Noir for kids

I was something of a latecomer to crime fiction. For most of my existence I kept away from detective novels, and the only TV crime drama that evoked any degree of interest from me was, um, the X-Files. While I did develop an interest in film noir, it took my discovery of G.K. Chesterton and his Father Brown stories for the genre as a whole to click for me.

But, like many of my adult interests, an early hint of it can be found in my childhood. You may indeed have identified my WordPress avatar as Basil, the titular character of Disney’s 1986 movie, The Great Mouse Detective. Coming out of that somewhat bleak period before the company’s 90s Renaissance, TGMD is often overlooked. And indeed, when stacked up against heavy-hitters like The Lion King and The Beauty and the Beast, the movie can seem a little underwhelming. But it kept me entertained as a kid, and as an adult I’ve had a continued fondness for it.

Pictured: the coolest Disney hero in the corpus.

Pictured: the coolest Disney hero in the corpus.

 

Anyhow, our protagonist is an obvious expy of Sherlock Holmes, who teams up with war veteran expy Dawson to save a kidnapped toymaker from the clutches of a fun-sized version of Professor Moriarty called Professor Ratigan. There isn’t much mystery moving the story: it’s just straight-up heroes vs villains, which is fine for what the film wants to be. While the success of Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone is proof that kids can appreciate a mystery plot, my sneaking suspicion is that TGMD would only become bogged down if the writers attempted something like that.

Basil is a charming take on the Holmes persona. He’s self-absorbed and single minded, but not abrasively so. His intelligence and eccentricity doesn’t become inscrutability and inconsistency. He knows how to handle his alcohol, tobacco and firearms. I’ll take him over your average Disney prince or princess any day of the week. But beyond that, I find there’s something strangely heartening about having a Holmes character in a Disney movie.

You see, a lot of protagonist character arcs in children’s movies are generated by the tension of acceptance/non-acceptance, whether this is cashed out in romantic terms, in terms of pitting the individual against the community, or in terms of self acceptance. This is fine to a point, it can start to feel a bit…constrictive.

What I like about Basil is that he is an eccentric loner who has given himself over to his intellectual passions and who is extremely comfortable in his own skin. There’s neither a sense that, a) he is a tragic victim of a closed-minded society that does not recognize his gifts nor b) he is an emotionally stunted weirdo who really needs to get a girlfriend. I guarantee you that if TGMD were remade today, at least one of those tropes would make it into the script. So it’s nice that they threw a bone to the recalcitrant types in the audience; or at least it feels flattering to the sort of life I’ve slid into as an adult.

Then there’s Ratigan, memorably voiced by Vincent Price with a large helping of ham. Even though the movie isn’t really a musical, he even gets his own villain song, because, well, why not?

 

 

Basil and Ratigan don’t get much screen-time to play off each other, but they’re both entertaining in their own right.

The animation throughout is workmanlike, but does a decent job of evoking a fog drenched, Victorian England. But what stands out the most, visually, is the climactic showdown inside the Big Ben. If there is one part of the movie that elevates itself from good to great, it’s this; the climax is one of the most suspenseful sequences in animation, showing that a well constructed set piece doesn’t require flashy eye candy to be exciting (although it does feature an early example of CG).

greatmouse6

 

Sure, I’m looking at this movie through rose-tinted glasses, and there are some things that just fall flat, but there are worse ways to spend some 70 odd minutes.

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The fear of kitsch

Roger Scruton has an article on the relationship between modernism and kitsch. The argument is something like this: modernism in art arose as a reaction against what was seen to be a growing insincerity in the use of traditional forms. The experimental forms of modernism would cut through cliche and express reality more authentically.

But while a lot of the original people involved in this were talented and actually had a good grasp of the forms they wanted to subvert, their successors are less so:

This is one reason for the emergence of a wholly new artistic enterprise, which I call “pre-emptive kitsch”. Modernist severity is both difficult and unpopular, so artists began not to shun kitsch but to embrace it, in the manner of Andy Warhol, Allen Jones and Jeff Koons. The worst thing is to be unwittingly guilty of producing kitsch. Far better to produce kitsch deliberately, for then it is not kitsch at all but a kind of sophisticated parody. Pre-emptive kitsch sets quotation marks around actual kitsch, and hopes thereby to save its artistic credentials. Take a porcelain statue of Michael Jackson cuddling his pet chimpanzee Bubbles, add cheesy colours and a layer of varnish. Set the figures up in the posture of a Madonna and child, endow them with soppy expressions as though challenging the spectator to vomit, and the result is such kitsch that it cannot possibly be kitsch. Jeff Koons must mean something else, we think, something deep and serious that we have missed. Perhaps this work of art is really a comment on kitsch, so that by being explicitly kitsch it becomes meta-kitsch, so to speak.

