Class Act

Evelyn Waugh

Class Act

EVELYN WAUGH: A Life Revisited, Philip Eade, 2017, Weidenfeld & Nicolson, £10.99, reviewed by STODDARD MARTIN

Middle class folk beyond a certain age in Britain and its cultural tributaries may recall a social order so cleverly depicted by Evelyn Waugh that one might be tempted to argue that he invented it. Now it is vanished so utterly that to read of its inspirations in Waugh’s career seems akin to rehearsing liaisons of the ancien régime in pre-Revolutionary France. That said, I was shocked to be told by a literary editor of contemporary repute that ‘Brideshead is what we all want.’ She went on to posit that such nostalgia is what impelled Brexit. Since our discussion was occurring in a club founded by Waugh’s son Auberon, I decided to shut up. Musing on the tube later, I noted that my multi-ethnic fellow travellers were all riveted to their IPhones. Not a book in sight. Continue reading

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The Revision, Revised Again

Samuel Prideaux Tregelles

The Revision, Revised Again

THE GREEK NEW TESTAMENT, eds., D. Jongkind, P. J. Williams et al., produced at Tyndale House, Cambridge; published by Crossway and Cambridge University Press (2017), Pp. 526

Every critical Greek New Testament must satisfy two classes of inquiries. First of all, the text should show no editorial reverence toward time-honored MSS: in other words, the text should be formed according to the editor’s judgments, even if such verdicts are not in conformity to views held by the individual’s academic peers. Or, it is essential, at least, that a diplomatic text is presented with the appropriate critical symbols indicating an editor’s appraisals of specific readings. Secondly, a handy critical apparatus should be assembled because it is a necessary accompaniment toward transforming uninformed readers into learned, judicious students of text-critical matters: i.e., of how transmitted texts were altered or ratified at various times and by various people in church history.

Failing in either of these two aspects, an editor (or editors) comes up short in comparison to the initial efforts of Erasmus of Rotterdam (1466-1536), who published Novum Instrumentum Omne (1516), which, depending on your regard for the Complutensian Polyglot Bible (completed by 1514, but not published until 1520), may be considered the first truly critical Greek-Latin New Testament made available for public inspection. Continue reading

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A Donald, for the Educated Reader

Jordan B Peterson

A Donald, for the Educated Reader

Jordan B. Peterson (2018), 12 Rules for Life: An Antidote to Chaos, Allen Lane, 409pp. hardback, £20, reviewed by Dr Ed Dutton  

The Canadian psychologist Jordan Peterson exploded onto the mainstream in the UK in January this year when a hostile interview by Channel 4 News’ Cathy Newman went viral. In 12 Rules for Life, Peterson, a former Harvard lecturer, provides us with one rule per chapter. The ninth rule is ‘Assume that the person you’re listening to might know something you don’t.’ In this chapter, Peterson discusses different kinds of conversation and dissects ‘the conversation where one participant is trying to attain victory for his point of view.’ In such a conversation, Peterson notes, the speaker will ‘denigrate and ridicule the other point of view,’ use selective evidence, and basically try to impress the listeners with his or her wit. It is a ‘dominance-hierarchy’ conversation in which the aggressor will desperately defend ‘the hierarchy within which he has achieved success’ (p.249). Continue reading

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Praying Mantis

Maria Callas and Tito Gobbi, in Tosca

 Praying Mantis

Tosca, melodrama in three acts, music composed by Giacomo Puccini, libretto by Giuseppe Giacosa and Luigi Illica, conducted by Placido Domingo, tenth revival of director Jonathan Kent’s 2006 production, sets by the late Paul Brown, Royal Opera, 19th February 2018

