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A recent exhibit in Toronto showcased the extraordinary talent and humanistic wisdom of Johny Deluna. This Toronto-based artist gave me an exclusive interview, during which we concentrated on just two of his many thought-provoking canvases.

 

The Song to the Moon painting is inspired by a lovely song from the opera Rusalka, by Dvorak. It is shown here at the right of the lead photo, with Mr. DeLuna standing between it and another artwork.

 

“Everything I paint about is largely about human activity,” said DeLuna. “To me this woman hugs the Moon, she can't get enough of it. She almost wants to own it: she has 4 hands to pull the Moon, coaxing it down. But it's an exercise in futility, rather than enjoying it, whereas the cat has his own little Moon in the bowl and is very content. So it is a dichotomy between wanting to enjoy the Moon or possess it.”

 

I also asked him about Selling the Moon, depicted here. “Every insect, every bird, every tree that disappears: we don't see it directly but it's happening and it's happening so fast we have no way of knowing. We don't even know the stuff that's disappearing because it hasn't been discovered. I think the biggest mass extinction benefit would be for humans to go: everything else would survive quite well.”

 

DeLuna regards the painting “as a statement about people thoughtlessly doing something. These people have been told 'box up the Moon, and ship it to wherever'. There will be a hole in the sky but we'll patch it up, put a sticker on it. But people have to bear the consequences of ripping the Moon out of the sky. The elephant symbolizes but just humanity but every creature that is going to be affected by our careless, greedy behaviour.”

 

While his paintings cover a much wider range than the lunar motif, I have concentrated on these due to my own interest in astronomy and art. I recommend looking at his wider catalogue of paintings, each of which contains hidden delights.

 

Art lovers interested in contacting Mr. DeLuna may do so through his email: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

 

 

 

 

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On June 29 a bronze statue of Canada's World War II Prime Minister will be unveiled at Castle Kilbride, near Baden, Ontario. This will depict William Lyon Mackenzie King as a mature man, but for a look back into his youth a play currently being performed in Kitchener is the place to go.

 

The play, entitled Secret at Woodside, is the brainchild of Stephen W. Young. In an interview for Sun News, Young said he is fascinated by how King developed. “What changed him into a cold, calculating politician? He grew up in Kitchener (then Berlin) with Germans, Mennonites and other groups. His family took him to different churches, so that he had an appreciation for other cultures.” In an age when ethnic or religious groups often mixed only with their own kind, this gave the young King a perspective that “let him become the longest-serving Prime Minister in Canadian history.” He served more than 21 years in the top post.

 

The most sensational aspect of King's staid life (“He was married to the country,” said Young) were the seances he indulged in. This was never publicly known during his tenure as leader, but it all started in his youth. “A lot of people did seances in those days,” explained Young, referring to the late 19th century. King lived at Woodside in Kitchener from 1886 to 1893, which is where the play is set. The real Woodside is now a National Historic site which is open to the public on the rare occasion the government has enough money to open the doors.

 

A séance in the play is a key aspect of the plot, highlighting the bravura performance of Sonja-Ticknor-Malton as the fake medium Madame Zona. She plays the role in a totally over-the-top caricature of what we expect an eastern European medium to be, complete with accent, garb, crystal ball and dire warnings of the future. “Madame Zona has a flair for the dramatic,” deadpans Detective Dickson early in the play. (Several cast members play dual roles, but I won't confuse this brief review with the details).

 

Her nemesis in the play is the Berlin police detective just mentioned, played with suitable gravitas by Brian Otto. His initial investigation into the happenings at the King household uncover not one, but two secrets at Woodside. I won't offer any spoilers here!

 

The young King is convincingly played by Graeme Currie, who gets to speak some of the real words written by King about his early years. He is ably supported in his role by his two sisters and his Mother, played by Diana Barber. Popular legend is that King was totally dominated by his Mother, but playwright Young rightly places father King (played by John Hurwitz) as the person who ran the household.

