Sunday, February 28, 2016


Jacques Coulardeau at (27)

Carida SVICH & Maria Teresa MARRERO, Editors
NEW YORK, NY, 2000


This collection of ten plays is one of the strangest collections I know. Most authors are women. The theme of Chicana women is central and lesbianism is shown as some kind of escape from the Post Colonial Traumatic Stress Syndrome of Chicano men and Chicana women.
Among these plays there is a rewriting of Medea’s myth from this lesbian point of view that is phenomenal in many ways and particularly in the fact that Medea is making herself a lesbian to protect and save her motherhood that leads her to killing her own son not to lose him to his father and hence lose her motherhood, not seeing that she kills her motherhood at the same time, which becomes final in the end when the dead son brings poison to his own institutionalized mother and thus terminates her like some kind of vermin. Out of love . . . for sure!
At the same time the consciousness of that Post Colonial Traumatic Stress Syndrome is not clearly captured which leads to mourning the dead Chicano soldiers in the American imperialistic wars without denouncing these wars per se.
I just wonder if these authors have not integrated themselves too much into American society and particularly American universities that are dealing with Indian or Chicano or Lesbian studies as some kind of attractive gimmicks to have more students. Note the gay theme is nearly totally absent from this collection and yet when mentioned like in the first play of the collection it does not concern Chicanos per se, even if the main part of this first play happens in Las Vegas which is not exactly Chicano or Indian.
Enjoy the reading of the reviews as some kind of introduction to that Chicano and Chicana drama which is anyway essential in American culture today, and not only, far from it, the United States.

6-        OLIVER MAYER – RAGGED TIME – 1994


Saturday, February 27, 2016


Perverse fathers, of course!


An extremely interesting book for children and young teenagers. It associates the mystery of an old house, which is haunted in a way, but not so much by ghosts as by wizards and witches from several past generations, with the fantasy of portals opening onto multiple worlds and universes by some kind of tunneling instant travel.  At the same time the main heroes are teenagers between 11 and 13, three of them since three is magic, and magic there is, black and white, evil and good, aggressive and protective, with what’s more a grandmother overlooking the whole business.

Of course some of these themes are quite common in that magical fantasy literature for teenagers but there are enough twists and bends and crossroads, often badly crossed by accident and on purpose, to keep your attention awake and your concentration alert. If you want at least. There is of course a phenomenal fantastic attic that is just as secret as it is miraculous. There is a cemetery that is just as gloomy as it is epiphanic. Salvation always comes from the dreariest and direst situations and locales. Just what you need to give you sweet nightmares.

Then you can wonder about the interest of that magic world beyond the portal if the portal has to be locked up and kept closed forever. What a shame! When I was following the kids in the secret passages in the old mansion and discovering that the end of it was in the wardrobe of the uncle, I thought we were going to be able to shift to some other world at will like in the Narnia Chronicles, though it was upside down, the end of the passage in this tale being similar to the beginning of the passage in Narnia. And sure enough there is no permanent and recurrent passage from this world to other worlds.

Though the forces of evil were contained in and restrained to the universe beyond the portal, that other world was not homogeneously evil or controlled by these evil forces. The evil forces controlled one planet, could go around in all the other planets they exploited but these other planets were also autonomous, free in a way, especially when they could use magic to resist and even counter the evil forces. Actually that is reassuring for the poor young readers since they can mentally merge with the evil forces, which are funny, identify with the good forces and the kids, which are very pleasant, and at the same time know that all these adventures are not next door, not in our street, not even in pour city or country.

The final touch for me has to do with the family structure. Father and grandfather are out or evil. One uncle survives that wreckage of a family betrayed by one man a long time ago. The son and heir of the family is confronted to his desire to find his father who abandoned him after his birth and the death of his mother in childbirth. At the same time he discovers his father has chosen the wrong side, and that is making the son angry and forcing the son to reject the father without even telling him he is his son. The son rejects the father just the same way the father rejected the son when the grandmother refused to use her magic to save his wife.

That sounds a lot like a recomposed family with all kinds of difficult relations between the generations, between parents and children, though the most negative side seems to be fathers or father-figures. Even the uncle of Jack, the main character, is shown as not exactly very swift since he leads young teenagers into using dynamite to destroy the magic portal in the western gardens, a dangerous suggestion both because in the hands of children and because of the magic behind the portal. Dynamite and young children or dynamite and magic are not easy pairs in everyday life.

Altogether the book should be interesting for its targeted teenage audience, creative and dynamic enough to captivate them.


Thursday, February 25, 2016


Just imagine what a good teacher could do with this!


I have already said a lot about these books and on Philip Gibson’s work. Apparently these books are the result of a long experience teaching English as a foreign language in Asia and it is true I had said it would be perfect to teach English to foreigners, non English speaking foreigners. But these books are done for children and would be best for at the most primary school children.

I have already suggested that these drills can be reading drills but they can be learning drills provided they are made a lot more attractive to the kids by the teacher and what he does with the books. Let me suggest some activities, and the main word here is “active.”

The first thing could be to have the different parts played by the kids. One will be playing Lee and one will be playing Pat. Another could be the teacher and a fourth one the father. The mother could be the sixth kid and the lady at the end of book three could be a seventh kid.