[…]

Pre-emptive kitsch is the first link in a chain. The artist pretends to take himself seriously, the critics pretend to judge his product and the modernist establishment pretends to promote it. At the end of all this pretence, someone who cannot perceive the difference between the real thing and the fake decides that he should buy it. Only at this point does the chain of pretence come to an end, and the real value of this kind of art reveals itself – namely its money value. Even at this point, however, the pretence is important. The purchaser must still believe that what they buy is real art, and therefore intrinsically valuable, a bargain at any price. Otherwise the price would reflect the obvious fact that anybody – even the purchaser – could have faked such a product. The essence of fakes is that they are not really themselves, but substitutes for themselves. Like objects seen in parallel mirrors they repeat themselves ad infinitum, and at each repetition the price goes up a notch, to the point where a balloon dog by Jeff Koons, which every child could conceive and some could even manufacture, fetches the highest price ever paid for a work by a living artist – except, of course, that he isn’t one.

I wonder, with this emphasis on the ironic intentions of the artist, whether there is a deeper failure to properly understand the use of imagery. To quote Luis Alonso Schokel’s A Manual of Hebrew Poetics:

The second danger is more insidious, because it comes from a mentality which is firmly rooted and little criticised. It is found in the expression: images serve to dress up ideas. The hackneyed image of “dressing up” will help us to analyse this mentality.

The supposition is that first of all comes the idea or concept, which the normal person will enunciate with its corresponding vocabulary. The poet on the other hand, in the interests of decency or fashion, searches around in his imaginative wardrobe, gets out a set of clothes and dresses up his concept or idea. It is the task of the intelligent reader to remove the clothes and understand the idea. If the reader cannot do this alone, the exegete will help him. The biblical text says “the hand, the arm of God”; but it means “the power”. The text says “I take refuge in the shadow of your wings”; but it means “I seek the protection of God”.

Following this path we can translate the Bible into a language which is more abstract and less expressive, but we will not reach the original meaning. We are dealing with poets, and what comes before the image is not the concept, but the formless experience. The image gave a certain form to the experience; it was the first vision or spiritual reflection, the first formulation which could be communicated. By means of the image the author understood what he has experienced and expressed it and it is the image which he intends to put across.

To bring this back to the notion of pre-emptive kitsch, what strikes me is less the ironic use of banality (Gustav Mahler, a top-notch composer, frequently did the same), but rather how it short-circuits the need for experience and vision. What is being communicated is a concept. You are asked not to see the image, but to see through it, and to congratulate yourself for being clever enough to do so. It’s the cynical cousin of allegory.

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The dungeon crawl

I have an unusual amount of free time on my hands this winter break. So I’ve decided to indulge my old gaming hobby. In particular, I’ve decided to revisit a game from my childhood that utterly frustrated me:

vagrant-story-2Now this seems to be one of those bizarre cases where some snippet of pop culture from my childhood is actually more in tune with my adult self than my pre-teen self. Child!Josh didn’t think too analytically about games: just give him an interesting experience, some degree of challenge, and we’re good to go. But Vagrant Story, in order to be successfully played, demands that the player understand and master the intricate mechanics behind it. So it didn’t take long for the game to start collecting dust on the shelf.

But Adult!Josh is increasingly fascinated by all the nuts and bolts that go into making a complex game. Having read a lot of good books and watched a lot of good movies, he approaches the storytelling pretensions of video games with a somewhat more jaundiced eye; he’d rather look to games for a fun challenge. He is more willing to be rewarded for careful planning and thought. Thus a baroque, inscrutable dungeon crawler is more up his alley this time around.

But the weird thing is that as an experience this game has aged surprisingly well. Vagrant Story is a Playstation 1 game dating from 2000. 3D polygonal games had only been around for a few years, and the early essays in the format, while impressive at the time, are horrendously ugly to look at now. But Vagrant Story, while rather low res by modern standards, still looks really good.

