30 December 2016

On Messiah by Georg Friedrich Händel

"And the gentiles shall come to thy light."

During that last century, my brother's nine-year-old friend tried to art-shame me in front of his friends while they were putting on boots to trudge out into the joy of snow in South Jersey as I played Messiah on vinyl. He said, "He's listening to opera!" I corrected, snippily: "It's an oratorio."

Every year, at Christmastide and Eastertide, we dust off this score and play the piece: Messiah by Georg Friedrich Händel and Charles Jennens: one of the staggering works of western civilization. 

One cannot comprehend its strange scope and power but only try to humbly accept its knowledge, pleasure, and art. And partly why it is so is because a German composer, living in England, set a King James Version biblical text, curated by Jennens along with items from The Book of Common Prayer, which is almost devoid of narrative and filled with ideology, theology, and eschatological musings. It is also joyous and frightening and stupefyingly beautiful.

I sometimes wonder what is its opposite number. Is it Orff's Carmina Burana or Weill's Mahagonny Songspiel, both twentieth century works? Will we ever know? We will never know.

I prefer original score, instruments, and style as much as we can find them, but there are many gorgeous recordings of this piece. And if you ever can, go hear it live.

Do yourself a favor and reacquaint yourself with Messiah

13 December 2016


"God, that moon is bright!"


He glides into the room
Fairly wearing the half-world,
The demimonde trailing behind
Him in whisps, squid-ink
Clouds painted across the
Crepuscular moon, the iris
Of an hooded eye, in the twilit sky.
He is replete with the

Perfume of sex, controlled
Substances, late night street
Walking, cigarettes, the characters
You'd never want your mother
To meet, the smells of the world.
The French say world,
But the Germans hear moon.
Which only makes sense.

L. Steve Schmersal, Demimondaine, December 2016

11 December 2016

de Man is Da Man, yo?

The 6th of December is Paul de Man's birthday. From his--as the amazing Michael Riffaterre calls it--"seminal discussion of Nietzsche's On Truth and Lie," de Man makes a bold statement about poetry that I have spent several years pondering profitably:
What we call the lyric, the instance of represented voice includes the grammatical transformation of the declarative into the vocative modes of question, exclamation, address, hypothesis, etc., the tropological transformation of analogy into apostrophe or the equivalent, more general… transformation of trope into anthropomorphism.
He redescribes poetry as a series of figural moves of the voice and then resolves it into anthropomorphism. It's brilliant. It's fucking brilliant. It is a laser beam-direct insight into what makes representative language (and there is no other kind) happen, on the level of Rhetoric, on the level of Grammar (which he played with in oppositions, throughout his late career), as such. It is vital. It is indispensable. And I don't care if important readers, like Lydia Davis, whom I admire, and Louis Menand, who is an idiot, don't care for de Man. He's one of the most important thinkers of the 20th century, even if he wasn't really a Nazi.

Have a great day.

10 December 2016

I don't know why you're listening to me...

The subtlety of my argument is guaranteed to irritate you. My argument is not subtle for that reason, and it irritates me that subtlety is the problem that stands between us and an understanding. But I will not cede that ground to you.

Small things are large, and it's not my problem that you can't see that.

It has always been, and it always will be, your problem. Even when, and as, I always lose.