21 Jan 02

Trying to fight back the funk (oh, pee-yew -- no, no, not that funk.) So
unrelated thoughts, and perhaps today I'll =finally= get to my thoughts
on Lagrangian multipliers.  I know Brenda doesn't need the help anymore,
and, in any case, I was going to talk about the geometrical
interpretation as opposed to the "calculus derivation".

Thought #1 -- a week ago I listened to the radio play "The Designated
Mourner" by Wallace Shawn. You may know Wallace Shawn as the
wry-looking, small man who has played Vizzini in =The Princess Bride=,
the teacher Mr. Hall in =Clueless=, the voice of Rex the dinosaur in
=Toy Story=, and the guy who wasn't Andre Gregory in =My Dinner with
Andre=.  Oh yeah, he's the Grand Negus, too.  In any case, from
interviews I've heard with Mr. Shawn, he seems to see himself mainly as
a playwright.  Of course, he has 69 credited roles on IMDB, but you've
got to pay the bills somehow.  From the stories I listened to on NPR,
"The Designated Mourner" was a play that Shawn worked through for
=years=, with the help of Andre Gregory (the director) and the other

The play is set in a theoretical dictator-led country, where Mr. Shawn
plays Jack, the main character, married to Judy, and living with Judy's
father Howard. The main thing the play seemed to be about was the
struggle between highbrow/middlebrow/lowbrow views of culture, and the
various repercussions. At the end of the play, all of Judy's and
Howard's circle have been either assassinated or executed due to their
putative danger to the powers-that-be; Jack calls himself "The
Designated Mourner", explaining the concept comes from Ancient Rome,
that when the Empire (or Republic) destroyed an entire group or culture,
there would be an official mourner for those obliterated in
acknowledgement for what had gone before (even though they had been the
people to destroy them.)  Jack remarks that with the execution of Judy
and the few remaining of Howard's circle, that all the people who
understood John Donne were dead.

Now I find this odd.  Donne isn't =that= difficult of a poet to
understand; sure, he's not as transparent as Robert Frost or Carl
Sandburg, but it's not as if he were T.S. Eliot or other modern poets so
deliberately obscure and erudite that they had to write their own
footnotes, which often exceeded the length of the original poem.  The
metaphysical poets may have labored hard in their extended metaphors and
inclusion of theology and philosophy, but they intended to actually
=convey= some message to readers. Donne didn't have the contempt many
modern poets show to their readers, poets who claim the the undiscerning
hoi polloi who don't get their morasses of undigestible detritus are
insensitive, illiterate, small-minded twits.  Well, right back atcha.

In any case, much of understanding Donne is just like understanding
Shakespeare, or Austen, or Dickens -- once one gets used to the
language, and what various terms meant at the time and what were the
usual grammatical constructions of the period, they are not that
difficult to read, and much of the beauty is there on the surface to
enjoy.  My favorite of Donne's poems "A Valediction: Forbidding
Mourning" was explained to me when I was in high school -- come on, how
hard can Donne be if one can get it =in high school=?  I mean, we waded
into "The Waste Land", but quickly left it in favor of the far more
accessible "The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock".  Looking through my
"Selected Poems of John Donne", I see the following things in "A
Valediction: Forbidding Mourning" -- a discussion as to how good men
die, morphing into an exhortation not to make a big show of parting,
then talking about how people try to read into earthquakes fatal omens
though the celestial realms have greater movement but no such ominous
meaning, then talking about how those with a lesser love, based solely
on physicality, cannot bear with parting, but he goes onto say that
their love is a higher one that they don't even have words for it, that
such a love transcends physical proximity, that their souls are two and
physical separation is not a breach between them but more like a single
gold sheet being beat into a larger and larger sheet, then a lovely
extended metaphor involving a geometrical compass (where his wife is the
foot fixed at the center and he is the arm which draws the circle around
her, and then the great ending couplet: "Thy firmness draws my circle
just,/ And makes me end, where I begun."

What's not to understand?

In any case, I think John Donne to be the greatest poet of love,
Shakespeare notwithstanding.  The difference, to me, is that it seems
that Shakespeare is a great observer of people and can represent love in
many ways in his sonnets and plays, but Donne is writing from his
personal situation, in deep love with his wife and his children.  I know
that in classical lit crit, the author's personal feelings and
experiences should not have an effect on one's estimation of the art,
and much great art is insincere  (I remember reading from the fragment
of Austen's =Sanditon= the main character saying she cannot esteem
Robert Burns' love poetry as she knew how he treated the women in his
life -- that he sure didn't know the meaning of fidelity), and to a
certain extent I agree.  Just because a person has certain qualities or
experiences doesn't mean that they will be a great artist or even
deserve to have their art looked at.  Just check out the womyn web
weenies to have this proven to you.  Just because one has a vagina
doesn't mean one has any deep or interesting thoughts to share with
humanity about being female, just as =not= having one doesn't mean one
can't have anything to say about being female.  But let me not hijack my
idea into a tangent against much of the dilution of the humanities
curriculum so that one can get some kind of artificial diversity.

