The Trojan Woman – A Play of Euripides

The Trojan Woman

The Trojan Woman

Reviews

`I imagine that everyone who teaches Greek tragedy in translation entertains a mental wish list for the ideal classroom text. The volume under review, the third in a series of translations of selected plays of Euripides by the team of James Morwood and Edith Hall, comes closer to meeting these criteria than any other with which I am familiar; it is thus welcome indeed.

`Review from other book by this author ‘Morwood’s prose translations read smoothly and reflect current, idiomatic English speech. The impressively ample and up-to-date select bibliography, genuinely helpful explanatory notes for each play, useful discussion of Euripides’ thought and style, and the concise, informative background information about the world in which Euripides lived all contribute to the value of this book’ Review of Medea and Other Plays’

This Oxford World’s Classic volume brings together three extant tragedies by Euripides dealing with the aftermath of the Trojan War: “Hecuba,” “The Trojan Women,” and “Andormache.” After the fall of Troy, its queen, Hecuba, had become the slave of Odysseus and her daughter Polyxena is taken away to be slain on the grave of Achilles. However, in the Euripides play “Hecuba” it is the earlier death of another child, Polydorus that provides the motivation for what comes to pass. This was a child who had been sent for safety to the Thracian Chersonese. But now, after Hecuba hears of the death of Polyxena, the body of Polydorus washes up on shore. Apparently Hecuba’s son-in-law Polymnester murdered the boy for the gold, which King Priam had sent to pay for his education. Agamemnon hears Hecuba’s pleas, and Polymnester is allowed to visit the queen before she is taken away into captivity.

The most fascinating aspect of “Hecuba” is that it gives us an opportunity to contrast the character of the queen of fallen Troy in this play by Euripides with that in “Trojan Women.” This play was performed ten years earlier and its events take place right before the other play as well, although there is some overlap when Talthybius informs Hecuba of the death of Polyxena. In both dramas Hecuba is a woman driven by a brutal and remorseless desire for vengeance; however she proves much more successful in this drama than she does in “Trojan Women.” Hecuba has harsh words for Helen, as in the other play, but her son Paris receives his fair share of approbation as well. This play also makes reference to the myth that Hecuba would meet her own hideous death, which reinforces the idea that there is much more of a moral degradation of her character in this play.

“The Trojan Women” is the most famous of the anti-war plays of Euripides. About 416 B.C. the island of Melos refused to aid Athens in the war against Sparta. The Athenians then slaughtered the men and enslaved the women and children, an atrocity never before inflicted on one Greek city-state by another. As preparations were made for the ruinous expedition against Syracuse, Euripides wrote “The Trojan Women,” as a plea for peace. Consequently there is a strong rhetorical dimension to the play, which prophesies that a Greek force would sail across the sea after violating victims and meet with disaster. However, there the play also has a strong literary consideration in that the four Trojan Women–Hecuba, Queen of Troy; Cassandra, daughter of Hecuba and Priestess of Apollo; Andromache, widow of Hector; and Helen–all appear in the final chapter of Homer’s epic poem the “Iliad,” mourning over the corpse of Hector, retrieved by his father Priam from the camp of the Acheans.

This tragedy clearly reflects the cynicism of Euripides. Of all the Achean leaders in Homer only Menelaus, husband of Helen, appears. He appears, ready to slay Helen for having abandoned him to run off to Troy with Paris, but we see his anger melt before her beauty and soothing tones. In this play the Greeks do more than enslave women: they slaughter children. Even the herald of the Greeks, Talthybius, cannot stomach the policies of his people, but is powerless to do anything other than offer hollow words of sympathy. The tragedy also reminds us that while we think of Helen as “the face that launched a thousand ships,” she was a despised figure amongst the ancient Greeks and there is no satisfaction in her saving her life. The idea that all of these men died just so that she could be returned to the side of her husband is an utter mockery of the dead. “The Trojan Women” has the honor of being the first great anti-war play in Western civilization.

“Andromache,” about the widow of Hector, is one of the weakest of the extant plays of Euripides. The work is better considered as anti-Spartan propaganda, written circa 426 B.C. near the beginning of the Peloponnesian War. The scenes are much more episodic than we usually find in Euripides; the first part of the tragedy is essentially a supplicant play, but then it changes dramatically. The play has one of Euripides’ strongest beginnings, with its strong attacks on Sparta, represented by Menelaus. But even as propaganda Euripides elevates his subject for what he sees is not merely a war between two cities, but rather a clash between two completely different ways of life.

