Sunday, November 28, 2010

Keep Mass in Christmas 2010

Okay, you're probably wondering why I haven't posted, and you probably figured it was because I'm in school and we're coming toward the end of the term, but that's not actually the case.  In reality, I didn't post because I took a trip to visit the Guggenheim Museum in Berlin to see one of the world's few remaining Hoffmann Tubes, most of which were destroyed or lost in World War II.

This is the first of Advent, which means a particularly big holiday is coming up--I think it's Hogswatch, or maybe Decemberween.  I can't remember.  Anyway, that means it's time to make arrangements to see a performance of Tchaikovsky's Nutcracker.  But what many of you may not know is that this famous ballet is based on a short story, "The Nutcracker and the King of Mice," by the German Romanticist E. T. A. Hoffmann.  Hoffmann is best remembered now for his stories, but he was best known in his own day as a composer of music, though most of his compositions are now lost.  He was also known as a particularly sensitive musical critic, and he developed bizarre theories about the nature of music, which he only hinted at in tantalizing cabbalistic tales such as "Automata," in which he suggests that the glass organ comes closest to reproducing the music of the spheres, the harmony of all nature, which only the ears of the most sensitive sorts--such as Hoffmann himself!--could possibly detect.

What is little known, now that Hoffmann's name has grown obscure, is that he developed a device, based on the same principles as the glass organ, which is able to capture the underlying music of the universe and alter it in such subtle ways that it becomes audible to the ear of an ordinary mortal.  He constructed a total of five of these devices.  Two have survived:  one is in a private collection, but the other is at the Guggenheim, and it is possible, if you know who to bribe, to gain access to the device, though no one is allowed inside of it for more than two minutes; rumor has it that longer exposure to the celestial music of the cosmos can drive a man mad.

Having spent three years scheming with some of my compatriots, I contrived not only to gain access to the Hoffmann Tube, but to do so shortly before the museum was to close.  I hid inside and was within it for an entire night.  I'm afraid I remember very little of the experience and nothing at all of the music; I came to my senses in a hospital bed, and am told they found me the next morning, raving mad, screaming something incoherent about the piping of two idiot flutes in the midst of ultimate chaos.  In my delirium, I had, it seems, smashed some of the more delicate components of the Hoffmann Tube, and I am informed that it cannot be repaired by any of the modern day's savants, since Hoffmann's techniques have always mystified even the most profound experts.

Anyway, that's why I haven't posted for a while.  I was recovering.  And scraping together money to pay the fine to the Guggenheim.

Where was I?  Oh, yes.  There's a big holiday coming up.  I think it's Life Day or something.  Anyway, this happens to be my favorite time of year, and it also happens I recently came across an article from MSNBC declaring that "Christmas is Winning the War on Christmas," which means that more and more stores have returned to making explicit references to the upcoming big Christian holiday when attempting to seduce customers into buying useless plastic junk from Matel.

I'm of two minds about this, partly because my broken mind has not yet recovered from the effects of the Hoffmann Tube.  On the one hand, I think it's stupid to pretend it has nothing to do with Christmas when you put out Christmas trees and dress a chubby fellow in a red suit and try to sell everybody toys.  On the other hand, I don't like seeing the commercial racket Christmas has turned into.  I don't know if it's right to say "Christmas is winning."  I think it's more correct to say that the stores have an eye, naturally enough, on the bottom line, and have determined that they're better off not antagonizing Christmas shoppers who've made a stink about "Happy Holidays" and "Season's Greetings."

But really, I don't like the way the counter-offensive in the War on Christmas has been conducted.  It seems the battle lines have been drawn with Jesus on one side and Santa Claus on the other.  That's just not right, because Santa Claus is a Christian saint.  When Santa appears at Christmastime and hands out oranges and nuts to the good kids and coal that's really licorice candy to the naughty kids, he's doing something Christian; because Christianity teaches that the good will be rewarded and that the evil can be redeemed and forgiven.

I admit I'm fond of those "Kneeling Santa" figurines that have become popular to date because they put things in proper perspective:  Christian Saint worshiping Christian God.  Makes sense to me.  You might call Kneeling Santas tacky, but I like tacky religious items because I make the distinction between "high" and "low" art, even religious art, and see a proper place for both.  I wouldn't put the Kneeling Santa in the nativity scene at the cathedral, but I would put one in my home.

Okay, actually, I would put the Kneeling Santa in the nativity scene at the cathedral, but that's because my love of kitsch knows no proper boundaries.

Anyway, where was I?  Oh, yes.  There's a big holiday coming up.  And I want to wish you a good one.

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