That would be good to treat these small scenes as drama, as something to be performed and that would enable the teacher to introduce some subtleties here and there. The narrator using the third person singular or plural could be a character per se, but there could be better results if it were one character him/herself speaking of the others or speaking of a group of people including himself, hence moving the third person plural to “we.” That narrator could be addressing the characters themselves and thus shift the third person plural or the first person singular or plural to the second singular and plural “you.”

Those manipulations can be interesting and can be a real game with a couple or three kids scoring the mistakes and correcting afterwards or using a small bell to indicate the mistake when it happens. And these referees would have better be right. Correction from tha actors or from the audience.

I have already suggested that these drills could easily be transformed into rap performances this time with groups of students. The best part would be for a group of three, four or five kids, to be the percussionists that would give the basic rhythm of the rap. English is basically an iambic language. Which means “unstressed – stressed” which produces a syncopated rhythm, which is the basic rhythm of jazz. But it might be better to start with the stressed syllable, the way the text does, and thus use a trochaic rhythm instead, “stressed – unstressed.” The kids speaking on that rhythm have to put all the stressed syllables on the stressed beats of the tempo produced by the musicians with sticks and cans (like tam tams), or tambourines, or even drums (Indian drums). You can imagine how much the kids would learn about English that way, and all that by playing. And that playing is intense and difficult, a lot more than we may think at first but they would only feel the playful activity. I remember some teachers from Hatlem high schools explaining in a world congress in Amsterdam how they were teaching all subjects, mathematics, geographic or history by inciting the students to pur that stuff in some rap music, or blues music.

Of course you can also follow the musical imagination of the kids and come to some chanting or even singing. They love it and they can do it. I did that a lot when I was giving some simple half-hour lessons to 10-11 year olds. Of course we could play for ten minutes with “What is this?” and “What color is that pen?” but very young children have to change activities every three or four minutes. My best experience in the field was in North Carolina where I had a singing club with my students and my colleague the Spanish Teacher’s. The day the principal came they were working on Kalinka and he afterwards expressed his surprise at listening to Spanish and French students singing Russian. But you can’t imagine how much these high school students loved it. It was different from the standard Frère Jacques or Cadet Roussel.

But I had an even better experience in Tourcoing, France, where in 1976 or 1977 for Halloween that was just coming out in France I introduced a singing ritual to the goddess of the day, the pumpkin. Imagine thirty 17 year olds singing at the top of their voices of course the following song to the music of God Save the Queen: “God save our dear pumpkin, God save our dear pumpkin, God save pumpkin, etc…” with a pumpkin on the teacher’s desk, eviscerated – drawn as they used to do on the day before Bartholomew Fair in the Middle Ages, though with human beings condemned to die on the scaffolds – of course with two eyes a nose and a mouth and a candle inside. The first time I did it my colleague from next door – out of shock or out of curiosity – popped in to wonder what was happening. The 17 year olds gave him one more round of the killing song.

When I assigned the same students to read ten pages of the short stories by Malamud, the Magic Barrel, every week for next week they did it with gusto too, because that was different. It was though slightly difficult to negotiate the visit of the local rabbi to answer the questions of the students on Malamud and Judaism. But the “secular” administration in the end accepted, provided the rabbi did not speak of religion, or something along that line. Boy Scout Promise of course. I just let the students ask their questions and the rabbi answer them with the moderation no one had to require. We live in a civilized world after all, even if some seem to doubt it.

That’s what I think could be done with these books with young kids: games, songs, rap music and singing, dramatic performances, and eventually some cultural exploration. The texts and the topics are just perfect, or quasi perfect, for such work and the teachers can always add a little bit more. The book is the hot dog in its bun and the teachers and students are supposed to choose and add all the possible relish: one night I arrived in New York central bus station and I had to wait till 12.01 am (meaning one past midnight). So I went to the restaurant and ordered a hot dog. The Black waiter stated telling me a never-ending list of condiments, relish and other dressings. I think I remember I told him the second and the fifth, and he stared at me a little bit. That’s where these book could be fun, real fun.



Jacques Coulardeau at (51)



This series is a masterpiece in a way, not by its producer but in itself. Note this is true for several reasons, over six seasons of course, six the number of Solomon’s wisdom.

1- The period chosen here is crucial for the modern world. It is when the colonial mind of our European culture reached its summit and started its downfall with the First World War. After WWI colonialism in Europe was finished, even in spite of the Nazi relapse.

2- In Great Britain it was crucial the aristocracy came to terms with the social transformation of women having to be recognized as crucial in society and as having to hold jobs and social positions. Note that could also be true for the whole western world after WWI.

3- In Great Britain it was urgent they came to terms with the Irish question and it was hard in this noble family for whom an Irishman could be a chauffeur but the husband of one of their daughters, of the youngest most rebellious of the three daughters, that was an other story.

4- In the whole world it came to the surface of history that everyone had to have, has to have, a money earning job of some kind and that everyone has to live with the means they are able to earn by their work. The aristocracy has to learn that their mansions are not only theirs but they are the heritage of humanity and as such they have to open them to the curiosity of simple people, and that can become a regular income to take care of this heritage.

5- In the whole world too it is to be assumed that servants are no longer a special class serving the aristocracy – and the rich – in total subservience. Servants could never be the same and the number of servants had to go down and many had to find new social positions for which they were qualified or could acquire qualification, provided education was open to all.

