Monday, April 05, 2004

LIT CORNER. Been on a nice run with high art. Finally got around to reading Calderón's Life is a Dream. It plays hard on modern ears, with its long and literary declamations. Rosaura's famously interminable speech in Act III scene 4 goes on for four tightly-leaded pages in my little paperback, but when the writing is this beautiful -- "Violante broke open the prison of my woes; then in troops they surged out of my breast, tumbling over one another" -- who cares? Segismundo, a prince bound in chains from infancy, then restored to his birthright under the pretense that what he experiences is all a dream, is a proto-existential hero to rival Hamlet. That this profound play turns out a comedy seems very Spanish, as does the scene where the restored Segismundo, told he dare not throw his enemy off a parapet, does so with a childish sense of challenge. Even the clown dies nobly. They sure could write back in the 17th Century.

Speaking of Spaniards, I'm crawling through a history of the Jesuits by Jean Lacouture. Having been educated by Jebbies in the dim days of my youth (on scholarship -- marvel at it, ye sons of Reagan!), I am fascinated to learn that this most pedantic of orders was founded by a crazed mystic who, between his callings (he had many) to an educational mission, would do mitzvahs like wading into a freezing lake to shame a fornicator, crying, "I will stay here until I have assuaged the Wrath of God on your behalf!" Flipping around the story, I am less surprised to see that John Paul II is an implacable anti-Jesuit, who drove Father Drinan from Congress and, when Top Jeb and liberation theology sympathizer Pedro Arrupe was rendered incompetent by a stroke, refused to accept his resignation, the better to grind the order under his heel. Boo hiss. Things seem dire for the Jesuits now, but they've come back from worse (like the French Revolution), and I see great things for them in the eons to come.

Saw a few movies too. I was tickled to see Mighty Aphrodite, not least to observe how Woody Allen overtly pitch-modulates the old Greek goatsong into the voice of the turtle, as if to say, hey, numbskulls, you didn't notice? I've been doing this all along! He's not a failed borscht-belt comic, he's our Plautus. Stressing on his resistance to contemporary fads and lingo is a mug's game. They'll be laughing at his shit when kids stop wearing flaired trousers, again. And it was instructive to see Herzog's Woyzeck for the first time in years. The Büchner script is just a fragment, and Herzog, the perv, actually cuts dialogue. He stages it in what looks like an early 19th Century Austrian village, and makes you feel (as he does in Kaspar Hauser) as if the absurd, inhuman society his modern films describe were born there of scientific hubris and petty cruelty. In the leads, Klaus Kinski and Eva Mattes make the candles flare and blow out.

With treasures like these at my disposal, is it any wonder I haven't gotten to the movies lately?

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