When the West cared about Christianity and its paradoxes, it couldn’t take its eyes off Tirso’s villain. By the time Byron wrote his eponymous epic, Christianity had faded from the culture and with it the public’s interest in Don Juan. Without Mozart, he would be forgotten. My daughter had attended a seminar on Mozart’s opera, and we had discussed Tirso’s theological joke beforehand. She called me crestfallen afterwards: most of the students wanted to know why Don Giovanni’s behavior was a problem in the first place. Wasn’t it a lifestyle choice?
Over coffee before curtain time, I offered that people in the past had different concerns than ours — for example, the Catholics of Spain at the height of the Thirty Years’ War, when Tirso published his play. “What are people concerned about today?” my daughter asked. I took a long time to reply. “I’m not sure they give much thought to big questions any more.” “That’s right,” she said. “This is a thoughtless age.” The lights darkened at the Repertorio Espanol, and the cast appeared onstage to twerk through a Caribbean pop number by way of overture. It was idiotic. We left after the first act. It’s hard to find a rendition of classic theater uncorrupted by postmodern directorial whim. Neither performers nor audience has any idea what the work is about, so it doesn’t much matter.
We can no longer teach Mozart, let alone Tirso, to undergraduates. We cannot place ourselves among the passions of Spain’s Golden Age, when the literary giant Lope de Vega wrote sonnets caricaturing Cervantes as a dirty Jew for lampooning the chivalresque pretensions of the Spanish nobility in Don Quixote. The great artists of the Golden Age were also soldiers and statesmen, important players in the prolonged wars that utterly ruined the Spanish Empire. In a post-Christian world we cannot understand what the Spanish were on about.
Understanding an Earlier Age
Spengler is pessimistic, although he himself shows that with an effort it is not impossible:
By Grim on Tuesday, August 11, 2015