 

The unlikely person of Homer Watson, the famous painter, is a recurring figure in the play. Played by Trevor Middleton, Watson sets the tone for the production as he discusses the link between “man, nature and the spiritual world.”

 

I could go on, but delving further would likely allow one of the secrets to leak out, and we all know how contentious leaks are these days! Suffice to say that Secret at Woodside is placed at the crossroads about King becoming the man of Canada's future. It is a welcome candle on Canada's 150th birthday cake.

 

Performances continue through June 18 at KWMP Arts Centre in Kitchener, near the corner of Lackner and Ottawa. Order online at: www.woodscribe.ca/secretatwoodside.html.

 

 

 

 

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I recently attended a talk by Dr. Janna Levin, at the Perimeter Institute in Waterloo, where she presented a fine report on the background to the discovery of gravity waves.

 

Her book on the topic was published just before the discovery of gravity waves, so that momentous event is relegated to a brief Epilogue. While the timing was unfortunate, since the discovery was not made the central focus of the book, my concerns with the text go far deeper.

 

Since the book is geared to a general science audience, I expect virtually no member of the general science-interested public will have any personal knowledge of the scientists mentioned. It was my good fortune to have met most of the great scientists Levin includes in the book.

 

Thus I was shocked early on (page 29) to read this sentence regarding John Wheeler and Robert Oppenheimer. “Although Wheeler did not testify in the hearing in 1954 that would strip Oppenheimer of his security clearance (the notorious Edward Teller did), Wheeler was not entirely unsympathetic to the testimony or the decision.”

 

What is reader supposed to take away from this description of Edward Teller as notorious? Levin does not even tell the reader who Teller was. He was certainly no criminal, which is usually the sort of person who gets 'notorious' thrown at them. Teller, who I knew, was the father of the H-bomb and one of the greatest minds of the 20th century. I also knew Wheeler, who had a great influence on me.

 

I continued with my reading until page 64, when I read “polio-sabotaged astrophysicist, Philip Morrison.” I can only consider the one-liner descriptions of Teller and Morrison to be the crudest form of caricature I have ever read in a book of science. Morrison was a wonderful person, combining kindness and brilliance. To have his career encapsulated is such a politically incorrect way will be hurtful to his family and all who remember him. At least Teller gets a mention in the Index, Morrison does not. What does polio-sabotaged even mean? Would anyone dare say that about FDR? Their personal medical issues obviously did not prevent them from rising to the heights of eminence.

 

Since I could only force myself to skim read the remainder of the book, I cannot offer further comments.

 

Black Hole Blues (241 pages) is by Knopf.

 

In grateful memory:

Edward Teller (1908-2003)

Philip Morrison (1915-2005)

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Seo Eun Kim, who earned her Bachelor of Arts degree at the University of Toronto this year, was honoured with a gallery opening on June 1, 2017.

I interviewed her about the broad concept of the meaning of art, both in the eyes of the artist, and the eyes of the beholder. Her views are refreshing.

"A lot of artists are concerned with artists' statements. I understand that in the process of getting grants, you need to explain what you are doing. It's not unnatural, but it is backwards," she said.

She places the paintings first, the linguistics second. "It feels like you have done so much work to put it on canvas, it's a bit disappointing because you want people to take the responsibility to extract what he or she wants. You can have a dialogue without explicit input from the author. Discussing what reactions or receptions should be seems counter intuitive."

Sunny, as she is called, is a Korean-born artist who has given a lot of thought to what she terms "the linguistic articulation of painting." She laments that "I feel I'm the only one who missed the point."

As an expert on art, I can say her views are in fact quite correct. While they may not be politically correct, that ground can shift and she will come out the winner.

 

Her art can be viewed at Yumart Gallery, 401 Richmond Street West, Suite B20, Lower Concourse, Toronto.

www.yumart.ca

 

Photos with this article copyright Dr. C. Cunningham

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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It was a concert that nearly did not happen. It has been three years since the Barra MacNeils performed with the Kitchener-Waterloo Symphony, but the weather nearly scuppered their appearance this weekend.

