From Round to Square (and back)

For The Emperor's Teacher, scroll down (↓) to "Topics." It's the management book that will rock the world (and break the vase, as you will see). Click or paste the following link for a recent profile of the project:

A new post appears every day at 12:05* (CDT). There's more, though. Take a look at the right-hand side of the page for over four years of material (2,000 posts and growing) from Seinfeld and country music to every single day of the Chinese lunar calendar...translated. Look here ↓ and explore a little. It will take you all the way down the page...from round to square (and back again).
*Occasionally I will leave a long post up for thirty-six hours, and post a shorter entry at noon the next day.

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Hurtin', Leavin' and Longin' (44)—Tell Me My Lying Eyes Are Wrong

[a] Imperfect lens RF
There is something almost Hobbesian about this song. It's brevity plays a role in compressing a sad and nasty lyrical situation. The night shift shut down early, and George stops by the bar on his way home. He can't believe his eyes, and needs to take a deep breath (refresh his air supply). The songwriters keep the imagery crisp, and we get a reflected image that leads from broken machinery (check the first line) to apperception of a broken relationship. Listen to the lyrics and think about how the talented songwriters (Frazier and Shafer) parcel out this story of love, labor, loss, and heartache. Take a look.
Tell Me My Lying Eyes Are Wrong
Artist: George Jones
Songwriters: Dallas Frazier, Sanger Shafer

The night shift got off early because of major repairs
And I stopped off for a drink on my way home
I didn't know that you loaned out the dress that I bought for you to wear
Sweetheart, tell me my lying eyes are wrong

I thought I saw him kissing you as you danced across the floor
But I knew that you were with the kids at home
I thought I saw a baby sitter meet me at the door
Sweetheart, tell me my lying eyes are wrong

Tell me that there's another girl identical to you
And that she's the one who rambles all night long
Tell me that your old used to be didn't bring you home at dawn
Sweetheart, tell me my lying eyes are wrong
Sweetheart, tell me my lying eyes are wrong

[b] Rigorous RF
The optical rhetoric takes on a number of angles, but none greater than the oldest line in world storytelling—I couldn't believe my eyes. From Plato to Kant (and well beyond), verbal artistry has played upon the flickering flames of apprehension. How do we know what we have seen? How do we know that we know? George Jones's plaintive evocation hints that he wished he lived in a Berkeleyan universe...but suspects, nay, knows that his is a rigorous subjectivity that telegraphs a love gone awry. He knows his lying eyes provide him with information easily shared and interpreted in coherent ways by other sets of lying eyes (and beer drinking lips). He knows.

[c] Kantsternation RF
After that idiosyncratic little hike through the Western philosophy of perception, we might want to consider a cultural matter or two. Readers of this series of posts know that I do not play favorites when it comes to cheating songs—both men and women are represented, and I would happily look at even more nuanced love-lost songs...if there were (m)any. Let us not forget, though, that the cheatin' genre is highly gendered (you can't spell gender without genre, after all). Last week's song, when combined with this week's, portrays a kind of male semi-acceptance that would not be lost upon nineteenth century French aristocrats. The two songs, when their themes are wrapped together, portray a kind of countrified Smiley from the world of Le Carré.

Passive acceptance (or the ironic double-take) is not, perhaps, the stereotypical idea of how cuckoldry works in country music. Think again, though. This theme is far more prevalent than you might have guessed—a kind of powerlessness in the face of amorous relations. Don't get me wrong. It does not come across as a happy idea, but there seems to be something going on here that is worth considering. It is as though some of the male implied authors hint that the very strain of it all might be too much—making a living, having a life, and holding together a relationship.

[d] Entrepreneurial RF
East Asian literature is also filled with strains of the hardworking, distant male. The stories of Feng Menglong, for example, bring the sub-genre of what we might call entrepreneurial cuckoldry to a new level in the verbal arts. Chinese poetry has hints here and there at the frustrations of making a complete life fit together. Fruitful though that might be, it is not the angle we will explore today. Instead, I have chosen a song that should frustrate any easy attempt to link themes between the genres. If I have chosen well, this is not the poem that you would expect. Ouyang Xiu's (1007-1072) lyric on arranged marriages with men of northern tribes should give us plenty of juxtaposition to work with as we consider love, loss, linkage, and gender.

Song of the Radiant Lady
(Replying to a Poem by Wang Anshi)
Ouyang Xiu (1007-1072)
     The Tartars make their home on saddle horses;
     Shooting and hunting are their custom.
     Where they find good grass or a fresh spring, they camp;
     To startle birds or put beasts to fright, they ride in pursuit.
     Who'd let a daughter of Han marry a Tartar man?

     Wind and sand had not feeling, though she was as lovely as jade;
     Journeying on and on, she never met a single Chinese.
     On horseback she sang "Longing for Home," the song she wrote,
     From her strumming back and forth came the tunes of her lute,
     All the Tartar men who heard marveled and sighed.

     A face as fair as jade perished at the edge of the world,
     But her lute was brought back to the families of Han.
     As palace girls vied in composing new tunes,
     Deep was her buried grief but the music sounded more bitter.

     The delicate hands of a girl belong to the inner room;
     Trained in the lute, she alone would never leave the hall.
     Not having seen the frontier road under dusty clouds,
     How could she know the music that breaks one's heart?[1]
                                                      —Translated by Irving Y. Lo
[1]  Wu-chi Liu and Irving Yucheng Lo, Sunflower Splendor: Three Thousand Years of Chinese Poetry (Bloomington IN: Indiana University Press, 1974), 328.
Liu Wu-chi and Irving Yucheng Lo. Sunflower Splendor: Three Thousand Years of Chinese Poetry
     Bloomington IN: Indiana University Press, 1974.

Kentucky Bluebird
Keith Whitley sings wistfully about love, loss, and place. We'll look into a style he pioneered next week on Hurtin', Leavin, and Longin'.

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