It is such questions and quite a few more that make this series a real masterpiece and the production is so lavish, florid, beautiful, extravagant that no one can resist and not push the door or the TV remote control’s button to start the adventure.

Research Interests:
Education, Service Quality, Public Health, Ireland, Aristocracy, Hospital Management, WWI, Pig Farming, Universal Primary Education, World War One, Universal Basic Education, Gender and family history; history of subaltern groups such as servants and children; questions of masculinity and fatherhood, Domestic Servants, British Aristocracy and country houses, UNIVERSAL PRIIMARY EDUCATION, and Pig Farming Business Plan


Do not resist: enter Downton Abbey six seasons


The first thing to be said about this series is that it is British from the very first scene to the very last by the vast range of actors and actresses as for age and the extreme quality of these actors, most of them having parallel careers in theaters, television and the cinema. They are thus able to act with a vast variety of stances and tones and at the same time with a great expressivity on their faces or with their body language. Within that great versatility and mental or dramatic agility there is not one single age that is privileged and the older generation is just as good and as present as the youngest one and the age range, apart from the few children, goes from the late teens and early twenties to the seventies. This is exceptional and no American series will ever be able to do that. A TV actor might turn up in the cinema but then he will never go back to TV, and both will hardly be able to work on a stage. The case of “Harry Potter,” or Daniel Radcliffe if you prefer, is typically British who can play on the stage or act in a film. That mobility is not American, and American television sure misses something there, just as much as it misses the use of older actors and actresses, as well as very young ones, leveling the cast within a twenty to thirty years age bracket.

The second element that makes this series beautifully and exceptionally British is the fact it is situated before, during and after the First World War in England and everything is there to tell you, you are in England. The Mansion in which the action takes place, the official Downton Abbey, which is of course not the real name, the village next to it, the array of vehicles and cars, the steam engine and the train, even the London of that time, all is reconstructed the way it was or used to be. Only England can have that Tudor architecture. It is in no way similar to anything anywhere else in the world and if there is something looking like it in the USA, it is nothing but a copy, hence a fake, or maybe, like the old London Bridge, a rejected ruin that was bought over here and brought and rebuilt over there, in a piece of desert even.

The third element is the society it depicts. There is the upstairs of the aristocrats, lords, ladies, duchesses, earls and so on that is so English in its vanity, social exclusiveness, social segregation, social racism even. And there is the downstairs of the servants, the copy cat hierarchy of the service from the butler at the top to the housekeeper at the top too, then to the valets and the footmen on one side, and to the maids and kitchen hands on the other side, and with some hierarchy within each echelon of this social descending ladder. To be in the service was a great honor and privilege and one could spend one’s whole life in it and climbing the rungs of that ladder one at a time over the decades. But this series is exceptional because it goes far beyond that simple capture of social stratification.

The main lady, the wife of the Earl has an American mother, and brother (not very much present in the series), and this American line is always the source of some humor more than anything else, though of course it is also the source of a lot of money and opportunities.

The chauffeur of the estate is Irish, a republican socialist what’s more, and he falls in love with one of the three daughters and she would have eloped if her father had not accepted to change his mind. This daughter will die in childbirth and the Irish socialist ex-chauffeur who is thus the father of a little girl who is a blood relative of the family is accepted in this circle but as the one who is going to take over the management of the estate, hence a full time job, and yet he does not feel at home really. But he finds a real position because of what he is doing: saving the English aristocracy from being bankrupt and run over by the capitalists, by becoming capitalists themselves, with the help of a new generation of non-aristocrats who break all kinds of rules just because they can since they are not aristocrats.

The heir of the estate is a non aristocrat (he inherits the estate but not the title) but his fate is tragic though he provides the family with a very much desired male heir. His wife, the oldest daughter, is a very strange character though she might be able to change and evolve with the world, especially after the war because England has to change fast if they want to avoid some social upheaval.

The general picture here is fascinating.

In the same way what is happening downstairs is fascinating with love and hatred, with spying and plotting, of all sorts, even a rape here and there to pepper and salt the scene, a few violent crimes too, well disguised if possible. Not to speak of a possible divorce that is not brought to its fulfillment because the woman dies in the mean time. Bleak and dark, and yet some women in that set of servants are outstandingly honest and humane. This world is a world of its own and that too is interesting.

All together this series is a lot more fascinating than I have said because of these numerous and varied levels of social norms and taboos that are broken or challenged by a set of extremely good actors and actresses that make the show a real gem of television production. Note the way the Prince of Wales who was to become a king who married a divorcee and was obliged to abdicate because of it is ridiculed, is absolutely funny, though that more or less covers his bad political reputation since he was on Hitler’s side, more or less, and to show him as having the most careless and freewheeling morality you can imagine for a future king justifies the fact that he was nicely pushed aside. It could not be done with more humor, though very cruel humor for that prince who has to acknowledge what could have been a scandal and his obligation to owe one to a set of aristocrats who used the skills of their servants to salvage a situation that was desperate. The London season is really funny then.



There is something in this costume drama television series as they are heftily called something that makes it different from many others. In fact there are several things indeed.