So let me get back to my main idea -- much of great literature of
previous times is extremely accissible, though it does take a little bit
of training.  Well, what do we take 12 years of English classes for?
Obviously not the mechanics of language.  Heck, it takes a deal of
training for most people to be able to read, a cultural detail that is
not natural to the human condition (as opposed to spoken language), and
I have yet to hear someone complain that the written word is
inaccessible to the great unwashed.

Thought #2 -- beauty (not about beauty being truth and truth beauty, or
vice versa (I really ought to start memorizing poetry again)) -- and the
obligations of beauty and to beauty in the world.

Recently I got into an online discussion about people deliberately
uglifying themselves, and Stu has remarked that the latest hairstyle on
the street involves making one's hair look greasy and dirty (amazingly,
the people who affect this look must =buy= things to achieve it).  Well,
I want to proclaim my belief that the beautiful people of the world have
an obligation to the rest of the world to =be= beautiful.  I mean this
in the way of physical beauty, not necessarily inner beauty, which as we
have learned from Mr. Rogers that this is achievable by all people.  I
am also not talking about wearing makeup, though there's nothing wrong
with makeup in my opinion, as long as you're conscious of the effect
made by your facial painting.

In any case, as a plain person, I believe that those endowed with
natural physical beauty of whatever kind need to share it with the
world, and not ruin it with breast implants, facelifts, face peels,
botulism shots, nasty hair, careless makeup jobs, dumpy clothes, smelly
bodies, chewed-up fingernails, tabacco-stained teeth, alcohol-bleared
eyes, etc.  Dammit, be beautiful! Smile!  Bring light into the lives of
those of us used to mediocrity and scary visions of fake beauty from
mass media.

This is not to say one will be =only= beautiful, but if one has been
graced with such a genetic bounty, there is an obligation to society to
let it enjoy God's creation.  I myself have been graced with the
inclination and ability to learn and integrate many disparate
intellectual fields, and I share my knowledge with all who care to know
or listen; there are those who have been born into the good luck of
having extremely rich forebears who create philanthropic foundations to
spread the wealth around and also can afford buying beautiful things to
bestow onto museums; why not those born to physical beauty share it with
their community?

Some may say that such beauty is ephemeral, and do not want themselves
associated with such a short-lived attribute, but I don't agree.  There
=are= those who lose their beauty over time, but there are those who
lose their mental faculties and athletic abilities as well, so no biggee
there.  As well, what with the much improved nutrition of our time, and
knowledge of the destruction that alcohol, tobacco, and sun can wreak to
our outer shells, people can keep their surface beauty well into middle
age and beyond.  I mean, look at Lauren Hutton -- she's what -- 55? She
may have wrinkles, but she's still gorgeous.  Then, of course, are the
men who are good-looking into their old age, like Sean Connery or Paul

In any case, if you're one of beautiful people, don't mess yourself up.
Let us bask in your glory.  If you're not sure if you're one of the
beautiful people, you should still look your best.  You never know.  If
we had less ugliness in the world, it would be a better place.

Thought #3 -- achievability of beauty, namely in crafts.  I highly
recommend you learning how to sew, knit, crochet, do wood- or metalwork,
paint, sketch, fo calligraphy, or any other sort of craft.  In most
cases, one does not save money by making your own clothes or
decorations; you can definitely buy sweaters for much less than the yarn
would cost to buy from a craft shop (if you're buying wool for a nice
sweater, that is), and sewing definitely does not save one much money
unless one uses the sewing skills to repair old clothes as well as make
new ones.  However, one can make things, given enough skill and
experience, that are exactly to one's own ideas.  Try to buy -that- in
ready-to-wear.  I am finishing up a lovely faux-entrelac scarf (a
basketweave-looking pattern) and have found the inspiration for my next
one (using the same yarn - I bought a whole bag, which will usually give
one 3-4 scarves) in cellular automata and cabling.  I really ought to
take pics of the things I have made, but I have no good-quality camera
and not likely to get one for awhile.

Besides, my skills are still in the novice/intermediate state.  I expect
to be knitting, crocheting, etc. for years to come, so I'm sure you will
see the fruits of my experiments and thoughts over time.  I should make
a journal of my projects, but I can't be bothered to do that now.

Anyway, this is long enough, so no lecture on Lagrangian multipliers today.  

Enjoy life.  Produce beauty.
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