Marking many, many first-year exams in twentieth-century musics... but, for the first time ever, with the help of two postgraduates, which makes life vastly easier.
There are the usual glitches and amusing misstatements... although it's a pretty solid class (only one fail thus far!) and most of the exams are pretty coherent.
However, at least two amusing and inadvertent pictures so far: one was John Cage as a major exponent of dance music (we later figured out that they had written "chance" music, but with the c and h very close together). Which suggests... a high falsetto singing 'Everybody Dance Now!', with the drum part played on a prepared piano....
Okay, the other one's better. Several students got confused about the Second Viennese School, and the Darmstadt School, thinking they were actual... schools. As in: "Webern studied under Schoenberg, who taught at the Second Viennese School"... I suppose if Webern's kindergarten attendance had been better he might have gotten into the First Viennese School.
Which suggests Webern's school report: "Works hard on coursework. Something of a loner – needs to pay more attention to extracurricular activities."
It is actually almost hot out: in the low seventies (Fahrenheit – even after living in Centigrade countries for more than twelve years now, I just cannot think in Centigrade, in spite of its logic). In California, of course, it would be merely a normal day out of, say, eight months of the year in the south, or perhaps four months in the north; but here it is frankly rather strange.
Bennett once said, of a day like this, "It's practically tropical outside!". Of course he was born here... I just rolled my eyes and tried to explain the difference between northern England and Hong Kong. Or better: Bangkok... do you know those beautiful old Thai paintings of court life, where everything that happens is outdoors in a series of open pavilions with silk drapery?... quite a different life than here.
Colm Tóibín's The Master – yes, it really is beautifully written; and brings up Henry James' way of thinking, of experiencing, without trying to ventriloquize in his style (and that's a good thing – a po-mo pastiche of James would be, well, nausea-inducing). But the sense of time and of loss, especially associated with poor disoriented Alice James... very real, very subtle; and also the intricacy of being uneasy with being homosexual, with anyone knowing about it, etc. etc.
Of course this is typical of some of Tóibín's thinking – if you ever read Love in a Dark Time you know that he himself isn't always terribly happy with being gay. Well, at least he's honest about it (and he writes beautifully about his doubts).
I should go back and read Edel's biography (never did finish it, hey it's five volumes) and perhaps try Susan Sontag's play about Alice (Alice in Bed), which has also sat on my shelf for ages. (The Sontag isn't particularly graceful, which put me off reading it... but I'm sure it will be intelligent.)
Lately I was completely overwhelmed by Joss Whedon's Dollhouse, which has been on American television since January, and is just showing up here. It's a bit strange that I would only notice now, as I'm such an utter Buffy/Firefly/Serenity/Angel/Dr Horrible fan; but I guess that shows I'm pretty much out of the loop. To restate everybody's opinions on a show that has had a rocky start, with which I basically agree: the first five episodes were good but not amazing – approximately like The Pretender, which was always second- or even third-rate (but without as many clunky sentiments as that cheesier show).
But episodes six through nine were astounding... the basic idea is, of course, that secret contemporary technology makes it possible to erase and replace minds, in a way similar to computer software. So there is a 'Dollhouse' in Los Angeles – one of twenty or so in the world – where pretty young people who have had most of their minds removed wander around in pajamas, work out, get massages, and wait to have a personality implanted in them. Whereupon they become ideal sex partners, or ideal nannies or secret agents or... whatever. It recalls a lot of Philip K. Dick, or The Prisoner, but is more sensual and deceptively normal (not to mention corporate).
What's so powerful is the sudden plunge into deeply complex existential questions of being, emotion, thought – if your thoughts can be replaced or modified, do you really have them? Who are you, and how would you know you are that person? One of the edgier plot choices appears when some of the dolls wake up, and engage on a dramatic escape so that they can return to the world – but then we find out they've been programmed to do so, in order to relax them by giving them some sort of closure, so they can be returned to their glass coffins. Just the kind of closure that we need when we're watching the show...
which is of course rather creepy. I recently wrote a piece called 'chemical bodies', where I talked about drugs and surgery and other ways of modifying the body and mind; it's like that, but more so.
