- Nothing so needs reforming as other people’s habits. [Mark Twain, The Tragedy of Pudd’nhead Wilson (1894), Chapter 15.]
We have explored the value of good habits (actions) but we also know, from experience and observation, that people have bad habits as well as good one. An attitude, which expresses what we are poised to do (action informed mainly by emotion) can also be either creative or destructive.
Technical and Analytical Readings
- Susan James, Passion and Action: The Emotions in Seventeenth-Century Philosophy (Oxford University Press, 1997).
Chet Baker was an extraordinarily gifted jazz trumpeter and singer, best known for his haunting ballad renditions that evoke a late, lonely evening. A sadness issues forth from his eyes, even in early photographs: a sadness that carried considerable appeal to many women.
Like many great jazz musicians, Chet Baker became addicted to drugs. People close to him described him as manipulative and self-pitying. Yet as he aged, his singing and playing became increasingly more compelling. He appears to be a study in how bad habits can produce extraordinary artistic results. Had he not suffered so much, he may never have achieved the depth of feeling that his later music conveys.
- James Gavin, Deep in a Dream: The Long Night of Chet Baker (Knopf, 2002).
- Chet Baker, As Though I Had Wings: The Lost Memoir (Buzz, 1997).
- Jeroen De Valk, Chet Baker: His Life and Music (Berkeley Hills Books, 2000).
- Kwame Anthony Appiah, The Honor Code: How Moral Revolutions Happen (W.W. Norton & Company, 2010).
- Brian Castner, The Long Walk: A Story of War and the Life That Follows (Doubleday, 2012): “Brian Castner realizes that his skills as a bomb technician can be a liability in peacetime.”
- Volker Ullrich, Hitler: Downfall 1939-1945 (Knopf, 2020): “How a Dictator Invited His Own Downfall”, with the same qualities that led to his rise
- Scaachi Koul, One Day We’ll All Be Dead and None of This Will Matter: Essays (Doubleday Canada, 2017) “. . . about how physical borders become psychic lapses.”
- John Hager, Ten Drugs: How Plants, Powders, and Pills Have Shaped the History of Modern Medicine (Harry N. Abrams, 2019): “Human beings have been for more than 10,000 years — ‘before towns,’ Hager writes, ‘before agriculture, before science, before history.’ And opioids do kill pain, no question. The problem is, they’re frighteningly addictive, and chemists since the 1800s have had no luck creating new opioids that dull pain without creating dependency.”
Documentary and Educational Films
Film and Stage
- Nights of Cabiria, on cheerfulness and trust as mixed blessings
- Melinda and Melinda: Woody Allen tells one story in two different ways.
- Straight Time, a “realistic cinematic probe into the sociopathic psyche of the career criminal”; a story about a man who “knows the world is crooked and . . . behaves accordingly”
- A Star Is Born (2018) and A Star Is Born (1937): a male singing star and a female aspiring singer fall in love; he launches her career but his addictions doom their marriage.
[In Les Misérables, Hugo gives this brief account of the merciless Javert:] It will be remembered that the fundamental point in Javert, his element, the very air he breathed, was veneration for all authority. This was impregnable, and admitted of neither objection nor restriction. In his eyes, of course, the ecclesiastical authority was the chief of all; he was religious, superficial and correct on this point as on all others. In his eyes, a priest was a mind, who never makes a mistake; a nun was a creature who never sins; they were souls walled in from this world, with a single door which never opened except to allow the truth to pass through. [Victor Hugo, Les Misérables (1862), Volume I – Fantine; Book Eighth – A Counter-Blow, Chapter V, A Suitable Tomb.]
[When Valjean first encounters the child Cosette, she is suffering from abuse, which is reflected in her outward Being, or attitude:] Cosette was ugly. If she had been happy, she might have been pretty. We have already given a sketch of that sombre little figure. Cosette was thin and pale; she was nearly eight years old, but she seemed to be hardly six. Her large eyes, sunken in a sort of shadow, were almost put out with weeping. The corners of her mouth had that curve of habitual anguish which is seen in condemned persons and desperately sick people. Her hands were, as her mother had divined, "ruined with chilblains." The fire which illuminated her at that moment brought into relief all the angles of her bones, and rendered her thinness frightfully apparent. As she was always shivering, she had acquired the habit of pressing her knees one against the other. Her entire clothing was but a rag which would have inspired pity in summer, and which inspired horror in winter. All she had on was hole-ridden linen, not a scrap of woollen. Her skin was visible here and there and everywhere black and blue spots could be descried, which marked the places where the Thénardier woman had touched her. Her naked legs were thin and red. The hollows in her neck were enough to make one weep. This child's whole person, her mien, her attitude, the sound of her voice, the intervals which she allowed to elapse between one word and the next, her glance, her silence, her slightest gesture, expressed and betrayed one sole idea,--fear. [Victor Hugo, Les Misérables (1862), Volume II – Cosette; Book Third – Accomplishment of a Promise Made To a Dead Woman, Chapter VIII, The Unpleasantness of Receiving Into One’s House a Poor Man Who May Be a Rich Man.]
