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Hey everyone. Tom Snarsky tweeted a short poem about short poems, and that got me thinking about why I like them so much. I guess I like the idea of giving the best response possible to art. Responses that let you enlarge the conversation. To that end, short poems invite you to imagine them in dialogue with nearly any interlocutor. I hope my treatment of his "Opera," below, takes full advantage of that while doing justice to his words.
Two other writings of interest:
- Will Buckingham, "Plato: Organist to the Beasts" — Will runs a terrific philosophy site. I can't say enough about how he picks interesting topics and gets everyone to discuss them with reference to the positions of philosophers. Here, he posts a 13th century Persian story about Plato competing with Aristotle. In the story, Aristotle has a talent for giving a more subtle judgment than anyone else. Plato, to say the least, has something more.
- "The Hate Store: Amazon’s Self-Publishing Arm Is a Haven for White Supremacists" — this is from a year ago but there's a lot to consider. Many places have made incredible profits letting people do what they want. And what people have done is taken over those places and weaponized them against others. This isn't just a story about a lack of regulation, I think. It's also a story about how certain movements will exploit anything if there's no pushback whatsoever. The larger question of what feeling free and secure in online spaces actually entails is here, too.
Tom Snarsky, "Opera"
“Love can lighten every sorrow,” sings Pamina at the opening of a duet with the bird-man Papageno in The Magic Flute. Papageno wears bright green on which orange and red feathers are painted. It’s impossible not to stare at, because while elaborate, the green also resembles what you wear at night to be seen by cars. Pamina’s red, white, and blue dress has elemental associations, but stands unmistakably regal:
The Magic Flute isn’t subtle. The libretto is Masonic, unshy about trying to swap traditional religion with one based on Reason. Reason, however, can’t only be airy and abstract, defending physicists against scholastics. It has to be useful. And one of its uses can be challenging what’s unreasonable, e.g. an overabundance of shame regarding sex. Perhaps we witness an ironic consequence of this when Pamina and Papageno together sing “Man and wife, and wife and man, both are parts of heaven’s plan.” Too much shame is certainly unreasonable. But if you believe you’re making decisions so good they must be divinely mandated, to what did you just give voice?
When feeling neglected, unloved, I’ll try to not make a show of it. This inevitably leads to it making a show of every waking moment I have. “It doesn’t feel like anything,” I’ll loudly proclaim in the drama to end all dramas.
Opera (from Light Up Swan) Tom Snarsky It doesn’t feel like anything, the lead sang
Why can’t this be different? Why do I have to be dramatic, operatic, ridiculous?
The above discussion of The Magic Flute affords a clue. Love may have unexpected consequences for what we call “reason.” It’s an emotion and commitment which fully permeates our minds. Decisions, thoughts, anxieties all serve it. Feeling unloved, one could say, isn’t having a free mind. Strictly speaking, it’s having a mind that “doesn’t feel like anything.”
I’m trying to take something that my mind says is necessary and deny it has any impact. I’m declaring I have control in a situation where I am conspicuously lacking. We talk about desire versus reason, but it does seem that if we’re rational, then rationality itself has desires.
I don’t think there’s a solution. Maybe just coping mechanisms. They’re dramatic too, but maybe in a quieter way. I dunno. I’m thinking about The Weakerthans’ “The Last Last One:”
The anthemic sound of the song does a lot of work. There’s been a breakup after long familiarity: “You always stole my last words;” “nothing happens in the end.” And there’s that numb feeling—“I guess it doesn’t matter now”—which comes from taking moments you cherished and wondering where your time has gone. The song is about the struggle to reposition your best memories. How they built a life you were perfectly content in, and how that life is gone. Progress toward building something new is absolutely brutal: “But I remember when I could remember when / Seems like a long time ago.”
The anthemic sound speaks to the largeness of the task. Almost like you’ve got to figure out how to have a mind which makes sense to you. “Coping mechanisms” seems like a weak utterance in the face of that, but they’re part of making things better. The image of an opera, of larger than life actions on a grand stage, may not be immediately helpful. But it does feel like the truth.