 

Canada's favourite Celtic music group hail from Sydney, on Cape Breton island. Their flight to Toronto was cancelled due to fog. “We just had a provincial election there a couple of days ago, so we're still in the fog!”, they told the audience.

 

Since the show must go on, they had to make the 4-hr land journey to Halifax. That fun little jaunt began at 2am on Friday, but they made it to Toronto and then Kitchener, appearing refreshed and unfazed by the ordeal. “I was able to attend my daughter's school band concert Thursday night because of the delay,” Lucy told the audience, “so something good came of it.”

 

That resilient approach to life is what comes across in their musical performance, which was greeted by a near capacity audience at Kitchener's Centre in the Square on June 2, 2017. Their dual name comes from the fact the clan MacNeil originated on the Scottish island of Barra. They were all born on Cape Breton island (part of Canada's Nova Scotia province), which in ancient geological time was actually part of the land mass of Scotland.

 

The members comprising the group now are all siblings:Stewart, Kyle, Lucy, Boyd and Sheumas (on piano). They were joined on stage by Jamie Gatti on bass.

 

Their first album was released 31 years ago, in 1986. Boyd said they are preparing to release a new album, which includes a song he recently wrote in honour of his wife. “She took my name when we married. Just what Nova Scotia needs- another MacNeil,” he quipped. The instrumental composition was greatly enhanced by the backing of the KWS under the direction of Daniel Batholomew-Poyser. Transitioning as it does from a sweeping waltz melody to a Celtic jig and even a flamenco-inspired section (and then back again), Mademoiselle Gallant's Waltz is a superb creation that will surely become a staple in their future performances.

 

Lucy shone in a sensitive rendition of Caledonia, which has been included on two of their albums, and her vocals while playing the harp in the Robbie Burns classic My Heart's in the Highlands was another high point of the evening. Their arrangement was mesmerizing and perfectly evoked the emotional content of the lyrics from more than two centuries ago.

 

Stewart also performed an original composition, The Underachiever, sung a cappella to great effect. The sole Gaelic-language song of the evening was the entrancing My Brown Haired Girl (Mo Ribhinn Donn in Gaelic), featuring a very clear and resonant delivery by Lucy.

 

Stewart's delivery of One Wild Rose (with lyrics by his uncle Hector Mackenzie) includes the phrase “an unsurpassing gladness.” Those three words best express the tenor of the entire concert, which was truly a delight enjoyed by an audience that included everyone from pre-teens to those advanced in years.

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The city of Cambridge is the location for an exhibit currently showing a wide range of Canadian fashion. It is part of the country-wide events being held to mark the 150th anniversary of Canada's formal formation as a country. Of course the Vikings were here in 1000AD, and Sir John Cabot was the first European to land here in 1497 - just to keep the record straight!

No fashionistas were around then, but this exhibit does have clothes going back to the late 1800s. The oldest labelled Canadian garment in the collection, shown here, is a men's black wool cutaway coat from about 1870. It bears the label, D. Stevenson, Toronto.

Moving up a few decades, I am showing a photo of two ladies's garments. The one on the left, from 1911, is a brown wool coat trimmed with black satin, labelled C. Ross of Ottawa. At the right is black silk suit from 1914 by Stitt of Toronto.

The main lead photo with this article shows four colourful outfits. At left is a 1966 creation by David Rea of Toronto, while the 1960s brown and gold sequined cocktail dress is by Maggy Reeves of Toronto. The men's outfits include a 1968 green damask Nehru jacket by Pierre Marques of Montreal, and a 1967 pinstripe suit by The London Tailor, Toronto.

The collection includes a fascinating array of clothes from designers who no longer produce clothes, including Vivian Poy (currently a Canadian senator), and other who still produce, such as Simon Chang who received the Order of Canada in 2008 for his contributions to the fashion industry.

A fascinating and fun exhibit, and one that should not be missed! It is at the Fashion History Museum, 74 Queen St East in Cambridge, Ontario.

