Monthly Archives: April 2015


Do you believe in synchronicity? You call an old friend the same moment he picks up the phone to call you. Or you publish a paper on some arcane topic and find out a colleague halfway around the world has come up with the same idea independently and at the same time. Or walking on the beach, reminiscing on your childhood dog: it would have been her birthday. Just at that moment, another dog comes bounding towards you as if you were old chums, same breed. You ask the owner the dog.s name and find out the name.s the same as well. Synchronicities are meaningful coincidences. Or coincidences so striking that they break the brain in thinking about them.

Diligent readers will remember the blog yesterday about the Rachel Kiyo Iwaasa Goldberg Variations concert. During the after concert question period with the artist, there was an extended discussion of Glenn Gould.s interpretations of this work. Well, how long has it been since Gould.s captured the headlines?–lo and behold he did it this morning on Yahoo Finance:

How Apple and Its Products are Inspired by Canadian Great Glenn Gould

What are the chances of that–that I would hear a talk on Gould and see him on the next day.s headline? Hard to say. But it feels almost as though the coincidence is meaningful. Sort of in the same way dreams feel meaningful. You feel it but it.s hard to put your finger on the significance.

Today was a big day for synchronicity. It.s almost as though one leads to another. Before the concert, I had gone running with my friend LH. in training for the TC10K. The route takes us along the Gorge Waterway by the bridge over the Gorge Narrows. LH was saying there had been a big commotion there in the last few days: a fellow had jumped off the bridge and was floating face down. The firemen had sent a whole brigade down there and succeeded in reviving him. It.s speculated alcohol and a broken heart may have played a role. Well today, I was reading Goethe.s Egmont. In that play, Clara ditches Brackenburg for Egmont (I can see why, Brackenburg.s a doting sort of ninny). Brackenburg.s reaction to being dumped, however, caught my attention: he thinks to throw himself in the water and to sink face down. I imagined that maybe it was the tragedy of Brackenburg playing out again. Only not in Brussels but on the Gorge hundred of years later in some sort of eternal return.

Tillicum02Gorge Narrows

I.m the last person that would believe in mystical crap. The only thing I believe in is in doing Melpomene.s work. But the idea of synchronicity is fascinating. I had been introduced to it at the right age. When I was seventeen, EA.s father lent me a copy of Jung.s Memories, Dreams, and Reflections. It was Jung that came up with the idea. He collaborated with Wolfgang Pauli of quantum mechanics fame (ie the Pauli Exclusion Principle) so there is some scientific credence. But of course scientists look more towards Littlewood.s Law than synchronicity to explain coincidental events. Here.s how Jung described synchronicity:

All natural phenomena of this kind [eg exceedingly rare coincidences] are unique and exceedingly curious combinations of chance, held together by the common meaning of their parts to form an unmistakable whole. Although meaningful coincidences are infinitely varied in their phenomenology, as causal events they nevertheless form an element that is part of the scientific picture of the world. Causality is the way we explain the link between two successive events. Synchronicity designates the parallelism of time and meaning between psychic and psychophysical events, which scientific knowledge has so far been unable to reduce to a common principle.

Now the thing about Jung is that he.s a damn fine writer. I.m one of those people who cares less  about fact and is more persuaded by style. Shoot me. But, mystical crap aside, couldn.t the world be organized around the mind in some sort of meaningful way where synchronicity is possible? After all, science tells us that to break down a quantum state (Schrodinger.s Cat or wave/particle duality) a conscious observer is required. If a conscious observer can ‘do’ something to the world by the act of observation, couldn.t some of these ‘coincidences’ be ascribed to the echoes of consciousness? Okay, sorry, that was off the deep end!

But one thing is for a certainty. By watching out for synchronicity, the wonder and mystery of being alive are increased when we think we have seen it. We do not live in a universe which feels neither obligation or compulsion to us. And that today is good enough.

