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Greek Crisis Nothing New The Liberal Trilemma

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Can Women Return Us to Beauty?

by Christopher Chantrill
May 19, 2010 at 9:05 pm

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IF ANYONE wants to know why theater is dead in the United States the reason is simple. It is trapped in a time-warp of liberal pieties. When the Oregon Shakespeare Festival sent out a call for plays celebrating “American Revolutions” it didn’t get one play written from a conservative perspective. Not one.

But there is hope. And it is coming from women. Not from the usual feminist robots, but from playwrights like Mary Zimmerman who write from an unashamedly feminine perspective. It’s part of the Girls Gone Mild movement that celebrates a woman’s life in its own terms rather than the women-can-do-anything-a-man-can-do madness of liberal women’s studies, diversity and Title IX.

Now, of all things, a woman has written the libretto for an opera from a story by Stephen Wadsworth, and it is good. Premiering at Seattle Opera this earlier this month under its indefatigable general director Speight Jenkins, Amelia is the story of a woman whose naval aviator father was killed in action in the Vietnam War. Librettist Gardner McFall’s naval aviator father was killed in the war, but in a training accident.

Oh no! Not that. Conservatives have learned from hard experience to stay away from anything to do with Vietnam. But McFall’s effort works. It works because it stays away from the liberal shibboleths and sticks to the girl stuff: love, risk, loss, relationships, babies, natural childbirth(!), death. In an opera about flying, we get a dose of magical realism with Daedalus and Icarus, those early accident-prone fly-boys, and Amelia Earhart lost over the Pacific in her Lockheed Electra.

There’s only one problem, and that’s the music, written by Daron Aric Hagen. It provides color and mood, as any movie would, but it leaves opera-goers in the limbo they have lived ever since Puccini died 86 years ago. No melody. No songs. What a pity. The libretto deserved better.

We all know the problem. Modern art music just doesn’t do beauty. It’s all very well for your Andrew Lloyd Webbers to lash their audiences with melody, but for art music, darling, it’s just not done.

It’s telling that in this age of license, when ordinary pleasure-seeking is trumpeted as a basic human right, the search for higher things in the form of asceticism still gets smuggled in the back door. We produce and consume at unimaginable levels, yet we force everyone to perform the CorvĂ©e of unpaid garbage sorting. We fill the world with lascivious female curves, but we strip poetry of the pleasure of meter and rhyme. We fill every ear with music, but we strip out the melody.

Arnold Schoenberg thought that he could cure us of the delusion that art’s aim is to create beauty, according to Robert R. Reilly in Surprised by Beauty. Schoenberg predicted that in the future, schoolchildren would be singing twelve-tone melodies.

On the contrary, modern schoolchildren barely get to sing any melody, let alone twelve-tone rows.

In turning from beauty we are stripping ourselves of our humanity, argued Frederick Turner in 1991 in Beauty: The Value of Values. The problem is, he wrote, that the huge demographic waves of adolescents in the 19th and 20th century produced “an ideal of artistic originality modeled on male adolescent ideas of freedom: hypercritical, sexually demanding, aggressive, and egocentric.”

A poet and English professor, Turner argues not for an aesthetics but a biology of beauty. Our appreciation of the arts, language and music does not just start out from a blank slate or a social construction. It starts, on the contrary, with a brain pre-programmed with age-old responses to language and music. Did you know, for instance, that: “all over the world human beings compose and recite poetry in poetic meter; all over the world the meter has a line-length of about three seconds” and that this three-second line is “tuned to the three-second information processing cycle in the human brain”?

The war against beauty cannot last. It is fighting against nature itself.

Conservative women are already leading politics back to sanity. Is it too much to ask women also to lead the west back to beauty, in art and in music? It makes sense, for women have more skin in the game: for them, life and love are the real thing.

For men, it’s all just practice.

Christopher Chantrill blogs at www.roadtothemiddleclass.com.

Buy his Road to the Middle Class.

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Chappies

“But I saw a man yesterday who knows a fellow who had it from a chappie that said that Urquhart had been dipping himself a bit recklessly off the deep end.”  —Freddy Arbuthnot
Dorothy L. Sayers, Strong Poison


Civil Society

“Civil Society”—a complex welter of intermediate institutions, including businesses, voluntary associations, educational institutions, clubs, unions, media, charities, and churches—builds, in turn, on the family, the primary instrument by which people are socialized into their culture and given the skills that allow them to live in broader society and through which the values and knowledge of that society are transmitted across the generations.
Francis Fukuyama, Trust


Hugo on Genius

“Tear down theory, poetic systems... No more rules, no more models... Genius conjures up rather than learns... ” —Victor Hugo
César Graña, Bohemian versus Bourgeois


Education

“We have met with families in which for weeks together, not an article of sustenance but potatoes had been used; yet for every child the hard-earned sum was provided to send them to school.”
E. G. West, Education and the State


Faith & Purpose

“When we began first to preach these things, the people appeared as awakened from the sleep of ages—they seemed to see for the first time that they were responsible beings, and that a refusal to use the means appointed was a damning sin.”
Finke, Stark, The Churching of America, 1776-1990


Conversion

“When we received Christ,” Phil added, “all of a sudden we now had a rule book to go by, and when we had problems the preacher was right there to give us the answers.”
James M. Ault, Jr., Spirit and Flesh


Postmodernism

A writer who says that there are no truths, or that all truth is ’merely relative’, is asking you not to believe him. So don’t.
Roger Scruton, Modern Philosophy


Faith and Politics

As far as the Catholic Church is concerned, the principal focus of her interventions in the public arena is the protection and promotion of the dignity of the person, and she is thereby consciously drawing particular attention to principles which are not negotiable... [1.] protection of life in all its stages, from the first moment of conception until natural death; [2.] recognition and promotion of the natural structure of the family... [3.] the protection of the right of parents to educate their children.
Pope Benedict XVI, Speech to European Peoples Party, 2006


China and Christianity

At first, we thought [the power of the West] was because you had more powerful guns than we had. Then we thought it was because you had the best political system. Next we focused on your economic system. But in the past twenty years, we have realized that the heart of your culture is your religion: Christianity.
David Aikman, Jesus in Beijing


Religion, Property, and Family

But the only religions that have survived are those which support property and the family. Thus the outlook for communism, which is both anti-property and anti-family, (and also anti-religion), is not promising.
F.A. Hayek, The Fatal Conceit


Conservatism

Conservatism is the philosophy of society. Its ethic is fraternity and its characteristic is authority — the non-coercive social persuasion which operates in a family or a community. It says ‘we should...’.
Danny Kruger, On Fraternity


US Life in 1842

Families helped each other putting up homes and barns. Together, they built churches, schools, and common civic buildings. They collaborated to build roads and bridges. They took pride in being free persons, independent, and self-reliant; but the texture of their lives was cooperative and fraternal.
Michael Novak, The Spirit of Democratic Capitalism


presented by Christopher Chantrill

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