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Saturday, July 28, 2007

Cafe Society: This week's gleanings

Class is always in session at the Ennui Café and this week's lessons were varied and enlightening, as always. Already revved to maximum capacity by the caffeine intake, my fevered brain only retains the information received for later processing. Removed from their surrounding context the incidental connections often get lost, but it's my job to piece together the puzzling continuity.

Join me as I follow the twisted path of collective consciousness, and we'll wend our way toward a mutual understanding that is informed by decades of art, literature, and music. Coffee klatch culture is nothing if not eclectic, and there's a hint of augmented sweetness mixed in with the bitter bean's natural flavor ... so drink deeply from the unconventional cup. Here's a sampling of the topics discussed, with appropriate links in case you'd like to explore them in more depth:

Emile Nolde — I must admit my here-to-fore ignorance of the work of this German expressionist. He is known for his bold use of color and his mystical exploration of the supernatural (his painting "Masks Still Life" appears above). He was listed as a "degenerate" artist by the Nazis and forbidden from painting during the war, but during those years he secretly produced a series of watercolors he called "unpainted pictures." Interestingly, he was a member and supporter of the party early on. He certainly wasn't the only German to get swept up in the wave of nationalism only to become victimized by its hateful and barbaric ideology when the classification of the "other" grew broad enough to include him.

Joan Didion — An American essayist and novelist, Didion is someone I've heard of but never read. Her writing mixes the personal with social commentary, critiquing modern American culture and politics. The coffee talk was of her 2005 memoir The Year of Magical Thinking, which chronicles her grieving after the loss of her husband and was adapted into a one-woman play currently on Broadway. It's described as an interesting mix of the very personal story of Didion's mourning and a more clinical analysis of grief in general.

Gustav Mahler — The Austrian Romantic Composer's Songs of a Wayfarer (better translated as Songs of a Travelling Journeyman) was the subject of conversation as it had been performed by the Chicago Symphony Orchestra the night before. The song cycle, with lyrics by the composer, was allegedly inspired by an ill-fated romance and combines emotionally evocative music with German folk poetry. It mourns the loss of love, but the grief expressed is in an overly dramatic vein and the wished-for death an exaggerated conceit. Mahler himself would suffer a tragedy on par with Didion's in 1907, as his daughter died too soon at the age of five leaving him distraught.
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