 

Many of the clothes on display are on loan from the Seneca Fashion Resource Centre.

 

Photos with this story copyright C. Cunningham.

 

 

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At the easternmost portion of Canada lies Newfoundland, which may seem an unlikely place to enjoy a tribute show and dinner to Frank Sinatra, the greatest singer of the 20th century.

 

Sinatra & Silvers in NewfoundlandOnly a few keen historians of Sinatra's career will recall he actually performed in Newfoundland twice before it became a province of Canada in 1949. He performed at Fort Pepperell, and appeared with comedian Phil Silvers at the US Military Base of Harmon Field to entertain the troops in 1945. Harmon, one of the largest air force bases outside the continental United States, was located near the town of Stephenville on the west coast of Newfoundland. It is an 8-hour drive from there to the east coast capital of St. John's, where visitors today can relive the music of Sinatra in the old Masonic Hall.

 

The show, entitled Sinatra on the Rock, is hosted by Peter Halley as Frank. Joining him in various roles including Elvis and Dean Martin is Justin Trudeau look-a-like Evan Smith (actually he looks better than the PM). The men have keen competition in the vocal department from two ladies: Dana Parsons and Shelley Neville.

 

Like Stephenville native Evan Smith, the ladies assume a variety of roles during the show. Dana does a fine tribute to Ella Fitzgerald while Judy Garland gets her due from Shelley. They all get in the mix during the “Rat Pack” portion of the show, with Liza Minnelli and Sammy Davis making appearances.

 

Halley, left, and Smith dressed as ElvisSmith, as Dean Martin, does a sensitive rendition of Everybody Loves Somebody Sometime, and belts out Volare with evident delight. Frank's tunes include I Get a Kick Out of You, One for the Road and Don't Get Around Much Anymore. Collectively the four singers have degrees and awards too numerous to mention. Suffice it to say they are all very accomplished and a delight to listen to. Despite the use of props such as hats, a cigarette in one hand and a glass in the other, no one pretends to mimic the voices of the great stars of the past. Rather, they each bring their own experience to offer a tasteful and energetic tribute.

 

This includes actual banter used in the Rat Pack shows. For example, Dean Martin says he has read that alcohol is bad for the health, “so I quit.” “Quit what?” asks Frank. “Reading!” replies Dean. The only thing tipsy about the show I attended in May 2017 was the piano. When Smith hopped up on it to play the keyboard backwards, it nearly flipped him on the stage. The unplanned malfunction delighted the audience as Halley held it up so the daredevil act could proceed. The show must go on! Frank and Dean would have approved.

 

Newfoundland is, according to one local I spoke to at the dinner, “the best-kept secret in the world.”

Even though the island looks small on a world map, it is very large indeed when you get there. I drove 3 ½ hours to Bonavista, to see where Canada was founded 520 years ago by Sir John Cabot. That expedition covered just a portion of the south-east corner of the island. So by all means explore Canada's newest and most friendly province. But start with Frank on the Rock, and the delightful gourmet dinner that comes with it. The next performance is May 25, 2017. Phone 709-579-3023 for tickets.

 

The show is produced by Spirit of Newfoundland, whose artistic director is Peter Halley.

Photos copyright by C. Cunningham, Sun News.

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John Milton himself wrote “Let me not be useless, whatever remains for me in this life.” While his major work, Paradise Lost, has often been misunderstood over the centuries, no one who has even a passing acquaintance with this and his other writings would regard his life as useless. But the question remains: what is the value of Milton?

 

To answer this, Professor John Leonard of the University of Western Ontario (London) has penned this concise book. He has the distinction of having written the longest book ever on the subject of Paradise Lost (in 2 volumes, with a third in the formative stages). At 161 pages, this book is the exact opposite, and is geared to modern readers who may not be aware of Milton's entire panoply of work. While PL consumes 2 chapters, others focus on its sequel (Paradise Regained), Samson Agonistes, his political prose, and minor poems.