Not only that; in playing the opening sequence, I was impressed by how well everything was, how shall I say, directed. In spite of all the graphical power that gets pumped into games, the cinematics of your average bestseller tends to fall on a spectrum in between, “B Movie” and “Star Wars prequels”. Lots of eye candy, but little to no grasp of the grammar of movies.

Vagrant Story’s cut-scenes seem to succeed by, oddly enough, not attempting to ape movies. Rather, the positioning of the camera, the blocking of the characters and the art design work to create images that more closely resemble the panels of a comic book.

vagrant story scene

In an odd way, this makes good use of the technological limitations of the time. To approach the direction as if these polygons were actual actors behind a camera would have resulted in something that would by now just look unnatural. But in treating them as 2D images, the developers have made something which, while showing its age, still has a lot of flair and style to it. During the actual gameplay, the camera is wisely placed in a bird’s-eye-view position, minimizing the risk of the z-axis becoming a blunt instrument.

The story itself is pretty grimdark fantasy stuff involving political intrigue, cults, tragic backstories, a creepy abandoned town, etc. At heart, it’s a complex mystery plot that is successful in large part because of the aforementioned execution of it.

I haven’t discussed much about how the game actually plays. As mentioned, this is a dungeon crawler, which means you spend most of the game exploring ominous rooms and corridors, dispatching monsters and finding loot. At the heart of it is an unusual combat system which is less about you being able to mash the ‘Attack’ button and more about your being able to understand a lot of the number crunching the game is doing and being able to turn it to your advantage. There’s no real way to just coast through the game without making it impossible to beat. Your mileage may vary on how fun all of this actually is.

My thoughts will likely develop if/as this playthrough continues, but so far it has taken hold of me in a way that I didn’t quite expect when curiosity led me to pop the game in this morning.

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A year in reading – the best of 2014

School is out! Naturally I celebrate with another top ten list, this time of books I read in 2014. Most of these books were not actually published in 2014, so if you were expecting a list of fine reading right off the press, well…too bad. The list is in no particular order, and I make no distinctions between genre.

1. Her Smoke Rose Up Forever, by James Tiptree Jr.

This posthumous collection of short stories served as my introduction to the SF writer. And these are mostly gems – very dark gems exploring Nietzschean situations where humans confront an indifferent and/or outright hostile universe, where free will and the authenticity of our perceptions is called into question, where the very framework of what it means to be human seems to be fading away. The closest analogue I can think of is Phillip K. Dick. But whereas Dick’s suspicions are ultimately driven by a sort of gnostic mysticism, Tiptree is more heir to those murky continental philosophers you studied during your undergrad.

2. A Voyage to Arcturus, by David Lindsay

Speaking of Gnostic mysticism, in this novel, an oddly named man takes a trip to the planet Tormance where he goes on a spiritual quest explaining how the phenomenal world is ultimately a malevolent illusion. Not much is going on here in the way of plot or characterization, but the sheer imagination that Lindsay pours into describing Tormance and its denizens is worth the price of admission alone.

3. A Time of Gifts, by Patrick Leigh Fermor

In the 1930s a young Fermor found himself kicked out of school. He reacted to the situation as any young man would: by taking a walk from Holland all the way to Istanbul. A few decades later, he began work on a trilogy which would chronicle his walk. This is the first volume, following him to the edge of Hungary. I loved his elegant prose style, the fusion of scholarly erudition and adventurousness. And the haunting portrait of a Europe which was soon to be swept away is unforgettable. The second volume is just as good.

4. The Tombs of Atuan, by Ursula K Le Guin

The second book in Le Guin’s Earthsea series. This is an elegant example of how to write fantasy without rambling on forever, how to have a ‘message’ without brow-beating your reader, etc. But the real heart of the story is in the tombs themselves. The setting has an ambiance suggesting that things far older than humanity really are hanging around.

5. Gay and Catholic, by Eve Tushnet

I already have two posts worth of thoughts on this book (with a third one pending) so I will keep it brief: a lot of ink is spilled over either defending the Catholic Church’s teachings on homosexuality, or critiquing it. Less attention is paid to the question of how, if you happen to fall into the category described by the title, you can live a life that is both faithful to what the Church teaches and that is fruitful and full of love. Whatever its faults, Tushnet’s book is commendable for trying to tackle the question.

