teque una eternum

 

MichelangeloEpigram.jpg

Superlatively celebrated as a “stupendous metaphysical-visual exhalation” by New York, the Met’s exhibition of Micheangelo drawings (“Divine Draftsman and Designer”) closes today after a three-month run in town. In the exhibit’s last room, one finds a tall painting of Michelangelo-as-Moses by Federico Zuccaro (d. 1609) that suggests a view of the exhibition’s subject not simply as a draftsman of the divine but as a draftsman holy himself:

Zuccaro

During my last visit, I noticed a Latin epigram underneath Zuccaro’s painting, which reminds me a little of Raphael’s in the Pantheon. Pictured up top, it reads as follows:

Dvm pingis vitam Michaeli Zvccare reddis

Teque una eternvm ne moriare facis

Or in (not especially felicitous) English:

While you paint, Zuccaro, you restore the life of Michael[angelo]

and along with him, you fashion yourself imperishable to avoid dying

A bit hopeful (at least for Zuccaro), but also notably heavy in its slow, spondaic mourning. In fact, aside from the fifth foot of the hexameter and the second half of the pentameter—which require dactyls—the couplet uses spondees throughout.

As gloomy as we might take it, the epigram seems to have kept its promise of long-lasting fame for Zuccaro: there he was in the finale of a “metaphysical-visual exhalation,” enjoying some small portion of that draftsman’s divinity, if perhaps by association.

 

total effect and freshman comp

A notable excerpt from a recent interview with Bryan Caplan, an economist at George Mason, about his new book The Case Against Education over at The Chronicle of Higher Education:

[Education] needs to be either useful or enjoyable. And for most students, these subjects are neither, unfortunately. There is an enormous gap between the education that people receive and what they actually use in most of the jobs they have. I mean, there may be some small amount that they’re able to glean from it. But most of the stuff, right after the final exam, they’ll never need to know again. And if these are required classes that the student was not interested in, and they just took those classes to get the diploma, then that seems wasteful from almost any point of view.

Reading against the backdrop of my own (granted, idealistic and humane) view of university education, I find this passage to be a pretty cynical take on undergraduate learning—one driven by mere preparation for a particular job, characterized by acquisition of a fleeting collection of facts and not by cultivation of assiduous, liberal habits. The interview even veers into callous psychologizing: “Most kids are philistines—they are that way deep in their souls.” Yikes.

I could lay out my own arguments against weaponizing student boredom for the elimination of arts and humanities requirements, but in lieu of my own prose, I’ll simply turn to the closing paragraphs of Flannery O’Connor’s “Total Effect and the Eighth Grade,” an essay published in Mystery and Manners:

The high-school English teacher will be fulfilling his responsibility if he furnishes the student a guided opportunity, through the best writing of the past, to come, in time, to an understanding of the best writing of the present. He will teach literature, not social studies or little lessons in democracy or the customs of many lands. And if the student finds that this is not to his taste? Well, that is regrettable. Most regrettable. His taste should not be consulted; it is being formed.

I won’t deny that there are real problems in higher education, including required classes that “students typically … come to view as impositions to “get out of the way”” and “the failure of leaders in higher education to champion the liberal-arts ideal — that college should challenge, develop, and transform students’ minds and hearts so they can lead good, flourishing, and socially productive lives — and their stampeding into the “practical” enterprise of producing specialized workers to feed The Economy.” The impulse to calibrate a curriculum around what students “actually use in most of the jobs they have” seems misguided, as does a case against education grounded in eighteen-year-old antipathies. Our task isn’t to consult these antipathies; it’s to reform them.

secret’s out at miller

One of my favorite albums of 2016 was Real Enemies by Darcy James Argue’s Secret Society, an ambitious, big jazz record that takes American conspiratorial thinking as its motivating theme. (It’s true: we’ll make up our secret societies if we have to.) It has held up really well, and it’s worth hunting down a copy.

Argue’s group performed this weekend at Columbia’s Miller Theater, and although they didn’t play music from that release, they played some material that builds upon its rich harmonic toolkit. In the first half of the show, Argue explained that he had written “All In” for the late Laurie Frink, who played with the Secret Society on their first album. Fittingly, it featured trumpeter Nadje Noordhuis (whose note-bending is really something) and captures a lot of the enigmatic, almost tenebrous sound of Real Enemies.

A Puckish narrator, Argue noted that the song “Codebreaker” was written to honor the decisive contributions of Alan Turing and that “Transit” was inspired by the now-defunct Fung Wah Bus, the beloved Boston-New York Chinatown shuttle that was a staple of Boston-area undergraduate life. (Speaking not just for myself here, I take it!)

The show’s second half was entirely taken up by an Ellington-inspired forty-minute piece “Tensile Curves.” Lots of great clarinet work by Sam Sadigursky and drumming by Jon Wikan. I was especially captured by the last few minutes—the slow tempo and harmonic material reminded me of, say, a dark take on Bill Evans.

Secret’s out: these guys are good. Catch them if you can.