Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Adjusted reality

Tolling for the deaf an' blind, tolling for the mute
Tolling for the mistreated, mateless mother,
the mistitled prostitute
For the misdemeanor outlaw, chased an' cheated by pursuit
And we gazed upon the chimes of freedom flashing

A recent posting on Bob Dylan's Chimes of Freedom deliberately reserved a stanza touching upon freedom of communication, for the reason that another blog was presenting its own unanswerable claim to that right, the same day.

The character of that claim owed much to the implication that the right is an inviolable condition of the liberty of the self, leaving it to others to assert the right to access and accept the expression. Plainly, the deaf and blind and the mute possess undiminished entitlement to the full scale of that right of access and acceptance.

It is the mistitled prostitute who embodies the unanswered question of those recent postings: what is the right of acceptance, if it is not co-extensive with liberty of expression? You cannot find a single text by André Gide in the largest bookstore in the home town of Thomas Jefferson, which happens also to be the seat of his famed Ackademical Village. Nobody in Virginia troubles himself to argue against Gide; we argue quietly, against ourselves. We adjust our reality to fit the hypocrisy of our philosophy. That we invoke the young in this self-abuse is only its most repugnant excuse. 

That we are educating the young to know nothing that the community does not countenance, is only hereditary "massive resistance" to the integration of our minds with reality. (Just yesterday, an Albemarle County judge restrained the Commonwealth's sociopathic Attorney General from intimidating the University against its grants to study climate change, while all around Virginia, farmers are fundamentally adjusting crop plantings to deal with undeniable "facts on the ground").  

This portrait presents the insupportable price of our suppressions as well as any could. It has been tinted to warn of its peril, and gutted to remedy it. Of André Gide in Virginia, it is drawn from an original at a blog which flouts our "massive resistance" with as much panache of wit, sympathy, exuberance, cultivation, and taste as any other known to me within the mistitled mantle it has been willing to adopt for freedom's sake. I forbear to name it, in outrage at this mistitlement - which I decline to endure, in denial that I chafe under my shackles. Yet this evasion poisons praise of him with condescension, this complacency is a complicity, and is the real outrage.

I welcome him as an extremely dear friend, to bring his oft-quoted project into comment here, anytime, and to lay humane, hilarious waste to self-deception as only he can. Come, Rinaldo, home from fair Armida in the Cyclades, and lead our play.

Anthony Esolen, translator and editor,
Johns Hopkins University Press, 2000

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Please do not tell me about Castle Howard


With great reluctance, I know, we do find ourselves returning to architectural manifestations of human aspiration and of human folly. This is because we habituate ourselves to the notion of satisfying our aspirations with our compartments. We know this is no way to look at a building or a bedroom, but we persist, even if we may think it is for no better reason than to be sociable to friends immersed in the same error. 

The conspicuously original examples of architectural approaches to satisfying these aspirations, still stir our youth in that discipline to visit them as exemplifications of their own energy at the apogee of its pathos. Beyond any question this much-exalted, much-derided work of the Century lately laid by, is of that character. Colin Rowe's Mathematics of the Ideal Villa  - comparing this architect's residential works with Palladio's - remains as proper a speculation as any, as to what we are looking for, as we edge away not from the past but from equivocation.

The difference is that between the universal, and the decorative or merely competent; perhaps in both cases it is the adherence to rules which has lapsed.

This edifice is not a success in many of the gestures offered as an excuse for its erection -- machine for living pre-eminent among them. What it is, is one of the 3 most influential houses of the century - Wright's Robie House and Mies' Farnsworth House being the others, of course - and one of the greatest revolutions in the conception of human domesticity still standing on this planet. It is very clear to the naked eye that this conception gropes for first principles, so to speak, of what could be the ideal compartment.

But that is not why we love the Villa Savoie. The things to be loved about this house are innumerable, but they center on glorious sensations of light and movement, per se, in every step throughout its enclosure and about its perimeter. These stimulating, these soothing and musical responses, need I say, describe the fundamental, stunning ecstasy of a walkabout at Monticello.

And yet it is within its spare enclosure that we hold the succinctest cognisance of drawing breath. I don't think one ever adapts to Le Corbusier's villa -- and I think he knew that. One is always in flux there. When he wrote, at his most Cartesian moment, "I occupy space, therefore I am," he could not have thought he was sitting down. Colin Rowe crystallised where our appreciation comes from, in assimilating the seeming radicalism of the architect's consistent residential vision:

Corbusier selects the irrelevant and the particular, the fortuitously picturesque and the incidentally significant forms of mechanics, as the objects of his virtuosity. They retain their original implications of classical landscape, mechanical precision, rococo intimacy; one is able to cease hold of them as known objects, and sometimes as basic shapes; but they become only transiently provocative. Unlike Palladio’s forms there is nothing final about their relationship: their rapprochement would seem to be affected by the artificial emptying of the cube, when the senses are confounded by the apparent arbitrariness, and the intellect more than convinced by the intuitive knowledge, that here in spite of all to the contrary, there is order and there are rules.

The anonymous friend who gave us our glimpses of Notre Dame du Haut is accountable for this interior "shot." It is typical and exemplary, and it is definitive. This is one's life within this vision. It may be too little, it may be too much. But it gives a very fine impression of being a mold not of oneself, but for one's own completion. More than for the jubilance of its youthful vigor, I love this house for its reminders of, but also for its leniency toward my incorrigibility. I truly do adore my imagined life in its contours, and I leave it as a blank slate to my heirs.