The plot of Tosca turns on the fateful encounter of two powerful personalities, the singer Floria Tosca, played in this performance by soprano Martina Serafin, and the demonic Chief of the Roman Police, Baron Scarpia (Marco Vratogna), who lusts after her. Both of these characters are psychologically complex and fascinating. The former is pious, emotionally labile and prone to self-pity, witness her famous aria Vissi d’arte. Scarpia is a nihilist and sadist who plays upon his victim’s weaknesses, notably Tosca’s jealousy but also her love for the painter Mario Cavaradossi (Riccardo Massi). As Scarpia pithily remarks, “To bring down a man Iago used a hanker chief – I have a fan” (that of Marchessa Attavanti, the sister of the former Consul of the Roman republic, Cesare Angelotti (Simon Shibambu) who is on the run). Puccini gives both of these central characters their own musical leitmotif. The devil, as George Whitefield remarked, has all the best tunes and baritone Marco Vratogna gave the stand out performance, looking and sounding suitably sinister. “Tosca, you make me forget God!”, he proclaims. Continue reading

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Smart Lad Wanted

Smart Lad Wanted

Zac versus Sadiq: The Fight to become London Mayor, Dave Hill, Double Q books, 2016, 256 pp, £6, isbn 978-1-911079-20-0 2016, reviewed by Monty Skew

Dave Hill is the veteran Guardian writer and commentator who describes the London battle fought between ‘the son of a bus driver versus the scion of a settled family’. This David versus Goliath theme was played by Labour for all its worth. Hill sketches the background of the two candidates but he omits certain significant facts. As the author himself admits, this book is unquestionably pro-Khan.

Zac Goldsmith never came across as a serious contender and was depicted as a ‘toffee nosed toff’. His aloofness did little to counteract this caricature. Khan, ever the opportunist, had already outmanoeuvred David Lammy and others who might have made more convincing candidates. Tessa Jowell was not the winner she was thought to be but Hill does not mention how her credibility was compromised by the follow-up to the Olympics and the eroding ‘legacy’. She was also damaged by her husband David Mills’ connections to Berlusconi. Nor did the fact that David Mills’ brother John has been a major donor to Labour help. Continue reading

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Die tote Stadt

Die tote Stadt

Erich Korngold: Die tote Stadt, Dresden, 2 February 2018, directed by David Bösch, conducted by Dmitri Jurowski, reviewed by TONY COOPER

Written during the First World War by the teenage Korngold, already an internationally-successful composer, Die tote Stadt (The Dead City) is based on the 1892 novel Bruges-la-Morte, by the Belgian writer Georges Rodenbach. It is set to a libretto by Paul Schott, a collective pseudonym for the composer and his father, Julius Korngold. By the time of its première, Korngold was just 23 years old. Mahler considered Korngold a ‘musical genius’ and recommended that he study with the celebrated Viennese-born composer, Alexander von Zemlinsky. Richard Strauss spoke highly of him too.

Die tote Stadt was influenced by Symbolism, an artistic and literary movement originating in the late 19th century in Belgium and France which used images and suggestions to express mystical ideas, emotions and states of mind. Overcoming the loss of a loved one (the theme of Die tote Stadt) resonated with audiences of the 1920s who had endured the trauma and grief of the First World War. It was one of the biggest hits of the 1920s. Within two years of its première, Die tote Stadt had received a host of performances at The Met. The Berlin première took place in 1924 with the two central characters, Paul and Marie/Marietta, performed by Richard Tauber and Lotte Lehmann. The conductor was George Szell. Continue reading

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Speculative Fiction

Speculative Fiction

Mark Wegierski on a distinctively Canadian genre

The term “speculative fiction” is seen as a Canadian invention. It encompasses science fiction, fantasy and horror. Science fiction is said to be a genre of the mind; fantasy, of the heart; and horror, of the body. Tesseracts is the foremost speculative fiction anthology in Canada. There have been a number of other anthologies published, some arising out of writing contests. The leading magazine of Canadian speculative fiction is On Spec. The magazine Parsec is another avatar. A more recent addition to the field is Neo-opsis.

Aside from Margaret Atwood, who eschews the term in regard to such of her works as The Handmaid’s Tale, Oryx and Crake and most recently The Year of the Flood, the most prominent Canadian science fiction writer is probably Robert J. Sawyer. His novels are usually based on some interesting premise from cutting-edge scientific speculation, although they are also imbued with political correctness. The scientific ideas are fascinating, but the incidental societal background can be tiresome.