Do you believe in synchronicity? Or what do you believe? Littlewood.s Law perhaps? But what fun is that?

Goldberg Variations (Rachel Kiyo Iwaasa April 19, 2015)

A few weeks ago while having coffee at QV.s, a flyer caught my eye of a pianist, arms outstretched by the sea. Black and white. Very professional. It was an advertisement for Rachel Kiyo Iwaasa, who would be performing Bach.s Goldberg Variations at St. Mary the Virgin in Oak Bay.

I was hemming and hawing about whether to go. Yes, it would be a nice concert. But then my budget had gone a little bit over this month. Going online, it looked like in addition to general admission, there were ‘artist’ or ‘underemployed’ tickets. But then there was an additional surcharge to purchase online. No thanks. They also had tickets at Ivy.s Bookshop. So there.s where I went. never purchased the ‘discounted’ tickets before and, to be honest, I felt awkward. The store was quite busy too; I had to wait for it to clear out a little bit. There really was no logical reason for that, but that.s me. So I asked the lady, ‘Ah, I wonder if you have tickets for the show and if there.s requirements for the discount tickets?’. To which she had the best reply, ‘Well, sir, you would know best!’. Tickets in hand it was a good day.

Arriving at St. Mary the Virgin, the usher takes the ticket and I ask her where the best place to sit is. She.s also a piano player and points out if you sit close to the front on the left, you can see the pianists fingers. Good idea. St. Mary the Virgin is an Anglican Church. Modern architecture. It.s interesting how they achieve the height and the open space in the nave. The nave is laid out with a central corridor with pews on the left and right. The weight of the roof is transferred into the foundation by means of a glulam or engineered wood structure. The spans did not necessitate intermediate supports so the impression–especially with the graceful curves built into the glulam columns–is one of effortless openness. Looking around, another surprise: 6′ Baldwin, not Steinway. My first piano was a Baldwin. A little spinet. I.m very fond of Baldwin and it makes me happy to see them.

Now for the music. Did I tell you I was excited?– heard this piece hundreds of times but never live. Here was my chance. I wasn.t wearing my watch, but from asking my kind neighbour, it appears the concert began just after 2:35 and ended just before 3:30. So this Goldberg clocked in at just under 55 minutes. Not absolutely sure though. Since I.m a good Canadian, here.s the obligatory Gould comparison. His schizophrenic 1955 recording clocks in under 45 minutes and the mechanistically meditative 1981 recording comes in at 52 minutes. At 55 minutes, Iwaasa.s able to bring out the lyricism of the piece. You can hear the spaces between the notes a little bit–I alway enjoy that, the sound of the decay. You can tap your foot to most of the variations, but not all of them. It reminded me how rhythmic Bach can be. Forward driving. Music flowing over itself, beside itself, tumbling out of a limitless reservoir. It seems a shame that a lot of these forward driving rhythms were lost in the Classical era.

Iwaasa.s playing is very clean. Light on the pedal. While I could.t see the pedals (obscured by the pews in front), I could see when she was applying the pedal because her calves were visible through a slit on her dress. If that is too prurient may I be struck down! This was Sunday and I was in church after all! To me, clean playing means well thought out playing–no ‘hiding behind the pedal’ as it were. The shape and nuance of each line comes out by the strength of the mind.s interpretation. Another thing that I was thinking of is how full bodied a piano sounds in real life. It must be one of the harder instruments to record. Either that or it must be hard for speakers to reproduce its range. The parts of the Goldberg that descend into the nether registers exude weight.

