November 2009

Does anyone remember learning about this young whippersnapper, off in the Amazon and the Indian Ocean coming to the same conclusions as the eminent Charles Darwin?

One envelope lost,
would we now be honoring
Alfred R. Wallace?

The birds and their beaks
feathering enlightenment
do they preen, singing?

Well, the Burke and Hare noh drama is probably going to happen over break while I’m having fun sitting in airports, or perhaps just sometime not this week (exams!). I wound up writing on a more serious topic, instead, which will be linked in the next post. (For those of you whose facebook/email I don’t have, it might be tricky with the password, but I’m sure we can work something out. Just ask.) Despite my departure from the style of traditional English noh parodies, I assure you that the play is indeed a satire. In fact, just turning this in to my professor probably made Zeami roll over in his grave.

At any rate, to show my professor that I did indeed take the topic and the tradition with serious academic interest, I attached a suggested reading list to the manuscript, so here it is:

Shortlist of non-Japanese influencing works, authors, and concepts for The Olive Tree:

  • The opening quote comes from the sonnet “The World Is Too Much With Us” by William Wordsworth
  • T.S. Eliot. “The Wasteland”
  • Rachid Taha. Barra Barra (song in Arabic. I would recommend listening to it without the translation first)
  • Alexandre Dumas. Refer to Javert’s and Jean Valjean’s parallel soliloquies and the court scene in Les Miserables
  • The Greek legend of Orion
  • Wole Soyinka. Especially refer to the conversation between Elesin and Simon Pickings about the nature of peace in Death and the King’s Horseman.
  • Classical Mayan civilization and religion: refer to the Calakmul title of ix witz (white demon lord), the concept of the uay (spirit guide or companion), and the structure of the axis mundi. Familiarity with the fall of El Mirador, the conflict between Calakmul and Tikal, and the collapse of classical civilization in the Yucatan Peninsula are also recommended.
  • Terry Pratchett. Night Watch, Jingo, Nation
  • Italo Calvino. Invisible Cities
  • Einstein’s theory of relativity (it might help to begin with Alan Lightman’s Einstein’s Dreams. However, Italo Calvino is the original and pretty much covers it all.)
  • Philip Pullman. Refer to the nature of Dust, the abyss, and the star bridge created in The Golden Compass. Familiarity with John Milton’s Paradise Lost is also suggested.
  • The Exeter Book – “The Seafarer,” “The Wanderer”
  • Antoine de Saint Exupery. Le Petit Prince
  • Sir Michael Tippett. A Child Of Our Time (oratorio)
  • Thomas Hobbes. Leviathan
  • John Locke. An Essay Concerning Humane Understanding
  • Samuel Becket. “Waiting For Godot”
  • Tom Stoppard. “Rosencrantz And Guildenstern Are Dead”
  • Judy Collins. Sons

The significance of the olive tree replacing the pine extends beyond the indicated symbolism of peace, and is based in poetry, scientific principle, and religious connotation. Here are the most important points to keep in mind while reading or watching this play:

  • Olive trees are extremely hardy, resisting not only floods and drought, but fire. They can, in fact, be burned to the ground multiple times only to regenerate from the underlying root system.
  • The trees can live and continue to produce fruit for multiple millennia. The oldest extant trees are now over 3000 years old and still bear olives.
  • The trees tend to prefer coastal sites, growing inland only where winters are mild.
  • Olive leaves were used to crown the victors of war as a symbol of victory and prosperity.
  • Athena, goddess of both war and wisdom, gifted the olive tree of Athens in order to win patronage of the city.
  • The Qur’an 24:35 compares the light of Allah’s guidance to that of an eternal olive oil lamp (and a star)
  • The Old Testament, Genesis 8:11 relates the bringing of the olive branch, a symbol of hope, endurance, and life, to Noah
  • Homer – both the Illiad and the Odyssey

Nonessential, but familiarity is recommended:

  • Neil Gaiman. Sandman – a good reference on the nature of stars, dream, and reality
  • Benjamin Britten. War Requiem (oratorio)
  • Elie Wiesel. Night
  • Rachid Taha. Rock El Casbah, (song – again, in Arabic, so you may want to listen with a side-by-side translation of the original by The Clash)
  • Dante Aleghieri. Divina Commedia
  • Martin McDonagh. “The Lieutenant of Inishmoor”
  • The traditional Welsh lullaby ar hyd nos (all through the night)
  • Stephen Hawking. A Brief History of Time, The Universe In A Nutshell
  • Erich Maria Remarque. Im Westen nichts Neues (All Quiet On the Western Front)
  • The traditional Scots song “The Yew Tree”
  • The Native American legend of Coyote and the stars
  • William Shakespeare. (all of the tragedies plus “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” and “The Tempest”)

If you really want to see how the elements of the play fit together, fuse all of these works with a liberal amount of imagination. I did not consciously pull from most of these sources, but they are the primary structure of a social enzyme, of which my play is only the surface active site. Some residues are recurrent, some work entirely behind the scenes to position this line or that gesture in your mind to catalyze thought. Well, that is what I strive for, but when your substrates are as varied as the members of an audience, there’s no telling what will come of it. I just hope you enjoy.