Once again, Euripides uses the Trojan War as a context for his political argument. Andromache, the widow of Hector, is the slave of Neoptolemus, the son of Achilles, who is married to Hermione, the daughter of Menelaus and Helen. The setting is the Temple of Thetis, the mother of Achilles, somewhere between Pithia and Pharasalia in Thessaly. Andromache has born Neoptolemus a son, and the barren Hermione accuses the Trojan woman of having used witchcraft and seeks her death. Andromache has taken refuge as this temple where Hermione and Menelaus try to get her to come out by threatening to kill her son. However, the title character disappears from the play and everybody from Peleus, the father of Achilles, to Orestes, the cousin of Hermione, shows up, mainly to talk about Neoptolemus, who is at Delphi. Thetis shows up as the deus-ex-machina and the play ends rather abruptly. The play works more as anti-Spartan propaganda than as a tragedy since there is little here beyond a progression of characters talking about doing things they end up not doing. This is the weakest of the extant plays of Euripides, but with all three works collected in a single volume this makes an excellent complementary text for those studying Homer’s “Iliad,” especially since Euripides was apparently the only ancient playwright who was willing to take on the characters of Homer’s epic poem.

The condition of this book was excellent. It was a great addition to my Mythology collection. This is a great book for those who want a more closer look at the Trojan War and the women involved.

Cold Hearts of Broken Brains? – The Creativity Post

depiction-of-head-with-gears-in-brain-area-large_610_300_s_c1_center_center

depiction-of-head-with-gears-in-brain-area-large_610_300_s_c1_center_center

 

Synopsis

What is psychopathy?

In one scene played by Sigourney Weaver in the horror classic Aliens, director James Cameron sets up a dialogue between the heroine and a little girl discussing monsters.  The little girl states that her mother had told her long ago that there were no such things as monsters.  “But there are” she continued.  “Why do grown-ups tell kids that?” “Because,” Weaver replied, “most of the time it’s true.”

The names of serial killers are generally familiar to the public and we hear about them through books, movies and other media sources.  Why are we drawn so much to this aspect of our culture? Three reasons.  We have a preconditioned need to face our fears in a safe environment, such as going to a horror film.  The second reason is that movies like The Silence of the Lambs and a Netflix series like Dexter gives people a sense of control, by way of delving into the psyche of serial killers.  A third reason is that many of us just simply have a perverse need to understand and face that freakish side of life –  Guinness Book of Records is a testament to that statement.

My interest in psychopaths goes back to my days of clinical training.  After graduating from the University of Chicago, I was certainly intellectually rich, but financially very poor.  After my first summer back with a degree in biology, I earned a living working for a biotechnology firm in Boston, subsequently once again packing my bags and leaving for California.  It was here, that I met my first psychopath.  I entered graduate school in psychology, found work, and met Scott (name changed) during one of my initial assessments as a trainee.  There is nothing dramatic that I can say about Scott, except for his thirst to live on the edge.  His stories were both impressive and fascinating, revealing bits and pieces of his antisocial personality.  I asked him about the crimes he had committed.  Already incarcerated, he had no motivation for deception and listed the crimes in a detached manner. 

I remember the very first feeling I had, was my heart pounding.  I mean really pounding.  The second feeling I had was that my hands were sweating.  And the third feeling was fear, and the kind of reality set in that there was a murderer in front of me.

You know Christmas, that wonderful time of the year where family is getting on your every nerve, lines in department stores are too long to fathom and you feel so bloated from all the food you ate that you vow to never get off the couch?  We can all empathize with that feeling of irritation, frustration and laziness.  But can we also empathize with Herbert Weinstein, a 65-year-old ad executive who was charged with strangling his wife Barbara to death, (after the twelve days of Christmas) and in an effort to make the murder look like a suicide, throwing her body out the window of their 12th-floor apartment on East 72nd Street in Manhattan? Herbert must have been cooped up at home for too long.  Holidays do have that stuffy atmosphere.  Only Herbert did not have any prior history of crime or violence and after a referral to a PET scan, unknown to even Weinstein himself, it was discovered that a subarachnoid cyst was growing in his left frontal lobe.  The cyst displaced brain tissue in both frontal and temporal cortices.  The implications of this finding were considerable.  The defense team went with an insanity defense and eventually, the prosecution and defense agreed to a plea of manslaughter.