 

I will offer a delicious nibble of each chapter. In Paradise Lost, Leonard prefaces an “epic simile” by saying “Paradise Lost contains many grand vistas, but few are as exciting as the sight that now greets Satan's eyes.” The sight is nothing less than “a magnificent spectacle of interstellar space as Milton imagines it actually is.” The passage begins as Satan

 

Looks down with wonder at the sudden view

Of all this world at once. As when a scout

Through dark and desert ways with peril gone

All night; at last by break of cheerful dawn

Obtains the brow of some high-climbing hill,

Which to his eye discovers unaware

The goodly prospect of some foreign land

First seen, or some renowned metropolis

With glittering spires and pinnacles adorned,

Which now the rising sun gilds with his beams.

 

“The simile,” writes Leonard, “is so beautiful, it is easy to miss the implications of 'scout'. Satan is likened to a military scout. The comparison is apt, for he is reconnoitering ahead of Hell's army. Wordsworth seems to have missed the ominous implications.” If even Wordsworth did not grasp the full meaning, it is no wonder the vast majority of Milton's readers also fall short. I have given the full quote above as it also leads Leonard to a discussion of man's belief that the cosmos was blue, like the daytime sky, rather than black, as we now know it is: the blackness of space.

 

“For modern readers, the most surprising feature of the 'metropolis' simile is the comparison of deep space to a sunlit landscape.” In 2016 Dr. Leonard asked me to investigate when humans first realised the sky is really black. He has been asking this question of astronomers for many years without an answer. Earlier this year I discovered the answer, and it will be the subject of a paper I am now writing.

 

Leonard specifically addresses the question of value in his chapter dealing with political prose. “Many modern readers value Milton because they see him as a pioneering champion of liberty.” Of course most of those readers are radicals who would be willing to sow untold chaos in pursuit of their goals. The political legacy of Milton is surely where his value is questioned most.

 

Another aspect of value is examined in the chapter on the minor poems, and it must surely be applied to Milton's other poetic works. “If dead poets are to have value, we should allow them to have values that differ from our own. That said, their language also differs from ours, and even slight changes in language can create significant misperceptions of values and value.”

 

The perils of such misperceptions are obvious in Leonard's discussion of Samson Agonistes, which has been subjected to a major 'revisionist' interpretation in recent years. These revisionists say that Samson caused the deaths of the Philistines in the temple as if he acted alone, “without God's help.” A study of the revisionist camp has led him to a sweeping conclusion. “I have dwelt on Samson's final moments to give a sense of the revisionists' desperation, their need to clutch at any straw. My own view is that they lose every interpretive battle.” But he offers no solace to the traditional view of the play either. Rather, he hews to a third approach, the quite unfashionable one proposed by the English literary critic William Empson (1906-1984) that appears to make God wicked. “How could a poet holding Milton's beliefs make God wicked?” asks Leonard. Empson claims Milton is too honest a poet to conceal the truth.

 

So what is the value of this debate for today? Leonard puts it baldly: “Samson is terrible. He worships a God of Terror and whole armies have fled before him, terrified. Since 2001, both traditionalists and revisionists have been so anxious to distance Milton from terrorism that they have forgotten that tragedy needs terror.”

 

As an insightful look at the value of Milton, this book amply lives up its title. Anyone who is frightened by the complexities and length of Milton's works would do well to read this slim book first. It will surely inspire many to delve into that long-ago world of the 1600s that is still so relevant today.

 

 

The Value of Milton (161 pages) is $27 paperback ($76 hardback) from Cambridge University Press.

 

 

 

 

 

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“It was a tour around the Universe!” That was the enthusiastic assessment of the Magnetar Concerto according to Dr. Raymond Laflamme, Director of the Institute for Quantum Computing.

 

This intersection of music and science was the hyperspatial surface upon which a concert was delivered to an audience at Kitchener's Conrad Centre on April 20, 2017.

