From aerobics, to old – and great – songs, to perversity, to Poe: a post in which Your Faithful Blogger indulges in some free association!

November 20, 2008 at 4:06 am (Mind/body, Music, Short stories)

During this week before Thanksgiving, George, our aerobics instructor, has inserted an additional exercise for the abdominal muscles into our conditioning routine. He explains that he is doing this in an effort “to inoculate us against gluttony.” I find “abs” excruciating to begin with, but one soldiers on, nonetheless.

We were rewarded during cooldown with a delightful rendition of “I’ll take Manhattan,” sung as a duet. I recognized Rod Stewart’s raspy yet oddly compelling vocals, but I couldn’t figure out who the other singer was. To my ears, she sounded a bit like Ella Fitzgerald. Come to find out it was actually Bette Midler:

Rod Stewart’s foray into the “Great American Songbook” has been a wonderful gift to music lovers from an unexpected source.

cole-porter ellarodgersandhartsongbook Meanwhile, though, if you’ve not listened to Ella Fitzgerald singing Cole Porter and Rodgers & Hart, I recommend these albums. They are among the finest recordings of American popular song ever made.

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There’s someone in our aerobics group who tends to move exactly opposite to everyone else. Either that, or she’s one or two beats behind. I find that if I’m anywhere near this person, I start following her instead of George, and I too get out of sync. Actually, my eye is drawn to her no matter where in the room she is. This happens even if there’s a room full of people who are all following the routine more or less correctly.

Now, this strikes me as a perverse act on my part. And that in turn puts me in mind of “The Imp of the Perverse,” a story by Edgar Allan Poe. It was recommended by the panelists who discussed Poe and his legacy at Bouchercon. I read it for the first time several days ago. It is one of the shorter stories, but the first few pages are taken up with the question of why individuals feel compelled to act in a manner that directly goes against their best interest. At length, the narrator offers the following summation:

“Examine these similar actions as we will, we shall find them resulting solely from the spirit of the Perverse. We perpetrate them because we feel that we should not. Beyond or behind this there is no intelligible principle; and we might, indeed, deem this perverseness a direct instigation of the Arch-Fiend, were it not occasionally known to operate in furtherance of good.

Up to this point, the story almost reads like an academic treatise, albeit an exceptionally accessible one. But then, you find out just who this narrator is…

Here’s a link to the full text. It’s a powerful, disturbing tale – especially given Poe’s own tendency to act against his self-interest, repeatedly, and, well, perversely.

Edgar Allan Poe

Edgar Allan Poe

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