Monday, December 20, 2010

Adding more to the paper. Why not post it here.

"If the anthropocentric civilization of the Renaissance is headed, as it seems to be, for a 'Middle Ages in reverse'... " Erwin Panofsky wrote those words in 1955, in the introduction to a collection of his essays. The introduction, “The History of Art as a Humanistic Discipline”, is a resigned but damning criticism of the culture of instrumentalization, so it’s fitting that his definition of humanism now seems largely forgotten. In the older originating definition of the term, Erasmus was the humanist, not Luther; now Luther’s descendants are called humanists. Looking over the literature on Pollock, from Greenberg on, the references to the “Gothic” aren’t surprising. It’s become clear to me where my childhood associations of Pollock and Uccello begin. But you have to look farther into the past or to historians, not philosophers or theorists of the present to understand the implications. The reconstruction of humanism begins with a return to history, and a focus not on how various forms are distinct, isolated from one another, but how they’re related: tied together. I’ll end this with another passage from Clark, from Farewell to an Idea, the beginning of the chapter on Pollock: on Flaubert and Pollock and the fantasies of Modernism in modernity. You’ll hear echoes of Henry James on Eliot and of Bourdieu and Greenberg in their faithful taking of people at their word, following others’ fantasies as ideas rather than as descriptions of desire (and as echoes of/in a closet). As a critique of Bourdieu, [here] the passage is devastating
Farai un vers de dreit nien:
non er de mi ni d'autra gen,
non er d'amor ni de joven,
ni de ren au,
qu'enans fo trobatz en durmen,
sus un chivau.

(I shall make a poem out of [about] nothing at all:/it will not speak of me or others,/of love or youth, or of anything else,/for it was composed while I was asleep/riding on horseback.)

William IX of Aquitaine

Once Upon a Time. When I first came across the lines by the duke of Aquitaine some years ago, naturally I imagined them in Jackson Pollock’s mouth. They put me in mind of modernism; or of one moment of modernism which I realized I had been trying (and failing) to get in focus ever since I had read Harmonium or looked at Le Bonheur de vivre. Two things were clarified. Not just that modern artists often turned away from the detail of the world in order to revel in the work of art's "essential gaudiness," but that the turning away was very often associated with a class attitude or style not unlike Duke William's, or, at least, an attempt to mimic that style - its coldness, brightness. lordliness, and nonchalance. Its "balance, largeness, precision, enlightenment, contempt for nature in all its particularity."' Its pessimism of strength.

You might expect such an effort at aristocratic world-weariness on the part of bourgeois and even petty-bourgeois artists, operating in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries not the eleventh and twelfth, to bear some strange fruit.

Largeness and lordliness, after all, were not likely to be these artists' forte. Take the novelist Gustave Flaubert, for (central) example, at the beginning of work on Madame Bovary in 1852: already chafing at the he bit of reference that seemed to come with the form he had chosen and dreaming of "a book a about nothing, a book dependent on nothing external, which would he held together by the internal strength of its style ... a book which would have almost no subject or at least where the subject would be almost invisible, if such a thing is possible.” What strikes me as truly strange in Flaubert's case is not so much the project he outlined for himself - though as an ambition for a novel rather than a sestina or a set of haiku it has its own pathos – as the distance between the book he imagined and the one he actually wrote. No book has ever been fuller than Madame Bovary of the everything external which is the bourgeois world. Fuller in its heart of hearts, I mean; fuller in its substance; in the weight it gives to words themselves. It is as if the more intense a bourgeois artist's wish to dispense with externals and visibilities, the stronger will be their hold an the work's pace, structure, and sense of its own objectivity. Or maybe we could say that what brings on the word "bourgeois" at all as a proper description of Madame Bovary is exactly the deadlock within it between a language so fine and cold that it hopes to annihilate the emotions it describes as it describes them, and an absolute subjugation to those emotions and the world of longing they conjure up. A deep sentimentality, not relieved but exacerbated by a further (ultimate) sentimentality about language – call it belief in the arbitrariness of the sign.
See also earlier posts: on Clark (Cafe Concerts), Eliot, Greenberg's snobbery (and cultural insecurity) and Marie Lloyd. All now plugged into the paper.
In order of appearance:

See also the previous post
The artist as preacher, side show barker, and snake oil salesman. The Confidence Man.
"Artists. All Charlatans." (Flaubert)
"Men let your wallets flop out,
And women open your purses!"

...Webcor, Webcor

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