The first element is that it is long lasting. Five years is already a long stretch for a series of that type. More than a simple series, each episode locked up between its opening        and closing music and credits, it is a continuing story and each episode has its own well defined subject and Object and yet the action will go on next episode. It is not necessarily a cliff hanger at the end of each episode, but it is at the end of each season, though then the Christmas special or London Season can answer the cliff hanger and propose a milder suspenseful ending.

The second element is that there is some real equality in treatment and quality between the downstairs and the upstairs, the servants and the masters. They are both, as groups and each individual in each group, believable, realistic and even in many ways lovable, even the darker ones.

In this series the darker one downstairs is a well hidden but under strict surveillance gay footman, Thomas Barrow, or something, and in this season his friend, another footman is leaving and he feels lost, not that they had some real happiness under the surveillance, but they had some accompliceship. Then he gets in a real bad blind alley, that of trying to force nature and make himself more normal. That suddenly makes him more human, especially since he fails and finds the support he needs.

Upstairs they all are a little bit dark, but the master himself, the father of this family, now grandfather, The Earl of Grantham is at times such a strict conservative and narrow-minded dictator about appearances and language, manners and habits, that he could make anyone really angry. But he is changing in this season under the influence of his Irish son-in-law and estate manager, Tom Branson, under the influence of his American wife, Cora Crawley, under the influence of his daughters who all are quite unconventional in a way or another, and at the very end he comes to realizing that he has a third grandchild from his daughter Sybil who has a journalistic career in her hands, if she wants, since she inherited from her dead unmarried husband, the father of her daughter, the publishing business he had and for which she had worked a little.

But upstairs is bringing a lot of surprises and the promise of much change. The cousin – and niece, Rose McClare – who had been living in Downton Abbey is finally bringing her wild life to an end and she is being married. What an event! She fell in love with a young man who fell in love with her. Perfect. Well, it would be perfect if the young man, Atticus Aldridge, were not Jewish of Russian origin, Odessa actually. Her own mother who comes from India for the wedding tries to ruin it. The father in law, Atticus’ father, is an important character in his Jewish community and he does not like the wedding, but the mother in law is strongly for it and her aunt, Cora Crawley, in whose home she had been living for several years, the American of the family, had a Jewish father or grandfather, who cares anyway.

The cliff hanger is the strange assassination of a certain Mr. Green, the rapist, who had raped Mrs. Bates, that is coming back to haunt the Bates with more police prosecution and investigation, maybe persecution, or vice versa. That’s the cliffhanger of this season.

Then Tom Branson is announcing he plans on going to Boston with his daughter to start a new life with his brother there, or some relative. The Earl has finally accepted to renovate some of the old houses of the village and maybe to build some new ones and he has managed to help the people in the village with their project of a war memorial, and has even managed to have a plaque to Daisy’s husband and Mrs. Padmore’s nephew on a wall not too far because he could not be included on the memorial since officially he had been classified a deserter after one nasty shelling episode and was sentence to be shot.

There is in this series finally an attempt to stick to what is happening in society. So we have some echoing little waves coming from London where the first Labor government was instated and the King spoke to the nation in one of his addresses for the first time on the radio, the wireless as it was called at the time. It is probably these touches of political change and modernity that give the series a certain level of durability. But even so, nothing is sustainable for ever. The poor dog – a bitch actually – is dying of cancer. We can even assume she is dead, and that is sad since she was the wavering dog ass in the opening credits in each episode. What is going to happen now?



We all know finishing a series that has been going on for five years is a difficult task. In this business you may have the American ruffians who very often, most of the time, kill the main character like Dexter who is maybe not dead but since then the author put him to death in the last book of the series of books behind the TV series. Same thing with Prison Break and yet they are speaking of the revival of the series, like poor Sherlock Holmes killed by Conan Doyle and then revived, resurrected, resuscitated. Then you have Supernatural where every season they kill one of the main characters and systematically revive him, always men apparently, within a couple of episodes or at the beginning of the next season. Humdrum. Lost was different since they managed to come back and have a revival but that is an absolutely unique case. Quite a few others just come to an end without any real grand ending. House MD was an exception since Dr House brought an enormously phenomenal ending to his series.

But in this series dealing with the transformation of the British high nobility at the beginning of the 20th century up to 1925, you have to be at least lavish and certainly grandiose and at the same time all characters must find a logical end and if possible a happy ending, even if the butler Charles Carson is taken by a family ailment, palsy, the family provides with a happy compromise that enables the gay underbutler Thomas Barrow who had moved out to be called back and to find his happy ending. Charles Carson and Mrs. Hughes are married. Anna Bates gets pregnant and her pregnancy is medically saved by Mary Crawley, her boss. The undercook Daisy Mason is finally moving to the farm of her father in law and is falling for a young footman in the house. But that was easy.

The cook Mrs. Patmore is saved from a press scandal in her bed-and-breakfast guest house project by the Earl himself and his wife and daughters. Joseph Molesley is promoted teacher in the village school and that was not easy for someone who had been a servant all his life, hence exercising no authority at all and finding himself in a situation where authority is the major word with young children and teenagers. The merging of the local hospital with the bigger York hospital is over-dramatic because the grandmother is against it and has to be pushed aside to give way to the American raised mother. But what about the two daughters of this family, three originally but Thomas Branson’s wife Sybil Crawley is dead, as we all know. The two sisters are rivals and they systematically compete in all fields. Edith Crawley has her own life and career in London since she is the owner of a magazine and that provides the series with a few twists: how to get rid of an editor who does not satisfy her and is hostile to her, the owner mind you, and how to replace him by a competent woman who could work hand in hand with her and the rest of the personnel, all women.

