Monday, May 2, 2011

“Allerseelen” and Mrs. Dalloway

When Peter walks near Regent’s Park Tube station in Virginia Woolf’s Mrs. Dalloway, an old woman sings an ancient song about love that has prevailed even after her lover’s death (81). She is oblivious to everyone around her, singing “without direction, vigour, beginning or end” (80). The narrator explains that, in the song, the woman sings about the continuity of life, and she reflects on the time when her lover had been with her in the month of May. Peter compares her voice to a “rusty pump,” but Rezia, who is also walking in the area and hears the woman’s song, feels for her and empathizes with her song, feeling that she herself will be able to go on with her days (81, 82).

The song that the old woman sings is Strauss’ “Allerseelen,” or “All’s Soul’s Day.” The song is originally in German, which probably inspired the “ee um fah um so” sounds that Woolf provides in the narrative (80, 81, 82). The song is composed of three stanzas, all ending with the line “Wie einst im Mai,” which translates to “like once in May.” One particular version, sung by Kathleen Battle, allows the reader to understand why the song is relevant to this section of the novel. The song starts out slow and whimsical, but reaches a pivotal point of desperation and determination when Battle sings, “Wie einst im Mai.” This line is rife with nostalgia, a perfect mesh with Peter’s longing for the days when he and Clarissa were in love. It also fits with Rezia wishing for a return to the days when Septimus was not shell-shocked. As the song moves along, however, Battle’s voice becomes more joyous and reflective, and her “Wie einst im Mai” lines grow softer than the first one. This is lost on Peter; of course, the old woman’s song might not have sounded as crisp as Battle’s. Nevertheless, it seems to have had a different effect on Rezia, who finds hope in the amateur rendition of “Allerseelen.”

Works Cited

Woolf, Virginia. Mrs. Dalloway. New York: Harcourt, 1925.

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Pieces of Glass: Woolf, Mrs. Dalloway, and Morning Passages

Isabella Bustamante

A Song Report

“Morning Passages”-Phillip Glass

Running to stay in the same place; the women of “The Hours” twist hair, arrange flowers, sleep and are awakened to go nowhere, never to arrive. While the men are seen active, driving cars, engaged in conversation, and walking about, the women all arise to the morning in a painful stoicism. Phillip Glass’s “Morning Passages” uses repetition as well as the heightening and suppression of musical drama to propel the listener forward solely to drag them back to where they began.

The opening chords of a steady solo piano are repeated four times in succession only to a rest in a severe silence, the pattern reoccurs. The ear is subjected to the game of this decisive musical decision; the notes have ceased before the song has even begun. This brilliant juxtaposition of start and stop attains the listener’s attention. Glass’s identical haunting measures establish a pattern which must disintegrate to be repeated. It likens to hopeless progression of the lives of “The Hours” women. Ever the phoenix metaphor, as the music is born, it also dies.

Glass is a master at using the eerie power of repetition to hypnotize the listener. When the orchestra enters the mix we don’t get a sense of charging forward, nor a sense of time passing, the music evolves but is rooted to its foundation. Interestingly, the visuals do not mirror the dynamism this transmuting orchestra. Rather they reflect what it symbolizes; the common, peculiar, and disappointing morning, which each woman lacks enthusiasm to greet.

Glass as well denies the listener of a symphony’s theatrical grandeur. It seems each time the music reaches a climax, becomes farther removed from its original form, or mutates its complexity it is stripped of its chaos, reverting back to the singular chimes of the piano. The piano is at the center of this whirlwind of instruments, pulling and commanding them to its scheme in a delicate syncretism. It exists to harmonize, reject, and meet its end with the orchestral parts; thus there is conflict and submission. Glass reconstructs our conception of musical movement just as the movie’s visuals do. It is as if we, like the music, and women desire to be part of a great change around us but are helplessly rooted to the spot where we stand.

The clinking soul of the piano, emphasized by the seductive clanging orchestra, builds throughout the five and a half minutes. From the starting sequence they are constantly reconstructing, magnifying, and minimizing that elementary cyclical pattern, so genius in its design.

Glass is a wizard at spiral, upward and downward. All he needs is the lyricism of the understated entrance to bewitch the listener, to overtly sooth and quietly shock the senses. We are helplessly trapped in the sound which revolves around ending where it began, as Mrs. Dalloway’s Peter says, “Nothing exists outside us except a state of mind” (85). What we want the music to do to us, what these women want, and what Glass wants is to transport the listener to a place they can never physically reach. The movement of the music is therefore only internal, never existing outside one's self. It's not meant to move us anywhere that is not within ourselves.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

'Women In Love" gets a reboot

This week, BBC Four is airing a new film adaptation of DH Lawrence's "Women In Love," leading some to wonder how it will stack up with the classic 1969 Ken Russell helmed-version. Since the latter film was produced during a notorious time of sexual liberation, critics are wondering how the modern version will reflect the more cautious and conservative times that we live in, and whether it will detract from the artistic merit of the piece. Based on the following article from BBC News, the actors and crew have put a lot of faith into their script, and the final product should definitely be worth a look.

