For any cool, modern champion of informed consent and bodily autonomy, there is perhaps no obsolete Western musical practice quite so untenable as the making of a castrato. The castrati (castrato in singular form) were singers surgically castrated prior to puberty and commonly associated with opera. The castration served to maintain the high vocal register present prior to some sexual maturation processes contingent on increased testosterone levels. One instinctive response to the past existence of castrati is revulsion. After all, many of us are understandably very sensitive about our genitals. But, despite the testicular anxieties the castrato figure evokes, castrati remain a fascinating case study for the cultural and sonic nuances of their era of European music.
In the oeuvre of Polish science fiction author Stanislaw Lem, science itself is always under intense scrutiny. Predictably, considering their publication during the cold war, Lem’s novels reflect (to some degree) nuclear proliferation induced apocalyptic anxieties. However, Lem’s critique of the scientific enterprise focuses less on humanity’s capacity for technologically accelerated destruction and more on human faith in scientific rationality. What are the limits of human understanding? What happens when we reach them?
For all the flack that influencers get, there’s something telling—maybe even honest—about this definitively internet-era career. A lot of us don’t like to admit it when we’re followers rather than trendsetters, but to even call someone an influencer is a tacit admission of the plasticity of human desire. Shiny social media profiles exert their little influences over us, sponsored ministrations leaving fading fingerprints on our brains to break our banks. No one is immune to advertising. Our susceptibility is nothing to be ashamed of. After all, humans are social creatures. Regardless of the mediation of the digital world, isn’t it natural to be touched and changed by human voices, human faces?
To borrow from the words of T. S. Eliot, good writers borrow, but great writers steal. E. W. Hornung would probably propose a corollary: the greatest writers steal from family. Throughout the 1890s, the explosive success of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes stories spawned a glut of deductive copycats and wannabe-Sherlocks, reproducing the formula of the genius detective and his bumbling assistant-slash-scribe. In the earliest edition of The Amateur Cracksman, the first collection of stories centred on E. W. Hornung’s A. J. Raffles, there was a dedication to Doyle, “To A. C. D. This form of flattery.” This direct form of address would probably have seemed either impertinent or fawning, coming just any imitator. Hornung wasn’t just anyone, though; he was Doyle’s brother-in-law.
Tasted soups are sweet, but those untasted
Are sweeter; therefore, fair Campbell, can on!
Wine-hued to the darkling gaze, free of stain
Upon the borders crisp. Logo pasted
Tight on metal sheer, caught by steely yawn
Of factory saw to rend the gourmet pane.