May 2015 #2

Madrigals and Manuscripts is a pretty good sampler of Renaissance music. I find the sharp stylistic division between religious and secular music in the period fascinating. Comparing it to the similar one today between what is played on the radio and art music is interesting (is it perhaps film music that bridges that gap?).

Every little penny in the wishing well
Every little nickel on the drum
All them shiny little heads and tails
Where do you think they come from?
They come from way down Hadestown
Way down under the ground

Way Down Hadestown, Anaïs Mitchell (from Hadestown, 2010)
(a folk opera reimagining of Orpheus and Eurydice)

From Hadestown, Why We Build The Wall was my favourite structurally. On the Orpheus and Eurydice note, this story was an interesting/novel take on it.

“Not very like,” said Halla, admiring her long toes, which were decorated with gold and emerald toe-rings, but which were not quite long enough, nor nearly sharp enough for claws. “Perhaps I shall be more like you when I am older. I think I can feel my wings growing,” she added, looking backwards over her shoulder and scratching her back.

Naomi Mitchison’s Travel Light (first two chapters) is something I wish I had known before I read The Hobbit. It is quite a gorgeous story, and its take on dragons reflects in interesting ways on Tolkien and on Le Guin.

I’m just going to leave this here: “Pennsylvania Learners Being Ripped Off By Not Knowing This One Weird Kernel Trick“.

Our desires shall be from repressions free—
As it’s only right to treat them.
To your ego’s whims I will sing sweet hymns,
And ad libido repeat them.

The Passionate Freudian to His Love, Dorothy Parker

Catherynne M. Valente’s A Buyer’s Guide to Maps of Antarctica and Kali Wallace’s The Proper Motion of Extraordinary Stars bounce off each other quite nicely. Both are set primarily in the Antarctic, and both involve explorers setting off in defiance of accepted science and the legacy they leave their children, but have substantially different emotional resonances.

What I found when I finally stood there, hands on bent knees, peering down into that tidal pool, was a rare species of colossal starfish, six-armed, larger than a saucepan, that bled a dark gold colour into the still water as if it were on fire.

But the longer I stared at it, the less comprehensible the creature became. The more it became something alien to me, the more I had a sense that I knew nothing at all—about nature, about ecosystems. There was something about my mood and its dark glow that eclipsed sense, that made me see this creature, which had indeed been assigned a place in the taxonomy—catalogued, studied, and described—irreducible down to any of that. And if I kept looking, I knew that ultimately I would have to admit I knew less than nothing about myself as well, whether that was a lie or the truth.

When I finally wrenched my gaze from the starfish and stood again, I could not tell where the sky met the sea, whether I faced the water or the shore. I was completely adrift, and dislocated, and all I had to navigate by in that moment was the glowing beacon below me.

Jeff Vandermeer’s Annihilation is a work that I would compare to Lovecraft, to Philip K. Dick, and to that moment when you realise that you have studied something in so much detail, in so much depth, that it has become meaningless. In this novel, speech is not communication: it is manipulation, obfuscation, a concealing of reality in favour of one’s preferred world. There are no names, or at least none that matter. There are no confidants; there is little trust, or knowledge, or sympathy, or meaning that is not cumulative. Even the novel’s writing style has its full effect only in sum. I was disorientated very quickly in what seems like a simple world: of pine forests, marshes, a beach, a lighthouse. A tower. Light.

I very much enjoyed reading these Complex Analysis notes. They assume high school maths and very little more.

Another story: Walkdog (Sofia Samatar) on high school and escape and loss (from Kaleidoscope; the very excellent The Truth About Owls (Amal El-Mohtar) was also originally published in that anthology).

To the extent that risk is experienced as omnipresent, there are only three possible reactions: denial, apathy or transformation. […] The expectation of the unexpected requires that the self-evident is no longer taken as self-evident. The shock of danger is a call for a new beginning.

Living in the world risk society, Ulrich Beck (Hobhouse Memorial Public Lecture)

Seanan McGuire’s new comic The Best Thing, carefully reflecting on the magical girls genre, looks like a very thoughtful and interesting piece. The first issue is available for free at that link (the others are available with a subscription to Thrillbent).

It’s easiest to blame external forces for why things didn’t happen. […] It’s equally easy to blame the inside. […] One of these problems comes from an excess of ego, the other from an unstable one. Neither are particularly healthy. At the same time, I don’t think that meditation or other methods that are supposed to help get ego out of the way will help with these things.

There Is No I In Ego“, Silveradept