There was fun after the concert as well. They had an question and answer session with the artist. This was cool. They should do this all the time. The organizer asked the first question. It turns out Iwaasa.s portfolio consists of many modern works and premieres as well written by living composers. He asked how it was like playing something by Bach (who, we were reminded at the beginning of the concert, would have celebrated his 330th birthday recently). She responded that well, you couldn.t email or call the composer to ask for performance input *laughter*. She also talked a bit about the relationship between interpreter and composer as a kind of ‘dialogue with the dead’ which I thought was a neat idea. By the way, she.s very well spoken. I asked the second question on her decision on the tempo. Actually a two part question: also asked her whether she had experimented with different tempi. To which she replied that she decides what tempo to play by the vibe from the audience: it.s not a ‘one tempo fits all’ scenario. I thought that was a very good answer. It reminded me of one of Furtwangler.s responses when asked the same question: he said he figures out the tempo ‘by listening to the music’. Sometimes the best responses are the simplest. As to different tempi, part of the question depends on how much risk she wants to take on stage. With so many crossings over of hands the breakneck speed can be dangerous! There was another question by the church organist who admired how her playing brought out and was faithful to the structure of the piece. They talked a bit on the tripartite structure of the Goldberg and I thought of how wonderful that there was all this order and form in Bach.s music. Like a cosmos unto itself. There were many other questions: did she like the 1955 or the 1981 Gould?–she admired the ‘exuberance’ of the 1955 recording but listens more to the 1981 recording. But prior to the performance she stayed away from Gould in order to find her own voice. Who were her mentors?–her teachers. She also mentioned that her pedagogical roots were three removes away from Beethoven. Fascinating! Also learned that the Goldberg Variations were written for a patron who wanted something to listen to to combat insomnia. There was a comment that it would be hard to fall asleep listening to this piece. Then a correction that it wasn.t to put people to sleep but to have something to listen to to ease the insomnia. She also talked about how, as the variations go further from the main theme, sometimes Bach would recall them by inserting contemporary songs with lyrics along the lines of ‘Now come back…’. And so on. A splendid idea to have a question and answer session with the artist.

In the program notes, Iwaasa cites a passage from Kundera.s The Book of Laughter and Forgetting. Kundera in turn cites Pascal:

Variations are like a voyage. But that voyage does not lead through the infinitude of the exterior world. In one of his pensées, Pascal says that man lives between the abyss of the infinitely large and the abyss of the infinitely small. The voyage of variations leads into the other infinitude, into the infinite diversity of the interior world hidden in all things.

The abyss between the infinitely large and the infinitely small is of course the section Pascal headed with the words infini – rien number 418 in Lafuma.s numeration and 233 in Brunschvicg, otherwise known as Pascal.s Wager. Pascal.s Wager is the existential plight of man, who, suspended between infinity and nothing must wager with God or against God, though reason will not help him make the correct choice. It.s interesting because it attempts to justify faith on probabilistic grounds: there is nothing to lose and everything to gain if you wager with God, so why not go with the odds? For Kundera, the abyss of the infinitely small is the unbearable burden of lacking the being we loved. The variation form for Kundera.s Beethoven is the exploration of this infinitesimally small yet infinite loss. This makes sense for Beethoven, who, always the titan, would have (metaphorically) taken the left hand side of Pascal.s Wager, wagering for art and against God, ruing his loss forevermore. But I can.t help but to think that Bach, with his blue collar faith, would have wagered with God and with all the odds on his side so that there would be in the Goldberg Variations a joyful God of sixteen measures, full of life, love, and hope.

And that.s what I heard in today.s performance: the exuberance of all life unbounded, all the voices tripping over one another in the exuberance of the variation form. Thank you to Iwaasa for a wonderful performance and thank you to the Oak Bay Matinée Concert Series for bringing it all together.