6. Apollo’s Angels, by Jennifer Homans

This is simply a well-done history of ballet. For the most part, Homans (an ex-ballerina herself) strikes a good balance between tracking the artform from both a social/cultural perspective and an aesthetic one.

7. An Introduction to the Trinity, by Declan Marmion and Rik Van Nieuwenhove

This was used as a textbook for one of my classes. Again, I have little to say except that it does a good job of introducing this most inscrutable of Christian doctrines and what a lot of important thinkers over the millenia had to say about it.

8. Count to a Trillion, by John C. Wright

In the future, a Texan gunslinger who is also a math wiz joins a deep space expedition to investigate some alien artifacts. Then he experimentally transforms himself into a post-human and things sort of escalate from there. Expect lots of hard SF talk about mathematics, gun duels, and over-the-top accents.

9. A Certain Justice, by P.D. James

It occurs to me that one of the things I really like James for is how she focuses on people who are intensely passionate about their careers in very old, somewhat insular, tradition minded institutions. In this case we have the London legal courts. This is a curious detective novel in that the solution to the mystery doesn’t lead to the sort of catharsis you’d expect. But it’s all the more effective in how it ties into the story’s ambivalent themes.

10. Suldrun’s Garden, by Jack Vance

I’m cheating a bit by including a book I’m still reading. Still, unless the remaining third is utter crap, it belongs here. A dark, surrealistic take on the world of Arthurian myth by one of the genre’s most imaginative worldbuilders.

11 (whoops). Pastrix, by Nadia Bolz-Weber

I may not see eye-to-eye with Bolz-Weber’s liberally minded Lutheran theology, but I otherwise found a lot to relate to in this memoir about a misfit who unexpectedly discovers God. A lot more, uh, salty than your average Christian memoir.

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Happy third birthday, Res Studiorum et Ludorum

Three years ago on this day, the Feast of St. Nicholas, I opened up shop here. At the time, I had just become a Catechumen and didn’t quite realize the significance of the date. But as a result I’ve come to view St. Nick as the de facto patron saint of this blog.

Well, here’s to another year of blogging, and to a happy feast day!

harlock wine

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Neos and Theos

On Irving Kristol:

Kristol confesses that his neo-orthodoxy is “something of a puzzle” even to him. His Jewish family, he recalls, was Orthodox in the sense common in his Brooklyn neighborhood. His father attended services on the High Holy Days and his mother kept a kosher kitchen but (like many if not most women in that milieu) was rarely seen in the synagogue. As a child, he went to the local Hebrew school two afternoons a week and Sunday mornings, learning to read the prayer book and Bible by translating the Hebrew into Yiddish, although he knew neither language. (At home, his parents spoke Yiddish to each other and English to the children, so his bar-mitzvah speech, delivered in Yiddish, had to be memorised.) In school, the rabbi enforced classroom discipline by a strong slap in the face and taught the children to fear Gentiles and to spit when passing a church. “If ever there was a regimen that might have provoked rebelliousness,” he reflects, “this was it.”

Yet he had not the faintest impulse to rebel. On the contrary, he continued with Hebrew school for a few months after his bar mitzvah, although his parents neither required nor encouraged him to do so. After his mother’s death, when he was 16, he rose at dawn every day for six months to go to the synagogue, unaccompanied by his father, to recite the memorial prayer for the dead. “There was something in me,” he later observed, “that made it impossible to become antireligious, or even nonreligious.” This was so even in his later years, in spite of the other, political “neos” that might be expected to have moved him in a different direction. “I was born theotropic,” he concludes.

“Theotropic.” It was not Judaism itself but a “basic predisposition” toward faith that first stimulated Kristol’s intellectual interest in religion, for which he had always had a “vague, positive feeling”. Having read the Bible as a child in Hebrew school and the King James Version in college, he had always assumed that “the Book of Genesis was, in some nonliteral sense, true.” In the heady intellectual atmosphere of college, his theotropic instinct, expressed in his fondness for such poets as John Donne, Gerard Manley Hopkins, and T.S. Eliot, was further whetted by his reading of the theologians Reinhold Niebuhr, Paul Tillich, and Jacques Maritain — at the same time, he ironically notes, that he was reading Trotsky, Lenin, and Rosa Luxemburg. Why Christian and not Jewish theologians? Because, he explains, there were no serious Jewish theologians available in English at the time; it was only after World War II that the German-Jewish theologians Martin Buber and Franz Rosenzweig, and the great Jewish scholar Gershom Scholem, began to be translated.