Rob Sawyer has had a major influence building up Canadian science fiction on the world-scene, especially in regard to his role, along with prominent horror writer Edo van Belkom, in establishing a Canadian region of SFWA (Science-fiction and Fantasy Writers of America). Another prominent science fiction, author Karl Schroeder, has instigated an association strictly for Canadian writers of science fiction and fantasy – SF Canada. The Aurora Awards and more recently the Sunburst Awards as well as a number of World Science Fiction Conventions, most recently in Toronto (2003) and Montreal (2009), have also emerged.

Two of the best-known writers of Canadian SF are Phyllis Gotlieb and Cory Doctorow. The seminal anthology of Canadian science fiction and fantasy is John Robert Colombo’s Other Canadas (1979). One inclusion therein is Judith Merril, who helped to establish one of the largest public collections of science fiction and fantasy in the world, now located in the Toronto Public Library system and called for a long time “The Spaced Out Library” – SOL.

The most prominent Canadian fantasy writer is probably Guy Gavriel Kay. Some other Canadian fantasy writers are Steven Erickson, Anthony Swithin, Michelle Sagara, Caitlin Sweet and Tanya Huff. Ed Greenwood is the originator of Forgotten Realms, one of the leading Dungeons & Dragons role-playing settings.

There has been a protracted debate as to whether Canadian speculative fiction possesses truly distinctive features. Quebecois and French-language writing in Canadian SF is sometimes cited but this raises the question of the putative difference between SF in English-speaking Canada and Quebec (on the one hand) and between those “two solitudes” and America, on the other.

Do Quebecois writers address similar content to their American counterparts except that their texts are written in French? Quebec is a society that went from ultra-traditionalism to ultra-progressivism within a very short period of time. Recent curriculum changes, removing any attempt to give serious instruction in religion, suggest that many people in Quebec, especially its elites, want to jettison Quebec’s Roman Catholic tradition and past history – which earlier generations had seen as definitional of French Quebec identity.

Some see Canadian science fiction as more sociologically oriented than American SF, given  the problematic nature of Canadian identity in view of the currents of multiculturalism that are sweeping over Canada’s large cities such as Toronto. So Canadian SF may be described somewhat vaguely as “more open to difference.” Others have suggested that Canadian speculative fiction tends towards such subgenres as “magical realism” – especially as seen in On Spec’s de-emphasis of strictly science-fictional writing.

Canadian science fiction could be seen as more politically left-wing than American science fiction, insofar as a political message may be discerned in fictional writing. One radical science fiction writer in Canada is Nalo Hopkinson. The most prominent, strictly Canadian publisher of science fiction and fantasy is probably Edge Science Fiction and Fantasy Publishing, some of whose output has been radical. Doubtless, this fits very well into a Canadian society where most provinces except Alberta have been seen as the equivalents of the most deeply “Blue” (Democratic) states in the U.S. The corollary of this is that any traditionalist themes in Canadian science fiction and fantasy are thin on the ground.

Nevertheless, out of the varied, mostly urban-based ethnic subcultures of Canada or out of the residues of the once-robust regional cultures, or even from some Aboriginal communities, fragments or shards of distinctly more traditionalist visions may emerge, as part of the over-all society’s “value pluralism”.  Whether such fragments may ever be instantiated in the writing of credible fiction that will see professional publication – as opposed to SF criticism or journalistic endeavors or just “fan fiction” alone, centered mostly on the Web  – remains to be seen.

Mark Wegierski is a Toronto-based writer and researcher

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First in Beauty, First in Might

First in Beauty, First in Might

Gerry Dorrian shoots the messenger

How to Judge People by What they Look Like, by Edward Dutton (ebook), £5.00, 2017, 106 pp (standard paperback page equivalent), Available from Amazon, reviewed by GERRY DORRIAN

It would be nice to live in a society in which looks don’t matter but we’re nowhere near. Beyoncé Knowles’ father recently revealed that her relatively light skin for a black person was her entrée into the charts, although she also lightens it with make up. But surely the point is to look beyond appearances, like good students of Plato?

