Being pretty well out of the loop on social media, I was surprised to see that the ancient meme of Nero fiddling while Rome burned was already applied to the present mad executive. It would no longer be appropriate, then, to use it for an Election Day reflection on the status of a blog like this on a day like today. Too many associations would only muddle the message. Besides, the story’s apocryphal at best.

Nero's Violin — Salastina
And I’ve been having the hardest time finding a decent image to go with the cliché

Instead of the antique connection to Rome, played out anyhow, what about one a little closer in time? Morally and in terms of mood it’s diametrically opposed, but no less a beautiful representation of the power of play in the worst of times, and it has the benefit of being true: I mean Messiaen’s Quartet for the End of Time.

Here’s the description from the LA Philharmonic:

The quartet came out of, and was originally performed in, very particular circumstances. Near the beginning of World War II Messiaen was summoned for military service. He was captured in May 1940, and taken to a prisoner-of-war camp at Görlitz in Silesia (now mostly within the borders of Poland). In the dead of winter of 1940-41, he wrote the quartet for the instruments on hand among the camp’s inmates: violin, cello, clarinet, and (himself playing) piano. The first performance took place before a large audience of prisoners.

Far be it for me to compare our little project of games studies to that great piece of classical music, or to equate our two situations. But if we have to listen to something, fill our senses with something, to aspire to something, let it be a miraculous quartet for prisoners any day, rather than the pageantry and play-acting of politicians desperate for our attention. Let it be a piece on Paste counting down the best Final Fantasy soundtracks, inviting dismantling, or even a halting attempt at actually playing a song from a video game: the Zelda theme I’ve been working on. (And if you think this is bad, just wait until my rendition of Winters from EarthBound.)

After a transcription for easy piano of the Koji Kondo masterpiece (musescore)

Better yet, put on this painstaking explanation of the American experiment’s philosophical foundation, courtesy of our own Prof. Kozlowski.

Art, games, history–distractions all, and dearly beloved, they console us in the end. So that we might well sympathize with the Emperor if he had, like us, played music into the flames.

One thought on “Fiddling with Fire

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