Edith Crawley falls in love with the Marquess of Hexham to be (after the accidental but disreputable death of the cousin who carried the title in Tangiers). She obviously has to explain the fact that she has a daughter Marigold from a previous affair that did not lead to marriage. The mother Mirada Pelham of the Marquess Herbert Pelham hesitates when she learns about it but that’s a long time after the hesitations of the Marquess himself when he was told the fact by Mary Crawley at breakfast one unhappy morning in Downton Abbey. But it comes to a proper ending after all, even if Edith is tainted.

Mary Crawley who will provide her own son, Georges, with the title of Earl of Grantham when her father dies, is another story and she has to get the agreement of her dead husband from beyond his tomb to finally accept to marry the man she loves Henry Talbot but he is a car racer. He finally drops his racing after an accident that kills his best friend and with the complicity of Thomas Branson the relation that gets estranged because of the panicking fright of Mary when dealing with car racing is re-established and this Henry Talbot who has no nobility, no –title, no fortune, finds a new career in the village: he buys with Thomas Branson a car dealership and he will thus make a career in commerce while his wife Mary will manage the family estate, both using Thomas Branson as the associate each one needs to really succeed since Thomas Branson is originally a chauffeur and knows about car mechanics and he was the estate agent for several years after the war and knows a lot about an agricultural estate like Downton Abbey due to his Irish raising.

Then the show can end up in glory with a brilliant Christmas special and a grand finale that is like a New Year Special and it can finish with Auld Lang Syne in its old version of course:

For auld lang syne, my dear 
For auld lang syne, 
We’ll tak a cup o’ kindness yet 
For auld lang syne!

The best about this series though is that it emphasizes the great change the English noble families had to face after the First World War and we know that 1929’s Black Friday and the Second World War will prove this transformation was not enough and a far deeper mutation was needed. And it is far from being finished. The series though seems to first let us understand that it will be enough for the future and second it seems to be a lot more important in the series than it probably actually was. The Crawley family is by far special and probably not representative of all the big noble families in the early 1920s. The assertion in this last season that the health Minister Chamberlain will have a brilliant future and be one day Prime Minister, is slightly ironical since we know he did not exactly left a positive mark in Munich in 1938. But it would be slightly anachronistic to include that knowledge in 1924-25. But even so: the image for today is slightly warped because we know what came afterwards.

These pageant series so brilliantly performed by outstanding actors and production teams in Great Britain are also carrying messages about society and the world, about history naturally that are necessarily slightly smoothened to look slightly more brilliant than it probably actually was. But that is fiction after all, and we just enjoy it.


Wednesday, February 24, 2016


You do not need to be a bed-pot maker to be a good magician


Anyone who knows about fan-literature may be reluctant to get into a novel that is so close to the most than famous Harry Potter line. I will not get into all the similarities because that would be unfair and anyway vain, and I would even say the vain vanity of someone who wants to impress the people in front of him or her with know-it-all expertise. Let’s pray I do not fall the prey of such a vain vein of inspiration.

I must insist on the originalities, and they are many.

Poor Avis Blackthorn is surely brought up in a hostile environment but it is not some kind of distant fat uncle and his despicable family, especially son, somewhere in London suburbs, but it is Avis’s own family, his father, his mother and his six brothers and sisters, which makes him the seventh son and that is a curse in this world of seven Magical realms. Seven is the most magic word you can imagine. Seventh sons escape evil, are protected against evil and black magic. Good for young 12 year old Avis, but it is a lie in a way since he is the seventh child but only the fourth son since he has three sisters. But hush it up, this is a secret you mustn’t tell.

He goes to a school for wizard that is of course somewhere in a very wild and isolated place you can only reach by train and you have to take a train from a station that does not look like a station and is hidden behind some plain house door in a plain ordinary street. But it is very original because it is a standard train with plenty of passengers who are simple people – and some are pickpockets – going to any station before the station of the school. And since some people from “outside” meaning the non magic world are coming to the school on that train, the train must start running in this very outside. Though be careful and do not pester the conductor, he is a magical monster of some sort.

Then the story is all normal and standard for a school for wizards. Nothing surprising, really, coats of armors, ghosts (who are the slaves of the whole school), all kinds of traps and tricks, and some strange sport but no brooms or broomsticks and no w ands, just channellers. And of course charms, curses, spells and other magic formulas.

But the main difference is in the main character himself, Avis. He is the seventh child of a family that is famous for their evilness. They work for the most horrible and nasty evil creature, in fact wizard, Malakai, and their job is to dominate, exploit, blackmail or eliminate all the wizards in the seven magic realms. The whole plot is built around a magic book of secret names that contains the secret names of all wizards and the person who controls the book can control all the wizards whose names are in that book. The point is that the secret names of seventh sons are not in this book, but is it true of seventh children, and so they escape the control of any evil person who uses this book as his possession, hence of Malakai.

The question is: Does a seventh child who is a fourth son benefit from this privilege just like a real seventh son? Does Avis benefit from this privilege?