There is no simple answer to why people kill.  Why also, are some one time killers and others are serial killers.  The case of Herbert Weinstein highlights the importance of the brain in predisposing someone to violence.  The MRI brain scan of Herbert’s brain showed enormous structural impairment.  But if we were to compare the MRI scan of an antisocial individual and also a murderer, Scott, we would see similar structural abnormalities.  In particular, an eleven percent reduction in the volume of gray matter in the prefrontal cortex.[1] The extent of this finding begs the question.  Why is one murderer off on an insanity plea and the other is in line for a lethal injection?

The case of Phineas Gage is well studied by all students in psychology programs.  He was a well-respected, well-liked, industrious and regarded individual in the community, until September 13, 1848 when he organized the destruction of a boulder lying on the path of a railway track.  Holding a metal rod in one hand, Gage tamped down with the rod right on top of the exposed gunpowder covering the boulder.  The gunpowder ignited, blasting the spear through Phineas’ head.  Gage had lost his left eye, but was out of bed in three weeks.  From the words of his friends and employers, Gage was no longer Gage.  Gage had been transformed from a well-liked and respected railway worker to a psychopath.  He was impulsive, irresponsible and a drunk.  The case was remarkable at the time and pointed to the fact that damage to the prefrontal cortex really can transform an otherwise normal, law-abiding citizen into an antisocial individual.

There is no escaping the fact.  Lawyers routinely order scans of convicted defendants’ brains and argue that a neurological impairment prevented them from controlling themselves.  The evidence is usually admitted.  Indeed, a Florida court has declared that failure to admit neuroscience evidence during capital sentencing is grounds for a reversal.  Neuroscientific evidence has persuaded jurors to sentence defendants to life imprisonment rather than to death. 

What do we make of this? Although we often think of psychopaths as antisocial villains with a lot of negative characteristics and cold hearts, they actually just may have broken brains.  Easier said than done.  Decades are rolling by and we are still mulling over psychopathic behavior.  As a researcher and a clinician, I like to organize and classify the behaviors I see.  Sometimes, however, the circumstances do not allow that to be done and I may still find myself judging, sweating and fascinated when faced with a cold-blooded killer.

[1] Raine, A., Lencz, T., Bihrle, S., Lacasse, L & Colletti, P. (2000). Reduced prefrontal gray matter volume and reduced autonomic activity in antisocial personality disorder. Archives of General Psychiatry 57, 119-27.

Watch Blur Perform Their New Album ‘Live’

BLUR LIVE

BLUR LIVE

UNDER THE WESTWAY has been a productive area for Blur in recent times, so it’s not surprising they returned to a space beneath the A40 in West London to preview their new album The Magic Whip live.

Last Friday (March 20) Damon Albarn and co. performed their new recording full and in order at London club Mode – which is nestled below the iconic elevated roadway – for 300 competition winners.

The show, which also included Parklife track Trouble In The Message Centre right at the end, was filmed by streaming service Beats By Dr. Dre and you can watch footage below for one night only from 8pm (GMT) this evening.

‘The Magic Whip’ is out on April 27.

The stream is no longer live, but you can watch full-song clips from the performance below.

The Magic Whip Tracklist:
01. Lonesome Street
02. New World Towers
03. Go Out
04. Ice Cream Man
05. Thought I Was A Spaceman
06. I Broadcast
07. My Terracotta Heart
08. There Are Too Many Of Us
09. Ghost Ship
10. Pyongyang
11. Ong Ong
12. Mirrorball

Blur “Lonesome Street”

Blur “Go Out”

How To Be Alone: Musicians Confront Solitude

img_0475_bw_wide-09b1cfd9ecdd90980cc0953ac6dfd8288a3d3ffc-s700-c85

Sufjan Stevens’ album Carrie & Lowell is out this week.