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Yet another poetical tirade against social darwinism and eugenics. Honestly, people! Why do you make up slag to prop up your insecurities? Can’t you be bothered to collect legitimate data and *le gasp* come to a novel conclusion?

The cous mistook Charles
heeding only the Malthus
sowed seeds of terror.

Next week it’s permanently back to the fun stuff – never fear!

Heya. Guess what? That’s right, HEALTH CARE PASSED IN THE HOUSE! BOOYAH! This is even cooler in light of last week’s med scares, during which I was calculating what I could sell in order to pay the deductibles for upcoming operations and, farther down the road, whether I would be able to find an insurance agency to that would accept me. I wound up deciding to immigrate North, where government is sensible, people are chill, and the bacon is oh so tasty.  Now, though, it looks like I won’t have to expatriate for grad school. This is a relief.

While I’ll be combining birthday and governmental celebrations this week (and ignoring the fact that Virginia’s new governor wrote his thesis on the degeneracy of working women and how humans are fundamentally evil), it is yet another week of exams. The final one is actually writing a noh play for Japanese lit. My 5 other classes are science, so this should logically be my “fun” class and I initially intended to write about Michael Jackson. The poetry sections for that would be SO MUCH fun! Unfortunately, one of my friends brought it up in class, and no discussion rules are no discussion rules. Not wanting to jinx politics or war right now, the remaining options are pretty nerdy. Witness:

  • The ghost of Linus Pauling appears to a traveler at the cottage where he discovered the α helix’s structure (god play). Alternatively, A young ecologist is arrested by the sight of an impressive cactus at the landing site of the HMS Beagle and asks a grizzled old naturalist wandering nearby for the story. 3 guesses who that naturalist turns out to be.
  • Burke & Hare terrorize a modern Edinburgh bobby as he takes a curry break one wet evening in Westport (demon play)
  • A (possibly dozing) immunology grad student encounters the warrior spirit of the suppressor T cell, who laments the transience of loyalty and the beauty of the elemental world, and is only placated when the grad student tells it of the resurgence of the T regulatory subset. (warrior play)
  • Rachel Carson (or Henry David Thoreau) appears to a weary hiker and waxes lyrical on the beauty of the natural world, lamenting the continued apathy towards ecological responsibility despite her warnings and those of hundreds of other scientists.  (wig play -come on, Thoreau’s beard probably counts as a wig…)
  • A new philosophy student arriving in Paris seeks lodging in a small garret not too far from the Sorbonne and has to placate her landlady, revealed as the spirit of Marie Sklodowska Curie, when she explodes into a heartbroken fit over the loss of her love and collaborator, Pierre (mad woman play).

As much fun as it would be to write an entire cycle plus kyogen, it might have to start with just the one. So, which of these would you most like to see? If none of them pleases, I suppose the alternative would be something along the lines of a futuristic Britten requiem.

This may be my favorite poem of the lot. As strange as he may have been, Thomas Henry Huxley is one of my heroes. Aldus was pretty nifty, too, but I’m just sayin’. Hux had it goin’ down.

The greatest debate
finding who rolls with the ape
Boy, you just got Hux’d!

with apologies to Aaron Diaz.

Study Break!

Halloween was quite a success, lasting for two full days. Friday I went as a young Dr. Alfred Russel Wallace, sideburns, spectacles, and all. Despite the sideburns being only makeup, I got a number of compliments on my majestic facial hair. No one recognized me at the lab, either. Dr. Bessler actually came in to tell my boss that some strange guy had come in and taken stuff from the lockbox. Maybe I should start doing makeup for the theater, after all. Saturday was fun, too, since I went as a hybrid of Morpheus and Death, two of the Endless from Neil Gaiman’s acclaimed Sandman series. It was a pretty death-esque costume, but had a definite dreaming cape that I cobbled together out of a few velveteen dresses that I picked up down at the second hand place. The eyeliner was, uh, inexpert at a generous description (stage makeup, yes; real makeup not so much), but with the wig and dim outdoor light it apparently did pretty well. It’s always amazing how easily you can fool the human eye, isn’t it? All you have to do is suggest a shadow and the mind fills in the rest. A line here and your eyes slant almond, a smudge there and they become cavernous. It’s remarkably fun to play with, really.

For those of you who may find yourselves around St. Louis on some future Halloween, there’s an excellent street party down in the west end – Euclid is closed off from Lindell all the way past the Drunken Fish, and everyone comes out in costume. There are lights, music, contests, lots of people, perhaps a little too much ale, and some fantastically creative costumes. There weren’t as many Michael Jacksons as one might expect, but there were a rubik’s cube, a rabbit pulling a magician out of a hat, 2 Where’s Waldos, and the dancing porcine troupe of H1N1 fairies. Even if Sam (aka the mighty Hulk, Bruce Banner) and I both froze our buns off, it was great costume spotting, and we got jumped by a group of comic fans for pictures. Fun times.

By far the best part of the weekend, though, was finding out that there had been a big oops on my initial diagnosis, and I don’t have cancer, after all. WOOT! Of course, this puts us back to the we-have-no-idea-what-it-is-or why-it’s-doing-that stage, and I still have to spend the next 2 weeks balancing academic and medical exams, but that’s one endpoint I’m glad to see the back of.