A friend who lived through the demise of the Soviet Union once described for me the profound appeal of Western films back in the 1980s. He said that an acquaintance sold his car to purchase a VCR and a few black market VHS tapes. “He put the VCR in the garage, where the car used to be,” he said, “and we watched movies all day. There were always many guys over to watch movies. We watched American movies.” While I already knew the answer, I asked anyway, “What kind of American movies?” He told me, “Science fiction. Alien. Star Wars. Always science fiction.” To imagine a garage full of Soviets rubbing their hands together for warmth while watching illegally recorded American films—this is unquestionably the truest experience of cinema. Even when cinema is not an actual violation of the law, it is yet something of a metaphysical coup d’état.Read More
One fallacy that the classical Christian education movement might be vulnerable to is chronological snobbery in which we fail to appreciate contemporary literature on the grounds that it is contemporary. It is also possible that we might not read contemporary literature because we don’t know what merits our time and, it’s true, it is more difficult to know what is worthy because this work is not ‘time-tested’. I have selected some books that have proven rich and remunerating and are in close and informed dialogue with poetry’s past. All of these authors know the formal tradition well and some use them in ways familiar to their poetic ancestors, but many use open verse that borrows and haunts those old forms in remarkably skillful ways. All tradition is a conversation.
We are entering the third phase of cultural barbarism. The first phase occurred when we began to abandon the knowledge of our literary heritage, and the second when we abandoned the literature that assumed that knowledge. The phase we are in now is one in which our literature is untethered from much of anything except itself. We are cultural barbarians who don’t know what these writings are even for, so we employ them as kindling to stoke the fires of our ignorance.Read More
Gustav Mahler had a problem of epic proportions. He was clearly the inheritor of both of the great strands of musical Romanticism: the increasingly chromatic harmonic language that started with Beethoven and led up to Wagner’s Tristan and Isolde, as well as the sonata form that had begun with Haydn and had been explored by all the great composers from Mozart to Bruckner. Mahler knew, however, that it was all coming to a close. He was going to be the last in a long progressive line of tonal composers. He believed tonality and the sonata had finally become exhausted. Every possible chromatic interaction had been tried, and the form had been stretched to the breaking point. In his 9th Symphony (his last to be completed), Mahler prophetically said goodbye to everything: to the optimism of the Romantic artist of the 19th century, to the tonality that he loved, and even to his own life (Mahler knew that he had a heart condition that would take his life the next year). Mahler knew that the 20th century was going to be what Auden eventually calls “The Age of Anxiety.” The loss of tonality, and the end of the nineteenth-century progressive optimism preceded the First World War through which came the loss of European civilization as it had been.Read More