In his formal, disarmingly humble way, Sufjan Stevens accomplishes something remarkable in the first notes of his new album, Carrie & Lowell. After a Bach-like interlude plucked on a ukulele, Stevens opens this confessional meditation on mourning and reconciliation with a characteristic whisper. “Spirit of my silence, I can hear you,” he sings, going straight up a major scale as if this were a morning matin in some folk mass-obsessed abbey. “But I’m afraid to be near you, and I don’t know where to begin.” It’s logical to assume that the spirit he invokes is that of Carrie, the mentally ill mother who abandoned him as a child and died, still mostly a mystery, in 2012. It’s she, along with the second husband she also abandoned, who gives the album its title. But reviewers have been picking up on that first line for a different reason. It’s a challenge Stevens poses to himself, to make space for a presence that continually gets lost in the human shuffle. This idiosyncratically Christian artist might call that presence God, but he could also call it beauty, or inspiration, or vastness, or solitude, or even nothing — all the names for the unnameable that artists and holy people have conjured over the years.

It’s never been easy, in the modern world, to sit with the unnameable. The extremes people embrace in order to simply be united with, and humbled by, creation are the subject of a huge body of literature stretching from ancient texts to today’s self-help e-books, and of visual art and theater ranging from Hitsuzendo calligraphy to Meredith Monk’s performance art. Music is a paradox within this pursuit: It fills the empty space of solitude even as it stimulates a desire for it. (The first promotional push for Carrie & Lowell came in the form of “silent listening parties” where people sat “alone” together in record stores and galleries worldwide, absorbing the music on headphones.) And it serves as a vehicle for narratives, but it always pulls against those stories, sometimes even noisily overwhelming them. “I think it’s who we are as human beings, storytelling,” Stevens told an interviewer in 2006. “People love to talk about themselves and about their lives and about their day, and everything has a narrative interest to it. That said, I think music is a supernatural kind of abstract form that transcends all of that.”

For a writer like Stevens, who usually stresses patterns and mythologies within his work, the turn toward autobiography is risky. It opens the door to fetishization, something Stevens already has to deal with because of his good looks and invitingly gentle performance style. In the era of pop music, many artists people mention as embodying solitude have very noisy personal narratives indeed — they are troubled figures like Nick Drake or Elliott Smith, both possible suicides, or ones who consciously cultivated singular paths parallel to their natural communities, like Miles Davis, Joni Mitchell and Leonard Cohen. (Cohen, famous for his devotion to Zen, is a star of the essayist Pico Iyer’s recent TED-sponsored book on secular solitude, The Art of Stillness — the prime example of a meditative life that can still make room for major concert tours, Courvoisier and the occasional “beautiful young companion.” Iyer writes of hearing Cohen’s croaky late masterpiece, Old Ideas, in a Starbuck’s in downtown Los Angeles, and ponders, “Cohen seemed to be bringing us bulletins from somewhere more rooted than the CNN newsroom, and to be talking to us, as the best friends do, without varnish or evasion or design.” To be open to his plain words, though, it helps to know that Cohen’s been perfecting it for half a century. His biography is a key to understanding his messages, but it’s also something of a distraction.

Younger artists who take solitude or silence as a theme do so knowing how difficult it is to even approach such matters without immediately negating their core meaning. What’s unusual about Carrie & Lowell is the way it wrestles with biography while also holding it at a distance, as Stevens has in all its work. He’s said that the album is “not my art project; it’s my life,” a statement that sounds like half a modest admission and half an excuse. But it’s not true — Carrie & Lowell is as carefully designed and formally ambitious as were much grander-seeming endeavors like the electronics-based Age of Adz or his short-lived but very fruitful (he only did two, great, albums) Fifty States project. Its minimalist arrangements, created not alone in fact but in partnership with his longtime friend and collaborator Thomas “Doveman” Bartlett, invoke not folk music so much as the sources that signal introspection for many listeners: hymns and plainsong; Brian Eno‘s ambient soundtracks; the yeshiva school solemnity of early Simon & Garfunkel. (And, yes, Elliott Smith, who like Stevens was a formalist more obsessed with tone than with narrative.) In his lyrics, Stevens pursues two main themes: how grief distorts memory, turning it into shards of insight mingled with fiction; and how mourning becomes its own strange pilgrimage, often leading people into self-abnegating pursuits like sexual excess and self-harm as, crushed by guilt and terrified by loss, they pursue dangerous supposed distractions that are really necessary encounters with the void.

