Tuesday, January 31, 2006

Encoded Messaging

I am currently reading Don Quixote (or should it be Don Quijote?) after years of knowing only excerpts and criticism. Reading it in full (in the translation by Edith Grossman) has made me think, once again, about the age-old issue of encoded messaging or meaning in art vs. the personal interpretation of the reader/viewer/listener. Auerbach has mentioned the book's "continuous gaiety," but I have, so far, found nothing of the kind. Comedy, yes, but is Don Quixote meant to be a wildly comic book (or, more pointedly, did Cervantes mean for it to be so?) or does this depend on the reader? Obviously, some critics have found "gaiety," but others have noted the work's insistent darkness. Nabokov said

Both parts of Don Quixote form a veritable encyclopedia of cruelty. From that viewpoint it is one of the most bitter and barbarous books ever written.

Of course, Nabokov then goes on to say that its cruelty is "artistic," but "artistic cruelty" is markedly far from "continuous gaiety."

So, who is perceiving Cervantes' encoded meaning correctly? Those of us who find the adventures of "the Knight of the Sorrowful Face" overwhelmingly sad, or those who find a whirlwind of comedy and...yes, I'll say it again..."gaiety"? Or is the secret, perhaps, that the work's open-armed acceptance of differing interpretations is a characteristic that makes it a cornerstone of literature, and one of the greatest books ever written?

Wednesday, January 25, 2006


Wouldn't it be wonderful if our opinions and tastes were driven and formed by true and logical internal impulses rather than the desire to appear a certain way to others? I have begun to distrust the opinions of many because of their obvious wishes to appear sophisticated, intellectual, or in a more vernacular vein, "cool." Perhaps the old adage about keeping one's opinions to one's self has less to do with not wanting to hear what others have to say and more to do with simply not trusting others to deliver their opinions for the right reasons.

Perhaps this explains my irritation with endless discussions of which composers someone likes or dislikes, or the delusion that lists of "interests" truly tell anything about the person who compiled them.

Or perhaps I'm simply sleepy.

Sunday, January 22, 2006

Sunday sermon

(Photo of MaLj, by Lena Linn)

In this silent weekend when the SibMus forum (and the publishing site) has been down for a long period, other communication has filled the air, and occupied my mind. I received blog comments by email to a post that has now vanished, and other signs that individual taste and thinking are alive. Hardly surprising, the grandchildren preferred cookies and sandwiches to the pasta & antipasto smorgasbord I served at a birthday party.

After the blizzard, it is still cold, but sunny. I am listening to the music of the dishwasher. The cups and plates of the best set, that must not go in the machine, are already clean and dry. I am reading "Jude the Obscure" by Thomas Hardy, and wondering how much intellectual and artistic efforts are really "hopeless causes" (if I use the phrase correctly)?

Friday, January 13, 2006


"Conformity is the inspiration of much second-rate virtue. If we keep near a certain humble level of morality and achievement, our neighbors are willing to let us slip through life unchallenged. Those who anticipate the opinions and decisions of society must expect to be found guilty of many sins."

—Sarah Orne Jewett, A Country Doctor

Tuesday, January 10, 2006


"Do you know that I have understood something lately better than I ever did before,—it is that success and happiness are not things of chance with us, but of choice. I can see how we might so easily have had a dull summer here. Of course it is our own fault if the events of our lives are hindrances; it is we who make them bad or good. Sometimes it is a conscious choice, but oftener unconscious. I suppose we educate ourselves for taking the best of life or the worst, do not you?"

— Sarah Orne Jewett, Deephaven

Monday, January 09, 2006

Dying - The end of a two-part invention

I am reading Madeleine L'Engle's "Crosswicks Journal" books. The fourth one in the series (I read them in the wrong order), "Two-Part Invention", is mostly about her marriage to the actor Hugh Franklin. She starts the book with some funny stories and theatre gossip from New York in the '40s; then a bit about their years as general store owners in the Connecticut countryside; but the rest of the book is a depressing and painfully detailed description of how her husband of forty years is dying in cancer, while she tries to understand where God is when good people are punished for sins they have not committed (she is assuming cancer is caused by environmental pollution and "synthetic" life). But even in this dark book she says wonderful things about music and writing, like in "Circle of Quiet" (the first book in the series):
"As soon as Bion, our baby, was in nursery school, I dropped out of the group of mothers who occasionally gathered together to drink coffee and gossip. This was writing time. Nobody else needed writing time. And I felt that I was looked at askance because I spent so much time at the typewriter and yet couldn't sell what I wrote. I certainly wasn't pulling my weight financially.

"In my journal I wrote: 'There is a gap in understanding between me and our friends and acquaintances. I can't quite understand a life without books and study and music and pictures and a driving passion. And they, on the other hand, can't understand why I have to write, why I am a writer. When, for instance, I say to someone that I have to get home to work, the assumption is that I mean housecleaning or ironing, not writing a book. I'm very kindly permitted to be a writer but not to take time in pursuing my trade. Nor can they understand the importance of music, or why an hour spent with a Mozart sonata at the piano is not wasted time but time spent on a real value. Or really listening, without talking, to music. Or going for a walk simply to see the beauty around me, or the real importance of a view from a window.' "

– Madeleine L'Engle, Two-Part Invention: The Story of a Marriage (1988)