Stair photograph lent by an anonymous friend

the seduction of boys

A recent photo of a model exhibiting Curia red in Summer weight has unaccountably turned one's thoughts to the problem of the seduction of boys, or rather, of persons gendered eligibly as recruits of Church or State. Boys, then, may be adopted as a term of art in the mode of discussing a corps de ballet: a traditional, rather than a sentimental expression. This distinction, like that of the Oxford English Dictionary's acute line between aesthetic and erotic feeling, is central to our comprehension not merely of "pornography," but of the rest of art, as well. It seems it isn't nice to fool Mother Nature.

With what relief it must come to Church and State, then, that tradition grants them surrogacy for the succour of Mother Nature. A motion picture much adored for its verisimilitude - that euphemism for tolerable thrill in war movies - Restrepo is based on a text by that great journalist-adventurer, Sebastian Junger. Mr Junger has been quoted in Sue Halprin's paean in a recent issue of The New York Review of Books on the incomparable exhilaration to a boy of 19 to be operating a 50mm instrument of death under the delicious excitement of overweening combat. Here, you see, any cause for the pretense of aesthetics dissolves by virtue of right. The youth is excited, the military knows it, and the military counts on it. The same, need one say, is true of uniforms and their ornaments.

Here's an ornament to stir a boy. The trident, anchor and musket are the least of the toys these lads are invited, by immaculate dispensation, to manipulate for the nation's honour as SEALs. Their privileges are quite more than mythic.

A great and useful literature has grown up around this extraordinary "unit," and you may consult it at your leisure in any American supermarket, between the periodicals on domestic automatic weapons and superaspirated stock cars, amidst racks stuffed with texts exulting in carnage constrained by no law whatsoever.

But I stray. This is about contenting boys with themselves, that first of all pornograhic objectives, to inspire them to participate in conduct important to their seducer. To pursue the matter, we naturally return to the page whence this medallion was plucked, the Official U.S. Navy SEAL Information Website, a publication of the Naval Special Warfare Command.

There, the last veil of distinction between Church and State dissolves in the incantatory text of the SEAL Creed. It is aimed quite squarely at the slightest susceptibility of the figure shown right here: the Navy of the United States wants this lad for itself, and it has perfected its techniques of getting him, with all the inflammatory modes of conventional pornography, apotheosised in its Nietzschian Creed.

He is fellated as a "special breed," Aryan or not. He is "that man" who is so singular as to be "beyond reproach." He is thrilled to be "physically harder and mentally stronger." He craves "discipline," and he will be "swift and violent." The deaths of his forbears and the fear they induced are his constant pride.

Does a simple crying of "Foul" against an indecent intervention with boys compel one, then, to recite a loyalty oath against pederasty? Not on such a McCarthyite witness stand, it does not. I commend the attention of every honest swimming coach in this country to the existence of a profoundly cynical and predatory assault, upon the vulnerability of healthily competitive boys.

Monday, August 30, 2010

"I thought we might be able to talk, you and I"

You see, it is not enough to accuse
yourself in order to clear yourself...

One must accuse oneself in a certain way, which it took me considerable time to perfect. I did not discover it until
I fell into the most utterly forlorn

Moreover, we cannot assert the innocence
of anyone, whereas we can state with
certainty the guilt of all. Every man
testifies to the crime of all the others.

Albert Camus, The Fall, 1956
Monochrome, Hedi Slimane

boulevardier steps out


What kind of spring is this,
Where there are no flowers and
The air is filled with a miserable smell?

Shaikh Abdurraheem Muslim Dost

A Pakistani poet and essayist, arrested in 2001, he was confined at Guantánamo until April 2005. Upon publication of his prison memoir he was arrested by Pakistan's ISI in 2006, at whose request nobody knows. No one knows where he is.
Poems from Guantánamo
Marc Falkoff, editor
University of Iowa Press, 2007

Sunday, August 29, 2010

A dutiful sabbath observance

I had posted in this space, as some may have seen, a nifty little musicale on foes in general and Yalies especially, but I took it down until this year's game, lest it be thought RMBL is only about cutting and pasting pictures to decorate other people's lyrics or prose. On the contrary, here a pretty lyric is proposed in the way people listen to recordings during cocktails, as balsam evoking an underlying jolt of lubricity. You, too, may actually think you like Cole Porter, but have you ever entertained his genius without a supplemental sheet or two to the wind? He's bright, but transparently a Yalie in the light of day.

At the same time, there one was again, back in Leo's dread of fainting dead away in Sabbath observances, when it occurred to me that his terror of more than 50 verses to recite in a Psalm resembled a young artist's reasonable unease with sabbath visitations to a museum. "Oh, hey, darling, you paint. Let's go look at Great Art."

I had a young friend (didn't we all?) who was hauled along to the Getty one dutiful Sunday on a summer's holiday in Malibu, in an exercise of this very reasoning. How very like one duty is another, when its point is to imbibe the good? But remember what Leo does, summering with his friends:

Again I was lucky with the Psalms; the Sunday before there had been 44 verses; this Sunday there were 43, seven below the danger line. Truly providence was on my side. Also I knew we should not have the Litany, as we had had it last Sunday; this also was a great gain. Less than ever was I in a mood to repent of my sins or to feel that other people should repent of theirs. I could not find a flaw in the universe and was impatient with Christianity for bringing imperfection to my notice...

Quite properly, Leo exploits the occasion of worship to allow his mind "to wander" in speculation on the family whose crest clutters the windows of the transept, and discovers a question whose pursuit will direct the narrative and implicitly change his life. Who can say, then, what marvels of obeisance were given short shrift, for my painter friend's contemplation of Richard Meier's fountain in the sunshine, instead? How quite vastly above any canonical question of perfection, is the proliferation of refracting eddies flouting a current in a streambed Heraclitus could have laid, to stir a soul on Sunday? 

Photo Anonymous Gift