Playing Card Card Combinations

trI.m in the midst of writing the chapter on ‘the best laid plans of mice and men’. It deals with how the unexpected steals up the the tragic protagonist. Uncertainty, risk, unexpectation (is that a word?–now it is!), and things like that are on my mind. One way of imagining risk would be to graph outcomes onto a bell curve. The fat tails on the extreme left and right sides of the curve could represent unexpected disaster or a happy windfall. Another way of imagining risk would be look at dice or card games. surrounded by so much probability theory and statistics today that it.s hard to imagine a world without such things. But the science of probability or a theory or permutations and combinations didn.t actually exist before the likes of Cardano and Tartaglia started systematically going through how many outcomes were possible when rolling one die, two die, and so on. That was as recent as the Italian Renaissance in the sixteenth century. Before then, how the dice turned out was all due to Lady Luck, otherwise known as Fortune. If you could go back in time with today.s probability theory and play the ancients, you.d be able to clean house. The odds on a lot of the ancient games rewarded higher outcome scenarios more than lower outcome scenarios. Cicero and Aristotle both thought about ‘likelihood’ and all they could come up with was that it would be hard to roll more than one or two ‘Venus throws’ (the highest throw with knuckle bones) in succession. It didn.t occur to them that such things could be quantified. They were, however, express scepticism that the ‘Venus throw’ would be due to the action of the goddess. But they were not able to offer a better explanation.

Surprising. The ancients gave us geometry, the Hippocratic Oath, democracy, philosophy, ethics, and so many other things but they just could.t get probability. Some say it.s because the dice they used were inconsistent (being polished animal bones). Others say the idea of the hand of god in random events was too powerful for the mind to overcome: the whole industry of divination was based on finding meaning in random events that, well, were not really random but god trying to tell us something. There are those who think they just didn.t have the mathematical capacity with their cumbersome roman numerals. Or they just didn.t like ‘experimenting’ (ie rolling hundreds of dice and recording the results).

That could all be true. But even today, it.s hard to figure out how the theory of combinations and permutations fit together. Last night, I was over at TW.s. As he took out some playing cards, he said, ‘Did you know the chances are that a deck of cards has never been shuffled with the cards in the order the are in now?’. I said, ‘Really?’. He replied, ‘There.s almost an infinite number of combinations so that you.d never in an eternity shuffle the cards into the same configuration’. TW.s into science so I knew he was right. But I was curious. How many combinations were possible?

We couldn.t figure out all the combinations of the 52 card deck. But we could try figuring out the combinations of one, two, three cards and so on. And from there generate a rule to see what the combinations would be for a full deck. With one card there.s one combination. With two cards there.s two. With three cards, we couldn.t do this in our head anymore. So we laid out the cards. Six combinations are possible with three cards. Now with four cards, it gets tricky. Not only did we need the cards in front of us, we had to start writing down the combinations since it was easy to miss one or count one twice. The combinations get bigger very quickly is what we noticed. I was thinking the pattern would be 1 card 1 combo, 2 cards 2 combos, 3 cards 6 combos, and maybe 4 cards would be 16 combos. Wrong. 4 cards is 24 combos. We speculated on the pattern. Maybe you multiply by a number 3×2=6, 4×6=24. But what sort of rule would determine the multiplier? The clear thinking beer we were imbibing was also helping our efforts! So we decided to work out the combinations for five cards to see if more data would lead to an insight (Bacon.s method of induction). But with five cards there were so many combinations… Too much work, we went back to drinking beer and watching a TV show on science instead. But this goes to show, it.s still difficult today to figure out probabilities. TW.s a project manager so he.s good at numbers. Years ago (certainly not today!) I got up to second year calculus.

So I cheated. The next day I googled it. Google is also something that Cicero and Aristotle didn.t have! The combinations are a function of factorials. So four factorial or 4! will give you the combination of four cards. Four factorial would be the equivalent of 4x3x2x1 or 24. Five factorial or 5! or 5x4x3x2x1 or 160 is the number of combinations with five cards. I would hate to even try imagining how big the number 52! generates. It would likely break a gear in the brain. So perhaps this is one of the reasons cards are fascinating: the unexpected is always possible because of the immense number of outcomes that are possible. Or–lurking underneath all the ‘common’ poker hands (full house, pair, two pair, etc.,) there.s always the chance of the dead man.s hand!

