True to Nature: Open-Air Painting in Europe, 1780–1870

This is not actually about the exhibit, True to Nature: Open-Air Painting in Europe, 1780–1870, which I saw briefly at the National Gallery of Art. I was with my daughter, so leisurely examination was not really an option.

But I was listening to a Modern Art Notes Podcast, which was mostly about the DC artist, Renee Stout, but also about that exhibit, and I felt overwhelmed by what we have lost. I cannot go see it.

I can’t go to the library or the bookstore, either.

Death tolls are rising and the federal government, which should be leading the response, is, of course, incompetent. There are competent people there, but they are being undermined by the clown car.

But it was that podcast and knowledge of the culture that I can’t participate in, which felt so crushing in that moment.

‘Julian’ By Gore Vidal

JULIANA reminder that, as wonderful a public personality and intellectual as he was, he was also a fantastic writer. Julian, while not as brilliant as Burr, captures so many of the strengths of the public Vidal.

The philosophy within Julian is, of necessity, I think, the sophomore year dorm room variety (not freshman, but not folks who are more than half way through their philosophy B.A.s). Novels are rarely deeply philosophical and we should not expect them to be. Perhaps only Plato could have done both successfully.

The anti-religious Vidal is naturally sympathetic to the anti-Christian Emperor Julian, but he also gently mocks the protagonist’s own adherence to pre-Christian Hellenic paganism. But the depiction of a time when education meant, primarily, an education in philosophy and history, seems so wonderfully idyllic to a person like me (even if sanitation was undoubtedly worse). The various teacher-philosophers of Athens and Antioch are used to portray an achingly attractive milieu. And, in today’s climate, the idea of a leader who surrounds himself with leading philosophers sounds wonderful.

Narratively speaking, the best innovation is the form. It is a correspondence between two former teachers and devoted followers of the (real) Emperor Julian. Libanius wants to publish the memoirs of Julian, which he acquires from Priscus, who managed to grab them in the aftermath of Julian’s death during his military campaign in Persia. As the memoirs are copied and sent to Libanius by Priscus, you also see the annotations and notes of Priscus (defending himself against supposed inaccuracies and raging against some of the rivals for Julian’s ear). Then you see Libanius’ occasionally outraged remarks about Priscus’ parsimony and puffery. It’s a fantastic depiction of gossip and literary politics among intellectuals and semi-celebrities and you can imagine that no one does it better than Vidal.

Books In The Field

That was the title and subject of an exhibition (now closed – I caught it on its penultimate day) at the Society of the Cincinnati, housed in the Anderson House, near Dupont Circle. The Society focuses on Revolutionary War history (Cincinnati comes from the Roman general, Cincinnatus, who you can look up on your own, but which connects to George Washington both resigning his commission and also only serving two terms). The books in question are the books used by Continental Army soldiers and officers during the war against Britain – mostly, as you might expect, books on military strategy and exercises and on medical/surgical techniques.

I am a sucker for exhibitions about books. I love looking at old books.

I will admit, it was a struggle to really linger over the volumes because my little one, unsurprisingly, is less enthralled by such exhibits than her father. I didn’t even try to complete a tour of the house later. But I hope to go back some day and see it all (the next exhibit is on Alexander Hamilton who is, of course, having a bit of a moment).

Choral Works At The National Cathedral

First of all, I was glad to see that nets were gone at the Washington National Cathedral. For a long time, post-earthquake (which was in 2011 or 2012, I think), there nets strung up inside the Cathedral to protect visitors and worshipers from falling bits of cathedral. While appreciated, from a safety perspective, it took away a bit from the sense of awe, grandeur, and general aesthetics.

The last time I saw a concert here, it was period pieces from the 17th and 18th centuries, composed or performed for the French court (and played using period pieces). The music was beautiful, but the acoustics just swallowed the orchestra’s sound (maybe it was the nets).

This time, the sound just soared wonderfully. It was the cathedral’s resident chorus, plus New York Polyphony (an all male vocal quartet), a guest soprano soloist, strings (roughly the size of chamber music orchestra, which is to say, larger than a quarter, but smaller than a full orchestra), and the cathedral’s own organ.

The selections were actually dominated (marginally) by either pieces by contemporary composers or else by pieces arranged by contemporary composers. With a few, arguable, exceptions, they were religious works – often liturgical. I say arguably, because one of the works set some stanzas by Whitman to music and, especially in America, Whitman could be considered to be almost religious.

