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Literature Uncategorized

Research Stuff I worked on

Last semester, I wrote a paper about Perceval, Galahad and how the Grail Quest became spiritual. In this paper, I examine the influence of the Cistercian Order and St Bernard as well the religious culture of the time to analyze the Vulgate Cycle. I also pull in Chretian De Troyes’s Perceval as as comparison point. I’m particularly proud of it so check it out!

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Music Uncategorized

Hildegard Von Bingen:

A true (Pre) Renaissance Woman!

Hello everybody. Starting this year, I’m planning on posting at least once every week if not more. Make that a commitment. Anyway

This week I’m going to be discussing my 12th century favorite writer, composer, philosopher, mystic, nun, visionary, doctor, linguist, poet and illustrator of all time.

I also forgot to mention that she made a really good cookbook!

Cookies and honey wine derived from recipes listed in Physica and Causes and Cures

Revolutionary Musician

Of course, if you’ve heard of Hildegard Von Bingen before it is almost certainly for her musical compositions. So let’s just get this out of the way. First of all, you have to understand her role aas being an actual attributed medieval composer. That was a rarity back in the medieval era, with most songs not receiving any attribution at all.

The second thing you have to understand is that Hildegard was pushing the constraints of the music of her era, which if you know anything about it is essentially a lot of chants. For instance, take a look at this recording of Hermannus Contractus, a contemporary composer at the time.

As we can see in this and in all Gregorian chants, it’s monophonic which means that there is only one melody line throught the entire song

The thing about Hildegard’s music is that the music just soars so much more. Nothing against Hermannus, an incredible figure in his own right but this is lovely to listen to.

We see a lot of surprisingly modern elements within Hildegard’s music. It pushes the boundary of the time period in a completely distinct fashion. Additionally, examine how melismatic the music is in comparison to Hermannus’s. It is really cool. Finally, the text is a lot more intimate than essentially all of our contemporaries at the time. It’s free verse, and highly original within the context of the period which she composed in.

Music was always an important element in Hildegard’s life. She believed it as being the highest form of prayer, a medium which divinely united heaven and earth and had a form of spiritual beauty unlike anything else. Hildegard near the end of her life was actually forbidden from singing due to an interdict (essentially mass excommunication) from the church when they refused to dig up the body of a man in their monastery. One of the punishments were the forbidding of singing absolutely anything.

As a result, Hildegard wrote an angry letter to the archbishop which basically threatened that the archbishop would go to hell unless he lifted the interdict. Which he did, just a few months before her death.

This will be brought up later but also Hildegard essentially wrote the first musical in Ordo Virtutum which is pretty freaking cool.

If you’re further interested in her music, A Feather on the Breath of God (Gothic Voices, 1985) is one of the best albums of her work.

All in all, this quote from her sums up

“There is the music of heaven in all things. But we have forgotten to hear it until we sing.”

Just an all out outstanding composer in the history of classical music.

Conlang Creator

This one is a personal favorite of mine, just because I think it is extremely cool. Alright, so do you guys know what a conlang is? It’s exactly what you think it is. It’s a language consciously deviced and created, think like Klingon. The most widely spoken conlang is Esperanto, with around 100,000 speakers worldwide. You can find out more about it here.

So yeah,. Hildegard was known to claim divine inspiration for her works, like her music for example. This also applies in the case of the conlang she created, which was a set of 23 letters. All that remains of the language is 1011 words and a few short manuscripts containing the language. There is very little other information about this language, with even her contemporaries noting that the knowledge of it would be lost after her death.

The 23 letters

The only idea regarding grammar with Litterae Ignotae is that it seems like it has a similar grammar structure to Latin. Therefore in that case it looks like it may be a reflexation, which is taking one language’s vocabulary and substituting it into another’s grammar. But yeah, that is all there is to Litterae Ignotae. Fun fact, if you were to consider this to be a conlang this would absolutely be the first one by far. The consensus first conlangs don’t show up until the 16th century!

Doctor

This one is also pretty neat! Health had appered a lot in Hildegard’s writings before, but in 1151 she wrote the book Physica. This work was a lot more down to earth than her spiritual writings, being a legitimately fairly comprehensive list of scientific and medical properties of various things. Everything from fish to animals to plants was carefully documented. It’s 16 chapters long and tells you about stuff like how to cure rabies or surprisingly preserve beer using hops.