The next main difference is that Avis is extremely bad – though not evil at all – and he is hated by everyone because of his name but he is not able to frighten everyone or even anyone because he is awkward, shy, unskilled, frightened, in one word a loser. When he tries it ends up as a catastrophe and he has to run away, be isolated, live in a clandestine place in the school with only one friend, a ghost and it will take him a tremendous amount of time to find out who this ghost was.

And that’s the secret of the book: to bring together tidbits of mystery to rebuild some kind of dramatic plot in which Avis is drowning. In other words it is well done and different enough from the pot-making teenager to be more than interesting, in fact fascinating in many ways. Don’t try to skip a page or a paragraph: you will lose the logic of the story. The style is dense and does not like beating about the magic bush too much, though it beats about the magic food a lot. The story telling is bow, arrow, target and shoot, over and over again, even if these bows and arrows are magic spells, most of the time fiery and colorful.

On the next part, second year Avis in the school will have to be very creative to go on differentiating himself from the earthenware bed-pot maker especially since Ms. J.K. Rowling has decided to bring her earthen pot maker back in the bookstores – and on the stage – with this time the son of this more than famous Harry Potter, hence a teacup maker. I hope too these characters could become slightly more modern – and this is true for Harry Potter too – and start having computers, smart phones, tablets, iPods and all other modern technology which is magic in itself. We do need to enter the world of cyber magic and magic hacking. After all CSI has become CSI Cyber. So let the new world enter our magic literature, like Lestat de Lioncourt has brought rock and roll into the landscape of vampires.


Tuesday, February 23, 2016


Mnimal music is a maximum argument against death penalty.


This opera is for me a mini opera with only two voices and practically only two characters. But why not? The most surprising element is the reference to Franz Kafka. That’s another age, that’s the time of anti-Semite totalitarianism and anti-spiritual communism, and that does not, those do not exist any more. So what does the subject of this opera becomes as for its modern meaning in our time?

The story is the long, very long explanation of a special old-time way of executing someone condemned to death, some industrialized or mechanized medieval chamber of torture. The execution is identified to a machine that will kill the condemned person in six hours, mind you six hours, six, Solomon’s number or the hour when Jesus is arrested. This element is meaningful in an anti-Semite perspective but that perspective has disappeared completely from our consciousness, though the two sides of anti-Semitism, anti-Jewish and anti-Islamic hostility, segregation and violence, are well and kicking in our Western societies. Who still knows apart from the few educated people concerned, that symbolical value of the number six? And if it is associated to Jesus arrested by the priests of the Jewish Temple in the “sixth hour,” it does not make sense if there is not the ninth hour, the hour when Jesus died on the cross, early enough for him to be brought down and buried before nightfall since after nightfall on Friday it is Shabbat.

If such symbolical values that were extremely strong with Fritz Lang and Franz Kafka have today eroded in value and power, what does this long execution mean?

Long indeed but with an incident since one wrist bond gets loose and forces the whole process to wait for a new wrist bond to arrive to replace the broken one. But particularly long since the Officer is explaining, ro a completely estranged visitor, the way the machine works, with even some mechanical sounds or noise from rare time to rare time. The prisoner is bound belly down naked on a table and a harrow comes down slowly from over the prisoner with many needles and this harrow is going to write the crime for which the man is executed in his back and that will last six hours with some felt or cotton ball in the prisoner’s mouth to prevent his shouting and speaking. Yet after two hours this ball will be taken out and some porridge will be presented to the man in a bowl or plate and he will be able to eat what he can reach with his tongue, nailed or pinned the way he is on the table by the descending be-needled harrow.

This is cruel for sure, inhumane and the length of the process in itself is enough to make it absurd. Even the Nazis tried to make the gassing of the prisoners as quick as possible and it lasted nothing but a few minutes in itself and maybe a couple of hours after coming off the train. All the more inhumane because there is only one prisoner! In Auschwitz and other concentration camps the human beings that were going to be gassed were first turned into some kind of human cattle, not even chattel, because of the mass of people moving together to their ordeal and execution which no longer was an execution but slaughter in a slaughterhouse. Here we have only one prisoner and thus he remains a human being. He is not slaughtered he is slowly put to death as a show for the audience of children and women along with men. From purely a barbaric inhuman crime we shift to a barbaric inhumane atrocity. Just have it televised on a couple of giant screens and we could reach the level of a crime against humanity.

But the story is even harsher because the officer represents the old time, the time of the Old Commander who was a faithful believer in this execution procedure, and he defends the old method now the New Commander is obviously against it to the point that the prisoner is freed at the end and the machine is destroyed, dismantled. Times are changing and we are surprised in the ellipse between the beginning when the condemned man was declared as going to be executed for no idenbtified reason, for no specified guilt, after no real trial and right to defend himself, even worse without the prisoner being told he was going to be executed for any crime at all, just led into the procedure and the executing machine in total unawareness of what was going to happen. And the end is the second side of the ellipse: the release of the prisoner, the dismantling of the machine as the result of this total unjust injustice, this true miscarriage of justice, a justice saved right in the nick of time by the New Commander.

