Sunday, February 27, 2011


Some things are harder to learn than others but everything is hard to learn, especially if we are intent on learning well. Yet nothing is too difficult to learn, and the reward of learning is on one level getting to know or be able to do something you didn’t know or couldn’t do before learning. But it is the triumph of overcoming difficulty that is most rewarding of all. Learning anything at an old age is all the more rewarding since it is often more difficult and therefore more challenging. On the other hand, what has been learned is more quickly forgotten than what one had acquired at a younger age. The consolation is, however, that what has been forgotten can be recovered more or less by relearning but of what has never been learned there is nothing to recall. Good life is a continuous process of learning and relearning. Live and learn, as we say.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011


“Seeing is Forgetting the Name of the Thing One Sees” is the title Lawrence Weschler gave his book on the contemporary California artist Robert Irwin, who, manipulating light and space on a scrim, created works that defied being verbally described. Irwin once said: We know the sky’s blueness even before we know it as ‘blue’. let alone as “sky’. Weschler’s title happily encapsulates in one sentence the most fundamental tenet in my teaching about art. You gotta see first to know whatever it is you see; before saying anything, you gotta really see it -- intensely and systematically. In reverse, I also say that naming something is the most efficient way of knowing what it is in relation to other things and phenomena in the universe of named things and phenomena; it is a taxonomical act. But naming generalizes, and is as such less efficient way of understanding what a thing or phenomenon really is. A familiar face, unfailingly recognized, often resists description, and a face fully described veils the visual reality of that face. Description is no substitute for experience. Life fully lived is experienced intensely; it is only approximately recollected in writing.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Huff 'n' puff

In the last ten days, I have kept up a busy schedule, rather typical these days, actually. After Nixon in China, John Adams's remarkable 1987 opera, I enjoyed Molière's Misanthrope at Pearl Theatre, which was superb, wisely using Richard Wilbur's translation in rhymed couplets, so ingenious, and wonderfully performed, and I'm going to see it again Tuesday (a repeat that I do if I like a play intensely, as I did Shaw's Heartbreak House some years ago and also Tom Stoppard's The Coast of Utopia and Horton Foote's The Orphan's Home Cycle). Mint Theatre's 1909 What the Public Wants by Arnold Bennett was also a delight, a story of a newspaper magnate deep and unconscionably into sensationalism who begins to change on meeting a woman and falling in love. Rajiv Joseph's Gruesome Playground Injuries at Second Stage dealt with an accident-prone young man and woman, friends from childhood, meeting off and on and finally admitting they have been in love all the way along. Black Tie at Primary Stages by A. R. Gurney, my favorite playwright from Buffalo, now 81, concerns a two-tier generation gap which comes to a head on the eve of his daughter's wedding to which his father's ghost appears with advices. Matthew Lopez's The Whipping Man at Manhattan Theatre Club was a story set in the aftermath of the Civil War, where a freed slave and his former owner's son who returns home injured sit together for a seder, interesting enough a proposition and well acted. The matinee show of The Road to Qatar was a silly but entertaining vaudeville-style musical parodying the real life event of two young Jews -- composer and lyricist -- invited by the emir of Qatar to put on a Broadway musical. These were all Off-Broadway; I don't go to Broadway shows much because they are commercialized (catering to tourists) and overpriced and often mediocre; but I will go to Stoppard's Arcadia. Then, at the Met, I attended Donizetti's Don Pasquale, conducted by James Levine and featuring Anna Netrebko, and earlier in the week La Boheme, the superb Zeffirelli production; during the intermission, my friend who works at the Met took me to look at the scene change in the backstage, the scrim with painted trees used for the misty effect of the snow storm of Act III being rolled up, and the garret for Act IV being rolled in from the side; and I tried on the muff Musetta brings dying Mimi. Then, at Joyce, I saw the dance program of Ronald Brown's Brooklyn-based company. Then, Tennessee Williams' Vieux Carré, production of the Wooster Group. I went to the Met Museum, too, for the new show of Cézanne's Card Players, and the MoMA for the exhibit On Line: Drawings in the 20th Century, and some galleries. Not bad ten day's labor. But it feels like trying to keep two full-time jobs and freelancing on top of all. Huff 'n' puff, but elated.