However, Physica cannot even hope to compare to her next work. Hildegard’s Causae et curae is an immense work with over 300 chapters of information. Hildegard even bothered to discuss women’s health as well in sections on relevant issues such as menustral cramps. It is amazing what you can write when you don’t subscribe to Aristotlean assertations of sex, and actually treat men and women equally. Now, I won’t say that this advice is good or even safe. Hildegard describes that you should take “the amount that a thirsty person can swallow in one gulp” blood from somebody which is just very not good. But, there are some legitimately true pieces of advice in there. Hildegard calls for a good diet, rest and moderation in activity as well as material cures over spiritual ones. She didn’t think of disease as a natural thing, but rather as a failing of the body which is pretty obvious to us today but not before. Additionally she even advocated for diagnosis via checking the patient’s blood, pulse, urine, and stool.

I’m of course skipping over all the weird stuff here, such as eating a goat liver for male infertility or the power of nature to cure people but it is remarkable for what it is. There is a reason why she is one of only four women to hold the position of Doctor of the Church, when Pope Benedict XVI anointed her to that position in 2012. No matter the veracity of the information today, you have to deeply admire the commitment to create such wide spanning and diverse medical texts in an area of limited information. It clearly worked too, as according to accounts many sick and suffering people were brought to her monastery to be healed.

Poet, Writer, Philosopher

I could spend a looong time discussing all of these individually, but that would probably delve into an overly lengthy discussion on theology and nobody wants to see that.

Theological Writings

There are three primary theological writings to discuss when examining Hildegard’s visionary theology. We’ll first start by talking about Scivias

An illustration from Scivias

At this point, Hildegard was 42 and had been suffering from blinding visions since she was 5. Finally one day though she received a direct order from God to share her visions in writing and she did so. Surprisingly not without hesitation though, as indicated by a letter to St Bernard of Clavriux (who you might know about if you’ve read my research!)

Frontispiece of Scivias

In 1147 a delegation from Disibodenberg arrived at Hildegard’s convent and took a copy of the writings as they were at the time. Subsequently, Pope Eugene III not only approved of the writings but also authorized her to essentially write whatever she wanted with her visions.

By the way, in regards to the illustrations Hildegard almost certainly did not do them, but may have at least helped create an outline or dictate their content. This can be seen on the frontispiece

Tangent: Ordo Virtutum

So, Scivias has 26 visions described in details. The 26th one however is unique because it contains a play within it! After Hildegard describes her final vision and how she “saw the lucent sky, in which I heard different kinds of music (symphonia), marvelously embodying all the meanings I had heard before.”, we are treated to a set of 14 songs.

Beginning of the Ordo VIrtutum, Wiesbaden, Hessische Landesbibliothek, Hs. 2, f. 478v.
Look at that musical notation!

Afterwards, we get this really fascinating drama! It’s by far the earliest morality play, a play genre popular in 14th centuries. Baiscally all that happens in it is some angels, demons and personified concepts like “truth” try to convince a generic protagonist to their side. Unlike those morality plays, Hildegard’s is sung! It’s incredibly fortunate that both the text and the music have survived for so long, and it is quite cool to see how musical dramas even worked in an era of plainchant.

Shoutouts to the devil by the way, who can only yell or grunt in the play because singing is divine harmony.

Liber Vitae Meritorum

This one is pretty boring, so I’ll go fast. It espouses on the themes of Ordo Virtutum by continuing to place virtues against sins in these dramatic confrontations about life. It’s pretty cool!

Liber Divinorum Operum

Now this is more like it. Liber Divinorum Operum has some of the most dramatic and large scale visions Hildegard ever wrote about, worthy of “an extraordinary mystical vision”

Hildegard of Bingen - "Universal Man" (1165) [illumination from Liber  Divinorum Operum] : r/museum
A really cool illustration!

It is very much difficult to describe the scope of Liber Divinorum Operum but I will try my best. Essentially it is this grand cosmic drama with the idea of divine love of God being at the middle. The first vision tells us everything from arc of salvation history, from the creation and fall of the angels, through the creation and fall of humans, to their redemption.

