Friday, April 08, 2005

More proof that God has a sick sense of humor ...

Rick Sincere reports on another unfounded Democratic rumor about a Republican candidate's sexuality. Ordinarily, I'd say that this was yet another case of left-wing homophobia -- and it is, gentle reader. But this time, it could also be seen as a divine joke on the Virginia GOP.

It looks like things are about to get nasty for Virginia's Gays and Lesbians ... again.

More on Passion

Terry Teachout, who knows more about the arts than I can ever hope to learn, has reviewed a televised concert of Stephen Sondheim's Passion for this week's Wall Street Journal. If anything, Teachout is a bigger fan of Passion than I am -- which strikes me as odd, since Teachout is heterosexual, and I have yet to met a straight guy who could stand the show.

He's posted a few choice excerpts from the review on his blog. Frankly, I was surprised to read that the 56-piece orchestra sounded decent, since I've always believed that Sondheim's score demands a chamber orchestra. Anything larger, and his intricate major-minor harmonics can get very muddy.

Teachout's review contains another, less pleasant shocker:

I had only one reservation about “Passion,” which is that Ms. McDonald’s singing is becoming infested with scoopy mannerisms that have no place among Mr. Sondheim’s spare vocal lines….

Uh-oh. McDonald has a glorious soprano voice. Pity she seems to be turning into Kathleen Battle.

This demands immediate action from the glorious queens at Some of their comments on opera singers include "more scoops than Baskin-Robbins," and "more cuts than Trovatore." I'm sure they'd have a few choice words for Ms. McDonald.

Thursday, April 07, 2005

ADM (Another Damned Meme)

Teachout plays seven questions with Bookish Gardener. Ooh, ooh, can I play? Why, of course I can! After all, damn near everybody else is ...

1. You're stuck inside Fahrenheit 451. Which book do you want to be? Assuming The Complete Works of William Shakespeare is already taken, I'd want to be Melville's Moby Dick. (However, it would probably be more fun to "be" Bradbury's Fahrenheit 451. Imagine having to memorize a novel in which you are trapped! The reflexivity! The split consciousness! The utter madness! It's enough to make any red-blooded postmodernist scream with delight.)

2. Have you ever had a crush on a fictional character? Nope. The things I look for in a fictional character are not the things I look for in a lover, real or imaginary. But I have enjoyed some pleasant one-handed evenings with Jean Genet.

3. The last book you bought was...? The Pevear-Volokhonsky translation of Tolstoy's Anna Karenina. Whenever Pevear and Volokhonsky translate something, you should buy it read it, even if you think you've read the work before. (The reason I waited so long to acquire their Anna Karenina, is that I tend to buy used or remaindered books.)

4. The last book you read was...? Edward Jay Epstein's News from Nowhere. It's amazing how much and how little television has changed over the past thirty-five years.

5. What are you currently reading? Mari Sandoz, Old Jules. Sandoz is sort of like Willa Cather's evil twin. I like her.

6. Five books you would take to a desert island... If I could take only five books to a desert island, I think I'd lie down on the beach and cry. Some of my best friends are books. (Hell, most of my best friends are books ....)

7. Who are you passing this stick on to and why? I'd like to see what Bilious Young Fogey does with this meme. I'm guessing he'll cite a few brilliant works of political philosophy, and embellish his post with hot photos of soccer jocks -- but with BYF, you never know for certain. I should also pass some sort of virtual baton to the Lone Star State's own Cowtown Pattie, one of the best local-color writers I've found on the Web. I haven't touted her "Texas Trifles" blog in a long time, but this questionnaire is right up her alley.

Update (4/13): The Fogey responds by telling me, politely but in no uncertain terms, where to get off. He wonders if blogosphere memes have "jumped the shark." I suspect they are the shark.

Blog-o-Memes are like chain letters and e-mail petitions: In the end, besides cluttering up bandwith, they may highlight the frivolity and gullibility of folks (like me) who respond to them. Still, I rather enjoy them, if only because they manage to bring bloggers who would otherwise never meet into a conversation. That's how communities form.

Update #2 (4/14): BYF writes in again, to let me know that he wasn't telling me off, just wondering whether memes were "old hat." Fair enough. I still like his response.

Take Back the Night, Just Leave Me Alone

I was browsing among the dusty shelves of a used bookstore, when I heard hundreds of college-age women outside chanting against rape (and in favor of mathematics, since their slogans usually began with rote recitations of the twice-times table). It could mean only one thing: The UVA Women's Center was conducting its annual "Take Back the Night" march and vigil against rape.