Songs like “Beloved of John” and “All Of Me Wants All of You,” intentionally or not, recall the holy perversity of works by Baudelaire or Jean Genet, or even James Baldwin’s Giovanni’s Room, in which erotic encounters are a kind of cleansing by fire. In “The Only Thing,” Stevens recounts himself as saved from suicide through moments of grace conveyed within the shape of the stars or a water stain in a hotel room bathtub. But it is his clasp of the razor, of the car wheel almost taking him off the road, that allows for redemption. Negating piety, admitting perversion, Stevens opens himself up to the salvation of emptiness: “Blind faith, God’s grace, nothing else to impart.”

Tracing the confusion and the enlightenment that mourning and isolation invite, Stevens joins a handful of other artists returning solitude to the center of the musical conversation this year. It’s a difficult subject to approach honestly in 2015, not only because being alone often feels impossible within contemporary society’s wireless matrix, but because the experience is so often commodified, reduced to the price tag on a yoga mat or the itemized bill for a faux-monastic spa retreat. Yet the best albums of this season consider both the costs of isolation and the value of pursuing it.

HOOD POLITICS

 

 

For a writer like Stevens, who usually stresses patterns and mythologies within his work, the turn toward autobiography is risky. It opens the door to fetishization, something Stevens already has to deal with because of his good looks and invitingly gentle performance style. In the era of pop music, many artists people mention as embodying solitude have very noisy personal narratives indeed — they are troubled figures like Nick Drake or Elliott Smith, both possible suicides, or ones who consciously cultivated singular paths parallel to their natural communities, like Miles Davis, Joni Mitchell and Leonard Cohen. (Cohen, famous for his devotion to Zen, is a star of the essayist Pico Iyer’s recent TED-sponsored book on secular solitude, The Art of Stillness — the prime example of a meditative life that can still make room for major concert tours, Courvoisier and the occasional “beautiful young companion.” Iyer writes of hearing Cohen’s croaky late masterpiece, Old Ideas, in a Starbuck’s in downtown Los Angeles, and ponders, “Cohen seemed to be bringing us bulletins from somewhere more rooted than the CNN newsroom, and to be talking to us, as the best friends do, without varnish or evasion or design.” To be open to his plain words, though, it helps to know that Cohen’s been perfecting it for half a century. His biography is a key to understanding his messages, but it’s also something of a distraction.

Younger artists who take solitude or silence as a theme do so knowing how difficult it is to even approach such matters without immediately negating their core meaning. What’s unusual about Carrie & Lowell is the way it wrestles with biography while also holding it at a distance, as Stevens has in all its work. He’s said that the album is “not my art project; it’s my life,” a statement that sounds like half a modest admission and half an excuse. But it’s not true — Carrie & Lowell is as carefully designed and formally ambitious as were much grander-seeming endeavors like the electronics-based Age of Adz or his short-lived but very fruitful (he only did two, great, albums) Fifty States project. Its minimalist arrangements, created not alone in fact but in partnership with his longtime friend and collaborator Thomas “Doveman” Bartlett, invoke not folk music so much as the sources that signal introspection for many listeners: hymns and plainsong; Brian Eno’s ambient soundtracks; the yeshiva school solemnity of early Simon & Garfunkel. (And, yes, Elliott Smith, who like Stevens was a formalist more obsessed with tone than with narrative.) In his lyrics, Stevens pursues two main themes: how grief distorts memory, turning it into shards of insight mingled with fiction; and how mourning becomes its own strange pilgrimage, often leading people into self-abnegating pursuits like sexual excess and self-harm as, crushed by guilt and terrified by loss, they pursue dangerous supposed distractions that are really necessary encounters with the void.

Songs like “Beloved of John” and “All Of Me Wants All of You,” intentionally or not, recall the holy perversity of works by Baudelaire or Jean Genet, or even James Baldwin’s Giovanni’s Room, in which erotic encounters are a kind of cleansing by fire. In “The Only Thing,” Stevens recounts himself as saved from suicide through moments of grace conveyed within the shape of the stars or a water stain in a hotel room bathtub. But it is his clasp of the razor, of the car wheel almost taking him off the road, that allows for redemption. Negating piety, admitting perversion, Stevens opens himself up to the salvation of emptiness: “Blind faith, God’s grace, nothing else to impart.”

Tracing the confusion and the enlightenment that mourning and isolation invite, Stevens joins a handful of other artists returning solitude to the center of the musical conversation this year. It’s a difficult subject to approach honestly in 2015, not only because being alone often feels impossible within contemporary society’s wireless matrix, but because the experience is so often commodified, reduced to the price tag on a yoga mat or the itemized bill for a faux-monastic spa retreat. Yet the best albums of this season consider both the costs of isolation and the value of pursuing it.

