Skip to main content

Happy Bastille Day

Something French would seem to be called for today.

Also, I happen to have a thing about Broadway musicals.

Okay, so should I riff on Les Mis?

No, I think I'll go further back than that. In 1973, a production of Candide trod the boards. This of course was a work of satirical prose fiction by Voltaire, adapted for Broadway by Hugh Wheeler, with music by Leonard Bernstein and lyrics by Richard Wilbur and Stephen Sondheim.

I will quote some of those lyrics today, I trust within the limits of whatever counts as "fair use" of a 44 year old play.  I don't know how the whole notion of "intellectual property" is going to survive the case of the monkey selfie, though....

Anyway, the below is from what is known as the "Lesson Song." The character of Pangloss is introduced as the house intellectual of a patron's castle. When we first see him, he is giving a lesson on his Leibnizian theodicy.

PANGLOSS.
PRAY, CLASSIFY PIGEONS AND CAMELS.

PUPILS.
PIGEONS CAN FLY. 
CAMELS ARE MAMMALS.

PANGLOSS.
THERE IS A REASON
FOR EV’RYTHING UNDER THE SUN.

PUPILS.
THERE IS A REASON
FOR EV’RYTHING UNDER THE SUN.

MAXIMILIAN.
OBJECTION!
WHAT ABOUT SNAKES?

PANGLOSS.
SNAKES.
‘TWAS SNARE THAT TEMPTED MOTHER EVE. 
BECAUSE OF SNAKE WE NOW BELIEVE
THAT ‘THO’ DEPRAVED,
WE CAN BE SAVED
FROM HELL-FIRE AND DAMNATION.

PUPILS. 
BECAUSE OF SNAKE’S TEMPTATION.

PANGLOSS.
IF SNAKE HAD NOT SEDUCED OUR LOT,
AND PRIMED US FOR SALVATION,
JEHOVAH COULD NOT PARDON ALL
THE SINS THAT WE CALL CARDINAL,
INVOLVING BED AND BOTTLE
NOW ON TO ARISTOTLE.
MANKIND IS ONE.
ALL MEN ARE BROTHERS.

PUPILS.
AS YOU’D HAVE DONE,
DO UNTO OTHERS.

PANGLOSS.
IT’S UNDERSTOOD IN
THIS BEST OF ALL POSSIBLE WORLDS.
PUPILS.
ALL IS FOR THE GOOD IN
THIS BEST OF ALL POSSIBLE WORLDS.
----------------------------------------------------------

For the uninitiated, the musical (true to the Voltairean source) is ridiculing Pangloss. Voltaire's own message was that the world is often thoroughly lousy, and that Panglossian rationalization is an impediment to efforts to make it somewhat less lousy.

Happy Bastille Day.

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

Cancer Breakthrough

Hopeful news in recent days about an old and dear desideratum: a cure for cancer. Or at least for a cancer, and a nasty one at that.

The news comes about because investors in GlaxoSmithKline are greedy for profits, and has already inspired a bit of deregulation to boot. 

The FDA has paved the road for a speedy review of a new BCMA drug for multiple myeloma, essentially cancer of the bone marrow. This means that the US govt has removed some of the hurdles that would otherwise (by decision of the same govt) face a company trying to proceed with these trials expeditiously. 

This has been done because the Phase I clinical trial results have been very promising. The report I've seen indicates that details of these results will be shared with the world on Dec. 11 at the annual meeting of the American Society of Hematology. 

The European Medicines Agency has also given priority treatment to the drug in question. 

GSK's website identifies the drug at issue as "GSK2857916," althou…

A Story About Coleridge

This is a quote from a memoir by Dorothy Wordsworth, reflecting on a trip she took with two famous poets, her brother, William Wordsworth, and their similarly gifted companion, Samuel Taylor Coleridge.



We sat upon a bench, placed for the sake of one of these views, whence we looked down upon the waterfall, and over the open country ... A lady and gentleman, more expeditious tourists than ourselves, came to the spot; they left us at the seat, and we found them again at another station above the Falls. Coleridge, who is always good-natured enough to enter into conversation with anybody whom he meets in his way, began to talk with the gentleman, who observed that it was a majestic waterfall. Coleridge was delighted with the accuracy of the epithet, particularly as he had been settling in his own mind the precise meaning of the words grand, majestic, sublime, etc., and had discussed the subject with William at some length the day before. “Yes, sir,” says Coleridge, “it is a majestic wate…

Hume's Cutlery

David Hume is renowned for two pieces of cutlery, the guillotine and the fork.

Hume's guillotine is the sharp cut he makes between "is" statements and "ought" statements, to make the point that the former never ground the latter.

His "fork" is the division between what later came to be called "analytic" and "synthetic" statements, with the ominous observation that any books containing statements that cannot be assigned to one or the other prong should be burnt.

Actually, I should acknowledge that there is some dispute as to how well or poorly the dichotomy Hume outlines really maps onto the analytic/synthetic dichotomy. Some writers maintain that Hume meant something quite different and has been hijacked. Personally, I've never seen the alleged difference however hard they've worked to point it out to me.

The guillotine makes for a more dramatic graphic than a mere fork, hence the bit of clip art above.

I'm curious whe…