In Egyptian funerary art, the man- made image must be complete, the servant for the grave will need hands and feet, but must not be dangerously life-like to take on, perhaps, a life beyond strict conventions. (p 8.)

TRIAL AND ERROR.

H.Wolfflin makes the observation in ‘Principles of Art History,’ (New York, 1932.) that all pictures owe more to other pictures than they do to nature. All art is image-making and even the ‘illusionist’ artists made the ‘conceptual’ image of convention their starting point and trial and error process of schema and correction.

Archaic art starts from the schema, the symmetrical frontal figure conceived from one aspect only. The conquest of naturalism is a gradual process of corrections, based on observation of reality. The witty Alain cartoon encapsulates the problems of style, of function, schema and correction.

Alain


Once the idea develops that an image need not exist in its own right, but may refer to something outside itself, as Gombrich argues, the basic rules of archaic art can be transgressed. The image of the man on the Greek vase no longer needs an arm or a leg in full view and when medieval art broke away from the narrative symbolism into which the formulas of classical art had frozen, Giotto made particular use of the figure viewed from behind. The idea of the picture as a reality outside itself leads us to a rationalization of space, the filling in and development of perspective as the picture becomes a window into the world the artist creates for us there. ( p10.)


humanfigure

FIZZ.

And once we think of the artist and public less as minds mysteriously attuned to one another, and more as people ready to appreciate a choice of alternatives within an organized medium, we recognize the firm guidance which tradition and experience give us. As Gombrich notes, ‘we are all marvelously adept at playing the game of ‘classifiers’ and ‘modifiers’. Our ability to separate what is called the local colour of things from the colour of illumination is based on this skill. We easily recognize the difference between a white wall in the shade and a grey wall in sunlight.’ ( p66.)

In traditional art forms, genre offers the first pointer. Without this context, a grim scherzo or a melancholy waltz would not deliver its ‘resonance.’ In the visual arts as well as music and literature, the artist’s breach of decorum and the ‘receptor’s’ readiness to receive hints create the fizz. Contrasts in tempo and meter, tone and key, intensity of colour or volume, even breaches in form may strike the artist’s audience with expressive force.

A dissonant splash of red in a green canvas in a painting by Judith Alexandrovics.


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In a Rembrandt’s self portrait, the light focused on unimportant details while the eyes are in shadow, inviting the viewer’s co-operation in reading expression.

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Wordsworth writes in his poem ‘The Prelude,’

‘Like harmony in music, there is a dark
Inscrutable workmanship that reconciles
Discordant elements, makes them cling together
In one society.’

In reference to artistic form he’s not wrong. So introducing a deus ex machina dramatic element in a play, you might say is a no-no. When Greek dramatist Euripides, makes Medea the hero of his tragedy, ‘Medea,’ her violent actions and deus ex machina rescue by the gods likely challenged his Athenian audience as a breach of artistic decorum.

But Euripides’ puzzling play needs to be understood in terms of its context. When Athens’ three tragedians, Aeschylus, Sophocles and Euripides wrote their plays, Athens was experiencing a period of political and social experiment. Their plays were presented at the annual Athenian Festival, in an outdoor theatre accommodating around 1700 spectators. These festivals were considered more than mere entertainment. The dramas of the festival, E.F Watling tells us, were expected to ‘touch the deepest centers of a man’s individual and corporate consciousness.’ ( Preface to Penguin translation of Medea.)

When Euripides wrote his tragedy, he had many variants of the Medea myth to draw on but chose to create a more shocking version than any of the old stories. By the version he presented, and by Medea’s heroic language and his surprise ending, Euripides was certainly challenging his audience’s individual and corporate consciousness.

When Jason dismisses his oath breaking as insufficient cause for Medea’s act of vengeance, she replies:

‘And is that injury
A slight on, do you imagine, to a woman?’

Medea does not doubt that the gods do not find it a slight injury and by the deus ex machine ending where the gods rescue Medea, they show that it is not. Euripides is posing a challenging question to his audience. ‘Should a society where men have the power to carelessly break a marriage vow with impunity be surprised if moral chaos and social disintegration follow?’

Some more fizz from Shakespearean tragedy. Hamlet, Macbeth ,Othello and their kin are among the most charismatic speakers in the world of drama. The language of these Shakespearean tragic heroes owes much to the development of a poetic language suitable for tragedy.

Russ McDonald in ‘The Language of Tragedy’ looks at this development through Christopher Marlow’s break from the monotony of an earlier fourteen syllable line to explore the rhythmic possibilities of the iambic pentameter. Following Marlow, Shakespeare further exploited the possibilities of the iambic pentameter to create the eloquent language of his tragic heroes. In all of Shakespeare’s tragedies he manipulates word patterns and modifications of the expected forms to express the visionary propensities of the hero and to signal or underscore the emotional and psychological moods that move the audience. Shakespeare’s control of meter, in addition to employing other dramatic devices, is revealed in the tragedy of ‘Othello,’ by the contrast in its protagonist’s early sonorous language with its later deterioration.

Here in Act 1, Scene 2 Othello’s poetic lines:

‘Keep up your bright swords, for the dew will rust them,
Good signior, you shall more command with years …’ (Act 1 Scene 2.)

His speech to the senate in the same scene, a maneuver in defence of his marriage, is the language of an accomplished story teller, romantic, poetically powerful and commanding:

‘My very noble and approv’d good masters,
That I have ta’en away this old man’s daughter,
It is most true; true, I have married her:
The very head and front of my offending
Hath this extent, no more. Rude am I in my speech,
And little blessed with the soft phrase of peace;
For since these arms of mine had seven years pith,
Till now some nine moons wasted, they have us’d
Their dearest action in the tented field;
And little of this great world can I speak,
More than pertains to feats of broil and battle;
And therefore little shall I grace my cause
In speaking for myself. Yet by your gracious patience,
I will a round unvarnished tale deliver
Of my whole course of love; what drugs, what charms,
What conjurations and what mighty magic,
For such proceeding I am charged withal,
I won his daughter.’

Contrast the above with Othello’s abuse of his innocent wife in Act 3, Scene 3, an outburst that depends for its force on its triply repeated verb and the spondee, ‘lewd-minx.’ ‘Damn her, lewd minx! O damn her! Damn her.’

And now as a finale let’s hear that dark inscrutable workmanshop of harmony in music. No one does it better than Bach, here the Brandenburg Concerto No 5 in G Major.

Some context. Within the classical tradition of the sonata, the symphony and the concerto, the Brandenburg Number 5 conforms to their three movement structure, first movement exposition in the dominant key and ending in the tonic chord, second movement of development and digression, and third movement of recapitulation that returns us to the opening key and theme once more. That’s the form. But lots of surprises along the way.

In his Brandenburg Concertos Bach adopted the concerto grosso orchestration of the Italian composers like Vivaldi, in which a large ensemble alternates with a soloist or solo group. Bach uses this orchestration to create oh so lovely contrasts in texture, dynamics and melody. Listen at 3.07 – 4.22 to the fugue between violin and flute with its heavenly bird piping and trills. OMG! Then there’s the harpsichord, usually a supporting, unifying part of the ensemble, but not here at 6.38 – (really hotting up by 8.40,) surprising us with a pounding virtuoso performance , tempo furioso. Lots of fizz in this!