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The following books by Robert Paul Wolff are available on Amazon.com as e-books: KANT'S THEORY OF MENTAL ACTIVITY, THE AUTONOMY OF REASON, UNDERSTANDING MARX, UNDERSTANDING RAWLS, THE POVERTY OF LIBERALISM, A LIFE IN THE ACADEMY, MONEYBAGS MUST BE SO LUCKY, AN INTRODUCTION TO THE USE OF FORMAL METHODS IN POLITICAL PHILOSOPHY.
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Sunday, September 11, 2016

WHAT TO DO AFTER YOU SWEAR OFF POLITICS

My self-imposed ban on political cable news and internet election commentary has left something of a hole in my day, which I fill with walks and visits to YouTube to watch videos of baroque music.  This afternoon I listened to a lovely performance of Monteverdi’s great duet for two countertenors [or, in this instance, a countertenor and a soprano], Zefiro torna.  I first heard this piece in Sanders Theater at Harvard, with the great countertenor Russell Oberlin singing the lead voice.  This must be fifty-five years ago or thereabouts, when countertenors were just making their way in the American classical music world. 

The first countertenor to appear in America [in the 20th century, at any rate] was of course Alfred Deller.  I heard him also at Sanders Theater, and his voice range was so unfamiliar to American audiences that Deller made it a point to make a little speech, just so folks could hear that his speaking voice was in a customary male range.  Deller was not, in fact, a true countertenor, I believe, and wonderful though he was, the singers who came after him have been markedly better.


One small personal story about countertenors.  Back in 1986 or thereabouts, I was driving my son, Tobias, home from high school one day and I asked, as a father will, what he had been doing lately in school.  He replied that he had joined a madrigal group there which gave concerts in period costumes and all.  I was delighted, and replied that when I was at Harvard as an undergraduate, I had sung madrigals with two of my friends.  “What are you singing?” I asked.  He replied by opening his mouth to sing a few bars.  Out of his mouth came a pure, exquisite countertenor voice.  I was so delighted that I said, “Tobias, that is the most wonderful thing any son of mine has ever done!”  Inasmuch as Tobias’ older brother had by then earned a reputation as the strongest junior chess player in America, it was not an idle compliment.

6 comments:

Keith said...

Thank you for your thoughts on withdrawal from the political madness. I am trying too. Even NPR has become unbearable. Don't wake me when it's over.

maxgud said...

It is true I have checked out of politics too. But I am always optimistic of the future when they have the Senate Youth C-Span video. When high schoolers criticize the political elite for bickering, it warms my heart.

https://www.c-span.org/video/?406058-1/qa-us-senate-youth-program

s. wallerstein said...

From distraction from being over involved in politics and the media, I recommend John Le Carré's novels.

I've read almost all of them over the last 35 years or so. For those who have never read Le Carré, start with The Spy Who Came in From the Cold, but since lots of people have read The Spy and no other Le Carré novel, try Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy. That starts slow, as do many Le Carré novels: you read the first 50 or 60 pages and you wonder where this guy is going and suddenly, you're hooked and you have to find out not so much who done it as who is who.

One of the reasons why Le Carré distracts from being obsessed by politics is that Le Carré is a very political spy novelist (he is not Ian Fleming), but he views politics as a spectator from an almost Thucydidean distance: there are no good guys, no party or side which embodies the Good or Reason or Utopia, but there are personal virtues: loyalty, commitment, friendship, love, courage (generally not physical courage in Le Carré by the way).

Robert Paul Wolff said...

Thanks for the suggestion. I have read many of the John Le carre novels, so yesterday I ordered from Amazon the latest John Sandford novel about his character Lucas Davenport. Now that I have sworn off politics, I am appalled to discover how much free time I have! I can only go over my next lecture in my head so many times. Maybe I should take up a hobby.

Venkataraman Amarnath said...

I thought writing was your hobby.

Andrew Lionel Blais said...

How about reading Hegel or Derrida?