Friday, September 07, 2007

Sir Edward Elgar now politically incorrect but still great

The one hundred and fiftieth anniversary of Edward Elgar's birth fell on June 2, 2007. This anniversary has been the spur for some strange commentaries in Britain: Elgar's music isn't modern enough; its tub-thumping pomp and circumstance state music doesn't reflect contemporary, multicultural Britain. How symbolic, some say, that Elgar's face has just disappeared from the twenty pound note to be replaced by that of sensible Scottish economist Adam Smith.

This is political correctness gone barking. It is sobering to see that true greatness of spirit can still be blithely consigned, by some, to an imaginary junk heap of artistic detritus. Sensibly, the general public won't have a bar of these musings, and no doubt Elgar's music will continue to be comprehensively celebrated and performed.

Australian artists, for many years on the receiving end of condescension from points north, can relate to Elgar's long struggle to establish himself as composer and artist in a hostile cultural environment. Anyone who tries this face-to-face on Australians these days is in for a rude surprise, though there really isn't any cure for parochialism and snobbery, which are without end. However, in some parts hereabouts, there is now, somewhat inevitably, an Australia-first campaign whereby anything English is hammered-they think-into the ground-psychic punishment for past colonial sins of omission. Percy Grainger, for example, is held up a preferable alternative to Elgar.

As a republican, I have no desire to linger in antique realms, but I'm not going to be bludgeoned into rejecting greatness when it is there before me. English critics are partly to blame for Elgar's reputation abroad with their endless references to Elgar's Englishness. Elgar's music belongs to the world, not just to England. (There is a specific Australian connection in Elgar's music. He sets Adam Lindsay Gordon's poem `The Swimmer' as the last song in Sea Pictures-`O brave white horses! you gather and gallop, / The storm sprite loosens the gusty reins . . .') If I stand on Bondi beach on a wild afternoon, hearing the surge of Alassio in my head, or, in mourning, recall that last restatement of the `Spirit of Delight' theme at the end of the Second Symphony (`the passionate pilgrimage of a soul'), this is not reflux nostalgia. Here is the music equal to the depth of life. If you want, there are certainly plenty of alternatives to choose from.

Grandeur of spirit, and passion, in art, will never be consigned to a use-by date. Elgar's story is a remarkable one of persistence through the awfulness of the English class system to the creation of great music, the first Britain had experienced since the time of Purcell. Elgar had a large chip on his shoulder because he, and his wife Alice, had to pay heavy dues in getting to this position of eminence. If, as I read, Elgar tried to wangle a peerage for himself, it would have been only what he deserved. Such splendour in the Malvern grass-the symphonies, the Violin Concerto, the Cello Concerto, the Enigma Variations, The Dream of Gerontius, Falstaff, the mass of ceremonial, occasional and salon music: all this music speaks of the seriousness and loveliness of the world, often with nobility, sometimes with wistfulness and melancholy.

You don't have to be Roman Catholic to enjoy The Dream of Gerontius. What sort of mindset is it that can't enjoy music of this kind because it doesn't fit the listener's prescriptive personal agenda. There are people who claim to be living, mentally, always in the present moment. The radical, the cutting edge, are what they crave. When you have the pile of bicycle parts waiting for you at the Whitney Biennial, why go mooning over some Degas? How tedious to sit through hours of Tristan when some hipster rap group is about to let loose at the latest in venue. But what if Elgar or Degas or Wagner are, emotionally and creatively, more radical and cutting edge, than they they have ever begun to conceive. I live only in, and for, the present moment. Too bad if the present moment is dullness enbalmed and then overhyped by the usual organs of capitalist increase.

Thus do some go their weary way, unaware of the marvels about them, forever out of reach because of ideological posturing or just plain ignorance. Well, I'm not forsaking Elgar for any whim of contemporary fashion and, if you don't know the music of this composer, do yourself a favour that will repay you in kind one hundredfold.

Knowing he had composed a masterpiece, Elgar wrote at the end of the score of Gerontius the following words of Ruskin: `This is the best of me; for the rest, I ate, and drank, and slept, loved and hated, like another; my life was as a vapour, and is not; but this I saw and knew; this, if anything of mine, is worth your memory.' However much these words apply to Gerontius, they also apply to the whole. The grocer's daughter who became Prime Minister of the United Kingdom once told the nation, in very different circumstances, to rejoice; and we may well say of the piano tuner's son who became a composer of world renown: rejoice that such a person may triumph, and that such music can be.


It's feminism, not "paternalism", that is behind the decline in breastfeeding

THERE is an always predictable gnashing of teeth and wringing of hands when Australia's poor breastfeeding rates are released. Latest figures show that only 10 per cent of Australian mothers are complying with the World Health Organisation recommendation that newborns be exclusively breastfed for the first six months. A whopping 70 per cent are not breastfeeding at all by this time. Breastfeeding advocates have wasted little time in demanding extra funding as well as calling for changes in community attitudes, particularly to breastfeeding in public.

At the risk of sounding incredibly crass, may I suggest such calls are about as useful as tits on a bull. Women's rights advocates are not beyond engaging in misinformation about the reasons behind unacceptably low breastfeeding figures. Left-leaning feminists say the failure of mothers to do what should come naturally is the fault of an unsympathetic male-dominated society. Of course, this is as misguided as it is mischievous and will ultimately do little to improve what is a serious health issue for the country's newest generation.

The endless rationalising by feminists of why women do not breastfeed is more to do with a political agenda than providing real answers. The unpalatable truth they do not want to acknowledge is that despite society being supportive of breastfeeding, many smart, educated women simply choose convenience over giving their child the optimal start in life.