Greater Victoria Public Library Launches Emerging Local Authors Collection

As an aspiring writer, I spend inordinate amounts of sitting at home and thinking. And what better thing to do while thinking than to accompany it with cookies and ice cream! Thinking, you know, requires mental horsepower. And sugar is just like rocket fuel for the engines of thought. Unfortunately, after too much rocket fuel, sometimes I don.t feel so hot afterwards! For this reason, its helpful from time to time for a change of scenery: the Greater Victoria Public Library, or GVPL for short. No distractions (besides the people on the cell phones)! No food allowed (besides the people eating potato chips on the fly out of their backpacks)!

The library is a great place for writers. Especially in the evening when it.s quieter. Actually, perfect quiet isn.t the most conducive. I like a sort of white noise. For Glenn Gould, white noise was the vacuum cleaner. He would run the vacuum cleaner so that he could better hear the different voices in counterpoint. For me, it.s coffee shop chatter where if you focus, you can hear the strings of conversations. But otherwise, it.s a background noise. The sound of life around you. On the second floor of the library, there.s a section that overhangs and is open to the circulation desk and main entrance. From there, one can see the courtyard. It.s got the best acoustics in town, so buskers busy themselves there. There.s even a preacher man with fiery red hair that gives a sermon once in a while. The best show ever was a young gypsy couple who dressed the part and played, among other things, Fleetwood Mac covers. The whole courtyard filled up that day. They had ‘it’, whatever ‘it’ is. You can hear all this through the windows. There.s also the chatter at the circulation desk and the volunteer Friendshop below. If ever interested in hearing people.s life stories, be a fly on the wall at the Friendshop: for some reason, customers are inclined to unfold their life stories to the patient volunteers. Stories from WWII, nasty separations, contested wills: heard it all (at the same time assiduously working on the book, of course!).

What caught my eye last time was a little stand just inside of the library.s main entrance. It was a collection of works by local authors: the Emerging Local Author.s Collection:

Emerging Local Authors Collection Launched

Posted by on 10 April 2015


Our inaugural Emerging Local Authors Collection is now available! Come down to Central Branch to take a look, or browse the titles right nowLearn more >>

As of today, the collection is 174 titles strong. Last year they launched a collection of music by local artists. The Local Authors Collection must be part of the same plan.

Being myself a soon to be emerging author, I took a look through the display case. Books on yachting, fiction, travel, poetry, history: there was a bit of everything. What interested me was the copyright page (because I.d been reading about this in Baverstock.s The Naked Author). There was quite the range of information on the ISBN, copyright, printing press, and so on from none to the full meal deal. To me, books without ISBN or press seemed like they were self-published: they had that ‘indie’ look to them. There were some that I thought must have been professionally published. But when I googled the name of the press, nothing would show up in a lot of cases. It may be that those were also self-published, but done so to appear otherwise. So there appear to be two options, depending on the type of presentation the writer is trying to make: self-published which looks ‘indie’ or self-published which looks professional.

Colour, paper, and quality also make a large ‘first-impression’ impact. Especially font. Some books just had the right font. This was immediately pleasing and made me want to read. There were a lot of fonts in the books surveyed. Quite a few sans serif fonts.  I guess this is the one thing about self-publishing: maybe there.s almost too many options. But that.s one of the advantages of self-publishing as well. A few of the titles that looked professionally put together were from Spica Book Design. When the time comes, I.ll pay them a visit. And quite a few books came from Island Blue Print. The quality of the vast majority of books by Island Blue seemed indistinguishable from books in my own bookcases.

Kudos to the library for involving the community. It.s given me some inspiration. If they can do it, so can I! And if I can do it, so should you! Maybe one day we will have our books on the library.s shelves with a little gold star saying ‘Local Author’! And finally kudos to all the writers who took the time and effort and became published! It must be a happy day for them to see their books being proudly displayed.

Commissioning Images and Illustrations

As part of the writer.s due diligence, been reading guides to self-publishing. It.s a fascinating world. Different than academic writing. The scale is larger. writing to an audience, not the professor. And it.s going to be published with your name on it. Out in the real world.

One of the chapters in Alison Baverstock.s The Naked Author (this just happened to be the title they had at the library, it.s a good read so far) is ‘Commissioning Images and Illustrations’. Before reading it, I hadn.t much thought about the cover. It would have the title and the author.s name and a designer would give it some shape and a splash of colour. But she makes a good point: the cover is the point of first contact between the book and potential readers. Make it good. She discusses how to go about getting photography or image rights. And then she talked about commissioning artwork. That captured the imagination. Afterwards, I was surprised it never occurred to me on my own to try this. Because I had been through the commissioning process before and all I can say is, ‘What an experience!’.

Twenty years ago, I went through the commissioning process. Come to think of it, over twenty years ago. One of Francis Bacon.s portraits, The Study of Pope Innocent X had fascinated me. The bold brushstrokes. Barbaric. And the stillness of agony. It.s funny, because nothing much else of Bacon stands out to me. But I really am smitten with this portrait. Last summer, there was a Bacon exhibition at the Art Gallery of Toronto. It didn.t have the effect I thought it would have. At any rate, twenty plus years ago, I was washing dishes at the Cordova Seaview Restaurant. I started putting away some funds to commission this thing. I called up some artists. Most weren.t interested. One lady hung up on me. The conversation went like this, ‘Oh the Bacon? Yes, I.m familiar with Bacon. Which one? That one?!? *click*’. Eventually, I found out one of my friends’ dads was into Francis Bacon. Carl Coger. He had studied Bacon at the Art Institute of Chicago. He would be delighted to take on the project. We went through images and images looking for the right colours (it.s amazing how different pictures capture colour in subtlety different ways). That summer, he set up his easel in the courtyard. A big easel. I got to see the whole process. Partitioning the canvas into a grid. The different layers. Mixing the colours. He really enjoyed making it as well.

Flash forward to last winter. I get this letter in the mail from the artist. Wrong address and wrong postal code. Somehow it made it to my building where it was placed on top of the community mailbox. Good work Canada Post! But I couldn.t open the letter for a long time. I thought it was the bad news letter. You see, a few years ago, my friend had met this girl on the street. A former schoolteacher from England. She hurt her jaw in an accident, the doctor prescribed her some narcotic painkillers and you know the rest. He tried to help her out and got dragged into the whole affair. For that reason, I thought the letter must have been bad news. Why else would he write? Well, damnation, finally I had to open it. It took me a week and a half of looking at it each day. It turns out, they were putting on a ‘Fabulous Fakes’ art show and he wanted to exhibit the work!


We talked on the phone. He.s over eighty now, almost blind. He wanted to exhibit the work as a sort of swan song. As I bike (pedal bike) and he doesn.t drive anymore, he got his grandson to deliver the work to the gallery (a nice young lad studying economics at UVic, we discussed Piketty.s Capital which was sitting on the coffee table). I went to the show as well, it was a bit of a thrill to see the little abstract saying the painting came out of the ‘Edwin Wong Collection’! He was very happy his work could go on exhibition one last time (he had other pieces there as well). We chatted about the good old days. It.s funny, I was just a kid back then, how the times change. And one thing that stuck in my mind is how art brings people together, in a good way. We need more of this!

So…after the digression, I thought about putting out a Call for Art. For a cover illustration. Here.s what come up with so far. The idea is to go around and ask the nice art galleries, art shops, and art schools if they can post this up. Then it will be a waiting game to see who responds. I hope the process is as fun as the first time. Here.s the rough draft of the Call for Art:



DESCRIPTION: oil on canvas, 30×30

CONCEPT: Depict the moment Wild Bill Hickox picks up the ‘dead man’s hand’ while playing poker. Contemporary setting (not Wild West). Figures include: three gamblers, one bartender, one waitress, one patron, and a dog. Sparse furnishings. Although the gunman who shoots Wild Bill does not appear in the painting, the painting is painted from the point of view of the gunman as he is entering the saloon.