During this annual march, hundreds of women walk down Rugby Road -- UVA's fraternity row -- in a symbolic gesture meant, I suspect, to expose the denizens of these frat houses as rapists-in-training. The men must remain inside their respective dens of sin and accept this slander passively, and to their eternal credit most of them do. But for our feminists, nearly universal acceptance will not suffice. If one man dares to utter so much a peep against these protesters, the Women's Center is guaranteed to launch a withering volley of righteous indignation against every XY-chromosomed member of the Greek system.

Which actually happened once, as I recall, when two fraternity members responded to all that chanting with a few choice epithets of their own. I forget precisely where this happened, and it hardly matters anyway, since for this particular Damiens' scratch the entire fraternity system was subjected to months of mandatory "sensitivity training," along with copious demands for an apology and widespread vilification from the university community. The only thing missing was an actual duel to the death -- though if one had occurred, doubtless the women would have appeared with twelve-pounder cannons and denied the hapless men so much as a peashooter with which to defend themselves.

To my knowledge, no one has ever suggested that the protesters should have apologized for their mean-spirited attack on hundreds of innocent young men. Until now, that is. I'll begin with my own culpability: Long ago, when I was young and foolish, I participated in several "Take Back the Night" rallies as a marcher and a protester. So I want to tender a personal apology to the men of UVA's Rugby Road, past and present. I participated in a grave injustice against you, and I should have known better.

In honor of tonight's "Take Back the Night" march, I make my annual link to a vintage My Stupid Dog essay, entitled "Take Back the Night, Just Leave Me Alone." Let the healing begin.

The Higher Education of "Little Tree"

Ward Churchill isn't the first cigar-store Indian to fool the multicultural professoriat.

Some fifteen years ago, Forrest Carter's The Education of Little Tree earned accolades as an "authentic" expression of Cherokee life and customs. Originally published in 1977, and reissued in 1985 by University of New Mexico Press, Little Tree found its widest audience in the increasingly desperate "New Age" spiritual climate of the late '80s. It purported to recount the author's Native American boyhood, as he learns the age-old ways of the forest from "Granma" and "Granpa." Here's a sample of the book's homespun wisdom:

The Indian never fishes or hunts for sport, only for food. Granpa said it was the silliest damn thing in the world to go around killing something for sport. He said the whole thing, more than likely, was thought up by politicians between wars when they wasn't gittin' people killed so they could keep their hand in on killing. Granpa said that idjits taken it up without a lick of thinking on it, but if you could check it out -- politicians started it. Which is likely.

Apparently the education of Little Tree didn't include a course in spelling or grammar. His entire memoir is written in this folksy, Huck Finn-like dialect, the better to establish the subject's marginal cultural position. (That said, an attentive reader would recognize this bumpkinish dialect as a dead giveaway to the author's privilege. Most minority writers, especially those from lower-class backgrounds, aren't going to squander their meager cultural capital by writing like a hick.) Still, academics and reviewers alike declared that Forrest Carter walked like an authentic Indian, and talked like one, too. This book was undoubtedly The Real Thing.

Of course, "Forrest Carter" was a pseudonym. The real author was Asa Earl Carter, a white supremacist and Ku Klux Klan leader from Alabama. Carter wrote George Wallace's infamous declaration, "Segregation today, segregation tomorrow, and segregation forever!" He had spent the 1950s and '60s as a leader of the Ku Klux Klan, contributing to its rampages of terror and murder. His character of "Little Tree" was exposed as a ghastly fraud.

Yet even after Carter's true identity was revealed, several academics continued to defend the book. The most prominent was African-American lit-guru Henry Louis ("Skip") Gates, Jr. He praised Carter's "memoir" as fake but accurate, stating that it had to be taken on its own terms as literature, rather than judged solely on the basis of the author's race (or racism, as it were). This was a classic New Critical argument, and if anyone but Gates had made it, it might have had some validity. But since his career was devoted to African-American literature -- most of which involved authorial identity taking precedence over literary merit -- nobody bought it.

Now we have Ward Churchill, another self-proclaimed "Cherokee" who walks and talks like a real-live Cherokee should (or so our professors would like to think). He's full of piss and vinegar toward the bad old White Man, and calls for an end to capitalism and the United States Government. All of these things make Churchill a "good Indian" in the eyes of the University of Colorado, which snapped him up for a prestigious diversity hire despite the man's questionable academic credentials. But alas, Churchill's much-vaunted Indian heritage proved as genuine as a fiberglass wigwam -- just like his hate-mongering predecessor.

As long as American scholars approach multicultural studies with ideological blinders and cocktail-party prejudice, they'll get taken for a ride by bullshit artists like Carter and Churchill. Which, in the end, is probably as it should be.

Hat tip: A recent article from Bilious Young Fogey roused me to comment on this story.

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