Author Archives: kay tao

Romanticism and Music

When we were looking at the poem London, and Professor Mota pointed out the emphasis on hearing in that poem, I began to think about how Romanticism affected music.


What do mind-forg’d manacles sound like? Metallic, probably. And the Romantic era of music introduced just that to the orchestra- a wider spread use of brass instruments and woodwind instruments that utilized metal valves and keys. The technology of the Industrial Revolution allowed these instruments to become more widespread and incorporated by musicians.

There were many stylistic changes as well. Beethoven is well known as a composer, and also as the bridge between classical and romantic music. His earlier, little known works are similar to those of classical composers, but in the middle stages of his life, he begins to experiment with his music.


Beethoven began putting personal emotions in his music. It does not seem like a radical move today, but much of classical music was god praising or nature praising something of that sort, and rarely introspective. His pieces were original, and he was a genius in manipulating tone and motif to reflect himself and his thoughts. The first symphony he wrote that reflected this change was Eroica. It transitions from a classical piece to a funeral march, then to a lively scherzo and ending in variations of the theme.

Personal emotion was not present in classical music, and the romantic movement changed that.

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Psychological Egoism

Today, it is a widely accepted theory that humans are largely motivated by self-interest, or things that are perceived to work in our favour. This theory of psychological egoism is largely attributed to Thomas Hobbes and Jeremy Bentham, but Bentham was born more than a hundred years after Hobbes, which generally speaking makes Hobbes the originator of this theory.

We can see this idea reflected in Hobbes’ Leviathan, but there isn’t really a specific argument for these views, it seems as if Hobbes just assumed that this was the nature of things. “For no man giveth but with intention of good to himself, because gift is voluntary, and of all voluntary acts the object is to every man his own good; of which, if men see they shall be frustrated, there will be no beginning of benevolence or trust; nor, consequently, of mutual help” (pg.95, l.15.16). He says that, but he never really expands on why that is.

Because of the lack of proof, this theory is not accepted by everyone, and many people believe in psychological altruism, the theory where humans have ultimately altruistic motives. If one holds this belief, then the egoist premise of Hobbes’ society falls apart. However, like psychological egoism, psychological altruism does not carry any concrete proof either.

In the end, it’s up to the reader to decide whether to believe in psychological egoism or altruism, and this greatly changes how one views Leviathan.

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Writing People

Are Shakespeare’s plays plot driven or character driven?

I would say character driven. Shakespeare’s plays have an element of free will. The characters always have a choice, and they are aware of this choice. Prospero hands over the political rule to his brother because he wants more time with his books, and he does that because he thinks his brother is trustworthy to not try to obtain kingship for himself. Hamlet spends half the play agonizing over whether to kill his uncle or not. Romeo decides to kill himself to be with the one he loves, and Juliet kills herself for the same reason. Macbeth kills everybody to win. Because of the choices and actions of the characters, the plot falls into place.

But what makes Shakespeare special in comparison to other character driven plays? I think that it is because these characters are not just written as characters, but people.

Shakespeare can really write people. No one will pay to watch a play with characters they hate, or characters they don’t relate with, and Shakespeare’s character are generally anything but that. In my opinion, this is also what allows Shakespeare’s works to be easily translated to the modern audience, because just like war, people never change. Shakespeare writes about human experiences and expresses them through human dialogues and inner monolgues.  Betrayal is still a thing in modern society, whether for love, money, or a kingdom, and the bitterness and anger that most would feel can be heard in Prospero’s story. Depression, whether over having to  kill your uncle or failing your finals resonates with most of Hamlet’s soliloquy’s.

The plot is character driven, and the reason the plot resonates with the audience is because these are actions taken by humans. And because these are actions taken by humans, there will always be similar incidents throughout history that you can project the play on, insuring the immortality of Shakespeare’s plays. After all, all the world’s a stage.

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Who Gets to Decide What’s Bad? (not you)

As I was reading through the Republic, I can say with 100% certainty that I embodied the yes men Plato used to further his conversations. Yes, Socrates, that’s great. Yes, that sounds fabulous. Stories that show unflattering sides of the gods should not be told to guardians? Yeah, sounds great to me. None of what you say is realizable in reality, so just keep on talking. Get rid of sad songs, relaxing songs so the Guardians won’t feel any sort of emotion that could prevent them from being strong and courageous? I disagree with that, but I don’t want to think too hard right now because this book is giving me a headache, so, a yes for that too. Anything with a lack of grace, with bad rhythm, with disharmony is akin to bad speech and bad character and therefore cannot be part of a Guardians upbringing?

This is where I took my first break. All examples above were from when I was reading Book III, pages 72-84, and every single bit of it, in unflattering terms, pisses me off. The Guardians are the protectors of society, the strong and courageous military police that protects the people from threats both within and outside the city walls. Putting aside the physical requirements of a Guardian, I can say with every bit of confidence that my strength and courage come from what Plato is trying to get rid of in his teachings to the Guardians. But I could ignore all that, if just for the moment. When Plato brought up that disharmony etc. was akin to bad character, I just couldn’t say yes anymore.

The key to my anger is his assessment of disharmony. One of my favourite composers is Claude Debussy. His works are a harmonic wonder, and always enjoyable to play, but he wasn’t always regarded as a good composer. Why? He was the first to use 7th, 9th, and 11th chords in a chain, and structuring music on 4ths or major seconds. His tonal organization is ambiguous. What does this mean? It means that he was the pioneer of utilizing non-harmonic tones and the father of impressionist music. Today, we hear them and go “Yeah, that sounds kind of haunting and creepy. So what?” But back then, his works embodied disharmony. His piece,  Prélude à l’Aprèsmidi d’un faune is the landmark piece that marks innovation in 20th century music. Today, his works are no longer non harmonic. He created a completely new type of harmony.

Another example would be Arthur Schoenberg. Famous for his 12 tone tonalities and his experimental atonalites, the resulting music can be described as chaotic. Listen to his atonal experiments and call that traditional harmony. It isn’t traditional. This is an atonal harmony, a new harmony of the modern era.

I could go on about rubato rhythms and how there is no such thing as a bad rhythm in music and that everything is subjective, but knowing that Plato is a monomaniac, I won’t go there. I’m just going to put out there that disharmony has nothing to do with bad character.Using Plato’s own circular argument, if the definition of musical harmony and disharmony can change over the years, does that not mean the definition of internal harmony and disharmony in a person will change also? Therefore, if former disharmony in music is now modern harmony, does that not mean that what in the past may have been considered disharmony in the person is also now harmony? If this past disharmony is current harmony, does that not mean there is no such thing as true disharmony? If there is no such thing as disharmony, how can it contribute to bad character?

Or that’s how I see it, anyways.

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