THEME: Two themes. The first theme is the unexpected and the disproportionately critical affect the unexpected has on life. The ‘dead man’s hand’ is a visual representation of the unexpected, much like how the silver pieces in Rembrandt’s Judas returning the thirty pieces visually represent the emotion of greed. As such, the painting should draw the viewer’s eye to the ‘dead man’s hand’. The second theme is to capture the look of surprise and tension in the painting’s subjects. It is that split second after the gunman enters but before full recognition happens. A good study of the psychology of what is desired might be found in Repin’s They did not expect him.

INTENT: It is the intent that a reproduction of the painting or a detail from the painting will serve as the cover illustration of a book on literary criticism. The book discusses the role of the unexpected in drama with an emphasis on tragedy. Critics, academics, dramatists, and people interested in the growing field of uncertainty comprise the target audience.

To receive further details on the commission, please contact Edwin Wong by email at — or by phone —.

‘Christopher Marlowe: Poet & Spy’ by Park Honan

Doctor Faustus and Tamburlaine fascinated me sufficiently that I went looking for a book about the life of Christopher Marlowe. There.s always good introductions in Penguin editions, and The Complete Plays with an introduction by J.B. Steane is no exception. It turns out Marlowe was an exact contemporary with Shakespeare (born 1564) and:

…the son of a reasonably wealthy shoemaker. He was educated at King’s School, Canterbury, and received a scholarship to Corpus Christi, Cambridge, where he obtained his B.A. in 1584. He appears to have ben involved in a secret political mission, travelling abroad as a foreign agent. The university authorities suspected him of wishing to enter the English seminary in Rheims as a Catholic convert and it was only through the intervention of the Privy Council that he was awarded his M.A. in 1587.

A spy? A Catholic in Protestant England? Cool. Penguin introductions are more an appetizer than a main course though. They didn.t have From Mankind to Marlowe at the public library (which was the first choice due to the captivating title). In fact they didn.t have very much at all. But there was a newer smart looking title on the shelves Christopher Marlowe: Poet & Spy by Park Honan.

It came out in 2005 published by none other than the mighty Oxford University Press. I was looking forward to the read. Since there were chapters on The Tamburlaine Phenomenon and Doctor Faustus, there.s where I started. In the chapter on Tamburlaine, Honan speculates that the geographical discrepancies in the campaigns of Tamburlaine and his associates were due to outdated maps at Cambridge. He even identifies a possible map Marlowe may have used. Very impressive. To be honest, it was difficult following the campaign trail in the play. Persia, Fez, Morocco, Argier, Turkey, Damascus, Arabia, Egypt, Natolia, Jerusalem, Trebizon, Soria, Babylon, Africa, and so on. It seemed like he conquered some places twice. And what is the difference exactly between Persian and Natolia and Turkey? It.s good to know the map.s there if I ever look into this some more. The parts on the ranging of powers between Catholics, Protestants, and Ottomans is illuminating as well. It turns out the Protestants and Ottomans had a common enemy in Catholicism at this time.

Now, when I was going to school, what they taught was that it was one of the seven deadly sins of academia to extract biographical details on the author from his works. It was a no-no. My own view of this?–well it always struck me that one should be able to tell something about the author from what he writes; what one writes is part of what he does and the author is, in a way, what he writes. Of course there are limits to how far this can go, but it.s always possible to read a book and at least extrapolate enough biographical details that you could determine whether, if you met the author, he.d be an interesting person to share a beer with.

