Whereto art thou, Krapp?

It’s been about six weeks since my last post, and as I see that a significant number of readers still visit daily (or perhaps a few readers visit several times daily), and as I’ve had a few nudging e-mails from friends with office jobs that crave the ice-axe to break the frozen sea within us that is my prose, I thought I’d drop some proverbial English and let my readers know the score.

Krapp’s Last Blog is still alive and well and living in Paris. I have several posts in the works, the most promising a lengthy critique of Robert Altman’s Short Cuts. If you haven’t seen that film and you want to see it and there are no other films more pressing for you to see, now would be a topical time to do so. Similarly, if you’ve never read Raymond Carver’s short stories (upon which the film is based), familiarity with his work is related (but not essential) to the discussion. (For people that care about such things, some of the stories’ plots might be compromised by seeing the film first, but not their impact.) I’m also working on the first installment of an examination of all of my perceived character flaws, beginning with pretension and moving to emotional insularity, lack of compassion, general contempt, and whatever else I can remember people accuse me of when they’re drunk. (And for those who care, those 2007 music and film rankings are still sitting around, growing painfully irrelevant, but should appear sooner than later.)

I have no excuse for not posting more often. I still spend an enraging (for me) amount of time on the computer, dawdling on social networking sites and honing my taste on music discussion groups, fashioning the kind of person I want to become by filling my Amazon cart. I applied to an impossibly competitive program at a French research institution where I won’t be accepted because the four essays I had to write for the application read like harebrained blog posts. I have also been watching, from the beginning, The Wire, which I had heard was the best dramatic program ever to air on television. (If you don’t have access to the DVDs, you can access all of the episodes here while learning a lot of useful French slang from the subtitles.) I know that The Wire and its greatness are old hat now, but for the moment I am virtually prostrate before its accomplishments; I tried to read in a park today and ended up just sitting there, thinking about The Wire.

You can still track the progress of my cultural escapades in the column on your right. I visited Vienna last week with my girlfriend and had a blast, and now I want desperately to read this. I made a special effort to see the house Wittgenstein designed, which is now, (for some reason) hilariously, the Bulgarian Cultural Institute and, understandably, not the conspicuous cultural landmark it might be. (Every other square inch of the city is devoted to reminding visitors that Mozart is from Vienna– well, from Salzburg, really, which is on the other side of the country and when Mozart was born it was really just another city in the Holy Roman Empire but congratulations anyway, Austria–while the fact that the greatest philosopher of the 20th century was born there gets a literal sentence in the book-length Austrian culture guide my host offered me. This is not a critique, just an observation.) I also saw an edifying exhibit on the art and mathematics, one of the highlights of which can be viewed here.

I’ve also read a few books. The most fascinating was Bryan Magee’s The Tristan Chord, the American title of the British Wagner and Philosophy which must not have been gripping enough for the stateside opera-interested public. It traces the influence of Proudhon, Feuerbach, Hegel, Marx and, above all, Schopenhauer, on Wagner and his operas. There is also chapter on his relationship with Nietzsche and a lengthy postscript on Wagner’s antisemitism. I would say that the percentage of pages read to knowledge derived (and quality of knowledge) is higher here than in any other book I’ve read, but remember that I am a starry-eyed Wagnerite. No one is more qualified than Magee to write about the subject, and due to the abundance of misinformation and prejudice surrounding Wagner’s ideology, such a project demands someone highly impartial, judicial and compassionate. Magee is all of those things and a master stylist, to boot.

I doubt I’ll have anywhere else to include this in a post, so I might as well just share it here, because it’s one of the most beautiful things I’ve encountered. Crucial to its appreciation is knowledge that Schopenhauer was the most important influence on Wagner in his entire life. After his first exposure to the philosopher’s 1,000+ page The World as Will and Representation, Wagner re-read the book four times in the following several months, and continued to study it, intensely, the rest of his life. The last two operas of the Ring cycle, Tristan and Isolde, The Meistersingers, and Parsifal were all attempts by Wagner to transubstantiate Schopenhauer’s ideals into so-called music-dramas. (Being familiar with these works but completely unfamiliar with Schopenhauer, the chapters dissecting each opera in Schopenhauerian terms were gasp-out-loud fascinating!) Also one must understand that even before Wagner’s introduction to Schopenhauer, his operas were already deeply Schopenhauerian (I say deeply because superficially there are some ideas in his early work that contradict Schopenhauer’s apolitical metaphysics), so much so that when Wagner sat down to write the music to librettos that he had published years before (and thus were impossible to alter), he found that he could compensate for the ostensibly incompatible themes in the music alone.

Wagner found in Schopenhauer, fully isolated and revealed with passion and intellect, the ineffable truths he had been grappling with since his youth. Think of the glum young high schooler finding solace in Holden Caulfield, but increase those woes tenfold and elevate that solace to an unqualified salvation. (Wagner attempted a single time to contact the philosopher. He sent him a package containing his libretto for the Ring and a note reading, ‘With admiration.’) For the rest of his life, Wagner could only say of Schopenhauer, ‘How can I thank him enough?’

Cosima, Wagner’s second wife, kept of a diary during the last decade or so of Wagner’s life (perhaps the most detailed second-hand account of any great man in history). In this passage she describes one of Wagner’s dreams a few days before his death:

‘R. drew Sch.’s attention to a flock of nightingales, but Sch. had already noticed them.’

I can have a regrettably callous nature in the face of sentiment that often gets me in trouble, but re-reading that, even after a few weeks of reflection, still literally takes my breath away. Even if I ignore that it’s a dream, or that Wagner uttered it on his death-bed, have you ever heard a more potent or poetic metaphor?

On a lighter (perhaps) note, did you know that the infamous rupture between Wagner and Nietzsche, in addition to ideological differences, of course, might be blamed foremost on a letter that Wagner wrote to Nietzsche’s doctor– its content somehow revealed– urging him to halt Nietzsche’s excessive masturbation for fear of him going blind?

It’s starting to get warm in Paris, so I’m headed down to the canal with bottles of black currant syrup and white wine to make Kirs.

I am meeting friends, if that thought crossed your mind.

Krapp will be back.


~ by ohkrapp on April 11, 2008.

One Response to “Whereto art thou, Krapp?”

  1. the photo is of Louise Bourgeois’ Nature Study..

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