[In this scene from Les Misérables, the despondent Marius is about to enter the battle:] There is no one who has not noticed it in his own case--the soul,--and therein lies the marvel of its unity complicated with ubiquity, has a strange aptitude for reasoning almost coldly in the most violent extremities, and it often happens that heartbroken passion and profound despair in the very agony of their blackest monologues, treat subjects and discuss theses. Logic is mingled with convulsion, and the thread of the syllogism floats, without breaking, in the mournful storm of thought. This was the situation of Marius' mind. As he meditated thus, dejected but resolute, hesitating in every direction, and, in short, shuddering at what he was about to do, his glance strayed to the interior of the barricade. The insurgents were here conversing in a low voice, without moving, and there was perceptible that quasi-silence which marks the last stage of expectation. Overhead, at the small window in the third story Marius descried a sort of spectator who appeared to him to be singularly attentive. This was the porter who had been killed by Le Cabuc. Below, by the lights of the torch, which was thrust between the paving-stones, this head could be vaguely distinguished. Nothing could be stranger, in that sombre and uncertain gleam, than that livid, motionless, astonished face, with its bristling hair, its eyes fixed and staring, and its yawning mouth, bent over the street in an attitude of curiosity. One would have said that the man who was dead was surveying those who were about to die. A long trail of blood which had flowed from that head, descended in reddish threads from the window to the height of the first floor, where it stopped. [Victor Hugo, Les Misérables (1862), Volume IV – Saint-Denis; Book Thirteenth – Marius Enters the Shadow, Chapter III, The Extreme Edge.]
Novels and stories:
- Danielle Evans, Before You SuffocateYour Own Fool Self (Riverhead Books, 2010).
- Kristen Arnett, Mostly Dead Things: A Novel (Tin House Books, 2019): “Art can do this: arrange the broken pieces of our lives in a way that makes sense, that makes usmake sense. It is through this alchemy that Jessa learns how to start talking to the people she loves. It is no small triumph: ‘It’s hard to talk about the ugly parts. How we can be that terrible and still worthy of love.’”
- John Edgar Wideman, Look for Me and I’ll Be Gone: Stories (Scribner, 2021):”Wideman has always been less interested in what a story tells than how it gets told, how the telling shapes our perception of our world.”
- Christopher Beha, The Index of Self-Destructive Acts: A Novel (Tin House Books, 2020), “draws its title from a Bill James metric, which measures “the total number of hit batsmen, wild pitches, balks and errors by a pitcher, per nine innings.” But the phrase also refers to other, less sporting forms of self-destruction: infidelity and alcoholism, financial overreach, procrastination, plagiarism, sexual repression.”
- S.A. Cosby, Blacktop Wasteland: A Novel (Flatiron Books, 2020): “Beauregard can’t badass his way out of the traps of racism, poverty and absentee parenting. Such an escape would require different skills. It might even require a different America.”
- Ian McGuire, The Abstainer: A Novel (Random House, 2020): “O’Connor is the abstainer of the novel’s title. He took to drink after the deaths of his only child and then his wife, but hasn’t had a drop since leaving Dublin. . . . He’s a teetotaler in a world of bars and dram shops, the outsider, the Irishman in the police force, unwanted and distrusted. He’s a hard man, but soft too, and afraid.”
Music: Composers, artists, and major works
Music of Chet Baker, whose bad habits cut short and added a strong and visible overtone of poignancy to his career:
- “Time After Time”
- “Autumn Leaves”
- “Stan Meets Chet” album (1958)
- “Chet” album (1959)
- Legendary Riverside albums
- “Nights at the Turntable” album
- “Let’s Get Lost” album
- “No Problem” album (1980)
- with Stan Getz in Stockholm (1983)
- “Diane” album, with Paul Bley (1985)
- “Chet Baker in Tokyo” album (1987)
- “Together” album (1992)
- “When Sunny Gets Blue” album
- “Live in London, Volume 2”
- interview about drugs and jazz
- final interview
- “My Funny Valentine”, young and old
- Foulds, 7 Essays in the Modes, Op. 78: (expressing seven attitudes)
- Prokofiev, The Love for Three Oranges, Op. 33 (1919), is an opera featuring Tragedy, Comedy, Lyric Drama and Farce (performances conducted by Nagano, Cambreling and Lloyd-Jones).
- Zwilich, Symphony No. 3 (1993)
- Raga Kamalshree (Kamalshri) (performance by Amjad Ali Khan)
- Pütz, Moods
- Anthony Braxton, “19 [Solo] Compositions, 1988”
- Avisahi Cohen, “Big Vicious”
- Russ Lossing, “Mood Suite”
Franz Schubert’s Winterreise is a song cycle with dark themes. The songs “tell the story of a lonely traveller who ventures out into the snow on a journey to rid himself of his lost love”. Schubert may have been “inspired” by his syphilis and suspicions of impending death. Consistent with this dark vision are renditions by basses Joseph Greindl, and Matthew Rose, and baritone Matthias Goerne. Light tenor accounts, including those of Ian Bostridge and Steven Tharp, tell the story differently. Bostridge produced an emotionally dark video to accompany one rendition of the cycle. Taking a middle ground (as did baritone Hans Hotter in 1954) in a thoroughly compelling way is baritone Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau, who darkened his tone from his youth, into his maturity and into his later years, and tenor Benjamin Bruns. Women who have recorded the cycle include Alice Coote, Brigette Fassbaender and Lois Marshall. Philippe Sly has recorded an unusual account featuring a chamber orchestra and hurdy-gurdy. Note the widely divergent attitudes in these various performances.
Somehow we weathered and witnessed a nation that isn’t broken, but simply unfinished.
- Edgar Lee Masters, “Henry C. Calhoun”
- Edgar Lee Masters, “Lucius Atherton”
- John Keats, “Ode to a Nightingale”
- Wallace Stevens, “Domination of Black”
Books of poems:
- Frank Rosal, The Last Thing: New & Selected Poems (Persea, 2021): “Rosal understands pain, in the present and in the historical past. But when he can, he chooses fulfillment instead.”
- Robert Frost, “The Bear”