Kendrick Lamar’s epic To Pimp a Butterfly would at first seem to be the opposite of Stevens’s compact and delicate work. Yet as many of those praising the album have noted, Lamar’s first effort post-serious fame is deeply informed by a sense of alienation. “There are dozens of collaborators on To Pimp a Butterfly, but there is only one author,” Sean Fennessy noted in Grantland. “Round and round he goes, a continuous loop of alone.” Oliver Wang’s All Things Considered review concluded with an image of Lamar as always hovering both above and below the Black America his music thickly evokes in sounds and images, even though he remains a part of it — he’s a kind of ghost of inequality and hope, past, present and future. More specifically, Lamar has been compared to the triumvirate of African-American writers at the center of mid- 20th-century American literature, all influenced by European existentialist philosophy: Baldwin, Richard Wright and Ralph Ellison. As those writers did in their novels, Lamar creates a main character on To Pimp A Butterfly who is both alienated by racism and consciously endeavoring to stand apart, more in dialogue with myth and history than with those who would bait and degrade him in daily life. In songs like “For Sale?” and the Sufjan Stevens-sampling “Hood Politics,” Lamar finds both strength and great personal cost in his quest to absorb and reflect the process through which African-American men are both made and ruined by capitalist America. If on Carrie & Lowell Stevens separates himself, in grief, to ultimately undergo a spiritual transformation, on Butterfly Lamar does the same thing in anger, in order to become more effective as a political force.

Lamar, who like Stevens is a Christian, views the spiritual aspect of his quest as an ongoing encounter with the ancestors who uplift and challenge him. He speaks to many non-corporeal beings throughout the album, which begins with an image of him alone, masturbating to thoughts of a lost first love and concludes with a long dialogue between Lamar and his long-dead role model Tupac Shakur, ingeniously constructed using old interview material. He absorbs the identity of television’s most famous slave in “King Kunta” and, in several songs, fights off a female devil figure he calls Lucy (as Anwen Crawford astutely suggests in The New Yorker, Lamar’s inspiring embrace of his African patrimony on Butterfly is matched by a nascent fear of the tempting feminine.) The two most intimate songs on the album are inner monologues (or, since Lamar embraces the existentialist idea of a fragmented self, conversations): the life-affirming “i” and the dark-night rumination “u.” And on an album whose funk connections flow as deep as the sea, several key moments feature only the human voice. These punctuating semi-silences make the point that, while music is the great sustainer of African-American culture and spiritual health, stepping away from it can also sometimes be rejuvenating in itself: a way of making space to better grasp the harsh realities that music helps people survive.

For all of its swagger and motion, To Pimp a Butterfly counters a notable lack of portrayals of African-American male interior lives in our culture. bell hooks has noted that most such depictions encourage the idea that “real [black] men are all body and no mind.” She recalled dealing with a white male illustrator’s draft images for one of her books: “I noticed that many of the images were of black boys in motion, running, jumping, playing; I requested images of black boys being still, enjoying solitude, reading.” Kendrick Lamar is a physically dexterous rapper, but he really stands out as a man whose thoughts fly faster than his feet, especially in spaces where he can be alone. Even the sometimes excruciating conflict he endures within the scenes he crafts feels like a tonic, because like his imagined mentor Shakur, he demands solitude as a fundamental right, a way of recognizing his own divinely sparked humanity.
 
 
To Pimp A Butterfly – Kendrick Lama Greatest Hits [Full Album] new 2015


 
 

Laura Marling – False Hope (Short Movie Sessions)

 
 

For the British folk-now-rock musician Laura Marling, solitude is also a right to be claimed, but she wants to feel it in motion. Her seventh album, Short Movie, is in the vein of women wanderers’ manifestoes like Cheryl Strayed’s wilderness adventure Wild, Joni Mitchell’s Hejira (to which it’s being continually compared) and Chrissie Hynde’s first album with the Pretenders. Musically, it’s a band album, unlike many of Marling’s more acoustic earlier efforts; story-wise, it takes the 25-year-old expatriate from lover to lover and weird scene to weird scene as she travels in an America full of signposts she must mark as her own and roadblocks — most of them human, and male — she must negotiate.