Then the declaration of the visitor at the end that he is against the death penalty is nearly superfluous. We had understood the only meaning is the debunking in gross terms, including the full nakedness of the prisoner – in the libretto’s stage directions at least since the few pictures of the production of the opera do not show a naked prisoner, prudery and modesty oblige –, the full denunciation of the death penalty as being “unjust” and “inhumane.” But the opera goes slightly further since the prisoner is released and the accompanying soldier goes away along with him but a single massive needle falls down onto the Officer who is so attached to the old times and pierces his head entering through his forehead, front-wise and not in the back. You cannot be more explicit about the ritualistic vengeance and sacrifice of the representative of the past for the future to be able to emerge from a chaotic present.

But then you have the right to tell me all that is very semantic, but what does the music have to do with all that?

It has to do a lot because you cannot imagine a more harrowing music in the world with violins and other strings working on repetitive two or there notes that sound like a hand saw cutting through a log, go and come back, go and come back, on and on, forever and without any end and only very light variations not in rhythm or even melody line, just going up and down one or two degrees on the scale, shifting from one instrument to the next. The harrow that is descending with its dozens of needles to carve the condemned skin with the justification of his execution till death ensues finds in this harrowing music its perfect illustration. That’s what the world would be if it were abandoned to its own death instinct and killing bliss. The voices are just the same kind of humdrum and extremely crushed down, bulldozed diction with here and there one syllable jumping out like a cry, a yell, nothing else, a short-circuited howl that will never get any width, length or density. The only really contrast is between the two voices, one, the Visitor’s, generally targeting the high pitched range of a tenor’s voice without really reaching anything like a countertenor’s range, and the other, the Officer’s, generally targeting the lower pitched range of the tenor’s voice without really being a baritone, certainly not a bass.

We thus have a completely suspended dramatic atmosphere and situation that never really comes to any resolution. It is like an aborted event, an accidental evolution that does not implement principles but only incidental incremental changes due to the shift from one person to the next, from one generation to the next. There is no democracy, no human rights or principles, just the slow erosion of an old system under time-wear and nothing else.

This opera both in its libretto and its minimalist music is a tremendously pessimistic vision of the evolution of pour modern world. You may think it is justified, or you might ponder it is excessive, but that is not my job to choose. This opera is for me a self-contained lamentation on the barbarity of humanity and its impossibility to control its evolution that is just the result of circumstances, which is nothing but realistic if you look at the minuscule speck of dust humanity is in the cosmos. In other words Philip Glass is the composer of the time of black holes that force us to maybe start questioning all our certitudes about the evolution of our universe. The big bang has lost all ground and any creative moment is just blind ideology.


Monday, February 22, 2016


Goethe reaches the heavens with Prometheus, the rebel!


I have always considered Lieders as a minor musical form that can be entertaining, at times surprising, that can reach the level of an anthem or a hymn, and yet that cannot have the dramatic power and the tragic urgency of an aria in an oratorio or lamentation in an opera because they have nothing before, nothing after and they are reduced to their single skeleton and the little flesh the words put on the bones and the life the music can set in that flesh. This recording is just going that way with its first two sections, “Mörike-Lieder” and “Spanisches Liederbuch,” but it gets transcended and transcendental with the last section “Goethe-Lieder.”

Why is Goethe so strong?


The first reason is that these poems were not written to become Lieders but to be poems. Goethe’s style is one of the densest styles I know in German poetry. What’s more Goethe has a tremendous dramatic and tragic sense, from Sturm und Drang to Faust I & II, and he sure can wrap a simple situation in such a vast mental construction that we enter an outlandish universe with the first words that are like a black hole in the poetic cosmos. And don’t believe you can escape that human tragedy because Goethe is able with three words to capture you and never let you go. I know only very few arias by Bach in his passions that can have that mesmerizing power with two words like “Ruht Wohl.”

Goethe systematically assumes the point of view of the person speaking in the poem. Thus he is Mignon, he is the Rattenfänger, the Harfenspieler and Prometheus. And that transforms the poem into a snaring trap for the listener and it reveals that Goethe was haunted by the desire for a man, a lover with Mignon: a whole crowd of rats, children that have to be seen as boys because the third crowd is girls to then relapse on the rats with Der Rattenfänger; an evanescent and unidentified male character in the absolute solitude of the Harfenspieler; to end with the identification with Prometheus challenging God and his punishment that gives him the eternal glory and dimension of the martyr, in a way the very archetype that will be imitated with Jesus on his cross by order of his father to save humanity just the same way Prometheus gave the means to become humanity to the wild animal man was before he had fire and a some other divine knowledge and knowhow, with the only difference that Prometheus stole that knowledge from his god whereas Jesus was just a gullible and subservient sacrificial being of his father.


The music is up to that challenge and this section of the CD becomes musically outlandish whereas the previous sections were only humanely dramatic. This fascination and vast cosmic hunt of Goethe for that pure man he longs for, that pure male hero and genius he dreams of poem after poem becomes like the icon of the deepest desire a man may have, the desire to reach what Lacan called his phallus, the Ideal of his Ego, the hero and the genius that is in each one of us, the narcissistic and deeply blissful commerce with what we could be, could become, could build, could conquer. And this monosexual discourse can become universal if we take this male character as the representative of any human being, of Mensch and not Mann, hence of Weib too and Frau, of Mädchen as much as Kinder. But what is essential is this introspective self-realization of the inner mental potential we are by our own efforts that have to be a rebellion against the world, against all the gods, against ourselves too because our mental potential is too often enslaved by the symbolical chains of Prometheus which can then and consequently make us only be the fodder of the social and political eagle that sucks our blood day after day, and we will never be able to realize our dream, our potential, our promise.