I saw as if the head of an eagle that had eyes of fire, in which

appeared the brilliance of the angels as in a mirror. But at the tip of the arc where the left wing

curves back there was as if a human face that shined like the brilliance of the stars.

In the remainder of the first part of the work, Hildegard goes on to discuss the place of humans within the vast universe. The next part looks at the beginning of Genesis through multiple intepretations. Finally, the third part uses this poetic and cosmological imagery to examine salvation history and the final judgement of God. Trust me, it’s a lot. I’ll leave a link here if you are interested in reading some insane stuff.

http://www.hildegard-society.org/p/liber-divinorum-operum.html

Political!

Yes, Hildegard Von Bingen was a brilliant creator but also a savvy political force. She exerted a tremendous amount of influence on Western Europe at the time, becoming friends with multiple Popes and Emperors. We have nearly 400 letters addressed to a variety of different political figures, which shed quite a bit of light upon her life. Hildegard traveled quite a bit as well which is astonishing given her gender, circumstances and the era. She even went places as far as Belgium, Switzerland and France!

Here’s a map of her preaching tours.

The fact that she not only went on these tours but was widely accepted speaks to her power as an individual at the time. Keep in mind that she wasn’t just going to other monasteries to preach, Hildegard was preaching in front of large crowds publicly. It’s not like she was content to just give safe, bland sermons as well she actively denounced the church’s selling of offices and fervently called for reform. In an era where women’s voices were few and far between, hers rang out strikingly.

Frederick Barbarossa himself invited her to meet with him, and several years later praised her prophecy skills. All in all, she communicated with four popes, two Prussian emperors, King Henry II of England, and Phillip, Court of Flanders. Don’t forget the countless bishops, clergy and archbishops she talked with which are far too many to count. Finally, in regards to Saint Bernard and his relationship to Hildegard. Saint Bernard actually specifically sought out Hildegard to try and use her influence to spark interest in a Crusade which tells you a lot about how powerful she was. Seriously, Saint Bernard the guy who founded the Cistercian Order asking Hildegeard for help? Incredibly impressive.

Conclusion

All in all, there was so much more to talk about here. I could have discussed her poetry, minor theological works, lasting influence and so on. However I leave that to you the reader to do so. I think that Hildegard is legitimately on of the most fascinating figures in all of history. When we think of polymaths like Da Vinci, Benjamin Franklin, Lebiniz and so on she should be right there in the pantheon. I hope that my post has taught you something new today and I look forward to seeing you next time.

What’s up next time? Well, my first foray in film criticism. See you then.

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Art History Uncategorized

Reposting my Analysis of The Night Watch

l wrote this a while ago for my daily art stuff. Figured I might as well post it here.

The Night Watch is undoubtedly one of my favorite paintings of all time. There are so many little details to analyze and fully break down in their whole. For instance, did you know that the Night Watch actually takes place during the daytime? It only appears as if it is in the dark because of all the layers of dark which have obscured it over time. However, today I would like to discuss something which I feel has gone somewhat unnoticed. In the Night Watch, I feel something that makes the painting as great as it is would be the use of position.

 First of all, look at the hand of the man dressed in black. The way that it is pointed gives it an almost three dimensional quality. It looks like it is popping out of the painting directly towards the viewer, almost inviting them to join the officers. This applies similarly to the spear which the lieutenant clutches right beside him. The spear is angled in a way where it juts out of his side, appearing to enter the space of the onlooker. That’s what gives this painting a sort of spontaneous theme. We don’t feel like this is somebody painting a scene from ages ago, we feel as if this scene is happening right now in front of us. That is not all though. Behind the two central figures, we see action directly taking place. On the left, a man in red is beginning to load gunpowder into his musket. In the middle we can see the smoke from a gunshot which just happened. On the right we can see an old man dressed in red who is blowing out the powder from his weapon. What this does is add this sense of urgency to the painting. It’s almost like a still frame from a film because so many things are going on at once. There’s no static nature to it because clearly there’s some sort of conflict happening and shots have been and will be fired.

 I also really appreciate the contrast between the captain and the drummer. 