“Is it still okay that I don’t know how to be? Alone?” she sings in the first line of the steadily frantic single “False Hope,” cutting the sentence into subject-verb and predicate, as if to answer her own question: There is no being unless you can stand apart. In another song, “Walk Alone,” Marling worries that her desire for a new lover has robbed her of the ability to even take a step without him; in a third, “How Can I,” she asks that man (or maybe it’s another) to “keep your love around me so I can’t be alone.” There’s a Lamar-style internal argument going on in these lyrics: Marling craves interdependency, but also chafes against it, knowing that the old story of the mastered young woman continually threatens to envelop her. The music is furiously paced, centered around Marling’s fleet, aggressive guitar picking, which keeps her band in frenetic pursuit. It sounds like she is birthing herself, and she is often enraged by the process — not only by the cluelessness of the men with whom she wants to stay, but who can’t handle her whole being, but with herself by being so scattered, so scared, so full of herself but still uncertain about where that self begins and ends.

Like Stevens, Marling favors imagery culled from myths and other esoteric sources. Like Lamar, she is aware that her most personal struggles reflect inequities that go well beyond her time and place. She imagines herself as a daughter of the Sufi mystic G.I. Gurdjieff in one song, and as a “horse with no name,” whom no warrior can ride, in another. Her metaphors invoke a long history of feminist imaginings. In the gorgeously sad love song, “Howl,” she reminds listeners that women’s solitude has often served to protect others over whom they stand watch: “The long tears of women are silent,” she sings, so they won’t wake those who sleep.”

Marling longs to walk and wake alone, but also dreads doing so, because in solitude, all of one’s foibles of become clear, even as a path toward a less habit-ridden way of being beckons. “Loving you is complicated,” Lamar says to his own ego in “u,” lovingly clinging to the weaknesses that intermingle with his ambition and his integrity. The social world, for all of its fundamental gifts — love, empathy, the lessons arguing provides — obscures the whole self, allowing each of us to mute what is harder to absorb about ourselves in a din of habit and distraction. When an artist breaks through that din, which seems to grow ever louder, she reflects solitude’s crisis: the challenge of being, unmasked.

“I wanted to be quiet in a nonquiet situation,” the composer John Cage wrote in 1948, while he was still formulating a solution that would eventually lead to his famous innovation of writing music with no notes at all. In 1949, the most famous monk of the last century — Thomas Merton — lamented that even cloistered religious people had become too conscious of what their renunciations might do, keeping silence as a form of payback for all the clatter in the world, instead of accessing the real self that was no self, that couldn’t show off by fasting or rising at midnight to sing. In 1961, as part of a dialogue with the Zen master D.T. Suzuki, Merton found it necessary to remind the era’s many spiritual seekers that Paradise, if not Heaven, was a place on earth that could only be achieved by ceasing the constant reactivity that had become the human condition, “the emptiness and purity of heart which had belonged to Adam and Eve in Eden,” where they sought “paradise within themselves, or rather above and beyond themselves.” This was the same goal the secular pilgrim Cheryl Strayed sought when she walked 1100 miles alone up the Pacific Crest Trail in 1994. She found liberation from self while lost above the treeline, shouting into silence she ultimately couldn’t affect, realizing, was she wrote in her memoir, “Everything but me seemed utterly certain of itself. The sky didn’t wonder where it was.”

If Stevens, in his devotion to beauty and to craft, ultimately retains his monklike demeanor (please read Fenton Johnson’s essay in the current issue of Harper’s for more on how such practices thrive in the secular world) and Lamar stands out as a politicized existentialist, Marling joins writers like Strayed in adding to the literature of women’s liberation through solitude. Wandering the Pacific Coast Trail where she became a temporary hermit, survivalist and explorer — all roles that, for centuries, were primarily associated with men — Strayed realizes at one point in her journey that true solitude has changed her very definition of aloneness. She recognizes it as a form of connection, not privacy; as a way of inhabiting her real self by seeing how permeable are its boundaries. “Alone had always felt like an actual place to me, as if it weren’t a state of being, but rather a room where I could retreat to be who I really was,” she writes. “Alone wasn’t a room anymore, but the whole wide world, and now I was alone in that world, occupying it in a way I never had before.” This is the ultimate goal of genuine solitude, and the subject of the music inspired by it: to reveal how human beings are ever a part of what flows through and around them, even apart from it.