That said, there wasn’t as much variety among the pieces as I might have liked. At a certain point, one Ave Maria starts to sound like another. That being the case, I could make the argument that they might have been better off taking a longer piece by someone like Tallis and playing that as the entirety of either the pre- or post-intermission half.

What We Can Learn From Poets (According To Cicero)

I’m Bummed About How ‘Castle’ Ended

What can I say? I loved Castle. I won’t attempt to justify that love, but it was really my only remaining connection to network television. Especially with my better half on far off foreign shores, I really only watch Netflix and Castle. And did you know that Nathan Fillion was in Firefly? Because he was.

But I’m bummed. Partly (mostly) because it’s gone, but also because of how it left. I really didn’t like when the show introduced extensive, overarching mysteries like, in this case, LokSat. I watch the show for the witty (and slightly homoerotic and non-gender normative) banter of Ryan and Esposito and to watch Nathan Fillion do spit takes and get really excited about stupid things. Things got too darn serious. I wanted to ‘mystery of the week’ stuff and most certainly did not want the tacked on ending to portray them gently aging into a traditional household.NATHAN FILLION

I Forgot Something

As I sat down to do some writing in my current most used notebook, I realized that it was nearly full. I need a fresher notebook for Thailand. Not a new one, because I have plenty at home. Just one that is farther from finished.

‘Elfstones Of Shannara’ By Terry Brooks

 It may be that, horror of horrors, I decided to read a Shannara novel because I read that MTV was making a television series based on the second book: The Elfstones of Shannara.

Many years ago, during a misspent youth, I read this first of the novels, The Sword of Shannara. Even as a callow youth, I could see that it was so shamelessly stolen from the Lord of the Rings that it seemed nearly unbelievable that no legal action had been taken.

The Elfstones is better, if not exactly original (‘Bloodfire’ beneath an ancient mountain in an evil land sounds remarkably like the fires of Mount Doom). I found a reasonable amount of enjoyment from the story. Like LOTR, there is a main quest and then a more military story. Here, the main quest feels surprisingly tension free and unstressful. On the other hand, the battles and the work if preparing for war and defense is pretty thrilling and tense.

Reading At Work

 I don’t read (except, infrequently, at lunch) at my regular job as minister of propaganda. However, I have a second job working for my better half, usually as a cashier/salesperson. On many such occasions, I read very nearly whatever I want and have recently been reading Remembrance of Things Past at Eastern Market. But lately, I have been at the Downtown DC Holiday Market and it is markedly more busy. It’s not impossible to read, but it is not conducive to the languorous hypnotism of Proust.

What turned out to be nearly perfect was the January 2016 edition of Asimov’s Science Fiction.

The big three of scifi are all owned by the same parent company: Analog Science Fiction and Fact, Asimov’s Science Fiction, and Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction. The last is thicker, but also a little more expensive, whereas the middle is so affordable as to be practically a negligible expense and is also named after the greatest science fiction writer of the last century (yes, I know we wasn’t actually a good writer, but he was so influential, especially in using hard science, that we have to give him his due), so the choice is easy. There are other magazines, like Lightspeed and Interzone, but they are but so easily found at my local bookstore.

So this edition was very, very good. Good writing, good ideas, good stories. One weak story near the end and there was a historicalish novella about Einstein that simply didn’t capture me and which I didn’t finish, overall, this boded well for the future of the genre.

Not Entirely Sure What I’m Writing Here

Perhaps just a sad moan at the state of my life. Direction. Things not done. I’ve always tended towards major depression of clinical depression or whatever the manual calls it these days. Months, really. A year or more, I reckon. Time flies, irrespective of whether you’re having fun. On top of which, for the last two months, I’ve been living alone, in self created squalor. And alone breeds alone, breeds an inability to slip out into the world when it is so much easier not to. When my wife gets back, I’ll be something else than before, not quite able to be what I was or what I seemed, because I’ve lost the facility for it and ‘it’ is so much easier to forget than to learn or relearn. And there will be questions of ‘why’ when they there is no ‘why,’ no cause that incident or MRI can explain and instead of a cause there is just an ‘is,’ like an artistotleian unmoved mover. And here I am, in the stairwell, hiding from someone whose self-righteous indignation I simply cannot handle right now, nor work up sufficient lather to face long enough to deliver a response, much less suffer through criticisms that I can’t handle because I am already static and crippled from the barbs of my own self-loathing, thank you very much, so keep your ideas to yourself, thank you very much for riding metrorail.