Click here to read it

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Poetry is struggling to stay afloat?

With the help of T.S.Eliot poets are trying to inspire everyone to "read read read." This is a link about the Poetry Book Society and the T.S. Eliot award.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

The Waste Land

The greatest poem in English. A poem I love teaching. I am fixed on my three favorite lines, where I always begin my teaching: 
  • April is the cruellest month
  •                                       so many / I had not thought death had undone so many
  • These fragments I have shored against my ruins
There are 32 of us reading the poem together this week. 31 have to write a paper on the poem. The students each posted their proposed passage to explicate on Blackboard yesterday and I find it fascinating just to look at which passages they chose. I never, for example, could have predicted the popularity of "The river's tent is broken." 

Here is the list (you'll note that a few of the 31 didn't get proposals in). I wonder what it says about us.

April is the cruellest month, breeding...tubers (lines 1-7)                         
What are the roots that clutch, what branches grow… (19-30) 
Madame Sosostris, famous clairvoyante...                         
Madame Sosotris, famous clairvoyante lines 43-59                      
Madame Sosostris, famous clairvoyante' (43-59)                        
Unreal City (60-76)                                                           
Unreal City (60 ff. )                                                           
Unreal city...                                                           
Leaned out, leaning, hushing the room enclosed. (106-138)                         
What is that noise? (117-132)                                     
What shall I do now? What shall I do? (130-39)                         
Now Albert's coming back, make yourself a bit smart                         
The river's tent is broken: the last fingers of leaf (173-181)                        
The river’s tent is broken: the last fingers of leaf… (173-186).                                    
The river’s tent is broken (173-86)                                    
The river’s tent is broken: the last fingers of leaf (173-186)                        
The time is now propitious, as he guesses (235-248)                         
The time is now propitious, as he guess,... (lines 235-250)                         
The meal is ended, she is bored and tired, (236-248)                   
She turns and looks a moment in the glass... (249-256).                  
She turns and looks a moment in the glass (249-56)                     
She turns and looks a moment in the glass (249 ff.)                        
Phlebas the Phoenician, a fortnight dead (312-321)                       
Phlebas the Phoenician, a fortnight dead (312-321)                       
Here is no water but only rock (331-345)                        
Datta: What have we given? (401-423)                                    

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Short snippets of modernism

These are the quotations that students had to identify in this morning's midterm. You can test yourself, of course, but it's also a great pleasure to read that modernist voice:

A.    The noise of children at play annoyed him and their silly voices made him feel even more keenly than he had felt at Clongowes, that he was different from others. He did not want to play. He wanted to meet in the real world the unsubstantial image which his soul so constantly beheld.

B.     If only Birkin would form a close and abiding connection with her, she would be safe during this fretful voyage of life. He could make her sound and triumphant, triumphant over the very angels of heaven. If only he would do it! But she was tortured with fear, with misgiving.

C.     “Oh yes, I like the house immensely and the garden is beautiful, but it feels very far away from everything to me. I can’t imagine people coming out from town to see us in that dreadful jolting bus, and I am sure there is not anyone here to come and call. Of course it does not matter to you because----“

D.    In the centre, obviously intended as the principal dish, was a bowl of plums, softly red, soaked with the sun, glowing like jewels in the downward stream of the incandescent light. Besides them was a great yellow melon. Its sleek sides fluted with rich growth, and a honeycomb glistening on a willow-pattern dish. The only sensible food to be seen was a plate of tongue laid at his place.

E.     Dieu was the French for God and that was God’s name too; and when anyone prayed to God and said Dieu then God knew at once that it was a French person that was praying.

Sunday, February 27, 2011

Loerke's Alter Ego

After our "Women in Love" discussion in class about Loerke as a possible representation of the German Expressionist Art movement I immediately thought of artist Ernst Ludwig Kirchner. Kirchner's work was loathed by anti-Semites and much of the art world because of its bold colors, abstracted forms, and risque subject matter. His work was labeled "degenerate" in 1933 by the Nazis. Soon after hundreds of his works were destroyed and five years later he committed suicide from a wild depression. Many of the other members of the German Expressionist group Die Brucke (The Bridge) suffered the same fate, as the beginnings of World War II made successful careers impossible. Here is a picture of Kirchner's early work "Marcella" from 1909-10, which reminded me of Loerke's nude girl on a horse. Ursula and Lawrence would probably find this painting erotic, stiff, and offensive. The young girl Marcella was actually a child model of the controversial Kirchner, their relationship leaves much to the imagination as members of the Die Brucke movement often had young models. The girl, according to recent findings is probably 14 or 15 in this painting. We can imagine Loerke's work of the nude girl on a horse to be similar in content. It's fascinating to see how characters from "Women In Love" are connected to the larger world.