The American Scene

An ongoing review of politics and culture

Debate Topic II

Resolved: that most writers for The American Scene would rather be Alan Tate than Milton Friedman, while for most readers of The American Scene it’s the other way around.


Moral Tomorrow, Comedy Tonight

Segueing awkwardly from my last post, I’m way overdue for my last batch of reviews from the Stratford Shakespeare festival. We went back twice this summer since opening week, once in July and once in August, and I haven’t posted anything. Now the season is entering the home stretch; one show has already closed, and six more will close by the end of next weekend. So before it’s completely pointless, I’m going to try to make up for lost time.

I’m going to start, though, with a show that, while you can still see it, it can’t possibly be the same show I saw (though I’m sure it is still excellent).

Some years ago, Stratford mounted a rather dismal production of Aristophanes’ The Birds. I went into the play very excited; Aristophanes doesn’t get done much, and I’d never seen a production. My hopes were, I fear, rather overextended, and got dashed rather badly.

At a discussion some time after, then-Executive Director (now General Director) Antoni Cimolino asked his audience why we still put on productions of Aristophanes, but not productions of Plautus. To which question a variety of answers were presented. But the right answer is: why do Plautus when you can do A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum!

Read the full article

Fish and Whistle

So, usually around this time of year, I post something related to the penitential season. This year, I’m going to let John Prine say it for me.

Have an easy fast, if you do, and just try to remember that everybody’s just doing what they must do. And hopefully we’ll all whistle and go fishing in heaven.

Information Technology and Its Discontents

From Nicholas Ostler’s Empires of the Word:

Reliance on language in its written form was seen as crippling, and not giving true control over linguistic content. Hence this proverb:

[…some Sanskrit here…]

Knowledge in a book — money in another’s hand.

In this ancient India was like many cultures as widely divided as the Druids of Gaul in the first century BC and modern Guatemala (where Mayans remark that outsiders note things down not in order to remember them, but rather so as not to have to remember them). Even Socrates recalled a story that when the god Thoth first offered the craft of writing to the king of Egypt, the king was not impressed: “it will set forgetfulness in the minds of learners for lack of practice in memory”. The doyens of Indian learning took this undeniable side effect of book learning very much to heart.

Even though the language had undergone a full phonological analysis by the fifth century BC, which was even incorporated into the official order of letters in the alphabet, reliance on written texts for important (especially spiritually important) documents was decried. Hence another saying:

[…more Sanskrit here…]

The sellers of the Vedas, the misreaders of the Vedas,

the writers of the Vedas, all go on the path to hell.

Nothing really to add. Just throwing this into the mix of “do computers make us dumb?” arguments.