Incidentally, episodes 11 and 12 are also very well written – with some of the funniest lines I've heard in a very long time (notably "Carrots! Medicinal carrots!") – but they were also fairly violent, so a bit tough to take, for me at least. I hope Whedon gets to do the whole five years – and I'm curious as to what kind of mixture of dark/violent/funny/sensual he'll end up constructing.
But the taxi will be here in ten minutes, and I am off to Sweden, for the first time ever – to Göteborg, to discuss our university exchange arrangements. And, I hope, to eat some interesting food....
After an amazingly unproductive weekend – even for me (my excuses: last week was full of meetings, this week has too much student work that needs marking, some of which is good but much of which is distinctly disappointing) – I'm avoiding everything, and everyone, by looking through vast books of architecture. 1000 x European Architecture – yes, too many blocky, Miesian buildings; but some interesting houses and landscapes.
And I can't help but daydream, endlessly and rather sadly: what if I could afford a house of my own, one built not bought, in a beautiful part of Europe? Say, Barcelona, with a place in Sitges; or a Greek island; or even Zürich. Some place secure, pleasant, inspiring.
But it is improbable that I'll ever have such a thing... I should probably be looking at low-income housing instead. Or nursing homes?...
The title of Wim Wenders' 2008 film. Not very successful, widely regarded as pretentious and self-indulgent; and it's true that the script isn't subtle or surprising (who would have thought Death would be so talkative and sententious?).
But this isn't a review... for real film people, it may be a failure; but for me it's enjoyable. Watching a tall, good-looking man with an expressive face and tattoos wander around Düsseldorf and (especially) Palermo and through his own dreams, taking photographs and being existentially depressed... it's actually fun. Moody and relaxing.
Of course, as I am I, although I can easily fall in with the mood of aimless self-examination and the circular, tangled obsessions with death and time, I can't help being annoyed by the fact that the protagonist is also very rich and successful. (You should see his studio – insanely spacious, a vast ultramodern German building with many computers and innovative windows and, well, a few expensive but tasteful shelves – the kind you put a lemon and a Hasselblad on, just to show that they're shelves.) As is Andreas Frege, the ex-punk star who plays him. As is Wenders.
So... frankly... I think I'd enjoy being disaffected, having a (late-ish) midlife crisis, being moody and unsure, much more – if I knew that my financial future was secure...
Then I'd go to Palermo. Probably without a camera: but, admittedly, with a lined notebook.
Yesterday (oops, missed it) was the third anniversary of this blog. 460 entries – that's about one entry every two-and-a-third days.
Sorry I haven't been blogging lately... life has consisted of, on the one hand, scattered and rather disorganized external demands (students discovering that they need to do some work before the end of the semester, colleagues setting up meetings on a rather chaotic basis); and on the other a vague ongoing examination of the inner world.
Dreams, analysis, uncertainty as to my own impulses: I cannot help feeling that I should be moving forward in a more aggressive manner with these things. But at least there is movement, of a kind.
But I keep wondering why I do things, and how I come to certain conclusions....
Hmm, what a ruthlessly symbolic dream: sitting around with a bunch of charming, handsome, talented young men who have a (classical, I think) ensemble that has somehow become famous; I ask them to come perform, collaborate, work with us in the North, and they say no, politely, with regret – we'd love to, but we have very heavy schedules, all already set. Then, and in front of me, someone from the South (Surrey, Brighton? – it is a dream symbol, and doesn't need to be quite a real place) asks them the same, and they accept with alacrity.
And I sit, trying to be pleasant, but feeling fairly despondent, old, a failure and unimportant, around the table where they are all making plans to work together... hmm.