I will naturally dedicate this Prometheus, Goethe’s and Wolf’s, to all those I have loved, be they the few women I loved and still love including of course the one who became my life partner; be they the few men I loved and still love including my son who is suffering somewhere on this earth and in his mind for having been loved too much by artificial desires and paradises, and my best younger friend in my old age who is a lot more than just a friend, a mind-mate that has promised to hug me on my death bed.


Sunday, February 21, 2016


Eternity is beyond life twinned in the couple birth-death

DAVID TUDOR – RAINFOREST 1 (recorded in India in 1990) – RAINFOREST 4 (undated recording) – 1998

This electro-acoustic music has nothing to do with the Rainforest per se. All the sounds are artificial and technically they are projected into some volume, some 3-D space via objects that can be practically anything. These objects give the sounds some kind of texture, structure and resonance (note such installations are becoming common place and I have seen many even in distant provincial towns now microphones and loudspeakers or amplifiers can be extremely small and wireless managed from anywhere from the cloud in some WIFI space). The various objects are installed, suspended or positioned in various spots in the volume and these sounds then are inter-twisting around and through one another in some three dimensional volume in which the listener is positioned. We have to understand what we get on the CD is not what we would get in a real installation. We are positioned with the CD in one single and immobile point and the sounds are surrounding us according to the re-mastering performed for that CD. In a real installation we can position ourselves in any point whatsoever and thus have the sound composition the way it is received in that point and we can move in the installation thus changing the composition by changing the reception point.

But even if we only get a one-pointed experience of this music we can really enjoy and appreciate it.

The title of it is quite justified in the fact that we have exactly the same experience we would have in any forest, and particularly any rain forest. We are in the middle of it and we have sounds coming from all the points around us, intertwining one another with every single other sound and we are moving in that forest, some sounds becoming distant and some becoming close in and from all possible directions. And the sources of these sounds can themselves move since they are  birds, animals, the wind in the leaves and of course the rain itself on top of it. This music then becomes particularly fascinating since we may believe, feel we are in such a natural environment.

That is what comes with the first version of the piece.

The second version is quite different because the sounds are no longer aiming at being close to the sounds in a real rain forest, birds, wind in leaves and other natural sounds. These are still there and in the same way as before, but the whole forest experience, all the forest sounds are wrapped up in some other sounds that are more mechanical, artificial, urban even, industrial some could say, in other words noise and that gives a double feeling.

The first one is that the natural rain forest is being eaten up by the industrial urban noise of some big city, of our over-urbanized and over-populated world. We feel this rain forest, this nature is in danger; is endangered by our world. This feeling may make us feel guilty and at the same time what can we do? Can we get rid of two or three billion people to go back to what the world was one century ago? Of course not. But yet we have to curb our demography. Our galloping expanding demography is a catastrophe for our world, for our human species. It is in fact our doom. And doomsday will be at the end of the road.

At the very same time this rain forest is inside the industrial wrapping and urban surrounding. This rain forest is the very core, the absolute essence of our existence, of our species, of humanity. We cannot negate the animality and naturalness of our existence and negating it is negating us, negating humanity, negating nature, negating life and we are alive, hence we contain the rain forest, we are not part of it we are the temple of it, the shrine in which it is supposed to go on, living and developing.

This music is by far a lot more than just electro-acoustic gymnastics. It is ethical, fascinating, mesmerizing. We have to fall into its trap, its trick, its hypnosis and we may then become the gods we have always wanted to be. We can become the gods the cosmos needs to survive in its own dynamism and expansion. We have to assume the rain forest in its dynamic survival that might imply its final destruction just the same way as the existence and survival of the earth must imply its end.

That’s the main and third (triune) feeling then. Since the earth as a beginning it will have an end, since humanity developed from some moment in the past it will come to its own end at some moment in the future, since the sun has come into existence with its galaxy at a precise moment in the past it will have to come to its own end, and yet no matter when this or that comes to an end the cosmos as a whole will go one existing and expanding and transforming. We are living on a false idea that the universe, the cosmos appeared from nothing and nowhere at one moment, be it the Big Bang or the sudden caprice of an almighty creative and yet uncreated god. We have to understand the universe was already in existence before that moment even if it was existing in another form. Nothing comes from nothing. Everything comes from something. The only universal rule is not about the beginning and the end of this or that form of life, mineral, animal, vegetal or cosmic, but the fact that any form of life is derived from another form of life that existed before.

Hominins are descending from Hominids who are descending from anterior forms of animal life that are descending from other forms of vegetal life that are descending from other forms of mineral life. There is no end in this descent. No end because there is no beginning. That’s what’s troubling our minds so much and this music is soaking us into this evanescent and drowning reality. Not to drown we have to accept the universe as having no initial point and no final point but as being a continuous and eternal transformation and evolution. That’s the feeling I experience in any forest and I experienced it in the rain forest of Sri Lanka for example, particularly in the night. Life surrounds you and you are a speck of dust in this cosmic life. Just listen to it and enjoy it until you can merge into it. Your birth was a miracle of cosmic evolution and your death will just be your return to this cosmic evolution. How can you be afraid of it?


This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?