Wednesday, March 7, 2018

Ship of Fate Hits the Sand

Singing the O Fortuna Polka: Yes, that's supposed to be Ship of State. Which, these days, is no more seaworthy than a leaky rowboat. Nevertheless, the White House is happy. Everything is going swimmingly.

But for those of us remaining who live in the real world, it's time for some Sturm und Drang (a short-lived proto-Romantic movement in German literature and music that took place from 1:30 pm on March 7, 1760 through 11:15 pm on December 12, 1780).
In which individual subjectivity and, in particular, extremes of emotion were given free expression in reaction to the perceived constraints of rationalism imposed by the Enlightenment and associated aesthetic movements. 
O Fortuna, written in the 13th century as a medieval Latin poem (part of a collection known as the Carmina Burana), was an Oldie-but-Goldie by then. But it sure fit the moment.
[O Fortuna] literally means ‘Oh Fate’, and it is a complaint about the inescapable power of fate. Sure, this might seem a tad negative, but fate had greater relevance in the lives of men and gods in Roman and Greek mythology. 
Today - it still does.
Around 1935-6, German composer Carl Orff set the poem to music as part of his cantata Carmina Burana, which was based on 23 other poems from the medieval collection. 
His harmonic treatment, which is modal until the last nine bars, gives ‘O Fortuna’ a menacing, ominous tone which has made it suitable for a number of films and TV shows over the last 75 years.  
Here’s what it does to André Rieu:

Here (translated, of course) are the original words. Pretty dark, Abq Jew must say. But it sure fits the moment.
O Fate,
like the moon
you are changeable,
ever waxing, ever waning,
hateful life first oppresses
and then soothes as fancy takes it;
poverty and power - it melts them like ice
Fate – monstrous and empty,
you whirling wheel, you are malevolent,
well-being is vain and always fades to nothing,
shadowed and veiled, you plague me too;
now through the game
I bring my bare back to your villainy
fate is against me in health and virtue,
driven on and weighted down, always enslaved.
so at this hour without delay
pluck the vibrating strings;
since Fate strikes down the strong man,
everyone weep with me!
And Abq Jew just knows you'd love to sing along (in Latin, of course). Which you can now do, in full voice, along with this video:

It turns out that Judaism, the religion (civilization!) we all know and love, has a lot to say about Fate and Fortune. But boiling it down in our Bunsens, what we draw from the beaker is
There are theological problems with the idea of human free will. Jewish tradition depicts God as intricately involved in the unfolding of history. The Bible has examples of God announcing predetermined events and interfering with individual choices. Rabbinic literature and medieval philosophy further develop the notion of divine providence: 
God watches over, guides, and intervenes in human affairs. How can this be reconciled with human free will? 
There is also a philosophical problem, which derives from the conception of God as omnipotent and omniscient: If God is all-powerful and all-knowing, then God must know what we will do before we do it. 
Doesn’t this predetermine our choices? Doesn’t this negate free will?
Our beloved Rabbi Akiva (Avot, Chapter 3, Mishnah 15) has cut to the chase:

Everything is foreseen, yet freedom of choice is granted

The Conservative Yeshiva explains for us:
Everything is foreseen yet freedom of choice is granted: this is one of the most deliciously paradoxical statement of the rabbis. 
It captures in just four (Hebrew) words, much of the spirit of Jewish thought. Since God is all-powerful, God must know everything, including the future. 
However, [if] our actions were totally due to fate, we would not be morally responsible for our actions. In order to hold ourselves responsible for what we do, we must assume that we have free choice. 
Judaism is therefore a religion based on these two beliefs: God is the all-powerful, master of the universe and yet human beings have moral responsibility.
How does that explanation work for you? Yeah, for Abq Jew, too.
In the field of psychology, cognitive dissonance is the mental discomfort (psychological stress) experienced by a person who simultaneously holds two or more contradictory beliefs, ideas, or values. 
And yet -
[T]he test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposed ideas in the mind at the same time, and still retain the ability to function. 
--- The Crack-Up (1936), F. Scott Fitzgerald ---
Lady Mondegreen

Which brings us over here to Lady Mondegreen, whom we first met in the classic 2015 Abq Jew blog post

There's A Bathroom [On The Right]

wherein, Abq Jew is sure you will recall but will provide here anyway, Wikipedia explains:
A mondegreen is a mishearing or misinterpretation of a phrase as a result of near-homophony, in a way that gives it a new meaning.  
Mondegreens are most often created by a person listening to a poem or a song; the listener, being unable to clearly hear a lyric, substitutes words that sound similar, and make some kind of sense.  
American writer Sylvia Wright coined the term in her essay "The Death of Lady Mondegreen", published in Harper's Magazine in November 1954. 
The term was inspired by "...and Lady Mondegreen," a misinterpretation of the line "...and laid him on the green," from the Scottish ballad "The Bonnie Earl o Moray." 
Ye Highlands and ye Lowlands,
Oh, where hae ye been?
They hae slain the Earl o' Moray,
And Lady Mondegreen.

Now, Abq Jew must tell you, his loyal readers (he must! he must!) that people (ordinary people, of course) sometimes mishear the words (they're in Latin, for Pete's sake) to 'O Fortuna.'

With (depending on your level of consciousness) either mildy amusing or emphatically hilarious results.

Here is a version of 'O Fortuna' by the (apparently) Dutch group Het Nieuwe Mannheim Koor & Orkest, who must all be applauded for keeping straight faces while performing. Or maybe they're just not fluent in English ....

And as if that weren't enough ...

Here is an animated version!

And Now For Something Completely Different

Yes, the Ship of Fate has hit the sand. But you didn't think Abq Jew (there are three words that don't often go together) was going to leave you with Sturm und Drang, did you? חס ושׁלום, as they say in Dutch.

Here are The Polka-Nuts, performing in 2010 at the Polka Lover's Club in beautiful, downtown Golden, Colorado. PSA FYI: They'll next be there (see schedule here) on Sunday May 6. Make plans!

OK ... Abq Jew is willing to entertain
 the notion that it may not still be Purim.
Which means that Pesach Watch is on,
with fresh supplies expected soon at

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