Friday Five (Vol. 48)

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“We need writing that begins not at the top, at the angelic part of us, but at the bottom, with our bodies, and that however high our poetry may climb it must carry the body along with it.” – Allen Tate, literary critic (1899-1979)

H/T: Heather King

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In her article, Heather continued:

In an essay from 1952 titled “The Man of Letters in the Modern World,” he (Allen Tate) writes about communion and contrasts it to communication, saying that we have substituted communication for communion. We have taken the means for the end, substituted the part for the whole, and have wound up worshiping our operational techniques. [I’m thinking of a woman who told me recently she’d received 500 birthday greetings on FB and not a single actual call or card]. No wonder we are dehumanized and can treat one another as objects. We transmit information exceedingly well, but we do not share our life experiences “in a new and illuminating intensity of awareness.” Communication without communion is incomplete because it does not engage the full substance of our humanity. No political system can ever bring about communion, only the love of God can do it: We must first come “to believe in order to know, and to know in order to do”…

Guilty as charged on the Facebook birthday wishes. And the birth of baby congratulations. Or graduation. Or (insert life event here). Each time I do it I loathe myself for it. One of the things I could not wait to do when I was a boy was write and receive letters. I thought them a mystical way of talking with someone whether they were across town or across the world. I had two or three pen pals in elementary school but we eventually lost touch. It’s a pity really. One of them was in Seattle; the other in Germany. Opportunity lost. Yes it’s true that thanks to technology today I am able to do the same. I don’t blame technology or want to return to the days of quill and ink whole scale. It’s up to me to write, and if I choose to use Facebook or other social media to do so it is my responsibility to write more than 140 characters.

So I am suggesting a gift for yourself or for a friend this Christmas: stationary, envelopes, and a good pen. But that’s just part one. Part two is a commitment on your part to sit down one afternoon and write to a friend. If you’re like me and spend the bulk of your days typing it will take a while to reacquaint yourself with your penmanship. During those periods where I write or journal after extended periods of not writing my paper looks like a drunk doctor or pharmacist has scribbled an extended prescription for some mysterious malady. Be patient with yourself. But write. I promise you that you will have made the day of the person on the receiving end. Instead of junk mail or another bill arriving in their mailbox you will have given the gift of yourself.

The Art of Manliness provides a primer on letter writing. Don’t be scared off by how much detail they go into. Just use the basics and write.

Image source.

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I meant to post this last week but ran out of room. Every year during the week leading up to Halloween I grab my Camille Saint-Saëns CD that has Danse Macabre as the final track and enjoy playing it over and over on my drives to and from work. I first heard this piece when it was taught to my class in elementary school and I’ve never tired of listening to its perfect representation of what the Dance of the Dead surely must sound like in a cemetery just after midnight on Halloween. As I wrote in 2008:

The piece opens with a harp playing a single note, D, twelve times to signify the clock striking midnight, accompanied by soft chords from the string section. This then leads to the eerie E flat and A chords (also known as a tritone or the “Devil’s chord”) played by a solo violin, representing death on his fiddle. After which the main theme is heard on a solo flute and is followed by a descending scale on the solo violin. The rest of the orchestra, particularly the lower instruments of the string section, then joins in on the descending scale. The main theme and the scale is then heard throughout the various sections of the orchestra until it breaks to the solo violin and the harp playing the scale. The piece becomes more energetic and climaxes at this point; the full orchestra playing with strong dynamics. Towards the end of the piece, there is another violin solo, now modulating, which is then joined by the rest of the orchestra. The final section, a pianissimo, represents the dawn breaking and the skeletons returning to their graves.

If I were able to play violin I would want to perform this piece with an orchestra just as Angelica Olivo does in the video below.

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Danse Macabre is a fine example of a tone poem (or symphonic poem): a piece of orchestral music in a single continuous section in which the content of the poem, a story or novel, a painting, a landscape or another (non-musical) source is illustrated or evoked. This single piece of music allows the listener to close his or her eyes and “play” a music video of their mind in which the clock strikes midnight, Death may be heard tip-toeing into the cemetery, and begin to play his fiddle to wake the dead that sleep beneath the ground. Xylophones become the bones of dancing skeletons, sweeping stringed instruments become the wind and spectres swirling through the branches of trees, and the oboe the crack of dawn that signifies the end of the dance.

Does anyone listen to stuff like this anymore? Or is it all Lady Gaga and Taylor Swift requiring zero imagination?

I read a piece by David Clemens this week in which in which he writes of how the Internet has ruined the teaching of literature and retarded our imaginations. The professor of literature writes:

Search engines and electronic information storage have made us all empty and stupid. Memory is externalized and disembodied in the cloud; imagining is externalized in film, TV, and Google images. As a result, many students find reading uncomfortable because they have been fed images all their lives and can no longer “make pictures” in their heads. Diverted by entertainment, gaming, and social media, students no longer develop the religious, historical, or cultural knowledge essential for literary study. The “laterally associative” nature of electronic linking replaces the “vertically cumulative” richness and linearity of print. When that happens, everything that depends on the linear disappears: grammar, logic, history, narrative, and morality. Nor do students develop the necessary vocabulary from using email, Twitter, blog posts, and comment threads. These losses make literary comprehension and appreciation, much less literary interpretation, impossible.

It is time to become engaged, serious and ready to do even more dreaming—because it is in our dreaming that we come back to ourselves.

If we but lift high our imaginations our bodies, and our actions, will follow.

Communication with communion.

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Still trying to finalize your decisions before filling out your write-in ballot or heading to the polls next Tuesday? Not happy with your choices? Neither is Henri the Existential Cat. But no matter what make sure you vote people!

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