It's not chauvinistic male attitudes, but female prerogative that is behind Australia's poor breastfeeding record. We have to accept that although breast is best for the baby, it may not be best for the mother. Bottle-feeding facilitates a great many freedoms that an exclusively breastfeeding mother is simply unable to enjoy. Bottle feeding allows a mother to leave a child with another carer, for longer than a couple of hours at a time, without the onerous task of expressing sufficient milk. It allows them to enjoy a glass of wine with dinner without a stern lecture from their GP. It allows them to take the contraceptive pill. It allows them to wear a sheer blouse without the fear they will leak halfway through the day and look as if they're entering a one-woman wet T-shirt contest. They can also share all-important night-time feeding duties with their partner, while they get some much needed sleep. Simply put, bottle feeding has many charms that can be very tempting to an exhausted mother.

There needs to be a balance between what is in the best interest of a baby and offering support to mothers. There should be a heavier burden on women to breastfeed if they are able to. It's a woman's choice what she does with her own body, but when she is entrusted with the care of another life, whether in her womb or as a newborn, she has an added responsibility. The importance of this should be far greater than her own needs.

It wasn't so long ago that we thought it was paternalistic to lecture women against smoking while pregnant. Such attitudes have given way to a more sensible approach. Some woman continue to smoke during a pregnancy, but the truth is no longer sugar coated and they are left in no doubt about the harm they are causing their unborn child.

In the US, advertising campaigns encouraging breastfeeding are starting to resemble anti-smoking ads. They employ similar tactics by adopting guilt and shame strategies to make it socially unacceptable for mothers to bottle feed. A recent commercial featured syringes and inhalers designed to look like bottles. While such campaigns are bound to be successful, Australia should chose a different path in its efforts to increase breastfeeding rates.

It should be recognised that some women try to breastfeed and fail due to a variety of reasons beyond their control. A bout of sickness can have a severe impact on a mother's capacity to produce sufficient milk for a hungry child and some women find that breastfeeding does not come naturally. In my own case, I persevered through tears and tantrums for weeks until I was finally able to breastfeed as nature intended, with ease and grace. It can still be a challenge that at times requires precision planning, but it's a small price to pay for the peace of mind of knowing you have given your child the best start in life.

As a community we must determine what we deem of greater value, a child receiving the optimal nutrition, or a mother's right to choose an option that is more convenient to her lifestyle?


Australian etiquette queen less than impressed

Men are misunderstood, women treat men badly, Germaine Greer is old and sad and we eat like animals. That's the word from etiquette queen June Dally-Watkins who told The Daily Telegraph basic manners were in "total, total decline".

Miss Dally-Watkins, who has four children and seven grandchildren, started her deportment school in 1950 after a successful modelling career took her from the state's northwest to mixing with the Hollywood A-list, including a romance with Gregory Peck in Rome. More than 300,000 Aussies have passed through her doors and undergone gruelling lessons in how to be a lady or a gentleman, including Channel 9's Catriona Rowntree and Seven's Sonia Kruger.

But Miss Dally-Watkins, aged in her early 80s, was yesterday scathing in her assessment of where we are heading. "There is a total, total decline in manners," she said. "It is a great sadness, we are back to the barbarian age. It is the 'me generation' which interestingly, is across all age groups." She said the rise of the working parent had contributed to the decline, with schools being left to pick up the slack and teach children the basic do's and don'ts in surviving elegantly in a modern world.

Acid-tongued feminist author Germaine Greer also copped a serve for giving women the idea they don't need a man to change a lightbulb or open the car door. "Women don't understand men are very sensitive and very deep," Miss Dally-Watkins said. "Women need to show more understanding to their men.


Britain: Politically correct attitude betrays little kids: "Council chiefs let gay foster parents sexually abuse children in their care because they were scared of being seen to discriminate against them, a report has concluded. Managers and social workers at Wakefield Council, West Yorkshire, were reluctant to investigate Craig Faunch and Ian Wathey despite concerns about their behaviour, the inquiry report by the former Surrey social services chief, Brian Parrott, said. Faunch and Wathey, of Pontefract, were jailed for six and five years respectively in June 2006 for sexual offences against four boys in their care. The report said that the children were let down by “failures in performance”. Faunch and Wathey had 18 children placed with them in 18 months. Suspicions were raised when Faunch photographed one of the victims urinating. But social workers decided that the men had been simply “naive and silly”, a trial at Leeds Crown Court had heard. “The fear of being discriminatory led them to fail to discriminate between the appropriate and the abusive,” concluded the report."


Political correctness is most pervasive in universities and colleges but I rarely report the incidents concerned here as I have a separate blog for educational matters.

American "liberals" often deny being Leftists and say that they are very different from the Communist rulers of other countries. The only real difference, however, is how much power they have. In America, their power is limited by democracy. To see what they WOULD be like with more power, look at where they ARE already very powerful: in America's educational system -- particularly in the universities and colleges. They show there the same respect for free-speech and political diversity that Stalin did: None. So look to the colleges to see what the whole country would be like if "liberals" had their way. It would be a dictatorship.

For more postings from me, see TONGUE-TIED, GREENIE WATCH, EDUCATION WATCH INTERNATIONAL, FOOD & HEALTH SKEPTIC, GUN WATCH, SOCIALIZED MEDICINE, AUSTRALIAN POLITICS, DISSECTING LEFTISM, IMMIGRATION WATCH INTERNATIONAL and EYE ON BRITAIN. My Home Pages are here or here or here. Email me (John Ray) here. For times when is playing up, there are mirrors of this site here and here.


No comments: