Highbrow/Lowbrow

By:
kathrynahiggins@aol.com

I think I’ll go to Starbucks and read Dante’s Inferno again (I did read it before…didn’t I?). Wait, it can’t be Starbucks, because I can’t tolerate a paper coffee cup. I’ll head to Cognoscenti Coffee, even though it’s really far away, because the name sounds smart. I’ll insist on Esmeralda coffee from Panama, made hot, but not boiled, and poured into the perfect coffee glass. And the Inferno — I can’t read it on my Kindle, because for all anyone knows, I’ll be reading Fifty Shades of Grey. I’ll have to find a hard copy somewhere. Maybe the library. I’ll hold the book aloft, occasionally looking over the top to examine the other coffee connoisseurs. And I’ll assign each one of them to a circle of hell. That woman over there reading Fifty Shades of Grey, for example…probably a pervert. She belongs in the second circle, buffeted about by her lust. And that fat fuck over there — he’ll go in the gluttony circle. And the guy with the BMW key ring? Down there in the greed circle, lugging his moneybags around.

I’ll have some people over to talk about my accomplishments, and of course I’ll have to mention my latest foray into literature, and explain how the Inferno is an epic poem, not a novel. (I’ve actually encountered people who think Dante is a biblical writer, like Matthew or Mark, and who think the Inferno is nonfiction — and that’s pretty funny because they think both the Bible and the Inferno are real — so I’ll be sure to correct them on that.) And then I’ll throw in some real history: Herodotus and Thucydides — The History of the Peloponnesian War. I’ll relate that to the film (not movie) 300, since that story comes from Herodotus. “The Battle of Thermopylae” — love to say that over and over (I’ll have to explain that it’s iambic tetrameter). And then I’ll segue to Barbara Tuchman, perhaps Stillwell and the American Experience in China, and maybe throw in some David McCullough, since he’s won some Pulitzers I think.

When people seem tired of hearing how much I know about historical stuff, I’ll be a sport and turn on South Park. But I’ll make sure it’s episode 156 — in which a beleaguered louse finds a new homeland. I’ll point out, over and over, that just as the louse is rescued, by a fly, the nineteenth century choral masterpiece “Pie Jesu” from Gabriel Fauré’s Requiem in D minor, Op. 48 plays dramatically. Perhaps the South Park people meant that to be funny, or ironic, but regardless it gives me the opportunity to talk about 19th-century choral music and how they used choirboys (rather than women) to get that high piping tone. I’ll explain, to anyone who will listen, that they no longer neuter boys so they can keep singing that way as adults. I’ll then gratuitously bring up the 17th-century choral masterpiece Miserere mei, Deus by Gregorio Allegri, and I’ll insist that the South Park people should have used that, because it has even higher notes than the Fauré. And all that’ll give me a chance to drop the fact that the teenaged Mozart was the first one to write down the Miserere (from memory) because the Vatican forbade copies, being the stingy bastards they are.

Next I’ll have to go to the Opera, because that’s very highbrow, I’m told. I’ll buy a swank dress and make sure I get a good seat, which I deserve, being the sort of discriminating and voluble person I am. I’ll bring my headphones in case the opera becomes insufferable. I’m not really into that vibrato stuff. And all the heavy makeup and the tedious length of some of those things. But I’ll make it fun by having a burrito and some beer beforehand. When I’m not stumbling over other operagoers to get to the bathroom (in my gown?), I’ll be ripping a fart in my seat (no need to be sneaky — opera’s loud, I hear) and observing those around me for reactions. That’s empirical research, by the way.

Being an art aficionado, I’ll have to attend the Whitney Biennial. The art there is so experimental! So freeing! But wait, what’s that over there? It’s a pile of yarn — reaching to the ceiling. And, in that little room in the corner, there are some abortions on sticks. A soundtrack of lamenting women. Such a provocative statement! And I’ll be sure to check out the Cindy Sherman works, because she’s so super-famous — yep, that’s a big old vagina over there.

For my next diversion, I’ll expose my friends to experimental theatre. I’ll throw in some references to Tadeusz Cantor, the Polish dramatist, and prove my knowledge of his work by mentioning The Dead Class, performed in 1975, in which his obsession with circles is overshadowed by the shocking image of a childbirth machine, and dead characters walking around. Plus some mannequins. Cool! People will think I’m really artsy. Then perhaps I will organize an impromptu improv theatre event in my apartment. Each participant will be permitted five gestures. Examples: writhing, keening, crawling, barking, and hailing a cab. When I call “Action,” the actors will engage in their five gestures, while riffing on other actors’ gestures. It will represent a primitive sort of communication. I’m hoping that the initially meaningless gestures will ultimately illuminate something deeply human about us — more human than, say, brushing your teeth or commuting to work. As the finale, I’m hoping we will all end up lumped together, moaning and writhing on the floor. Then, later, when they write about my brilliant experimental theatre piece in The New York Times, I’ll make sure that they don’t spell it “theater.” Because that’s so déclassé, and I’m a very classé sort of person.

 

 

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