On the left, to the northwest of the man in black we see a captain triumphantly raising a standard. The heroic pose he strikes, with his arm confidently sticking out and his head tilted up suggests utmost confidence in victory. His other arm is tucked in, displaying this gentlemanly quality in the chaos of a fight. The drummer boy on the other side seems to be a different story.  He is almost bent out of the frame, clearly awkward and clumsy as a lone dog barks at his music. The way he stands implies an inexperience, in sharp contrast to the well organized well experienced captain. This could imply that not all members of the militia feel the same patriotic sense of duty as it would seem.

 I turn your head towards the man in the black hat talking to another person. The way which the man in the black hat points suggests a sort of leadership quality present in the two men in front. The one on the very right turns his head towards the crowd of people, perhaps confused about what is happening or who the leader is. His companion points to the two officers in the front as if to explain “Hey, these two are in charge here. Ask them if you have any questions.”, and his casual pose with a musket slung across his shoulder belts a blunt indifference to the happenings. These two figures may have just burst through the crowd to lead the march, contextualizing the obviously uncertain pose which the militia member on the very right conveys. 

One of the more interesting aspects of the Night Watch is the golden girl in the middle of the painting. Her presence brings up several interesting questions. Who is she? What is she doing in the middle of such a scene? What are the strange objects on her waist? Let us try to dissect this bit by bit. 

Shown below is the chain of the Amsterdam Company of Arquebusiers (musketeers). Some of the links are decorated with claws—the musketeer emblem. Thus, the chicken around her waist makes sense. 

Look at the plucked chicken. It is clear now that the girl is some sort of mascot for the militia as odd as it seems. She carries not only the emblem of the musketeers but also the ceremonial drinking horn. The fact though that this is simply a plucked chicken and not an elaborate chain raises several ideas. What is clearly implied is that this militia was assembled in a rush. They couldn’t find the chain so they were forced to snatch a neighbor’s chicken and kill it to somewhat use as a mascot. At the same time, I sense that Remberant is making a bit of a mockery of the milia. At this time they had lost much power, so it would make sense that instead of a beautiful chain they would be resorting to random chickens killed out of necessity. Remberant is maybe telling us that despite the glowing appearances, this milia is more rugged than one would think. 

I’m almost done here, I promise. Here’s something lse cool. In between the captain and the mustached man next to him, you can see a beret wearing person’s eye. That’s Rembrandt himself! Talk about a careful cameo from yours truly.

Let’s wrap this up. One thing that saddens me is the fact that this painting is too big. Many years after this painting was created, it was moved to the town hall of Amsterdam. Unfortunately the painting was so big that it wouldn’t fit on the wall. What did they do when they found this out? Well, they cut off four pieces of the painting. Those pieces have never been found. Luckily an early copy gives us some impression of what those four pieces looked like. It just sucks that the early copy A. isn’t too great of a painting and B. almost certainly is quite different from the actual four pieces.

Here’s a look at the early copy. Thank you and goodbye. 

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Uncategorized

On Being Asian in America

through some thoughts or whatever.

Hey everybody. It has been a while since I last showed up. I have been busy.

This is going to be a lot different than basically all of my other thoughts. It was just kind of a spur of the moment thing. I hope you still read an enjoy regardless.

You know, I never realized how much I got bullied as a kid. It took until one of my friends offhandedly throwing out a remark deep into high school which said “Oh man Felix, you got really badly bullied in elementary school”

I did?

Oh.

It’s hard to look back now and remember. The way that I saw all those names and jokes as a sign of endearment. Or how I was hyped up every time I stepped up to participate in an athletic competition during gym despite my terrible lack of skills.

I am not asking for your pity, really. Those times are long gone now. I do things. I read books and write a lot and try to make jokes.

Which are basically the same things which I did back in those days as well. but that’s not a large concern.

I think part of the reason why I didn’t notice is because I didn’t want to notice. That’s the thing about the children of Asian American immigrants which I’ve noticed. A lot of us are quiet. Maybe it’s because we understand the struggles that our parents faced trying to cross the ocean. Maybe because it’s just easier that way.

I wouldn’t know much though about the Asian American immigrant life. I grew up in a near all white community.

There is this interesting flux which Asian-Americans exist in. It can be even seen by the name.