The inability to dis-believe. That is something I can relate to. At the moment, atheism or agnosticism don’t feel like possibilities for me. I don’t mean that in the sense that emotionally I wouldn’t be able to withstand them, but rather that they seem inaccessible to me.

And, indeed, that I stumbled into Roman Catholicism still strikes me as a strange and unlikely thing. I should, sociologically speaking, be the most liberal and secular person in my family: I’m the most educated, the one who kinda wanted to grow up into some sort of bohemian artist, the least practical, the gayest, etc.

Theologically speaking, it’s less surprising: the Holy Spirit is is not particular when it comes to zapping people into orthodox Catholics. And, psychologically speaking, I’m enough of a contrarian that perhaps it was inevitable in the course of my higher education that I would happen upon these things (a counterfactual thought: what would have happened to me if I had followed up my high school years with trade school  or something more blue collar?)

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Boring top ten list – film edition

When I was a teenager I fancied myself something of a film buff. As I transitioned to adulthood, most of my obsession withered away. But in recent months I’ve been watching a lot more movies lately, and some of my earlier interests seem to be reviving.

In lieu of that, and in lieu of the fact that I want to produce content without it having to be too thoughtful (exams, papers, etc.), I have decided to foist one of those top ten lists upon you people. Admit it; you like them too.

The ordering is semi-arbitrary, but becomes less so as it approaches #1.

10. Jurassic Park (1993, Steven Spielberg)

This was my first monster movie. Perhaps it is not the work of art that, say, the original Gojira is, but, well, nostalgia is a helluva drug. For what it’s worth, it gave us the Goldblum laugh.

9. Army of Darkness (1992, Sam Raimi)

Look, I’m as tired of hearing about BOOMSTICK as you are, but this is still a timeless classic on par with Citezen Kane. Additionally, priests who are tempted to ad lib parts of the Mass after ordination may find the movie’s discussion about the proper use of words helpful.

8. Paprika (2006, Satoshi Kon)

The whole, “let’s develop technology that will enable us to enter into peoples’ dreams no one will ever misuse this,” angle could have led to a movie that was little more than a string of trippy sequences with little substance, but the late, lamented Satoshi Kon knows how to write a thriller. He’s also more of a film buff than an otaku, and his love for cinema is pretty infectious.

7. The Night of the Hunter (1955, Charles Laughton)

My thoughts on this one can be found here.

6. Andrei Rublev (1966, Andrei Tarkovsky)

This is a 3.5 hour foreign movie about a Russian Orthodox iconographer. If that description doesn’t scare you, then you should watch this movie.

5. Ratatouille (2007, Brad Bird)

I really like this movie because it takes an idea I’m not too crazy about (talking animal character who doesn’t fit in needs to find his place in life), and turns it into a statement about what it means to be an artist, not surrendering to mediocrity – art as a vocation, in short. It’s also the prettiest computer animated film made yet, and features a nice villainous turn by Peter O’Toole to boot.

4. Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan (1982, Nicholas Meyer)

If you pay attention during the scene where Khan is introduced, you can see books like the Bible, Paradise Lost, and King Lear sitting on Khan’s shelf. This movie really, really wants to be epic Shakespearean tragedy. It wants to transform William Shatner and Riccardo Montalban into Wagnerian opera divas. It is willing to invoke Amazing Grace and be totally serious. Somehow it accomplishes all that, because it believes in itself or something. Cumberbatch shmumberbatch.

3. Dr Strangelove, or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb (Stanley Kubrick, 1964)

I find Dr. Strangelove and 2001: A Space Odyssey to be eminently rewatchable. The rest of Kubrick’s oeuvre…much less so. Still, even if he only made this one movie, he’d be high up in my books. This is the best comedy ever. The dialogue is golden; it contains, like six great performances more funnier than Seinfeld (three of which are played by one actor). It would take us until Neon Genesis Evangelion to get an apocalypse as neurotic and weird as this one.

2. Spirited Away (Hayao Miyazaki, 2001)

My assumption is that, if you read this blog, you probably already have a good idea of why this would be on the list.

