How did classical music become evil—in movies, that is? Theodore Gioia explains.
What theft takes: “Art’s backyard rock garden was his sanctuary. That’s where he sat and prayed for hours on end after the kids had left home and his wife had been moved to a nursing home. He painted the names of departed friends on smooth stones and sat on a bench in their midst to pray. Prayer was his salve for loneliness. Cheap yard statuettes kept him company. A stone rabbit. Plastic geese. A 15-inch-high concrete gnome. The gnome was his best friend. He’d put a knit cap on it when the weather turned cold. He’d check on it when going out to pick up the mail. Two years ago, something possessed Art to move the gnome to an old tree stump in his front yard. He’d been scared to do it for fear of vandalism from kids who regularly taunted him. His daughter believes he wanted to share his happiness in the gnome with the neighborhood. The gnome didn’t last long. Within days, a thief in the night had stolen it.”
The art of Hayao Miyazaki: “Miyazaki, a master of pencil, watercolor, and oil who has long resisted digital animation, is revolted—not only by the digital nature of the animation but by the broader contempt for life that the young animators express. He describes a disabled friend of his and says, ‘Thinking of him, I can’t watch this stuff and find it interesting. Whoever creates this stuff has no idea what pain is whatsoever. I am utterly disgusted. . . . I strongly feel that this is an insult to life itself.’ The programmers struggle to respond. The documentary cuts to Miyazaki sketching and mumbling to himself, ‘I feel like we are nearing the end times.’
The people who eat the same lunch every day: “Vern Loomis, a retired structural draftsman in West Bloomfield, Michigan, had a standard office lunch: a peanut-butter sandwich, with various fruit, vegetable, and dessert accompaniments. He ate this, he estimates, nearly every workday for about 25 years.”
Stuart Evers praises Helen Oyeyemi’s novel Gingerbread: “The great joy of Oyeyemi’s work is its sense of complete freedom: in her narratives, we rarely, if ever, end up in expected places. She follows nothing but her own instincts, leaves storylines when they have ceased to amuse her, introduces sub-plots and asides on a whim. It is disarming, sometimes disorientating, sometimes maddening, but when the quality of the writing — and the scope of the imagination — is this good, it’s hard not to be swept away.”
The mostly forgotten actor, Oscar Levant, was an accomplished classical pianist. Terry Teachout reviews a collection of his recordings that were recently released by Sony and explains how he ended up in radio and TV: “Beyond the mere fact of its existence, what is most remarkable about A Rhapsody in Blue is the nature of its contents. It includes all four of George Gershwin’s concert works for piano and orchestra, of which Levant was an admired interpreter, but the rest of the set is devoted to music by classical composers, including solo pieces by Bach, Beethoven, Brahms, Chopin, Copland, Debussy, Liszt, Poulenc, Prokofiev, Rachmaninoff, Ravel, Schumann, and Shostakovich, as well as concerto performances that feature such noted conductors as Eugene Ormandy and Fritz Reiner. That Levant recorded so extensively as a classical pianist will startle anyone who knows only his films. It is likely to be just as startling, however, to those who also remember that he once appeared regularly on such radio and TV series as Information Please and the Jack Paar–hosted version of The Tonight Show, on which he ‘played’ a version of his real-life self, a wisecracking neurotic who bragged about his mental instability (‘I have seizures of momentary sanity’) and, later, his psychiatric hospitalizations.”
Essay of the Day:
In The New Criterion, Jacob Howland revisits Søren Kierkegaard’s prediction of a future “tyrannical equality”:
“The present age, he wrote in Two Ages (1846), is democratically ‘oriented to equality’ and marked not by ‘the happy infatuation of admiration but the unhappy infatuation of envy,’ a ‘censorious’ passion that wants to ‘stifle’ and ‘degrade’ individual excellence rather than to emulate it. A constant bane of human existence, envy is particularly destructive in the present age because ‘the abstraction of leveling is related to a higher negativity: pure humanity.’ Late-modern leveling, Kierkegaard predicted, would destroy all organic structures that mediate between living individuals and the bloodless abstraction of humanity as such. Nothing—no person, institution, or even ‘national individuality’—will be able to halt what he calls the ‘spontaneous combustion of the human race.’”
Receive Prufrock in your inbox every weekday morning. Subscribe here.