Music21 Sep 2007 02:21 pm
The German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche had an extremely unique career, and one of the oddest things about it was his relationship with the composer Richard Wagner. The infamous Baltimore journalist H. L. Mencken summed it up well in his book The Philosophy of Friedrich Nietzsche: “In the decade from 1869 to 1878 [Nietzsche] was the king of German Wagnerians. In the decade from 1879 to 1889, he was the most bitter, the most violent, the most resourceful and the most effective of Wagner’s enemies.”
Why did Nietzsche regard Wagner so highly in the beginning of his career and repudiate him so violently later on? The first question is best answered by a glance at Nietzsche’s first book: The Birth of Tragedy, ostensibly a comparison of “Dionysian” tragedy (a reference to the god of wine and mirth) and “Apollonian” art and philosophy (a reference to the god of sunshine and order). In reality, the book a desperate plea against the conformity of the German art and society of Nietzsche’s day, with the strong implication that Wagner’s art might provide a way back to the tragic greatness of the Greeks.
Wagner was obviously pleased by this and he and Nietzsche were dear friends for many years. However, Nietzsche did not shy away from the philosophic consequences of his early ideas, and Wagner did. In his next books – Human, All Too Human, Thus Spoke Zarathustra, On the Genealogy of Morals – Nietzsche fearlessly pursued his train of thought to its radical and atheist consequences. Wagner, on the other hand, wrote Parsifal, an opera based on the story of the Holy Grail, (exactly the kind of tired old myth Nietzsche loathed). Nietzsche’s break with Wagner was decisive, eventually leading to an angry polemic against his old friend: The Case of Wagner.
There may be a simpler explanation, however. Like many brilliant and original men, Nietzsche may have been embarrassed by the fact that he idolized anybody so completely in his youth. As he put it in another context, ““You are rewarding a teacher poorly if you remain always a pupil.” With his rejection of Wagner, Nietzsche made sure this could never be said of him.
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Long after white settlers had overcome the last bit of resistance from Native Americans, killing many and exiling the rest to impoverished reservations, the insults visited upon Indian tribes continues, especially in Hollywood. Depictions of Native Americans on film have almost always been extremely stereotypical and offensive portrayals of blood-thirsty “reds.” Even when films have tried being more sympathetic, they have been condescending in a different way: depicting all Native Americans as an undifferentiated mass of wise primitives, in touch with the land and the “spirits” of nature.
A tremendous exception to this rule is Jim Jarmusch’s 1995 film Dead Man. It is the story of an accountant names William Blake (played by Johnny Depp) who travels for work to the Western town of Machine. Soon after arriving, he is shot and badly wounded, eventually being taken up by a Native American named “Nobody” who cares for him (and, incidentally, tells him all about the British poet of the same name that Depp’s character has never heard of). Significantly, “Nobody” is not just “Indian.” He is half Blood and half Blackfoot. As Jarmusch said in an interview with film critic Jonathan Rosenbaum, “I wanted to situate him as a Plains Indian, so I chose those two tribes that did intermix at certain points historically but also were at war with each other.” This attention to detail is almost unheard of in Hollywood depictions of Native Americans, and it pervades Jarmusch’s film (which also includes untranslated bits in the Native American languages Blackfoot, Makah and Cree). Dead Man is a great film all around. And a soundtrack by Neil Young certainly doesn’t hurt.
Buy the DVD of Dead Man here.
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Few discoveries have made the immediate impact that Wilhelm Roentgen’s discovery of X-Rays did in the early 20th-century. Within weeks of his announcement, surgeons were already using X-Rays to find and remove bullets and shrapnel, where they once had to cut a patient open and search through their bodies. (Moreover, these patients had to suffer operations like this without anesthetic, which was invented at around the time X-Rays were discovered.) But while the benefits of X-Rays were immediately apparent, their dangers would not be discovered for another few years.
Before it was known that X-Ray radiation was extremely harmful, X-Ray devices were used quite freely. Today, X-Ray technicians protect themselves with lead suits before operating their machinery. Years ago, X-Rays were used to see how well toes fit into a new pair of shoes. Amusement grounds like New York’s Coney Island included X-Ray exhibits, where children could see the bones in their hands for a penny or a nickel. And X-Ray images were made of a dizzying variety of activities, from jogging to playing the piano. When the dangers of X-Rays were discovered, this playfulness came to an abrupt end. The photographs from that era still exist, though, reminding us just how exciting this discovery once seemed.
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