Asian. American. The idea that you can be the model minority, you’re great at math and academics and you play the piano, win some science prizes and show off a great beaming smile in all those photos of success.

At the same time though, the knowledge that no matter how hard you try you will never really fit in. I have never been physically attacked or harassed for my race. I have not experienced the open hate which many other people have suffered. But I have experienced constant strings of indignities over who I am. The constant jokes about the food I eat, the language I can speak, the parents I have.

I remember going to the movies when I was a kid and wondering to myself why there weren’t any people in them that looked like me. I quickly got used to that. Being an Asian in Hollywood means that you get to be the sidekick. The cook in the back of the kitchen. A generic henchman. A haggling merchant. Hey, maybe even the kung fu guy. If you worked hard enough.

Like so many others I struggled to consolidate and reconcile with these feelings for the longest time. “How could we have anything valid to feel or say about race when we, as a model minority, were supposedly accepted by American society? asks Cathy Park Hong. But it is also true as she later notes that just because we were supposedly accept doesn’t mean we were actually accepted. I think that sentiment was always bubbling down inside us.

That’s why I wasn’t particularly surprised when Asian American hate crimes started popping up one by one. That capacity for violence and anger towards us didn’t just appear out of nowhere. It was always there, just waiting underneath the surface. When the leader of the free world called COVID the kung flu, I wasn’t even outraged. I had seen the exact type of jokes countless times on playgrounds and classrooms in my life.

So, again and again we try to prove that we can be what Americans think is great.

“This is what it means to be a model minority: to be invisible in most circumstances because we are doing what we are supposed to be doing, like my parents, until we become hypervisible because we are doing what we do too well”- Viet Thanh Nguyen

Elements of fragility are always there. Anybody want to remind me how many people of Japanese heritage we interned during World War II? Oh, right. 127,000. How long did it take for an apology? 1988.

141 members of the House voted against that, by the way.

I guess all that I’m saying is that for the longest time and still even today, I never felt entirely at ease. Just a vibe you know? The nonthreatening kind of person of color and nothing more.

Even now, I still feel like I shouldn’t be saying this. As if I am doing something wrong. This is a common thread I have seen among so many articles and blog posts and journals throughout these last few months. Kids who grew up into adults who were never told what an ugly world it was out there. Silence is insulation, after all. I was always told how hard they worked and that I could succeed too. It’s a wonderful dream. Yet masking over those cracks with tape still leaves them there, waiting.

I get why they didn’t talk about race all that much when I was younger. I really do. They wanted me to feel like I belonged. I was taught to be polite and listen to what the teacher had to say and study hard and get good grades. So, I went to school, chatty and happy but always wondering why I was every day the person who watched the others play at recess.

The feelings within the community have been sitting for hundreds of years. Too often are we covering up our own ability to speak and be seen. We hide those thoughts deep in our hearts and push through our work instead. Just as we are always invisible in the minds of others, we also stay invisible through tragedy and pain.

I am deeply proud of how the Asian American community has responded recently. It would be easy to just go about our lives until the wave fell and we got back to being at arms distance again. But maybe things has changed. I certainly hope so. For the first time, maybe ever I feel like my voice is being listened to by somebody, somewhere.

You know journalists and sociologists weaponized stereotypical Asian cultural ideas against black and latino people? Like, “Wow you guys suck, why can’t you be like those good Asians over there?” We went from being a non white minority to be a non black minority. The white person’s favorite per say. Until we do what they perceive as being wrong, like being just too good.

I am tired of lumping all Asian-Americans under the same banner . There are 22 million of us in the United States, all with a different story. Stop pretending like every Asian is the one you want them to be. I don’t know who that person is. But I really really dislike them. It’s not just about being reated with respect. I have enough of that. And I also have enough of those polite, but tinged with a slight edge questions. Oh, you’re Chinese? Can you speak some mandarin for me? There was always a limit for me somewhere within. It seems like I have finally found it. .

I am terrible at ending posts like this. I’ll just leave you with this note. Beyond Instagrapm graphics, fundraisers on GoFundMe and strongly worded tweets what will you do? When society gives us back the role we so wish to not occupy, are you going to do anything to change it?

I know I will. For all those bullies I never knew.