[Work: Men and Women, Robert Browning, 1855]
A Soliloquy of Browning’s:

Art, Time, and Commodity in Robert Browning’s “A Toccata of Galuppi’s”

 

Introduction:

Portrait of Robert Browning by Thomas B. Read - A Toccata of Galuppi's - art, time, death, commodity

Portrait of Robert Browning by Thomas Buchanan Read

Before returning to a consideration of a novel next week, I would like to once more (as I did in the last article’s analysis of two-centuries-old anti-slavery poetry) carefully examine a classic poem. In this case, it will be the poem “A Toccata of Galuppi’s” from (originally) the 1855 collection Men and Women by Robert Browning, who is known for pieces of poetry with a distinct narrative voice (such that his poems can be read as dramatic monologues). “A Toccata of Galuppi’s” is about art and death and beautiful music, and the analysis below is considerably lengthy, but I hope you will grant me the time.

An attention to artifice suffuses the act of invention whereby Robert Browning’s poems proceed from deeply characterized speakers. This attention to artifice necessarily involves a consideration of the relation between that which is artificial and that which is actual—a relation that can be understood as the more general form of which the relation between art and life is a particular form.

In his poem, “A Toccata of Galuppi’s,” the relationship between art and life becomes a subject of direct address for both the speaker of the poem and the performance represented by the poem itself. The poem expresses a view of art as a permanent representation of impermanent life. For those who consume the art, it becomes a reminder of the ephemerality of pleasure and life even as it discourses on a particular subject or aspect of life, and even as it operates in a tone far afield from melancholy.

Further, the act of consuming art, Browning’s speaker contends, is an economic act wherein time is traded for participation, contributing to life’s aforementioned brevity. Browning’s poem seamlessly blends a dramatic consideration of art as an inadequate-because-eternal approximation of human life with an evaluation of the grim commodification of art as a temporal purchase. Through this combination, “A Toccata of Galuppi’s” reflects on the inadequacy of art to quell anxieties about mortality.

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[Work: Men and Women, Robert Browning, 1855]
A Soliloquy of Browning’s:

Art, Time, and Commodity in Robert Browning’s “A Toccata of Galuppi’s”

was last modified: June 15th, 2016 by Daniel Podgorski

[Topics: Death, Materialism, Philosophy of Religion, Reincarnation]
Pop Philosophy:

The Mixed Philosophical Legacy of Alan Watts, and His Ideas about Death

 

Introduction:

Alan Watts—in his time a popular lecturer and philosopher of mind, aesthetics, metaphysics, and religion—was a bit of an oddball. I feel fairly confident in saying that Alan Watts’ interpretations and considerations of Buddhism, Taoism, Hinduism, and Anglicanism, as well as his general attitude and demeanor, have to some degree shaped the popular image of the field of philosophy (and not for the better).

Much like how producers of pop culture almost always put poet characters in the emotional style and darkly colored trappings of the mid-twentieth-century confessional and beat poets, so the string of airy, unintuitive, and completely self-assured claims that constitute Watts’ works give shape to the nebulous and impractical stereotype of the discipline of philosophy possessed by so many modern students of science in the western world.

It is irrelevant that most of the aforementioned producers and students are not consciously picturing such forebears (in fact, I find it unlikely that most of them have even heard of Robert Lowell or Alan Watts); still, to find the source for a society’s image of an academic pursuit, one often need look no further than the best-selling popularizers of that field in the few preceding generations. These days, philosophical characters seem to always be a caricature of either Freud, Marx, or Watts. (Indeed, the 2013 science-fiction film HerAlan Watts - Philosophy, Death, and Reincarnation featured an artificially intelligent philosopher who was a reconstruction of the consciousness of Alan Watts.)

Now, because I have already, on multiple occasions in this series, concluded that scientists should study philosophy and philosophers should study science, I will let go of these digressions and move on to my main topic for the day: Alan Watts’ discussion of death. I should start by clarifying that, although he and I would have no end of disagreements, I do still respect Alan Watts; he was a sincere thinker and a captivating speaker.

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[Topics: Death, Materialism, Philosophy of Religion, Reincarnation]
Pop Philosophy:

The Mixed Philosophical Legacy of Alan Watts, and His Ideas about Death

was last modified: March 31st, 2016 by Daniel Podgorski

[Work: The Stranger, Albert Camus, 1942]
Smiling While Despised:

The Ending of Albert Camus’ The Stranger and the Beginning of Authenticity

 

Albert Camus Sketch by M.R.P. - The Stranger - authenticity

Sketch by M.R.P.

Introduction:

A month ago, your Tuesday Tome article consisted of a discussion of the topic of authenticity in the existential classic The Death of Ivan Ilyich by Leo Tolstoy. This week, I would like to look at this same theme, authenticity, in the context of a work that is not merely labeled existential, but existentialist, appearing as it does among the canon of the French existentialists in the 20th century: The Stranger by Albert CamusThe Stranger - Albert Camus - authenticity.

The nature of this article is such that it requires spoiling basic plot details of The Stranger, so you should only continue reading after this paragraph if you either do not mind spoilers or have already read the book.

Specifically, I would like to talk about the ending epiphany of protagonist Meursault, and what it is that allows Meursault to face his death happily at the end of The Stranger. My initial premise is that attainment of the aforementioned authenticity allows Meursault to do so, but this premise will be complicated by the novel’s very last line, for which I will offer three different but related readings.

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[Work: The Stranger, Albert Camus, 1942]
Smiling While Despised:

The Ending of Albert Camus’ The Stranger and the Beginning of Authenticity

was last modified: October 21st, 2016 by Daniel Podgorski

[Work: The Death of Ivan Ilyich, Leo Tolstoy, 1886]
Proximity to Death:

Authentic Living and Authentic Dying in Leo Tolstoy’s The Death of Ivan Ilyich

 

Introduction:

Portrait of Leo Tolstoy by Ilya Efimovich Repin - The Death of Ivan Ilyich

Portrait of Lev Nikolayevich Tolstoy by Ilya Repin

The abiding concern of the most controversial and often the most fascinating instances of Leo Tolstoy’s later fiction was the struggle for meaning in the midst of the author’s own existential crisis. Among that later fiction, there is arguably nowhere that struggle attains more pathos nor more honesty than in his novella, The Death of Ivan IlyichThe Death of Ivan Ilyich - Leo Tolstoy.

Unlike other works by Tolstoy, the novella does not seem to contain an easily discernible, specific answer to the question of how one’s life should be lived. Perhaps a reflection of the author’s own inability to see a definite meaning in life or a definite reason for his own impending demise, or perhaps an expression of the very personal anxiety of reflection at such proximity to death, the physical decline of Ivan Ilyich is characterized by a parallel rising search for reason and meaning.

Though one is not given the particulars of Ivan Ilyich’s final realization, one is provided with the context and effect of that most joyous ultimate epiphany, as well as the particulars of the series of smaller revelatory modes of thinking which lead to it. As Ivan Ilyich passes through phases of thought, he gains more and more insight into his past, his life, and the nature of existence, ultimately concluding that what he has lacked and sorely desires is authenticity.

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[Work: The Death of Ivan Ilyich, Leo Tolstoy, 1886]
Proximity to Death:

Authentic Living and Authentic Dying in Leo Tolstoy’s The Death of Ivan Ilyich

was last modified: January 2nd, 2016 by Daniel Podgorski