Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Hail, Isolde

After Richard Wagner had been working on the Ring Cycle for about ten years, he took a break for two years to write Tristan und Isolde. With Tristan, he did something that seems unbelievable: he took the plot of his unfinished magnum opus (the libretto of the Ring Cycle was finished, but it would take him 15 more years to complete the music) and he ripped it off.

What he repeated was the love story between Siegfried and Brunnhilde. In both operas, the man is a great hero, and the woman is equally heroic: Brunnhilde the goddess warrior queen, Isolde the Irish healer princess. Both women are proud and regal, with high status. Yet in both stories the hero gives the woman to another man, with the result that the woman is humiliated and brought to the brink of sexual subjugation. In both stories, a love potion deprives the hero of free will. In both stories, the hero is slain and the woman chooses to follow him in death.

In the Ring Cycle Wagner wrote a libretto that is the equal of the best of Shakespeare, and it is an enormous, complicated epic. Tristan und Isolde is the opposite: a splendid opera, but despite its length it is a very simple story. It has just two of themes, and they are hammered home with a heavy hand. Those themes are light/day (worldly ambition, falsity) and night (sex, death, the womb). The two extremes suggest (but don't quite admit to having) religious overtones.

In a libretto that is barely 10,000 words (in the English translation), there is a heavy repetition of the day/night themes. “Day” appears 63 times; for example, envious day, importunate daylight, spiteful day, the noonday sun of worldly fame, slave of day, day’s false glare, day’s deceiving light, spiteful day, the lies of daylight honour and fame, day’s empty fancies, lying day, phantoms of day, accursed day, night casts me back to day so that the sun can forever feast its sight upon my suffering.

Saturday, February 16, 2013

Senator Assange

Julian Assange is running for Australian senator for the Wikileaks Party. Assange is still holed up in the Ecuadorian embassy in the UK, but Australian law allows non-residents to run for office. Whether he can actually win in those circumstances is unknown. What interests me is the effect of a possible win.

In Sweden, Pirate Bay was knocked off the internet by legal attacks on the ISPs that hosted it. Pirate Bay is still on the air because the Swedish Pirate Party won two seats in the European Parliament. The Pirate Party registered an ISP and agreed to host Pirate Bay. As a political party with representatives, it was untouchable. Wikileaks also used the Pirate Party ISP to host its site.

As an elected Australian senator, the US might have a more difficult time persecuting, er, prosecuting Assange. Or would it?

As an official party with representation, would Wikileaks have more freedom? You would think it would have to.

In a system of proportional representation, it doesn't take a huge number of voters to change the game for the entire world. These are interesting times.