 

It not only included Magnetar, by the Mexican composer Enrico Chapela (pictured above), but a world premiere of Does God Play Dice (Quantum Etude) by Edwin Outwater. Both composers were in attendance, with Outwater himself conducting the Kitchener-Waterloo Symphony Orchestra. It is rare for even one composer to be present at a symphony concert; having two can only be described as a rare delight!

 

The concert opened with a 12-minute composition by Mason Bates entitled The Rise of Exotic Computing. Outwater told the audience this piece depicts the progression of computers to the point where they reproduce themselves in an organic way. Those who are truly concerned about such a development will want to read my recent article in Sun News about the societal threat of robots. The link is Here: http://www.sunnewsmiami.com/miami-news/item/753-trump-and-the-rise-of-fascism

 

Bate's creation begins with a deeply brooding and calculating mood. One can actually sense an awakening as it blossoms into something akin to a Chinese-inspired melody. The harp, which often gets overwhelmed in a concert, made a noticeable impact here.

 

In introducing Outwater's premiere performance, the audience was treated to a video of a conversation between him and Laflamme. I have already quoted from an interview he granted Sun News. In the video, he says “Both musicians and physicists want to understand the world. Musicians do it in a creative way.” To advance both science and music, he said, “You have to ask the right questions – you need to be able to push the boundary.”

 

The way we conceive of the world using quantum will break down someday. What is the music of tomorrow? A partial answer may be found in Quantum Etude. As the orchestral experience began, each instrument played its own tune – for example, one double violin was being plucked, while the others each played something different.

 

Wind instruments were positioned above the stage on either side of the concert hall, while a variety of strings were placed at the rear for a truly immersive experience. The string instruments eventually achieved coherence with a monotonous few notes; superimposed on them was a variety of sounds from the wind instruments. These concepts of coherence and superposition come directly from quantum physics. Randomness was also incorporated into the performance, as Outwater rolled a die, shown to the audience on the screen above. The resulting numbers instructed various instruments to play, thus ensuring this was not only a world premiere, but a unique event.

 

In an interview, Outwater said “I wanted it to sound jagged, like thinking hard.” He likened the creation to a mobile, the sort of kinetic sculpture made popular by Alexander Calder.

 

The 25-minute Magnetar Concerto was the longest event of the evening, with the energetic Johannes Moser from Germany playing an instrument most people have never seen: an electric cello. Chapela was also fully engaged in the performance, at an electronic keyboard near the conductor.

 

It was indeed, as Outwater cautioned, a rollercoaster ride. The frenetic pace set by the electric cello, emitting cosmic echoes, gave way to a plethora of musical images ranging from the Pink Panther to a sweet melody and hard rock.

 

In introducing the composition, Chapela said it was inspired by the explosions of magnetic stars in deep space, thus the name Magnetar. It certainly stepped out of classic acoustic sound, finding a new freedom.

 

I asked Chapela what he wanted the audience to understand from hearing this. “It's what I want the audience to feel, not what I want them to understand,” he said. “Wherever it takes them is what I want them to feel.”

 

This sentiment was echoed by Laflamme, who told me “Instead of just learning about a part of the Universe, they lived it!”

 

Kudos to Outwater and the K-W Symphony for offering the most innovative musical experiences in Canada with the Intersections series of concerts.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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In 1788, Hugh Blair wrote that “Vivacity, satire, and buffoonery, are the characteristics of Aristophanes.” His plays, said Blair, appear “to have been composed for the mob.”

 

While Mario Telò does not quote this in his book on Aristophanes, it certainly appears on a superficial reading that the plays were geared to the lower classes. However, the Athenian audience Telò posits as enjoying the plays of Aristophanes (what we now call the 'Old Comedy' period) was a lot more sophisticated than a mob. Telò, associate professor of classics at the Univ. of California, Los Angeles, specifically designates upper-class composure and healing energy "as the physical and psychological condition offered by [his play] Clouds to its audience."

