Tuesday, July 05, 2005

I need to get back in practice.
I found a copy of Denis Donoghue's Speaking of Beauty on the bookshelf near my mother's desk. She spent some time with it, but I'd like to think not much. In any event, I'm going to spend some time tearing it to pieces. It's just this sort of crap that gives vulgar materialists: neo-liberal and conservative economists, political scientists and libertarians (and Randians) an easy target. Donoghue might as well be named Ratzinger for all he takes for granted, and for all he prefers to keep locked up and unsaid. The elisions, graceful and absurd, make my head spin.
"Yes, but what do you mean by beautiful?"
You might try saying several things. The painting thrills me. It must illuminate my life. It provokes in me a semblance of desire, virtual rather than appetitive
That last phrase speaks volumes. Art as 'indirection.' My father, for all his sincere protestations to leftism, spent a good part of his life rereading Henry James. At heart he ws an unreflective lover of symptoms.

In his review of the Donoghue's book on Walter Pater Roger Kimball scores what I would think are easy points. I'm surprised to find out for example that Pater's philosophy has been seen as 'unmodern'. It was attacked by T.S. Eliot? Well of course! But only because Eliot's critique of decadence is little more than a desperate attempt to bar the door against his own tastes. Huysmans predicted such re-turns to the Church.* But being honest to his poetry necessitates being honest to his fear, and Eliot's honesty, and his intelligence and skill are why we read him.

Donoghue has no patience for this. I'm tempted to say he has no respect for interpretation, seeing it as vulgarization of the beautiful. As a Jew, or demi-Jew, I find that particularly annoying. Again to paraphrase, this time Yehudi Menuhin chatting ot his friend Marcel Reich-Ranicki: where would German culture be without its Jewish interpreters?

* I was a little surprised that no one went after Rick Santorum more after he tried to blame liberalism for the recent scandals in the Catholic Church. The hypocrisy he condemns has always been a conservative -Pauline- vice.

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