1. The Red Shoes (Michael Powell & Emeric Pressburger, 1948)

“A dancer who relies upon the doubtful comforts of human love can never be a great dancer. Never!”

This film is magic. It is like bathing in the dream-sequence of an aesthete, or drinking amarone and smoking a good cigar. Perhaps I oversell it; perhaps the subject matter is not to your taste – a story about a fictional ballet company somewhat inspired by Sergei Diaghliev’s Ballets Russes. Or, more particularly, about a ballerina and composer who are on the rise, and an almost Nietzschean impressario who is ruthless in his attempts to cultivate beautiful things. Perhaps you find the Technicolor a little too Technicolor. Perhaps you think the surrealistic ballet dance that goes on for nearly 20 minutes a bit too artsy or something. Perhaps you think that Moira Shearer shouldn’t have gotten involved in film. Perhaps you don’t like dancing.

Well then this clearly is not the movie for you.

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Josh W. performs Antony and Cleopatra (Act I, Scene 2)

This is what happens when I’m allowed to read Shakespeare:

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Suldrun’s Garden

suldrun's garden
Having entered into the end-of-semester crunch period, updates will be erratic.

But even during my busier weeks, I try to find a way to sneak in some degree of unrelated reading. So I’ve taken on Suldrun’s Garden as bedtime reading. It’s the first in Jack Vance’s Lyonesse trilogy, which, as the name suggests, is set in the mythic land of Lyonnese.

Arthurian legend ala Vance is pretty cool, although it took a few chapters for me to feel committed to the idea. It comes prepackaged with enough phantasmagoria and classic adventure stuff for him to work his usual magic on.

Anyway, the protagonist of the book is Princess Suldrun, the unloved daughter of Casmir, King of Lyonesse. Having wanted a male heir, Casmir only sees Suldrun as valuable insofar as she can be married off to someone for the sake of an alliance. Suldrun meanwhile is an introvert, and something of a free spirit who prefers to spend her time alone in a garden.

So it isn’t the most original story, but what makes it work is, of course, Vance’s prose and Austenian dialogue which is always leagues above 90% of the SF/Fantasy genre, but also how he situates it within the complex geopolitics of his Arthurian world.  Suldrun’s own situation is a cog in a larger machine of Machiavellian scheming. It’s a bit similar to what Frank Herbert did with Paul’s whole “chosen one” story arc in Dune.

Another thing of note: I was surprised to find a Vance novel with a female protagonist. Women in Vance’s novels typically don’t stray too far from being damsels in distress. But while Suldrun is indeed a distressed damsel, I appreciate how she comes across as more of a fully realized character than as a walking trope.

I suppose I could complain that the only Christian in the novel is a lecherous priest, but cruelty and perversion are such ubiquitous features of Vance’s worlds that it doesn’t feel like he’s singling out Christians as a particularly odious bunch.

 

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Mahler’s 9th

I was listening to Gustav Mahler’s 9th symphony while plowing through some of my class readings (he’s an odd choice for background music, I know, but it seemed to keep me more focused than I would have been).

Mahler’s 9th is, as its Allmusic article states,  full of “music of profound violence and irony”. The first movement seems to be trying to rip itself apart, the second cycles through banal dance music, the third contains intentionally painful counterpoint. But it also contains many moments of exceptional beauty, like the first movement’s hazy, sunset-like ending.

I remember being emotionally overwhelmed the first time I listened to it; it was one of those intense aesthetic experiences that require some time for recovery before you can go back to your normal life.

But that was also the time when I was living in my own “Gollum’s cave”, where I had allowed myself to become profoundly isolated, with music and literature being the only things animating me to a small extent. So Mahler’s bleakness perhaps struck a chord with me at that time that it no longer does now (I am also sure that part of the appeal had to do with the teenage tendency to wallow in emotions).

Still, I had to halt my reading partway through the fourth movement, which still managed to give me goosebumps. It’s a long, slow, elegiac movement that builds to a thunderous, almost triumphant statement of one of the themes, before slowly fragmenting away into nothing. While other major composers have experimented with a similar effect (Haydn and Tchaikovsky come to mind), Mahler’s is the most unsettling that I can think of, giving a sense of passing into the realm of death which Rilke also captured in his tenth Duino Elegy:

He climbs on alone, into the mountains of primeval grief.
And no step rings back from that soundless fate.

I thank God that I was saved from the living death my life could have become.

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