 

Aristophanes debuted his first play in 427 BCE and was active in debuting new works for 30 years. These plays were not seen in isolation, as most theatre-goers today perceive a performance. One does not attend a comedy play now with the expectation it recycles the action of a Shakespearean tragedy. Greek citizens of 2400 years ago were, by contrast, very attuned to all the nuances of tragedy and comedy and were very much engaged with interactions between them. They were, in fact, participants of the performance, even though they were not in the performance.

 

The play Clouds has three main characters: the philosopher Socrates (based on the real-life person), an old fool Strepsiades who dreads his wife, and his son Pheidippides who loves to gamble money on horses and stick his father with the losses. It was the audience reaction to the first staged version of Clouds that prompted Aristophanes to rewrite it. In the new version (the text of the original is lost), Aristophanes reproves the audience for their poor judgment in placing his original production third instead of first place at the Great Dionysia competition of 423 BCE. Cratinus won first place that year.

 

Offstage but very much on the mind of Aristophanes were his rivals Eupolis and Cratinus. Telò's book examines the interaction between all these elements, and in the process makes a major advance in our understanding of Old Comedy in general and Aristophanes in particular. He makes this clear at the outset of his book, which also looks closely at another play by Aristophanes, entitled Wasps. “The interconnected actions of Wasps and Clouds suggestively plot the relationship between Aristophanes, his audience, and his two major rivals by offering an ongoing commentary on the setback of 423 through a complex and coherent process of reimagining, reinvention, and restaging, which sets the terms of the critical evaluation and survival of Old Comedy.”

 

If you like complicated plots, this book is for you! Not only do we have the Greek theatrical stage where the audience sits, but a meta-theatre where Aristophanes is the stage director of contemporary Greek Comedy. Like the Phantom of the Opera, he was willing to upstage any rival to achieve his own ends. "In comically diagnosing the reasons for his defeat" in the earlier version of of Clouds, Telo says "Aristophanes does not just defensively establish what is good comedy and what is not but indeed what is comedy tout court, condemning his vanquisher to a permanent secondary position."

 

Aristophanes' tactics worked better than he could ever have imagined. By attaining undisputed status as the master of comedy with the restaging of Clouds, his plays were copied and recopied for centuries. Thus their texts have survived for us to enjoy today. The plays of his two rivals exist only in fragments, their works nearly lost to posterity.

 

Telò is one of the first to consider the sensory dimensions of performance (touch) and what he terms “the vibrant materiality of objects.” One thing he makes a particular study of is the cloak (hence the title of this book) and sandals of Strepsiades, which Socrates orders him to take off before he enters the 'Thinkery'. This is a place where Strepsiades enters as a student of Socrates in order to gain the knowledge needed to fend off his creditors (remember this is a comedy!). The old man equates parting with his clothes as presaging a tragic fate. “Alas, wretched me,” he wails, “I will soon be half-dead.”

 

It is here Telò sees a resonance with the famous tragedy Agamemnon by Aeschylus, where the great hero returns home, removes his sandals, and is killed by his wife. “As a frightening interior space figuratively inhabited by serpentine creatures, the house of Agamemnon thus resembles the Thinkery, which terrifies Strepsiades on the verge of his humiliating regression from father to student and child. This concatenation of symbols, centered around a prop (Strepsiades' sandals), generates an intense inter-theatrical echo, causing Agamemnon's tragic shoe-shedding to haunt the comic father's initiation.”

 

Telò uses this and other elements as a springboard to ask questions at the end of the book that need to be addressed by further scholarly study. Among these questions are “What kind of dramatic work do tactile exchanges - with bodies as well as props - perform? Does tragedy feel different from comedy - and are there tactile differences among tragedians, as there are among comedians?”

 

You don't have to be Sherlock Holmes to understand this intriguing book, but if you enjoy hunting for clues and seeing where they lead, it will make the challenges posed by Telò a lot more fun. And as the master of Comedy, Aristophanes would probably approve of fun.

 

There is a typo on pg. 17: 'terms' should be 'term'

 

Aristophanes & the Cloak of Comedy (237 pages) is $55 from Univ. of Chicago Press.

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