Archive for December, 2016

Greetings from my sickbed

It’s taking longer than I’d expected. After my recent operation, I thought I’d be more or less back to normal within a few weeks. Well, without going into tedious details, I am more or less back to normal – up to a point; but not up to the point where I can focus on serious reading, or engage my mind sufficiently to write blog posts. Random babblings such as this post I can just about manage, but anything more ambitious is currently beyond me.

But that itch for writing posts persists, despite my inability to put together anything too coherent. There is so much I’d like to read, and write about. Before my recent illness, I was reading the Penguin Classics version of the Mahabharata, which I was expecting to finish around this time: that’s currently on hold. Before that, I read a number of novellas by Turgenev, and was planning to write something on them here. Shortly after my operation, on the recommendation of Amateur Reader, I got myself Roy Campbell’s translations of four plays from the Spanish Golden Age: I thought I could focus on those during my recuperation, but that turned out to be over-optimistic. I guess they must all wait till later – after Christmas, perhaps.

I was also planning a post comparing the performances of King Lear by Michael Pennington, Anthony Sher, and Glenda Jackson. The first two I had seen earlier this year, and had tickets for the third. However, that Glenda Jackson performance for which I had tickets was just a few days after my triple bypass operation, and, though they were hot tickets that could easily have exchanged hands at far more than the price I had paid for them, this was hardly the foremost thing in our minds at the time, and I am afraid those tickets went to waste. Where the greater malady is fixed, the lesser is scarcely felt.

We did, however, get to see Don Giovanni about two weeks ago.  We had tickets for the Glyndebourne Touring Opera production, which was playing in nearby Woking. My fear was that I might fall asleep during the performance, but not only did I manage to stay awake, I loved every minute of it. (Although I do wish they performed the usual text that conflates the version originally performed in Prague, and the later version, with changes, that was performed subsequently in Vienna: here, they chose to perform the Vienna version, with the consequence that some of the most wonderful music – notably the gorgeous tenor aria Il mio tesoro – was missing.) It made me wonder again just what it is about this opera that makes it so great. Of course, the quality of the music is beyond compare, but this is not merely a great work of music, it is, self-evidently, a great opera – i.e. a great musical drama – and to this day, after some forty or so years of close acquaintance with it, I am not sure why. The last time I wrote about this work, I opined that the character of Don Giovanni is a complete blank: beyond a desire for constant sexual gratification, there is absolutely nothing to the character at all, and that any moral or philosophical depth that people see in him is but the projections of their own preoccupations on to what is essentially a blank screen. I hold by that still. But it leaves open the question of how it can be possible for a drama so dominated by so shallow a personage to achieve such profundity. I really do not know. That it is profound is beyond question,  but while I think I can explain, at least up to a point (since works of such stature can never be exhausted), what Le Nozze di Figaro and Cosi Fan Tutte are about, I find myself at a loss in trying to account for the greatness of Don Giovanni. It is little wonder that so many people across so many ages have projected on to the figure of Don Giovanni their own preoccupations: the idea that what exists at the centre of this immense work is but a vast vacuum is very difficult to take in.

Now, if I had been more my usual self, I could have made a decent post out of all that. But this will have to do for now I am afraid.

Whether my recent experience will change my blogging style I do not know. Maybe there will emerge from my chastening brush with mortality a less abrasive blogger, gentler and kinder, in keeping with the gentler and kinder politics we have recently been promised.  But then again, maybe not. We’ll have to wait and see. For the moment, I am trying my best to keep my blood pressure under control, and that means keeping away from political developments – both domestically and internationally; and keeping away also from blog posts and opinion pieces that I know will light my admittedly short fuse.

In the meantime, I would like to thank all of you who have sent me good wishes either in the comments section of this blog, or by e-mail. I know I have not responded to them individually, but they really are much appreciated. Sending good wishes may not seem like much, but it is: that there are people – many whom I have not even met – who are thinking about me when I’m going through a bad time really does count for a lot, and is very comforting. It is something I will remember, and hold dear. My sincere thanks to you all.

And have a very happy Christmas, and New Year. May you all enjoy to seasonal excess the food and drink that I, following medical advice, cannot!


“The Census at Bethlehem” by Peter Bruegel the Elder, courtesy of Musée des Beaux Arts, Brussels