So, speaking of the seven deadly sins, here.s Honan.s analysis of Faust.s encounter with the seven deadly sins in the play:

After so much insemination, the minx Lechery pictures copulation itself: ‘I am one that loves an inch of raw mutton better than an ell of fried stockfish.’ At that time, ‘raw mutton’ was a term for lust of prostitutes, and ‘stockfish’ (or a dried-up piece of cod) was a slang word of abuse implying sexual deficiency. A modern, rather fastidious editor advises that Lechery says, in effect, that she ‘prefers a small quantity of virility to a large extent of impotence’. There is, however, and explicit allusion to a small, active and sucking penis in Lechery’s fondness for ‘an inch of raw mutton’, and to absolute sexual failure in ‘an ell’ (45 inches) of inadequate copulating. As in his version of Ovid’s Amores, Marlowe comically heightens in this play not virility, but impotence, since this is what is most striking in Lechery’s entire speech. Was Marlowe impotent? The truth of the matter is that he was extremely interested in desire…

‘Was Marlowe impotent?’–are you kidding?!? That.s one question that would not occur to me to think of after reading that episode. Covetousness also talks about gold in that episode. Are we also to infer that Marlowe had a stash of gold hidden away? The encounter with the seven deadly sins seemed to me rather part of the spectacle of the play where Mephistophilis helps Faust kill time before the twenty-four years expires. It is beyond me how Honan extracts the question of Marlowe.s virility from Faustus’ encounter with Lechery.

There.s a bit too much of this type of conjecture in the book for me. While the two chapters on Tamburlaine and Doctor Faustus were interesting, I.m returning this volume to the library and still on the lookout for a book on the life of this most extraordinary poet and playwright.

Marlowe, Tamburlaine, and Dramatic Speed

After reading Schiller, what a delight it is to read Marlowe. Especially Tamburlaine. It just moves so fast, especially after reading through a play like Don Carlos where the characters are thinking sooooo much about tooooo many things. They play requires the casting of philosophers rather than actors. But Tamburlaine is nothing like that. Take Zenocrate.s death. Tamburlaine.s queen dies as he marches on one of his endless campaigns. She falls ill; she dies. There is a very brief interlude where we see a catalogue of Callapine.s forces that are assembling to take on Tamburlaine. The next thing you know, Tamburlaine is seen marching out of the town. Behind him the town burns. He has set fire to it as a memorial for Zenocrate.

Two things stand out. The first is of course the scale on which Tamburlaine acts. To burn the town as a memorial to his wife is something more than human. It is like Xerxes lashing the Hellespont. The second which stands out is the incredible dramatic economy of the scene. A lot of information about Tamburlaine is conveyed without the need of dialogue. She dies; he decamps and leaves town. And oh, what.s that–is it the whole town is burning in the background? Oh my! It reminds me of a scene from the old Schwarzenegger movie Conan. Conan enters the cave. There.s a pack of mean looking wolves that.s followed him there. Now you could have Conan fight the wolves or outwit them or trap them. But no, none of that. It is all too time consuming. All we see in the next scene is Conan exiting the cave with a new wolfskin jacket. Very well done! always said, and I.ll say it again, that many plays are too long. In this day and age of texting and twitter, people.s attention spans are looking for quick solutions. There.s lots of devices–such as flashing forward to the outcome–which can do this. It would be nice to see them put to better use.

Not to pick on Schiller (whom I enjoy), but the difference between him and Marlowe is like the difference between a studio band and a road band. A good road band is a great crowd pleaser. A studio band, well, is good in the studio. They get the sound just perfect. But on the open road, there.s too many variables beyond their control for them to truly shine. Gould comes to mind. Or Burzum. A lot of bands just starting out are also like this. They spend too much time in the studio. They may be technical virtuosos, but when they hit the road, they don.t put on an entertaining show. A lot of their effects or that perfect pedal sound is lost in the noise. Schiller is like the consummate studio musician. Marlowe is more like Springsteen or Motorhead. They may not be the most technical. But they sure put on a damn fine show.

Speed is good. I value highly playwrights who are able to go from scene to scene at an hundred miles an hour. Let.s call this the veni, vidi, vici principle of theatre. Caesar gets a lot of mileage out those three words.