Dutton gives us an insight into why people of colour lather themselves with lightening treatments, some of which include mercury. He is an adherent of the hereditarian hypothesis, which states that people of different races (whatever those are) inherit different capacities for cognitive development. Limiting himself to the “Big 3”, he informs us that black people, white people and northeast Asians tend to have IQs that increase in that order, with white people closer to northeast Asians than black people*. It is not clear why he omits brown people.

Hereditarian assumptions have real-world consequences. If black children are thought to lack the potential to do as well academically as white children, this will effect funding to schools, depending on whether they have more black than white pupils. The relatively small number of black people in the civil service, and their virtual absence from the higher levels of the European Union’s institutions, indicates that hereditarian assumptions are thriving.

Moving beyond skin colour, Dutton associates male homosexuality with “mental instability”. Concerning his link between eating disorders in women and sexuality, those who work with such women also see a link, but not the one that Dutton posits of wishing to be more attractive to men. Rather, eating disorders leading to malnutrition often pull fat off the breasts and hips, masculinising a woman’s figure, taking her out of the sexual marketplace.

Again, he suggests that men who are high in testosterone tend to be of shorter stature because they expend their energy in bodybuilding and in looking sexually attractive. But high testosterone levels in young men tend to stunt their growth by stopping bones in the legs and arms from elongating earlier than men with normal or less than normal levels of testosterone.

Physiognomy, the art of discerning someone’s character by their looks, was banned by Henry VIII, as Edward Dutton records. Reductionism reduces complex and interacting systems – in this case relationships between how people look and how they act – to a small number of factors. Martin Luther King left us a better basis with which to judge people when he advised us to judge them on character.

Gerry Dorrian writes from Cambridge

*Editorial noteGerry Dorrian omits the all important words “on average” here. Moreover, egalitarian assumptions also have “real-world consequences”. As the late J Philippe Rushton remarked in Race, Evolution, and Behaviour, “For some, it would have been better if Mother Nature had made people, genetically, all the same…However, we are not all the same”.

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The Ring, at Dresden

Dresden Semperoper

The Ring, at Dresden

Wagner: Der Ring des Nibelungen, Semperoper, Dresden, January 2018, directed by Willy Decker, Staatskapelle, conducted by Christian Thielemann, reviewed by TONY COOPER

Born in 1950, the German theatre director Willy Decker – who staged the world premières of Hans Werner Henze’s Pollicino (Montepulciano, 1980), Antonio Bibalo’s Macbeth (Oslo, 1990) and Aribert Reimann’s Das Schloss (Berlin, 1992) – delivered an innovative but Spartan production of Wagner’s Der Ring des Nibelungen.

Produced in partnership with Teatro Real, Madrid, the production – returning to the stage of Dresden’s Semperoper, a jewel of a house – featured such acclaimed Wagnerian singers as Albert Dohmen, Petra Lang, Christa Mayer, Andreas Schager, Gerhard Siegel, Kurt Streit and Georg Zeppenfeld.

The man in the pit was that consummate Wagnerian Christian Thielemann, musical director of the Staatskapelle Dresden. He is also music director of the Bayreuth Festival and of the Salzburg Easter Festival as well as general music director of the Munich Philharmonic. Continue reading

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Scritti Politti

ENO, Satyagraha

Scritti Politti

Satyagraha, an opera in three acts by Philip Glass, libretto based on the Bhagavad Gita, directed by Phelim McDermott, conducted by Karen Kamensek, a collaboration with improbable, 3rd revival of ENO’s 2007 production, 1st February 2018, reviewed by LESLIE JONES

Charismatic conductor Karen Kamensek made her ENO debut in Phelim McDermott’s memorable 2016 revival of Akhnaten (see “Behold the Sun”, QR, March 6th, 2016). She evidently has an instinctive feel for composer Philip Glass’s “repetitive techniques”. For she understands the dramatic power of sudden increases or decreases of volume, but also of pregnant periods of silence, as in the striking opening scene of Act One, The Kuru Field of Justice.

With a running time of over three hours and a libretto in Sanskrit, based on the Bhagavad Gita, McDermott was understandably concerned to retain the audience’s attention, whether by means of puppetry or by striking changes of costume or by quotations from the ancient Hindu text translated into English that are projected onto the stage (see his revealing comments on page 26 of the official programme). Continue reading

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